Live Oak County Historical Commission
Live Oak County Historical Commission

Carroll Family and Old Live Oak County Tales                      Sowell's Barbeque and Home Cooking, Three Rivers, TX.  June 9, 2018       2:00-6:00 PM                                                        Interviewee: Jimmy Carroll                                                          Interviewer: Kurt House

Sowell's BBQ & Home Cooking, 2013, its centennial year. Photo courtesy Richard Hudson.

Jimmy Carroll, the interviewee, is the son of Wiley Gipson "Gip" and Cora Dubose Carroll. Jimmy’s father first came to Live Oak County in 1924 after he bought 20 acres in near Simmons City for $200. Jimmy was born on August 2, 1925 in San Antonio because his father had gone there for work. By 1929, the family returned to Simmons. “Gip” became a Simmons School trustee where Jimmy and his siblings went to school and then graduated from Three Rivers High School. Gip formed a construction and brick and rock masonry company. His sons helped as did other relatives. They built the Simmons School. (Those bricks were later shared and are now on the George West First United Methodist parsonage.)

After Jimmy’s graduation, he joined the Army to serve in WWII. One of the many buildings Jimmy helped build after returning from the war is the Three Rivers’ Rialto Theatre which received a Registered Texas Historic Landmark in 2016. Lindholm, et. al. The History of the People of Live Oak County, Texas. George West: Self published by the Live Oak County Historical Commission. 1982. 78; Philip Hudson - Simmons resident who helped move the bricks from the school house to the parsonage; Hunter, Drusanne. Three Rivers Rialto Theatre PowerPoint accessed October 12, 2018.


Kurt House, the interviewer, is the son of Hugh Duane “H.D.” and Mildred Clayton House. H.D’s family came to Live Oak County in 1919. H.D. and Mildred began their careers as educators. They were married at Mildred's home in Simmons on June 2, 1935. H.D. served an army intelligence unit in Europe during WWII. He later became postmaster in Three Rivers and continued in civil service for 43 plus years. Mildred taught for 42 years. H.D. purchased numerous ranches during this time. Kurt is currently building a replicated mission site called Mission Sin Caja on one of these ranches. Kurt was born in 1947 and graduated from Three Rivers, completed a bachelor’s degree at Texas Christian University, a master’s at Southern Methodist University, and did advanced studies there. Kurt is an avid western arts collector, on the Board of the Wild West History Association, and Director of the Former Texas Ranger Foundation. Ibid. 170-171; Kurt House.

This building was moved from Boerne, Texas to Hamiltonburg, Texas (Now Three Rivers) circa 1913. The building became "The People's Cooperative Store" first, then a furniture store which lasted until the 1930's. Afterwards, it hosted a beer tavern called "The Green Inn" for almost 50 years. Today, it is Sowell's BBQ & Home Cooking. The building's Three Rivers Centennial was 2013, the same as the town's. Photo courtesy Stanley Stewart Collection. Archival rendition Richard Hudson.

Fact versus Fiction

Facts -Three Rivers was established on July 4, 1913. The building where Sowell's Barbeque is located was moved from Boerne, Texas to Three Rivers at that time and has a storied history.

Culture: One of the more interesting small town traditions enjoyed by oldtimers in Three Rivers and other small towns everywhere is gathering around a table somewhere in town to "chew the fat" and share stories, the more fantastic and salty, the better. If you walk in at Sowell's most any time of the day, you will likely see it is one of the favorite gathering places. Folks sit around the table talking and sipping coffee, maybe digging into some delicious fries or deserts a long time after meals are gone. That small town commaraderie is what they enjoy. They know the people and places the speaker is talking about. The "whole truth and nothing but the truth" usually doesn't matter there; it's about listening or being a storyteller. From time to time and person to person, the stories grow as in the old game of "Telephone".

Reality: These oral traditions are sometimes but definitely not always built on historical fact. One can enjoy the stories and those relating them for the fun or shock intended and their rich cultural connotations. For newcomers who may be serious history buffs: Extract likely fact from that which is not, then research before documenting it as fact. Some examples are given below.



Kurt: Jimmy, how old are you?


Jimmy: I was born 8-2-25, I am 92, will soon be 93 years old.  Been married twice, first an Indiana girl where I was stationed in the Army. Then when I came back here, I married Wayborn Stewart's sister.  She died a few years ago.


Kurt: I know you worked with my Dad on our Mother Lode Ranch, the old Baker Place that I now own, do you have some memories you want to share about that?


Jimmy: Yes, I knew the three Baker brothers: Haskell was oldest, then Dewey and Gene. They were cowboys.


Kurt: Madge Coquat is your sister; have I got that right?


Jimmy: Yes, she married Jimmy Coquat who was primarily known as a bull rider. 


Kurt: Yes, I remember him, he died young. What happened exactly?


Jimmy: Well eventually kidney failure, all the Coquats had kidney problems, but his problems started when he was riding a bull right here at the Live Oak County fairgrounds. He bit his tongue almost in two.  They had to give him blood, then had to transplant a kidney, then he had another kidney transplant, and he never got over it.


Kurt: Well, since you know a lot of Simmons City history, let's talk some about that.  Did you know a cowboy named Newt Chaney?


Jimmy: Newt Chaney was probably  the best cowboy ever raised in Live Oak County!  He came here from Sutherland Springs, I think, some little burg south of San Antonio.  He was in WWI, married a Simmons girl named Ruby Jackson who was really a good looking lady.  One night they were having a dance at Simmons, [a married woman] sent old man Jackson a note, said to come see her that night.  Old man Jackson went over to her house, scratched on the back door screen, and she killed him with a .410 shotgun. 

Newt Chaney was a daredevil, he would do anything that others were scared to do.  I remember when Newt chased wild cattle through the brush that it sounded like a tornado. You could hear him popping limbs off and tearin' down the brush. Nothing would stop him! That's why they call South Texas cowboys brush-poppers, I guess.  I remember that because I was walking along behind him trying to herd the cows. 

Newt got caught rustlin' cattle you know.  He never told who helped him, took that secret to the pen. He took the wrap for one or more.  They rustled some cows off old man Lyne's place. See his brand was "LL". They run an iron all around it catching the bottom of the "L's" into a curve making it the "Watermelon brand", they called it - had two stripes, you see (draws on napkin).


Kurt: Did Newt serve some time?


Jimmy: Yep, he took them cows to San Antonio Stockyards, and the brand inspector skinned one. From looking at the inside of the hide, they found the brand had been altered.  Newt served 2 years at Huntsville (State Penitentiary), but he never told who done it with him.  The Live Oak County lawmen - that really pissed them off! Newt told me that they really put the pressure on him, but he never told.


Kurt: My father H. D., as you know him, once told me a story about Sin Caja mountain. Said that he and his uncle, Charley Valentine, accompanied Gip Carroll and a couple more men in a covered wagon out on a treasure hunt on the Ray Ranch.


Jimmy: Gip, was my father, his name was really Gibson, but they called him Gip. [Jimmy may be correct here, but the Live Oak County history book with short histories written by family members, lists "Gipson" as his father's middle name. p. 78.]


Kurt: My Dad said that the week before he went, they had returned with a story of finding a mysterious rectangular hole cut into rock in the Nueces River bed, with slanted lines radiating from the corners.  Gip told my Dad that on the previous trip they had found a human hand, so they thought the Spanish treasure of Sin Caja was buried in that hole.  He said it was summer time, and they dug and dug, and nothing gets older than digging, until they finally gave up.


Jimmy: Yes, well he did a lot of that sort of thing.  Did you know that he and my uncle dug the basement for the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio?  The foreman of that job was a gambler named Monte Jim because he always played monte. [Monte-Players select any two of four cards turned face up in a layout and bet one will be matched before the other when cards are dealt one at a time from the pack.]  

One time I met some relatives of some early settlers here, and they called this the Wild Horse Desert.  Jesse and Jimmy Foster, I think was their names. They gathered horses here during the Civil War and made two big drives back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

I remember someone brought the first milking shorthorn breed of cattle here; they are Durhams, you know. That was the first cattle that came besides the longhorns.  Lot of them are roans.  I think this was down at Seven Sisters, over in McMullen County at the Live Oak line.


Kurt: Do you remember Thomas Morgan that married the school teacher Jessie, lived here in town?  Do you know the story about some cowboys threatening Tom and his brother, and Tom just reached behind the door and picked up his saddle gun and shot one of them?  My Dad told me that story.


Jimmy: Yeah, I think I remember that.  That was down there where the Atkinson family located.  I remember when Mr. Atkinson first came here, they were so poor that he wore one black boot and one brown one because the other foot of each pair had worn out.


Kurt: Do you remember Adolph Houseton?  He was the oldest cowboy I knew, used to come to town with those knee high boots with his pants tucked inside his boots.


Jimmy: Yeah, I remember him, was from Panna Maria, I think.  He married Grace Murry, they lived behind the schoolhouse at Simmons.  Adolph was a helluva cowboy in his younger days; he carried a blacksnake whip and he could really pop that thing to control any animal.  Miss Grace, we called her, she gave  my Uncle Aubrey Carroll sometimes 4 or 5 whippings a day.  One year they counted up he got 150 whippings until she quit counting.  Finally she got so disgusted with him, she wouldn't even look at him.  The Carrolls were sometimes ornery, you know. We were all fighters, especially my brothers Brownie and my brother Wylie ("Dunk").


Kurt: I remember him, but why did they call him Dunk?


Jimmy: Well, we called him Duke, but it got started when a little boy couldn't say Duke. He said "Dunk" (Kurt's note, pronounced Doonk).  Our cousin Charles Carroll was Golden Gloves champion of this area, Beeville, etc. 


Kurt: Were you born here?


Jimmy: No, we came in 1928 ? [This is close. Family first came in 1924.  Jimmy was born in 1925 after they moved to San Antonio for Jimmy's father's work. They returned to Simmons in 1929. (The History of the People of Live Oak County. 1982. 78.] My mother's father was killed by a man named Van Cleve. He [Mother's father] was a fiddler, and one night at a dance up in Atascosa County, he had on a white bandana.  He came out to a campfire, and Van Cleve rode up and shot him dead and rode off.  They never convicted him because they couldn't prove who did it.  I think he was kin to Texas Ranger Jack Van Cleve of Cotulla, who used to come and get Jack Dubose [Jimmy's Mother's realative] at Oakville any time he had to go arrest a really bad man.


Kurt: Do you remember the sheriff that some Three Rivers toughs beat up and he had to resign?


Jimmy: Yes, I think Keys [Key] was his name; Albert Smith was his deputy.  Albert Smith was a big man, about 6 foot 4, weighed over 250.  Keys tried to arrest Rufe McMurry, who was a badass, and he [McMurry] whipped him [Key]. They told Albert to go get him, and he did, just rode him down to the pavement when Rufe pulled a gun.  Rufe was living in a tent, and he got drunk all time. One time he did, and he was strutting around saying, "Chase me chicken, cause I am full o' corn." He wanted them to try to arrest him; he was gonna shoot them.  Rufe and Brian Wedding were the biggest toughs in town. I think that was in the early twenties. (Author, K. House note:  Eugene Key resigned in 1927, W. A. Smith appointed Feb. 14, 1927. From Texas County Sheriffs, by Sammy Tise, 1989, page 342.)

[Smith's physical description by Jimmy is corroborated in several books. Smith was Key's friend. There may have been more than one rufian beating on Key (possibly four). Key deputized Smith after he stopped the beating, then Smith accepted the role of sheriff when Key decided to resign. Sparkman, Ervin. The People's History of Live Oak County, Texas. 1981. 55-59.]


Kurt: You  know, J. Frank Dobie was born in this county, reared at Lagarto.


Jimmy: Yeah, I know, there was a big ranch in Webb County that I knew about, the Old Dobie, I think belonged to his Uncle Jim or he had it leased.


Kurt: Yes, I remember when we were kids, my father and Bill Ludewig took us down there to look for arrowheads.  There were arrowheads everywhere you looked!  I was with Daddy when he found a dime with the date 1859, so must have been some white folks there too. I think Pat Welder from over around Beeville bought the old Dobie Ranch on the courthouse steps.  He was a champion skeet shooter.  He married his baby sitter when he got old enough.  I think the old Dobie Ranch joined the old Camaron Ranch, which was owned by Gus Lowrance.


Jimmy: There was a guy in Simmons when your Dad and I were growing up, his name was B. K. Autry, his son-in-law, I think named "Rodenberry", drove an old caterpillar by which he pulled an old grader that maintained the county roads.  I think I seen it (sic) out at your place, the Mother Lode, is that what you call it?  He pulled it with a cable, and one day he got his leg tangled up in the cable and it cut it off, I think, because he only had one leg.


Kurt: Well, I don't remember him, but I remember when we first acquired the old Baker Ranch, and it joined the old Nations place, remember that?


Jimmy: Yes, I remember the old Nations place, was on the North side of the Nueces just up river from the old Simmons bridge.


Kurt:  Anyway, in the early Sixties, I went with my Dad down to the old Nations house near the river, and at that time the Nations place was run by a nice young fellow named Tom Saunders.


Jimmy: Yeah, I remember Tom, when the Nations Ranch sold, (Kurt note - Dr. Connaly?) he went to British Columbia and started ranching up there.  Elvin Kolb, from Simmons, also went up there to see if he could re-locate like Tom did. But they say when he went to see Tom, he told him the ranch he had in mind for Elvin sold. Elvin never cut off his engine, just turned around and came back to Live Oak County.


Kurt: Do you remember Elvin's wife?  I used to carry out her groceries when I worked for Dub Smith's grocery store in Three Rivers on Highway 281. That was my first job; I was 14 years old, made $5 for an 11 hour day.  That is less than 50 cents per hour!


Jimmy: Yeah, I remember her, who wouldn't?  She was a pretty thing, won a lipstick contest by sending in her lips print on a napkin.  She was a Hemphill.


Kurt:  Is that why Old Sarge Hemphill came to Live Oak County and located out there next to them?  I somehow inherited a lot of his old stuff. Oh, I remember, I got it from [first name not remembered] Kolb.


Jimmy: Yep, old Sarge, he was a character.


Kurt: Yeah, I loved ol' Sarge, he was a sergeant in the 1st or 2nd Marine Division on Iwo Jima, and he told me some hair-raising stories.  He said after landing and trying to dig in that black sand that he thought he would never get off that island alive. 

One time I turned a trailer over on the Simmons road; it was full of cattle. Thank goodness it was a bumper pull and came off my pickup; otherwise it would have turned me and the pickup over too.  Anyway, I was sitting there after I released the cattle who had been upside down, but were not hurt.

Ol' Sarge came putputting along in his old pickup. When he eased up to me, he asked, "Need some help, Sonny?"  My trailer was upside down, and my propane tank went sailing. I said "I sure do, Sarge, am I glad to see YOU!"  Sarge says, "I'll go get my dozer and come over here and set your trailer back on its wheels."  I told him that would be great, and he turned around and went back home. 

About half an hour later I could hear him coming; pretty soon he comes around the gravel road bend in an antique bulldozer that I hardly believed it would run.  He sidles up to my trailer and easily lifted it up and put it down on its wheels. I re-connected and went home because it was almost dark, and I had no chance of catching those cows.  

I loved ol' Sarge Hemphill; he helped me a lot when I took over the ranch in 1993. He had been helping my Dad for years maintaining the roads.  I remember one time he was doing something at his place there on the Nueces River bank, and he lost control and either drove that dozer down into the river or he fell off down into the river.  It was Hell getting it out of the river, I think that was the end of that old dozer. 


Kurt: What about Oakville?  Do you know some stories about Oakville?


Jimmy: Yeah, Oakville back in the cattle drivin' days was a rough place; we called it "Outlawville".  One time some of the Carrolls got in a fight with Clem Nolan and some other toughs, and beat him up.  Clem was lyin' there on the ground. The Carrolls were fighters; Lewis McMurry said "Gimme one of them Carroll boys, and I can whip a cowpen full of ruffians."

     Another story about Oakville that I like is when Shorty and another cowboy made old man George West eat catfish with them.  Way it was told was old man West rode up to the crossing at Oakville, and Shorty and the other cowboy invited him to have some fish they were fryin'. 

Old Man West proceeds to dress them down for catching "his fish" and they oughta' not be there on his bank of the river and all. Shorty reaches up and grabs the old man's bridle and holds his horse and makes Mr. West get off and set down and eat some fish, which he did. 

But evidently the old man never forgot that (humiliation) because about a year or so later an assassin killed Shorty, shot him with a .30-30 saddle gun which they found in an upstairs window of a house on the Oakville city square.  Ever'body figured it was old man West who hired the assassin.  They found the gun where he left it but the guy got away.

     [This story is told by Texas Ranger, George Durham, to Clyde Wantland in Taming the Nueces Strip: The Story of McNelly's Rangers, (a recorded classic oral history), University of Texas Press, Austin. 1982.153-154. Durham was camped with McNelly near Oakville, and was one of the two men at the creek when West appeared. Durham names the man camped there as John Wilson. It was he who invited West to join them. Durham does not mention a later assassination, though that does not mean that it did not happen. Carroll admits that West's association to the assassination is speculation.

     In Sparkman's book, pages 29-32, "Memories of a Pioneer," by W.J. Stewart was published on September 7, 1939 in the Live Oak County Herald and reprinted. Stewart tells about the wild and wooly Oakville past. On page 31, his story names John Wilson as a man who killed two men and names the man who killed Wilson as Bob Rice.] 


Kurt: Do you remember old man Sam Warner?  I knew him when I was a kid, he helped the veterinarian Doc Hubert, "Booger". We called him when he leased an office at my Uncle Elmer's car dealership on Hwy. 281 in Three Rivers.


Jimmy: Yeah, I remember ol' Sam and Booger too.  Sam Warner and Jim Murry were the last two cowboys of George West still living.  "Shine" Oxford in George West was one of the last ones left that worked for Mr. West.  One o' them Oxford boys dove off into the Nueces River where it was too shallow and broke his neck - killed him. He (?) went with Ethel Stearnes.

Brownie and Wylie Carroll whipped two professional fighters that came to town with a circus-like outfit one time. About a year later, that same circus man brought them in again. Brownie and Dunk whipped them a second time in a tent in Three Rivers. 


Kurt: Speaking of inventions that originated in this county, what about the pear burner?


Jimmy: The pear burner was invented by a man named Snowden from Tilden, but somebody stole it. Just like old man Bradshaw who claimed he invented the stalk cuter; he stole that from somebody else.  It had several rotary spinning blades at different heights on a shaft, much like a modern lawn mower.


Kurt: Well Jimmy do you know, we have been talking almost four hours. I hate to take up any more of your time, but do you want to tell me about anything else? Any other old colorful Simmons residents you remember?


Jimmy: Yeah, one of the most memorable was Big Boy Thompson.  First I knew of him, he had a beer joint at Wentz, out off Highway 72 toward Tilden.


Kurt: Yeah, I heard he was quite a rowdy fellow in Three Rivers, according to my Dad.  My Uncle Elmer told me that when he thought he might get into the vending business, he went to San Antonio and bought a juke box and took it down to a dancehall in Freer that was run (owned?) by Big Boy Thompson.  He said there was no way to break into Duval County business, that it was all corrupt. They tore up his juke box and wouldn't let him into business there.  I think that was in the early thirties.

     Well Jimmy, I gotta' run out to the ranch, sure has been good reminiscing.


Jimmy: Yeah, Kurt, it was fun.

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