later, long after wild and wooly Texas had been saddle-broke and gentled up, what
Frank Jackson remembered most about his youth along the frontier was his first
pair of pants. Well, the first pair of pants he got in Texas.
came with his family to Texas from Devonshire, England
in 1848. They settled along the Trinity River in the Peters Colony. With only
a few scattered log cabins along the river, that part of the only three-year-old
Lone Star State lay about as far out in the wilderness as anyone dared go.
Despite the hardship born of their relative isolation, the family got by. But
before long, a somewhat unexpected problem evidenced itself: The clothing the
Jacksons carried to Texas from England soon began
to wear thin. By the fall of their second year in North
Texas, Jackson and his two brothers wanted little more out of life than new
“A neighbor had told us that if we would get a deer hide,” Jackson
later recalled, “he would show us how to tan it, and from it we could make us
Accordingly, Jackson and his brothers set out on their
first deer hunt. After walking for several miles, they spotted a large doe. John,
the oldest of the boys and the best shot, took aim at the whitetail and knocked
After skinning the deer and collecting as much fresh venison as
they could tote, the boys headed home with food for their family and the raw material
for some doeskin apparel.
Their neighbor followed through on his offer to instruct the boys in the art of
deerskin tanning. Once the hide cured and had been softened, their mother made
John a suit out of it. The only problem with deerskin clothing was the time it
took to harvest the raw material and get it to the point being sewable.
for the nearly threadbare Jackson boys, one day a traveling merchant showed up
in their area with a variety of notions and fabrics for sale, including a large
bolt of ducking. Paying $1.50 a yard for it “in good English sovereigns,” the
boys’ father bought enough for pants and jackets for all three sons.
didn’t take mother long to get the garments made,” Jackson remembered. “We were
soon rigged out in our white suits, feeling like a million dollars.”
one problem remained. The boys didn’t feel comfortable wearing all-white. In fact,
from a young man’s standpoint, their new duds looked downright sissy-like. On
top of that, boys being boys, the clothes showed dirt more readily.
when they learned that their parents would be taking their three sisters to a
stay-over camp meeting while leaving them behind to mind the stock, the brothers
Jackson decided that would be a good time to do something about their all-white
wardrobe. Dutiful parents, before leaving they sternly reminded the boys to keep
a sharp lookout for Indians and to be sure and keep the cabin door barred at night.
“They had barely got out of sight till we turned to our pants,” Jackson continued.
“We put about a half bushel of walnuts into a big iron pot, poured in water, and
built a fire under it. When it had boiled till the water was black, we fished
out the walnuts and skins and put in our pants.”
When the boys judged
that their britches had cooked long enough they washed them out and draped them
across bushes to dry. Once the now-brown pants had dried, the brothers retrieved
them, moistened them and used a fire-heated sad iron to press them.
the pants looked great but they had shrunk so much that the boys could hardly
stuff themselves into them. Even so, they much preferred their new look.
when one of the boys saw an Indian moving through a nearby draw toward their cabin,
they forgot all about the tight pants.
Jackson grabbed a hatchet and his
younger brother picked up a bar of iron while his older brother ran to fetch his
rifle. Sure that more Indians would follow, the boys watched as the one Indian
slowly walked toward their cabin.
Just as John was about to pull the trigger,
the Indian said, “Good morning, boys” in English as good as theirs.
dropped gun, hatchet, and all when we saw his kindly face,” Jackson recalled.
“After a short visit with us, and a drink of buttermilk, he went on his way, never
knowing how near he came to losing his life.”
And he probably never noticed
the well-pressed matching brown britches the three boys sported that day.
- January 16, 2013 column
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