slave recalls memories of old Lavaca County
by Murray Montgomery
1946, a black man by the name of Tate Hicks told a local paper that
he was the oldest man in Lavaca
County. Fact is, he came to Texas as a slave and as was the practice
back then he took the last name of the man who owned him, that person
being A.W. Hicks, one of the first settlers of Hallettsville.
During an interview with The Lavaca County Tribune, Hicks said
this country was still a wilderness when he arrived on the scene.
There were no roads at all, just paths made by wild cattle and other
animals. "Only a handful of whites, with some colored people as their
slaves, lived where thousands are today," he recalled.
Tate Hicks outlived his owner and in 1946 he was over 100 years old
living near Shiner. The former slave said he was born in Tennessee
in 1845. "I was two years old when my master, A.W. Hicks, moved here
from Tennessee with his family of five children along with six slaves,"
The Hicks family settled on the Lavaca River some two miles northwest
During his interview with the Tribune, the old man was asked how they
managed to live in the wilderness. He said there were plenty of game
and wild cattle for meat; they also raised corn - cornbread and wild
pork were the principal meals. "Wild turkeys, deer, as well as bears,
lions and other animals were plentiful then," said Hicks.
Old newspaper articles provide a significant link to the past and
the Tribune's story about the former slave provides a vital eyewitness
account about the things that the first settlers here had to cope
with. While it's possible that the aged man's memory might have been
somewhat foggy, he did witness events that are only conjecture in
most history books.
The article revealed that old Tate Hicks didn't care much for the
Indians who continuously threatened the settlers. "You couldn't have
a light on in the house at night," he recalled. "They used bow and
arrow, I still have some of their flint arrows - they killed several
whites and slaves."
Parts of the interview with Hicks indicated that he might have been
a little confused as to the time frame of events that happened in
his life, but for the most part his memory seemed remarkably clear.
He was asked about the Hallett family and if he remembered them. "I
used to work for them and remember Mrs. Margaret Hallett especially
According to The Handbook of Texas Online, Margaret Hallett
donated the land for the town site which would become Hallettsville.
The website also lists A.W. Hicks as one of the first settlers to
the area that would eventually become Lavaca
In the Tribune article, the old man apparently knew exactly where
the Halletts were buried. He responded to the interviewer's question,
"They are buried west of town on the Breslau road." The paper backed
Tate's answer by saying the spot was still preserved "on the present
Paulie Appelt farm." Margaret Hallett died in 1863 and was buried
on the Hallett league, according to The Handbook of Texas Online.
Later her remains were transferred to City Memorial Park and a grave
marker was placed acknowledging her as the founder of Hallettsville.
Hicks would never forget where he was when slavery was officially
abolished, in Texas, on June 19, 1865. "I was living with the Russell
family when freedom came," he said. "You are just as free as I am,
the mistress told us; you can now go wherever you want." But Hicks
said they just didn't know where to go. The Russells decided to let
the former slaves stay on the place for a year until they could find
a place to live.
When Tate Hicks was interviewed in 1946, four of his children were
still living. The newspaper article said that he was living with his
son-in-law on Henry Nollkamper's place near Shiner.
The Tribune ended the article with these words: "More than a century
of memories of this county are stored in his mind. He saw this community
emerge from a complete wilderness into farms and towns. What can be
searched for in records, only he remembers."
© Murray Montgomery
Star Diary July
7 , 2008 Column
| Texas Black History