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Memories of Moscow: Polk county hamlet’s interesting past

One of Moscow’s winning baseball teams poses for a group shot in this undated photograph. )Photo source: A Pictorial History of Polk County)One of Moscow’s winning baseball teams poses for a group shot in this undated photograph. )Photo source: A Pictorial History of Polk County)

by Beverly Miller

I've got to tell the readers that I have enjoyed the research, reading and conversations that has made me appreciate these new and meaningful adventures. As I write this column based on the comments that you, the readers have expressed to me, you are enjoying them also. This article is right up there with Camden with unbelievable facts of how many lively and prosperous communities in our own county have diminished to almost nothing.

We'll start with a scene of Moscow downtown. Moscow is located north of Livingston on U.S. 59. Then we will take a "skip and hop" back through just a few of these most interesting accounts and persons that have contributed to the colorful memories of Moscow.

The first views show Moscow over 100 years ago, maybe 120 years ago. The large building on the left was the Solomon Bergman Store. Coffins were stored in the second story of the building and raised and lowered by ropes on the outside of the building. There was no downstairs door wide enough for their admittance. The building next to the Bergman Store was the Dee Jones Saloon and opposite the store was the Emerald Saloon. Whisky for the saloons was freighted in barrels by wagon-team from steamboat landings on the Trinity River.

During the 1870's, stagecoaches rumbled down the street on their run between Liberty and Nacogdoches. Later, the town's own "street car" tracks made parallel steel lines down the road. Alabama-Coushatta Indians on trading expeditions passed down the road. Sam Houston, friend of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, and David Green, founder of the town, made footprints on the road.

Veterans of the Texas Revolution traveled the road as did soldiers who took part in the Mexican War and in Indian skirmishes on the frontier. Volunteers for the cause of the Confederacy marched down the road on their way to join General Lee.

Footprints were left in the road decades later by boys destined to shoulder arms in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict and the following wars of today's times. John Wesley Hardin, who killed his first man a few miles west of Moscow, became known as one of the Southwest's most notorious gunfighters, occasionally ventured into the town while hiding from the law.

For school pupils the road was literally a "path of knowledge", for it led past the Moscow Masonic Male and Female Academy, established in the 1850's and made renowned throughout East Texas by Professor Marcellus Winston. The old buildings are gone and so are all of the persons passing along the road between them in the 1870's, but their memory lingers.

On an April day in 1836, David Griggs Green, a native of Moscow, Tennessee, stood on the dividing ridge between the Neches and the Trinity Rivers in East Texas and admired the beauty of the site. Just a few days before, on April 21, the Texas Revolution had ended when General Sam Houston and his little army of 743 untrained recruits had defeated a Mexican force of about 1,200 soldiers under command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the "Napoleon of the West."

David Green was mindful of the significance of the Battle of San Jacinto, but in attempt to render his aid, flooding streams hindered him reaching Sam Houston in time for the battle. David Green had married Miss Matilda Burch, a descendant of colonists in Maryland in the 1630's. Mary Green, a daughter of David and Matilda Green, was born in the famous old Stone Fort, built in Nacogdoches in 1790.

David Green was named one of the original commissioners of Polk County when it was officially organized in 1846. In 1847 a post office was established in the community called Green's and David was the first postmaster. In 1853 the name of the post office was changed to Moscow, the name of David Green's native town in Moscow, Tennessee.

With the completion of the Houston East and West Texas Railway of the Southern Pacific Railroad through Moscow in 1881, the increasing number of sawmills and farms and its widely known academy attended by students from other localities, the town became one of the most important commercial centers in a wide East Texas area.

Moscow had it's own "street car", a mule-drawn vehicle for transporting passenger and freight. The "street car" had a brake on each end (to keep the car from running over the mule going down hill to the depot.) Another interesting fact in Moscow transportation history is that in early times Moscow was a stagecoach stop making regular runs between Liberty and Nacogdoches.

Moscow once had a newspaper office and a studio. The photographer and owner of the studio was D. George Doughty, a bicyclist. In 1885, "The East Texas Pinery", (parent paper of "The Polk County Enterprise") was published upstairs in the Sol Bergman Store.

Of these characters the most colorful, of course, was John Wesley Hardin. The majority of the other memorable characters were always on the "right side" of the law. Among these characters was William Barnett Hardin, John Wesley Hardin's uncle, who participated in the Texas war for independence and was a civic leader and friend of Indian tribes in Polk County.

"Aunt" Adeline Roberts, a former slave who lived to an advanced age, had vivid recollections of Indians and of Sam Houston coming through Moscow.

Another memorable character was Sam Fransaw, descendant of a slave family, and hardly ever seen without his wheelbarrow. When he moved from Colita to Moscow, he transported his wife, children and household effects by wheelbarrow.

The social history of the town is of much interest. For several years Moscow had one of the most renowned brass bands in East Texas. And another source of entertainments in Moscow was a racetrack. Often as many as 400 men flocked to the track to see or bet on horse races.

For many years Moscow was known for its winning baseball teams. Dancing was a diversion for generations of Moscow beaus and belles, and numerous fancy balls were a highlight of entertainment in the town.

The ball best remembered, however, by those from Moscow attending was one aboard the sternwheeler "Graham", near Boone's Ferry in northern Tyler County in 1869. The boat, piloted by Captain Napoleon Weiss, had come up the Neches River at flood stage and as soon as it was anchored, word was sent out that Captain Weiss was going to give a dance aboard.

Moscow residents, fond of dancing joined those from other towns in a 25-mile radius in a trek to the "Graham". While roustabouts loaded big bales of cotton aboard, vivacious young couples danced on the upper deck. The favorite fiddler was Mr. Tom Seamons, who played popular tunes of the day while dashing young men and pretty young ladies in hoop-skirts whirled merrily about. The dance lasted for two days aboard the sternwheeler and was a favorite conversational topic a long time for Moscow residents that attended.

"A Teachers' Institute at Moscow -- and 'Style Show' too" is my favorite picture! There are 24 young ladies, wearing 24 hats! (I am known to wear a hat every day...only one time did I not wear a hat on Sunday to church and one of the elderly gentlemen approached me and made this comment, "Ms Beverly, do you feel ok, you don't look your self today!")

The Institute at Moscow afforded teachers inspiration and an opportunity to "brush up" on classroom techniques. Judging from the elaborate hats of the lady teachers pictured in the accompanying photo, these young teachers were evidently convinced that a head "full of gray matter" was further enhanced when adorned with "creations of ribbons, feathers, and flowers.

Born in Virginia, Captain W.D. Winston was a graduate of famed West Point. Many of Professor Winston's students became widely known for their leadership and achievements. Some were senators, representatives, judges, attorneys, physicians and one governor (Gov. William Hobby, 1917-1921). In addition to his educational accomplishments, Captain Winston was superintendent of the Moscow Baptist Sunday School for 37 years and missed attendance only one Sunday during that time.

In 1960 the significance of his career as an educator in Moscow was emphasized in a Texas Public Schools Week Program entitled "100 Years of the 3 R's at Moscow, U.S. A." The program was also presented on television.
True to the tradition of the Virginia "hunt country" where he was reared, Captain Winston's favorite pastime was riding to hounds after a fox in the deep piney woods in the Moscow area.

The long and interesting history of Moscow has assured its lasting influence in the annals of East Texas, although the decline of agriculture and the depletion of timber in the area have resulted in its no longer being a leading commercial center. But there still prevails a charm reminiscent of the Old South in Moscow, Texas, which is a fitting memorial to it's founder, David Green, who hailed from Moscow, Tennessee.

Historical facts were researched in "A Pictorial History of Polk County" by The Heritage Committee of the Polk County Bicentennial Committee and the Polk County Historical Commission.