Early Paluxy Merchant Surveyed Courthouse

Reprinted from Hood County News dated July 6, 1991

Written by Janet L. Saltsgiver

Editor’s Note: History buff Janet L. Saltsgiver, whose family roots are in Paluxy, wrote a biography on early-day Paluxy merchant John Harvey Ethridge who did the survey for the 100-year old Hood County Courthouse. He was county surveyor from about 1888 – 1895. Ethridge also surveyed the original townsite of Paluxy about 1895 or after. Saltsgiver wrote the biographies from oral and written family histories. Parts were also taken from the Hood County History written in 1895 by T.T. Ewell. The following is her biography in condensed form.

John Harvey Ethridge was born on Nov. 29, 1861 in the Indian Territory near present-day Atoka, Okla. His parents were en route from their home in Missouri to what they hoped was a more promising future in Texas.

They were attempting to escape the early beginnings of the Civil War. Citizens in Missouri were divided in their loyalties between the North and the South.

John Harvey Ethridge’s father, William Ethridge, wrote years later about the birth of his son:

“We proceeded on toward Texas all right until Nov. 28, 1861, when my wife was taken sick at what is now known at String Town, Choctaw Nation. About five miles farther on we crossed North Boggy Creek and found a house owned by Mrs. Dave Harkins, and there rented a room. I hired a lad to go five miles farther on the road to Middle Boggy Creek, and get a doctor, who was a Cherokee, and who came the next morning and stayed until the following morning. He charged me $33, which was all my pile, he being a good guesser, but he left my wife all right with a fine boy. I named him John Harvey Ethridge.”

They continued their journey and ferried for 50 cents across the Red River to present-day Cook County (Gainesville). They settled near Mrs. Ethridge’s grandfather.

Mr. Ethridge worked on the railway that first winter in 1862 to support his family, but the Civil War followed them to Texas. While her husband was off to war, Mrs. Ethridge returned to Missouri with her father. Mr. Ethridge wrote in later years, “We agreed to disagree, and so divided our two little children and the sheepskin.” John remained with his father. After fighting in the war and living in Tennessee, Ethridge and his son returned to Texas.

Ethridge wrote, “I landed in Hood County about the latter part of October 1870. I went to Gotcher’s old mill on Paluxy Creek with a little, run-down stock of groceries that I had bought from Henry Sisk, trading my wagon and team for a consideration of $300, no invoice.

Farmers and ranchers camped in the bottomland surrounding the mill, awaiting their turn to have their corn and wheat ground into cornmeal and flour from the crops they had just harvested. Ethridge set up shop, selling his small stock of groceries and the barrel of whiskey by dipper full to the campers.

Ethridge continued, “About three months later we moved to old Pulltite (Pulltite was the nickname for Paluxy, which was across the river from the mill) where I put up a pen 16 feet square, built out of logs, and covered over with domestic, and moved my entire stock, trunk and all into it on the dirt floor and started to do business, John and I on a sheepskin at night.”

In April 1871, Ethridge married Margaret Jane Meek Day, a widow and daughter of John Meek, a local early settler in the Paluxy valley.

John Ethridge was reared to manhood in Paluxy. His stepmother, “Maggie,” and his father had six children. They built a large home on the Paluxy River banks and also a limestone building to house their growing general merchandise building. John learned the mercantile business as a young man helping in the store.

John attended Vinegar Hill School near Paluxy and later Rock Church School when it opened about 1874 or 1875. According to family tradition, John was sent for an education to Add Ran College at Thorp Spring where he graduated as an engineer. As an enterprising young man, he invented a Dust Box, which was a recessed well in the floor to catch dust as a housewife swept the floor. He had it patented on Aug. 17, 1886.

John taught school in the area. On Christmas Day, 1888, he married one of his students, Alice Jane Bersheba Bailey.

The young couple lived in Granbury where John was employed as the county surveyor. He also had a small mercantile business. John did the original survey for the fifth Hood County Courthouse (the present courthouse). His name is on the cornerstone near the south entrance of the building.

The Ethridge couple and their two children moved to Paluxy and resided in a log cabin. Their first child, Bailey Spencer, wrote in his biography, “My dad and I enjoyed fishing in the river. I was at the river one day when a big headrise occurred and some grown-ups came up and watched the river roll a few minutes then they caught their horses’ tails and plunged in. The horses pulled them across the river.”

In 1898 the Ethridges moved to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Ethridge followed his surveyor’s trade and farmed for a living.

Ethridge sold his farm about 1905 and moved to New Mexico where he bought a share of the Farmer’s Mercantile Company. Bailey and John worked in the store for the company.

Sometime before 1907 Ethridge had moved from New Mexico and was living in Falfurrias, Texas. Dissatisfied with this part of Texas, he sold the farm and moved to Oklahoma.

Ethridge died on Feb. 26, 1937 and was buried in Altus, Okla.