By Nancy E. Keahey

Reprinted from Stephenville Empire-Tribune dated October 17, 1947

Her full name was Mary Lou Mamey Adaline Cowan. She was the first girl born, after the arrival of four families in the east side of Erath county in 1859. The four families came from Tennessee in a covered wagon caravan. This child was given the first names of the four women, who, with their families, had made the long two month treck. Hardship of travel, through new and strange wildernesses, across swollen streams, along the way, had drawn these women very close, so the first baby bore each of these brave women’s name. Mary Cowan’s father bought a claim on Richardson Creek in 1859. A small cabin of logs was on this land. On Nov. _, 1860 – the day after Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Presidency of the United States – Mary Cowan was born. Her people were of Revolutionary stock, North Carolinian Highland Scots. Her family were linial members of Clan Colcohoun, one of the famous border clans of Scotland. This clan emigrated from Scotland after the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The year after Mary Cowan’s birth saw a new and larger log house built near the first cabin. This house was carefully pegged together with sturdy wooden pegs. The floors were made of smooth flat stone. There were wooden hinges on the home-made doors, and latches that worked on the traditional latch-strings. This house still stands.

In this new log house, Mary Cowan, tucked snugly in the old trundle bed, remembers hearing the hoof beats of their running horses as Comanche Indians tried to catch them on their horse stealing raids. Usually these raids were made when the men of the household were away and about the time of the full moon. On one of these occasions, Mrs. Cowan’s saddle mare was taken away. When Mary Cowan was five years of age, the Paluxy and Richardson Valleys were filled with horror when two of the valley men, Marion Mills and John Woods, were ambushed and killed while out hunting. Their horses, one dead, and the other arrow-shot, were found near the two bodies of the men on Sycamore Creek, in the present environs of the Alfred Moore Ranch. Mary Cowan was always afraid when she heard owls at night. They were not always owls, but Indian calls as signals.


The sturdy pioneers brought with them the reverence for God, the respect for learning, law, order and justice that has given to America her backbone of greatness. To replace a small earlier school house on Paluxy above the present site of Rock Church, a large log building was erected two miles west on Richardson Creek. Here were organized a school, three church organizations and a Masonic Lodge. Mary Cowan attended the first school in this building, known as the Log School and Bethel Church. The first teacher was John R. Jones, one of the four men in the 1859 wagon train.

All went well until two dancing masters were permitted to teach a square dancing class of which Mary Cowan was a young member. The church people objected to the dancing, some violently. (Mrs. Williams says with a smile, that as she has been a very active Methodist since 1881, she can say that the Methodists were the maddest, and that one of them wanted the floor torn up and turned over to purify the building after the dancing!)

The upshot of the row was the breaking up of all three church organizations – Primitive Baptist, Christian and Methodist – along with the dancing school. The building was moved to a new location two miles away, nearer Paluxy. The school and the Masonic Lodge went along with it. The amused local wags named the place “Vinegar Hill” because of the sour feelings stirred up and the name stuck as long as the place was used.


Meanwhile, the growing community – majority of the Methodist persuasion – built in 1872 Rock Church, the venerable stone structure still standing, and organized the present Melvin Chapel Church. School opened there the same year. Mr. J.T. Williams, a young college man from Missouri, was the first teacher and Mary Cowan, aged 13, entered as one of his pupils.

By this time Mary Cowan had mastered many of the pioneer arts. She could make the spinning wheel sing as she worked. Her mother had taught the art of weaving cloth and for household uses. The old spinning wheel and the original cloth loom, which belonged to her mother, are among Mrs. Williams’ most prized possessions. The reel used in spinning is now in the museum of the Stephenville Public Library. Blankets for soldiers of the Confederacy were woven on this loom. The young daughter of the house knew the art of cooking before an open fireplace. She learned from her mother the secret of making a kind of pound cake for which she is famous, now. For five years Mary Cowan went to school, taught by the quiet scholarly young man from Missouri, then, on Dec. 18, 1878, she married her teacher. We have seen the wide flat stone in front of the side door of the pioneer home of Mary Cowan, where the young couple stood to be married. It is known as the “Wedding Stone” and the wedding was at sunset. There was a great wedding supper after the ceremony. The whole community attended and the dance lasted until day light! Mrs. Williams remembers that her father roundedly scolded her brothers for planning a dance, since Mr. Williams, the bridegroom, did not dance!


The Williams lived for a year with Mary’s parents, until the title of the adjoining lands could be cleared, then Mr. Williams bought the present tract of land that is the beginning of the present “Oak Lawn Farm”. In 1880, improvements of the place were begun. Other lands were added from time to time. The original wooden house was enlarged into the present two-storied stone structure in 1900. Through good years and bad, flood and drought, the Williams have lived at Oak Lawn Farm. They have planted and reaped, raised stock of all kinds, kept poultry and bees. Their hobbies have been varied. Aside from many neat stands of bees in the large, cedar-shaded back yard, there have been peacocks – sometimes – and flowers from early spring into winter.

Mrs. Williams has kept two great old-fashioned trunks filled with pioneer clothes. One woman’s costume comes down from the Colonial Days – a sweeping wide skirt of beautiful Paisley Cashmere, with a tight basque of pressed brown velvet and buttoned to the neck with gold buttons. Her wedding gown fell to pieces long ago, but the traditional “second day” dress is still quite sturdy. (See picture.) [Note: Picture of poor quality.]

Music, books and a keen interest in amateur astronomy, aided by a good two-inch telescope, always gave visitors a lively interest in the life at this interesting house. Their hospitality has reached into the lives of people of every part of Texas and of many other states. This noble house has been the scene of community gatherings of every character for more than 50 years. Today, this house stands, tall and white, amid massed flowers and the oak trees for which Mr. Williams named it many years ago – on its four acres of green lawns. Mr. Williams died there in 1929, but the worthy family and Mrs. Williams carry on.


Mrs. Williams joined the Methodist Church with Mr. Williams in 1881 and has been an active member of that organization since that date. At her present advanced age, she is an active steward in her church. For many years she was a leading spirit in the Country Woman’s Club and the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. She is an Eastern Star.

The fine family reared by Mr. and Mrs. Williams has woven itself into the life of the Southwest. The wholesome, intellectual, cultural influence of the parents’ lives is being re-lived in the homes of their children who are Bryant Williams of Hope, New Mexico, Isaac Williams of Raton, New Mexico, Branch V. Williams of Oak Lawn Farm, Mrs. Silas C. Buck of “Water Lick”, adjoining her mother’s place, and a foster daughter, Mrs. Eunice Freidrich of Ft. Bragg, N. C. One son, J. M. Bedford Williams of San Franciso, Calif., died in 1942.

When asked what she considered the outstanding thing in her long industrious and eventful life, Mrs. Williams’ answer was: “I was a Sunday school teacher for more than 50 years.”

Mary L. Williams died in 1949 and was buried in Rock Church Cemetery next to her husband, James T. Williams 1845-1929.