The Key Family

Calvin Key & Family
Early Pioneers of Hood County

Contributed by Lance E. Key

The following family biographical note was scanned from:
Hood County Genealogical Society Newsletter No. 20; May 1988
Editor: Merle McNeese

In the middle 1870’s, many southerners were venturing west to homestead and build new lives for themselves and their families. This westward migration was due in many cases to the destruction and devastation left behind in the south after the Civil War. One such man, Calvin D. Key, arrived in the vicinity of Hood Co. in 1876 looking far a place to settle and raise his family. Near the small settlement of Lipan in northwestern Hood County, he purchased 224 acres For $750.00 from T. N. Foster and wife on September 11, 1877 To this tract of land (with a one room log cabin) he brought his wife, Mary, and their eight children. So began the roots of a family that today still can be traced to the small Allison settlement near Lipan.

But this only tells a small portion of Calvin’s story. The full story begins in Moore County, North Carolina, many years earlier. And it is this story that shows the true pioneer spirit that was found in those that ventured westwards during the growth and expansion of our country. It is that story which I am about to tell.

Calvin Domas Key was the fourth child born to James Key and Sabeilla Britt in Moore County, North Carolina. He was born February 22, 1828. His childhood is as vague and unknown as thousands of other poor backwoods dirt farmer’s children at that time. Chances are that as a young boy he worked as an apprentice blacksmith and gunsmith. This is based an the fact that in later years, his main work would center around blacksmith shops in both Alabama and Texas in which gunsmithing was a second occupation.

Much of Calvin’s life was influenced by his brothers and sister. His three older brothers were Riland (1816-1866), Thomas (1819- 1859), and Pleasant Troy (1826-1898). After Calvin’s birth, James and Sabeilla Key had three more children: Martin Crawford (1830-1890)1 Eleanor (1833-1931) and Samuel (1840-1871). Riland was a millwright who served with the 46th North Carolina Infantry during the Civil War and was captured and imprisoned in 1864. His death in 1866 was a direct result of his imprisonment during the war. Thomas was a gunsmith, blacksmith, and farmer and was the first of the children to leave Moore County in 1849-50. His death from typhoid fever in :1859-60 in East Texas left his family near the town of Daingerfield, where his descendants live today. Pleasant Troy was a farmer who acquired a large farm along the Pee Dee River in Richmond county only a few miles from where he was born. Martin Crawford and Samuel accompanied Calvin from Moore County to northern Alabama and eventually to Texas. Martin, a carpenter and farmer, died in Granbury about 1890. Samuel served three years with the 48th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War and was wounded at Chickamaugua. He died at the age of 31 of TB near Poetry in Kaufman County, Texas. Eleanor Key stayed in Moore County, cared for her mother until her death, married Isaac Williamson who died during the Civil War, and lived to be the ripe old age of 98.

By 1850 at age 22, we find that Calvin has left home and migrated westward to Alabama. This first move in conjunction with his brother Thomas and others from North Carolina, ended in Lauderdale County, Alabama near the small community of Green Hill. In the 1850 census of that county, we find one Jacob Stutts and family, formerly of North Carolina. Living with them according to the census is a young North Carolina gunsmith, Calvin Key.

Calvin’s life in Lauderdale County from 1850-1860 was marked by two very important occurrences. First was his marriage to Mary Evaline Thomas on March 15, 1854, Secondly was the birth of his first three children: James Alexander born January 22, 1855, Eliza Jane born April 22, 1857 and William Andrew born October 20, 1858. During this same time, Calvin’s younger brother Crawford migrated to Alabama and took up residence in the area near Calvin and Mary. Both Calvin and Crawford worked as blacksmiths during their stay in Alabama.

It was also at this point in -their lives that Calvin and his family suffered through one of the most terrible periods of American history, the Civil War. From. 1861 until 1865, the entire Tennessee River valley suffered severe destruction as the result of raids and occupation forces of both sides. It is estimated that no fewer than ten raids by invading armies occurred in northwest Alabama. Both sides, Union and Confederate, took wagons, mules, horses, and all types of livestock and provisions, Extensive damage was done by roving gangs of outlaws (known as “Buggers”) which flourished towards the close of the war. It is said that during one of these raids, Mary Thomas saved Calvin’s life. The story goes that as the raiders were stealing the last horse (or mule) owned by Calvin, he aimed his rifle at one of the raiders with the intent of doing him bodily harm. Before he could fire, however. Mary knocked the gun away, knowing that if he did kill or wound one of the raiders, they would surely return and kill them all Why Calvin never enlisted, or was conscripted, is unknown. Although some speculate that his work as a blacksmith/gunsmith made him more valuable to both sides fixing wagons and guns. During this intense period, three more of Calvin’s children were born. They were Sara, Eleanor born January 6, 1861, Betsy Ann born October 8, 1862, and George Washington born September 29, 1864.

By the end of the Civil War little was left in northwest Alabama. An eyewitness who visited the area after the war wrote ” The trail of war is visible throughout the valley in burnt-up ginhouses, ruined bridges, mills and factories,…and in large tracts of once cultivated land stripped of every vestige of fencing.”

In addition to all the destruction, there was a general loss of faith and confidence in the future. This was further worsened by severe droughts in 1865 and 1867, and a bad flood in the spring of 1867. The Reconstruction era immediately following the war alone with these extreme droughts and floods caused an exodus from Lauderdale County prior to 1870. Census figures show a loss of 13.4% in the population of Lauderdale County between 1860 and 1870.

Following the birth of John Wesley on January 25, 1867, and Mary Artamisa on May 22, 1869, Calvin decided that he and his family would join the westward migration from war ravaged Alabama. Since his older brother, Thomas, had departed Lauderdale County prior to the Civil War and had settled in East Texas, Calvin packed his family and followed in mid or late 1869. Since Thomas’ family was living in the Daingerfield vicinity at that time, it is very likely that Calvin’s family first brief stay was in Daingerfield or the immediate area. By mid 1870 he and his family had arrived near the small town of Turner’s Point in northern Kaufman County, Texas. It was here that Calvin and Mary’s next three children were born: Thomas Calvin on March 2, 1872, David Milton, on August 30, 1874, and .Arlando L., on February 21 1877. It was here also that Calvin’s younger brother, Samuel died on May 16, 1871, as well as Calvin’s youngest child, Arlando, on September 7, 1877. Both were buried in the Dry Creek Cemetery located on the Kaufman/Hunt county line.

Calvin and his family lived near Turner’s Point until 1877. During his land hunting trip to the Hood County area, he purchased the 224 acre farm near the small community of Allison. It was here that the family finally settled for good. On November 24, 1878, the last of Calvin and Mary’s twelve children, Samuel Edward was born. From 1877 until his death on December 2, 1899, Calvin and Mary lived and worked their farm near Allison. Calvin and his family lived in the small log cabin until 1886 when he built a comfortable small frame house nearby. He operated a successful blacksmith shop for many years.

Calvin Domas Key died on December 12, 1899,. and he was buried in the Baptist Cemetery located near Lipan in Hood County. His wife, Mary Evaline, lived with her son Samuel and his wife on the farm until her death on-. August 11, 1914. She is buried next to Calvin in the Baptist Cemetery.

Calvin and Mary’s children followed many paths. The girls married ranchers, merchants, and farmers. while the men went on to be blacksmiths, farmers, ranchers, and merchants. One, James A Key installed the courthouse clock in Granbury and wound it for forty years thereafter.

The Calvin Key farm near Lipan is still owned by the Key family. The house built by Calvin and his sons still stands and is used by his descendants. Although none of Calvin’s family live on the farm, many can be found in the surrounding counties and in Fort Worth and Dallas. Calvin, Mary, and their children were truly pioneers and builders of Hood County.

Contributed by:
Lance E. Key
P.O. Box 384
Lipan, TX 76462