1844 – 1938
DID CROOK CHRISTEN CRESSON?
SELF-PROCLAIMED FOUNDER OF CRESSON
By Christopher C. Evans
Hood County News – July 10, 2001
Wiley M. Crook came to the Johnson County countryside outside Cresson from Henderson County, Tenn., in 1875 and only after a brief stay in Missouri.
“If we could have gone to Texas direct from Tennessee, I could have paid for 100 acres of land and had more left than we possessed, a mistake I very much regretted.” But Crook, an erstwhile Confederate soldier and staunch Tennessee Baptist, took the advice of his Uncle Earl Grider, who begged him to move to Cass County, Missouri, not Texas.
When things didn’t work out, Wiley M. — full name Wiley Mitcham Crook — came to the area with his first wife, Eliza, and two child sons, Lee Franklin Crook and James Silas Crook.
In so doing — and in spite of the fact “Father Crook,” as he was known, did not die in Cresson — Crook brought to the area the surname that is perhaps most numerous in the Cresson Cemetery. Crook himself was Cresson’s first postmaster, a charter member of the Cresson Baptist Church and claimed to have the first store here. His son, who became Dr. Lee Franklin Crook, was one of Cresson’s first physicians, if not the first. His great-granddaughter, Mabel Minerva Crook Gamewell, is the woman who left the Cresson Cemetery $25,000 at her death in 1992, thereby creating a fund that makes the cemetery self-sustaining today.
Wiley M. Crook’s account of arriving in Johnson County from Missouri via Arkansas began like this: “In September, 1875, we started to Texas in our wagon, going through the Indian Territory and crossed the Red river at the mouth of Mill creek and camped for the night. Next morning we resumed our journey, passing through Dallas, and reached the home of Cousin L.J.L. Pearson in Johnson county, in October, 1875…We were 34 days on the road from Cass county, Missouri, to Johnson county, Texas.”
In his autobiography, Crook also claimed to have named Cresson — without explaining for whom or what — making him one of at least three people who said they named the community or were credited by someone as doing so.
All of the above information was supplied by Cresson native-Granbury resident Dillard Crook, Wiley M. Crook’s great-grandson and one of Cresson’s more popular and colorful sons.
Dillard Crook said he doesn’t know and doesn’t really care one way or another about who named the community. He is, however, quite proud of what his predecessors such as Wiley M. Crook and his parents, Lee Frank and Rose Marie Dillard Crook, were as people. And he says his Aunt Mabel, his father’s sister, “loved the Cresson Cemetery as much or more than anybody…and she left that money because she wanted to.”
The “Who named Cresson?” debate aside (my suspicion is that there were several people involved), Wiley M. Crook’s look at Cresson in Autobiography and Reminiscences of Wiley M. Crook, publication date unknown, is a telling if compressed view not only of the big events of the time but of Crook himself, a mover-shaker, merchant and churchman who clearly believed he started Cresson.
“We continued to live on the prairie farm in Johnson county, Texas,” he wrote of the period after they arrived in 1875. “In 1887 we sent our oldest son to a high school. During the year 1888, two railroads were built, crossing seven miles from our home. I was first to put in a store and establish a post office at this crossing, naming it Cresson, Texas.
“We moved to Cresson in 1889, selling our farm and buying 80 acres near Cresson,” the passage continues. “In 1894, we sent our daughter (Mary Loula Crook) to the Baptist University at Waco, Texas. On the 4th of May, 1895, she died at Waco. Her mother, eldest brother and myself were at her bedside.
“In 1901, our youngest son (John Wiley) graduated in the Cresson high school,” the next paragraph begins. “In September we sent him to Bryan, Texas, to our Agricultural and Mechanical college. On October 3, 1903, my wife died. Although many years have passed, yet I shrink in sorrow as I record this sad event.”
If W.M. Crook was a decorated Confederate soldier, merchant, self-made philosopher, writer and teacher-preacher who could get down on sin, his kin in Cresson were mostly Baptists but did a range of things.
Dillard Crook, whose father Lee Frank grew corn, hay and vegetables on 300 acres off what today is Johnson County Road 1000 but then was the road from Cresson to Godley, remembers a spartan and hardscrabble childhood. “Daddy could never make any money but we always had food because we grew vegetables and we always had stuff put up, canned,” he said, adding that an abutting farmer’s family “just always seemed to be struggling to make it so we felt real fortunate.” He said the whole family worked in the fields and that he rode his horse to the Cresson School from where he lived near the Unity Community.
As with his great-great-grandfather’s life, death accounted for several significant events in Dillard Crook’s life, too. The loss of his little brother, Boyd Frank Crook in a plane crash in Switzerland during the Korean War was one example. “A sad day that comes back every time I come out here,” Dillard Crook said on a cemetery visit two days before Independence Day.
Regarding his aunt, Mabel Crook Gamewell, who left the money to the Cresson Cemetery, Dillard Crook said she was a strong-willed woman who dearly loved the cemetery.
“Aunt Mabel married one time but not again after the first one, and she was tighter than the bark on a tree,” Crook said. “She had a sister, Lucille, who never married, and Aunt Mabel had three nephews and three nieces. I’m one of the nephews.
“Her sister died before she did. I was with her right before she died. When Aunt Mabel died she left money to all three of the nieces and to the cemetery, but none to the nephews.”
There are three Crook vertical headstones on your immediate left as you enter the Cresson Cemetery. Mabel Crook Gamewell’s headstone, which she shares with her brother, World War I veteran John Boyd Crook, is the third one. Her sister Anna Lucille Crook is in the grave to the south.
As with many families, some of the Crooks came to Cresson, stayed a certain amount of time, left an impression and moved on. Wiley M. Crook’s physician son, Dr. Lee Franklin Crook, for instance left Cresson and moved to Bellevue, Texas, where he and his second wife, Margaret Addie Bobo Crook are interred.
Wiley M. Crook himself remarried and moved to Star City, Arkansas, where he became known as “Father Crook,” but he directed that he be buried in the Cresson Cemetery alongside his first spouse.
As the proliferation of Crooks in the Cresson Cemetery attests, if there was any question where a Crook family member was to be buried, that person usually ended up in the Cresson Cemetery.
To walk amongst those graves today — there are Crooks in at least three parts of the cemetery but the biggies are in the area of the aforementioned three markers near the gate — is to sense something that goes back to Wiley M. Crook’s great-great grandfather James Crook’s emigration from Wales in 1734, to his great-grandfather James Crook’s role as a Virginia Rifleman in the Revolutionary War.
Of all the pertinent and interesting materials Dillard Crook loaned me for this story, though, the little autobiography Wiley M. Crook wrote around 1920 is most remarkable in that it is one man’s recollection of a rich but war-torn life.
Some 55 years after his participation in the Battle of Shiloh under Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, Wiley M. Crook recalled the fray in a poem entitled “Sunday Morning, April 8, 1917,” printed as written below:
By the side of the Tennessee river, in memory let us go,
Again to Shiloh battlefield, with all its tale of woe.
The dead and dying strew the earth, their groans we seem to hear;
Lo, over by the bloody pond, his lifeblood ebbing fast,
Even now our Albert Sidney Johnston breaths (sic) his last.
Oh, people of the South, bestir yourselves and mark the spot,
For in that battle our bravest fell; let us forget it not.
Shiloh, sacred soil, with blood of heroes stained,
Here our men in gray the heights of fame attained,
In letters of gold, on a column of white,
Let the world ever know they died for the right.
On the tablets of memory their names we engrave,
Heroes of Dixie, immortal and brave.
|Wiley M. Crook was born September 17, 1844. He died February 7, 1938 and was buried in Cresson Cemetery in Hood County, Texas.|