Christmas Came a Little Late

December 21, 2023
Nearly 49 years after that 1891 Christmas Eve experience, this photograph of Mary Ida Jones flanked by her daughter, Mamie Vandagriff (l) and her son John (r) was made shortly before she died in 1939. All three had vivid memories of the cruel joke the family endured on Christmas morning in 1891. Nearly 49 years after that 1891 Christmas Eve experience, this photograph of Mary Ida Jones flanked by her daughter, Mamie Vandagriff (l) and her son John (r) was made shortly before she died in 1939. All three had vivid memories of the cruel joke the family endured on Christmas morning in 1891.

First published December 30, 1993 and written by Thurman Lowery, who taped the interview that involves a hardship, but heartwarming story of a Christmas in 1891. Dates are approximate, but the story is fact. Mary Ida Jones was the grandmother of R.D. Vandagriff and Grace (Vandagriff) Love. Coach Bobby Wortham visited The Review last week with his original copy of the paper and asked if we could publish it again for his mother, Peggy Wortham. Mary Ida is her ancestor. We quickly found it in our archives and are resharing it here. We hope you enjoy this and Merry Christmas to all our readers!

It was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1891, and as the day wore on Mary Ida Jones knew she was in trouble.

A misting, freezing rain had coated the long winter hair of the horse and mule with ice during the night.

The temperature had continued following falling throughout the day, the children were cold and miserable, and her mismatched team was in bad shape.

She had no feed, nor money to buy any. The thin bony animals were in such poor condition they might well freeze to death during the coming night without shelter.

Mary Ida, 36 and recently widowed, had lost her farm in Brown County, Texas, and was trying to make it to Indian Territory in Oklahoma where her brother would give the family a home.

Kim, almost 9, thin shoulders hunched against the cold inside his daddy's old fleece-lined canvas coat, was driving. His strong young hands, wrapped in strips of cotton flannel in lieu of gloves, gripped the worn leather lines tightly as he tried to avoid the worst of the bumps and holes in the frozen dirt road.

It made little difference. His mother, twin sister Mamie, and little brothers, Leo 6, and John, 2, bundled against the bitter cold in every available quilt and huddled together for warmth, felt the jar of every turn of the springless wheels of the rickety old covered wagon over the rutted frozen ground.

"We're coming to a house, Mama," Kim said. Although she had no idea who owned the prosperous-looking farm, she needed help. She told the boy to turn in. When the raw-boned mule and flea-bitten gray mare stopped, a Young County, Texas farmer named Morgan, followed by two loutish sons in their late teens, came out to see what the uninvited visitors wanted.

Mary Ida explained that she was afraid her team might freeze during the night and asked if she might stable them in his barn.

"You got money to pay?" the farmer demanded. She said she didn't, but one of the sons noted that a crate on the back of the wagon contained two turkey hens, and an old gobbler. Morgan said she could put the team in the barn for one of the hens.

The woman silently climbed down from the seat, walked to the back of her wagon, and brought them brought him one of the turkey hens.

"I'll let you sleep in one of my buildings for the gobbler," Morgan offered. As the frail-looking woman appeared to consider the proposal, he added, "It's got a stove. I'll have the boys build a fire." She got the old gobbler for him.

The last of her money had gone to purchase food so they weren't hungry. With a stove and firewood, they wouldn't be cold, but it lacked a lot being the kind of Christmas Mary Ida would have liked her children to have. They knew it was Christmas Eve and before curling up in their pallets on the floor of that old shack, insisted upon hanging their stockings on nails along the wall. Their mother knew she should tell them there would be no visit from Santa, but somehow, just couldn't bring herself to do so.

The four youngsters were soon sleeping soundly in the unaccustomed warmth but it took a long time for tearful Mary Ida to fall asleep that night. She lay awake thinking about how she came to be spending Christmas Eve in that drafty old shack.

Four little girls had been born to Mary Ida and Benjamin Jones, but each in turn had sickened and died before the age of 4.

By the time Kim and Mamie were born, Ben had moved his family to Brown County, Texas where he purchased a farm and settled into raising a rapidly increasing family. Within five years he came down with consumption now known as tuberculosis, and wasted away, coughing out his life as he worked his land.

He died early in 1890, leaving Mary Ida a heavily mortgaged farm and little else. She held on for more than a year, trying to work it herself. The bank took the farm in September 1891, but gave her a month in which to find a place to live.

Ben left her a match team of gray mares, a good Studebaker wagon, some farm equipment, and a few cattle that weren't mortgaged. She kept the wagon and team, sold the cattle and farm equipment, paid off her bills, and wrote her 34-year-old bachelor brother John Daniel Hulse, she was setting out for Indian Territory to find him.

There had been an even dozen brothers and sisters in the Hulse family, but Mary Ida and John Daniel were very close. John Hulse was a cowboy who had become one of the best-known bronc riders of his time. A ride he once made on a bad horse at a cow camp in New Mexico, became so famous, it earned him the name of "Bronco John." He has been described as being rawhide rough, whang-leather tough, and able to ride anything that wore hair.

So Mary Ida Jones wrote her brother she was on her way to Indian Territory to live with him. The problem was Bronco John was a wandering man who followed his trade throughout the west. He was seldom home. He had made, and won, enough money on his riding ability to obtain some land in Indian Territory near what is now the Bray community in Stephens County, Oklahoma.

Mary Ida loaded her household goods, furniture, and children in the Studebaker wagon and left for Indian Territory, Nov. 28, 1891. It was a bad time to be on the road, but she had no choice.

One of the mares lay down to roll one evening and was dead the next morning, probably from a twisted intestine. Mary Ida traded the Studebaker for a raw-boned old work mule and a usable old wagon that had long ago seen its best days.

Little Leo became ill. She paid $27 of her money to a doctor in Breckenridge, who probably saved the boy's life. With one thing and another, by the time she reached the Morgan farm north of Graham, Mary Ida had less than 50 cents to her name.

When the children awakened Christmas morning to check their stockings, they found them full - - not with sweets, or presents, but with switches and ashes.

The Morgan boys had slipped into the shack in the middle of the night and filled the children's stockings with the traditional reward for having been bad kids. Mary Ida complained to Morgan, who told her to load up her kids and get off his property.

Several days later a man on a good-looking black horse came single footing into the family's evening camp. The letter from his sister had reached Bronco John Hulse.

Hulse listened carefully to the story about the children's Christmas Eve. He settled them in a rented house, made arrangements for the care and feeding of the mayor, and handed his sister all the money he had. He then mounted the black horse and headed towards Graham, Texas, leading the mule.

He returned four days later, riding the road eating black and leading a good dun gelding. The gelding was carrying a pack full of Christmas gifts for his sister and her children. Christmas came a little late that year.

It is noteworthy that Mary Ida's turkeys, legs tied and head sticking out of holes cut in a pair of old britches, were riding atop the pack.

The Jones children remembered, and related, the story to their children, who in turn, related it to their children. They distinctly remember that Bronco John Hulse gave all his money to his sister and that the dun gelding was branded on the right hit with hip with an "M." He never said how he came by the horse, turkeys, and presents.

The family lived in the rented house until the middle of May. Bronco John broke horses for a living for farmers and ranchers in the area for $1 a head, earning enough to buy a good wagon. In May, he hooked the fat and sassy gray mare and dun gelding to that wagon and moved his sister and her family to the Bray area and Indian Territory.

1993 additional note to the story:

A number of old-timers remember when Bronco John Hulse was riding bucking horses in the Bray area well after he reached middle age. He died of an apparent heart attack in 1929 while trying to catch a mule that jumped out of the corral and got out in the road southeast of Bray.

Mary Ida passed away in 1939 at the age of 86. Several of her great-grandchildren still live in the Marlow area.

Mamie's son, Chester Vandagriff lived most of his life in the Bray area where he and his wife Ethyl (Anderson) raised their 10 children. Their oldest son, Dan farms near Bray, another son, Jerry, lives in the Doyle area near Owens' Prairie and their daughter Peggy (Vandagriff ) Wortham, lives in Marlow

Vera Mullican, the widow of Lincoln Jones (son of Kim) still lives on their farm southwest of Rush Springs. Mary Ida, Kim, Leo and John Jones are all buried in the Marlow Cemetery.

Mamie Jones Vandagriff's final resting place is the Resthaven Memorial Gardens between Duncan and Marlow.

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