The MacGregor Minera mystery SOLVED!

Sometimes all you have to do is ask the question and the answer will come. A few weeks back, shortly after I posted the previous entry (in which I speculated that perhaps my great grandmother and her sisters taught school in the mining camp town of Minera, Texas), a researcher friend of mine saw the link on Facebook and did a few quick searches in the newspaper databases he can access. (It happens he is a very good researcher.)

Sure enough, he found a number of clippings in the Laredo papers that show that Anna and Mary (along with other girls), taught school in Minera, and they stayed there during the school term with occasional visits home

March 1908: Anna is around twenty years old.13726586_10153178152687465_3255580076689247602_n  September 1908:13700044_10153178154497465_8451705861865473216_nNovember 1908:  Little ten-year-old sister Kathryn comes up to visit! (Bonus: Mrs. Roy was the wife of the mine superintendent.)13669569_10153178159942465_6624088838219020197_n Mary had the teaching gig by September 1910, when she was around twenty. Obviously she survived the ordeal described below. (Homesickness maybe?)13668942_10153178161777465_3869447850786804958_o February 1911: Guess they had a long holiday break. Interesting that Anna was living in Corpus Christi at this point. She might have been staying with the cousins and great-aunts/uncles who might have still been living up there. Was she teaching school there, too?13699979_10153178146402465_2137777451326325954_n

May 1911: Mary comes home for the summer.13709948_10153178148707465_5097446005712145508_n

Not yet known: how many terms they taught. And did they need the money and/or experience? Or were they in it for the adventure?

We know that Helen, who came next in age after Mary, taught in the mining town of Dolores. That might have been around the time Minera shut down in 1915. Did the two youngest MacGregor sisters—Margaret and Kathryn—teach as well when they were old enough? And if so, did they teach in places like Minera and Dolores?

(Ed. note: didn’t mean to stay away for a whole month! I try to post weekly when I can, but sometimes it’ll be more like once a month. Sign up for email notifications if you want to know when I’ve updated.)

The MacGregor sisters and the mystery of Minera, Texas


Anna MacGregor, Helen MacGregor, and Mary MacGregor (second, third, and fifth from left), in front of Minera, Texas post office, early 1900s.

So you remember this photo from this entry a couple months back on the MacGregor sisters, right? These were my great-grandmother Mary and her sisters; Mary would eventually marry into the Jameson family. The sisters and their parents lived in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexico border. And, as I figured out from studying the photo above closely, a couple of the sisters sometimes visited a nearby coal mining town called Minera,Texas. When you click on the photo and view it at full size you can just make out the name of the town on the sign to the right.

I didn’t know why the girls were in Minera. In the photo albums I have, which I believe belonged to Anna and Mary, there are several photos taken there. Here’s another one:


Anna MacGregor, second from left, Minera, Texas. Others in photo not known, though the man to right of Anna may have come from nearby Fort McIntosh. (He also looks like he could be the young man in the previous photo)

I had the vague notion that the girls and their friends went there on occasional jaunts, based on pictures like the one below, where the place seems like a playground to them.

But I’ve found enough bits and pieces to make me wonder if one or both of the girls lived at Minera. Or at least stayed there sometimes, in order to teach school.


Anna at far left, Mary far right.

The key piece of information comes from Helen, the third oldest of the MacGregor sisters (after Anna and Mary). Helen’s papers include a brief autobiographical account of her childhood and teaching career, in which she mentions spending four years after college teaching at the school at Dolores, another small mining town outside of Laredo.


Dolores Mine (image from Google Books)

In the 1910 census, all the sisters were living at home: Helen was 17 and still a student, but Mary, 20, and Anna, 22, were listed as public school teachers. Going by the clothing, the photos don’t appear to be taken later than 1910, and could have been a few years earlier. If Helen taught school at Dolores during her early twenties, isn’t it possible that one or both of her sisters did the same thing, a few years earlier, in Minera?

I went back to those old photo albums and found these:

Schoolchildren1 Schoolchildren2

Those look like students all right!

I forgot these were in one of the albums.  I hadn’t photographed every picture in there—I’d mostly been looking at the snapshots of the sisters, taking cameraphone pictures of them so I could get a closer look and make out who was who. But that meant I’d stopped looking in the albums and was missing the wider context.

In the same album pages are more pictures of what could be Minera:

minera3 minera2 minera

Minera no longer exists. A 1940s article called The Life and Times of Minera, Texasapparently written by a descendant of one of the mine supervisors, seems to be the most detailed account of the place. It says that Minera was 25 miles from Laredo at the end of a branch railroad line, and that the trip took the better part of a day (in 1895 at least). The article mentions that the superintendent and his wife lived in a “comfortable, roomy stone house” with a broad, flat roof, and that the wife’s presence “made it agreeable for two young ladies to come out from Laredo and conduct a school for the children of the miners.”

A number of the photos that appear alongside the mine pictures show a stone house with a flat roof. Could it be the superintendent’s house? It doesn’t seem to be the MacGregor place (which had a shadier yard and was more clearly in town, with the Laredo post office building visible across the street.)


Anna (I think, at far right) and friends on roof of mystery building. Fits description of Minera supervisor’s house, the roof of which was said to have been used as an observation deck to see across to the Mexico side of the Rio Grande.

Anna shows up most often in the photos; not sure if that means they were her pictures, perhaps recording her experience at the mine. My theory is that one or both of the sisters and possibly other young women lived at the supervisor’s house during the school year as guest-boarders under the watch of the supervisor’s wife. Helen, on the other hand, describes the Dolores mine as being near her home—it was a shorter distance, closer to ten miles—and by the time she would have been old enough to teach (1911 or so?) the trains were likely faster. Another possibility is that the sisters frequently visited a friend who taught at Minera, but the number of photos—and the fact that Anna and Mary were listed on the census as teachers at around the same time—makes me think otherwise.

Anna, who would later travel to in the Philippines and have her wedding there, strikes me as the adventurous one, the sort who would get a kick out of teaching in a mining camp. According to The Life and Times of Minera, in the early days (before 1900), dances were held in the schoolhouse every Saturday night, “which generally ended in a tequila-inspired brawl during early dawn. On Sundays they held cock-fights, and every payday nearly everybody got drunk at the cantina.” Nice! In the later years, though, the residents were ordered “to refrain from sticking knives into each other at Saturday night bailies in the schoolhouse.” Oh well, Anna and Mary look like they could make their own fun.

Minera was abandoned around 1915 after flooding in the mine shafts forced the mining operations to move further inland from the river. It’s listed as a ghost town in some guides. Somehow it still shows up on Google maps. Dolores isn’t marked, but the maps I found show it was in the area in the right-hand corner of the page, beneath Highway 255.

The Life and Times ends with a last look from 1945:

“…the old stone walls of the superintendent’s house furnish a shelter to countless bats … The well-preserved cement floors are barely discernible beneath the blown dry earth that is gradually covering them over, and in another generation there probably will be no witness remaining who remembers the gayety and excitement that once was Minera, Texas…”


Have a patriotic 4th!


“Pony up, patriot!”

Didn’t have time for a full post this week but in honor of today’s holiday please enjoy this film still I found of my 2nd great-uncle House Jameson (youngest son of Joe Lee), in Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, which has been running daily at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center since 1957 (that’s right, almost 60 years, the longest-running film in history). House played the high-rollin’ gamblin’ Colonial planter William Byrd III. He’s the one standing and holding his hand out, all like, “pay up!” America!

EVEN MORE Joe Lee in the White City


Ferris Wheel stereoscope image (found for sale online)

Maybe it’s because it’s summer, but I wish there were enough stuff in these scrapbooks to let me blog about the World’s Columbian Exposition for about ten more weeks, because jeezle pete, I really love old world’s fairs. Two summers ago I was working on the first draft of a children’s novel set at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which had the same grand Ferris wheel (the first ever, you know) from the 1893 fair. I stared at pictures of that thing so I could write the scene when the kids in my book see it for the first time. It’s even on the cover of the book (and yes, I know it wasn’t that close to the waterfront), and it turns out my great-great grandfather had been on it in Chicago. I mean, so had a lot of people, but still!

Anyway, when we last left Joe Lee Jameson, he was wandering daily around the fair and the Midway Plaisiance, sending postcards and checking his mail at the Texas building in hopes of getting a letter from his wife, Ammie. He was also most likely having a complete blast.

Where did he stay? Making an educated guess, based on this pasted-in bit in Ammie’s scrapbook:


The Stamford

This picture is only a couple of inches square, small enough to have been clipped out of a sheet of letterhead or a brochure. The buildings looked pretty Chicagoish to me and when you zoom in on the image you can see “Chicago” in the engraver’s signature. You can also see, on the teeny tiny banners atop the building, the words The Stamford. I did some searching and sure enough, the Hotel Stamford, on Michigan Avenue at Thirteenth Street, is listed in a 1893 Chicago guidebook. You can see it in this birds-eye-view here (it’s marked with a “5”). Rates were $2.50 to $5 a night, or about $60 to $130 in today’s money. For comparison’s sake, the famous Palmer House hotel had rates of $3 to $15 dollars per night, so the Stamford was probably a mid-price kind of place.

From the Stamford it would have been just a couple blocks’ walk to the elevated train (what’s now the Green Line) going south to the Exposition grounds at Jackson Park. About a mile to the north of the hotel was—is!—the Auditorium theatre, where Joe Lee apparently caught a show.


Auditorium theater program, in Ammie’s scrapbook

The show Joe Lee saw was America, a “grand historical spectacle” produced in honor of the Exposition. Going by the program and the little bit I’ve read about historical spectaclesAmerica appears to have been a plotless but extravagant maelstrom of dance, pageantry, and stagecraft, with performers playing allegorical figures such as “Progress,” “Liberty,” and “Bigotry” (just try to imagine the costume for that last one). There might also have been dancers portraying “Whitney’s Cotton Gin” and “Morse’s Electric Telegraph” in the Grand Ballet of American Inventions. (I would have liked to have seen that.)


Poster of Imre Kiralfy’s AMERICA (found online), featuring a whole lot of costumed performers standing in rows & stuff.

Version 3

Click to see the whole program

The program has all kinds of curious tidbits, such as a note strongly recommending that patrons, “especially the ladies,” leave their seats and socialize during the intermission. There’s also this handy description of the air conditioning system:

Version 2

“Pardon me, but will you kindly explain how is it so delightfully cool in this establishment?”

“The cooling and ventilating apparatus used for the Auditorium is extremely simple,” it begins. You can click on the pic to read the whole explanation, which involves a ten-foot-diameter fan, a shower of brine, and oh, just 40,000 pounds of ice per day.

But back to Joe Lee, who was still writing home:


Sweetheart:—I have just taken a stroll on the roof of the Manufacturer’s Bdg. It is the finest view that I have ever seen. Yours, Joe Lee Jameson.

Here was his view, or at least one of the views that was possible from the top of the massive building:


(photo from Wikipedia)

The building Joe Lee was on is featured in the postcard below, which he sent later that day. He’d finally gotten a letter from Ammie. He was also ready to come home:


Sweetheart:—Yours of the 18th is rec’d. I see the handwriting on the wall. We are all going dead broke. When that occurs, which will be very soon, we will pack our Saratogas for Texas. Why you can’t breathe at Jackson Park without first dropping a nickle in the slot. Look out for us anytime. Yours, Joe Lee.

No idea if “the handwriting on the wall” referred to running out of cash or something in Ammie’s letter. Either way, Joe Lee and his traveling companions were getting sick of spending nickels. It was time to return to normal life. You know, at the insane asylum.


(And maybe you’re wondering what that was like, living on the grounds of a nineteenth-century state-of-the-art mental institution? Ammie’s scrapbooks have some clues, and I’ll get into those sometime this summer, so stick around.)

Joe Lee in the White City!

So my great-great grandmother Jameson’s scrapbooks are pretty overwhelming to go through. Ammie (later known as “Jamie”) crammed them full of newsprint clippings, old railroad tickets, postcards, and party invitations, pasting in lengthy articles, one-line local news items, sentimental poems, pictures, quotations, telegrams, et cetera, turning the pages into dense crazy collages of 19th-century ephemera, often in no particular order. So it’s taken a while to find all the little stories that are told in the bits and pieces.

I was just looking through some photos I’d taken of the scrapbook pages a few months back, and noticed the series of postcards that Ammie’s husband Joe Lee sent her in 1893 from Chicago. Chicago! (For me that is HERE.) It would be three more generations before some of Joe Lee and Ammie’s descendants (my mom; me and my brother) would wind up living here. In 1893 the Jamesons were ensconced in Texas, and there was pretty much only one reason why any of them would visit Chicago at that time and I BET YOU CAN GUESS WHAT IT IS:


OMG THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION!!!!! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

YES. Only the freaking Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition (or “the 1893 World’s Fair,” if you want to be generic about it). Joe Lee was there, sending postcards home to Ammie. I went back into the scrapbook to look for more details. Evidently he went with some friends:


“Just going to the world’s fair wtih my bros.”

In case you’re wondering: yes, that was Will Hogg, son of the then-current Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg (and, of course, sister of Ima). W. L. Barker Jr. was the son of Dr. Barker, the first superintendent of the Southwestern Insane Asylum where Joe Lee worked. Will Hogg would have been 18 at the time; W.L. Junior, whose father was born in 1852, couldn’t have been much older than 20 and was most likely in his teens as well. Joe Lee was about 24. Maybe he was a sort of chaperone, trusted to travel with the governor’s and the boss’s sons? Who knows. But it seems likely they were going up to Chicago to be part of a “Texas Day” celebration, which involved having the Texas building at the fair “thronged with Texas people.”


Texas Day, September 16, 1893. (Click on photo to see a little more news text). Clipping from Amaryllis Jameson’s scrapbook.

Joe Lee’s postcards home apparently started two days later:


“The greatest thing… that has ever been on earth.”

“Sweetheart:—The Fair is the greatest thing of the kind that has ever been on earth. It is impossible to see it all, but I am walking myself to death in order to see as much of it as possible. Am too tired tonight to write a letter. Joe Lee”

By the 19th, Joe Lee and the boys were hitting the Midway Plaisance, where all the “amusements” (i.e., the fun, exotic, and seedy attractions) could be found:


“Sweetheart:—We spent to-day in the Midway Plaisance. We visited the Lapland Village, the Libbey Glass Works, the Javanese Village, Hagenbeck’s Menagerie and the Moorish Palace. Have been to the Texas Bldg every day for a letter, but have rec’d none. What is the matter? Yours, Jameson”

What was the matter indeed. Was there a bit of the silent treatment coming from San Antonio? Ammie would have been at home (and remember, home was staff quarters in the Southwestern Insane Asylum), with their toddler son (my great-grandfather) and two-month-old baby Vida. No way to know whether the new baby was the reason the rest of the family couldn’t go, or whether Joe Lee’s trip was part of some kind of official Texas muckety-muck business that didn’t include spouses. But the separation seems to have been on Joe Lee’s mind to some extent. When he wasn’t watching trained lion shows, admiring waxworks at the Moorish Place, and riding camels, that is.

Two and a half days later, still no letter from home, but Joe Lee has somehow managed to find things to do on the Midway:


Sweetheart:—I have taken a camel ride in the Streets of Cairo, a round in the Ferris Wheel, a peep at the Children’s Nursery and kissed the Blarney Stone. I will go over to the Texas Bdg and get a letter from you—I hope. I have worn holes in my shoe soles. Yours, Joe Lee”

Holes in his shoe soles! At least we know he was probably thinking of the kids when he visited the nursery. And he did bring back proof of kissing “the Blarney Stone” at Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village, a feat which reportedly required one to dangle bravely over the battlements atop the castle structure. The stone was a fake, alleged by some to be a chunk of paving block dug up from 57th Street, and I admit I really love the idea of my great-great grandfather kissing a piece of my home city.


He kissed it all right

What else did Joe Lee do in Chicago? And did the poor guy ever get a message from home, or was he doomed to enjoy one of the most impressive and spectacular public events in in world history without a letter from his wife, with only a couple of his young and probably well-to-do Texas buddies for company? More next week!

Rain check!


My great-great grandfather was a liar in 1894

No lie, I was working on a post for this week and had compiled all the images for it this weekend. But I’m on a deadline for a short essay I’m writing (it’s a tiny deadline) and needed to work on that yesterday instead. So you’ll have to wait next week, when I go back over to the Jameson side of the family and piece together a story from Ammie’s scrapbook, one that is super FUN. Because after writing about people dying of scarlet fever and ironic Civil War wounds, it seemed time for a change.

It has a Chicago connection, and, if you like guessing, it takes place a year or so before Joe Lee’s apparent liar certification. (Which I also found in Ammie’s scrapbook. I guess Liar’s Club membership cards were a thing back in the day?)

Keeping up with the Joneses, Part 2: Charles writes from Texas

Behold, Anna Collins’s handiwork: the binder of letters from the Jones brothers. (I know, the Jones brothers actually wrote the letters. But great-great Aunt Anna saved them, and I feel I have to thank her constantly, because I have heard from my parents and grandma that she could be JUDGY, and you didn’t want to cross her. Anyway.)


“Letters from Jones Brothers” (Anna MacGregor Collins’s handwriting). Binder compiled in late 1960s or so

The letters are from or to Charles, Ezra, Lucius, Alonzo, and William, and the dates range from 1848 to the early 1880s. I’m slowly going through and scanning and transcribing these, and you, dear blog readers, are my excuse for getting through them in a timely fashion.

But first I’m going to cheat a little and offer up a letter that has already been transcribed, because Anna Jones MacGregor (my second great-grandmother and Judgy Anna’s mother) sent it off to be printed in a Texas newspapers sometime in the late 30s or early 40s (I’m guessing.) Here’s a PDF of the clipping—appears to have been from a Hebbronville newspaper, but not sure which one. I’m running it because it’s sort of a nice intro to the Jones siblings (and also I’m lazy).

Scannable Document on Feb 21- 2016- 3_58_01 PM

Intro to letter. Mrs. W.W. MacGregor = Anna Jones MacGregor.

The letter is from Charles Jones, whom we met last week. (I know, the letter intro says it’s Anna Jones MacG’s grandfather, who was also named Charles, but he died in 1843, so it’s clearly a typo). Since it was written to “the folks back home in old New England” and addressed to a brother, I’m guessing the recipient was either William or Ezra up in Boston or maybe New Hampshire.

To summarize the letter: Charles, who would have recently graduated from Dartmouth (at the age of 32?), was traveling with his younger brother Alonzo, then a teenager, down to Texas. They sailed from New York to Galveston on a fifteen-day journey, took a steamboat to Houston, and then traveled some sixty miles north by wagon to Grimes County (not far from Montgomery, where he wound up living and practicing law), noting plenty of traffic along the way, probably from immigrant settlers who were streaming into Texas at the time. 

“The road goes where the wagons are pleased to drive, and there is so much travel that there are sometimes eight or ten parallel tracks, and we could sometimes see twenty teams at once, with four to six yolk of oxen to each, and from ten to twelve oxen. The drivers carry their own snack and whiskey, and the cattle are turned loose to feed. Farmers make money here.”

Was he looking to buy land? For most of the letter he’s talking about the money involved in growing cotton or raising livestock (“A man may keep as many [sheep] as he pleases,” he writes) and the rising price of land, but there’s also no indication that he was more than an observer. He and his brother appear to have known where they were headed, since he mentions they were expecting letters upon their arrival. Was Charles looking for opportunities in Texas, or was he on his way to begin a specific job? And who the heck was Sam?

But never mind. In the newspaper the clipping is followed by this note, which has some delightfully specific information about two other Jones brothers. There’s Alonzo, who we already knew worked for the railroad; and then Lucius (called “Lu” in this and other letters), who was the chaplain in a Confederate brigade that fought in one of the few Civil War skirmishes in New Mexico, and who met with a tragic (and ironic) death:


Some choice bits of info about Lucius Jones and Alzonzo Jones.

Yeah, so THAT happened. We’ll find out a little more about Lu’s life and death in the Jones letters. Until then…