The MacGregor sisters and the mystery of Minera, Texas

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.)

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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.
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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…”

UPDATE:  A number of newspaper items confirm that indeed Anna and Mary taught school at Minera.

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A little more about Maggie and the Sad Death

Old Main, Sam Houston State Normal Institute, Huntsville, Texas 1928.preview

Where Maggie Jones was going to school, at least for a while.

The Corpus Christi public library came through and yesterday they sent me two newspaper items on my third great-aunt Maggie Jones’s death. If you’ll remember, this poor kid died of scarlet fever when she was just eighteen and away from home. The story we saw last week from the Laredo paper made it sound like she’d been attending school there, and I’d thought it was the boarding school there. Nope, it turns out she’d been at the “Normal Institute, Huntsville,” a teaching school (now I know: normal tends to mean teacher education) that would later become Sam Houston State University. Then apparently she stopped in Laredo on her way home to stay with her aunt and uncle and take an exam at the institute there (a teaching certification exam maybe), when illness struck.

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From the Corpus Christi Caller, August 3, 1884 (click to enlarge)

(This was an object lesson in interpreting primary sources. The Laredo paper had led me to believe Maggie was attending school there, but her hometown paper in Corpus Christi had the correct details.)

The “more extended notice” “from the pen of one who knew [Maggie] well” ran in the Caller a few days later. Here’s a PDF of the memorial, followed by a more legible transcription.  Don’t get too excited: it was written by Maggie’s pastor, who described her as being pious, and sweet, and, uh… pious. Typical passage:

The subject of this sketch entered into rest at the age of 18 years, 4 months, and 10 days. Physically she was frail, and from an early period she was impressed with the thought that her life would be short. This impression, however, never turned her aside from the duty of the present hour. To be useful, to be well furnished as to her mind, to keep her heart with diligence and to live the life of a Christian, was more to her than length of days and years. She often spoke of death, but it was as a release from the trials and ills of life. During her short illness, texts of scripture would come to her, which she had learned from her mother as being comforting in affliction. She was sensible of her approaching end, and once, after prayer had been offered at her request, she repeated with touching simplicity the prayer of innocent childhood—”Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Yeah, we get it: she was Beth March. Pretty much the only helpful information here is her exact age to the day when she died, which, if my backwards counting is correct, has her birthday as March 19, 1866. (She was a Pisces.)

Maggie is listed as having a “probable and possible” grave at Old Bayview Cemetery in Corpus Christi, the same cemetery where her grandfather, a former mayor of Corpus Christi, would be buried a few years later. So there’s a chance she could have been buried on family property, but Old Bayview was the most likely place she would have ended up.

Just for fun I searched on the name of the clergyman who performed the funeral service and possibly also wrote the memorial piece. I found this article, which seems to be the right guy. (Look at that beard! Are you going to buy anything that guy wrote about anyone?)

Rest in peace, Maggie, wherever you are.

Starting points: the brief life of Maggie Jones

I was just beginning to compose this post this morning when I realized I’d accidentally hit Publish at some point instead of Save Draft. It wasn’t a big deal, of course… I just changed it back to draft mode and it had only been online for a few minutes. By then, though, it had gone out to as a “New Post” email to the subscription list. Anyone who saw it would saw just the post title and these four images below, in the same order they appear now.

But as it happens, these photos tell almost all the story I have about Maggie L. Jones, who is my third great-aunt:

Anna's sister. Reverse side of card says

Maggie Jones, born around 1866 in Corpus Christi , Texas

Maggie was Anna Jones’s sister. According to census records, she was born around 1866 in Corpus Christi, the youngest of three—Anna, who was about four years older, followed by Harriet, aka “Hattie,” and then Maggie. I assume Maggie is short for Margaret, since she has an aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, and Hattie seems to have been similarly named-after someone on that side.

I found the photo before I saw the census records. So I found out from Anna herself—well, her note—that she’d had a sister.

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Reverse side of photo. Anna’s handwriting; “My sister Maggie.”

A few months later I found out what happened to her, by way of a funeral notice in a scrapbook that Anna had put together later in life—the scrapbook appears to be from the 1920s, and there’s a single spread of pages plastered with obituaries and funeral notices of family members across the years, a sort of paper graveyard.

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Note: M.A. Sinckler is Mary Ann Moore, apparently widowed and remarried by 1884.

And there you’ll find Maggie, who died of scarlet fever at the age of 18.
AIMG_7632 few more details: She’d died shortly after starting school in Laredo. As to which school—maybe it was the Laredo Seminary, which later became as The Holding Institute? The school seems to have served many purposes, but this marker indicates that it had opened as a boarding school for women in 1880. Anna was attending Wellesley around this time, and I think that she and Hattie later taught school in Corpus Christi, so it’s possible that Maggie was attending school to become a teacher as well… or a missionary? There were several teachers and clergy on the Jones side of the family, so either vocation seems possible. 

UPDATE: It turns out she was enrolled at the Normal Institute in Huntsville.

Other little details to be gleaned: Maggie was staying in Laredo with her aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, who was married to William Headen. Only one sister is mentioned as arriving with their mother to be by Maggie’s bedside—maybe that was Hattie, since Anna may have been up at school in Boston. And I wonder how much it cost to have a funeral train?

I found an abstract for a memorial piece published about her in the Corpus Christi Caller a week or so after her death. I hope to get the article soon. Also hope to find out where her grave is. And why she went to school. And why did she go to Laredo instead of Wellesley like her sister? And when did her father die?  And what was her life like, there in another century, on the edge of Texas and the ocean?

Amazing rare photo of Dr. MacGregor IN ACTION!

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Dr. William Wallace MacGregor

I think when it comes to photographs my great-great-grandfather Dr. MacGregor is sort of the family Sasquatch: he almost never makes an appearance in any of the snapshots that began proliferating in the early 1900s. He had a good number of studio portraits taken over the years, so we know what he looked like, and that he never, ever went without a prodigious display of facial hair.

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“I have made a Masonic pledge to always keep this moustache!”

But he rarely shows up in other kinds of photos, and when he does he’s always shadowy and/or distant. I have one of him driving a buggy, taken from far off, and another of him in a crowd during a WWI Loyalty Parade in Laredo. And I think he’s the fellow on the left in this photo. In all of these pictures you’re never quite sure that it’s really Dr. MacGregor.

Which is why the photo below is so great, because not only is it a photo of Dr. MacGregor, but it’s a photo of him being Dr. MacGregor.

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Dr. MacGregor, doctoring (or at least pretending)

This was taken at Mercy Hospital, the Laredo hospital that the Sisters of Mercy order had founded, with the help of Dr. MacGregor and other local physicians. Somewhere (now I can’t find where), I read that Dr. MacGregor had helped design an operating room at the hospital, and perhaps it is this one (which clearly uses natural light as the light source, as apparently many ORs did in that era). My guess is that this is from around 1905.

It’s a posed photograph. Dr. MacGregor’s youngest daughter Kathryn played the patient, according to a note on the back written years later by her sister Anna. (Once again, Anna explains it all for us.)

IMG_7817 Mother Clare was one of the hospital’s founders, and during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Laredo in 1903, she helped nurse Dr. MacGregor back to health after he was stricken with the disease. (I don’t think she’s one of the shadowy nurse-nuns in this photo, but who knows.)

And not that we ever doubted that Dr. MacGregor was a doctor, but it’s nice that this picture exists.

Flash-forward with the MacGregor sisters

Remember these gals? My great-grandmother Mary and her four sisters.  When we last saw them they were little girls in white dresses in south Texas around 1900. Their mother was Anna Jones MacGregor (whose baby photo we saw in the last post) and their father was Dr. W.W. MacGregor (bearded wonder doctor and one-time superintendent of an insane asylum). It’s been a few years, and now the Sisters MacG have grown up into… young women in white dresses in south Texas.

(They were on the Mexico border, though, and it must have been hot. White probably was a good choice.)

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From left to right: Margaret, Mary, their mother (Anna Jones MacG), and Kathryn.

My guess is that these photos were taken around 1907 or 1908, with Mary in her late teens, Margaret around 13 or 14, and Kathryn around 12. (Was 15 the age girls graduated to longer skirts?)

Here’s Anna, who would have been just out of her teens, old enough to occasionally don black dresses and alarming corsets:

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Anna MacGregor and shadow of unknown photographer (Mary?)

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Anna, on right. (Dear God, that WAIST!)

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Your handy guide to identifying the MacGregor sisters

Meet the MacGregor sisters. All five of them! One of them is my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor, aka “Nana,” my mother’s paternal grandmother. They are the daughters of William Wallace MacGregor and Anna Jones MacGregor.

I think this picture was taken around 1901, most likely in Laredo, Texas.
The tall girl in the back is Anna, the oldest. Then from left to right it’s Mary, Margaret, Helen, and Kathryn.

When we were going through the stash of family photos back in December we were having a hell of a time telling all the MacGregor girls apart. There were so many unlabeled portraits—baby pictures, graduation pictures, all of the girls’ features just a little different. I don’t think it was until recently that I even really knew there were five of them. Mary/Nana I knew about of course, and when I was growing up I’d hear about Kathryn, who was very old and living out in San Francisco. Still, it took a while to get them all straight.

The photo above is one of the few that shows them all together, and someone took the time to label the back carefully and say who’s who. I can tell them apart now, but when I first got this picture from my cousin’s collection it was like the Rosetta Stone.

Here’s a picture from the same day:

Here Kathryn, the youngest, is on the far left next to Anna, I have some of their silver and my engagement ring belonged to Kathryn. Both she and Anna married military officers and lived in the Philippines for a while.

Helen is the one with the doll. She never married and became a high school teacher in Texas. Behind her on the right is Mary, who also became a military wife when she married my great-grandfather. And then on the end is Margaret, who I don’t know much about at all and tend to think of as the Mystery MacGregor. She married and lived in New York for many years but was buried back in Laredo.

There will be a quiz on all this later.

I love their white dresses and their black stockings. I wonder if my mother’s curly hair came from Nana.

This photo kills me because I always wanted sisters but never had them. I was the second child in my family, and the first girl born in my father’s line for several generations. My mom was told that “McClures don’t have girls.” So when I look at this picture from my mom’s side in terms of genetic probability, I like to think these sisters had some kind of hand in my being born a girl.

Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor

Their names came up in the last entry, so it seems like as good a time as any to introduce my other set of great-great grandparents, the MacGregors. So let’s meet these crazy kids!

William Wallace MacGregor was born in 1851, in either New York state or New Jersey.  Anna Jones was born in Texas in 1862. I find myself wanting to double-check these birthdates—there’s quite an age gap between these folks and the Jameson great-greats. Then again, the back of Dr. MacGregor’s photo says it’s from 1886, and he does look like a 35-year-old there. Anna’s photo is probably from the early 1900s.

W. W. MacGregor was a doctor, and, I think, the son of a Scottish or Scotch-Irish immigrant. As for Anna, she seems to have attended college—we found a notebook of hers from Wellesley—and it’s through her that the family line can be traced back to the 1600s.

(Forgive the vague details: we have more information on these folks in some boxes in Albuquerque, and I’ll add/correct things when I get a chance.)

The MacGregors lived in Laredo, Texas, during the early 1900s. They had five daughters. You’ll meet them in a bit.