This summer John Clay and Diane McClellan, Belcher descendents, donated to Coryell Museum a wooden sewing chest that is over 200 years old and once held $6,000 in gold coins. This Belcher family chest was kept by Mildred (Minnie) Mears in her living room all her life, but of course, the gold was spent long ago. She is the author of the Coryell County Scrapbook, published in 1963 and it is for sale in our own museum Gift Shop. This is information about her family in Gatesville’s early days.
Minnie Mears tells the story of Mildred Rosa Watkins below:
The early settlers in Gatesville had built their homes near the Leon River and on the south and west sides of the square. As the Belcher’s wagons came into Gatesville they were drawn by two beautiful bay mares, the other by a yoke of oxen, and riding in front of them was a man about forty years old on a beautiful stallion. Mr. Belcher had been a building contractor and they were escaping the hardships of reconstruction days in the “Old South.” Hidden inside the lead wagon was the sewing chest containing $6,000 in gold coins.
When Mr. Belcher rode onto the square, people rushed out of the stores to greet him and then showed him to the Norris’ house where he received a welcome such as only frontier people could give. Norris owned a farm about three miles north of Gatesville on the other side of Dodd’s Creek and it was there that the Belchers settled down to make their home.
Late one afternoon about a week later, Tom Bone came by to tell them that runners had come from Hamilton County to warn the people in Coryell County that a raiding party of Comanches was headed their way. Bone told them to take their horses to the timber and tie each at a different place, to nail up the windows and shutters, and to light neither lights nor fires.
They quickly followed Bone’s instructions and all gathered in one end of the log house. It was their first Indian raid and you can imagine their fright. One man, two women, a teenage girl, and a child waiting in the darkness; finally, they heard the beat of hoofs on the soft ground, then the imitation of a bird call with an answer in the distance. They were terrified as they heard the tread of moccasins in the hall. The Indians went from one door to the next and from one window to the other scratching and tapping, and occasionally the Belchers heard that strange bird call and the answer from the distance. It seemed like an eternity to them. Then, in the silence of the night, they heard the clear loud neigh of the stallion. He had heard the Indian horses and was calling to them. The Indians left but took the thoroughbred stallion with them (belonging to the Belchers).
The next morning, there were muddy tracks in the hall and twigs and feathers that the Indians had pushed under the doors. A group of settlers quickly organized and followed the Indians up through Comanche, Texas, but could never catch them. The day before they came, the stallion had lost a shoe so the settlers could recognize his tracks in the mud and saw that he had been ridden by a man wearing high heel boots. Thus they knew that it was a white man. It was not unusual in those days for an outlaw to associate himself with the Indians.
About two months later, another raiding party came into the community and this time the two mares were taken and Belcher’s dream of raising fine stock was temporarily over. His family lived in constant fear, so he moved back to town. Not many more raids were made by the Indians, but, in the last one, they grew much bolder and came into the town itself.
In spite of hardships, the Belchers liked Coryell County. Mr. Belcher bought a hotel that had just been built (late 1800’s) where the Powell Supply Company now stands (1963) and he operated it for many years as the “Belcher Hotel.” (This building is currently the Coryell County Tax Office). He finally moved to Pidcoke and the long coveted ranch.
It was there that I, Mildred Rosa Watkins, the daughter of Rosa Belcher and Harry Leinster Watkins, was born.
Upstairs in the Coryell Museum is the Hotel Exhibit and information about several hotels in Gatesville’s early days. There is a photograph of the Belcher Hotel with a brass band standing in front of it. The wooden sewing chest that once contained the Belcher’s gold will be placed in the “Going to Texas” Exhibit upstairs, near the covered wagon.
Come to the museum and see other Belcher family items in our exhibits. A beautiful French Bisque doll belonging to Rosa Belcher in 1866 was donated to the museum by Susan McClellan Thomas many years ago and is in a glass cabinet upstairs at the museum. W.H. Belcher was Sheriff from 1875-1878 and a fine picture of him is on display near the Log Jail exhibit. He was also the first Mayor of Gatesville. His muzzle loading shotgun is in a glass cabinet in the Spur Exhibit and was donated thru the Mitchell Collection.
By Jann Dworsky and Property of The Gatesville Messenger 2014