The Gatesville Messenger Magazine Edition of 1909 has an article about Purmela. “Purmela is a social community. Its people are very closely united. They love to mix and mingle one with another and entertain their friends. The young people enjoy life. As a result, many picnics, school entertainments, and socials crowd the life of the community—mixing pleasure with work. It is good to live at or near Purmela.”
Old Purmela was founded in 1879 and is located between the Cowhouse and Plum Creek. It is about 15 miles west of Gatesville on Highway 84. Old Purmela is north off of Highway 84 about a mile. New Purmela was created when most businesses moved to Highway 84 after it was completed in 1945. Purmela once had several stores, a post office, drug store, a tailor shop, a millinery shop, blacksmith, garage, mill, barber shop, gin, and a doctor.
The saying goes that even an old blind hog finds an acorn now and then. Well, I was lucky enough to accidentally find the History of Purmela, Texas by Viola Basham Culp Cathey in our own Gatesville Library. This little book is a treasure with interesting genealogy and stories of the families for generations. Viola grew up in Purmela with her parents James Fudge Basham and Nancy Roberts Basham who had 7 children born to them. Most of the information in this article is from this delightful little book.
Purmela had its origin in romance and error. A bachelor named Matt Drennan, founder of the town and owner of the first store and Post Office, chose a name for the town. It seems that Drennan loved a girl by the name of Furmela Hebenshal, but he failed to win her affection. He thought if he named the town after her she might change her mind. The Post Office was petitioned with the name “Furmela”, and by error the name was returned Purmela. The story goes that Furmela did not change her mind; so the disappointed Mr. Drennan sold his property and moved away. In 1881 he legally turned his business over to Martin Drennan.
The Coryell Museum has the 1906 Purmela Post Office on exhibit near the blacksmith shop. This exhibit is about 6 feet tall and about 10 feet long and includes the Postmaster window as well as many individual post boxes. The Post Master did not receive pay, but it was generally inside a mercantile store and so increased his regular business.
Purmela was not a farming community in the early years, other than vegetable gardens and a corn patch for each home. Rather it was all ranching community with the cattle roaming freely with no fences. Some of the settlers came to the area as early as 1860. About 1870 several ranchers brought sheep to Purmela. Others also brought sheep to Arnett, Pearl, and Turnersville. The cattlemen were very displeased about this and gave the men who owned the sheep a bad time for a while. According to reports Will Voss at Arnett brought the first barb wire to Coryell County and used it to fence the Voss Ranch. The stockmen who owned no land but had cattle running on the open range were enraged, cut fences, and did all they could to discourage fence building. The Methodist Minister of Pearl, was thought to be the second person to use the barb wire. Soon everyone began using it. Coryell Museum has two large display boards of various kinds of barbed wire. Coach Mitchell allegedly asked one of the boys in his class to do as his project the different types of barbed wire. Coach liked it so much the boy gave him the project.
An interesting description of the Plum Creek area in 1872 is in a letter that Bishop Montgomery had written to a friend. “This country was a wilderness. The Indians came in almost every light moon and stole horses, and after the Civil War things were demoralized. There was very little settled until 1872. There were no churches but there were some local Methodist and Baptist preachers who held services mostly in private homes.”
The letter continues. “Family hogs ran at large and would fatten on acorns. These hogs were wild razorbacks and would dress from 125 to 150 lbs at one or two years old. Most people would pen them and feed them on corn for a few weeks as it made the meat better. The settlers would pen and milk any cows they could find, and the owners said it made the cows and calves gentler.”
Mr. Montgomery writes that “The grass was 2 to 4 feet high all over the hills and valleys and was burned off in the spring. Before 1872 no cotton was raised here, but after that time, we began to raise it. The land was fresh and there were no insects to bother (boll weevils), so we raised big crops. One bale per acre was very common. For several years the cotton was marketed at Waco which was a trip requiring 4-5 days with ox wagon for each.”
By 1879 over 800,000 bales of cotton were produced in Texas over 2 million acres of land. The averaged produced was 2.7 bales per acre according to Texas History online.
Mr. Montgomery also wrote, “About 1868 a log school house was built and called Montgomery School. The school term was three months long I think. I attended 4 terms. It was called a subscription school, each pupil paying (in this case) $1.50 per month. My education didn’t cost Texas a dime.”
Coryell Museum and Historical Center will be closed from July 29, 2014, until the beginning of September for remodeling and refurbishing.
In early September when we reopen come to Coryell Museum and look in the School Room Exhibit for Purmela and photos of some of its students. Behind the Log Jail Exhibit we also have several types of corn shellers, cotton scales and a cotton wagon.
We are proud to have received the Bobby Thornton Genealogy Collection containing 9 large shelves of genealogy information for our Research Room. This also contains a copy of History of Purmela by Viola Basham Cathey, as well as History of Pearl by Charles E. Freeman.
By Jann Dworsky and Property of The Gatesville Messenger 2014