Texas or Bust

Every family has a story. These stories are usually exchanged upon the knee of a beloved grandparent or told around the dinner table during the holidays. During the past month a patron has been kind enough to invite Special Collections into her own family’s story. We are proud to announce the acquisition of the Ervin Family Papers, which catalog the pioneering adventures of the Ervin family ancestors, Jonas Lafayette and his wife, Mary Hamilton Ervin. Of special note within this collection is a pair of letters written by Jonas Ervin and Mary Ervin during their first year on the Texas frontier. Both Mary and Jonas discuss the hardships of the frontier; topics range from not being able to afford vittles to suffering from scurvy.

It is important to draw attention to the structures of these two letters. When placed side by side you can identify congruent headings and salutations in both letters. It has been my observation that Mary demonstrates a higher level of literacy than her husband, Jonas. The script of her handwriting is much neater; her grammar and spelling is also up to standard while Jonas’ letter is peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is possible that Jonas asked for Mary’s help in formatting his letter or at least copied her style in order to write a legible letter. As a researcher, it is interesting to notice the differing levels of education between Jonas and Mary. It is obvious that Jonas is barely literate while Mary has gone through some kind of formal instruction. Does it strike you that, as a female on the Texas frontier, Mary would have a higher level of education than her husband, Jonas?

These letters serve as excellent windows into what living standards were like in West Texas during the 1870s, as white pioneers from the east began to settle the area. Though the Ervins faced many perils and tribulations they were able to build a legacy upon the dusty, Texan earth and a life for their family; which consisted of thirteen healthy children, all of whom survived into adulthood. What is your family’s story? What obstacles did they face while taming the wild, open spaces of the Texan wilderness? You’ll be surprised by the historical landscapes that lay before you when you  examine your own family’s journey. Please share with us your family’s story so that we may all know more about our collective past.

ACU_Ervin.Family.Papers 1

The first page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The second page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The first page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

The second page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

Below are transcriptions of both Jonas’ and Mary’s letters. The transcriber has preserved the original grammar and spelling of each author. Some words are unintelligible. If you have any insights into what some of these unrecognizable words might be please comment. Thank you.  

Click here for Annotated Jonas Lafayette Ervin Letter Transcription

Click here for Annotated Mary Hamilton Ervin Letter Transcription

Author: John Weaver

Dr. John B. Weaver is the Dean of Library Services and Educational Technology at the Brown Library of Abilene Christian University. He teaches in the College of Biblical Studies at ACU, and preaches at the Oak Street Church of Christ in Abilene, TX.