By Bobby A. Morris,
Tyler County Historical Commission
One of the early Tyler County families that married into the Wheat family is that of Ruby Cordelia Rotan, who in 1917 married Judge James Edward Wheat, the founding father of the Tyler County Dogwood Festival. Ruby was born in Chester in 1896 to John Rotan (1873-1937) and Clara Rhodes (1880-1968).
Ruby’s mother, Clara Rhodes, was the daughter of Rev. Arnold Rhodes (1835-1887), who in 1859 became the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Woodville. Joining the Bethel congregation that same year were Mary Elizabeth Shivers and her mother, Nancy Tolar Shivers. Mary Shivers was one of four women listed as teachers in Tyler County in 1859. In 1870 she married John Wheat, the great-uncle of Judge James E. Wheat.
Rev. Arnold Rhodes, the maternal grandfather of Ruby Cordelia Rotan Wheat, married Ruth Virginia McAlister (1842-1923) in 1860. Ruth was a young lady who loved to dance and continued to do so after becoming a member of Bethel Baptist. Bethel was organized in 1851 when the county courthouse across from the church was sometimes used as a dance hall when court was not in session. Bethel was a church with strict rules, one of which was against dancing.
Ruth was informed by a church committee that she must stop such inappropriate behavior. Ruth told the committee she no longer wanted to have fellowship with the church, and her name was removed from its membership roll.
Although Ruth and Rev. Rhodes ignored the action of the church and Ruth continued attending dances, Rev. Rhodes no longer served as Bethel’s pastor after joining Captain John T. Bean’s Texas Calvary as chaplain at the start of the Civil War. Bethel continued to have problems with members not following church rules, and in 1866 Bethel dissolved. Woodville remained without a Baptist Church until 1887 when Rev. Jeff Rhodes – the son of Rev. Arnold and Ruth McAlister Rhodes – organized Woodville First Baptist Church. Rev. Jeff Rhodes served as FBC’s pastor for 31 years.
The parents of Ruth Virginia McAlister Rhodes were Daniel McAlister (1809-1870) and Mary Johnson (1821-1896). Daniel McAlister in 1850 was a trustee of the Woodville Academy (school). The McAlister clan, like the Wheats, intermarried with the Shivers family. Robert Magee Shivers married Francis McAlister, a cousin of Ruth McAlister Rhodes. Robert Magee and Francis McAlister Shivers were the grandparents of Texas Governor Allan Shivers, whose story, as well as that of his wife, Marialice Shary Shivers, their challenges, accomplishments, and contributions to Texas and U.S. history can be viewed at the Shivers Museum in Woodville.
The father of Ruby Cordelia Rotan Wheat (the wife of Judge James Edward Wheat) was John Rotan. John was the son of Robert Rotan (discussed below) and his third wife, Mary Polk. Families grow close in rural communities, so perhaps it is more humorous than surprising that Mary Polk’s brother, George Polk, married Ruby Cordelia Rotan’s half-sister, Lizzie Rotan, the daughter of her father-in-law and his first wife, Lucinda Barnes. Lucinda was the daughter of James “Panther” Barnes who settled at Mount Hope in 1839. According to tradition, the historic Mount Hope Methodist Church, still in use today, was organized at the Barnes home.
Robert Rotan had an interesting life beyond his three marriages. During the 1846-1848 Mexican American War he enlisted in Col. George Wood’s Second Texas Volunteers. This calvary unit was fighting in Monterrey Mexico when Mexico surrendered. Wood’s men headed home to Texas, but Robert Rotan was overlooked for unknown reasons and the company departed without him. It took Robert six months traveling by foot at night through hostile territory to reach his Tyler County home. A second story of historical interest comes by way of Robert Rotan’s son, John Rotan, who was present when his father asked his neighbor, Valentine Ignatius “Bob” Burch, a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, to tell him about that climatic closing battle of the Texas War of Independence. Below is an excerpt from that story:
“Bob (Valentine) Burch. I remember him, well, heard him relate to my father (Robert Rotan) just how the battle was fought. He was on the left wing of the army--waded water waist deep, held his rifle over his head to “keep her dry.” Ran up on north side of Mexican Camp. Saw several hundred Mexicans bunched up--entire company fired. This company of Mexicans was in command of Almonte, Santa Anna’s Secretary. He--Burch--said they fell like leaves in the autumn wind. Almonte was trying all the while to surrender but just at that moment word came they had killed General Houston. The Texans then fired again mostly from pistols and some rifle fire. Others with knives, some used rifles as clubs. The confusion was awful. Almonte surrendered with several hundred men. Ground where they stood was covered with dead or wounded. Every Mexican threw down his arms. Ten Texans escorted the Mexicans to Houston’s camp.” (General Sam Houston was injured but very much alive.)
Another early family connected to the Rotans, as well as to Valentine Burch, is that of Peter Cauble (1786-1870) who married Mary Rotan (1794-1860), the sister of Robert Rotan. Peter and Mary Rotan Cauble settled in Peach Tree Village in 1831. Peter joined in the Texas fight for independence and in 1839 received a grant of 640 acres from the Republic of Texas. He built a large hewn-log house at Peach Tree Village that we know today as the “Burch-Cauble House.”
In 1841, Peter and Mary Rotan Cauble’s daughter, Helen Cauble, married Valentine Burch. Peter Cauble later secured a deed to 506 acres additional acres which he conveyed to his son-in-law. Valentine Burch, who was raised Roman Catholic, built a house, and often entertained missionaries who said Mass in his house.
When Mary Rotan Cauble died in 1860, Peter Cauble buried her in a small cemetery known today as the Burch-Cauble Cemetery, located a few hundred yards from his house. Peter Cauble moved his daughter and son-in-law into his house and Valentine Burch managed Peter’s cotton plantation. Before his death in 1870 Peter Cauble deeded his Peach Tree Village property to Valentine. Helen died in 1886 and Valentine in 1892. They are buried in the Burch-Cauble Cemetery.
In 1965 the Burch-Cauble House was awarded a plaque recognizing it as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
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