By JAMES WEAR
Family history books often provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, and recently, I was fortunate to come across one written several years ago by Joan Brizendine Davis in which she wrote of the ancestry and descendants of William Brizendine, who was born in 1743 in Essex County, Virginia. Many of his descendants ended up in Texas and settled in what would become known as Gabriel Mills.
Mrs. Davis’ book, published in 1972, includes photographs and drawings as well as a plat of Gabriel Mills from the late 1800’s. The drawing is credited to Wayne Allen Williams with the assistance of John Milton Brizendine.
Identified in the drawing is the Brizendine store, which was once operated by John R. Brizendine, who was born in 1843 in Kentucky. He enlisted for service during the Civil War and found himself in Austin where he worked for a government foundry until the war ended.
Mrs. Davis writes, “He was engaged in the stock business, milling and merchandising, and also served as postmaster of Gabriel Mills.”
A granddaughter of John R., Gladys Irene (who married Mike Smith) provided a listing of items sold in the Brizendine store, with the items including saddles, horseshoes, churns, long underwear, snuff, castor oil and much more…it was virtually a “Wal-Mart” of its day. “Butter, eggs and chickens were bought from neighboring farms, and sold along with other groceries,” according to Gladys Irene.
Another granddaughter, Mrs. Grace Gray, supplied another story for the book: “…game suppers, held upstairs over the old store building, will long be remembered…” as she described hunting contests held with a prize awarded to the hunter who killed the most game in a given amount of time. In addition to a meal “fit for a king” was prepared by the “ladies of the contestants” and afterwards, “there was dancing, card games and all kinds of contests. The apple cider flowed freely, and a good time was had by all.”
Mrs. Gray also described what was known as a “peddle wagon” that served as a delivery vehicle for the Brizendine store. Lawson Brizendine was among those to drive it. According to Mrs. Gray, “The driver of the peddle wagon did not have it so good. The hours were long (from daylight to dark)…the pay was $75 per month. There were no paved or graveled roads, just cow trails. Half the time, during the rainy season, the wagon stayed stuck in the mud…”
As I read through the Brizendine family story, I found myself once again reminded of what we often describe as “the good ol’ days” and “simpler times” were yes, perhaps often filled with laughter…but with difficulty and challenges as well, and one can’t help but develop a deep respect for those ancestors who paved the way for all of us to have better lives.