New Year's Day,
and the Memorable Week After
By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011
As the year 1878 drew to its close, Ellen had become increasingly aware that she could pursue her writing with much more efficiency if assisted by a dedicated professional editor. A prolific reader and writer, still she would never completely overcome her deficiencies in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. (NOTE: It is interesting that having the prophetic gift did not exempt this lady from the same sorts of character growth we each deal with in making our way through life, learning by trial and error to make the best possible decisions based on the options available to us, etc.)
James and Ellen had discussed the names of many individuals, both in Texas and in Battle Creek, as possible literary assistants. The name that rose to the forefront was that of Marian Davis.
Miss Davis had worked as a school teacher and later as a proofreader at the Review and Herald publishing office in Battle Creek. Her literary skills were considered to be particularly valuable in the production of the Youth's Instructor. However, she had worked to exhaustion in late 1878, and when she arrived at the Denison train station on Jan. 1, 1879, it was not totally clear whether she would be an asset or a liability. She was definitely not in the best of health.
Jan. 1, 1879, was a beautiful day in North Texas. Ellen records, "...we rode ten miles to Sherman and could sing. January is as pleasant as May. We returned after dark ten miles by moonlight... We started after two from Denison and returned, reaching home about eight o'clock...Marian seems to be feeling tolerably well. Appears better than we feared she would..."
The May-like weather would change overnight. Ellen observes, "...today is another cold day, the coldest we have had this winter. We have sudden changes here." The weather would get progressively worse, but on Jan. 2, James White was unconcerned. He wrote to Willie, "M.A. Davis (her real name was Mary Ann, but Ellen referred to her so often as Marian that she is known today as Marian Davis) arrived safely in better health than we expected. She will rest awhile before doing much. I give her work to read by herself and work when improvements can be made and then she will read to your parents evenings, when we have laid aside our glasses, (apparently both James and Ellen wore glasses?) and we can all talk the matter over. We are now critically revising Spiritual Gifts, Vol. I to put through the Signs."
Four days later, Jan. 6, Ellen writes to Mary and Willie, "It is so cold here we can do scarcely anything until near noon. I have never experienced colder weather than this except on our way to Waukon and in returning from there. I have a good fire in the fireplace, but our hands are so cold in handling paper, we have to wait a long time before we can write. We had two inches of snow fall last Sabbath and it does not melt yet. Apples froze in the room where we have had a fire all day. The cold penetrates in the houses. This house is plastered, but it is fearfully cold. How long we shall have it thus, no one can tell."
In the same letter she comments regarding Marian, "Marian is just what we need. She is splendid help..."
The cold weather, however, caused a minor crisis for James. It seems he has come south to Texas with only a light coat, and despite numerous requests for the relatives in Battle Creek to send him another coat, no coat has arrived. Ellen scolds Willie and Mary, "I wrote you to send Father's coat weeks ago, but lo none comes. He came to the camp meeting with only one of his best black broadcloth coats that he has had to wear common and for best. He caught and tore it fearfully on the sleeve. A tailor mended it for half a dollar.
"But it seems strange that neither common nor best coat has come now... He has to wear his overcoat in the house all the time, his coat is so thin. He has a common, thick coat we sent for no less than four weeks ago or more. He needs these clothes every day now. Should we be called to attend meetings in any of the meeting houses, he has no coat decent to wear."
Two days later, James writes to "W.C.W. and M.K.W." (Willie and Mary), "The snow is falling rapidly... We shall take off the wheels from our new buggy and set the waggon on those runners. Tomorrow we think of going to Sherman, a city of 10,000, about twelve miles from this place. I have no barn for the horses, and shall pitch my tent for them tonight."
He continues, "Please send me a pair of new warm woolen socks by mail immediately. I walk so much that I stomp through a new pair each week. Mother is patching with buckskin. And please send me a pair each week till the tenth of February. Don't Forget!"
James ends his letter, saying, "Mother is writing above by a fireplace in a room 20x18 and I write below before a fireplace in a room the same size. Both have carpets. They are plastered and light. Old Texans say this is the coldest weather that ever lay out down in Texas. In the morning we chop our teeth out of the solid ice before we can use them at the table! Hah! But probably February will open fine, and all hands will make garden."
Are the Whites in for a long, cold Texas winter, or will the snow melt soon? Is Marian Davis going to be a help or hindrance? And does James ever get that coat? Read on to find out and peek into the Bahler household in Denison.
About this Article Series
The complete story of the Whites' Texas sojourn had never before been published before this series of articles appeared in the Keene Star newspaper (Dec 2003-Apr 2004). The series touches on the highlights, and presents little known facts about the Whites' stay in Texas.