Local hide tannery and its Civil War history

 

In the mid l960’s Hugh Whitaker made me aware of a hide tannery that operated during the Civil War making leather that was used to make shoes for the soldiers and other needs. It was located about five miles east of present day Donie on a spring branch that became known as Tanyard Branch near Old Zion. 
This tannery was started shortly before the Civil War by Egbert Beall who came to Texas in the late 1850’s. It is said the reason for Beall coming to Texas was his brother was killed at Goliad. For his brothers service in the Texas War for Independence and being killed at Goliad, he received a league of land in Bell County.
After his marriage to a half Indian girl from the Keechi Reservation he traded this land for some Spanish horses, as there were no trees to build fences and such. They came to Old Zion near Donie where he purchased land. 
Beall operated a freight line from Houston and Galveston to Freestone County. He built the first plank house in the area with lumber he brought in on this. The road trip to Houston and Galveston is reported to have taken about three months; I feel sure oxen were used. 
It is believed that this was the only tanning shop in this part of Texas. It is reported a large working force was required as this was a big operation. Beall served in the Confederate forces during the war with the tannery operated by his wife and slaves. 
A son, John Beall, was killed while fighting alongside his father in the war. The cowhide tanned was mostly made into shoes for the Confederate soldiers. Hugh Whitaker's grandfather, Robert came back with Egbert Beall at the end of the war to operate the tanyard, which closed between 1865 and 1870.
The vats used at the tanyard were constructed of hewn logs, which were fitted together at the ends. The vats were about four feet above the ground. The cattle hides were soaked in the vats in water and oak tree bark. The oak bark acted as a tanning and preserving agent on the hides. 
When Hugh Whitaker and I visited the site in the 1960’s little was left. Impressions of the vats were still visible in the ground. It is reported there were six small vats 8 feet by 10 feet and one larger 10 feet by 20 feet. 
I am sure nothing is left here today as the area has been mined for lignite for the utility plant. Hugh Whitaker also reported his father, J.L.R. Whitaker was one of the last to use oxen on his farm. The steers were named Brad and Barry. 

 

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