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From Cotton Bales to Black Gold

A History of the Pioneer Wiess Families of Southeastern Texas

By W. T. Block

{Originally published in Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, VIII #1 (Nov. 1972), 40-61.
Thanks to Mr. Tom Cloud for his efforts in scanning and converting the article to web format.}

If optimism is the art of anticipating the future, then, inversely, the art of reviewing the past must be termed pessimism. That this proposition is erroneous is evident in the growth of a nation or man's conquering of space, for such events have meaning only in relation to other human achievement in the past. On a lesser scale, so it is with the history of East Texas, one accomplishment of which, in three generations, links giant Humble Oil and Refining Company to a pioneer's rustic cabin on the banks of the Neches River.

To visit Wiess Bluff, fifteen miles north of Beaumont, Texas, is to ignite one's nostalgia posthaste, for at this point a sleepy stream winds around a horseshoe bend en route to the sea. Scattered along its length are the sandbars, the snags and bank crevices, evidences that on occasion the river's serenity gives way to turbulence. Here too is the blending of the old and the new, as weekend retreats intersperse along the banks with the rustic old Simon Wiess homestead and the wrought iron fenced-in family cemetery nearby.

Newcomers soon discover that 80-year-old Arthur W. Coffin, Jr. is the lone resident, who is descended from Simon Wiess, the early settler from whom "the Bluff" took its name. Coffin can discourse at length of those days when steamboats docked at the wharves, and exchanged their merchandise cargoes for the upriver cotton. He can explain Wiess' Bluff's earlier importance as the head of year-round, tidewater navigation, and his great-grandfather's role as the middleman of Neches River commerce. And tucked away in his farmhouse are the myriad old photographs, mementoes, and heirlooms, whose mute testimony corroborates his statements.

Prior to 1840, this bend of Neches River was known as Grant's Bluff, from some little known, early day figure. 1 However, the earliest available Deed Records there involve John S. Roberts and Dr. Niles F. Smith, both key figures in early East Texas history and original proprietors in General Sam Houston's and Colonel Philip Sublett's Sabine City Company at Sabine Pass, Texas. In January, 1840, at the time that Simon Wiess settled at Wiess Bluff, Roberts transferred 2,200 acres of the Patsy Linney league to Dr. Smith, reserving 116 acres to be laid out as a townsite. 2 During a part of the years 1840-1841, Dr. Smith was residing at that site, but he returned shortly thereafter to Sabine Pass, where his principal business interests were concentrated. 3

Simon Wiess

The progenitor of Southeast Texas' pioneer Wiess families was born on New Year's Day of 1800, at the dawn of a great century of technology and progress. Simon Wiess' parents were of middle-class German origin, who lived at Lublin, Poland. While little is known of Simon's early education, it is known that he was trained in law, and that he spoke seven languages. In fact, one source describes him as being "a noted traveler, distinguished scholar, and an accomplished linguist." 4

At age sixteen, Simon Wiess began a period of traveling that ranged over four continents. His Masonic chart carries the best record of this period of his life. By April 2, 1825, it indicates that Wiess was a Royal Arch Mason at Constantinople (now Istanboul, Turkey), after which he lived for some months in Asia Minor.

He began a seafaring career which brought him to America for the first time, in the year 1826. On February 22nd of that year he visited Mount Lebanon Lodge in Boston. This date marks as well his entrance into the New England-West Indian maritime trade, a commerce in which Wiess engaged for several years afterward. 5 In 1828 he visited among lodge brothers in both San Domingo and Barbados. In May and June of 1829 he visited three lodges in Ireland. In the course of his travels he lived at various times in Central and South America, as well as in Mexico and the West Indies. 6

In 1833 Simon Wiess arrived at Galveston, after which he remained in Texas (except for short periods in Louisiana) until the end of his life. Shortly after the Texas Revolution he was appointed as deputy-collector for the short-lived Port of Camp Sabine at old Sabinetown, near Milam, Texas. 7

It was during the period of the Texas Revolution that Wiess met and married Margaret Sturrock on January 6, 1836, at Natchitoches, Louisiana. Daughter of William and Ann Swan Sturrock, Mrs. Wiess was born near Dundee, Scotland, on June 12, 1814, and emigrated to New York with her parents in 1830. In 1832 this family migrated again to New Orleans, eventually settling on the Red River at Natchitoches. 8

The Wiess-Sturrock marriage was typical of the early bond marriages which are recorded in Jefferson County, Texas. On December 5, 1835, prior to the nuptials, Simon Wiess signed a $12,000 bond to Robert Gelatly (variants of this surname are Galaghtly or Golightly) of Natchitoches, by which agreement Wiess was to receive $4,000 as Margaret Sturrock's marriage portion. A year later, he appeared before C. S. Taylor of Nacogdoches, and deeded back to his wife land and cattle of equivalent value. 9

After their marriage, Margaret and Simon Wiess settled at Nacogdoches, Texas, where they remained for about two years while the latter engaged in merchandising at Old Stone Fort. During their residence there their eldest child and only daughter, Pauline (later Mrs. Abel Coffin, Jr.), was born on May 14, 1837. 10

Seeing greater economic opportunity farther south, Simon Wiess in 1838 converted his merchandise inventory into baled cotton, and, with his family and household effects, floated the first cotton-laden keelboat south to the coast. In this instance, Mrs. Wiess made the first such voyage by a woman down the Neches River. Coincidental with, or directly resulting from this trip, Sabine Pass exported its first cotton that is recorded in Republic of Texas Custom House records during the year ending July 1, 1838. 11

On September 6, 1840, Simon Wiess transferred his marriage bond to his brother-in-law William Sturrock of Liberty County. This record lists the property and effects that Sturrock was to hold title in trust for his sister Margaret Wiess, as follows: 12

 

Item Value
House and land at Grant's Bluff (later Wiess Bluff)
        in Jasper County
$ 400
1/2 of 3/4-league plus 1 labor, Red River county 750
320 acres, Milam county 150
1/6 of 1,280 acres, Bigham survey, Jasper county 100
1 acre on Sabine Pass, Burton survey, Jefferson county 150
1/3 league plus 1 labor, Wilkinson survey, Jasper county 300
354 acres, J. A. Veatch survey (Spindletop), Jefferson county 200
1 Negro woman named Jane 600
One carriage and 2 horses 250
12 cows and calves 240
Tools 50
Household effects 500
  _______
Total $3,690
 

On October 7, 1841, in addition to the afore-mentioned property, Wiess transferred back to Gelatly, as trustee for Margaret Wiess, the titles to tracts of land, as follows: 13

 

Item Value
1/2 of 1 league plus 1 labor, A. de los Santos Cey headright $ 750
1 league, Spencer Osborn headright 500
1 league, Johnson Palmer, Jr. headright 500
3/4 of 1 league plus 1 labor, Juan Pedro Boden headright 400
320 acres, John Pleasants headright 100
150 acres, Benjamin F. Mott headright 250
320 acres, Solomon Wright headright 100
213.3 acres, Hillard Durden headright 50
213.3 acres, Benjamin Williams headright 50
213.3 acres, Robert Laird headright 100
1 house and 1 lot in Beaumont 500
Pair of oxen, one mare, lot of hogs, and 250
Store merchandise 500
  _______
Total $4,050
 

In October, 1839, both Wiess and Dr. S. H. Everett (of Sabine Pass and Jasper county, president pro tempore of the Texas Senate) each purchased 1,475 acres of the valuable D. Gahagan league along Sabine Lake from Joseph Grigsby of Port Neches, a member of the Texas Congress. Wiess owned this valuable acreage for about fifteen years before he sold it. 14

In 1838 Wiess opened his second store at Beaumont, where he also owned a house and lot. After some months, he sold out to his clerk, W. P. Herring, 15 after which he opened his third store' at Grigsby's Bluff, or Port Neches, site of Joseph Grigsby's Mexican land grant. Three business blunders apparently sharpened his acumen sufficiently, for Wiess' fourth choice of location was an unqualified success. During low water seasons, Wiess' Bluff was as far inland as river steamers could travel, forcing the upriver planters to freight their cotton by oxcart to that point. 16

During this period of his life, Simon Wiess was in frequent contact with some of the most prominent men of Southeast Texas. He represented Dr. John Allen Veatch (pioneer Jasper county physician, surveyor, large landholder, and botanist) in land transactions with power of attorney. He maintained a close association with Grigsby's son-in-law, George W. Smyth, 17 also of Jasper county. In conjunction with these men, as well as Thomas B. Huling, Captain Andrew Smyth, Dr. Everett, Dr. N. F. Smith, and John McGaffey of Sabine Pass, Wiess's business and land transactions crisscrossed East Texas from Red River to the Gulf of Mexico. 18

Strangely, much of Wiess's real estate holdings for Jasper and Jefferson counties are not reflected in the 1840 Census of The Republic of Texas, perhaps because they had not been recorded or were not in his own name. This record indicates that Wiess voted in Jasper county, and was taxed there (as S. "Wyes" 19 ) for six town lots at Bevilport, one slave, three clocks, one silver watch, and one horse. In Jefferson county, he was taxed only for 357 acres of land. 20

Simon Wiess is not recorded as owning slaves in either the 1850 or 1860 manuscript slave census schedules for Jasper and Jefferson counties. However, individual slave transactions are recorded in his name. It is true that his occupation of trader and merchant (he was only minimally involved in agriculture) would not require ownership of large numbers of slaves. Because of his Germanic upbringing, it is also possible that Wiess was basically anti-slavery in his attitude, for most of Texas' German immigrants of this period expressed this opinion vociferously.21

By 1842, Wiess Bluff was a regular stop for the cotton moving southward. By that year, Robert Patton (of Pattonia on Angelina River) was making irregular runs to the coast during the winter months on the steamboat "Angelina." During periods when the river "wouldn't serve,"22 cotton was freighted overland to Wiess Bluff by ox wagon, or floated with the current by keelboat. 23

Contemporary with his settling at Wiess Bluff one month later, Simon Wiess established a mercantile partnership with Dr. John Veatch on December 13, 1839. By terms of this agreement, Wiess and Veatch purchased a $10,000 hardware and merchandise inventory from Ira Peck of Georgia. Veatch was to share in the profits of Wiess' business, while, in return, paying Peck for the purchase with three leagues (13,300 acres) of his East Texas holdings. 24

During this early period, Simon Wiess also engaged in the lumber business to some degree, operating a primitive, horse-driven "peck" mill. One of the characteristics of this early method of sawmilling was that the peck hammer could be heard for more than a mile through the forest. 25

Also during these early years, the remainder of the Wiess children, five sons, were born, the eldest at Port Neches, and the remainder at Wiess' Bluff. These included Napoleon, born March 10, 1839; the twins, Mark and William, born October 23, 1842; Valentine, born July 27, 1845, and Massena, born August 27, 1849. 26

Schedules I and IV of the 1850 and 1860 manuscript census lists reflect, to some degree, Wiess's real and personal property holdings as they existed in Jasper county. In 1850, he owned $10,000 worth of real estate, of which 2,514 acres were in Jasper county (14 acres improved, 2,500 unimproved). In 1860, Wiess owned $15,000 worth, of which ten acres of improved land and 10,000 acres of unimproved land were in Jasper county (see footnote for agricultural holdings). 27

Their residences at Nacogdoches and in Jasper and Jefferson counties also brought Simon and Margaret Wiess into contact with persons whose names read like the muster roll at San Jacinto. Beginning in January, 1840, the annual board meetings of Sabine City Company required that the principal proprietors, Generals Houston and Sidney Sherman and Colonels Philip Sublett and George W. Hockley, attend, either in person or by agent, at Sabine Pass. The Neches River was their main travel artery to that point and Wiess Bluff was a favorite stopover. Another San Jacinto regimental colonel, Henry Millard, was a Beaumont land developer during this period. 28

Wiess became known as a trader and broker in every type of commodity that moved in the export-import trade. Other than merchandise, these included lumber, livestock, cotton, tobacco, wool, honey and beeswax, corn molasses, hides, furs, and finished leather. His imports included every conceivable necessity known to frontier living, including even wrought iron and pig iron, salt, horseshoes, gunpowder, and lead.

In order to facilitate river traffic, Simon Wiess engaged in the first dredging of the Neches River channel. He paid for the removal of snags and silt from the river for the several miles from Wiess' Bluff to Bunn's, work that was supervised by his eldest son Napoleon. To increase the flow of cotton from Tyler and Hardin counties, Wiess built a 9-mile-long wagon road from Wiess Bluff westward to connect with Pine Island Road. His daughter once stated that Simon Wiess accomplished the latter at the unbelievably low cost of $18.00. 29

One of the tales that Mark and Napoleon Wiess frequently related involved an unexpected race over this road. In 1856, Simon Wiess made a journey by buggy into Tyler county to negotiate land transactions. One hour after his departure, Margaret Wiess discovered that her husband had forgotten his deeds and records. She sent her two sons racing over the wagon road, and, two hours later, the boys overtook their father twelve miles away. However, the footrace had so exhausted them that it required six hours for the boys to retrace the route home that they had covered earlier in only two hours. 30

During the 1850's, a number of steamboats appeared on Neches and Angelina waters, stopping irregularly at Wiess Bluff. These included the "Juanita" (Capt. Brandenberg), "Rough and Ready," "Roebuck" (Capt. Peter D. Stockholm), "Kate" (Capts. George Bondies and Stockholm), "Doctor Massie" (Capts. John Clements and John Dorman), "Early Bird" (Capt. June Pointevent), "Pelican State" (Capt. W. E. Rogers), "Sabine" (Capt. Increase R. Burch), and the "Sunflower" (Capt. Clements). It was aboard the latter vessel that Pauline Wiess met her future husband, the "Sunflower's" engineer Abel Coffin, Jr.31

Abel Coffin was born in Pennsylvania in 1826, and was descended from a long line of Nantucket, Massachusetts, shipbuilders. He arrived at Sabine Pass with his parents in 1849, where he worked as a ship carpenter at first, and later switched to steamboat engineer. After their marriage on October 14, 1858, Pauline and Abel Coffin continued to reside at Sabine Pass until the yellow fever epidemic and Union Navy occupation of September, 1862, at which time they returned to Wiess Bluff with their children Mary and Arthur. Abel Coffin died at Wiess Bluff in 1866. 32

The last decade of his life brought Simon Wiess his greatest heartaches and severest financial reverses. That he cast his lot with the seceded states is evident in the fact that his son-in-law and four sons entered Confederate service, three of them in 1861. However, one must assume that this was an act more of resignation than enthusiasm. It was only too evident to the affectionate and hard-working father that war would choke off the export business upon which the family livelihood depended and that his five sons, all approaching manhood, would be called upon to fight. As the following section bears witness, events of the 1860's -- war, reconstruction, and advancing age -- increased Simon Wiess' woes, and were to hasten his death at Wiess' Bluff on August 13, 1868. 33

 II. The Wiess Family and Civil War.

On April 20, 1861, Abel Coffin enlisted in Sabine Pass Guard, a newly-organized militia company, which eventually became artillery Company B, Spaight's Battalion, Texas Volunteer Infantry. As early as March 25, 1861, when Jasper county's "Red Star Guard Rifles of Texas" organized at Wiess Bluff, the four oldest Wiess sons enlisted. Napoleon was elected first lieutenant; Mark was elected third corporal; William Wiess was appointed as secretary, to conform to the militia's company's constitution; and Valentine Wiess became drummer. 34

However, on September 20, 1861, Mark and William Wiess (followed by Napoleon on July 3, 1862) enlisted in Captain O. M. Marsh's cavalry Company A, Spaight's Battalion, at Sabine. A number of their Civil War letters and a penciled account of the offshore battle with Sabine's Union blockade squadron (some letters have been published -- see footnote 32) are extant, either at Rosenberg Library in Galveston, or within the Coffin family. 35

In 1912, Captain William Wiess published an article in Beaumont Enterprise, which explained his, his brother Mark's, and Coffin's roles in the offshore battle at Sabine Pass. Captain Wiess explained that since space would permit only twenty-five men from Capt. March's Company to ride aboard the Confederate cottonclad gunboat "Josiah Bell" as sharpshooters, it was necessary for the soldiers to draw lots to see who would go. Both Mark and William Wiess drew blanks. Using two Confederate $10 bills as a bribe, plus oral persuasion, the brothers succeeded in talking two married soldiers from Orange, Texas, out of their respective places aboard the steamboat "Bell." 36

The following account of this affray was penciled by Abel Coffin on a flyleaf of a copy of Macaulay's "Essays," the only memento from the captured blockades Morning Light that he succeeded in obtaining. William Wiess managed to obtain two blankets from the ship, while his brother Mark got a suit of clothes, both being prized possessions at that time. 37

On the morning of the 21st of January, 1863, the blockading force off Sabine entrance consisted of the clipper bark "Morning Light," of 1,000 tons, carrying four iron 32-pounder guns in each broadside and an inch and a quarter Butler gun aft, with 120 men, and a tender, the schooner "Velocity" of about 100 (actually, 200) tons with two 12-pounder brass boat howitzers and some ten or twelve men.

The river steamers "J. H. Bell" and "Uncle Ben," having been clad with cotton, arrived at Sabine Pass on the evening of the 20th, the former carried a 6-inch (64-pounder Columbiad) rifle forward and a crowd of men (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), amounting to some 250. The latter had two iron 12-pounders forward and about the same number of men as the "Bell" and of the same sort.

The morning of the 21st, clear and calm, found all in readiness, and we proceeded to attack the blockaders under the nominal command ' of a drunken military officer (Major O. M. Watkins). The "Bell" was in command of Charles Fowler; the "Ben" in charge of William Johnson, both good seamen and brave officers. After a running fight of more than an hour (to a point 30 miles at sea), both vessels surrendered, and both would have been brought in safe but for the drunken interference of the above-mentioned military officer. The "Velocity" was brought in (to Sabine), and the "Morning Light" was burned on the bar.

This book was the only valuable part of the prize that I was able to obtain, being at the time engineer on the steam tender "Sunflower. " 38

Abel Coffin

Beginning in May, 1863, the Wiess brothers took part in an 8-months campaign in Louisiana, and helped Confederate General Taylor's army to stem Union General Nathaniel Banks's first attempt to invade Texas. At its high water mark, Taylor's Atchafalaya River drive carried as far inland as Opelousas, Louisiana, before Banks chose to retreat.

Five of Colonel Ashley Spaight's companies fought in this campaign, although the Wiess brothers' company was detached, fighting as infantry, to Colonel George W. Baylor's Second Cavalry Regiment, Arizona Brigade. The following letter from Napoleon Wiess to his mother was written shortly after the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau (or Boggy Creek), fought on November 3, 1863, seven miles from Opelousas, Louisiana:

Dear mother:

I seat myself by a little oak fire in the dark to write you a few lines. I can hardly see so you must do the best you can about reading it ... We are all around this same little fire in good health and enjoying ourselves as well as could be expected for soldiers.

We have had a little battle among all the little fights . . . We lost 37 men killed, 60 wounded, 15 prisoners. The Yankees lost 355 killed, and wounded I have no idea. We exchanged wounded prisoners with them and had 60 more than they had and we took a receipt for them. We also took 1,240 [muskets, perhaps -- meaning not clear]. Cousin David and Peter was (sic) in the fight and came out safe . . . The battleground is about 4 miles long. We also captured two pieces of artillery and a good many small arms. Some of the boys got . . . clothing and a good many horses . . .

I think they are leaving us as fast as they can. They have ruined this country from Opelousas down -- about 100 miles of very rich country . . . destroyed all fences, burned and torn down a great many houses and took away all the sugar and cotton in their reach. They also used up a great deal of corne potatoes and beefe (sic) . . . they paid very dearly for it . . .

I almost forgot how you all look -- and I have not had a scratch of a pen from a Soule since I have been over here . . . take care of yourselves and do the best you can . . .

Your affectionate son, Napoleon. 39

All of the Wiess sons survived the Civil War, something of a feat within itself. In fact, by February 20, 1865, Valentine Wiess was back home at Wiess' Bluff, but his letter of that date to Jasper County chief justice A. F. Smyth leaves it unclear as to whether or not he was released from military service. Wiess complained to Smyth that he (Wiess) was supervising between thirty and forty slaves, "in the employ of the government," and that the slaves were "not kept under strict discipline" because most of the white male population were in Confederate service. His letter stated that both soldiers and civilians were "on detail" at Wiess' Bluff. 40

That Wiess' Bluff served the Confederacy as a military depot appears as well in one of Simon Wiess' extant letters. In a letter to Andrew Smyth in 1865, he referred to Confederate military goods stored at Wiess' Bluff as well as to the detachment of soldiers stationed there. 41

Simon Wiess also left one of the best descriptions of Wiess' Bluff in an article written for the Texas Almanac in 1859, a part of which is quoted as follows:

Wiess Bluff is situated on the Neches River, in Jasper county, fifty miles below the town of Jasper, and sixteen miles above the town of Beaumont; it is at the head of tide water. I have resided here with my family for nearly nineteen years. I believe this to be a very healthy section of the country -- so much so, that we have never had occasion to employ a physician. This is a timbered country, and consists of a considerable variety, but in the immediate neighborhood, it is mostly pine and cypress. This soil is thin, but it rests on a good clay foundation and most of it is susceptible to cultivation; the farms are generally small in the immediate neighborhood, but stock-raising is the principal occupation of the inhabitants . . .

When I first settled this place in 1839, the shipment of cotton that year consisted of fourteen or sixteen bales, but it has been increasing steadily until now; as near as I can judge of the quantity that went down (Neches River) last fall and this spring, it cannot be short of 7,000 bales, besides hides, peltries, tobacco, and lumber . . . 42

Among the Simon Wiess male progeny, Napoleon Wiess married Cynthia Ann Sorelle on July 20, 1861, while the remainder deferred marriage until their return from military service. Almost no information exists for the remainder of Napoleon Wiess' short, but eventful, life. Until his death on March 12, 1872, Captain Wiess was one of the best-known steamboat masters to ply the Neches River, at various times in command of either the steamboat "J. H. Graham" or the "Albert Gallatin." One record in Texana states that, in 1870, Captain Wiess of the "Gallatin" (an early vessel built at Beaumont) sent word ahead that "he would come and get the cotton" as soon as the river was at flood stage. It added that the "Gallatin" then docked at Boone's Ferry in Tyler county. For two days and nights, a grand ball was held aboard the steamer, while guests from as far away as Woodville and Moscow attended, "to hear the best fiddlers available." 43

At his death, Napoleon Wiess was survived by his widow and five children, as follows: daughters Martha Ann and Margaret, and sons William S., Edward D., and Napoleon, Jr. (the latter died one and one-half years later). Cynthia Ann Wiess died on February 6, 1891, and is buried beside her husband and son in Wiess' Bluff cemetery. 44

Within a period of four years, the other Wiess children married as follows: William, on January 11, 1866, to Lou E. Herring; Mark, on April 12, 1866, to Cleopatra McFarlane; Valentine, in 1869, to Mary E. Herring; and Massena, on March 23, 1870, to Elvira E. Janes. Two of the wives were sisters, daughters of Beaumont pioneer settlers Sarah and William P. Herring (see footnote 15). In the case of three of the marriages, the common dilemma was the early death of each wife, for Cleopatra McFarlane Wiess died on May 11, 1872; Lou Herring Wiess died on November 11, 1878; and Mary Herring Wiess died on September 8, 1879. Each brother married at a later date. 45

After her husband's death in 1868, Margaret Wiess continued to operate the family business with the help of her younger sons Valentine and Massena. In the 1870 census, both were listed as dry goods merchants, residing at Wiess' Bluff. Even then, Massena Wiess was dividing his time between there and Beaumont, for, on August 8, 1868, he was elected county treasurer of Jefferson county. He resigned this office in 1871 when he moved to Round Rock, Texas, where he remained (subsequently at Luling) for many years in the mercantile and cotton business. After 1872, when Valentine Wiess bought out his brother's store at Beaumont, Margaret Wiess gradually closed out her husband's business affairs at Wiess' Bluff, and died there on May 17, 1881. The Beaumont Enterprise for June 11, 1881, carried her long and complimentary obituary, written by the Rev. E. L. Armstrong, of Irene, Hill county, Texas, with instructions that the obituary be carried by other newspapers as far away as Stockton, California. 46

III. The Wiess Brothers as Beaumont Industrialists

As each of the Wiess sons married and left home, it is evident that their father wished to instill in each the need to profit from his mistakes, to be independent, and to deal with the public both with caution and propriety. The following letter is a summarization of the business wisdom he had attained through a lifetime of experience:

Wiess' Bluff, January 1, 1866

My dear boys:

As you have just started in business, I think it is my duty to give you a little advice, and with the hope that you will take it, observe it, for your own good. 1st, do not force, or persuade anyone to buy your goods; 2nd, have but one price; 3rd, open no liquors to be drunk in your store; 4th, credit no one; 5th, don't make your store a harbor for loafers and idlers; 6th, spend your leisure hours in reading and in the best society; 7th, don't be discouraged even should the times be dull -- hold on and you will prosper in due time; 8th, stand to all your contracts. I have committed (in business) several errors which I hope to prevent in you, if you will avail yourselves of my advice; 9th, you will lose custom and character if you permit drinking in your establishment. These are my injunctions as well as judge Wingate's to you. Should you fail or not, heed our advice which is all intended for your good.

In conclusion, I will say to you that my anxiety for your welfare and prosperity has prompted me to give you this advice -- I show this to your mother and she joins me in these admonitions to you and we will pray for your happiness and welfare.

Don't hesitate to say No on all proper occasions, as it will save you many dollars and much disappointment. It is my desire that you preserve these lines as a token of admonition.

And wishing you a happy New Year and may God bless you is the prayer of your affectionate father

Simon Wiess 47

In July 1865 William Wiess moved to Beaumont where for six months he was a cotton buyer for a New York firm. He was followed within months by his brother Mark, who opened a store, Mark Wiess and Company, in partnership with Judge David R. Wingate, a prominent Orange county sawmiller. Later, William assumed the Wingate interest, but turned his own attention, principally to steamboating, leaving Mark Wiess to oversee their joint interests ashore. By 1870, Mark Wiess was active in sawmilling (the business which became the base of the Wiess brothers' fortunes), selling out his store interest in time to his brother Valentine, who soon changed the store's name to V. Wiess and Company. 48

Thereafter, V. Wiess and Company specialized in everything from insurance to hair pins. At Christmas time in 1880, it carried a sale on "fine colognes, fancy scarfs, celluloid cuffs, and men's fine underwear." In Beaumont Enterprise for May 21, 1881, and subsequent issues, the advertisement for V. Wiess and Company indicated that the firm dealt in all types of insurance, hardware, dry goods, boots and shoes, F. B. Avery plows, and "Queensware" as well as groceries, and served as broker in cotton and hides (see footnote with respect to its cotton gin). That the business was highly profitable is indicated by the sums of money that Valentine Wiess used to finance the purchase of Reliance Lumber Company, and, later, for that company's expansion. Long after Valentine Wiess had left it, V. Wiess and Company continued on as an insurance firm. 49

The Wiess brothers, in whom lay invested so much of Beaumont's future, all remarried during intervening years. On April 5, 1873, Mark Wiess married Louanza Mixon, and, in 1880, William Wiess married Elizabeth Carothers of Georgetown, Texas. In 1883, Valentine Wiess married Laura Campbell of Refugio, Texas, and each wife survived her respective spouse at his death. The progeny of the Wiess brothers' marriages will appear subsequently with a limited commentary. 50

While, between 1875 and 1902, the interests of Mark and William Wiess were turned principally to lumbering, and those of Valentine Wiess to merchandising and banking, there were still much overlapping and diversity among their business interests, including land, real estate, investments, cattle, and rice milling. During the 1870's William and Valentine Wiess formed a partnership with their wives' uncle, William McFaddin, and with Dr. Obadiah Kyle, known as the Beaumont Pasture Company, whose purpose was to purchase land and cattle in South Jefferson county. Although William Wiess left it, the partnership continued on as McFaddin, Wiess, Kyle Land and Trust Company (upon which land the Spindletop oil gusher blew in, in 1901) and later as McFaddin, Wiess, Kyle Rice Milling Company. 51

In 1910, Captain William Wiess reflected at length on his steamboat career between 1866-1875, obviously; a nostalgic period of his life, and his statements provide the best primary source for the East Texas riverboating epoch. At the time, an investigative delegation from United States Army Engineers was in Beaumont: planning for deep water dredging in Neches River was at fever pitch (a field in which Mark and William Wiess were leading exponents).

Captain Wiess recalled 35 different steamers, their cotton bale capacities, and names of the captains, who had freighted the commerce of the river era. Wiess claimed to have worn out two steamboats himself. Although he failed to name either of the two, one is known to have been the "Adrianne," a belt-driven vessel, whose unsightly posture on the water won for her the nickname of "sitting goose." Captain Wiess recalled that most of the East Texas counties were producing from 3,000 to 5,000 bales of cotton annually around the year 1870, except Nacogdoches county where production ranged from between 12,000 to 15,000 bales annually. He added that on occasion he had steamed inland as far as Pattonia (Nacogdoches county) on the Angelina River, to Rockland on the Neches River, and as far as Belzora (west of Longview in Smith county) on the Sabine river. He recalled as well that the steamboat "J. J. Warren" had once loaded 1,400 bales at Townsend Bluff on the Angelina river, in San Augustine county. 52

The heyday of Beaumont's steam sawmilling epoch can be said to date from December 12, 1878, when the Reliance Lumber Company officially organized, and full control of which passed to the Wiess brothers. On paper, this epoch began in 1838 with the chartering of the Neches Steam Milling Company to Henry Millard, Christian Hillebrandt, and others, but this group's plans did not materialize. As fact, it began in 1857 with the Ross and Alexander mill, passed to Otto Ruff and William Lewis between 1859-1862, and, after the Civil War, to Davis Long and his son, Captain James Long. After the latter's death in 1873, Long and Company splintered into a multiplicity of operations, the foundations of numerous Beaumont family fortunes. However, it was via the old Goldsmith and Regan (earlier Otto Ruff's) mill that the Wiess brothers entered the lumbering industry. In essence, the 61-year continuous history of Reliance sawmill is the longest in Beaumont's lumbering history. 53

Prior to selling his mercantile interests in 1871, Mark Wiess, on March 5, 1870, entered into a partnership with Harry W. Potter, and bought the abandoned steam sawmill for $7,250 from the surviving heirs, Jeremiah and Dennis Regan, of Lagrange, Wisconsin, giving it the name of Reliance mill. This transaction included the single circular saw, machinery, fixtures, and boilers.

This early attempt evidently proved unprofitable for Wiess, for, disillusioned, he sold his half-interest on November 5, 1873 (at a loss) for $2,000 to James F. Ward and James Dalton. 54

In 1878, Mark Wiess returned to sawmilling, forming a partnership with James F. Ward, H. W. Potter, and W. P. H. McFaddin to be known as the Reliance Lumber Company, and taking over the old Ward (earlier Wiess) and Potter sawmill site on Brake's Bayou. As of that date, the financial stature of Valentine Wiess can be measured to some degree, for he assumed liens against the quartet of new owners totaling $10,284.00. 55

In March, 1878, the new partners saw fit to expand with complete new cutting machinery. At that time, they purchased the following from E. P. Allis and Company, sawmill manufacturers of Milwaukee, and paid for it with notes and cash in the amount of $6,600: one new RH double-circular sawmill for $2,000; one 5-inch sawgang edger for $500; one 18" x 24" steam engine for $2,000; one trimmer $200; one long turner for $300; and associated equipment, which, with freight, reached the afore-mentioned total. 56

At everything they attempted, the Wiess brothers were innovators, never content with the status quo. The first of their innovations, one that made Southern sawmill history, was an invention of Mark Wiess that doubled the Reliance mill's cutting capacity. He perfected a device known as "shotgun feed," which involved installation of a steam cylinder under the track of the log carriage, and energized it directly by steam pressure. Prior to that time, only friction feed was known (which meant the carriage was slow and clumsy), and for some time afterward the Reliance mill was the only one in the South that was so equipped. 57

Contemporary to this, and in partnership with S. B. Bacon, Mark Wiess constructed Beaumont's first lumber dry kiln (using other than air-dry methods), and entered the planing mill business. He then contributed to the first systemization for lumber grading throughout the South. In September, 1882, Wiess and Bacon sold out their planing business to the Beaumont Planing Mill Company. 58

By 1881, the Reliance Lumber Company was sawing timber at the rate of 15.6 million board feet annually. By comparison, as late as 1878, its daily cutting capacity had been only 5,000 feet, and in subsequent years Wiess brothers increased it to 100,000 board feet daily, making it among the largest and most modern of the nation's yellow pine mills. 59

In September, 1881, Valentine Wiess bought out James F. Ward's interest, and William Wiess purchased W. P. H. McFaddin's interest in the company. William Wiess became the company's active manager for more than twenty years, with Valentine Wiess also assisting with the reins of administration. Mark Wiess (by this time, affectionately addressed as colonel) remained the firm's sales manager and traveling emissary (to points as far away as London), for in time, Reliance Lumber Company developed a large export trade to Europe and maintained offices in London. 60

One of William and Valentine Wiess' first actions as the new managers, in October, 1881, was to add a new steam engine and another set of double-cutting circular saws to the mill's facilities. 61 In November, 1880, the mill owners completed a 1,000 yard canal through the marsh, connecting Brake's Bayou with the Neches River, which eliminated a two and one-half mile pull for the lumberjacks and raftsmen on the river. 62 By 1885, the mill could boast of the following equipment, some of which was believed to be in use at no other mill in Texas: automatic slab carriers, a set of line rollers, cylinder or shotgun steam carriage feed, a log trip on the log dock, elevated tank and sprinkler system for fire protection, Curran and Wolf steam dry kilns, separate boiler houses (across Brake's Bayou from the mill), a steam "nigger," Corliss steam engines, a river boom with a capacity of 20,000 logs and the capacity for cutting timber up to 60 feet in length. 63 At the peak of its production, the Reliance mill employed 125 persons. 64

The oil boom of 1901 signaled a time for transition, however, and, with their personal fortunes well-established, and the end of available timber in sight, the Wiess brothers chose to sell out in 1902 to John Henry Kirby, who then became the dominant figure in East Texas lumbering. With the change, some of the family members, including William Wiess' son-in-law, William A. Priddie, continued on with the Kirby interests.

Perhaps Valentine Wiess' greatest contribution to Beaumont lumbering came with the founding in 1883 of the East Texas and Louisiana Lumbermen's Association, of which group Wiess became president. By 1880, lumbering was the economic backbone of Beaumont (as witness, 699 boxcars of finished lumber, 150 cars of crossties, and 76 of shingles were shipped in the single month of March, 1881 65 ), and, although the Texas and New Orleans Railway Company derived one-half of its gross revenue from Beaumont's lumber shipments, a constant boxcar shortage plagued the mill interests, and with it, Beaumont's economic growth. 66 Wiess succeeded in banding together the mill operators for protection of their mutual interests.

After 1880, Valentine Wiess turned his attentions to contracting and real estate, and, at his death in 1913, he was credited with being the largest taxpayer on the Beaumont tax rolls. One Deed Record of 1879 records that he contracted with John B. Goodhue to build Beaumont's first hotel of note. A need for banking facilities carried Valentine Wiess and V. Wiess and Company into private banking, and an inevitable result was the organization of the First National Bank in 1889 with Wiess as its first president. After 1900, he built the first five-story brick building in downtown Beaumont. His early successes in merchandising, lumbering, and real estate paved the path for his later activities as oil-boom speculator, and his daughter's subsequent gift of the V. Wiess park to Beaumont was in recognition of that city's contribution to her father's financial stature. 67

Around 1902, Massena Wiess returned to Beaumont after a thirty-year absence while living at Round Rock and Luling in Central Texas. Other than his cotton-buying and mercantile activities, little is known of his stay there, but, after his return, Massena was the only Wiess brother to continue actively as sawmiller. For many years afterward, he was engaged in sawmill operations at Sour Lake, Texas, and, in his later years, maintained a real estate office in the Kyle building in Beaumont. He continued as well his interest in agricultural affairs, and, until his death on June 22, 1921, devoted much of his time to the South Texas State Fair and its agricultural exhibits. His survivors included a son, Edward M. Wiess of Corpus Christi, and five daughters as follows: Mrs. N. H. Cook, Mrs. W. W. Kyle, Mrs. F. H. Votaw, Mrs. J. J. Elam, and Mrs. Virgil Keith. 68

As previously stated, the land upon which Spindletop's oil geyser erupted on January 10, 1901, belonged to the McFaddin, Wiess, and Kyle interests. The Wiess brothers were among the first to recognize that a new industrial monarch had emerged to replace cotton and sawmilling. This influenced their decision to sell the Reliance Lumber Company, which, in turn, helped provide some of the capital needed for speculation. Oil field speculation, leases, investment, and production were to occupy much of each Wiess brother's time during the last decade of his life, and to implement the wealth that each left at his death (the link from William Wiess to the founding of Humble Oil and Refining Company will be narrated last).

Valentine Wiess was one of the earliest stockholders of the J. M. Guffey Production Company, which, through various corporate maneuvers, emerged as the Gulf Oil Corporation. William Wiess invested heavily in the new-born Texas Company. In the backwash of the oil fever, one of the many new production companies headquartered in Beaumont was the McFaddin and Wiess Oil and Gas Company, organized by W. P. H. McFaddin and Valentine Wiess, with offices at 302 Tevis Street. One account in Beaumont Enterprise, late in January of 1901, noted that William Wiess was one of the few who "maintained his calm," refusing to join the maddening bustle within the city, and that he spent much of his time cruising with family and friends aboard his yacht on the Neches River. Nevertheless, by August, 1901, following a disastrous oilfield fire, William Wiess was a member of an executive committee set up to fabricate a code of safety regulations for Spindletop oilfield. 69

It is not practical, perhaps not possible, to enumerate every economic, philanthropic, and social activity in which the Wiess brothers were engaged. Among others, these included the founding of the Magnolia cemetery at Beaumont (where most of the families' members are buried), and numerous banking offices and directorates as well as church, social and Masonic memberships. Valentine Wiess served continuously on the board of the First National Bank, and was a major contributor to the First Presbyterian Church. William Wiess was a vice president and director of the American National Bank at Beaumont, holding directorates as well in the Gulf, Beaumont, and Kansas City Railway Company, Santa Fe Railway Company, and the Beaumont Wharf and Terminal Company. Because of his wife, a Methodist, he was a principal contributor to Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas. Perhaps his greatest area of interest was the well-being of young manhood, which made of him a chief instigator of Texas' anti-pool room law. 70

Other than his "firsts" in conjunction with Beaumont sawmilling, Mark Wiess was recognized as the father of deep water to Beaumont and its subsequent port industry, an area which first attracted his attentions in 1895. He has also been credited with the suggestion to build the Port Arthur ship channel. He also owned the first typewriter and the first ice company (Arctic Ice Company) in Beaumont. At the time of his death on July 1, 1910, Mark Wiess' surviving children included sons Byron, Abel, Ray, and Keith, and daughters Olga (later Mrs. Ray Hoopes) and LaVerte (Mrs. Tom Andrus.) 71 At the time of Valentine Wiess' death on July 30, 1913, his surviving children included his son Percy H. Wiess of Beaumont, and a daughter Mrs. Ruth Branham (later Mrs. Paul Sargent) of San Antonio. 72

Despite his earlier nonchalance toward the happenings at Spindletop, William Wiess subsequently emerged as the Wiess families' most active participant in petroleum production. In 1903, when a friend described a paraffin-like substance to be found on the Batson Prairie near Sour Lake, Texas, the two, in conjunction with S. W. Pipkin, organized the Paraffine Oil Company, capitalized at $10,000. Its first success, in October, 1903, was the discovery of the Batson oil field, where production reached 10,000,000 barrels in 1904. Later, Paraffine Oil Company had producing wells in both the North Dayton and Humble, Texas, fields.

Because of an apparently unjust accusation that he planned to sell out to the Texas Company, William Wiess left the board of the Paraffine Oil Company in 1904, and, in 1907, organized the Reliance Oil Company. Around 1909, during a period of lagging Texas oil production, Wiess bought control of both companies at the approximate time that his youngest son, Harry Carothers Wiess, was graduating with a civil engineering degree from Princeton University 73

In 1911, with William and Harry C. Wiess at the helm, both the Reliance and the Paraffine Companies, joined the oil producers' march to the new fields of Oklahoma, where they teamed up with Ross Sterling's Humble Oil Company to organize the Ardmore Oil Company. While Reliance and Parrafine soon located producing sands in a number of districts, the experiences of Ardmore Oil Company were much less successful until the year 1916. 74

Contemporary with his father's failing health, Harry Wiess became president of the Reliance Oil Company in 1912, and, in 1914, of the Paraffine Oil Company as well, following his father's death on June 12th of that year. William Wiess' surviving children included two other sons, Eugene C. and Perry M. Wiess, and a daughter, Mrs. William A. Priddie (whose husband was vice president of Beaumont Lumber Company). 75

In addition to Ross S. Sterling, oil production in both Texas and Oklahoma had brought the Wiess interests into close contact with other independent oil operators who shared their common problems of marketing and fluctuating prices. These included William S. Farish, Robert L. Blaffer, Walter W. Fondren, and Charles B. Goddard, all of whom were veterans of Spindletop's boom times. At stake for each was a steady market, free of the whims of pipe line operators, as well as the profits to be made in manufacturing and retail marketing. Even then, some of these men were operating a "teakettle" refinery at Humble (Globe Refining Company, of 300 barrels daily capacity), while R. S. Sterling owned a wharf, pipelines, and storage facilities along Houston ship channel. In 1917, from this embryo of men, properties, and circumstances, Humble Oil and Refining Company evolved. 76

Harry Wiess entered the new company with much in his favor, including his youth, an excellent education, much of the family's oil-producing properties, and eight years of production and managerial expression. He became a vice president in 1917, was promoted to executive vice president in 1933, and, from 1937 until his death on August 26, 1948, he was president of the giant firm. And for the obvious success that Humble Oil and Refining Company has enjoyed, a proportionate share of credit is due and attributable to Wiess's guiding genius. 77

On December 13, 1930, the death of Pauline Wiess Coffin at Wiess' Bluff drew the curtain for all time on the old generation of Wiess families of Southeast Texas. For 90 of her 93 years, she had resided at the original Simon Wiess homestead, which, at the time of her death, was still filled with the period furniture, utensils, and paraphernalia of pioneer days. A lover of art, she had also accumulated a number of valuable paintings and etchings, including one of George Washington. Remaining alert until her death, Pauline Wiess Coffin recalled with ease those occasions when General Sam Houston visited her father during stopovers at Wiess' Bluff. Ironically, her death resulted from injuries received during a fall. 78

In retrospect, these are the amazing annals of Wiess Bluff and of the Simon Wiess progeny, which rose from Old World immigrant status to Southwestern industrial leadership in three generations. At the present time, Arthur W. Coffin's farmhouse stands only a stone's throw away from where Simon Wiess' wharf, store, and warehouses once stood. And even today, a lapse into antebellum nostalgia, replete with false echoes of steamboat whistles and visions of cotton bales, might pose a threat to the overly-observant visitor who glares too long at the Neches River from beneath Wiess' Bluff's towering pines. 

Henry Conrad Mauer (1873-1939)
Architect

TGHS Archives

The House that Valentine Wiess Built
Calder Avenue, Beaumont 

 

Endnotes

1 Jefferson County, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. D., p. 109. Jasper County: Deed Record, Vol. E, pp. 536-538.

2 Jasper County, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. A, pp. 90-91.

3 Jefferson County, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. D, p. 275. Roberts is intimately associated with the histories of Nacogdoches and San Augustine where in 1831, he was the Mexican alcalde. He signed both the Texas Declaration of Independence and first Constitution of the new-born republic. In 1826 he took part in the "Fredonian War," and, as a captain, fought at the storming of Bexar, December -10, 1835. See L. W. Kemp, The Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1944), pp. 282-87.

Dr. Smith flits over East Texas history with the agility of an antelope, and his business and land dealings with Simon Wiess spanned the whole of East Texas. Smith was the first physician at Sabine Pass, first bank examiner for the Republic of Texas, an original partner with the Allen brothers in Houston Townsite Company, and a merchant partner of John Sealy and John H. Hutchings. For a more extensive biography, see The Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, VII (May, 1972), p. 71.

4 Standard Blue Book of Texas: Edition De Luxe of Beaumont, 1908-1909 (Houston: A. J. Peeler Standard Blue Book Company, 1908), p. 71; John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: L. E. Daniell, Publisher, 180-?), p. 475; T. J. Russell, "Pioneer Reminiscences of Jefferson County," Beaumont Journal, February 17, 1907. Undoubtedly, Wiess was fluent in German, English, Polish, Russian, Turkish, and French, the latter being the most popular language for study during this age. Despite his language fluency, Wiess found it necessary to use Adolphus Sterne as translator of a deed in 1851. See A. P. McDaniel (ed.), Hurrah for Texas! The Diary of Adolphus Sterne, 1838-1851 (Waco: Texian Press, 1969), p. 231.

5 Information furnished by A. W. Coffin, Jr. of Wiess Bluff; Brown, op. cit., p. 474; Russell, op. cit.; Beaumont Enterprise, December 14, 1930 and January 13, 1946.

6 Brown, op. cit., p. 475.

7 Brown, op. cit.; Russell, op. cit.; Beaumont Enterprise, December 14, 1930. The Enterprise article states that Wiess also served the Mexican government as deputy-collector of customs at Galveston during the years 1833-1835. This is not offered as established fact, however, since no attempt has been made to verify it among Mexican archives. See also R. E. L. Crane, "The History of The Revenue Service and The Commerce of The Republic of Texas" (unpublished Ph. D. dissertation; Austin: University of Texas Library, 1950), pp. 312-313.

8 Beaumont Enterprise, May 28 and June 11, 1881; Brown,op. cit.; Beaumont Journal, February 17, 1907. There existed in 1836 considerable wagon freight commerce between Natchitoches, La. and Sabinetown, Texas (long the overland route into Texas) in order to supply the U. S. Army garrisons at Fort Jessup and Camp Sabine on Sabine River. General Gaines was in garrison there with an army of 4,000 men. Some historians believe that Gen. Sam Houston's long-range strategy called for retreating and luring Gen. Santa Anna east of Sabine River, and, under pretext of Mexican invasion of the United States, to involve Gaines' army in the Texas conflict.

It was due to exorbitant wagon freight rates to Camp Sabine that the U. S. Army sent Major Belknap's expedition to Sabine Lake in 1837 for the purpose of mapping, sounding, and clearing logjam obstructions from the Sabine River. This opened the river to steamboat commerce in March, 1838. See House Document, No. 365, 25th Congress, 2nd Session, 1838, Library of Congress.

9 Jefferson County, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. D, pp. 57-59.

10 From information furnished by A. W. Coffin, Rt. 1, Box 292, Vidor, Texas; Beaumont Enterprise, December 14, 1930; Beaumont Journal, Feb. 17, 1907.

11 Crane, op. cit., p. 309; Brown, op. cit., p. 475. There was little cotton raised in East Texas immediately after the Texas Revolution. Corn production was of greater importance for replenishing the food supply and for rebuilding the depleted livestock herds.

12 Jefferson County, Texas: Deed Record, 'Vol. D, p. 109. One league is equal to 4428 acres while one labor equals 177 acres. Note high value of livestock in 1840 in the inflated Texas currency. It is ironic that Simon Wiess's sons paid exorbitant prices after 1901 to purchase Spindletop oilfield property that their father had valued at only 50 cents per acre sixty years before. The writer has not determined, however, that Wiess' acreage in the J. A. Veatch tract ever became an actual part of the producing field.

13 Jasper county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. E, pp. 535-539.

14 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. D, p. 54. Wiess did not bother to record many titles. Land certificates and titles to slaves passed in and out of his store as a medium of exchange, like currency.

15 William Perry Herring, a brother-in-law of William McFaddin, was an early and prominent Beaumont merchant and cotton-ginner until his death about 1859. Two of his daughters married Wiess's sons. Herring's gin, of record as far back as 1851, was apparently the same one erected by Joseph Grigsby during the late 1830's. Its ownership passed to a daughter, Mrs. William Wiess, after the Civil War.

16 Apparently Wiess rented a waterfront site from Grigsby since there are no lease agreement or deeds of record in Jefferson county.

17 Smyth, one of the stalwarts of East Texas history, signed the Texas Declaration, as did Dr. Everett, as a delegate from Jasper county. There are numerous biographies of both.

18 For further reference, see Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Volumes C, p. 301; E, pp. 29-30; H, pp. 27-29; and J, pp. 83-84, 89. Thomas Huling was the wealthiest landholder of his day in Southeast Texas, and a proprietor of Beaumont Townsite Company. He resided in Jasper county. For Andrew Smyth, see William Seale, Texas Riverman: The Life and Times of Captain Andrew Smyth.

19 East Texas legal documents of the nineteenth century were not noted for their exactness of surname spellings. Variant spellings of Wiess appear as Wyes, Wise, Wyse, Wiss, and Weiss.

20 G. White (ed.), The 1840 Census of The Republic of Texas (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966), pp. 92, 97.

21 The 1850 and 1860 manuscript (slave) schedules 11, Jasper and Jefferson county, Texas. For one of Wiess' slave transactions, see Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. C, p. 297. In 1850, it appears that Wiess had two white persons employed (Adeline Jack and James Reese) as domestic servants and laborers since both resided in his household. See Jasper county, Texas: Manuscript Census, 1850; Schedule 1, Residence 77.

22 Wouldn't serve, in East Texas river jargon, referred to low water levels insufficient to float steamboats, usually during the summer months.

23 McDonald (ed.), op cit., pp. 194, 199; Jefferson county, Texas: Personal Property Record, Vol. A, p. 69; Beaumont Enterprise, September 21, 1910; Beaumont Journal, February 17 and March 3, 1907.

24 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. C, pp. 347-349.

25 From information furnished by A. W. Coffin of Wiess Bluff; Beaumont Journal, June 12, 1914. Almost nothing is known today of this early method of sawmilling. Apparently, the motive power energized a swinging-adze mechanism, which chipped off the bark and roughly squared the timber.

26 Taken from cemetery records and obituary columns as they appeared; Jasper county, Texas: Manuscript Census, 1850, Schedule 1, Res 76, (p. 462).

27 The manuscript census schedules, Jasper county, Texas; for 1850, Schedule I, p. 462 and Schedule IV, p. 441; for 1860, Schedule I, page 17, and Schedule IV, page 19. In 1850, Wiess owned farm implements worth $150, 3 horses, 25 milk cows, 2 oxen, 30 range cows, 40 hogs, total livestock value $655. In 1849, he grew 30 bushels of corn, 75 bushels of Irish potatoes, 30 of sweet potatoes, made 500 tbs. of butter, and slaughtered $62 worth of meat. In 1860, he owned farm implements worth $200, 1 horse, 10 milk cows, 4 oxen, 25 range cows, 40 hogs, total livestock value $400. In 1859, Wiess grew 20 bushels of corn, So bushels of sweet potatoes, made 300 lbs. of butter, and slaughtered $140 worth of meat.

28 Brown, op. cit., p. 475; Beaumont Enterprise, June 11, 1881 and December 14, 1930; Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vols. A, pp. 189-190 and D, pp. 154-155; Florence Stratton, The Story of Beaumont (N. P.: N. D., but about 1925), pp. 18-19, 171; Houston Telegraph and Texas Register, July 24, 1839; (Galveston) Civilian and Galveston Gazette, June 2, 1848. See also Writings of Sam Houston, II (Austin: University of Texas Press), pp. 312-313.

29 Works Progress Administration, Beaumont (Houston: Anson Jones Press, 1939), pp. 55-56; Beaumont Enterprise, December 14, 1930 and September 21, 1910.

30 Beaumont Journal, March 3, 1907.

31 William Seale, Texas Riverman: The Life and Times of Captain Andrew Smyth (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966), p. 140; Stratton, op. cit., p. 45; Beaumont Enterprise, September 21, 1910 and January 21, 1912.

32 The 1850 and 1860 manuscript (Schedule I) census lists, Jefferson county, Texas: for 1850, res. 203; for 1860, residences 324 and 332; notations by Abel Coffin on a flyleaf of a copy of Macaulay's "Essays," taken by him from the captured Union blockader "Morning Light" (following the offshore battle of January 21, 1863, thirty miles south of Sabine Pass), and still owned by A. W. Coffin of Wiess Bluff; "Captain William Wiess Tells of Forty-Eight Years Ago," Beaumont Enterprise, January 21, 1912; information furnished by A. W. Coffin. Abel Coffin changed to steamboat engineering because, in 1850, such employment paid $25 weekly whereas ship-carpentering paid only $15. His daughter Mary was by his first marriage on January 23, 1851 to Belinda Bartlett Brown. After her father's death in 1866, Mary Coffin (later McFarlane) enjoyed the status of adopted daughter in the Wiess household.

In the 1860 Sabine Pass census, Abel Coffin was listed as being a stove dealer and tinner with personal assets of $3,600. In 1852, he was elected justice of the peace in Jefferson county. In 1855 Abel Coffin, Sr. helped organize and was the first worshipful master of Tyrian Chapter, Masonic Lodge at Sabine. Abel Coffins brothers-in-law, Orrin Brown and Isaiah Ketchum, were partners in Spartan Mill Company, Jefferson's county's first steam sawmill, built in 1846. See also Beaumont Enterprise, November 22, 1908; "Who'd Think Sabine Was Timber Center?" Port Arthur News, July 18, 1971, and archives of the Grand Lodge of Texas in Waco.

33 Taken from Simon Wiess' tombstone at Wiess Bluff.

34 Muster Roll, Sabine Pass Guard, dated April 20, 1861, Texas State Archives; "Jasper County and Civil War," Kirbyville (Texas) Banner, September 15, 1961.

35 Muster Roll, Company A, Spaight's Battalion, dated 1863, Confederate Records, National Archives; Beaumont Enterprise, July 2 and September 21, 1910; January 21, 1912; July 13, 1914; December 14, 1930; and August 12, 1964; Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-09, p. 71.

36 Beaumont Enterprise, January 21, 1912.

37 Ibid. This was Lt. R. W. Dowling's first battle at Sabine Pass, during which time he scored a number of direct hits on the "Morning Light" from up to 2-mile range. The 6-inch gun was nicknamed "Annie" after Dowling's wife. See also original manuscript owned by A. W. Coffin and footnote 32. For detailed accounts, see W. T. Block, "Sabine Pass in The Civil War," East Texas Historical Journal, IX (October, 1971), pp. 131-132; Beaumont Enterprise, June 1, 1913; Port Arthur News, September 5, 1971; and War of the Rebellion -- Compilation of The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (Washington, 1910), Series I, Vol. XIX, pp. 553-573.

38 During the battle, Coffin shipped as a pilot on the "Josiah Bell" as did Capts. Peter Stockholm, Lewis King, and I. R. Burch.

39 Reprinted in Beaumont Enterprise, August 12, 1964, from original in Rosenberg Library in Galveston. Beaumont Enterprise erroneously reported this affray to be the Battle of Carencro Bayou, a skirmish fought on October 14-15, 1863. At Bayou Bourbeau, total losses were 716 killed, wounded, and missing for the Federals to 170 for Gen. Taylor's army. See C. K. Ragan (ed.), The Diary of Captain George W. O'Brien, pp. 47-53, as reprinted from Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXVII (1963), Nos. 1, 2, 3, and Official Records, Armies, Series I, Vol. XXVI, Part 1, p. 392.

40 V. Wiess to A. F. Smyth, February 20, 1865, A. F. Smyth collection, as reprinted in Seale, op. cit., p. 136. Although Valentine Wiess' name does not appear on muster rolls of Spaight's Battalion for the year 1863, Standard Blue of Texas, 1908-09, pp. 71-72 states that he served in this unit.

41 Simon Wiess to A. F. Smyth, February 20, 1865.

42 Simon Wiess, "Jasper," Texas Almanac, 1859 (Galveston: Richardson and Company, 1860), pp. 174-175, as reprinted in James M. McReynolds, "A History of Jasper County, Texas Prior To 1874" (unpublished M. A. thesis; Beaumont: Lamar University, 1968), pp. 67, 82.

43 J. P. Landers, "Valentine Burch," 111, Texana (Summer, 1965), p. 109; Beaumont Enterprise, September 21, 1910; Jasper county, Texas: Marriage Record.

44 Death dates taken from Wiess' Bluff cemetery gravestones; Jasper county, Texas: Manuscript Census, 1870, Schedule 1, Res. 219 (p. 29).

45 Death dates from family plots in Magnolia cemetery in Beaumont, and from Wiess' Bluff cemetery; Jefferson county, Texas: Marriage Books A-B, Nrs. 412A and 521A; 1850 manuscript (Schedule 1) census lists, Jefferson county, Texas; 1870 manuscript (Schedule 1) census lists, Jasper county, Texas; Beaumont Journal, July 2, 1910; July 30, 1913; and June 14, 1914; Beaumont Enterprise, June 23, 1921; Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vols. 1, p. 1, and P, p. 510. The latter record covers transfer of the former Herring cotton gin from Lucinda (Calder) Ruff, sister-in-law of J. J. Herring, to the latter's niece, Mrs. William Wiess, on January 22, 1872.

46 Beaumont Enterprise, May 28 and June 11, 1881; November 22, 1908, June 23, 1921; Beaumont Journal, March 3, 1907; dates from tombstones at Wiess' Bluff; 1870 manuscript (Schedule I) census lists, Jasper county, Texas, p. 29, residences 213, 216, and 219. Strangely, a Joseph Wiess family with five children lived at Wiess' Bluff in 1870, but this family's origins in North Carolina suggest that no kinship was involved.

For pictures of Margaret and Pauline Wiess, Valentine Wiess, the Simon Wiess homestead, and the Mark Wiess home in Beaumont, see Florence Stratton, The Story of Beaumont, plates opposite pp. 57, 161, and 171; ibid., pp. 161-62 on the V. Wiess park. A. W. Coffin still owns pictures of the old Wiess warehouses at Wiess Bluff. For excellent photographs of both Simon and Margaret Wiess, see plates in Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas.

Nothing is known of the original home for the extant Simon Wiess homestead was not built until 1858. It contains many squared timbers, which were probably manufactured in Wiess' peck mill. This property is currently owned by Mrs. J. C. Chance of Beaumont. The house is of the early East Texas pattern, containing two rectangles separated by a covered "dog trot," (a hallway through which the hound dogs reputedly chase wild cats), and a 75-foot gallery.

The extent of Wiess family financial reverses under Reconstruction is not known. Probate files of Simon and Napoleon Wiess reveal nothing. The 1870 census shows Napoleon as owning assets of $2,400, but gives no information for Margaret Wiess or the other sons. His concentration in land and store inventory may have minimized Simon Wiess' losses considerably, although any currency or Confederate certificates of indebtedness became worthless as of 1865.

47 From copy of the original owned by Mrs. Gerald Donovan, New Rochelle, N. Y.; Beaumont Enterprise, January 13, 1946.

48 Beaumont Journal, March 3, 1907; July 2, 1910; July 30, 1913; and July 12, 1914; Beaumont Enterprise, July 2 and September 21, 1910, July 12, 1914. The Wiess cotton gin had been operated by W. P. Herring as far back as 1851, and after 1860, by J. J. Herring and Company, a partnership which also included Otto and Charles H. Ruff.

49 Beaumont Enterprise, May 21, 1881; November 6, 1880; and July 30, 1913; Works Progress Administration, Beaumont, p. 84.

50 Beaumont Journal, July 2, 1910; July 30, 1913; and June 12, 1914.

51 Following the deaths of Dr. Kyle in 1879 and William McFaddin in 1898, ownership in these firms was transferred to their respective sons, W. W. Kyle and W. P. H. McFaddin. The marriage of Massena Wiess' daughter Clyde, of Luling, in March, 1899 to W. W. Kyle was a social event of that season. See Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-09, pp. 70-71; Beaumont Enterprise, March 4, 1899; and Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. T, p. 119.

At the time of her death in 1878, Mrs. William Wiess owned personally 1,100 heads of cattle, apparently inherited from her parents. Community property of her and her husband inventoried at $70,000. Jefferson county, Texas: Probate Files, File 236.

52 Beaumont Enterprise, September 21, 1910; T. C. Richardson, East Texas: Its History and its Makers, III (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1940), p. 941; see also E. L. White, East Texas Riverboat Era (Beaumont: LaBelle Publishing Company), pp. 10-13, and Stratton, op. cit., pp. 39-46.

53 Beaumont Journal, April 23, 1905; Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. S, pp. 191-195. The reader should understand that the production of these early single-circular mills was negligible as opposed to that of the modern double-cutting band mills and improvements of the present day. In 1860, Otto Ruff's mill cut 1.5 million feet annually, Lewis' mill cut 300,000 feet annually, while the largest in East Texas, Wingate's mill at Sabine, produced only 2.5 million feet in 1860. By 1881, with a new double-cutting (steam carriage) circular operation, Reliance mill production was upped to 15.6 million feet annually.

Ruff had purchased his mill from Steadman foundry at Aurora, Indiana in 1859, and shipped it by steamboat to New Orleans, then via Gulf of Mexico to Beaumont. It consisted of a double-flue boiler, a 12-inch by 24-inch steam engine with a ten-foot drive wheel. In December, 1860, Ruff sold out to A. J. Ward, who used the mill to cut timbers for the Confederate government. After the war, the mill was purchased by Goldsmith and Ragan, who operated it until 1867, at which time both died of yellow fever at Houston. It was then leased by Dan Greene, who operated it until April, 1870, at which time Wiess and Potter assumed ownership. Under the Kirby interests, Reliance mill remained in operation until 1920.

Outgrowths of Long and Company operations included Long and Co. shingle mill, Beaumont Lumber Company, Texas Tram and Lumber Company, and J. F. Keith Lumber Company, the foundations of the Long, Fletcher, Keith, Carroll, Gilbert, and Ward family wealth. Other mill operations of the 1870's included Bremer, Eagle mill, Smyth and Seale, Olive and Sternenberg's Centennial mill, and Adams and Milmo. See also Beaumont Enterprise, March 12, 1881 (for record of mills then in operation); Stratton, op. cit., pp. 132-38; Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Records, Vol. M, p. 375; Jefferson county, Texas: Personal Property Records, Vols. B, pp. 226-227, and C, pp. 105-109. For Neches Steam Milling Company and the "old steam mill square" of Beaumont's original townsite in 1837, see H. P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, II (Austin: Gammel Book Co., 1898), p. 13; and Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Records, Vols. B, pp. 201-202, 222; D, p. 47; and L, pp. 8-9.

54 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, vols. P, pp. 317-320, and Q, p. 265.

55 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, vol. S, pp. 191-195.

56 Ibid., pp. 417-423.

57 Beaumont Enterprise, Match 12, 1881 and July 2, 1910; Beaumont Journal, July 2, 1910.

58 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, vol. V, p. 222.

59 Beaumont Journal, April 23, 1905.

60 Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, Vol. U, p. 213; Beaumont Journal, April 23, 1905; July 2, 1910; and June 12, 1914; Beaumont Enterprise, May 21, 1881; July 2, 1910; and June 12, 1914. See also numerous Reliance Lumber Company advertisements in Beaumont Enterprise for the period 1899-1900.

61 Beaumont Enterprise, October 1, 1881.

62 Ibid., November 6, 1880.

63 Beaumont Enterprise, March 12, 1881; Beaumont Journal, April 23, 1905.

64 Beaumont Journal, April 9, 1905.

65 Beaumont Enterprise, March 19 and April 9, 1881.

66 For the complete record of Beaumont lumbering of this period, including the railway boxcar shortage, see Valentine Wiess's official correspondence in "Letterbook of the East Texas and Louisiana Lumbermen's Association, 1884-1886," 600 ff.

67 Stratton, op. cit., pp. 161-162; Beaumont Journal, March 3, 1907 and July 30, 1913; Beaumont Enterprise, July 30, 1913 and August 12, 1964; Jefferson county, Texas: Deed Record, vol. S, p. 513.

68 Beaumont Journal, March 3, 1907; Beaumont Enterprise, June 23, 1921; information furnished by a grandson, Brudge Kyle, of Beaumont. Names of surviving female members of the Wiess families have been taken from obituary columns as they appeared, and, in some instances, will not reflect later name changes due to subsequent marriages. Since there is no probate file for Massena Wiess on record in Jefferson county, it appears that his will was probated elsewhere.

69 C. A. Warner, Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1939), p. 42; Works Progress Administration, Beaumont, p. 105; Beaumont Enterprise, July 19, 1901; Ragan (ed.), op. cit., p. 18; Oil Investors' Journal, April 18, 1906; and Oil and Gas Journal, June 18, 1914.

70 Beaumont Journal, July 30, 1913 and June 12, 1914; Beaumont Enterprise, July 30, 1913 and June 13, 1914; Works Progress Administration, Beaumont, p. 105.

71 Beaumont Enterprise and Journal, July 2, 1910. Mark Wiess probate file, No. 797, is a maze of legal documents, filling eight large packets, since the estate was ten years in liquidation. Although the estate inventory was not located, final property settlement was for $290,396.76.

72 All probate papers have been removed from No. 1036, estate of Valentine Wiess. However, Standard Blue Book, p. 71, states that Valentine Wiess had interests "in more commercial, industrial, and financial institutions than any other business man in Beaumont," from which one might draw his own inferences.

73 H. M. Larson and K. W. Porter, History of Humble Oil and Refining Company: A Study in Industrial Growth (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), pp. 26-28; Who's Who in America, 1946-1947, XXIV (Chicago: Marquis Company, 1946), p. 2555; M. E. Forster and A. Jones (eds.) South and Southeast Texas (Houston: J. A. Jones Company, 1928), pp. 167, 198.

74 Larson and Porter, op. cit., pp. 28-32; Who's Who in America, p. 2555.

75 Ibid.; Beaumont Journal, June 12, 1914; Beaumont Enterprise, June 13, 1914. According to William Wiess' probate file, No. 1128, his estate's inventory totalled $987,192.07.

76 Larson and Porter, op. cit., pp. 22-64; Who's Who in America, p. 2555.

77 See: Biographical Encyclopedia Of The World, First Edition; Institute For Research In Biography, Inc., New York, 1940, pp. 564-565.

78 Beaumont Enterprise, December 14, 1930; Beaumont Journal, December 15, 1930.

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