Fawcett:Ralph Branson Fawcett
|Ralph Branson Fawcett|
|Interviewer||William Bloys Fawcett, Jr.|
|Person interviewed||Ralph Branson Fawcett|
|Approximate year written||1991|
|Description||R.B. Fawcett told his nephew, William B. Fawcett, Sr., and his great-nephew, William B. Fawcett, Jr. some of the following history in Kerrville, Texas on July 21, 1991. William B. Fawcett, Jr. interviewed him further on July 23, 1991, Jan. 2 and Aug. 17, 1992, and Jan. 1993. Additions are denoted by square brackets.|
RALPH BRANSON FAWCETT
R.B. Fawcett told his nephew, William B. Fawcett, Sr., and his great-nephew, William B. Fawcett, Jr. some of the following history in Kerrville, Texas on July 21, 1991. William B. Fawcett, Jr. interviewed him further on July 23, 1991, Jan. 2 and Aug. 17, 1992, and Jan. 1993. Additions are set off by [ ].
Coming to Texas.
[Erasmus Rigney Fawcett, born near Harrisonburg, Virginia on January 5, 1812, was a cobbler and tanner on the Scott Plantation near DeKalb, Kemper County, Mississippi who in 1847 married Ann Elizabeth Pride Hill (born March 10, 1827) at Gainesville, Alabama. Her mother was Martha Scott.] They came to Texas with their five children [Frank, Bransonia, Curtis, Robert, and Keyes] in [Jan.] 1867 [one more child--Elizabeth Robertus Fawcett--had died in Mississippi prior to their departure] and both parents died within a few months [Elizabeth--September 8 and Erasmus in December 16] of each other in 1868. Ralph does not know what they died of. E.R. Fawcett suffered from epilepsy and was a long-time Mason. E.R. Fawcett's land was closer to Gonzales [probably near the Gates Cemetery where E.R. and A.E.P.H. Fawcett were buried] than the land that was subsequently owned by his son, Frank S. Fawcett. They were preceded to Texas by two of E.K. Fawcett's older brothers [Actually, by 3--Niles, B. Keyes and Willis Fawcett in 1853 who owned land and sheep ranched in Travis, Blanco and Hays County].
Cheapside Relatives and Neighbors.
The Bakers, Petersons and Elders, and Carters were all living near Cheapside before the Fawcetts' arrived. [Most of the early settlers were Anglo-americans with a few African-American slaves. Many former slaves continued to reside in the area into the 1880s, but they were gradually replaced as the predominate farm laborers by the growing immigration of Mexican-Americans. German farmers also moved into the area in the 1880-90s from the north and the west. Some local schools taught in German until World War I. Cheapside, like much of Texas, was a very segregated, race and class conscious community. It continued to be this way even after the schools were desegregated in the mid-1960s.] Most of the people around Cheapside were cotton farmers.
Benjamin Baker was married to Elizabeth Peterson. They moved to Kerrville after the Petersons did. Although they lived in an old log cabin across Fulcher Creek to the east of Frank Fawcett's farm, Frank discouraged his children from associating with either the Bakers or the Petersons. They were rough talking, hard drinking, card-playing people.
Byrta Carson, who recently moved to San Antonio, is the daughter [actually the niece] of Henry [and Ora] Carson, a long-time resident of Cheapside. Bransonia Fawcett, Frank's eldest sister, married a [John William] Carson. They raised her youngest brother, [Erasmus] Keyes [Fawcett], until he left for West Texas in 1883.
George Carter received a grant to 3000 acres and brought many English-American settlers. His grandson, George Lord married Tom Watson's daughter and still owned some of that land at the time of his death c. 1990.
Ralph's grandfather, Philip T. Elder, was a real character. He had lot one eye and had a spherical bullet embedded in his leg/foot from the Civil War. Philip came to Texas during the Republic in 1842. He settled at what-was-later Cheapside because it offered protection from Indian raids. He and the others had to journey the 60 miles to Victoria to obtain supplies. Mostly they had to learn to make do and to grow and make what they needed. Philip was a member of the Masons. He lived to be 94, and spent most of those years in Cheapside.
Philip Elder never had much money. What little he had was earned by making and selling brooms. He raised his own broom corn, which Ralph helped him to cut and harvest. Ralph helped to separate the seeds for future plantings.
Emma Elder, Ralph's mother, had four brothers: 1) Irving Elder ran a cotton mill in Cuero, 2) George [Wilson] Elder was a farmer, 3) Thomas Elder was a barber and later in the early 1900s worked with W.A. Fawcett, first and his branch store in Center Point and then later in Kerrville [before he moved to Eastland]; and 4) Mansel P. Elder served as a Presbyterian minister [Mansel attended Trinity University in Tehuacana, Texas during the 2 years that Willis A. Fawcett attended in the late 1890s].
George Elder had two sons, Herbert and Ernest Elder, both of whom attended Texas A & M University, but in alternate years spelling each other on the farm. The brothers became engineers in Houston. Ernest Elder worked for Gulf Oil. Both are dead now.
Emma Elder had three sisters: 1) [Mattie Martha Elder] who married a doctor named Watson and lived in [Philips, Walker County in] East Texas, 2) Ida Elder who lived in Temple, and 3) Laura Elder who lived in Yoakum and married Walt Wofford. Walt smoked a pipe. Ralph remembers visiting Laura and Walt as a teenager when Walt was on his death's bed reeking from his growing lip cancer. Soon after Walt died of cancer [in Aug. 1910].
William Carson Peterson settled closer to Gonzales than Frank Fawcett. [His daughter,] Elizabeth Peterson married Benjamin Baker. Frank S. Fawcett disliked his neighbors the Bakers' because they drank, played cards, and weren't Presbyterians. His dislike included the Bakers' relatives--the Petersons--for similar reasons. The Petersons' in turn disliked Frank Fawcett.
An Englishman by the name of John Stain owned the property across the road to the west of Frank Fawcett's farm.
The older children of the Frank Fawcett family attended Mr. Young's school in Cheapside. [This school was replaced by the one that the younger Fawcett children attended and that now is the community center found next to the church.] Tom Young acquired Mr. Siler's land during World War I, and in about 1920 bought the adjacent farm of Frank Fawcett.
Mr. Siler bought the Baker farm when the Bakers' moved to Kerrville in about 1900. He probably owned the place until sometime during World War I (c. 1919) when Tom Young acquired this farm. Eddy Siler was the owner's son.
Ralph Fawcett returned to Cheapside to visit his family after he had enlisted in the Army in 1917. He heard old man Siler plowing beyond the hedgerow that marked the property line between his father's and Siler's farms. Ralph wore a military uniform. When Ralph came over to speak to him, the old man accosted Ralph questioning him about why he wanted to fight the Germans. Mr. Siler was very pro-German. Ralph left. Because this conversation upset him, he spoke about it with Mr. Carter at his store in Cheapside. Mr. Carter told Ralph that they would take care of Mr. Siler.
His Fawcett Aunts and Uncles.
His Uncle Curtis Fawcett drank a lot, and like his father (Erasmus Rigney Fawcett) suffered from inherited epilepsy. After his parents’ death in 1868 he initially lived with his brothers and sisters, which the eldest, Frank Fawcett, strived to keep together. Frank objected to his drinking, and eventually he was told to choose between drinking and leaving. Curtis chooses to keep drinking, so he moved in with their neighbors, the Bakers, who also drank and played cards. He always called his brother Frank the "Old Man".
Curtis was a horse trader. Once he got a winded, broken down horse in a deal. He traded it to another fellow for a buggy. Before the man had gotten far, the horse gave out. He returned and demanded his money back. Curtis refused to return it, and the man threatened to sue. At this point Curtis approached Ralph about signing a bond to cover his losses. Ralph refused. Curtis stuck tight, and the man finally gave up. Curtis later moved to West Texas [Abilene] where he died [in the State Hospital].
Uncle Bob (Robert Fawcett) farmed with his older brother Frank. He never had his own land [Actually Bob owned land near Hamon and Wrightsboro]. He was often in conflict with his wife [Elizabeth Aldridge], and her brother [William]. After he sold his cotton crop in 1900 her brother tried to take the money away at gun point and wounded Bob in the process. Soon after , Bob and his family moved away to a ranch near E. Keyes Fawcett ranch in Val Verde County, Texas [It is also possible that he simply replaced Willis A. Fawcett as manager when Willis left for Kerrville in 1904]. He had troubles with his wife and eventually lost the ranch [or left when Keyes' sons were old enough to work the ranch by 1920]. Later they moved away to Sanderson, Texas where he ran the water-works. Uncle Bob had two sons, one of them named Arthur [Fawcett].
[Erasmus] Keyes Fawcett left in 1883 at age 17 with some men herding sheep [from Yorktown] to the Devil's River. For five years (1883-88) he lived in a cave and began to homestead, eventually acquiring 117 [?] sections of land [and building a house in about 1900 and marrying "Frankie" Baker in 1902. Willis A. Fawcett worked on Keyes' ranch from 1897-1904]. In 1983 Ralph attended the centennial celebration organized by Keyes descendants. But over the years there has been little contact between the Del Rio Fawcetts and the others from Cheapside.
The Fawcetts' living in Yoakum are not closely related to those from Cheapside.
His parents and siblings.
[Francis "Frank" Scott Fawcett (born in 1848) married Emma Luvenia Elder (born January 6, 1859 in Alabama) on February 25, 1877 in Pilgrim at her parents’ home. Her parents, Phillip Tignor Elder and Sarah Susan Wilson moved to Texas from Alabama in 1871].
Following the deaths of both of Frank's parents in 1868 he kept his siblings together until he married in 1877. All of the children were underage when their parents died, so they couldn't buy or sell anything. Frank sought help from the Masonic lodge in Gonzales, since his father was a Mason. They turned him down [Perhaps to be closer to a community with schools, shops and support; and because of this rejection Frank seems to have moved closer to Cheapside in 1877, with its economic ties to Cuero rather than Gonzales. In 1878 Frank inherited 160 acres in Blanco County, valued at $80 when his uncle B.K. Fawcett was murdered. The sale of that property helped to pay of his debts.]
Aunt Mini Williams, a freed-slave, joined the Frank and Emma's household because she had no place to go. Ralph remembers her from throughout his childhood. She slept on a mat by the wood stove in the house, and served as the midwife for the birth of all of Emma's children. Mini didn't know her age but always said it was nigh on 100. She must have died by 1900.
Of the 14 children born to Frank and Emma only 10 were alive in 1900: 1) Willis Augustus (1877-1951), 2) Oscar Young (1878-195?), 3) George A. (1880-1891), 4) Ernest C. (1881-82/92), 5) Earl (1884-92), 6) Carl Cleveland (1885-195?), 7) Delta Eunice (Grissom) (1886-1967), 8) Claud Phillip (1888-1910), 9) Leslie Clarence (1890-1963), 10) Ralph Branson (1893-1993), 11) Sarah Elizabeth "Lizzie" (Duderstadt) (1895-1957), 12) Blanton E. (1897-1912), 13) Ethel Thelma (Duderstadt) (1898-1985), 14) Pearl Elnora "Ruth" (1900-1986).
Ralph and all of his brothers were Masons, and some (Ralph and Willis, at least) were members of Woodsmen of the World (W.O.W.). With WOW they had 20 year life-insurance policies, as also did their father Frank. When Ralph's and Frank's policies were paid up and the money was about to be paid back, in both instances the W.O.W. tripled their subsequent membership dues. Ralph didn't join the Masons until the 1920s and W.O.W. until the 1910s in Kerrville. He dropped his affiliation with the W.O.W. after World War I because of the increases in dues.
Ralph was never racially prejudice, nor was his mother Emma or brother Oscar. This may have been from being raised by Aunt Mini, the former-slave. Many of their neighbors were prejudice and some of them had colored people working for them whom they treated poorly.
Many Fawcetts suffered from hernias: Frank S. Fawcett, Ralph B. Fawcett (3 times), Truman Fawcett, and Leslie C. Fawcett, Sr.
By the time Ralph was born in 1893 his older brothers (Willis and Oscar) were away at college [Oscar completed a college degree in pharmacy and was operating his pharmacy in Johnson City by 1905]. Carl left a few years later. His uncle Keyes had moved to the Devil's River and the Petersons' to Kerrville a decade before his birth.
Claud Fawcett died at age 21 [in 1909] of appendicitis at Southwestern University [in Dallas] where he was studying pharmacy. His birthday was May 12, and Ralph's May 4th. Ralph could never figure out how he could be older if his birthday came before Claud's. Their mother, Emma, always baked a cake and they celebrated both birthdays on some day between them.
When Ralph was young, his older brother Carl Fawcett went to play baseball in Westhoff. He returned with some beer. Their father, Frank, blew up. He had never allowed alcohol under his roof before and he wasn't about to start. He made them sit around the table and drink it. It tasted awful and some of them got sick. Carl went away to college [Southwestern University in Dallas, 1905-07]. He intended to be a doctor, but after his first year of medical school he worked at a pharmacy in Leander [1910-20]. The owner talked him into buying it so he never finished medical school. He sold that store and was going to enlist, but was rejected, so he moved to Wylie, Texas where he opened another drug store [1920-52]. A very quite person who only spoke when he had something important to say.
Leslie C. Fawcett went away to Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos for two years [1912-13]. He then taught for one year at each of the following schools, for a total of seven years [1910-1918]: 1) Rock School near Johnson City [1910-11], 2) Sandy, also near Johnson City, 3) Premont [Jim Wells County, 1913-14], 4)Leander [Williamson County, 1914-15], and 5) Bandera [1916-18, after he married Estelle Fawcett. There daughter Catherine was born there]. He then served [for six months, Dec. 1918-June 1919] in Eagle Pass as an Immigration Border guard during at least part of World War I. [He joined W.A. Fawcett & Co. in Kerrville in June of 1919. His son Leslie, Jr. was born in May 1920]. When things slowed at the furniture store, Willis got Leslie a teaching job for part of the school year in the Mountain Home school.
Frank S. Fawcett's farm.
Frank's farm was one mile north of Cheapside. At first [1868-80] he had a section of land (640 acres) at the headwaters of Fulcher Creek, but gradually sold if off to put his children through school. This included the northern portion of his farm that he sold to Mr. Uhlman, on which oil was later found. Frank sold the remaining 200 acres to Tom Young in about 1920 and moved to Johnson City with Emma and Delta.
At first Frank S. Fawcett raised sheep. He may have taught Erasmus Keyes Fawcett about sheep ranching before he left for west Texas driving a flock in 1882. The land was not fenced around Cheapside, and Frank would move his 2000 sheep around onto various vacant pasture land. They were sheared in the early spring by Mexican men who were paid $0.05/sheep. Ralph once asked his father, Frank, if he would pay him the same amount to shear sheep. After working all day Ralph sheared 20 sheep and earned a dollar.
By 1890 Frank switched from sheep raising to cotton farming. When the cotton began to open in late June-early July the picking was done by Mexican workers paid $0.50/100 wt and his children whom he paid $0.25/100 wt. With their earnings from picking cotton and shearing sheep the children were expected to buy their own clothes. Frank said in his later years that he would have been better off staying entirely with sheep.
Once the cotton was picked, it was taken to Poole's Gin at Cheepside to be ginned and baled. It was then hauled by wagon to Cuero to be sold.
Frank's farm was closer by road to Cuero than Gonzales. They made the 15-mile trip to Cuero about twice a year to shop. There they would buy barrels of flour (each barrel contained four 48 pound bags) for $4.50, barrels of sugar, and other goods.
When Ralph was 13 [in 1906] his father, Frank, asked him to take a walk with him down to the 3-4 acres known as the hog pasture. He told Ralph that he would provide seed and equipment, and if Ralph provided the labor, anything he earned on this plot of land was his. Ralph worked hard and raised a bale of cotton, which he sold in Cuero for $50. At his father's suggestion he put the money in the bank. By Christmas he had spent it all. His father usually gave each of his children $0.30-0.40 to buy Christmas presents, but that year he denied Ralph any money but a loan since Ralph had spent the money he earned from selling the cotton so foolishly. Later, Ralph spent a year growing 60 acres of cotton, from which he earned $250. It was the hardest work in his life!
Ralph liked to hunt rabbits along Fulcher Creek. He often observed a natural oil film on the creek water. Later, in the early 1920s after his father had sold the farm oil and gas were found on it.
Frank's entire life centered around his family. Everything he did was for his family. He and his family raised most of what they ate. There were always 5-6 milk cows. Frank killed a hog [late in the fall] for each person in the family. Frank was very good a making hams and sausages. He never probably earned more than $1000 during a year.
Frank was a very determined and strong-willed person. He read and thought a lot. Changing his mind was hard. When his children wanted to get him to agree to something they suspected he would oppose, they would usually approach their mother and get her to ask him.
Besides prohibiting and frowning on liquor consumption, Frank and Emma also opposed card playing. Ralph went coon hunting with a friend [one of the Baker boys?] who gave him some cards. He brought them home and hid them. When Emma found them she just, threw them in the stove and burned them up.
His childhood in the Cheapside community.
Cheapside just consisted of a couple of stores. After the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad bypassed it by seven miles [in the late 1880s], establishing a station at Westoff, many towns people moved there and the shops closed. Frank took many of his younger children (Leslie, Ralph, and others) to see the arrival of the first steam locomotive at Westoff.
By the 1890s the churches at Cheapside merged to form the Cheapside Union Church, with services for Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians. Later the Baptists came to dominate the church [and more recently the Presbyterians]. Mr. Wood was a Baptist with many children, so he was elected the superintendent of the Sunday School. He immediately ordered Baptist literature causing a major feud within the church. Creating two Sunday Schools resolved it--one Sunday morning for Baptist and another Sunday evening for the Union. Frank S. Fawcett made his children attend both Sunday Schools.
During the summers the local children often swam in a deep hole on Fulcher Creek on John Carson's place. On Sundays, Frank Fawcett would occasionally take his family by wagon over the three miles to the Guadalupe River. There they would picnic and swim. Sometime after the 1920s, Fulcher Creek began to dry up, and the 50' deep hand-dug well on the former farm of Frank Fawcett had to be replaced with a 250' deep drilled well.
Ralph's older brothers (Willis, Oscar, Carl and maybe Leslie) attended Mr. Young's private school in Cheapside, before the public schools came into existence. Ralph and his younger sisters went to the two-story Cheapside School (shown in the Gonzales County History). The school had two teachers.
The Bellevue Association still maintains the cemetery two miles south of town, just into DeWitt County. An Elder was President of the Association in 1991--Ralph's second or third cousin.
Early years in Kerrville (1915-18).
The Benjamin Baker's farm was across the Creek from the Fawcett's near Cheapside. Elizabeth Baker, his wife, was born a Peterson. Cornelia Peterson came to visit her, and met Willis A. Fawcett there. Frank S. Fawcett, Willis' father, tried to discourage his son from marrying a Peterson (See above: Peterson and Baker Families).
After college Willis went to work on Keyes Fawcett's sheep ranch on the Devil's River as the ranch manager. Willis and Cornelia were married in 1900 at the Peterson Farm near Kerrville. Their sons W.C. and F. Scott Fawcett were born on the Keyes ranch. Willis was planning to move to Arizona to start a ranch there, and came to Kerrville to visit his wife's relatives the Petersons. While he was there her father--William Caswell Peterson convinced Willis to buy out a local furniture store, with his financial support. This happened in 1904 [Note: This runs counter to W.A. Fawcett who consistently claims the store was founded in 1902. This may in fact be when Walter Eugene Williams founded Household Furniture that Willis bought out in 1904]. Willis had no experience retailing furniture. Later Ralph bought out W.C. Peterson's interest when he joined W.A. Fawcett & Co. [in 1915].
For a year in about 1914-16 Ralph attended a Business College in San Marcos. Willis promised him an accounting job in his furniture store if Ralph took a course on business. Ralph took the course, and meanwhile Willis heard about a job opening in the Kerr County Clerk's Office. He got Ralph to apply.
When Ralph first came to Kerrville in 1916 [or possibly as early as 1914] he worked in the Kerr County Clerk's Office of John Level, handling land records and was paid $55/month. He hated this job. All he did was sit and type all day, and sort and file deeds and records. Willis wanted Ralph to run for County Clerk, but Ralph refused. As Ralph was planning to return to Cheapside, Willis offered him a job at the furniture store for $28/month plus board. He accepted the job. Ralph delivered furniture by wagon during the first part of 1917. He worked there about a year before he enlisted in the Army.
Before Ralph joined the W.A. Fawcett & Co furniture store in Kerrville, Willis had tried to open a branch store in Center Point that involved Thomas Elder. But it soon failed. There just weren't enough people. Later, at about the same time that they opened the W.A. Fawcett store in San Antonio, Willis also attempted to start another branch store in Junction. It failed sometime in the 1920s [probably by 1924].
Until the 1920s the store only sold new furniture. They often went in with Heuing & Beckworth of Fredericksburg to buy entire railroad carloads of furniture. This was before the railroad reached Fredericksburg, so they would come over and haul the furniture there by wagon.
Return to Kerrville (1919-21).
Ralph returned from World War I in 1919 with $500 saved up from his Army pay. Willis learned that the Ford Insurance Agency was interested in selling-out. Ralph offered the owner, Mr. Mason, $500 for it, but was refused. Mr. Mason wanted $750. When he told this to Willis, his brother went to see him and arranged the sell for $500. Willis allowed Ralph to move the agency to the furniture store in return for a half interest. All along Willis needed and wanted the insurance business, because he was already involved in a savings and loan. Ralph gave up his remaining (50%) interest to Willis in 1921 in return for the money to buy a home in San Antonio.
For about a year the war, Ralph spent much of his time running the insurance agency, and not so much selling furniture.
In Kerrville Ralph and Gladys Saunders met while both were living at the same boarding house. This was when Ralph worked for the county before the war. They were married in 1919.
The Saunders were from Sabinal, and were close traders. Her father was a Texas Ranger. Her grandmother had traveled by stage from the Menger Hotel in San Antonio to El Paso to visit her husband who worked at a mine in Mexico. Later he disappeared in Mexico and was never found. Gladys' great-great grandfather was the Henderson who was the first governor of Texas. Gladys worked as a buyer for the Schreiner store. Her brother later worked in the San Antonio furniture store.
The Saunders were Republicans, whereas most of the Fawcetts' were staunch Democrats. Ralph's grandfather (Philip T. Elder) admitted that he voted Republican once because the man was more qualified. The Republican party didn't exist in Cheapside when Ralph was a boy.
Willis didn't just get into politics. He always was a politician.
In [Nov.] 1920, Frank S. and Emma (Elder) Fawcett moved to Johnson City with their younger daughters. Soon after they sold their farm near Cheapside to Tom Young. Tom Young already owned the farm that adjoined on the east [which was probably the former B. Baker farm bought by him c. 1918 from Mr. Silar, a German]. It was Tom Young who tore down Frank Fawcett's house [by 1935].
Fawcett Furniture on Commerce St., San Antonio (1921-45).
After World War I Ralph still had his interest (investment) in the W.A. Fawcett & Co. store in Kerrville. George Miller bought secondhand furniture for W.A. Fawcett Furniture. He was in San Antonio buying furniture from Cut Rate Furniture and learned from them that they were interested in selling out. He was sent by Willis to San Antonio to help L.C. and Ralph set up the bookkeeping system. Willis and Ralph went to San Antonio and talked to St. Josephs Catholic Church--the owner of the building, and the owner of Cut Rate Furniture. They worked out the arrangements to rent the store and buy the stock. Ralph and Gladys moved to San Antonio in July 1921 and bought a house on Kayton. The store opened before the September 1921 flood; but that flood did not damage them [This early opening-date runs counter to newspaper ads and W.B. Fawcett, Sr's recollections that the store opened after the flood in December 1921. Newspaper ads show the Store did not open as Fawcett Furniture until Jan. 1922].
Willis owned most of the new store in San Antonio, although Ralph invested $6000 of his own savings. Friction arose because Willis sent Ralph almost daily letters informing him about how to run the San Antonio business. Willis wanted weekly reports, which Ralph disliked after his Army experience with needless paper work. After a few months of this, Ralph was angry and wanted out. When he spoke with Willis about this, he told him he wanted to sell out and work for a furniture store in Beeville about which he had heard. Willis didn't want him to leave. If Ralph left Leslie planned to remain with the San Antonio store. Willis thought of Leslie as a liability, and thought the store couldn't operate without Ralph and his ideas. Willis really didn't want to keep Leslie on. [Willis used to keep daily records on the performance of each salesman that he would compare on subsequent years. If some persons sales were less, he would chide them. L.C. and Ralph never did this at their store probably out of resentment over their initial treatment by their brother]. The conflict was resolved by Ralph and Leslie offering to buy out Willis' investment. Willis proposed a highly inflated price, figuring they would never be able pay him off. But they did [by 1929] through hard work and long hours [,and with a loan from C.C. Fawcett].
George Miller bought used furniture for both stores. Ralph didn't entirely trust him. Willis gave George permission to sign checks, and consequently they were never sure of their bank balance. Ralph convinced Willis to only let Leslie sign checks for the San Antonio store.
Part of Ralph's job was to inventory houses of furniture that they were about to purchase, and to then check it into the store from the trucks. In at least one instance he caught George selling some of the used furniture for his own profit: Ralph had inventoried 12 rooms of furniture and only 10 came to the store. When he confronted George about this, George said that all the furniture buyers did this and offered to give Ralph a cut of the profit. Ralph asked him, as he later asked Saunders: Whom he was working for, himself or the firm? So George Miller was sent back to Kerrville where he worked until going into the furniture business on his own (1930-60s) in Kerrville. He began working for W.A. Fawcett as a teenager and worked for him for 20 years. He was married to a woman whose parents were wealthy from the oil discovered on their place in South Texas.
Through politics and maneuvering with the help of Willis, Ralph got access to several prestigious furniture lines: Kroeler and Simons (Beauty Rest mattresses). Back then they used coil springs rather than box mattresses. For years in the 1930-40s, Captain Tillman, a World War I veteran, was the sales manager for Simons. He would call Ralph up and complain if he heard of his selling any other brands of mattresses (Taylor or Sealy). They would buy a mattress for $25 and sell it for $39.50, often for $1 down and a $1/week, just to get customers in. A credit association did exist and did a pretty good job of screening customers.
[From about 1928 to 1960s Kroeler was the major line for living room furniture in the region. Initially it was manufactured at Napierville, Illinois. Mr. Zubra was their salesman in 1927-28 when he convinced Ralph to buy an entire carload that they could pay for after 60 days. Under-pressure they did manage to sell it. Then Mr. Zubra convinced them to buy two carloads, promising to advance them the money to pay for what didn't sell after three months. Some was left, but Ralph went to the bank got a short-term loan, rather than holding him to the bargain.]
The store was open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Sunday. Usually they did not arrive home until 9 p.m. On holidays and evenings they often worked to repair and clean up furniture.
In the early days of the San Antonio store, Ralph often worked so hard that he forgot to eat lunch. He started losing weight. At 130 pounds he went to see the doctor who told Ralph to go to a nearby bar [on E. Commerce] after work every day and to drink a tall glass of draft, unpasteurized, beer. It worked! He began to gain weight.
Ralph was once accused of being prejudiced against Jewish people when he was buying some furniture from a Jew by the name of Greenburg. Ralph says he didn't start out prejudice, but got that way from working around Jews who only cared about making money.
By the time Fawcett Furniture Co. was going on Commerce Street, Stowers Furniture was in decline, following the death of G.A. Stowers. Household Furniture, managed by Mr. Walter, was their major competition.
From the mid-1920s  until he went entirely into real estate--where he could make more money--in 1945, Dabney Saunders (Gladys' brother) was a partner and worker in the store. Mr. Saunders thought he was smarter than everyone, including Ralph. He was excellent at the one-time sale, but always over sold the product and made special verbal deals with the customer that the others had to accommodate. After leaving, he did very well in real estate in San Antonio.
Lee Kimble, an African American former-cowboy from Fort Davis, worked making deliveries for 23 years [ca. 1922-45]. Ralph says he was the best help they ever had. The customers loved him. Women would call up asking if they could send Lee out to their home to help them rearrange the furniture. He would do this and they would tip him $0.50-$1.00. It was a service that made customers happy--and happy customers bought more.
With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 they were losing money every day they were open. Ralph asked the accounting firm of Mr. Pfluhaupt to figure out how much they would have to cut to reduce their overhead by 50% and how much they might lose if business continued at the same pace. Ralph and Leslie cut their salaries from $200/month to $100/mo. Ralph went and talked to the man they rented warehouse space from and explained their situation. He agreed to reduce their rent by 50% with the understanding that when they got on their feet, they would pay the higher rate again.
Fred Jarvis worked as their trouble shooter, but he was really trouble for them. Pfluhaupt recommended eliminating his position. Ralph offered Fred two months pay, if he would work one more month. Fred got mad, and wouldn't even answer. He got another job as a traveling salesman. After a few weeks they fired him. He came back to Ralph and wanted a job working as a delivery-person. Ralph had laid Lee off while Fred left. Lee had gone to work at a transfer company, but was also back in a few weeks asking about his old job, about the same time as Fred came around. Lee's wife, Bertha, also came in and told Ralph that Lee would rather work for him than anybody in the world. Fred told Ralph to "fire the nigger". Which Ralph refused to do, and where upon Fred wanted Ralph to step out back so they could fight it out. Lee continued to work for them until he died.
[From 1928 to 1949 Ralph and after 1946 Wm. B. Fawcett did much of the furniture buying at annual markets in Chicago.]
[Boss and Perfection were the main kerosene ranges from the 1920s on. At one point they staged a contest between the two over who could cook biscuits the fastest. One of them won by pre-soaking the stove wicks in kerosene. They sold kerosene stoves until about 1952, same with wood stoves.]
[Jake Karotkin and Mr. Green of Toudouze were friends of Ralph's until Toudouze cheated them on a price fixing scheme involving Lane cedar chests. Mr. Harold Wilson sold for Karotkins until during the depression when he made a sell of several thousand dollars to a Dr. Brinker from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Jake refused to pay him full commission. Bernard Karotkins was the most honest, and Leonard less so.]
Later in the late 1930s or early 1940s a Mr. Westwood, a former union-member from up North, came to work on deliveries. Ralph sent him out to install window shades in a house. He got most of it done, but then left at 6 p.m., because they didn't pay him to work overtime. He had to go out again the next morning and finish the job. Ralph was very angry about this.
A few weeks later, Mr. Westwood was asked by a customer to rearrange some furniture in her house. He replied that Fawcetts' didn't pay him enough to do this, it wasn't his job to, and besides her small tip didn't make it worthwhile. When Ralph heard about this he fired Mr. Westwood at the end of the week.
The basement of the store was flooded in the September 1945 flood. The fire department was to overworked to be able to pump it out, and the building owners (St. Joseph's) were not concerned until the water broke through the basement wall and flooded their bowling alley. Ralph eventually convinced Alamo Iron Works to lend a pump.
Bill Griffith [Glady's sisters son], was raised by Ralph and Gladys because his father was in poor health. Bill took classes with W.B. Fawcett at San Antonio College, before going on to sell cigarettes. His heavy smoking destroyed his health.
By the end of World War II Ralph was fed up with the furniture business, and by then he was making long-term investments in growth stocks and real estate. So in 1947 he sold his interest to Truett C. Moore, who was by then married to Ralph's youngest sister--Pearl Fawcett.
The Brothers' fall hunt.
Ralph's favorite story about the annual fall hunts by his brothers dealt with their shooting a turkey without a license and then having the game warden show up just as they were serving up the turkey stew. They tried to only give him parts that he wouldn't identify as turkey; and he went off complementing them on their fine "beef" stew.
They once summoned Ralph for federal grand jury duty, just about the time he was to leave for hunting. He went in and saw Judge West and explained how important the hunts were to he and his brothers. The Judge responded that “was all true and that besides we hunters need to stick together. Come back and see him in January” [after hunting season].
In the early 1950s, Willis and Ralph went elk hunting in western Wyoming. Ralph killed a 700 pound elk. When they were driving back toward Salt Lake City in their Olds car and a pickup, they got in a snowstorm. When they stopped at a gas station, Ralph asked the man there which vehicle would do better in the snow. The man thought the pickup would be ok, but he as not at all sure about the Olds. Ralph drove the pickup through the pass. They went slow, and finally made it through to Colorado City.
Retirement years: San Antonio.
After retiring in 1947 Ralph and Gladys moved from their home with 100 acres at Bandera and Callahan to another home over south of San Antonio College, off San Pedro Avenue. They rented the Bandera Hwy. home for a while to Herbert Bloys, who farmed, raised cows, and kept the place up during the early 1950s [Herbert moved here after selling his place near Uvalde on the Nueces River. Later he moved back to Fort Davis to live in his parents home]. Ralph and Gladys left San Antonio in the early 1950s moving up to Kelley Creek, near Ingram.
[While they lived in San Antonio, Gladys often called on William B. Fawcett and Truett C. Moore of Fawcett Furniture to return and exchange items that she had purchased from Sear's or Joske's.]
[Harold Wilson was in furniture retail business for himself until 1945, when with several Jewish friends he founded Central Distributing--which soon emerged as the major wholesaler of appliances in San Antonio. It collapsed in 1981 due to over-expansion. H. Wilson helped with arrangements for Fawcetts' to buy the Noel Furniture building in cooperation with Mr. Teatsworth after Household folded. National Furniture (Sony and Annie Cohen came in with a higher bid)].
Retirement years: Ingram & Kerrville.
They lived at Kelley Creek until the early 1970s when because of Gladys' health they moved back to Kerrville (110 Royal Oaks). Gladys Fawcett headed the Republican Women of Kerr County, and both she and R.B. supported Bush from the very beginning of his political career. For three years he volunteered as a docent at the Cowboy Art Museum until he could not longer drive. After her death , he continued to live there, until he moved to a home for senior citizens in 1990, about the time he developed diabetes. Dr. Barry Fawcett called Ralph every week on the phone, and R.B. Fawcett continued to play the weekly (Monday/Thursday evening) bridge game (He played with the same group of men for about 20 years). Ralph was moved to another room after he fell in June 1992. He also developed difficulties reading because his left eye was hemraging due to his diabetes.
Ralph B. Fawcett never fully recovered from a heart attack at the end of November 1992. He was unable to walk after that and stopped engaging in the weekly bridge game that he had enjoyed for the past 20 years. President Bush sent him a Christmas card in 1992 thanking R.B. Fawcett for his years of support. Ralph was unhappy about having to leave his apartment in a retirement community for a rest home [Alpine Terrace, after Dec. 6, 1992], and was hoping to begin therapy. [Ralph Branson Fawcett died Saturday a.m., Feb. 6, 1993, three months short of his 100th birthday. He was buried in Garden of Memories Cemetery in Kerrville (Obituaries: Gonzales Inquirer 2/20/93; San Antonio Express 2/8/93)].
From A History of the Fawcetts and Related Families in America by William Bloys Fawcett. Used by permission of Dr. Fawcett.
This book was first published in 1996 and some of the information is quite dated. If you find errors or want to add updates, contact me, and I will add notes to the page.
Copyright © 1996, 2007 by William Bloys Fawcett, Jr. All rights reserved. No copies may be made of this document through any electronic, photocopying or other means without permission of the author.