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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Discovering Family History at Fort Griffin

By Jane E. Lenoir, Fort Griffin State Historic Site

If you’ve ever worked in an office for any length of time, especially an office that deals in things of the past, bits of information come across your desk that may not be significant at that moment, but which you decide to keep for later study. This being the case, where do you put them? In my office, those bits end up in one of the hidey holes. In our site manager Mitch’s office, they accumulate between books on a shelf full of binders. (I know this explanation seems roundabout, but bear with me…I’m getting there).

I decided to start a scrapbook, so I dug out all the materials on that shelf, and I found a wonderful surprise. There was a thin, self-bound book that said: “Arlina Francis Rogers was at Ft. Griffin in a wagon train going to California, May, 1869.” Enclosed was a bit of Rogers’ genealogy and a copy of the journal of Edward Hawkins Rogers, Arlina’s uncle. As I read through the booklet, I realized I had read a part of this story before from an old clipping in my grandmother’s scrapbook. These were my cousins.

Arlina Francis (Rogers) Degman, her husband George Washington Degman, and three of their children: Ella Mae (Degman) Reneau, John Herman Degman, and Susie Belle (Degman) Miller. Taken 1897, Collin Co., TX.

Edward Hawkins Rogers was born in Tennessee in 1820, and his mother was the sister of my great-great-great grandfather, John Hawkins Goode, Sr. When my great-great grandfather, John Hawkins Goode, Jr., lost his first wife in 1852, he moved from Kentucky to Texas and joined his Rogers cousins in the Peters Colony. I found letters and a bit of family history written by Margaret, a sister of Edward Hawkins Rogers, who she refers to as Hawkins.

In 1847, Hawkins’ brothers Clayton and William and some of their neighbors migrated 800 miles to settle in the Peters Colony of Texas, 25 miles north of the village called Dallas. Each family man was to receive 640 acres of land, a rifle, a supply of ammunition, and a one-room log cabin. There was no agriculture in the area in 1847. The Rogers brothers’ land was in the western part of Collin County. By 1854, Hawkins had moved in and acquired land in Denton County. The area, which was near the village of Rock Hill, was known as the "Rogers Settlement." They built a house for a school and Methodist church and called it Bethel. Several of the Rogers family members are buried in Bethel Cemetery. When the St. Louis & San Francisco railroad (Frisco line) was built through this area, the town of Frisco was built and Rock Hill became a ghost town.

In 1868, Hawkins and his brothers William and Andrew organized a wagon train with about 100 families to move to California, starting May 7 from Denton County, Texas, and ending November 13 in California. The following is an excerpt from the journal kept by Hawkins concerning the time they passed through Fort Griffin (grammar and spelling was left as shown in the transcription.)

SATURDAY the 22nd, To Ft. Griffin 14 miles.
SUNDAY the 23rd, Lay by at Ft. Griffin's. Good deal of excitement about Indians. Train talks about breaking up.
MONDAY the 24th, still at Griffin, made two ox yokes, cut my hand very bad.
TUESDAY the 25th, Still here.
WEDNESDAY the 26th, Went into a new train Hickos (Hickox) commander. Traveled 15 miles over rocky, hilly country. Scattering mesquite. Camped at Deadman's Creek. Country rocky and poor.
FRIDAY the 28th, Started and got about a mile and stopped by soldiers on account of some guns bought by some of the boys turned back to where we camped.
SATURDAY the 29th, Lay by for order from post. Train nearly Secesh and cursing the Yankees and yet it was an old Secesh that had run from Arkansas that informed against them.
SUNDAY the 30th, Traveled 14 miles camped on red land.
MONDAY the 31st, Traveled 20 miles over the best land I have ever seen since we left Denton Co .. It was a strip of red land but no timber except a few Scattering mesquite.

At the end of the story is the following:
The above was transcribed by me at Arkansas City, Kansas August 1917 From a manuscript from my uncle W.A. (Andy) Rogers of Alameda, California. Some of the words are guessed at. J. E. SHEETON

The journal relates the whole seven month trip with mention of interesting sites, Indians, weather, illness, and the loss of his child born on the journey. They named her Arizona. She lived about two weeks and was buried beside the trail near Apache Gap in Ft. Bowie, Arizona.

In a letter from Hawkins in 1903, he says old age “is not as disagreeable as I used to think it would be." He walked to the top of a 1,000-foot-tall mountain on his 83rd birthday and back, plus a three-mile round trip without sitting down. Our ancestors were a tough bunch.

Fort Griffin State Historic Site is located 15 miles north of Albany on U.S. Hwy 283, in the Texas Forts Trail Region.


  1. How wonderful to see this posted. Susie Belle Degman was my great grandmother. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you for sharing Jennifer! Is there any chance I could get a scanned copy of the journal you describe written by Edward Hawkins Rogers? If so, please email to Thank you so much!