The Life and Times of Elias Hardcastle
by Jeanne Williams - Temple Daily Telegram
May 30, 2011
CAMERON - Approaching his 90th birthday, Elias Hardcastle was busy finishing a hand-
written autobiography, not because he was a famous Texan, but because he wanted his
family to know the story of his life.
This was quite an accomplishment for a man his age who did not learn to read and write
until he was an adult.
After Hardcastle’s death, his memoirs could not be found, and relatives feared the
handwitten pages had been buried with him. More than 50 years would pass before the
yellowed and brittle ledger book containing his writings would reappear, great-grandson
Marcus M. Lowthrop said.
In 1995, Lowthrop deciphered and published the manuscript as a rare, 80-page book
titled “The Life and Times of Elias Hardcastle, 1844 to 1934.”
As famed writer Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her pioneer girl experiences in
Minnesota, Kansas and South Dakota, Hardcastle passed on his memories of growing up in
Milam County and adventures as a Civil War veteran, Indian fighter, farmer, cattleman,
father and grandfather. Wilder’s series of Little House books became internationally
famous, while Hardcastle’s published pioneer memoirs are hard to find.
Elias Hardcastle was born Jan. 5, 1844, and moved with his parents in 1851 to Texas in
a wagon train with six other families from Pike County, Ala., settling on Pin Oak Creek
on the south side of the Little River about eight miles west of Old Nashville —
Sterling Robertson’s colony of the 1830s.
Steamboats traveled up the Brazos River as far as Waco when the river was on the rise,
but if it wasn’t, Port Sullivan was as far as they would venture because of the sand
bars, Hardcastle wrote. The family lived in a log cabin with a dirt floor and chimney
made of sticks and adobe.
“The country ran wild with buffaloes and Indians,” Hardcastle wrote. “Everybody was
your friend except the Indians and they would slaughter you if they could.”
Clothes and shoes were homemade; they planted cotton, lighted candles at night and
drank water and milk from gourd dippers. Hardcastle’s father journeyed to Houston and
came home with a saddle for Elias as well as salt, sugar, coffee, turpentine, castor
oil and “assifidity” for medicine.
Once a month the family rode to Port Sullivan to pick up the mail. Elias was credited
with finding a bee tree that supplied honey to slather with butter on hot biscuits.
Hardcastle recalled the death of Tom Skinner, who moved from Old Nashville to Cedar
Creek in the sight of the old Lone Pine tree. Skinner was cutting timber to build a
house when he was ambushed by Indians. His wife and two babies escaped to safety three
miles away at Nobel Springs. By this time, Elias could shoot a gun as well as his
When Elias was 10, his father and neighbors decided to build a school at the dividing
line of Cedar Creek and the Pin Oak Creek settlement three miles from each
neighborhood, calling the school Smyrna. They built a log building with a plank door,
puncheon benches to sit on and tallow candles to read by. “There were no windows
because that would have been dangerous if Indians came prowling around,” Elias wrote.
Smyrna School also served as a community church, and “now and then some old minister
would come and preach.”
It was more difficult to find a teacher, but school was conducted about four months
during the summer because the school house was too cold in the winter.
Curiously, Elias didn’t learn to read and write until he was 18 years old and in the
Confederate Army, when an orderly sergeant who had taught school, W.G.H. Livingston,
gave Hardcastle lessons.
Hardcastle devoted a large part of his memoirs to experiences in the Civil War. His
father, Eli Hardcastle, left home in September 1861 to join the Milam County Guards,
which became Company E, 4th Texas Cavalry. While Eli was serving with the Confederate
Army of New Mexico, Elias, 17, joined Capt. James Thompson’s cavalry company from
nearby Travis County.
He was accompanied by at least two other Milam County residents, Jesse Donaldson and
Thompson’s company was mustered in at Dallas on May 13, 1862, and designated as Company
F, 31st Texas Cavalry. The regiment was soon dismounted and effectively served as
infantry west of the Mississippi.
Even though father and son fought in separate units, they did serve together in the
same forces for a time in Louisiana. Following the surrender of the Confederate forces
in Texas, they traveled together to Millican in Brazos County to receive their paroles
on July 11, 1865.
Later in the year, Elias married Elizabeth Peoples. He bought some land and built a log
cabin with a dirt floor. He worked in the cattle business for a while. On a trip to
Louisiana in 1867, Hardcastle fell ill with yellow fever, which was epidemic at the
time. However, he survived.
The next year, he found time to attend a reunion of Union and Confederate soldiers in
Richmond, Va. In the early 1870s, Hardcastle contracted to lay cross ties for the
International & Great Northern Railroad in Milam County. He also dabbled in the freight
business, cut cord wood and worked at farming.
Hardcastle was introduced to Medina County during a cattle buying trip. His first
impression was unfavorable. He recalled that he had never seen so many rattlesnakes in
his life and was dismayed by the rocky terrain and poor cattle. Nevertheless, he later
decided to make Medina County his home.
He also was involved in a minor fight with Indians. He later joined a company of men
that helped put a stop to Indian raids in that section of the state. During his
temporary stay, Hardcastle was appointed road supervisor and laid out a mail route
through Medina County between the Bexar and Frio County lines. This road was later the
general route for part of U.S. Highway 81 and Interstate 35.
One part of Elias Hardcastle’s life omitted from his journal is a murder charge, of
which he was eventually acquitted.
Hardcastle referred to a divorce and his “troubles at home,” but The Galveston Daily
News wrote of an incident on December 1874 when Hardcastle reportedly killed William
Peoples in Gause in eastern Milam County. Peoples was shot in the abdomen and suffered
for about 24 hours before dying. He made a deathbed statement implicating Elias and
Elijah Hardcastle in the shooting.
The incident was said to have been caused by Peoples becoming too friendly with
Hardcastle’s wife. Elias became a fugitive from justice for several months but finally
surrendered to Milam County lawmen in October 1875. He was later found innocent at a
Elias Hardcastle divorced his first wife and eloped with Cornelia Gregston in 1878. In
his memoirs; he referred to his “second family.”
Hardcastle remained in Medina County for many more years. He finally moved to San
Antonio. There he wrote his life’s story. In closing out his manuscript, Hardcastle
believed that his time was short and predicted that he would die in February, because
his three sons and a daughter had died that month. He died Feb. 1, 1934, about a month
after his 90th birthday. So ended the life and times of Elias Hardcastle.