Only a few days before Mr. Cockrell arrived home, the town elected A. M. Moore as its new Marshall. I had a bad reaction when I heard about it because Mr. Moore owed us money that Mr. Cockrell had not been able to collect, and I knew my husband intended to have it out with him when he returned home. Having it out with a private citizen is one thing; locking horns with a lawman is entirely different.
After being away for two months, Alex spent a full week following his return in finding out what had been happening in our business. First, we sat down together, and I showed him all of the records I had kept and gave him an update on our financial status, which are considerably less than before he left Dallas on this trip. He spent lavishly for furnishings for the hotel, far beyond what I would have thought proper. He had purchased a lavish crystal chandelier to hang in the hotel entryway and a grand piano among other furnishings. He was like a kid when he told me about the piano, saying he thought the one he had previously purchased for the hotel was too small and, besides, since we had our new house Aurelia should keep it to practice her music lessons.When I tried to find out exactly what he had bought, he waved his hand in dismissal, said there would be five wagonloads coming soon. I could stand alongside as the merchandise was unloaded and make careful records of everything. His wagon boss, Rudy Horst, was in charge of getting the five wagonloads home safely. I knew that was exactly what I must do. To be so good at business, Mr. Cockrell was a disaster as a businessman!
After hearing my report and successfully evading my probing for answers, Mr. Cockrell set off to see for himself how our various businesses were faring. He checked in with the foreman at the lumberyard and, to hear him tell it, was convinced we’d soon make a fortune. He wasn’t as optimistic about the brickyard, said we were only breaking even there, though my books clearly showed we were beginning to make a profit which would increase as soon as people learned that brick, though costing more, would be much more substantial in the long run. He checked in with the office building and was delighted that since he left, I’d rented space on the second floor to Mr. Gougenant for his photography studio. He stopped by and visited with Berry Derrit who he’d left in charge of the toll bridge and the ferry. But he spent most of his time with the foreman of the hotel, which was his grandest dream. He was convinced that the hotel would enhance the image of Dallas and bring travelers and traders here for both business and pleasure.
He was in fine humor. Things had gone sp well in his absence that at dinner that night he told Aurelia and the boys that he planned to go away more often and for longer periods of time because I ran the business better than he did. When Aurelia burst into tears, both Bob and Frank looked at him with wide-eyed disbelief and baby Alexander followed his sister in sobs.Their father hastily retracted, assuring them that he was only kidding.
April came. In all of the rest of my life, I will replay that morning.We had an especially close connection the night before.After the almost-fiasco at dinner on Friday night,Alex had played with the children until they were tired and then left for a conference with Mr. McCoy. I begged him not to end the evening at a saloon, but of course, he did. He came home totally sober and said that on the morrow he would complete the rest of the unfinished business so that he could go on to greater things.When I asked what that meant, he said he would confront Mr. Moore and demand that the debt owed us be paid. Since Mr. Moore was a public servant, he not only had the money to pay, but he owed it to the citizenry to be free of past obligations in order to uphold the law.
I listened quietly and then, very gently, I thought, admonished him to be careful. Mr. Moore was young, a newly named law-enforcement officer, determined to prove his mettle. I told him a bit about the gossip I had heard in his absence—that the man was “trigger happy,” in a hurry to take over Dallas and not interested in the common good but only in what profits he could make. He responded that my concerns were not valid, that he would meet Mr. Moore, have a friendly talk with him and be clone with it. He said Mr. McCoy had told him how to handle the situation, and I was not to worry. He even promised me that when he went out the next morning, he would leave all firearms behind. We had a very special evening with each other.
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful.The children were all abed, and I allowed them a rare opportunity to sleep in. I got up before dawn, lighted a candle and checked, one more time, over our business obligations. Then, I went to the kitchen, fired up the stove and waited while reading a book of rioetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that Mr. Cockrell had brought to me from his recent journey. I didn’t know why, but I was almost moved to tears by two of the lines from the poem “Santa Filomena” which read: “Lo! In this house of misery A Lady with a lamp I see.” It was written to honor Florence Nightingale, that beautiful nurse who undertook the most horrendous circumstances to nurse the war wounded. But it spoke to me.
By the time Mr. Cockrell came clown to breakfast, I had made spoon bread and set it on the table with butter and molasses. He paused to inhale the fragrance of the cooking sausage and to give me a hug—rare, but so very special because of its rarity. My disposition soared even as I fried eggs and set the whole in front of him. He asked, “Now, what am I going to do for an excuse when I meet Mr. McCoy and Nicholas Darnell for breakfast?” and I responded,”Anything except stop by the local bar for a quick one!” He laughed.
I was so surprised, and so pleased later when I went into our bedroom to set it in order, that his ammunition belt and firearms were lying there. I straightened and made the bed, cleaned and cleared the bedroom and laid the firearm belt neatly across our new dresser. By that time the children were beginning to stir, and I went downstairs to see that they were fed and dressed and ready for the day. I don’t know why, but I scrubbed each one and had them put on their “Sunday clothes.” And, all the while, I struggled with a feeling of doom that would not leave me.
During the morning, I completed my household chores and cleaned the kitchen. I loved keeping the new home sparkling. Not since living in the White House had I enjoyed so much snace. At noon when Mr. Cockrell had not come home for lunch, I fed the children, sat down with my darning and worked for a couple of hours, then decided to take the children with me and go up to Hirsch & Shirek for groceries. When I returned somewhere before four and five that afternoon, I went into the bedroom to put away my bonnet and reticule and my heart sank. The ammunition belt was gone. So was the shotgun that my husband kept stored above the door.
I tried to keep busy, folded a few pieces of clothing I’d laundered earlier and put dinner on. There was a knock at my door and even before I could get there, Mr. McCoy was opening it. It took one glance. His friends had brought my husband home on a makeshift stretcher. That was my first thought, even though the “stretcher” was one of the boards from our lumberyard. I could not take in then, and I haven’t been able to remember since, who was there or what they said. All I remember is that Mr. McCoy said Dr. McDermitt had been alerted and would be along soon. I lent over my husband. He was conscious, but barely. He looked up at me and said:
“Educate our children.”
Nobody can know what those three dying words spoke to me. “Educate,” he said, he who had scoffed at “classroom learning” even while he hired the best tutors and musicians he could find to give our children lessons. “Educate,” he said, even when he laughed at me for my reading and book learning and said he was so smart that he did not need an education to be “schooled” in the most basic of life’s lessons. “Educate,” he saicl,”our children, not mine, not yours, but ours.”That, I shall carry in my heart forever. He had promised me from the beginning of our marriage that we were partners, but because of his rearing and conditioning where he’d always had to be a lone survivor, responsible for himself, he usually spoke about what “I” have done, what “I” own.
My husband died.
We had been married 10 and a half years, 3,869 days. He left nie with the greatest treasure any woman could want: Four beautiful children— Aurelia, 8; Robert, 6; Frank, 4 ; Alexander, his namesake (oh, how glad I am, I named this child for his father!), 2, and our first-born, Logan, buried at White House Ranch, dead as an infant, that I will never overlook.
I still have to sort out what happened. I know that the morning started with Mr. McCoy, Mr. Nicholas Darnell and Mr. Cockrell meeting to talk business.Alexander wanted to engage Mr. Darnell to manage the new hotel.
At some point during the morning my husband found Mr. Moore and they had words, but parted without my husband collecting the debt.
Nobody knows what happened after that. It depends on which person you believe or what stories you listen to. I think I have heard them all.
Dr. McDermitt looked at his watch, shook his head, looked at me and said, “I am so sorry.” It was the end of a wild but wonderful time that had taken me from a quiet, often boring maiden through a tempestuous wife and mother, the end of an era. I could not know that it was the beginning of a new one.
Mr. Cockrell was dead.
My life, as I had envisioned it, was over. What now?
It depended again on which voices I listened to, but I knew, even in my state of numbness and inertia that only I could answer the questions threatening to overcome me. I had our children. I had the businesses that he and I had started together. And I had my husband’s trust that I would carry on.There was nobody but me. I had no time to grieve. I had to take charge.
I thanked the friends who had brought Alexander home. I had them lay him out on our dining room table, the only space long enough. I dismissed them. Said I wanted to be alone. Held his hand and prayed. Cleansed his body. Dressed him in his best suit.Asked two of the Negroes who worked for us to help me move him to the living room sofa. Called our children to come and say good-by. Sent for Mr. Gougenant and had his picture made. Dismissed everybody. And stood alone in our new home in my grief. At some point soon after these basic needs were completed, Reverend Smith arrived. I was grateful. I knew I must plan a funeral. People began arriving, bringing food and faltering words. Nobody knew what to say and that was all right. I wouldn’t have known how to respond. My sisters came and took over greeting friends, employees and relatives. My sister-in-law brought the dress and the bonnet she had worn when her husband died, I was vaguely aware to be grateful for the bonnet that would shield my face from curious on-lookers.
My immediate reaction was to take my husband back to the White House ranch and bury him beside Logan, but Reverend Smith pointed out that the distance would make it difficult for many people to attend, so I agreed to bury him in Pioneer Park Cemetery near downtown Dallas, within walking distance of our new home.Alexander was one of five men, including the Rev. Smith, who had only the year before on March 21, 1857, deeded three acres of their property for the cemetery.
Later that evening when all of the people had departed and the children were in bed, I lit the new kerosene lamp that Mr. Cockrell had brought home from New Orleans only a few days before, opened my trunk and laid everything out on my new desk. I spent the rest of the night going over our finances. I stopped only once to refill the lamp with kerosene and relight it.A new day was dawning when I finished. I knew almost to the final penny what we owned, what we owed, what bills I must immediately pay, what debts I might collect and which might have to be written off. Whatever else I did, I knew I must collect the debt from Mr. Moore because I had learned by then from Mr. McCoy and others that he had fired the shots that killed my husband.
I knew I had to reassure our employees that the businesses would go on, not the way Mr. Cockrell would have managed them, but that they would continue to have jobs and that I would be able to meet our payroll. I sent messages to the manager of the lumberyard and the brick yard and the foreman of construction of the hotel to see me the day following the funeral. I assured Berry Derrit that he was still in charge of the toll bridge and of the ferry and that anyone coming to the funeral from west of the Trinity should be passed free of charge.
Many people have commented about my composure all during that horrendous time. I am told that I took my little children by the hand and walked out of the funeral services and took over the business, but that is melodramatic.The truth is I was in a trance, doing what had to be done.
When the weekly Herald was published the next Saturday, April 11, it carried a tiny item in the middle of page three.