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Pete Kendall: Names play an integral part in the local lore of Johnson County

Published: June 01, 2009 02:48 pm

What’s in a name?

Quite a bit, if it happens to be Witham and Grafa.

There are still plenty of each in these parts — 70 Withams, to be specific, in Texas, making it the 17,682nd most common name in the state, between Winkfield and Worrall.

If you thought 70 was astronomical, try 461 Withams in Maine, 246 in California and 226 in Indiana. The most popular first name for Witham is Kevin. No. 2 is Nyal.

You can find an assortment of Grafas in this immediate area — Andrea in Grandview, Stacy in Granbury, Barney and Jane in Arlington, and John, Casey, Jarod and David in Godley.

None of this should be surprising.

According to a historical piece in the Times-Review’s 1954 centennial issue, the Witham and Grafa families came to Texas in 1854 and 1876.

The Witham family settled first in Wise County at a place called Arora. Otis Robinson Witham was ordained to preach at a meeting of the Ashland Baptist Association.

During the Witham family’s stay in Wise County, sons Walter Witham and John Mullis served in the Confederate Army. Walter was killed in battle. Fortunately for the family line, John was not.

John’s family consisted of daughters Sarah and Francis Mullis; Addie, Alice and Tinnie Witham; son John Mullis; and wife Jane Oats.

They moved to Johnson County in 1867 when Cleburne was a growing town of about 1,000. Poke, Ponder and Allen owned and operated a general merchandise store.

Brumley, Donoho and Lorance were the bankers.

Other merchants were Hyder, Schultz and Lockett. T.W. Lawrence was the jeweler. The town bootlegger, unnamed, kept a low profile.

The Grafa family came from Illinois to Texas in 1875, settling first at Buchanan and then Caddo Grove.

Cord Grafa was born in Minden on the Weser, Germany, in 1810. He came to the United States in 1836. He obtained his naturalization papers in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then settled in Kentucky.

He met and married Nancy Elder Lowe in 1851.

Her home was in Owen County, Ky. She was born in 1829.

The Lowe family were early settlers of Virginia. After the American Revolution, they migrated to Kentucky.

C.H. Grafa and Nancy Elder Lowe lived in Kentucky during the Civil War. In 1876, the family moved to Cleburne.

Sons were Robert Franklin and Henry Christian. Daughters were Mary Rebecca, who married J.W. Carson; Nannie Katie, who married O. Hasard Carson of Illinois; Albina Newtie, who married Robert N. Stanley; and Mattie Tom, who married Neal A. McDonald.

In the early 1890s, Robert F. Grafa moved to Oklahoma, touching off a Red River rivalry that still boils asphalt every October in Dallas.

The story of the Withams and Grafas is about to become more complicated, so pay close attention.

The Rev. Otis R. Witham and family were charter members of the First Baptist Church organized in Cleburne. Mrs. Witham was the last charter member of this church to survive. She died at the age of 94.

She was survived by daughters Addie Witham Waggoner and Alice Witham Grafa.

She was affectionately known as Sister Phebe Witham and was renowned for her knowledge of medicinal herbs and early medicines.

She was a well-trained mid-wife and delivered many of the early inhabitants of this county. The B.J. Chambers, Odell, M.M. Crane, Easterwood and many other families used her services.

The Rev. Otis R. Witham preceded his wife in death in the year of 1873 and was buried in the first cemetery located just northwest of Prairie Avenue.

Under the Alvarado Baptist Association, he preached in neighboring settlements of the county and baptized in the Nolan River. Among his churches was an early one at Grange Hall.

Mrs. Witham’s daughter, Sarah Ann, met and married the pioneer Henry Briden here. They made their home in the first house that had been built in Johnson County, with added improvements.

Otis Robinson Witham was born in Maine in 1812 and died in Cleburne in 1873. Phebe Tony Witham was born in Ohio in 1820 and died in Cleburne in 1914.

Henry Christian, son of C.H. and Nancy Grafa, married Alice Witham, daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. Phebe Witham, in 1878, in the home on Witham Hill, one mile south of Cleburne. Witham Hill consisted of a 40-acre tract of land bought before the Santa Fe Railroad was built, cutting their property in half. Alice Witham’s contemporary schoolmates were Allie Clarke Ransom, Bud Clark, the Lockett, Featherston and Hagler families.

To the Grafa-Witham alliance, the following children were born:

Phebe Elder, who married William W. McDonald, Cleburne; Henrietta, who married Swight Fred Horton, Cleburne; Stella Elizabeth, who married Christopher H. Teesdale, England; Olin W. Grafa, who married Mary Bell Slocum, Cresson; Kathryn, who married Lee. B. Willie, Cleburne; Barney, who married Mable Hawley, Cleburne; H. Clare, who married Lucille Nance; Carrol Baines, who married Pauline Olson of Fort Worth; and Otis Witherspoon, who married Ida Dee Erwin of Wichita Falls.

When the Grafa family left Illinois to come to Texas, they came by train to Dallas, then went overland by wagon. A man by the name of O.H. Rominger drove the wagon train that hauled their belongings to Buchanan.

The Witham-Grafa families have fought in every war in which America has been engaged since and during Colonial days. They have represented Johnson County in two world wars.

We presume they won’t have to concern themselves with a third, unless Texas is successful in its recent attempts to secede from the universe.

Cleburne Times Review
P.O. Box 1569 – 108 S. Anglin Street – Cleburne, TX 76031

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