Texas History Page

 

Letter to the Editor – Part 2

 

When Does Family Tradition Become Family Fiction?

 

Montgomery Family Tradition

 

           In one of my articles, I had mentioned that William Harley Gandy had interviewed J. L. Montgomery of Richards, Texas while writing his master’s thesis in 1952. I had questioned the fact that Robin Montgomery’s grandfather J. L. Montgomery made no mention of an Andrew Montgomery trading post in his interview with Gandy. In this 1952 interview, J. L. Montgomery had advised William Harley Gandy that Montgomery County was named after a surveyor named William Montgomery.

            In his 1952 master’s thesis, Gandy wrote, “Another local story has it that Montgomery took its name from William Montgomery, a surveyor and widower, who came to Texas in 1822 with his sons…. In 1830, he settled some seven miles southwest of the town of Montgomery in what is present day Grimes County…. It is claimed by the descendants of these two brothers [John and Andrew] that the county was named for the surveyor William Montgomery.” 

In 1975, after 152 years of silence, from the alleged date it was founded, the Andrew Montgomery Trading post sprang forth in Robin Montgomery’s book, The History of Montgomery County (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1975) complete in every detail for the very first time anywhere.

On page 285 of The History of Montgomery County, Robin Montgomery wrote, “This book has shown that the reason the town and county came to be named for Andrew Montgomery lies in the events surrounding his trading post.”  Robin goes on to write, “Andrew immediately set about encouraging settlers to venture down these roads to become his neighbors and clientele. In this manner Andrew’s Trading Post became the major pivot point around which the settlement of the later Montgomery County region revolved. Andrew’s last name became a unifying element among the gradually expanding circle of settlement.”

            In my article, I had asked why J. L. Montgomery, nor any other member of the William Montgomery family, had ever made any mention of this Andrew Montgomery Trading Post before 1975. If the trading post was established in 1823, how is it that no one ever mentioned it for 152 years until 1975?

In his May 20, 2009 letter to the editor, Robin attempts to address this question and provides a most extraordinary answer with ramifications that would seem to completely undo Robin’s history of the Andrew Montgomery Trading Post. I do not believe I could have written a more critical or damaging statement regarding this portion of Robin’s history than he himself has written. 

My contention is that a couple of Robin's comments in his letter to the editor completely undo his history of the Andrew Montgomery Trading Post and reveal it for what it is: family fiction rather than family tradition.  Robin's grandfather, J. L. Montgomery, clearly knew nothing about an Andrew Montgomery Trading Post when Gandy interviewed him in 1952.  It is Robin's response to this point in his letter to the editor that wreck's his history. 

Please read this very carefully. In his May 20, 2009 letter to the editor, Robin wrote:

 

“…the William-Andrew Montgomery descendants did not know of the Shannon tradition until the Historicade in Conroe in 1949. When actors in that ceremony stated that the town was begun by a Montgomery Trading Post operated by the Shannon’s, as a child I heard the elder members of my family exclaim, “They have forgotten William and Andrew!””

“Hence the family pieced together the logical sequence that, if Shannon tradition ran true, the Shannon’s assumed a facsimile of the business which Andrew, by then into surveying, had pioneered years earlier, and given that Owen Shannon’s wife’s maiden name was Montgomery, continued the name.” 

“Also during the early fifties, from an elderly relative the family received a book of notes since referred to as the Crittendon papers.  It included an excerpt from the family Bible reinforcing oral tradition: “Andrew rode with Dr. Long [Long Expedition 1819-1820] Started Montgomery Settlement.” Accordingly, during this period of reassessment the Montgomery family began to consider Andrew rather than the patriarch, William as the probable basis for the naming of the town.”

 

Fascinating! J. L. Montgomery had the opportunity to set the record straight in his interview with William Harley Gandy in 1952.  But, as upset as the Montgomery Family allegedly was following the 1949 Historicade, J. L. Montgomery made no mention to Gandy of any trading post operated by the Montgomery family in the 1820’s.

            Robin then admits that the Montgomery “family pieced together the logical sequence that if Shannon tradition was true, the Shannon’s assumed a facsimile of the business which Andrew…had pioneered years earlier…”  Robin amazingly admits the Montgomery family incorporated the Shannon family tradition of a Montgomery Trading Post directly into the Montgomery family tradition.

            No fact checking was done. It just says, “that, if Shannon tradition ran true.” Whether it was true or not, Robin informs us that the Montgomery family incorporated the Shannon tradition into their own family tradition.  Though unchecked, the Shannon's Montgomery Trading Post story was obviously a very popular idea, so the Montgomerys just included it into their story. 

Robin then mentions an excerpt from “the family Bible.” He wrote that the Crittendon papers “included an excerpt from the family Bible reinforcing oral tradition: “Andrew rode with Dr. Long [Long Expedition 1819-1820] Started Montgomery Settlement.””

We are left with a great many questions about this “excerpt from the family Bible” and the Crittendon papers. Why is this excerpt not mentioned in Robin’s 1975 book or any book or article written by Robin since 1975.  Why is this excerpt coming to light for the first time in May of 2009.  Whose family bible was this? Who wrote the note? Whose handwriting is the note in?  What is the provenance of this family Bible?  Why has no one been allowed to see this excerpt or the Crittendon papers since 1975? Is there anything about the excerpt that tells us where the “Montgomery Settlement” was supposed to have been? Will Robin Montgomery allow us to see the Crittendon papers or this excerpt in order to judge their historical value?

Then Robin writes the most extraordinary statement of all:

 

“Accordingly, during this period of reassessment the Montgomery family began to consider Andrew rather than the patriarch, William as the probable basis for the naming of the town.”

 

            The Montgomery family changed their story altogether “during this period of reassessment” in the 1950’s!  “During this period of reassessment,” they reject J. L. Montgomery’s family history that says the surveyor William Montgomery is the source of the name of the county and they “began to consider Andrew…as the probable basis for the naming of the town.”  Not only did the Montgomery family change the story, but they also guessed! 

            After about 125 years, the Montgomery family threw out the family tradition of William Montgomery as the source of the county's name after watching a play in 1949 and receiving the mysterious and unproven "Crittendon papers."  The Montgomery family arbitrarily changed, in the 1950's, what had allegedly been handed down in the Montgomery family from one generation to the next for 125 years. 

            Up until 1952, the Montgomery family tradition, of which we have a snap shot from Gandy’s thesis, was that the source of the name of the county was the surveyor William Montgomery, not a trading post. After 1952, the Montgomery family rejects their family tradition received from Robin’s grandfather, J. L. Montgomery.  They incorporate much of the Shannon family tradition regarding a so-called Montgomery Trading Post that was not present in the 1952 interview, and then they guess that Andrew must have been the probable basis of the naming of the town. 

            Wow!  Knowing now what Robin has told us, is anybody still on board with the Andrew Montgomery Trading Post at this point?

It is not what someone else or I have written or speculated. This is clearly what Robin Montgomery has written himself.  Robin’s quote is out there for all to consider and critique forever. As I stated earlier, I believe Robin has completely undone the main historical premise of his entire book.  The Montgomery family can't just decide to completely rework their family tradition into something brand new during the 1950's and then insist that it is a valid historical source or oral family tradition dating from the 1820's.

It has been difficult for historians to respond to Robin’s history of an Andrew Montgomery Trading Post as he makes so many dogmatic assertions rather than reasonable and defensible arguments. 

Famed historian, David Hackett Fischer, made it very clear in his classic book Historians' Fallacies that "the burden of proof, for any historical assertion, always rests upon its author."  See Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: HarperCollins, 1970), pp. 62 and 63. Robin cites no primary sources of evidence in his1975 book for his history of an Andrew Montgomery Trading Post.  Only now does he tell us fragments of alleged evidence which he has not previously cited or shown to anyone before. 

Robin violates two more of David Hackett Fischer's rules of thumb for writing history.   Fischer wrote, "An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence.  And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most immediate to the event itself."  Rather than primary historical sources dating from the time of the event itself, Robin's evidence is a reworked family history or tradition that actually only dates in its current form from the 1950's.

            Fischer also wrote, "An empirical statement must not be more precise than its evidence warrants."  Look at Robin's 1975 book.  See what he wrote about the trading post.  It was extremely precise.  In 1975, his dogmatic assertions regarding an Andrew Montgomery Trading Post were presented as absolute facts.  Robin is now trying to convert his dogmatic assertions from his 1975 book into defensible arguments.  With no real primary historical evidence of any kind to back him up, he has an impossible task ahead of him.

            I welcome any and all efforts from anyone wishing to assist me in correcting the county’s early history including the details of the Lake Creek Settlement, the Indian trading post, the founding of “the old town of Montgomery,” the founding of “the new town of Montgomery,” the creation of the county, the selection of the county seat, the political structure of early Montgomery County, etc.

            I have decided to focus my attention directly on my book regarding the early history of Montgomery County. As such I have decided that this will be my last article in the Montgomery County News for a while. I will, however, continue to update my articles on the Texas History Page.com to include the latest research, discoveries and information. My goal is to discover, understand and preserve the early history of the town of Montgomery and Montgomery County. Thanks for reading.

 

Kameron Searle, J.D.

 

 

This article originally appeared in the June 3, 2009 edition of the Montgomery County News.

 

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