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An April birth 121 years ago today

You can’t help but wonder just what his mama thought the day that he was born.

Martha H. “Mattie” (Johnson) Cottrell had already birthed nine babies and buried two of them by that April day in 1898. Sammie, born in 1887, was not quite five when he died in 1892. And the last one, the baby girl Willie born in 1895, had only been 14 months old when she died in 1896.1

Her oldest daughter, Effalie was in her 23rd year and just weeks from getting married.2 Her oldest son, John, was already 21 years old and riding the cattle trails between Texas and the Dakotas.3 Her youngest surviving child, Gilbert, called Bertie, was already five and a half.4

You know she had to have thought she was over and done with babies and diapers and all that for good.

Yet there she was, in Wichita County, Texas, with yet another squalling newborn, born 121 years ago today. Another little boy, given the name Clay Rex Cottrell.

Yes, you have to wonder what she was thinking with that newborn in her arms.

You have to hope that she wasn’t thinking — that she couldn’t have known — that her marriage to his father, Martin Gilbert Cottrell, wouldn’t last that much longer. By 1909, she had left him taking the children still living with her — including her youngest, Clay — to Oklahoma.5

And that she had no clue that her own life would come to a close, there in Oklahoma, due to kidney disease, when that child was just 14.6

Then again you can’t help but wish she’d known that he’d meet the love of his life there in Oklahoma, steal her away to marry in Texas where no-one would know he was underage,7 and go on to produce 12 children of his own, raising 10 to adulthood.

And that those 10 children would go on to produce large broods as well… who — The Legal Genealogist among them — would grow up to call him Daddy Clay.

Daddy Clay, with the twinkling eye and quick wit.

Daddy Clay, who was a grandfather before the last of his own children was born.

Daddy Clay, who gave new meaning to the word “stubborn.” He once fell off a tractor when the chain he was using to pull a car off some logs it had rolled over tightened suddenly and jerked him backwards. The tractor rolled over his leg and he came out screaming that it was broken in two places. It took us two years to get him to agree to go to the doctor.

Daddy Clay, who had us utterly convinced that the South did not lose the Civil War, it simply called off hostilities because of a lack of money. And, he told us, every time we bought a Dixie cup, we were financing the restart of the war.

Daddy Clay, whose raucous and impish sense of humor comes through again and again in the letters that survive that he sent to his children.

Daddy Clay letter

To my mother, in March 1955 just after my brother was born:

I would like to see your new boy. I bet he is cute. … You know and Mama can tell you that there is one size for babies when I like them the best. It’s when they get about (a year or so old). Smaller they don’t know you. Bigger they are too smart to have anything to do with me anymore. You all come as quick as you can. …8

To my aunt Cladyne, in April 1955, when expecting a visit from my uncle David:

I have made my barn into a kennel and … fastened all of our dogs up in their to keep them from destruction when Davids dog gets here. I may get in there with them if he insists on his dog staying in the house… Mama thinks I ought to be in there anyway because I havent got her garden planted yet. One of my old horses died during the winter and I dont have anything that one horse can handle but if she keeps on raising h— I expect I will be glad to plow it with my pocket knife to get things quieted down again.9

To Clady, likely in March 1955, after my grandmother came home from visiting my parents in New Jersey:

Poor old Mama she spent two weeks in (my parents’) nice house with everything you could want… so when she comes back to me and this old house she cant hardly stand us I don’t blame her but I may have to bump her off in a day or two she aint worth keeping since she came home.10

To my mother after another of my brothers was born in 1963:

I am glad that you are over with your deal as I know perhaps better than most people just how much h— that is. There is just one thing that bothers me now and that’s why in the h— are you and Clady hatching out all these little old mean sorry boys? If you produce one that will match Whiskey Pete (a then-three-year-old grandson) the whole east coast will be in danger. Write when you can.11

To my mother in June 1968:

Honey I don’t like to hear about you being sick. If those Yankee SOBs don’t treat you right call me and I will come give them a knuckle sandwitch.12

Born 121 years ago today.

Loved and cherished, we can hope, by his mother on that day.

Missed, deeply, by his surviving children grandchildren every single day.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “That birth in Texas,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 20 Apr 2019).


  1. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  2. Wichita County, Texas, Marriage Book 2: 29, Hinton Snoddy and Effalie Cottrell, 1898, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  3. See generally “Dakota Deaths: John W. Cottrell,” Aberdeen (S.D.) American-News, 20 Apr 1951, p.3, col. 4.
  4. See Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 49224, Gilbert F. Cottrell, 12 Jul 1970; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  5. 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, population schedule, Frederick Ward 1, enumeration district (ED) 248, p. 41(A) (stamped), sheet 4(A), dwelling 71, family 74, Mattie Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275.
  6. See Oklahoma State Board of Health, death certificate no. 6119, Mrs. M.G. Cottrell, 3 Jul 1912; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Oklahoma City. And see “Death Comes To Mrs. Cottrell,” Frederick (Okla.) Press, undated clipping July 1912; digital image in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  7. See Wichita County, Texas, Marriage Book 5: 388, Clay Rex Cottrell and Opal Robertson, 1916, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  8. Clay Rex Cottrell to Hazel “Totsy” (Cottrell) Geissler, 11 Mar 1955; original in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  9. Clay Rex Cottrell to Cladyne (Cottrell) Barrett, 21 Apr 1955; digital image in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  10. Clay Rex Cottrell to Cladyne (Cottrell) Barrett, “Wed-23-1955”; digital image in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  11. Clay Rex Cottrell to Hazel “Totsy” (Cottrell) Geissler, June 1963; original in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  12. Clay Rex Cottrell to Hazel “Totsy” (Cottrell) Geissler, 17 June 1968; original in possession of Judy G. Russell.
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