Longview woman's book retraces post-Civil War trek to East Texas
Oct. 4, 2015 at 4 a.m.
A professor's assignment sent a Longview woman on a journey, retracing the trek from Florida to Texas her great-great-grandmother made with her five children in the 1860s.
Lottie Lipscomb Guttry's journey, through U.S. Census records and genealogical archives, produced a story the first-time author hopes will lead readers into the world that Sarah Browning knew so long ago.
Browning's road begins at Alligator Creek, where Browning receives word her husband, Alexander, won't make it home from the Civil War.
"When he did not come back from the war, she took a wagon train to Texas and settled in East Texas," Gutty said Thursday during a book signing at the Gregg County Historical Museum as part of ArtWalk.
"She had five children that she brought with her."
And when Guttry says, "brought," she is using that verb in its most physical sense. "Alligator Creek," the namesake for the 348-page historically fictional account of Browning's trip from Florida to Texas, was only the first obstacle the pioneer woman faced.
Flowing between her and a passing wagon train heading west, the creek is too swollen and dangerous — there is a reason early settlers named it, Alligator Creek — for Browning to ford with all five children.
"One at a time, back and forth, she would go back for the next one to carry," Guttry said, describing the true family story that was the genesis for her book. "Logs were floating by, and she was going under the water."
Browning and her brood overcome Alligator Creek and join the wagon train, and the journey begins.
Guttry, who on Thursday was assisted by her husband of 58 years, Dr. John Guttry, said she was launched on her ancestor's trail about four years ago by an assignment during master's degree studies at Stephen F. Austin State University.
"A professor assigned us to write a family legend," she recalled.
"And, immediately, I panicked and called a cousin and said, 'What's our family legend?'"
That story about crossing the creek to join a wagon train held dusty memories for the Longview woman, who grew up in Kilgore.
"It must be a true story, because it was told through the family," she said, describing research that grew from a homework assignment to a personal mission.
"I really enjoyed the writing, and I really enjoyed the research. ... Everything I learned from that story and family research I included in this."
The world of Alligator Creek, which was the first name of Lake City, Florida, but was changed in the 1850s, was challenging, to say the least.
"They did not have antibiotics, they did not have the best transportation," Guttry said. "The mail was slow. It's pretty amazing how people were able to survive in those days, thinking about it from our point of view."
But, that's what authors do. They think and feel what their characters think and feel.
"I was trying to imagine being there," Guttry said. "I just put myself in there. ... I think we feel she was so strong and courageous that we want to be like her."
Writers also hold a little back, such as exactly why Alexander Browning did not come back to his farm along Alligator Creek.
"Well, if I tell you that it'll spoil the story," she said.
Guttry's journey doesn't end with the final, surprising page of "Alligator Creek."
In February, she will join organizers of an annual re-enactment of the Civil War Battle of Olustee, and an associated festival, who invited her for an eight-day reunion with her ancestral roots in Florida.
"It was the only battle fought in Florida," she said. "And the South won."
Guttry was winning a fan base in downtown Longview on Thursday.
"I've kind of followed you," said Lucinda Hamilton, who knew Guttry as writer of the locally produced, "Boom!" about the Kilgore oil boom era. "'I've loved your production about the oil field. ... You're so creative."
She is, after all, her great-great-grandmother's great-great-granddaughter.
Guttry said Browning's skills would serve anyone well today. "She would be someone who would be doing things," the writer said. "One of her qualities was, whenever she ran into a problem, she would figure out a way to get past it."