Texas Roots

My 3-x-great grandfather Sheridan Riddell was the eleventh child of the big boss of Gilmer, West Virginia. Sheridan was born in 1829. The records don’t show when Sheridan moved to Texas, but he was there by 1859, when he married Nancy Oxford in Erath County. The records don’t show why he moved there either, but I imagine as the youngest of eleven children, he needed to strike out on his own. Texas muster rolls show he enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1864 under Major William Quayle in the First Frontier District. The Handbook of Texas says of Quayle’s men in the First Frontier District, “as well as patrolling against Indian raids, [they] were kept busy searching for deserters, draft dodgers, and renegades.” It was a different kind of Civil War in Texas.

My son and I took a road trip to see Sheridan's grave in the Macedonia Cemetery, south of Caddo, about eight years ago, when my son was five. It’s out in the middle of nowhere in Stephens County. I’m not sure I sufficiently explained the concept of mortality to my boy while standing graveside, because five minutes later, he ran over to the only other family in the cemetery, just busting to tell them about our discovery. “Guess what?” he told the trio of complete strangers, “We just found my great-great-great-great-grandpa,” - he counted out the “greats” on the fingers of one little hand - “and guess where he is? He’s underneath the GROUND.”

Sheridan’s first-born was my 2-x-great Grandfather, Will Riddell, born in Erath County in 1860. Will and his younger brother Harve Riddell moved to the neighborhood of Silverton, out in the panhandle, Harve to farm cotton, and Will to organize the first church in Silverton, which became the First Baptist Church in 1893. He and his wife Victoria, and their three children, lived in a sod hut just down the street from the church. Will died in Silverton young, at only 34 years old in 1894, of “disease of the lung.”

Will’s youngest, my great grandfather, the Rev. John M. Riddell, was born in Stephens County, Texas in 1890. John served as a Southern Baptist minister all over Central and West Texas. He was ordained in Caddo and served churches in Brady, Paint Rock, Blackwell, Drasco, Fort Stockton, San Antonio, and Mineral Wells.

John’s only son was my grandfather, the Rev. Gerald “Pop” Riddell, born in Caddo in 1915. Pop was a giant of a man: he was 6’ 4” tall and was a good four inches taller in the Stetson Open Road he always wore out-of-doors. Pop continued the family mission of his father and grandfather, but took it farther afield, serving as a Southern Baptist missionary to Colombia, Chile and Bolivia in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.

Pop’s second son John was my dad, born in Brownwood, Texas in 1943. My father is the most honorable man I’ve ever met: a devout man, but not showy about it; serious, but hilarious when the mood takes him; stern but slow to anger; a man of great wisdom. Whenever he’d strike his thumb with a hammer, he’d make up creative fake curse words to avoid speaking profanity, like “Crimenenties!” I learned everything I know about being a man from him. He went to Ole Miss on an academic scholarship, and then he served two tours as an Infantry officer in Vietnam, where he earned a Purple Heart. He married my mom, Susan (born in Houston, and also a child of missionaries to South America) in 1965. I have never once heard him complain about anything. He earned advanced degrees from the US Naval Postgraduate School and Stanford University in operations research, one of the earliest fields of study to employ statistical modeling and mathematical optimization to inform business decisions.

I was born in Mississippi while he was on his second tour of duty, and then we lived in Georgia while he was stationed in Fort Benning, and Palo Alto while he went to Stanford, followed by stays in Ohio and New Hampshire where he advanced his career. Shortly after college, I felt drawn to Texas myself, and landed here in 1993. I haven’t dreamed of leaving since - enchiladas and brisket everywhere else are terrible! I had vague ideas about my family history in the state before I got here - it was all family legend, after all - but didn’t know how far down my roots went until I went on a genealogical research kick in 2007. I can say for certain that my life didn’t really start to flourish until I got here. You know what they say: you can transplant a tree anywhere, but it grows best in its native soil.