Pine Valley

One of the greatest influences on Burke was the community of Pine Valley, which lies two miles southwest of the town of Burke. Pine Valley is the location of the earliest and historically most important church in the Burke area, Ryan Chapel Methodist Church. Its cemetery is the final resting place of many of Burke's pioneers and leading citizens. Many of Burke's early residents originally settled in or near Pine Valley and moved to the town of Burke after it was founded. Examples include the McCalls, Weisingers, and Arringtons, all of whom operated stores in Burke.

Pine Valley lies in a plain that falls from the relatively high terrain beginning at Ryan Chapel toward the Neches River. It might be said that Pine Valley extends from Ryan Chapel Methodist Church on one end and Ryan Lake on the other, both named for the pioneering Ryan family.

Pine Valley is now a patchwork of meadows and loblolly pine groves. In the early days it was a longleaf pine savannah, a peculiar combination of forest and prairie. The tall, majestic longleaf pines with their spindly limbs grow much farther apart than other pine species, creating an open forest land. Southern Angelina County was located in a narrow belt of longleaf pines that stretched across the South from the Atlantic Coast into East Texas. Below this belt loblolly pines prevailed, and above it the shortleaf pines were predominant.

It was probably the longleaf pine savannah that attracted early farmers and stockmen to Pine Valley since it provided plenty of open ground covered by long stem grasses for the cattle and easily cleared land for farming. The Handbook of Texas observes that

Before the war, a principal source of wealth in Angelina County was the raising of livestock, since most of the early settlers were not slaveholding planters able to concentrate on agriculture.

The early cattlemen probably followed an early edition of the Beef Road / Opelousas Trail that passed through Pine Valley between Southwest Louisiana and Crockett and beyond.

The 1850 Census for Beat B lists the following citizens who listed their occupation as "stock keeper": Robert Myers, James Ashworth, Eli Ashworth (son of James), Crawford Ashworth (son of James), James Ashworth (son of James), and J. F. McFaddin. We know that this is the southwestern end of Angelina County since the Ashworths settled near what later became Ryan Chapel Church and Cornelius and John Dollarhide, who settled southeast of Diboll near the Neches River, are shown only three residences away from James Ashworth. Both are ancestors of the author.

By the time of the Civil War cattle raising began to decline as the industry moved west. Farmers began to displace stockmen, and many of the latter moved on to Houston and Trinity Counties and beyond. Some such as Perkins relatives of Polly Perkins Ashworth moved on to the area south of San Antonio where they helped found the modern Texas cattle industry and create the mythical figure we call the "cowboy".

The flow of farmers to Bradley Prairie and Pine Valley became a flood after the Civil War. They came primarily from Mississippi and Alabama, whose economies had been devastated by the Civil War. Two of the arrivals from Mississippi, brothers John Ira and Isaac Lawrence Ryan, made a major impact on the area. In 1866 they founded the Ryan Chapel Methodist Church in eastern Pine Valley. Ryan Chapel was the focus of community life in the Burke area well into the 20th Century. Until the Burke Methodist and Burke Baptist Churches were founded around 1900, Ryan Chapel was the main church serving the area. Both the Ryan brothers left the area in the 1870s to move to Karnes and DeWitt Counties. However, several of their children remained in the area to perpetuate the Ryan name in the Burke area.

Another important early arrival in the area was farmer Wiley Felix Weeks, the progenitor of all the Weeks in the Burke area. Weeks settled just north of Ryan Chapel, and he eventually opened grist mill, a gin, and a store in addition to operating his farm.

After the railroad arrived and Burke was founded, Pine Valley decreased in importance. Many of the Pine Valley families moved to Burke. However, the residents of Burke never abandoned Pine Valley, Many Burke residents continued to have church and family connections to the Ryan Chapel Church, and the Ryan Chapel Cemetery remained the primary burial place for Burke citizens. The annual Ryan Chapel Homecoming with "dinner on the grounds" the first Sunday of June continues to be a major community event for Burkians.

Sources:

  1. 1850 Census, Angelina County
  2. Handbook of Texas Online, "Angelina County"
  3. Franklin Weeks, Personal Communication
  4. M. Lee Murrah, Personal Recollections
  5. TFM Sawmill Database