One couple’s Texas Victorian Experience
by Jeanmarie Hamilton
My great grandmother, Anna Ihnken, was born during the Civil War in Castroville, Texas. She was one of the younger daughters of the woman who inspired my short story, “Are You Going to the Dance?” in the anthology, Northern Roses and Southern Belles. Anna married Joseph Dwyer of San Antonio. The son of Judge Dwyer of San Antonio, he was a law enforcement officer for a while, and as a sheriff he worked with other sheriffs at that time in the early 1880s including Bat Masterson who was a friend of his. My grandmother used to tell us she remembered Masterson’s visits when she was a young girl, and they would sit on the veranda where she joined them to listen to the men trade stories.
After Anna and Joseph married in the early 1880s, Joseph decided to buy some land in the Fort Davis area of Texas and raise sheep. He bought land and Anna lived in the small home they had on the property far from town. At times Joseph was away from home. He hired an elderly Indian man named Ynez to watch over Anna. The cattlemen in the Fort Davis area didn’t appreciate sheep. After Joseph had to take a group of drunken, threatening cowboys to the sheriff’s office in town late one night by himself, and the sheep were cut off from the only available water where they grazed, Joseph decided to take Anna back to San Antonio. She named her baby daughter, my grandmother, Ynez Marie, in honor of the Indian who had been her bodyguard on their Fort Davis sheep ranch.
My great grandfather’s next enterprise was to bring Irish laundresses to San Antonio. He bought expensive laundry machines. After the Irish women arrived in San Antonio to begin working in his business, it wasn’t too long before they all married men in San Antonio and left the laundry business. My great grandmother was forced to sell her silverware in order for them to pay for the laundry machines.
Joseph was appointed to the job of Customs Officer in El Paso. It was a government appointment then and probably the result of his father’s connections. Joseph and Anna moved to El Paso where their only son was born. When Joseph received a third gift of money from his family, who came originally from Ireland, Anna insisted they have a home built in El Paso. My mother remembers the small home as being a lovely Victorian style cottage. About that time, a neighborhood named Sunset Heights was built nearby on a hill overlooking the Rio Grande. These Victorian homes are still in demand in El Paso in Sunset Heights.
My great grandmother, Anna, was a founding member of the Woman’s Club of El Paso, part of a group of women who were instrumental in cleaning up old El Paso. Their story is told in a book by Mary S. Cunningham, titled The Woman’s Club of El Paso, Its First Thirty Years. This book is an important recording of the history of El Paso at that time, for anyone writing about the old west and the Victorian period.
Join my newsletter!