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Confederate monument honors locals

Nov. 12, 1999

MONICA MORALES

Contributor

The center of attention at 4 p.m. on April 21, 1933, was a boulder on the southern edge of Baylor's campus. The rock bears significance because it honors the Confederate soldiers of McLennan County.

The Mary West Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) erected the monument on Jan. 19, 1933. The monument pays tribute to local patriots who participated in the Civil War. Their names are etched in a plaque on the front of the boulder.

The dedication of the monument marked the fulfillment of a long-standing goal for the UDC, the members of which had envisioned such a landmark for a number of years.

The UDC urged the building of the monument to recognize the soldiers and establish a permanent fixture that would bridge the gap between the past and the future.

'The Confederate monument to be erected in Waco will be of great historical value to the children of generations to come. It will speak for itself of the heroes who wore the gray,' said J.B. Powell, a member of the local chapter in the 1930s. Powell made these comments in a newspaper article in a UDC scrapbook at the Texas Collection, which is housed in the Carroll Library.

Though the monument now occupies a relatively isolated area on South Seventh Street, it did not always stand alone. What once stood alongside the monument may have been what the UDC jointly referred to in its desire to preserve history.

A log cabin made of oak once stood behind the monument. Together, the two served as a memorial to the Confederate men for several decades.

Though Baylor provided land for the cabin, it passed through many owners before becoming university property in 1947.

The cabin was built in 1853 and originally stood 54 miles away in Simsboro. Built by the slaves of Sterling Sims, the two-story cabin doubled as both a residence and a stagecoach inn during the Civil War.

After Sims died, his family relocated their home to Waco in 1894. Once here, it was exhibited as a one-story cabin at the Cotton Palace Park. The UDC, interested in preserving the historical home, purchased the cabin from Sims' eldest son, George, in the early 1930s.

When the Cotton Palace Park ceased to exist, the UDC found itself searching for a site for the cabin. In 1933, the cabin was reconstructed in Baylor's Harrington Park. Once settled on campus, the cabin was used as a museum and headquarters to the UDC's weekly meetings.

UDC members found themselves increasingly unable to care for the cabin. This, paired with vandals' repeated looting of the relics inside, prompted the UDC to seek an alternate outlet of ownership.

At about the same time, Baylor expressed an interest in formally acquiring the log cabin and monument in its park.

An undated note found in the archives of the Texas Collection states, 'It would be a monument to their [the UDC's] foresight in seeking to preserve the relics of the past for future generations.'

The university promised to keep up the cabin as a museum and augment its collection of Confederate relics.

Noting that the university's goals in preserving the cabin were similar to its own, the UDC relinquished ownership of the cabin and monument. A 1947 bill of

sale indicates the transfer of ownership from the UDC to Baylor University.

The aim of the university and the hopes of the UDC vanished 12 years later. At 4:07 a.m. on April 30, 1959, the log cabin went up in flames.

A fire report from the Waco Fire Department states that the fire, which started in the west end of the cabin, damaged its interior and burned off the roof. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Baylor, left with only half of the cabin after the blaze, tore down what little remained. The few salvaged logs and boards were to go up in flames later that year in the homecoming bonfire.

Robert E. Davis remembers reading about the fire in the newspaper and discovering how the remains of the historical cabin would be used.

'I was upset that that history was going up in smoke,' Davis said.

Though Davis' only connection to the cabin was his memories of visiting it as a child, he became intent on preserving whatever remained. He contacted Guy B. Harrison, then director of the Texas Collection, to see if some arrangement could be made to acquire the logs. In 1959, the logs became Davis' property in exchange for a monetary donation.

Suddenly a new challenge faced Davis: how to put the cabin together again.

'I wanted to try to preserve some of it. I didn't have any idea what

I was getting into,' Davis said.

He likened the mess of log pieces to a jigsaw puzzle.

'I had to fit the pieces together just right,' Davis said.

Using photographs of the cabin as it stood on campus, Davis and two other men slowly transformed the 'huge pile of Lincoln Logs.' In about five months, a replica of the original stood in his backyard.

Davis said the task was no small feat, considering the oak logs that make up the foundation weigh around 2,000 pounds. The cabin's wall planks weigh about 200 pounds each.

From 1959 to 1971, the cabin stood in Davis' backyard on 64th Street. When Davis built his new home in Woodway, his log cabin followed him. With the help of a house mover, the cabin was set on its new foundation on Sleepy Hollow Street.

Although Davis has had his share of headaches when it comes to the cabin, he does not regret taking on the project.

'I'm glad I did it,' he said. 'There's pretty much most of it left for people to still see today.'

Davis' cabin and Baylor's monument, once united on that spring day in 1933, now stand worlds apart. One stands alongside a swimming pool in a man's backyard, and the other in the shadows of the former Health Center. Despite these contrasts, each still serves a common purpose: to pay tribute to those men of a former time.