Robert Kidd
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By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, February 5, 1984.
Sources: the decennial censuses; biographies in the T. J. Russell Papers and Brown's, INDIAN WARS AND PIONEERS OF TEXAS; also Galveston Daily News, March 3, 1881; Sept. 25, 1888, Nov. 14, 1890; also Block, Emerald of The Neches etc., pp. 250-251, 442.

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On the Brake's Bayou side of old Magnolia Cemetery at Beaumont, Texas, a rather ordinary tombstone would attract no attention whatsoever unless one noted the extreme age of the deceased. Its inscription reads: "Robert Kidd, Died November 12, 1890, Aged 116 Years, 3 Months, 2 Days." In recent years, the writer has encountered some persons who doubted the inscription, considering that Kidd was a centenarian in mind only. However, there are years of decennial census enumerations as well as newspaper articles written in his lifetime to verify his extreme longevity.

And indeed, at an age when most Americans have already or are considering retirement, Kidd's life was only beginning, for he married for the first time at age 64; raised seven children, moved to Jefferson County when he was age 75, and worked in his cotton field until age 100.

Kidd was born on August 10, 1774, in Amherst County, Virginia. While still a toddler, his parents moved to Dobson, Surry County, North Carolina, where he was fortunate to receive a rudimentary education in a private school. And until a few days before his death, he could recall all those events of his childhood with unusual clarity.

Except for Jean Baptiste Chaison, an American Revolutionary veteran who died in Beaumont in 1854, Kidd was the only resident of Jefferson County who had witnessed the fighting for American Independence from England. At age seven, he had heard the cannonading which emanated from the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, near Greensboro, N. C., in March 1781. A few hours later, the British Grenadiers drank water from the well on his family's farm and questioned the lad about the whereabouts of his father, who was a soldier in the Continental Army.

Strangely, nearly all of the known facts about Kidd's life occurred during the last fifty years, although that was perhaps inevitable. He was a tobacco farmer when he met and married Rebecca Hitchcock, who was 38 years his junior, at Salem, N. C., in 1838. After the births of three children, the family moved to Benton, Polk County, Tennessee, in 1845. In 1849, they moved to Wichita, Louisiana, and after only a short period of residence there, they settled at Aurora (now Port Arthur) in Jefferson County, Texas, in 1850. Until 1900, evidences of Kidd's early log cabin and water well there were still visible along the shores of Lake Sabine.

When Kidd built his home at Aurora, he felt confident that that site would become his last resting place as well. Instead, the lure of rich cotton lands, like a desert mirage, kept him on the move almost continually until his 94th birthday. During the 1850s, he lived variously at Grigsby's Bluff (now Port Neches) from 1854 to 1856; at Smith's Bluff, north of Nederland, from 1856 to 1858, before the family eventually settled at Santa Ana, the present site of Mobil Oil refinery at Beaumont, where Kidd remained during the Civil War years. While in Tennessee, two more children arrived in the Kidd household, and the last two daughters, both of whom died during their teenage years, were born in Jefferson County.

When the Civil War erupted in April, 1861, the oldest son Henry enlisted in the 24th Texas Cavalry of the Confederate Army. He fought in numerous battles, including Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge, and he was subsequently killed at the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Georgia, in July, 1864. The younger sons, George W. and F. M. Kidd, joined the Rebel forces late in the war, respectively as ages 16 and 17, and both of them survived the fighting.

Before the war, Kidd's daughter Mae married Major N. H. Cook, who later rose to the rank of Confederate battalion commandant, both of whom lived the remainder of their lives at Sealy, Texas. Kidd's daughter Ann Elizabeth married Columbus C. Caswell, a prominent Beaumont sawmiller, in 1866. Caswell died in 1883, but he left his young widow a sizeable estate, including a ten percent interest in the Texas Tram and Lumber Company of Beaumont and the Village Mill Company of Village, Hardin County. In 1902, these sawmills, which were two of East Texas' largest, were sold to the Kirby Lumber Corporation, a transaction which left the widow financially secure for life.

In their continuous quest for prime cotton lands, Robert and Rebecca Kidd made their final move to San Felipe, Austin County, in 1868, which in earlier days had been the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin's colony. In 1873, during the ninety-ninth year of his life, Robert Kidd raised 200 bushels of corn and ginned a 535-pound bale of cotton, planting and picking the crop by himself. In March 1874, he began his spring plowing in preparation for his next crop, but at noon of the first day, he brought his team to the house and told his wife he would have to retire from the field. A century of hard labor had sapped his frail body of most of its remaining strength. Nevertheless, sixteen more long years would pass before Kidd was called upon for his last journey to the graveyard.

On March 28, 1881, the Rev. T. B. Buckingham of Chappell Hill, Texas, interviewed Kidd at his home at San Felipe. Kidd was then nearly 107 years old. The Methodist circuit rider reported that the old pioneer's eye sight still required no spectacles, his hearing was unimpaired, "his teeth are in a remarkable state of preservation, his appetite is good, his digestive organs are all right, but his bed rest at night is imperfect."

"His recollections extend back to the War of 1776," Buckingham continued. "He remembers having seen a detachment of British troops pass through his father's orchard. Like all persons of extreme age, he remembers events of long ago much better than those of recent date. He is still quite active and may possibly live for several years to come."

In 1884, Rebecca Kidd died and was buried in the Caswell family plot at Magnolia Cemetery. After her death, the old widower lived for his remaining years with his daughter and son-in-law, Major and Mrs. Cook, at Sealy, Texas. In November, 1884, Kidd walked a mile to cast his ballot for the Democratic nominee, Grover Cleveland, in the presidential election of that year.

On September 25, 1888, the Galveston "Daily News," quoting the Beaumont "Advertiser," reported that: "Texas will furnish in 1888 the oldest voter in the United States in the person of Mr. Robert Kidd, the father of Mr. George W. Kidd, a business man of Beaumont. Mr. Kidd is now in his 115th year of life, and he is, considering his remarkable age, quite active and energetic."

"His mind is perfectly clear," The "News" continued, "and his strength is good. He has a splendid appetite and eats three meals a day with hearty relish, and goes about for short distances with apparent ease and comfort."

That Kidd's life span was attributable to clean, Spartan, or Christian living was never claimed at any time. The Rev. Buckingham lamented the fact that Kidd, at age 107, had never before and still refused to unite with any church, although the old man believed that he was "prepared to meet his Lord and Maker." And the Galveston "News" conceded that "the old gentleman has been an inveterate chewer of tobacco all of his life."

After his 116th birthday in August, 1890, Kidd fell while walking, either breaking or fracturing his hip, and his physical condition deteriorated rapidly thereafter, although his mind remained clear almost until the end. After his death at Sealy on November 12, 1890, his body was returned to Beaumont and interred in Magnolia Clemetery the following day. In his obituary of November 14, the "Daily News" claimed that he was the "oldest person in the United States."

What is the most remarkable about Kidd's extreme longevity is the fact that he lived in an age when life expectancy was pegged at only 35 years. Jean B. Chaison, the old Beaumonter who had witnessed General Cornwallis' surrender of the British Army on October 17, 1781, also lived to an ancient age, dying at 109 years. The writer can only think of one other pioneer citizen of Jefferson County who made it to the century mark. Seraphine (Mrs. Joseph) Pivoto died at Nome, Texas, at age 104, having lived in three centuries, from 1797 until 1901. Theirs were extreme and isolated instances, however, for the oldest person in Beaumont in 1880 was only seventy-nine.

And even if these old-timers' surpluses of years were not entirely attributable to clean and Spartan living, that is, in Kidd's case, they were at least testimonies to their frontier fortitude and hardiness of spirit, unfettered as they were by the rigors and pressures of our modern-day living and fast-paced society.

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