Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

December 17, 2011

Katerine Ann Porter in East Texas

By Bob Bowman
Special to the Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — In her writings American essayist and Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Anne Porter often wrote of the rural South, describing places that sounded remarkably like East Texas.

There was a good reason. She spent several years of her youth at Lufkin and was married there in 1906.

But the time spent by Porter in East Texas has been overlooked by most biographers. They simply mention that she “grew up in Texas and Louisiana.”

Porter, who once claimed to be a descendant of Daniel Boone, was born Callie Russell Porter on May 15, 1890, at Indian Creek, in southern Brown County, to a poverty-stricken Texas family. When her mother died two years later, Callie and her siblings lived with a grandmother at Kyle, near San Marcos.

Between 1901, when her grandmother died, and 1906, Callie was shuttled around Texas and Louisiana, living with her father, Harrison, a brother and two sisters. They wandered among relatives and rented houses. Poverty remained with the family, and Callie began to hone her senses as an observer of people, customs and traditions.

Despite the family’s nomadic life, her father valued education and placed his children in free schools when they were available. In 1904 he gathered enough money to enroll Callie in a church school in San Antonio. Her single year was the only formal education she received beyond grammar school.

At the age of sixteen, while living at Lufkin, she ran away from home, took her grandmother’s name, Katherine, and married John Henry Koontze, a railroad employee and the first of three husbands. Her marriage license, filed in Angelina County on June 20, 1906, is one of the few reminders of her residence in Lufkin.

At the time, Ira Bryce, minister of Lufkin’s First United Methodist Church, married Porter and Koontze, as well as her sister, Gay Porter and T.H. Holloway, in a double-ring ceremony.

Nine years later Katherine left Koontze to work as an actress, contracted tuberculosis and decided during her recovery that she was best suited to be a writer. She soon began working as a journalist in Chicago and Denver.

Porter apparently never forgot her life in East Texas. Many of her short stories reflect the geography, rural traditions and language of the pineywoods. In “Noon Wine” she wrote: “And did I not tell you about standing at the edge of a field and listening to an old man, leaning on a plow, a childhood friend of my father’s talking, and how I said to myself, Why, that is my own speech...”

In another story,“He,” Porter wrote: “In the early fall, Mrs. Whipple got a letter from her brother saying he and his wife and two children were coming over for a visit next Sunday week. Put the big pot into the little one, he wrote at the end.”

Porter was best known for her short stories and she finished only one novel, “The Ship of Fools,” a disillusioned story set in a little purgatory on the sea. She spent twenty years with the book before it was finished, but it made her rich and famous with a movie at age 72. A Pulitizer Prize came in l966 for a collection of her best short stories.

Sometimes called Texas’ greatest woman writer, Porter died September 18, 1980, in a nursing home at College Park, Maryland, after a series of strokes. She was buried beside her mother’s grave in the Indian Creek Cemetery near Brownwood.

The home she occupied as a child in Kyle with her grandmother is now the Katherine Anne Porter Museum.

Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com