Hood County Texas Genealogical Society





Life in the Bend? "Just like anywhere else," was the rejoinder most often heard from former residents of Kristenstad.1 Among the numerous descriptions of the settlement through the years, the communist label elicited the most vigorous protest from respondents. "The people were not communist, just down on their luck -- searching for a way to make a living."2 Considered an ugly epithet, the citizens were confused as to how the term came to be applied. The confusion what somewhat justified. While there was at least one resident of the community that espoused the Marxist philosophy of collectivism and the theory of surplus value, even that party decried the capitalist nature of the enterprise in De Cordova Bend.3 The "Americanism" of John B. Christensen was expressed in the vigorous, thriving community that took root in a primitive environment, leaving a rich and colorful legacy for the people of Hood County and Texas.

Coming from Fort Worth to the Bend in 1931, Lester Maddox witnessed a sharp contrast in lifestyles. It was "like stepping from one century back to the previous one."4 Housing somewhat reflected the skills and available resources of the individual families. The Campbells built a house of native stone,5 while "others built 'shebang' shelters, dugouts with entry rooms of homemade brick," and structures that combined native stone and rough timbers.6 The Maddox home was built three feet in the ground with walls extending about four feet above the ground. This arrangement served a dual purpose. The cabin was warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. It also saved on construction materials, most of which were scrap.7

The mode of dress and forms of amusement recalled pioneer days. The only entertainment on Saturday night for tenants of the Bend was provided by themselves. Few residents had radios, even crystal sets. Square-dancing became a popular pastime, with the "young singles" taking turns hosting these events. People going to parties carried kerosene lanterns. These lanterns provided light as they traversed the narrow roads and paths, but also supplemented lighting for the hostess. An old-time fiddler, Mr. John Turner and his sons, Bill, Charlie, Buck and John, who played guitars, provided the music. Compensation for these performances would consist of a few cents supplied by each of the young men who came to the dance. Some of the boys, who had a "little business" in the cedar breaks across the river, would take Mr. Turner outside and "quench his thirst." "Well oiled" by midnight, he would really play the fiddle as he learned back in his chair and closed his eyes. While these affairs were usually attended by only fifteen or twenty residents, they provided the nucleus of entertainment for the young people. Other events, usually held in the school building, included parties for all ages where they played games, visited and accompanied singing with their own musical instruments.8

A familiar figure at these community events was a fellow nicknamed "Twostory" Whitehead. He was six feet, six inches tall, went barefoot and carried a very large "nigger shooter" in the hip pocket of his overalls. ("Excuse the expression, but my name is Lester Maddox.") "Twostory" was so ungainly, "he would put down a foot and pull up fourteen inches."9 This quaint expression denoting the size of his feet was typical of the humor that characterized pioneer life.

Work and recreation were often combined in Kristenstad. Impromptu rodeos for the purpose of breaking horses provided sport for the young men of the community. A more salable product, the horses broken to work would bring higher prices. Animals of indomitable spirit, unsuitable for pulling the wagon or plow, were sold to promoters of the Acton rodeo. These popular events attracted widespread interest and attendance. Reflecting the social and economic ties of the settlement with surrounding communities, Christensen's equestrian venture produced pleasure and profit.

Advancement of the social and intellectual quality of life in Kristenstad accompanied the organization of subordinate and Pomona Chapters of the Grange. One of the greatest farmer's organizations in the United States, the 1930's witnessed a revival of the order in Texas.10 A fraternal order with its own secret ritual, it provided a program of recreation and education for its members. Christensen served as subordinate master of the Kristenstad Grange as well as the master of the De Cordova Pomona, an affiliate of the organization.11

The Kristenstad Grange enjoyed many distinctions, chief of which was its being the pioneer in the new Grange movement in Texas. Application for a charter, "first in the state," was mailed to National Master Louis J. Taber on October 9, 1933, and was acknowledged a short time afterward. However, conditions for Texas organization work at that time seemed impractical and it was January 1935, before National Deputy Harold W. Gaulrapp was sent into the state with commissions to organize Granges. It, therefore, followed that Kristenstad subordinate was not only first in the list of Texas Granges, but also was first to organize a Juvenile Grange, a Grange Cooperative project, a permanent Grange Hall and business headquarters, and a Grange insurance company in Texas. "As under the date June 9, 1936," the Rural Electrification Administration at Washington approved the project covering parts of three counties, "for which this lively Grange was responsible." Ranked first in membership with more than ninety percent of eligible members of the community enrolled, the percentage also applied to the children's membership in the Juvenile Grange.12

The Grange proved to be an effective tool by which Christensen promoted his development. He traveled all over the state working with its organization, and, in turn, secured outside talent for educational programs in Kristenstad. Appealing to diverse interests, monthly meetings in the Bend sought methods to improve working conditions and raise the standard of living in the community. Typical programs featured lectures and demonstrations on improved techniques of livestock feeding and grafting of the native pecan trees that grew in abundance.13

The establishment and expansion of state agricultural and mechanical colleges and the State Extension Service was supported by the Grange. Articles in the Grange Monthly indicated that many of the people in the Extension Service received their training in the Grange program.14 Both the State Extension Service and the Grange provided material presented by Christensen for cultural enrichment of the community, but program suggestions were drawn primarily from the Grange Monthly. An example of programs designed to ensure structure and continuity for the organization appeared in the October 1936 edition.15 The Grange not only provided recreational and enrichment opportunities, but also allowed Christensen to get better acquainted with the people.

A Grange Monthly report on the activities of the Kristenstad Juvenile Grange revealed the active cooperation and support of Christensen's wife in the community. A letter from Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, matron of the group, discussed recent programs in preparation for the coming state centennial celebration. One program presented to the subordinate Grange featured roll call with each juvenile present answering with some well-known fact about Texas. A picture that accompanied the letter included all officers and members of the group except one. The attendance record of ninety-eight percent attested to the popularity of the organization. Mrs. Christensen was quoted as saying that "because we are the only Juvenile Grange in Texas, . . . we are trying very hard to set a good example."16

Mrs. Christensen's assistance was indispensable in many other areas of community life. As in pioneer days, the people banded together for the sake of survival. The residents depended heavily on the Christensens for assistance in emergencies. Few had cars and it was fifteen miles to the nearest doctor in Granbury. Mrs. Christensen gained extensive first aid experience with broken bones and wounds inflicted by the large double-bit axes used in the woodcutting operation. Often she was called upon to perform the services of a midwife, helping with the delivery of babies that arrived before a doctor could be summoned. Not all of these blessed events passed without frustration or incident. Mrs. Aga, a Norwegian migrant from Minnesota, was aided in delivery by Mrs. Christensen and Mrs. Menefee. Wanting a daughter to name for her mother, Mrs. Aga was disappointed in the arrival of her fourth child -- another boy.17

On December 16, 1933, an event that highlighted religious difference among residents of the Bend was recalled by Mrs. Christensen. Her youngest child, David Bryon, was born before Doctor Cook of Granbury arrived. Mrs. Cogdill and Mrs. Campbell assisted with the birth. While directing the operations, Mrs. Christensen asked Mrs. Campbell to use alcohol to sterilize the scissors before cutting the umbilical cord. Being a Christian Scientist, Mrs. Campbell objected, stating that she could not use any kind of medicine -- she had to have faith. Mrs. Christensen quickly assured her she would assume responsibility for any transgression that might be committed.18

Minor incidents created few interruptions in the routine of life. However, a favorite pastime for the older children again brought attention to existing religious difference. The boys used cordwood, cut for sale, to build their play log cabins. While using an ax to supplement these materials, one of the Campbell boys received a large gash over the eyebrow. Mrs. Christensen applied peroxide to the wound, disregarding protests from the boy. Mrs. Christensen never told Mrs. Campbell she had cleaned the boy's wound with peroxide, and, reportedly, neither did the boy.19

Another incident, resulting in a badly broken arm for one of the Campbell children, did create some friction when "John B." insisted the child be taken to a doctor.20 However, these differences in beliefs never created a permanent breach of respect or friendship between the families. Survivors from each family remembered the other with affection and good will.

Considering the inherent dangers of the environment, it was miraculous that more serious injuries were not sustained. Log-riding in the river by boys between the ages of ten and fourteen was another activity of high risk recalled by Mrs. Christensen. During periods of dry weather, logs would become stranded on sand bars and the bank of the river. With a good rain, especially upstream, logs from the timber cutting operation on the Bend would begin to float downstream. The boys would get on these logs and ride them completely around the loop that encircles the settlement, getting off at the "narrows." This trip constituted a ride of approximately nineteen miles, a considerably long journey for boys of that age. Yet, the boys "roamed those woods like indians."21

Close proximity between the children and animals of the Bend produced many anxious moments for Mrs. Christensen. The Poland China hogs raised by the family ran loose in the unfenced areas. A large sow with a litter of small pigs ranged the area near "the White House," a name given the Christensen home by residents of the community. Odin, the oldest son, wanted to get one of the little pigs and pen it for a pet. A dangerous encounter occurred when the sow hear her "baby" squeal. Hearing the commotion, Mrs. Christensen met Odin as he ran toward the yard fence with the pig. "Prominently pregnant," she was barely able to hoist the boy and pig over the fence before the angry, six-hundred pound sow could attack her son. "The good Lord made it possible for me to see and respond to emergencies."22 Similarly dangerous incidents that were endured without question reflect the true pioneer spirit of the Christensen family and other residents of the Bend.

The "facts of life" transferred through observation of routine farm management often resulted in humorous situations. As they accompanied their father and Mr. Phelps attending farm chores, the boys observed castration of pigs and calves. Eager to apply their recently acquired knowledge, they performed the operation on a kitten, hiding the animal in an old boot in the woods. Later grown to an extraordinary size, the cat appeared at the back door of the house. Frightened at first glance, Mrs. Christensen believed the cat to be one of the wild species native to the area. Eventually, the cat was tamed and weighed. It tipped the scales at fourteen pounds.23

While Kristenstad offered a world of adventure for the children, recreational activities for the ladies were limited. Mrs. Christensen had a sewing room where several of the ladies gathered to work while they visited. They would take turns helping each other quilt covers for winter needs. This was especially helpful as many of them did not have adequate room to put up quilting frames in their homes. Occasionally, a few of the women and some of the smaller children would go to the river to fish, but they seldom caught anything large enough to keep. Four of the ladies formed a forty-two club where they enjoyed afternoon companionship on a regular basis. Not only were these social contacts pleasurable, but they provided an opportunity for Mrs. Christensen to assist her husband in the project by acquainting themselves with the wants and needs of the people in the settlement as seen from the distaff perspective.24

The role of hostess was also filled by Mrs. Christensen. When Mrs. Paula Long, former editor of the Southern Dairyman, came to investigate the project, she stayed in the Christensen home, as did other visitors to the Bend.25 Though plans were announced by Mrs. Maude Smith to build cabins to accommodate guests, they never materialized.26 Thus, Mrs. Christensen was kept busy as a hostess because there was no where else to stay.27

Small business enterprises in the Bend reflected the creativity and industrious nature of the residents. The children contributed to community output by gathering roots and herbs for market.28 Ruth Harrison Rogers helped offset the cost of her education by making grape juice from the native grapes which grew in abundance. Her graduation from Texas Weslayan College in Fort Worth was made possible because she was able to supply the juice in exchange for room and board at the school.29 An incident related to Mrs. Christensen's project of raising canaries for sale received unusual attention. The cages, placed on the mantel for safety, was nonetheless, invaded by a large chicken snake. Reacting to the challenge, Mrs. Christensen grabbed a twenty-two rifle and fired at the snake, the bullet passing through three sections of its body. A friend later mailed a clipping from a local paper relating the incident. The story was accompanied by a caricature of a woman holding a gun in a threatening manner. This publicity was probably the result of wide-spread interest in the colony.30

While life in the Bend appeared to be very similar to other Texas communities in the 1930's, it bore one distinction that set it apart. Central direction of virtually every aspect of intellectual, social and economic activity was evident. For a time, this direction yielded a measure of economic security for the residents that was not shared by the rest of the country, staggering under the weight of economic depression. The organizer of the project, though humanitarian by nature, was struggling valiantly to protect his investment.



Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.


Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.


Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.


Interview with John Campbell, 28 June 1978.


Ficklen, "Texas' Lost Utopia."


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.






National Grange Monthly, November, 1936, p. 20.






Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978; and Grange Monthly, December 1936, p. 8.


Grange Monthly, June 1936, p. 17.


Ibid., October 1936, p. 14.


Ibid., April, 1936, p. 14.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.




Ibid., 28 July 1978.








Ibid., 26 July 1977.


Ibid., 28 July 1978.


Ibid., 29 June 1978.


Fort Worth Press, 17 November 1932.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 June 1977.


Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.

Copyright 1978 by Vaudrene R. Smith Hunt. Written permission granted to the Hood County Genealogical Society for reproduction to its Internet web site.

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