Old Austin

It is not unusual to hear Austinites talk about “the way things were in the old Austin“, meaning the 1970’s – Armadillo World Headquarters and such.

I grew up surrounded by stories and experiences of an Austin that predated the “old Austin” by quite a bit.  Darrell Royal was the winning football coach at the University of Texas during all my growing-up years, but before that, there was D. X. Bible.  He had started out as coach at Texas A&M, Texas’ bitter rival, then coached at Nebraska, before returning to Texas and coaching at the University of Texas.  ‘Bully’ Gilstrap was his assistant coach.

Bully Gilstrap was a counselor at a boys’ camp named Rio Vista in Hunt, Texas in the summertime.  My grandmother, Beulah Cavitt Mitchell, worked there, too, as the dietitian in 1942.  Evidently, she was on the lookout for a job after summer camp ended, because Bully recommended her to D. X. Bible, whose wife had recently died, and who was looking for ‘a fine lady’ to look after the two children.  My grandmother filled the bill and here is a letter she wrote to Joe, a cousin of hers.  ‘Sadie’, mentioned in the letter is another mutual cousin of Beulah and Joe.

Beulah Mitchell at Rio Vista in 1942Beulah Mitchell in a picture taken at Camp Rio Vista in 1942.

Envelope:  Austin, Texas Sep 14 1:30 PM 1942

Mr. J. F. Cavitt

P. O. Box 436

McGregor, Texas



2304 Woodlawn,

Austin, Texas

Dear Cousins Joe and Polly:-

Your letter must have been in answer to a conversation Sadie Gideon and I had about you a few days ago.  We were wondering how you were and why we didn’t hear from you.  So it was a real joy to have your letter.  I telephoned her immediately and she was glad to hear from you too.

You’ll be surprised to see that I am in Austin.  I’m rather surprised myself, tho I’ve been considering this job as housekeeper and companion for D. X. Bible’s two motherless children all summer.  After a trip over here to look the set-up over, in August, I decided to come, and have been here since Sept. the first.  It’s a lovely, air-conditioned home with two well-trained servants, so my duties are very light- mainly concerned with management of the children.  So far, I like it.

My own children are scattered.  Arney is in Kerrville with friends, expecting the stork in October.  Her husband, an ensign in the navy, is on shore duty in Brisbane, Australia.  Jimmie and Roberta are in San Antonio, where Jimmie is teaching radio mechanics in one of the government schools for civil service applicants.  He likes his work very much.  Scott is still on the west coast doing patrol duty.  Has been out there a year and expects to be able to come home on leave this week.  He’s a first lieutenant now.

I’ll be able to go to Arney and stay a while when she needs me.  My good servant, Mattie, is taking care of her.

Have lots to tell you dear ones, but not time for a real letter today.  Why don’t you come over to Austin to see Sadie and me and then we could do a lot of good talking.

Sadie and I both think Felix should have the saddle, with the understanding that, at his death, it be returned to you or someone in the family.  So let his boy have it when he comes.

Do write to me and lets set a “get-together” for sometime this fall.

Much love to you all and thanks for keeping the saddle for me.

As ever


There are several mentions in this letter that are notable because they seem strange to us today.

For one thing, it was war-time and no one in the country escaped family and personal involvement in the war effort.

For another thing, notice that the Bible’s house had air-conditioning.  How modern and how comfortable!  Definitely worth telling about in a letter.

Also, notice the mention of two servants in Austin and the one, Mattie, in Kerrville.  Odd as it sounds today, ‘servant’ was a common job then.  Even though my grandmother barely hung on financially herself, she always included household help in her budget.  Better to wear old clothes and live in rented rooms than to do without a servant to help with the heavy work associated with keeping house.

For the family members who are reading this and wondering about the name of ‘Scott’ appearing alongside the names of Beulah’s other children, Scott Johnson was a young man who had attended Schreiner Institute in Kerrville.  He made my grandmother his second Mom while he was a student, and he always kept up with her, even after he finished school.

Lastly, my grandmother grew up on a ranch, so she was used to riding.  The saddle was likely one she and Sadie had used as children and passed on through the family.

Beulah Mitchell at Roberta and Jimmie's apartment in AustinBeulah Mitchell sitting in Jimmie and Roberta’s apartment.

A year or two after grandmother wrote the letter, her son, Jimmie (my father), and wife, Roberta (my mother) moved to Austin.  They first rented a garage apartment at about 32nd Street near Guadalupe, at the home of  A. N. McCallum, the long-time superintendent of the Austin public schools.

Austin was a much smaller place in the 1940’s and residents were acquainted with a large percentage of the other residents.