Our Hero and Texas Pioneer Legend
Reprinted and adapted from the Wharton Journal Spectator, February 4, 1982 – Shared from our cousin Bud Northington
Rachel Northington Hudgins:
Texas Pioneer Woman and Our Family Hero
Tradition and heritage is deeply rooted in everything we do at B.R. Cutrer. Our involvement in the Brahman breed all started with the courage and bravery of Rachel’s great-great-great-great-grandmother: Rachel Ann Northington McKenzie Hudgins. Rachel Cutrer, Mollie Cutrer, and Annie Cutrer are all proud daughters of the Texas republic and proud to be 7th and 8th-generation Texas cattle ranchers.
This is the story of the beginning of our family heritage in Wharton County and the Texas ranching business:
In 1832, Andrew Northington was granted a league of land (4,428 acres) by the Mexican government east of today’s community of East Bernard, Texas.
Although this land in Fort Bend County was later sold by Northington’s daughter, Rachel Ann, for $4,000, it set the stage for the beginning of a family heritage that spans multiple generations, multiple Texas ranching families, and made Wharton County the historical hub of the Brahman cattle business in Texas.
Northington, his daughter Rachel, and son Mentor lived and worked the land for four years before the Mexican army invaded the area, driving the settlers before them.
Frightened and hampered by floods in April 1836, the settlers tried to make their way east to Louisiana and safety. It was to be known as the “runaway scrape.”
Rachel Ann Northington was 15 years old at the time.
Following the battle of San Jacinto, the people returned to their homes only to find them burned by the Mexican army. The Northingtons were force to begin anew. It was only one of the challenges Rachel Ann was to face in her lifetime.
In 1839, Rachel – then 18 – married James L. McKenzie. They went to Fort Bend County to get their license, the 13th license issued in the county at that time.
“She held her family together,” said Edgar Hudgins of his great-grandmother Rachel Ann Northington McKenzie Hudgins.
Holding a family together in the midst of sickness, war, cold and death in the 1800s would take a strong man, and an even stronger woman. Rachel pioneered her family, steering what would eventually create the Brahman cattle empire now situated in Wharton County.
Rachel, even as a child, exhibited the strength and determination that later in life would enable her to endure the hardships of the Texas Revolution, witness the death of two husbands and eight children, and raise two families while still maintaining the strength to establish a business that would later become world renown.
With all that, Rachel died a simple woman of 83 with no worldly possessions. But her story in Texas as told by her great grandson, Edgar Hudgins, begins:
“Rachel, at age 15 was trusted to care for a neighbor’s child during the Runaway Scrape where Texans were fleeing from the armies of Santa Anna.
The father of the child – James McKenzie, married Rachel three years later when she was 18 years old. The couple had two little girls and Rachel was pregnant with the third when her husband died. “We don’t know how he died,” Edgar Hudgins said, “All we know was that he was a relatively young man and pneumonia was bad in those days.”
Two months later, Rachel gave birth to a son. With three children, Rachel later married Joel Hudgins, 21 years her senior, and helped raise his three children plus nine of her own.
Another war affected the life of Rachel Hudgins, the Civil War, during which time she fed her large family, no easy task when supplies are cut off.
“My granddaddy said he could remember wearing garments with only necks and armholes in them,” Edgar Hudgins said, During wartime, Rachel had to process cotton by hand into thread, thread into weaved fabric, and weaved fabric into simple garments – for how many children?
Cooking was preparing meals of home grown vegetables and farm-raised meat and corn products.
After war, hardships still followed Rachel.
“It was freezing in February when Rachel found out her daughter died in childbirth. She bundled up, got in her buggy and drove some 60 miles to her daughters home in Chapel Hill.
“She picked up her three grandchildren and brought back the body of her daughter to be buried in the family cemetery in Hungerford. She had a long, cold ride.” Hudgins said.
Rachel raised those three children like her own, plus the children of her oldest son, whose wife also died leaving him with two small children.
“Every time they’d go to sit down to eat, there would be 14 people to serve,” Edgar said.
After the death of her husband, Rachel continued to hold her family together. Her business sense prompted her to purchase 10,000 acres of land for $2 an acre because open range was fast-becoming a thing of the past for her and her family. At that time “Bremmers” were not part of the Hudgins herd. They came later with the influence of Walter Hudgins, Rachel’s grandson.
“When she saw she had to buy land to control the business, she did. And this was a woman who was not educated. She was a plain pioneer woman, but she evidently made wise decisions,” Hudgins said.
The Hudgins name came onto the scene when Joel Hudgins migrated from Canton, Mississippi at the age of 39. This is one of several parallels that we find so interesting between the life of Rachel Cutrer and Rachel Hudgins. Both Rachel’s found the love of their lives in a man from Mississippi. Both have a strong business sense, and both are hard workers that put their family ahead of everything else.
Joel Hudgins was a carpenter by trade and had lost his first family prior to moving here. He purchased one-quarter interest in a sawmill that cut cypress for housing in the growing community. Brandon Cutrer too worked in a chip mill as a young man.
Joel Hudgins and Rachel Ann met and were married in 1847. They had nine children of their own, including three sets of twin boys and only one girl. She was the second child born to them and died when she was one year old.
The little girl was the first to be buried in the Hudgins family cemetery at Hungerford which is still in use.
Further hardships were to be experienced by Rachel Ann and her family during the Civil War. Cloth was extremely short and the family spun it’s own. They were fed through their own efforts, raising pork and vegetables and eating their own products – meal, grits and bread. There was no flour.
Joel moved his family to Chappell Hill so they could be near the college where his sons could get an education. It was there that Joel died in 1873.
J.D. Hudgins, the more dominant of the Hudgins sons, was made the administrator of the estate.
While in Chappell Hill, one of Ranch Ann’s daughters married a man by the name of Taylor. They had three sons and the daughter died in childbirth with the last boy. Rachel took the three grandchildren into her family to raise.
Although Joel had advised against it, because of the mosquitos and the fever, Rachel moved her family back to Wharton in 1874. It wasn’t long after that time when the first sign of Brahman (called “Brahma”) cattle began in the area. One of Rachel’s grandsons wrote to relatives in Chapell Hill that one of his “bremmers” had a fat calf. The breed was apparently introduced through the open range from Louisiana where Brahmans had been brought in from India as a gift from a visitor from that country.
Only four of Rachel’s sons were able to grow into manhood – J.D., Green, William, and Alexander – but she held this remnant of the family together. William and Green later died and it was left up to J.D., the leader of the boys, and Alex, the youngest to carry on.
At the time of her death in 1903, Rachel, having seen the problems family members face after the death of a loved one, distributed all her possessions between her four living sons, hence she didn’t go to her grace without first ensuring the well-being of her family. Her sons J.D. and Alex formed a partnership that would last from 1903 to 1909, when J.D. took his own family into the partnership.
As we look back at the history of how BRC came to be, we can’t help but realize that there are three very strong women who set us up for success: Rachel Northington Hudgins, Ethel Hudgins Forgason, and Mollie Forgason Williams. These three women are the legends that we teach our daughters about. These three women are the heroes that inspire us to believe in the power of strong women in Texas ranching. These three women are why we understand and recognize that ranching isn’t just a business for men, it’s often the women who are leading successful operations too.
As we reflect on this great woman of Texas history, our family and especially Rachel, Annie and Mollie are deeply inspired by her business sense, love of family, determination, and bravery. These are the values we aspire to live by daily.
Our Family Tree:
Rachel Northington Hudgins –> J.D. Hudgins –> Ethel Hudgins Forgason –> Lanier Hudgins Forgason –> Mollie Forgason Williams –> Jim Williams –> Rachel Williams Cutrer –>> Mollie Cutrer and Annie Cutrer