In genealogy, you start with what you know, working backwards in time from your most recent ancestors. That’s what I’m doing with the migrating Williams Family. We know Mom and Dad met and married in El Paso, but before that, the family headed by Jess C. Williams aka Popsy resided in Fabens, Texas. Elizabeth [Mom] was ten, Louise was eight, and Jerry was only two when Popsy purchased the Fabens Waterworks in 1931. (1) They lived there until 1939, the year Mom graduated from high school, a period roughly commensurate with the Depression.
Fabens lies between El Paso and Sierra Blanca, so Uncle Jerry and I stopped there on our way to see cousin Tom D. I snapped this picture as we drove into town; I’ve already written about football in Fabens here. (2)
Jerry said that when they first moved to town, they lived in a downtown hotel (no longer standing) while a former army barracks right next to the water tower was renovated to serve as their residence. He called it “The Blimp.” The building never looked that good when they lived there, Jerry observed, as he peered over the side fence. (3)
There was no front fence at the time and he remembered students at the Mexican school coming over during recess to play with him in the front yard. The town history, cited above, provides some detail on the separate primary school for non-English speaking students.
Eventually, a more traditional family home was built across the street from the water tower, although they lived there only a short time before moving on to El Paso. (4)
The school, housing elementary through high school grades, was only another two hundred yards away. It no longer serves as a classroom building but it still belongs to the school district (5):
Here is Mom’s seventh grade class pictured outside the building. She had a habit of labeling herself but I do think we could have picked her out (6).
Yes, it was a small class but that didn’t lessen our pride when we looked at Mom’s clippings – valedictorian, best-all around girl, and tennis doubles champion. (7) Tennis — really?
High school graduation was marked by a series of celebratory events. The town and the school may have been small, but they did things up big with local parties and out-of-town adventures. (8)
Looking back, Jerry realizes now that they were poor. But there was always enough to share. He remembers Mopsy feeding hobos who came up from the depot. This, of course, reminds me of Mom – and her habit of feeding folks who happened by the house in the course of duty. She loved to tell the story of offering “warm cake” to the grocery delivery boy one Saturday; he hesitated and then said, “Ma’am, I don’t believe I’ve ever had worm cake.”
In the same vein, Jerry shared a story Mopsy relished telling over the years about an incident at the water tower that stood over their home. (9)
One day, a neighbor’s small daughter climbed halfway up the ladder after escaping supervision. Her father stood at the bottom and gently cajoled her down, “come on, baby, come on down to Daddy, come on, honey, come to Daddy,” and when she got close enough, he snatched her off the ladder and promptly paddled her bottom quite soundly. I never heard Mopsy tell that story in person, but I can imagine it as if I had.
One of the stories I do remember Mopsy telling was about Mom. She heard suspicious sounds coming from her own bedroom, and she called, “Elizabeth, what are you getting?” And Elizabeth answered, “Down.”
But I digress.
We ran into a long-time employee of the water district, and while he knew the name of the man to whom Popsy sold the enterprise, he did not know the name Jess Williams. We got him straightened out while we were there. (10)
One last Fabens sight – the Methodist church they attended (imagine it without the tower; Jerry says it was added later), and where Mopsy played the piano. (11)
The piano? I did not know that.
One other significant but known fact — Willie Shoemaker, world famous jockey, grew up in Fabens and Jerry pointed out the street on which his family lived. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I grew up feeling like I practically knew the guy. (Like I feel about Henry Mancini and Mike Ditka, both of whom came from Aliquippa.)
Fabens – home of the Wildcats and Willie Shoemaker. (12)
And, at least for a while, the Williams family.
UPDATE: I found a few snapshots taken in the shadow of the water tower after this post was published. Moral of the Story: Go through all your folders before posting. Here are two pictures of Uncle Jerry – one, as an 11 year old, with a 10-point buck, and one with a black cat; original pictures in his possession. The hunting picture is labelled Fall 1940, indicating that the family stayed in Fabens for at least a year after Popsy sold the waterworks in 1939. Note the Longhorn t-shirt, no doubt a gift brought home by Mom. (13)
(1) Women’s Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church, Fabens, Texas, compilers, “History of Fabens, Texas,” unpublished manuscript, circa 1973, Williams-Manning Notebook, Julia Mae (Ellison) Jenkins, compiler; privately held by Tom D. Ellison, [address for private use,] Sierra Blanca, Texas. At least a portion of this history has been published online at the Fabens Independent School District’s website at:
http://fms.fabensisd.schoolfusion.us/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=154289&am…, accessed 22 November 2010.
(2) Welcome to Fabens sign, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner, [address for private use], Baltimore, Maryland.
(3) Jerry Williams in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(4) Private home in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(5) Fabens Independent School District Annex Building in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(6) Seventh Grade Class, 1934, Fabens, Texas, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection, circa 1934-1939; privately held by Malissa Ruffner, [address for private use], Baltimore, Maryland.
(7) “Top Ranking Fabens High Students,” undated 1939 clipping from unidentified newspaper, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection.
(8) “Senior Kid Day” and “Fabens Social News,” both undated 1939 clippings from unidentified newspaper, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection.
(9) Fabens Water Tower, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(10) Jerry Williams and unidentified water authority employee, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(11) First United Methodist Church, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(12) Fabens Water Tower, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(13) Jerry L. Williams with buck, Fabens, Texas, Fall 1940 and Jerry with cat, circa late 1930s, privately held by Jerry L. Williams, [address for private use], El Paso, Texas; scanned by Malissa Ruffner 8 October 2010.
14 thoughts on “Before El Paso, there was Fabens”
So they had to wait to get a cat until Mother left home! Who’s surprised?
my name is peter trejo, i was born in fabens , in 1939 and went to grade school across the canal and i can remember that my kindergarden teacher was miss mack. it was a small bldg. seperaded from the rest of the bldgs. it had a potbelly stove. ( very warm ) there was a small airport in front of the school. there were the remains of what used to be a ccccamp just north of the school. isac ” ike” camacho, my cousin, was the first american to escape from the viet con. ( now lving in el paso. I too went overseas, but I never forgot about my hometown of fabens. I now live in phoenix , but I will return. ( now, that I’m retired. ) and to ad to the coincidence, I retired from a public school..anyone that might have say about fabens, or comments, please let me know………pete.
Hi Peter, my mother is from Fabens, Texas. She was born in 1934 and was related to the Levario & Salcido family that lived there. I remember visiting as a young girl. They lived at a Ranch that was near a large canal with a large water supply pump. It seemed so large back in the day. They lived off the land and at night it was always pitch dark.. Such history!
Glad you enjoyed the post, Pete. Sounds like you came along just as my family was leaving Fabens. I hope you can connect with others during your hometown return.
thank you. when I go back, it better be soon or there won’t be any relatives left out there. thanks again and you all have a long and happy life. …..pete
My great-grandparents, the Dakans, ran a Mexican Food restaurant called The Mill on Highway 80 in Fabens in the late 1930s. Might you have or know of a photo of that place? Thanks, Michael
I’m afraid that all the photos we had of FABENS were lost in phoenix az. we had a storage and forgot the date that it was due, when we went back, they had put a padlock on it. I do have a cousin in fabens that might have one of ” the mill ”. If he does, I’ll get back to you. ( he’s 78 ) so he might have one. pete trejo
My name is Mary N. Macias, my family is originally from Fabens. We left when I was 11 yrs young. I enjoy very much reading about my hometown. I vaguely remember some of the areas in town we lived in. From my mothers stories I know we also lived at the Hansen Ranch and Mike Maros Ranch too.
My grandmothers couisin was the owner of the farm from it beginning and his son Volney R Hansen was the owner until 1958. I am trying to write the family history. John C Hansen was from Denmark where I live. Hope somebody will help me when I have questions. Zita Jeppesen Denmark
My name is Irma Lujan, I left Fabens in 87. I love hearing stories of Fabens from long ago. It’s interesting to know it’s history and the people that lived there. My family is all still down there. I’m the only one that left. I do miss that little town although it’s very different.
Hello. When you said “Jerry said that when they first moved to town, they lived in a downtown hotel (no longer standing) ” was it by chance the O’Donnell Inn or Island Inn”
I will call him and ask!
I was checking out your website for old pictures of Fabens. My great grandfather was a doctor in Fabens in the 30’s and 40’s. His name was Dr. Young M. Milam. I have a picture of his house on sort of a hill. The census said that the house was on Main St. in the 40’s but looks like no sign of it now. I’m guessing that Main St. and Alameda are the same street. If anyone reads this that might remember something about Dr. Milam, I would appreciate a reply. Thanks.