Parker County Today March 2018 - Page 64

our history: PARKER COUNTY’S PAST Fiddlin’ Around By SHANNON MARTINDALE SHATZER O 62 n a dry summer evening, a young man sits outside, using light from the flames of a pile of black jack brush he cut and placed there earlier in the day to read by the firelight while the stars begin to appear and shim- mer above him. This day, like all of the other days, he has spent doing backbreaking work in the fields. He is weary, but his education is valuable to him, and this is the only time during the day he has to study. One by one, the stars come into view, brightening above him, and he stands, stretching his aching back, before going inside the cabin for a moment. He returns outside holding his fiddle. He sits back down, and the first few notes he plays are to tune his instrument before throwing himself into a lively tune.  This young man is Henry C. Gilliland, who would later become tied for being the world’s championship fiddler some 60 years later. Born in 1845 in Missouri, the fifth of eight children, his family set off for the California Gold Rush in 1853. A year later, they put roots down in Parker County. The journey into the Texas prairie seems to have left an impression on Gilliland, as he wrote in his memoir: “We came out of the bottom, and struck a rich valley prairie, covered with abundant grass waist high, and great droves of wild deer would stand and gaze at us with much wonder.” They passed through Dallas on the way from California. Gilliland seems to have been unimpressed with the land that would become the enormous city, remarking in his memoir that they could have bought the entire county, as it was then, at $1.00 per acre, but that it was covered in swarms of mosquitoes. The family finally found their home in Parker County, five miles northeast of what is now Weatherford.  Sadly, only one year after their relocation, Gilliland’s father, Joseph Gilliland, passed away from pneumonia, leaving Lucretia Gilliland, his widow, to raise her chil- dren alone. Despite the continual threat of Indian raids, Lucretia chose to remain in Parker County, and the family endured their share of hardships. “We were now living without bread, using dry veni- son for bread and fresh venison for meat. We did this for days and weeks,” Gilliland wrote.  Gilliland spent his days in the fields, farming and cutting brush, and his evenings reading. As he grew into a young man, Gilliland began playing his older brother Joseph’s fiddle after his two eldest brothers left home to serve in the army. “When they left home, I took charge of his [Joseph’s] fiddle, and learned very rapidly to play, but my strings were of ‘horse hair,’ and I lacked someone to show me how it was ‘done,’” Gilliland wrote. In 1863, Gilliland enlisted in the Second Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade, and served in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Not much is known about his time in the war, as he was something of an unreliable narrator regarding his experiences at the time. When the war ended, Gilliland joined the Texas Rangers to combat the attacks by Comanches in Parker County, which were growing in intensity. He also spent his free time honing his skills at the fiddle. He married Susie Borden on Dec. 9, 1869, and as the years