The Wright Family Homestead

The Wright Brothers Ranch is a cattle operation located on the site of three historically significant homes that were part of the community of Mt Union. Mt Union is a historically significant former Black community in Jasper County, in east Texas.

In the “Mt. Union” documentary, we have tried to capture some of the essence of that rural part of southeast Texas, its lush ranch lands bordering the Neches River and the piney woods of the Big Thicket Nature Preserve. The documentary features representative footage of the wild waterways of B.A. Steinhagen Lake, with its beautiful cypress trees, not far from my family’s near-400-acre ranch.

The ranch has a significant history. Its roots go back to 1810 when its forbearers the Scottish brothers Sherrod and Alexander Wright fought with Andrew Jackson’s forces at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. They were teenagers who migrated from Georgia. Their father had come from Scotland in the 1700’s during Colonial America.

The Wright Brothers Cattle Company and historic homes are located in the middle of what was known as the Wright League, of which 4,000 acres were purchased from the Mexican Government in 1835. Land was deeded to Benjamin by Solomon Wright after the civil war and presumably emancipation. No one knows Benjamin’s status as free man or slave, although the oral history of the Wright family indicates that if slavery was the status of the Africans when they were brought to Texas from the United States whose territory stopped at the Louisiana border.

On the ranch, there is a meandering stream that snakes through the piney woods and, in the stream bottomland, bamboo grows tall. The area is home to deer, bobcats and, at times, wild hogs. Black water snakes also live in part of it, so a guide is advised for anyone touring the ranch. You can occasionally spot the remains of wagon trails, roads that were traversed by the residents of Mt. Union when small farms still dotted the landscape and a couple hundred children walked each day to Walnut Hill School. Most of the trails now dead-end where houses used to be, but there are still a few old oak trees that were planted in the late 1800s and early 1900s near the homesteads. Water wells were dug beside many of those trees, but they have since either been filled in or have collapsed. At one site, a solitary grave marker is proof that a home was there – supposedly, it does not mark an actual grave, but remains there because its absent-minded owner did not take the tombstone to the cemetery before he died.

In front of my family’s homestead, there are two great Red Oaks – both planted around 1870 by Benjamin Wright, soon after he acquired his land from Solomon Wright. They mark the beginning of the community of Mt. Union. Sadly, one of them recently had to be removed after a storm tore off one of its largest limbs, destroying fences and gates. It became clear that the remaining limbs threatened to fall on the house.

There is a legend told to me by a long-time resident of Mt. Union that the life of a Red Oak can become intertwined with a person who loves it. When that person dies, the tree dies. My grandmother Arvetta - - an avid gardener with a real love of the land - - died in 1992, and limbs began to fall from those two Red Oaks soon after. I like to think that they are only dying because Arvetta, whose heart was so closely connected to the land and the homestead, is gone. She had lived there since 1925. In the intervening years, the family hung a six-foot porch swing from one of the lowest limbs, and I have childhood memories of swinging and laughing under those trees. Over time, the limb had grown around the chain that held the swing in place, as if it was embracing us... as if the tree knew the purpose that Arvetta had for it.

The ranch is a crucial part of The Long Black Line trilogy. Each film refers in some way back to the ranch in Mt Union. The films exist because of the efforts of individuals in this community raising their children and sending them into the world. The ranch is a testament to the pioneer spirit of the community represented in the spirit of The Long Black Line Trilogy.

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