The Capt. Robert Bonner and Lydia Halley Family
Part 1 of 3: Pre Civil War
The year was 1860 and the air was filled with a strained excitement. Nationally, Abraham Lincoln had just been elected President of the United States with only 40 percent of the popular vote, meaning that the majority of the voters had actually voted for the opposition.1 Stateside, with talk of civil war looming, Sam Houston was eventually replaced as governor when he refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy.
Locally, the news causing the most excitement, however, was the opening of a college in the little-known village of Salado in Bell County. Many people responded to this news by moving their families to Salado so that their children could attend this newly chartered college. One of those families was the Robert and Lydia Halley family.
Robert Bonner Halley was born at Macon, Georgia on May 14, 1823. Lydia Ederington Halley was born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 12, 1831. The couple married on August 16, 1849 and made their first home in Lanark, Arkansas in Bradley County. The couple had two daughters while living in Arkansas. Fredonia Augusta Halley was born November 24, 1850 at Warren, Arkansas. Augusta would later marry Charles Henry Ramsdell. Martha Eleanor (Ellen) Halley was born September 28, 1852 in Warren, Arkansas. She would later marry Sidney Wilkirson.2
The Halley Family in Texas, 1853
The Halley family moved to Texas in 1853, settling near San Antonio. Two years later, the family moved to the Salado area, settling five or six miles south of Salado Creek, in a neighborhood of what is now Prairie Dell. In the 1850s this area was referred to as "Salado" because of its proximity to the creek. The town of Prairie Dell, as it is known today, did not begin until the late 1860s.
In 1859, when the land Col. E.S.C. Robertson had donated to Salado College was being surveyed into lots, which would be sold to raise money for the construction of a stone college building, Halley bought lots on the south side of Salado Creek, built a log house, and moved his family to the new, developing village of Salado.3
Granddaughter Eugenia Halley Smith, when writing about her grandparents, wrote, "Their first house in Salado was a log house on the South side of the Salado Creek, in a grove of trees. It was there when I was 12 years old and we went to Salado and camped near the Blue Hole of the Springs of the creek, very near the log house where my mother [Lydia Mimmie Halley] was born in 1861." The reference to the Blue Hole, indicates that the Halley's first home was located across the creek from Pace Park.
Granddaughter Eugenia's description continues, "There was one big room with a fireplace on either side of a dog-trot where my grandfather kept his daybed to rest on when he came in from tending to his cattle, which were on an open range. The house was later boarded over and the logs and the dog-trot enclosed. When my grandfather returned from the Civil War, in 1869, he built the present two-story house on the North side of the creek, with his land covering most of the area presently covered by the Salado Country Club."4
While in Salado six more children were born to the Halley family. Those six children were Emma Halley born June 14, 1855; Robert Burns born July 12, 1858; Lydia (Mimmie) Halley Smith born May 13, 1861; Samuel Leroy born March 3, 1866; William Benjamin born August 9, 1868; and Herbert born April 17, 1872.5
When Halley moved to Bell County he was a cattleman and stock farmer and he made Salado the center of his activities.6 In addition to being a cattleman and stock farmer, Halley also went into partnership with another local farmer and the two of them purchased and operated a gristmill on the Lampasas River near the old Military Highway. The milling business was very profitable especially after the two millers used their gristmill to grind corn for the making of moonshine whiskey.
If Lydia Halley, with her strong Church of Christ background, was opposed to her husband's moonshine business, she said her piece and then never spoke of it again. Lydia Halley and her mother, Martha Ederington, who had come to Texas with the Halleys, were charter members of the Salado Church of Christ.
Halley was also active in the political arena of the area. In 1860, Halley, who was a defender of States rights, presided over the first and largest Democratic Convention ever held in Bell County up to that time and was one of six delegates appointed to the Democratic state convention in Galveston.7
Halley's Service in the Civil War
With the approach of the Civil War and secession becoming a hotly debated issue, men throughout Texas began organizing themselves into quasi-military groups and offering their services to the cause of the Confederacy. Halley recruited a cavalry company called the "Salado Mounted Troops," a quasi-ranging company, the first of its kind organized in Bell County and among the first in Texas. Halley tendered its services to the Secession Convention of Texas on February 4, 1861, through Major E. S. C. Robertson, one of the Bell County delegates. The Troop subscribed for 90 days until Confederate troops could be organized and placed in the field.
Halley's troops reported to Col. Henry E. McCulloch, commander of the northwest frontier. Their assignment was to seize for the Confederate government, the Federal military garrisons located along the Texas frontier from the Red River to the Rio Grande. When the troops reached Ft. Chadbourne in the present county of Coke, the commanding officer relinquished his garrison without incident and the garrison was then left in charge of Captain Halley.
Col. McCulloch continued his march through Texas until all Federal garrisons were occupied. Consequentially, a large number of arms, ammunition, and other military equipment and supplies were obtained from the Federal garrisons for the ultimate use of the Confederate army.
With their assignment accomplished and the terms of their enlistment having expired, Capt. Halley's unit dissolved and Halley and a number of his men returned to their homes, and thus ended the career of the "Salado Mounted Troops." Some of the men, including Halley, later joined the Army of the Confederate States of America.8
Halley joined the Confederate States Army on November 18, 1862, in Salado and served in Company G Second Regiment Texas Cavalry where the muster roll, dated January 1, 1863, listed Robert B. Halley as Captain.9
In 1864, Halley served as captain of Company F in William P. Saufley's Scouting Battalion.10 This battalion consisted of at least one company from four regiments. The purpose of Saufley's Scouting Battalion was to scout for Union forces moving up the coast from Brownsville to Galveston, a major seaport for the state, and to provide forward defenses for Galveston Island.
Upon the completion of this critical assignment, the companies involved returned to duty with their own regiments. Capt. Halley served in the Texas Cavalry until the end of the war in April 1865.
Halley's Salado Cavalry Confederate Flag
According to George W. Tyler, the author of the book, History of Bell County, published in 1936 and edited by Charles William Ransdell, Ph.D., a history professor at the University of Texas, and a great-grandson of Capt. Halley, "Each Company leaving Bell County was given a beautiful silk flag made by the women of the community. When the company was drawn up in parade formation, a young lady presented the flag to the commander and gave a heartfelt patriotic speech. The commander responded of behalf of his company in the presence of a large crowd of the families and friends of the departing soldiers."11
The First National Flag of the Confederacy, 1861-1863, was referred to as "Stars and Bars." The flag consisted of a red field divided by a white band one-third the width of the field, thus producing three bars of equal width. The top bar was red, the middle bar was white, and the bottom bar was red. The flag had a square blue union the height of two bars, on which was placed a circle of white stars corresponding in number to the states of the Confederacy. In some cases, the canton had a large star within the circle of stars.
According to Halley family history, "Halley's flag is unusual in that the canton is made of cotton and the bars are made of two different silks, neither of which are red as the First National Confederate Flag was designed. The assumption is that the ladies of Salado had no red silk on hand so they used plain white silk instead. The traditional white bar is divided in two equal sizes of white moiré silk, which helps to delineate the bars from each other."12
When Captain Halley died, his wife Lydia Ederington Halley passed the original flag to their daughter, Mimmie Halley Smith who passed it on to her daughter Eugenia Halley Smith. Eugenia then passed the flag to Robert and Lydia's great grandson, Fred Lee Ramsdell, Jr., who then passed it to his daughters Diana, Donna and Carol.
In 2009, the Ramsdell sisters commissioned Textile Preservations of Texas to conserve the flag in order to delay continued deterioration. The preservation project was completed in April of 2010 and the flag is back in the Halley family archives.
Capt. Halley's return to Salado after the war is presented in Part 2 of this story.
By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: October 17, 2018
Footnotes:1"1860 Presidential Election," Wikipedia.
2Robert Halley Family Bible Birth and Death Record.
3Tyler, George W., History of Bell County, edited by Charles William Ramsdell, Ph.D., history professor at the University of Texas, and a great-grandson of Capt. Halley, The Naylor Company, San Antonio, 1936, pp. 282, 283.
4Robert Halley Family Records, Halley Home, Salado, Texas. Written by Eugenia Halley Smith.
5Robert Halley Family Bible Birth and Death Record.
6Johnson, Frank W., 1799-1884, A History of Texas and Texans, Vol. 111, p. 1209. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914. Additional contributors: Barker, Eugene Campbell 1874-1956; Winkler, Ernest William 1875-1960.
7Tyler, Goerge W., History of Bell County, 1936, Dayton Kelley, Centex Press, Belton, Texas, 1985, p. 196.
8Ibid, p. 205.
9Tyler, p. 220.
10Handbook of Texas Online, James Matthews, "Saufley's Scouting Battalion," accessed May 3, 2018.
11Robert Halley Family Records, "Stars and Bars," Salado Cavalry Confederate Flag. Written by a Halley family member.