Willie Newbury Lewis was an author who became known for her work pertaining to the early days of Anglo settlement in North Texas and the Panhandle. Her biographical information has been recounted in numerous newspaper articles, which are the main sources for this brief sketch.
Willie was born October 28, 1891 to Henry Lee Newbury (1866 – 1939) and Anna Hearn Newbury (1867 – 1951), and was the second of three children, between her two brothers. Her parents and grandparents had been in the mercantile business with her father owning a shoe store in Dallas when she was young. Henry Lee later went into banking and worked as a controller at First National Bank.
As a young girl, Willie attended Lora Cowart’s Private School for Girls, a small school in Oak Cliff. She was also an Idlewild debutante. Most accounts mention how she met her future husband, William Jenks Lewis, on a trip to northwest Texas to stay with a friend. She was about twenty years old and he was twenty-one years older. W. J., or Will, was born in Maryland to Charles Lewis (1837 – 1924) and Harriet Ann Hoogle Lewis (1841 – 1929). Though he was considerably older than Willie, he was also a middle child of three siblings. The Lewis family had come to Texas where Charles served as postmaster in Clarendon. Despite their age difference, W. J. pursued Willie, proposing several times before being accepted, and the couple was married in Dallas on September 19, 1912.
The new family first settled in the West Texas, living on a leased ranch at Spur, Texas which is roughly located east of Lubbock. Willie became interested in the history of the area. However, day to day life there was not to Willie’s liking, so the couple established their permanent residence in Dallas. They ran their farms and ranches from the city. Their first home in Dallas was built in 1915 – 1917 and is now known as the Aldredge House (named for its second owners), and is located at 5500 Swiss Avenue. The Lewis family only lived there about one year before moving to a smaller residence on Gaston Avenue. Their former home on Swiss Avenue is a Dallas landmark structure.
W. J. and Willie had four children, a son and three daughters born between 1915 and 1922. W. J. continued to manage the family ranches, the R. O. and the Shoe Bar, commuting between Dallas and North Texas. Willie remained active in local Dallas organizations including the Dallas Historical Society, the Shakespeare Club, the Founder’s Garden Club and the Dallas Women’s Council.
Willie had written one book, published around 1938, called “Between Sun and Sod: An Informal History of the Texas Panhandle.” W. J. was said to have opposed Willie’s writing career, though he assisted her in the publication of it. After this book, Willie did not actively resume her writing career until after W. J. died in 1960 at the age of 89. Willie later published two more books, “Tapadero: The Making of a Cowboy” and “Willie, A Girl from a Town Called Texas.”
To write her first book, “Between Sun and Sod: An Informal History of the Texas Panhandle” Willie interviewed a number of “old timers” about their lives in the early days of Anglo settlement in Texas. She said that she had researched it for four years. It included the history of the Clarendon area and two other settlements and was called “the first book on the Panhandle which gives a typical outline of its history and the struggle of its people from buffaloes to the coming of the nester. It was illustrated by cowboy artist Harold Dow Bugbee of the Clarendon area. The book also chronicles the early days of the Red River settlement known as Doan’s Crossing. A nice long excerpt from her book dealing with the history of the store at Doan’s Crossing was published in an Amarillo newspaper in August, 1938. Some thirty plus years later, Willie donated her manuscript of the book to the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech in Lubbock.
The book “Tapadero: The Making of a Cowboy” included a biography of her husband Will. Tapadero stirrups, originally considered to be a feature of Mexican saddles, have an extra piece of leather around the forward section of the stirrup to help keep the rider’s footwear from slipping out. In one book review, the reviewer said that Willie never acquired a taste for high heeled boots and preferred to use stirrups with the tapadero feature. Another book review says that W. J. did not wear western boots as well, because he thought they were uncomfortable. The book review said that he used tapadero stirrups, too.
In the above book, she describes W. J.’s coming to Texas at the age of fourteen. During their marriage, he had told her many stories which she recounted in the book, along with their life experiences. W. J. began working on ranches, became a “top hand” on the R. O. Ranch, doing the roughest and dirtiest work on the ranch. He was ambitious and by his late thirties, he was able to buy his first ranch and lease a much larger one. Later, he was able to acquire the R. O. Ranch, the same one that he had worked on as a young man. When it was released, the book was the last of eleven in a series called Range Life about the Panhandle published with a goal of preserving a record of those who came to live there.
Willie’s last book was “Willie, a Girl from a Town Called Dallas.” In it, Willie recounts her early life in the city and what life in Dallas was like near the turn of the century. She also comments on her marriage to Will and her experiences raising their four children, including Will’s long absences when he was out west, tending to their ranches. The book was dictated, since by that time, Willie was in her 90s and was said to be blind.
Willie survived her husband another twenty-five years. She passed away in 1985 when she was ninety-three years old. She is interred at Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas.
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