- By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
Jack, Chad and Rick Seiders lean on the small historical marker located not far from Seiders Springs. Nearby, the ancient Seiders Oaks tower over Shoal Creek.
The truncated marker reads: “Seiders Oaks: Site of 1839 home and 1842 massacre of Gideon White. A daughter, Louisa, wed (1846) Edward Seiders, for whom oaks are named.”
There is a lot of history here on Shoal Creek near the West 34th Street bridge. Not all of it, however, is entirely accurate.
“We need to lobby to get this changed,” Rick says to Chad, his second cousin, and Chad’s father, Jack. “This wasn’t a massacre. It was one guy who died in one fight.”
Slave-owning pioneer White, originally from South Carolina, then a longtime resident of Alabama, had taken up residence in a log cabin near the campsites of peaceful Tonkawas. It was also along a regular Comanche raiding trail. White lived there with Edward Seiders, who later married White’s daughter.
One of several Austin-area residents killed that year by Indians, White fought from behind the Seiders Oaks and killed one of his attackers, according to a Shoal Creek Conservancy report on the incident. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
“White was warned to stay on horseback,” Rick, 39, says. “Instead, he was on foot with a gun when he met three Indians. He was killed by the third. Gideon and Edward had to be pretty crazy to be out there anyway.”
The three latter-day Seiders (pronounced SEE-ders) were born and reared in the Austin area. All three are involved in a family business, AG&M Architectural Granite and Marble. They relish their connections to Austin’s past, including a Barton Springs-like resort and an incompletely built subdivision, Glen Ridge, near the Seiders Springs site.
The springs aren’t always gushing. This year, however, one flows from a tiny aperture, framed by tender ferns, at the base of cliffs below the Seton Medical Center. The Seiders family keeps an eye on it and all the parkland nearby.
“It’s fun now that we have kids,” Chad, 39, says. “My daughter did a book report on Seiders Springs, passing along to the next generation our singular history.”
Descended on his father’s side from German immigrants, Edward Seiders was born in 1813 in Maine. Good in school, he was teaching by age 17 and working in a Boston wholesale dry goods house by age 20, according to an undated article written by Doug Johnson. He moved south in 1834 because of lung troubles.
At some point, he met up with White, who was headed to Texas. Doctors told Seiders not to travel because of multiple illnesses, but he turns up later as manager of White’s plantation in Brazoria County.
“The tale goes,” Johnson quotes Edward Seiders’ granddaughter Myrtle Cuthberton from a transcript at the Austin History Center, “that he contracted yellow fever and that one disease counteracted the other.”
White and Seiders arrived in Austin as early as 1838. White purchased 1,000 acres for farming and cattle ranching along Shoal Creek. In 1839, Seiders purchased one of the original downtown lots and raised a tent store there. He continued in the grocery and livery business for some time; one report puts the store at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.
White’s land was eventually divided among five daughters. Louisa Marie received a large portion and married Edward Seiders in 1846. She died of pneumonia after attending the governor’s ball in 1854 and left her land to Edward and their three sons — Edward, Pinkney and Henry.
In 1858, their father married La Grange resident Letitia Lewis, whose father served in Sam Houston’s army. Other Seiders relatives fought in the Mexican War and the Civil War.
The Seiders tended to have large families. Some moved into the city; others to more fertile land in what is now East Austin. After relocating there, many attended the one-room, rural Pecan Springs School before moving on to Austin High School.
“They were farmers dating back to Gideon,” Rick says. “Jack is sixth-generation. I’m seventh. Our children are eighth-generation Austinites.”
For a while, the Seiders kept the land on Shoal Creek as a ranch.
In 1865, Gen. George Custer and his men camped there. Reporter Lois Hale Galvin records with discreet skepticism that Austinite Frank T. Ramsey claimed that a young Robert E. Lee had camped there as well. (It is possible: Lee was stationed on the Indian frontier to the northwest of Austin in the 1850s.)
In 1872, the elder Edward Seiders established a resort at the springs, with a two-story rock house that included a changing area and a mixed store, saloon and cafe.
“By the 1870s, Seiders Springs had become a popular recreation spot,” the Conservancy report continues. “Seiders erected bathhouses, picnic tables and a dance pavilion at the springs which bore his name. He even provided for his patrons a means of transportation to and from town. Seiders Springs now trickle where they once gushed.”
The Conservancy hopes to restore these and other drained springs along Shoal Creek.
Edward Seiders died in 1892; his obituary described him as “even-tempered, well-informed, charitable and respected.” He left behind his second wife, Letitia, and a total of seven sons, who inherited his property. Pinkney seems to be the only one who followed in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps, driving a mule team to haul granite for the Capitol and starting a dairy.
Unlike some other ancestral Austin families, the Seiders did not hold tight to the land. Edward had sold the area around the springs in 1890 to Ernest J. Heppenheimer, a builder who platted the area as Glen Ridge and put up a bridge that was destroyed in the great 1900 flood.
A map housed at the Texas State Archives shows Alamo Boulevard and Lakeside Boulevard on either side of Alamo Lake, which was fed by the springs. Eighteen gridded sections spread out from the curved lake. The subdivision was never built as planned, but a Sanborn Insurance map from 1921 shows scattered houses on Champa, Holley, Spring and other streets that Heppenheimer had planned. Now that land is mostly offices associated with the Seton Medical Center.
All that remains of the resort are bare remnants of the bathhouse.
“We are not known for our real estate skills,” Chad says with a chuckle about the Seiders. “I remember driving around as a kid and hearing where everything was before.”
In 1920, Jack’s great-uncle — Pinkney’s son — Grover Cleveland Seiders opened the popular Kash Karry grocery stores with business partner A.C. Knippa. The first store stood at East Seventh Street and Congress Avenue, the current site of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. Other shops were scattered around Central Austin.
“The whole family worked in the stores,” Jack says. “We worked there once we turned 12.”
More family businesses: Rick’s brothers started the extremely successful Yeti Coolers concern in Driftwood, where Rick grew up. His dad started Flex Coat, a fishing equipment company.
Christmas and Easter parties bring the scattered Seiders family together here in their hometown.
“In my lifetime, Austin has changed a lot,” Chad says. “I took pride that my family was from here — and it was great to have my family close.”