There have been a good deal of publications, articles and webpages that cover the interesting topic of how Sicilians set down roots in the Brazos Valley, starting in Highbank. We have provided some research resources to get you started!

 

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Highbank is a small farming community established near the banks of the Brazos River approximately 5 miles west of Reagan, Texasby a few hearty pioneers in the 1850's. The earliest documented settlers included the Lynn family and John and Martha Dupree.

The Lynn family settled in the Highbank Community prior to 1855, and purchased land after the Civil War. This land is now worked and owned by fourth generation descendants of the Lynn family. Jesse G. Dupree (born November 29, 1860 and died January 16, 1937) was the son of John and Martha Dupree, slaves from South Carolina, who came to Highbank after 1870. Jesse purchased one hundred acres of land, and operated the grist mill on Highbank creek at Highbank. 


James Falsone, Jim Falsone's son, and some of his cousins reported finding a large round stone in Highbank Creek behind his grandmother's house back in the late 1950's. They brought the stone to his dad's store (Jim Falsone was a former Postmaster and store owner at Highbank) and a man there told the boys that it was the grind stone from a grist mill). 

Immigrants from Poggioreale, Sicily:

Many of the early-day Highbank settlers could trace their roots back to Poggioreale, Sicily, a town heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1968 and completely abandoned. A new town was built a couple of miles away from the original settlement. The original village was founded in the eighteenth century and named Poggioreale, which translates to "royal hill."  

Many of the Highbank settlers came from Poggioreale, Sicily and other surrounding villages and towns in Sicily, Italy. Poggioreale was the former home of many of Highbank's earlier settlers including the Falsone, Guida (Weido), & the Falco families. Other settlers came from small towns in and around Poggioreale like Alcomo, and Palermo. In the 1870's and 1880's, a wave of immigrants from Sicily (large island near the tip of Italy) boosted the population of the Highbank settlement to over 300. These early settlers travelled by wagons, stage coach, by horseback, and Model T Ford from the Ports of New Orleans and Galveston to the banks of the Brazos River near Highbank. 


According to Mary Lena (Salvato) Hall, "My grandfather,Carlo Salvato passed away on November 22, 1949 at the age of 82. He was born in Italy on November 2, 1867. He came to the United States with his brother Frank Salvato. The two families purchased the Rogers farm that set up the beginning of the Italian farming community in High Bank. He is buried in Marlin, TX. He had five sons, Tony Salvato, Frank Salvato, Ross Salvato, Nick Salvato and Carlo Salvato all are buried in Marlin except Tony Salvato who buried in Houston. Four daughters Lula Lewis, Pauline Vetrano, Fena Rao and Mary LaPagelia all deceased and buried in Houston. They came through Louisiana and Tony Salvato was born in Luling Louisiana."

The Italian influence can still be seen with Italian surnames appearing on most of the area mailboxes!.
Prominent Italian families in the Highbank area once included the Salvato family, Alfano family, the Barbera, and LaBarbera families, the Burresha family, the Cangelosi family, the Catalano family, the Corpora family, the Falco family, the Falsone family, the the Margoitta family, the Martino family, the Parrino family, the Salvaggio family, and others. 

Brazos Valley Italians Since 1880

Italians began arriving in the lower Brazos valley as early as the mid- 1870's when a few families settled near Bryan. Businessmen in that area had long advertised in European newspapers for immigrants to come and help revitalize the local economy. The Italians did not begin responding in numbers until about 1880. Those who did come were mainly from impoverished Sicily. They either harvested Louisiana sugar fields or labored on shares in the Bryan area until they accumulated enough money to buy their own farms. They bought flood-prone land in the Brazos bottoms between Hearne and Bryan. Earlier settlers, including Germans and Czechs, had avoided it, but the Italians were willing to gamble with disaster in exchange for fertile soil that would normally produce abundant crops.

 

They lost badly in 1899 and again in 1900, when devastating floods struck the region, but most of the immigrants stuck it out. By the 1890's Brazos County had one of the largest concentrations of Italian farmers in the United States. ln 1905 the Italian ambassador visited Texas and was told that Bryan had 3,000 of his countrymen and that the citizens wished there were ten times that number. Very early J.M. Saladiner and other leaders organized the Agricultural Benevolent Society to aid newly arrived immigrants, but the group also sponsored instruction in the latest farming and soil conservation methods.

By 1910 adjacent Burleson and Robertson counties also had significant numbers of Italian residents. For the most part, the farmland of these early Italian arrivals has been retained in family hands. Rural mailboxes reflect such names as Cotropia, De Stefano, Ferrara, Perrone, Restino, Varisco, Scardino and Salvato. Business and civic leaders in Bryan and Hearne also include individuals with Italian surnames. But cultural identity goes little further; the younger generation is not familiar with the Italian language and does not observe Old World customs. Little is left but loyalty to the Roman Catholic religion and the traditional spaghetti dinner on Sunday.

Steele's Store, Texas

HOME ON THE RIVER BOTTOM…

 

Steele's Store, is located at the intersection of farm roads 50 and 1687, on the Southern Pacific Railroad eleven miles west of Bryan in far western Brazos County. The area was settled in the 1860s and became known as Mudville for the mud common to this floodplain of the Brazos and Little Brazos rivers. In 1878 a post office, called Steele's Store, was opened in the store owned by Henry B. Steele, and the names Steele's Store and Mudville seem to have been used interchangeably by local residents, with Mudville sometimes referring to the wider rural area served by the community. According to some sources the population was three-fourths black at this time. Steele's Store is now known as Mudville, Texas.

Many Italians were farming in the area. In 1884 Steele's Store had an estimated population of 150 and two churches, three cotton gins, a steam gristmill, and two general stores. The community became a station on the Hearne and Brazos Valley Railway in 1891, and by 1896 claimed a population of 350. In 1904 a school for whites at Steele's Store had sixty-eight pupils and one teacher. In 1930 the community comprised an estimated 300 inhabitants and fourteen businesses. In 1940 it had a church, a school, four businesses, and a number of scattered dwellings. The post office closed in 1950, and the school had consolidated with Bryan by the 1960s. In 1988 the community had a number of scattered dwellings and was designated Mudville on maps. In 1992, the Texas Historical Commission placed a historical marker at the site.

Sources:

Rosemary DePasquale Boykin, The Italians of Steele's Store, Texas (Nacogdoches: Ericson, 1993).

Glenna Fourman Brundidge, Brazos County History: Rich Past-Bright Future (Bryan, Texas: Family History Foundation, 1986).

Elmer Grady Marshall, History of Brazos County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1937).

Mark Odintz, "MUDVILLE, TX," Handbook of Texas Online. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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