Mary Alice Kimbell

Family Find for September

Mary Alice Kimbell
Mary Alice Kimbell, circa 1898


Mary Alice Kimbell

Identified as “Mary Kimbell, Whiteflat, Texas,” the subject of this remarkable portrait is likely Mary Alice Kimbell (1883-1974), the fourth of at least eight children of Edward Bascom Kimbell (1848-1925) and Missouri Alice Turner Kimbell (1853-1935), of the Whiteflat community. Now a ghost town, Whiteflat originated as a line camp on the Matador Ranch in Motley County.

Census records[1] indicate that the Kimbells came to the area from Johnson County sometime between 1880 and 1900, and were among the town’s earliest settlers. Besides farming and ranching their own land, the family helped to establish and maintain the town’s first school.

By 1900[2], Mary’s elder brother, Joseph, and sister, Della, were teachers in the original one-room schoolhouse. College degrees were not required for rural educators of that era, but Joe and Della would still have had to pass certain tests and earn teaching certificates to teach in Whiteflat. Mary, who was 26 in 1910[3], followed her siblings’ example. It is possible that she would have taught in the larger, four-room school built in1908. Later, her children would likely have attended the high school that went up in 1922. Today, that building stands in ruins.

Mary married Irvine D. Merrill (1882-1975), a Missouri native and local farmer, in 1909. The couple lived in Motley County for most of their married lives, and raised at least four children together. During the years surrounding the Great Depression and the gradual decline of Whiteflat, the family lived and farmed in nearby communities. At least one of the couple’s daughters, Charmaine, appears to have attended college[4], but it is uncertain if she followed her mother into teaching.

Mary and other family members, including her grandfather, B. D. Kimbell, are interred or memorialized at Whiteflat Cemetery. After Mary passed away, Irvine went to live with one of their daughters in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, where he eventually died and was buried.

More than a century after its debut, Mary’s portrait invites our curiosity. Does her pensive expression and wilted crown reflect concern for the future, a flair for drama, or simply teenage angst? Did she mean to mark an occasion, mourn a loved one, or entice an admirer? Regardless of its original purpose, Mary’s portrait is a stunning depiction of youth. It is early evidence of one who survived adolescence, grew to adulthood and shaped the lives of others. It inspires us to bequeath something of ourselves to those we will one day leave behind.


Year: 1880; Census Place: Johnson, Texas; Roll: 1313; Family History Film: 1255313; Page: 272A; Enumeration District: 082. Year: 1900; Census Place: Justice Precinct 2, Motley, Texas; Roll: 1660; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0042; FHL microfilm: 1241660.

2 Year: 1900; Census Place: Justice Precinct 2, Motley, Texas; Roll: 1660; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0042; FHL microfilm: 1241660.

3 Year: 1910; Census Place: Justice Precinct 2, Motley, Texas; Roll: T624_1580; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0185; FHL microfilm: 1375593.

U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012; Yearbook Title: Daedalian; Year: 1944.

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