Thursday, 20 October 2011 by Berneta Peeples
Sarah Elizabeth Henderson Dorn is just about as staunch a Texas-Bell County patriot as you'll find, no matter how far back you look.
Her Henderson ancestors were in Texas by 1840 and in Bell County by 1848 when a great-grandfather of five bought a section of land in what became Bell County.
Sarah and her husband, Joe Bob Dorn, have managed over the years to acquire that original 640 acres and have built their home on the site of the first log cabin built there. Over the years the original purchase was greatly enlarged by several of Sarah's ancestors.
Sarah is fiercely protective of some of that land. It is largely fossilized limestone with huge trees that will not be disturbed for any price or reason. She learned several years ago that five county courthouses in Texas were built with stone from pasture land she and Joe now own.
She got that information from a contractor who came wanting to buy rock for a courthouse restoration.
"He understood that land was not to be disturbed under any condition or at any price so I didn't have to run him off," she said with a smile.
Their land is a wildlife sanctuary, no hunting allowed. Their main concern right now is the pitifully small number of deer, 'coons and 'possums and the over abundance of coyotes. "Every wild creature is desperate for food and water," Sarah said.
Sarah was indeed a child bride. She went to the academy at Baylor and finished Belton High School in three years. She was married her third year in high school. By age 20, she was a graduate of Mary Hardin-Baylor College, had borne a son and a daughter and was teaching school before she was old enough to vote, at age 21.
She "always took 18-hour semesters to finish college in three years," she said.
She was well acquainted with the college campus. Her mother, the venerable "Miss Minnie" (Mrs. Reid) Henderson who taught in many of the one-room school houses in Bell County, Belton High School and Mary Hardin-Baylor College, spent the summers of Sarah's childhood going to summer school at the college.
"She took me with her," Sarah said. "I stayed in the car if the weather was bad, with coloring books and toys. In good weather I had the run of the campus. The college still used a wagon and team to pick up trash and for campus needs.
"E.J. Black was the campus handyman and a wonderful friend and teacher. He would lift me up on the wagon seat and I rode all over the campus with him. It was a learning experience."
Her teaching career included Belton and 18 years in the Pasadena school system while Joe worked in the Texas coast area oil industry.
It was on the Gulf Coast area the Dorns became professional sailors. They owned a wonderful boat, crewed on racing boats in Galveston Bay, studied all aspects and areas of boating and navigation and "could have captained a ship had we chosen."
Back on the farm they are engaged in special garden projects, including cactus and orchids.
They are long range travelers. They have visited most of the states and plan to see the rest, but aren't interested in overseas travel.
Sarah is like her mother and is dedicated to family history, genealogy and Texas history. She is an active member of the Sam Houston Chapter of the Daughter of the Republic of Texas. Joe is an avid short-wave radio operator and active in disaster warning programs.
Their son, Dr. Rusty Dorn, owns and operates a chiropractic clinic in Killeen. He and his two sons live in Belton. Their daughter, Beth Gardner, owns and operates Heart of Gymnastics in Belton. Her home is on the family estate.
"No, there are no plans ever to develop any of their historically significant property into a housing area," she said. "Don't even think about it."
Last weekend some 100 descendants of Nicholas Henderson, the original settler, had a family reunion in Temple. The star of the show was a 100-year-old lady from Florida, Mollie Henderson Duncan, who told many stories about the family. One grandfather was married five times and "made us kin to everybody in the country."
However, Nicholas was the hero of the hour. His wife died when their fifth child was born. Nicholas sold out on the Texas coast and brought his little ones to what became Bell County. He never remarried but raised five strong children.
Nicholas Henderson clothed his kids. He sheared the sheep, spun the thread, made the cloth that made the clothes, and made their shoes out of the animal hides.