On this day in 1975, Sister Mary Benitia, foundress of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence, died. Sister Benitia was born Elizabeth Vermeersch in Belgium in 1880. Her family moved to Texas while she was a child, and after the sudden deaths of her parents in 1893 she was placed in an orphanage conducted by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. In 1898 she was received into the congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence of San Antonio and took the name Mary Benitia. In 1915 she was made principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Houston. In 1930 she organized a group of young women whom she called Catechists of Divine Providence. In 1934 Bishop Christopher E. Byrne approved specific rules for the catechists. When Sister Benitia's assignment in Houston came to an end in late 1938 she was sent to San Antonio, where she continued her catechetical work. In 1946, through her efforts and those of Archbishop Robert E. Lucey, the Catechists of Divine Providence received approval from the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome to become a branch of the Sisters of Divine Providence. Sister Benitia retired from her missionary work in 1960.
On this day in 1862, the Confederate government issued $100 notes bearing a portrait of the renowned Southern beauty Lucy Pickens. Lucy Holcombe was born in 1832 in Tennessee. Between 1848 and 1850 the Holcombes moved to Wyalucing plantation in Marshall, Texas. Lucy became highly acclaimed throughout the South for her "classic features, titian hair, pansy eyes, and graceful figure." In the summer of 1856 she met Francis Wilkinson Pickens, twice a widower and twenty-seven years her senior. Her acceptance of his marriage proposal, it is said, hinged on his acceptance of a diplomatic post abroad. President James Buchanan appointed him ambassador to Russia, and Pickens and Lucy were wed in 1858 at Wyalucing. Lucy was a favorite at the Russian court, but Pickens resigned his diplomatic post in the fall of 1860 in anticipation of the outbreak of the Civil War. Upon his return home he was elected governor of South Carolina. By selling the jewels that had been given her in Russia, Lucy helped outfit the Confederate Army unit that bore her name, the Lucy Holcombe Legion. Her portrait was also used on the one-dollar Confederate notes issued on June 2, 1862. She died in 1899.
On this day in 1880, Lottie Deno married Frank Thurmond in Silver City, New Mexico. Deno was born, most likely as Carlotta J. Thompkins, in Kentucky in 1844. After her father, a wealthy planter, was killed in the Civil War, her mother and sister sent Lottie to Detroit to find a husband, but Lottie, who had spent much time in casinos with her father, instead began a career as a professional gambler. She came to San Antonio in 1865 and became a house gambler at the University Club, where she became known as the "Angel of San Antonio." She also fell in love with Frank Thurmond, who went to West Texas after allegedly killing a man in an altercation during a game. Lottie soon followed him, gambling her way around West Texas before settling in Fort Griffin, where Frank was living under the alias Mike Fogerty. In Fort Griffin she began calling herself Lottie Deno. By 1877 she and Frank had moved on to New Mexico. From 1882 until Lottie's death in 1934, they lived in Deming, New Mexico, as upstanding and respected citizens. Frank became vice president of the Deming National Bank. Lottie gave up gambling and became a founding member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Deming. She was the prototype for Miss Kitty in the television series "Gunsmoke" and the subject of a 1959 biography by amateur historian J. Marvin Hunter.
On this day in 1907, citizens of Peck, located about thirty miles north of Houston, renamed their community Tomball in honor of Thomas Henry Ball, a well-known politician and prohibition advocate. Ball had been a United States congressman and strong supporter of the development of the Houston Ship Channel. The town of Tomball later rose to prominence in 1933 when drillers struck oil. The population of the new boomtown, nicknamed “Oil Town U.S.A.,” tripled as twenty-five to thirty oil and gas companies rushed in to set up camps, housing developments, and recreation facilities. In 1935 Humble Oil and Refining Company (which later became Exxon Company, U.S.A.) granted free water and natural gas to Tomball residents in exchange for drilling rights within the city limits. This arrangement gained the attention of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which heralded Tomball as the only city with free gas and water and no cemetery.