Shankleville, a community inhabited principally by Negroes received an Official State Historical Marker for its unique and romantic history.
The community was named for Jim and Winnie Shankle.
This young couple overcame more hardships and faced starker dangers than most early East Texas settlers. Unlike other pioneer families, Winnie came to Texas before her husband did. Jim and Winnie Shankle were born in slavery. Shortly after their marriage, Jim’s bride was sold away from him to a family by the name of Shankle. This family later moved to Texas.
By the time the Shankics were settled in Texas, Winnie had despaired of ever seeing her husband again. One evening when she went to the spring for water, a soft voice called her. She whirled and there stood Jim!
Back in Mississippi, Jim Shankle had risked his life when he slipped away and started for Texas on foot. Avoiding public roads, he walked through the wilderness for more than 400 miles. He dared not use a public ferry, so he crossed streams the best way he could. The most daring crossing he made was when he swam the Mississippi River.
Jim hid in the nearby woods, and every day when Winnie went to the spring, she brought food. When “ole massah” finally discovered what was going on, he wrote a letter to Mississippi and arranged to purchase Jim. Winnie and Jim Shankle set up housekeeping in a cabin on the plantation, and today the majority of the people in Shankleville are their descendants. Most of these people live on land that has been in the family for a long, long time.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Shankle went to work for himself, and bought up a league of land (4,423.4 acres). This was a remarkable achievement for a person who had nothing to start with but faith and courage.
Still, it’s not a surprising accomplishment for a man who possessed the grit to trek through 400 miles of wilderness and swim the Mississippi River for love.
One newspaper reporter headlined a story about the Shankleville community as “Shankleville’s Past Has Love Story in It.” He then said it had a mint of intriguing history and the most beautiful love story since the Book of Ruth in the Bible. One of Jim Shankle’s descendants speaking at the dedication of an Official State Historical Marker awarded the community in 1973 had the following to say:
We must all be very proud that Great, Great, Great-grandfather Jim Shankle, born in 1811, swam the mighty Mississippi River and walked by night seeking his wife, Great, Great, Great-grandmother Winnie, for that was the beginning of this community, Shankleville, on Clear Creek. Certainly the anxieties and fears which followed that meeting at the spring as they sought permission to establish a family unit which was then and is today the basic unit of society was a difficult one but they didn’t give up. When we are tempted to give up as the going gets tough and disappointments come, may we be inspired to press on in the memory of these pioneers. Those were difficult times for it was their lot to fell the trees, to build the houses, and fence the fields. Many, many days, yes many, many years must have been spent clearing away the trees and brush from the league of land purchased by Great, Great, Great-grandfather Jim. They had to fight against disease, poverty, and disappointments for their very existence. Many times there must have been nothing, yes, absolutely nothing, to cause them to hold on except the will to hold on and their faith in God, themselves, the future of this community, and this great Country.
Then in 1883 at 69 years of age, Great, Great, Great-grandmother Winnie was laid to rest in a special place prepared for her. Five years later Great, Great, Great-grandfather Jim was laid to rest beside her. But they lived on. They had made their contribution.
The Shankleville Community has kept close ties of friendship with the surrounding communities and especially in churches and schools. A large majority of the people who live in Shankleville are kin to each other, but there have been developments along different lines of belief so that within the distance of a city block there are three churches each of a different denomination. They did have a school within the community. Then the school consolidated with Burkeville school. First they were a part of the Wiergate school and then a part of the Burkeville-Wiergate Independent School District which is their status at present time.
Interviews with citizens will get some new facts about the Shankleville Community, but nearly all will tell some of the same history, Invariably, the person interviewed will go back to Winnie and Jim Shankle as the community founders. Two such interviews yielded the following information:
Interview with Mrs. Fletcher Byerly: “I descended from the McBrides. Steve McBride who built the college could not read or write, but he was smart and wanted his people to be educated. He bought 600 acres of land for fifteen cents an acre and put people on it to live so they would have a home. He hauled freight and supplies into the community. He had a cotton gin. Jim Shankle cut down the first trees for the sawmills.
Interview – from a speech given by A.T. Odom: “After slavery was abolished in 1866, a few men began to buy homes and settle down to go for themselves. The first was about four miles cast of Burkeville by Jim Shankle and his wife Winnie. Since that date down through the years, churches and schools were organized. About 1883 the famed McBride College was built. It stood until 1909.
Shankleville now has three churches, two cemeteries. It lies south of Highway 63 and west of Highway 87. About fifty families live in the community.