Mary was a Biter – A firsthand account of the United Sates 1976 Bicentennial Wagon Train Celebration

J.B. Hampton was from Magargel, Texas. Here Hampton is with his wagon and team of mules, Emma and Mary while on the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration Wagon Train. (Courtesy photo)

By Jessica Crabtree

In 1976 there was a nationwide endeavor to celebrate the United States with a bicentennial wagon train as a tribute to historical events leading up to the creation of the United States of America as an independent republic. Around the country, wagons and teams hitched up and headed out across the United States, meeting other wagons from various legs of the journey whether it be the southern trail or Oregon trail, all destined for Valley Forge, Pa. The wagons representing the southern part of the United States met in Houston, Texas, in January of 1976. Each state was represented with an official state wagon. The custom wagons were crafted in Pennsylvania, almost a replica of those from the great wagon trains of history, complete with wooden wagon wheels.

The teamstress or wagon mistress who represented the Lone Star state was Hazel Bowen of Antelope, Texas. A well-known, strong, southern, Texas woman, Bowen was a widow whose husband was a WWI veteran, tough as nails and chewed tobacco. While each state was represented, independent wagons were also welcomed. J.B. Hampton was originally from Megargel, Texas, but met and married a Chico gal, afterword relocating to Wise County. Hampton’s childhood friend, and owner of Megargel Drilling Company, was Red Livingston. Livingston traveled to Tennessee and bought an old John Deere farm wagon, customized it with rubber tires and hydraulic brakes (for Hampton to take on the wagon train.) Thereafter, he purchased a fancy customized harness set and two Belgian-bred Tennessee Mules (Belgian mare/ Tennessee mammoth Jack) known for their size, named Emma and Mary.

On Jan. 4, 1976, Hampton began his journey from Houston to Pennsylvania. As the wagon train progressed across each state border, their state wagon set out. Along the way independent wagons, buggies and riders horseback registered and joined the wagon train. In 1976 Bill Steward was 17 years old. With relatives in Wise County, but living in Oklahoma, a young Steward went with family to see the wagon train pass through Oklahoma City in mid February.

To read more pick up a copy of the August 2018 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.

Hazel Brown was from Antelope, Texas and was the teamstress for the official state of Texas wagon during the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. (Courtesy photo)
Bill Steward with his wife, Kelly Richey Steward. (Courtesy photo)