BCHC Citizen of Note: Eva DuVal (Cook) Duncan



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The Burnet County Historical Commission will honor seven individuals for their contributions to Burnet County, at a Citizens of Note reception Tuesday, July 2 at 11 a.m. at the Burnet County AgriLife Extension Office, 607 North Vandeveer, Burnet. The community is invited to this special event and welcome to read each of the seven biographies in The Highlander and at highlandernews.com.

Burnet County Historical Commission

Citizen of Note

Eva DuVal (Cook) Duncan

by Harris Husted, Special to the Bulletin

Eva DuVal (Cook) Duncan, or Mama Grande as she came to be known, was born in Burnet, Texas Dec. 11, 1884. She was the fourth child of James and Emily Cook. Eva could trace her lineage on her mother’s side back to Richard Sartwell (1608-1694), an English immigrant who arrived in Boston in 1635. Her great-great-grandfather on her father’s side was Valentine Cook (1729-1797) who was settled in Virginia by 1759.

Eva grew up in Burnet and graduated from Burnet High School in 1902. April 16, 1906 saw the marriage of Eva and Harris B. Duncan. Harris had moved to Burnet in 1903 to help manage the Duncan part of the ranch his father had bought in 1885. How and when they met is unknown. Eva’s father, James G. Cook, was a lawyer who had established his law practice in Burnet about 1875. Being two single people in a small town in that era would have certainly brought them together. Both Harris Duncan and James Cook were delegates to the Burnet County Democratic Convention in 1904.

Her wedding band was one of a kind. It is a gold band which opens in half with their names engraved inside. The service was performed in the old Methodist Church by Bishop Kinsolving of the Episcopal Church. The Bishop was an old friend of Mamie Bowie Duncan, Harris' mother. Eva was a very good Methodist. She spent many years as a Sunday school teacher, from 1915-1950. June, her daughter, always laughed and said the reason she was such a good Methodist was to make up for the fact she was married by an Episcopal Bishop in the Methodist Church. Eva’s parents, James G. Cook and Emily (Sartwell) and her grandparents, Simon Sartwell and Mary Ann (Perryman) Sartwell, were charter members of the Methodist Church in Burnet.

Eva, if anyone, was certainly destined to be a Methodist. She was a descendant of three early Methodist ministers. Valentine Cook, Jr. (1763-1823) was licensed to preach and received into the traveling ministry in Virginia in 1788, and traveled the circuits in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Valentine was ordained a Deacon in 1790, Elder in 1793, and presiding elder in 1796.

John Cook (1814-1885) was a local preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church South in the Texana area in circa 1845. In 1881 John was assigned to a church in Rockport, and then later in Llano.

James Gwin (1769-1841), Eva’s great-great-grandfather on her father’s side, entered the Methodist ministry in circa 1803 when the annual conference confirmed him as a missionary minister in Summer County Tennessee. One of his daughters told the story that James would fight Indians all week and then preach on Sundays. In 1807, he traveled to preach to the settlements in Illinois. He was the Chief Chaplain for Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans.

Eva and Harris had five children, the first a girl who died soon after she was born. Emily Gwin Duncan was born March 1907, and died March 9, 1907 (the family story says Eva had measles during her pregnancy; Harris Jr. (Hal) was born in 1909; Jimsey was born in 1911; June was born in 1916; and Donald was born in 1918. The family lived out at the D+ Ranch (about seven miles Southwest of Burnet).

An early story of Harris and Eva's ranch life occurred when the two were riding back to the ranch from town. Hal was about two years old and Jimsey was an infant. The horses ran away with the wagon and didn’t stop until they hit a tree. Eva sat on Hal and clutched Jimsey in one arm while she held on with the other. Harris went out and bought his first car the next day. In 1913, they bought the Cook home from Judge Cook, Eva’s father, in Burnet. After Harris died from a heart attack in 1937, she continued to live in the big house until about 1940, when she and her mother, (Judge Cook's wife, Emily, known as Nanny) moved out to the farm. This was the part of the ranch that Harris had bought in about 1910. Later, after Emily died, Eva moved back to the Cook house. In 1947, she sold the Cook house and built a house next to it for herself, and she lived there for the rest of her life.

Around 1946, Eva became known as “Mama Grande.” The name came from a long-time Mexican employee (Jesus) who babysat with Meg Duncan, a granddaughter. Before her parents knew it she understood as much Spanish as English. Meg had to be taught English the summer before the first grade.

Never one for a lot of travel, Eva did go to Connecticut in 1938, and at about age 75 she took her first plane ride with Cameron Duncan in his plane. They took off from a dirt strip out at the D+ Ranch in Burnet, and she loved it. In 1961, she took a commercial airliner to New Jersey to visit her daughter, June Trussell.

In the late 1940's she found a four- or five-year-old boy who was either an abused child or one who had been turned away by his family. His name was Jimmy, and he stayed with her until she was able to help find a family for him. He was adopted by a family named Allen in Dallas. He came back to Burnet in the late 1990's, saw cousin Caroline, and said he just could remember Mama Grande. He says he was very grateful to her.

She kept a diary for a few years, and some of the entries are as follows: in 1950, she mentions her son Donald, and how much he is like Harris. In 1958, she sees her grandson Jim and says how much like Hal (his father, killed in the War) he is. Hal was Eva’s oldest son. Jim was adopted by his stepfather, and raised in Tennessee. On a number of occasions he came back to Burnet to visit her.

She also mentions how much she loves her children's children and her great-grandchildren. In 1959, she fell and broke some ribs, but said it did not slow her down. Her grandson Donnie ate lunch with her many days while he was in school in Burnet in the late 1960’s.

In several entries, she mentions her son Hal, who may have been her favorite. Hal was killed in St. Mere Elise France 10 days after D-Day. After the war, Mama Grande had his body brought back to Burnet to the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Mama Grande made a long entry in her diary on the death of John F. Kennedy, and how she did not vote for him, but how good a father and husband he was.

Eva always wanted to keep up with the latest fashions, and she went to great lengths to this. She always wore a hat. During the decade of the 1950s, her special day each month was the day one of her children was going to drive her Austin to shop for a new hat and gloves at Scarbroughs. Too bad that store is now gone.

She was quite happy to stay in Burnet. In the early 1960's she met Wiley Green, an oil man. They saw a good deal of each other, but nothing came of it. On Christmas day of 1962, Wiley died, and she said in a diary entry she wished she could have seen more of him. I remember him, and he was a fine man, probably much like Harris, her late husband.

Mama Grande was very active until the end of her life. She always took handmade wreaths to the cemetery at Christmas for all the Duncan, Cook, and Sartwell graves. She died June 30, 1970, and is buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Burnet beside Harris and Hal.

In a copy of Mama Grande’s book of “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Billie, Chaplain to the Queen of Scotland, she made many notes all through the book, including “I pray for Harris, Jim & Hal...My three Grandsons, my Big Boys, who are out in the world” Several entries said she wanted “She still felt she had lots to do” written on her tombstone.

Eva DuVal (Cook) Duncan was a Burnet County pioneer who devoted her life to her family, her church, and her community. She is a role model to all of us who came after her; a true Citizen of Note.

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