Rachel (also spelled Rachael) Ann Northington McKenzie Hudgins, early Texas settler, Runaway Scrape participant, cattlewoman, and matriarch of the Hudgins ranching family, was born on February 18, 1821, in Christian County, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Andrew J. and Pricilla (Dawson) Northington. Following her mother’s death in 1829, her father decided to move his family to Texas. On January 7, 1831, he arrived in Stephen F. Austin’s colony and received a land grant certificate on July 18, 1831. During this trip, Rachel and younger brother, Mentor Northington (see EGYPT, TX), stayed in Kentucky. Upon her father’s return, she moved with her family to northeast Fort Bend County sometime between the summer of 1832 and 1834.
During the Texas Revolution, Rachel and her family fled their home on the upper San Bernard River in the Runaway Scrape. Her father, a volunteer in the Texian Army, was put in charge of supervising the area’s civilian evacuation, made up mostly of women and children, who caravanned east ahead of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s advancing forces. During the retreat, fifteen-year-old Rachel was charged with caring for the infant son of James Lincoln McKenzie, a neighbor of the family who had recently lost his wife, and fourteen-year-old Mentor drove a supply wagon. The caravan passed close enough to the battle of San Jacinto as the Texas forces engaged the Mexican army that they reportedly heard shouts of “remember the Alamo” and the tumult of battle. Rachel wrote in a letter that they “could hear the cannon fire.” Rachel Northington later married McKenzie on January 17, 1839, in Fort Bend County, Texas. (James McKenzie’s son, whom Rachel had cared for during the Runaway Scrape, had died during the summer of 1836.) At the time of their marriage, McKenzie owned thousands of acres and two enslaved people. The couple had two daughters, Priscilla and Frances, and Rachel was pregnant with their son, James Mentor McKenzie, when her husband died unexpectedly on October 4, 1845. The death of her husband left her owner of 3,321.3 acres and seventy-four head of cattle. County tax records for 1846 list Rachel with a hundred head of cattle and owner of five enslaved people.
On March 10, 1847, Rachel Northington McKenzie married Joel Hudgins in Wharton County. Hudgins, a widower and carpenter from North Carolina, came to Texas by way of Alabama in 1839 and began raising livestock. During the next fifteen years, Rachel and her husband raised a family and expanded their land, enslaved, and cattle holdings (see SLAVERY). According to descendant Edgar Hudgins, in October 1850 the couple purchased land from Rachel’s father. There, on the east side of the West Bernard River, near what is today Hungerford, Joel built a large house. The structure was made of heart cypress and constructed entirely without nails, had fourteen rooms (eight of them bedrooms), wide front porches on both floors, rain gutters, and a cistern. The 1850 census recorded Joel and Rachel Hudgins with a sizeable amount of real estate valued at $12,662 and sixteen enslaved persons. In 1855 Rachel Hudgins recorded her own cattle brand with Wharton County. Joel Hudgins recorded his own in 1847. The census in 1860 showed Joel, listed as a planter, and Rachel’s real estate as valued at $50,000, and they owned twenty-two enslaved persons; however, the family was best known for raising livestock. The couple had expanded their cattle herd from 350 head in 1850 to 1,200 head in 1860.
Rachel and Joel began life together with four children from previous marriages, and between 1847 and 1860 they had nine more, including three sets of twin boys. They also tragically lost a number of them, two to spinal meningitis in the space of two days, one to an unknown illness, and two stillbirths. Not long after Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, Rachel’s daughter, Frances McKenzie died. During the Civil War most of the family remained in Wharton County; however, her son, James M. McKenzie, died of yellow fever in 1864 while serving in the Confederate Army in Galveston. Two years later, her oldest child, Priscilla (McKenzie) Taylor, died in childbirth and left three sons without a mother. Upon hearing of her death, Rachel drove her buggy fifty-five miles to her daughter’s home in Chappell Hill in freezing weather. The next day, she returned to Wharton County with her grandsons and brought back her daughter’s body to be buried in the family cemetery. By 1866 the four Hudgins brothers, William Andrew, Josiah Dawson, Clay Green, and Alexander Richey, and Joel’s daughter, Mary Ann (Hudgins) Richey, who lived in Mississippi, were the couple’s only surviving children. By 1870 the family had moved to Chappell Hill in Washington County, Texas, while the couple’s oldest son stayed at the homestead. There Joel Hudgins died on June 11, 1873.
Against her late husband’s wishes, Rachel moved her family back the homestead in Wharton County and resumed cattle ranching. The Hudgins were among a cohort of early Texas Coastal Bend ranchers that bred Brahman cattle with slick-haired Louisiana his cattle possibly as early as 1875. By the end of 1875 Rachel and all four of her sons had their own brands registered in the county. Later the Hudgins family purchased several head of Brahman cattle from the estate of A. H. “Shanghai” Pierce, who imported them in 1878. Rachel continued to purchase land, including more than a thousand acres in Brazoria County in the 1880s. On June 10, 1882, nine years after her husband’s death, Rachel and her sons purchased 10,827 acres of land and established what became the J. D. Hudgins Ranch. When Wharton County revalued property for tax purposes on July 7, 1885, Rachel’s own land, horses, and cattle were valued at $11,200, almost as much as her four sons’ property combined ($12,622). In 1886, when the county again revalued property, her cattle alone were valued at $7,000.
As a devout Methodist, Rachel attended church at Hungerford in a building that she helped finance. She also attended camp meetings when they were held on the West Bernard River. Unfortunately, three of Rachel’s sons, William, Josiah, and Green, while industrious, eventually had problems with alcohol which may have kept Rachel involved in the family’s ranching and real estate transactions until late in her life. Rachel was known to smoke a corncob pipe, with home-grown and dried tobacco, in the evenings during cool weather.
On January 3, 1891, Rachel Hudgins gave a city lot to the county judge for space to erect a building for a school for white children in Hungerford. Having outlived all but two of her children, in 1897 and 1898 she divided her property, as much as 9,753 acres, and cattle among her living heirs. On April 25, 1903, Rachel Hudgins died at the age of eighty-two in the home her late husband built fifty-three years earlier. She was buried in the Hudgins family cemetery, just a short distance west of the family home. For over a century Rachel’s descendants continued to raise Brahman cattle on the same land her and her four sons purchased in the Hungerford area in 1882. The Forgason Ranch, J.D. Hudgins Ranch, the Koonce-Cullers Ranch, the Real McCoy Farm, and the Mangum Ranch, all named Texas Land Heritage Honorees in 1983, credited her as their founder, and as of 2020, her descendants owned the J.D. Hudgins Ranch, the V8 Ranch, B. R. Cutrer Inc., and the Heritage Cattle Company.