But, this story isn't about a little girl who lived on the edge of the wilderness with her grandmother, her little brother, her horse and a pet wolf. It's about an entirely true Mable, who was a "he" rather than a "she" but who, none the less, preferred the wilderness.
Mabel Gilbert was the son of William and Dicey Gilbert and was born over In Dickson County, Tennessee in 1797. By the time he married Charity Morris, he was a steamboat captain on the Mississippi and was often away from home for long periods of time. Despite this, he and Charity had eleven children before Mable decided to move to Texas. Mable came on ahead, in 1837, and his family joined him in Fannin County, along the Red River, the next year. In 1839, he helped build the first road in the area and, the next year helped to build Bird's Fort in what would become Tarrant County. The family followed him in 1841 and they thought that they would settle there for awhile.
But, Mable had met a fellow named John Neely Bryan, and, together, they planned a settlement further down the Trinity River that Bryan said he would name "for my old friend Dallas." So, in the spring of 1842, Mable Gilbert, his wife Charity, and the kids all piled into two canoes made of hollowed cottonwood logs and floated downstream for about fifty miles. This made Charity the first white woman to settle in the Dallas area and they finally stopped wandering. Their house was located at the foot of today's Main Street but Mable was still not satisfied.
By 1845, Mable was back in Fannin County where he built a horse-powered grist mill and, in 1851, replaced it with a steam-powered operation.
The frontier was not kind to women and Charity died. With eleven children of assorted ages, Mable looked around for some help and married a widow, Rachel Freeman, in 1855. They proceeded to add another eight children to the family and they all moved to a bluff overlooking the Red River on Gilbert Creek in today's Wichita County. There they settled down for awhile and the cabin became the frontier equivalent of an English feudal castle. There was a moat to protect the homestead from wandering buffalo and there were quarters for the few slaves that Mable had acquired to help him with his work. Indians drove them out to Montague County in 1857, but they returned in 1860. Then Indians again drove them out in 1863 during the retreat of the frontier caused by the Civil War.
Mabel Gilbert had worked too hard and too long to give up just because the Indians didn't want him around. He had lost count of how many times he had moved, and taken his family along, but he wasn't about to stop. When the Civil War was over, Mable and his family returned for the third time to their home in Wichita County and settled down. There, in their home above the Red River, Mable Gilbert, who never seemed to resent the name at all, died of pneumonia in 1870, eight months before the birth of his nineteenth child. He became the first male of Anglo-American extraction to be buried in the county, and his adventures were over.