Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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November 4, 2012

House fire stirs memories of veterinarian’s impact on community

Coleman made mark


Corsicana — Starting out

When Coleman first moved to Corsicana he was living in the mayor’s guest house on the west side of the city, not the east side, which was where blacks were allowed to live legally. Three of his 12 children were born in that house.

In about 1910 or 1911, his family moved to the house at the intersection of Third Street and Eighth Avenue. The area was not considered part of the African American community since most of the houses around there were owned by whites or Hispanics.

Coleman’s wife, Mattie, ran the business side of the practice while raising their children and cooking and cleaning for 14 people. Standing only 4-foot, 11-inches tall, with long hair that brushed the floor, when she spoke people listened.

“That little lady was the one who was actually the backbone of the Coleman family,” Downey recalled, “not my grandfather.”

The business didn’t bring in a lot of cash, and payment records often showed “a bushel of corn,” or “bale of hay” in exchange for Coleman’s services. His reputation was solid, and it was Coleman who treated the animals from the circus who were hurt or sick when the shows came through town. He often traveled outside of town, as well, going as far north as Denton and as far south as Bremond in his horse-drawn wagon. Will Downey, his grandson, and Ruth Coleman, his youngest daughter, sometimes went with him on his rounds. He often left before sunrise returning after dark, if he returned in a single day at all.

Meanwhile, Mattie kept the family together. Photos of Mattie as a girl show a breathtaking young woman with pale skin and almond eyes. Her father was a full Towakoni native American, but she was considered white. She came to live with a wealthy white family in Corsicana, and traveled with them as one of their own children, taking trips to Europe and South America. Her friends were not pleased when Will Coleman began courting her, but at their wedding at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, all her bridesmaids were her white girlfriends.

Will Coleman was considered “the black vet,” but his customers were almost all white ranchers. He practiced throughout northeast and central Texas until his death in 1953. His death seems to have been a confluence of an infected horse bite and cancer. The pallbearers at his funeral were his clients, including Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse.

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