Zearlee Wesley

December 1, 1909 - October 31, 2003
Role: Cowhand Family
Maiden name: Robinson

Zearlee Robinson Wesley was one of ten children raised on the Power Ranch and on the Welder Vidauri Ranch down on the San Antonio River in Refugio County. Her grandfather, Charlie Robinson was brought into Texas as a slave when he was fifteen years old and her grandmother, Lizzie Gupman, was part Native American and a well regarded midwife in the Coastal Bend area. Zearlee had a typical, rural, South Texas childhood with some schooling and many hours spent in the fields chopping cotton alongside her father, William Robinson. Zearlee was a tomboy, she loved the outside work whether it was walking the mule around the hay baler or walking behind the planter or running the birds out of the cornfield. Hard work was just part of life. She recalls her father taking coal out of the wood heater and putting it in a tub filled with dirt and placing the tub in their room so they could stay warm while doing their school lessons. As an adult Zearlee worked as a domestic in the homes of white families where she experienced some loosening of the strict racial lines that were in force in so many parts of the country. She had an occasion to defy the segregated policies of the time on a bus trip with a group of African American women when she just marched through a roadside stop to use the white’s only bathroom, a gutsy move in a time of strict segregation.

Introduction to Zearlee Wesley

Louise S. O'Connor
Voice of Zearlee Wesley
Zearlee Wesley - I don't know what the name of the little town was but three ladies, black ladies was going to a meeting in San Angelo. And we were on the bus and they told us when we got on this bus, they said…I can't remember the little name of the little town but it was just a small town. When you get to that town don't get off of the bus, in that town because they don't allow blacks in there. So we went on and we got to this little town where we weren't supposed to get off and I said to two ladies, I said "I'm going in the bathroom here" and they said "no you are not supposed to get off the bus here" I say said "I'm getting off this bus". They might kill you well they can't eat me, I put it to the ladies I was with. I guess I was a little bit… That's how I felt, so anyway I went up to the front of the bus open the door and the other ladies and men was getting off and going in, it was a little café, I jumped off the bus just like those others did. When I got off, these other two ladies, black ladies with me, they didn't get off. I went on in the café. And when I did, there were a lot of white sitting around the table, you know and when I walked in the door every one of them turned around like that from their table and looking back at me. And I just passed by them like ? and went onto the counter and the woman at the counter said to me "what can I do for you". I says "I want to go to the bathroom", she says "well, just go right around back there". I went on in the bathroom and I come on out. When I come on out I went back up on the bus and the bus driver just looked at me, he didn't say nothin'. And these two women said "What did you do?" and I say "I went to the bathroom cause if they wouldn't let me went to the bathroom I was goin' to go right on the floor.


"We grew up down on that San’tone River not too far from the Lewises. We still have a place down there we call “the camphouse” where our grandmother and grandfather lived and so did our mother and father.
It has a wood stove and wood heater, and we still use them. Whenever my brothers are down there, I go and stay two or three nights. I love it. I just cook and do what we used to do and be what we used to be. I love to go back there."

Tales From the San'tone River Bottom: A Cultural History: Origins (Vol. 1)