Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
In Other Words. . . .
Bonham Daily Favorite, September 25, 1994
Small acts, seemingly unimportant or trivial events, can provide a chronology in the historical development of a town, state, or nation. The earthshaking occurrences, the major decisions, the dominate persons are what are usually recorded, what is remembered, and what is used as example. But the minutiae is the mortar that holds the building blocks together. Today's column deals with some of this minutiae.
Sometime in the late autumn of 1837, a petition, probably carried by Dr. Daniel Rowlett, to the Texas Congress in session at Washington on the Brazos, was presented on the floor of the House.
The petition began, " We your petitioners being citizens of the Republic of Texas and residing within the following boundary, beginning on the bank of Red River at the mouth of Bois d'Arc Creek and running up said creek to the crossing thereof at the residence of Carter Clift . . . due south thirty miles . . . due west thirty miles, then north to Red River... hereby petition your honours to erect the district of country included in the foregoing boundary into a new county."
The petition was signed by 118 men, 80 of whom were already settled in or would settle within the boundaries of Fannin County.
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At a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Texas Senate on December 14, 1837, Joseph Rowe, Speaker of the House, and S.H. Everitt, President Pro Tern of the Senate, signed a recently enacted bill entitled: "An Act Creating the County of Fannin."
The act provided that the first court of the county was to meet at the residence of Jacob Black on the last Monday in January 1838. NOTE: Jacob Black's residence was on Red River just east of the present day bridge spanning the River at Sowell's Bluff.
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If the court met on the last Monday in January, 1838, no record exists. The first entry in the court records is headed "at Jacob Black's cabin, April 9, 1838." The first officers of the court were appointed by the Congress and at that April meeting the court was organized using job titles somewhat different than those of today.
John G. Jouett was recognized as Chief Justice of Fannin County as differentiated from today's County Judge. Justices of the County were James R. Oneal , Joseph Swagerty, Thomas Lindsey, Mabel Gilbert, Thomas G. Kennedy, and Robert B. Fowler, or as today, County Commissioners.
Gilbert, Kennedy, and Fowler failed to make an appearance and were fined for their absences. In fact, Fowler failed to show for any of the remaining meetings of the year and was dutifully fined each time. His name disappears from the official ranks in early 1839.
On the 26th of April 1838 Robert Fowler appeared before the Fannin County Board of Land Commissioners, applied for and received a certificate for First Class Land Grant #70 which entitled him to 1/3 League of land. His name also appears on the tax roll of 1838. And then Robert B. Fowler disappears from the annals of Fannin County. His fate is unknown.
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The District Court for Fannin County did not meet until more than two years after the creation of the county. Case records for Red River County indicate that criminal cases were tried under that jurisdiction in the beginning.
Meeting in session at the courthouse at Fort Warren on Novemnber 2, 1840, the court brought in the first murder indictment in the county. A Grand Jury was appointed from among the men who were in town for the court session seemingly with no summons process in evidence. The jury, whose names are unknown, returned an indictment against John W. Davis for the murder of William Wenlock on June 14, 1840.
A second jury composed of Stephen Westbrook ( who was soon after to be divorced by his wife in what appears to be the first divorce case in the county), Seth Parker, Joseph Spence, Jacob Ketchum, William Onstott, Curtis Moore, Thomas F. Smith, Joseph D. Rogers, George Damron, Samuel McFarland, Mabel Gilbert, and John Stephens, were impaneled, heard the evidence, testimonies, and arguments, retired to deliberate and found Davis guilty. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in the custody of Sheriff John P. Simpson.
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The records of the Fannin County Probate Court are interesting and these records indicate that this court was the first government body to sit in session. It met at Jacob Black's cabin on February 26, 1838. The uncertainty of life on the dangerous frontier probably was the necessity for seeing to the disposal of the estates of these pioneers of the county. The Chief Justice, John G. Jouett, also served as Judge of the Probate Court.
The first business transacted was the awarding of the letters of administration on the estate of William Hayman to Jacob Black . Black proved to the court that Hayman had no other legal representatives in the area and that he was the nearest of kin; the kinship was not stated. Black was later to apply to the Board of Land Commissioners for a First Class Land Grant in Hayman's name in the amount of 1/3 League of land stating that Hayman emigrated into the area in March of 1832 and resided here until his death in September of 1837.
The first will of record in the county was written on January 3, 1838 by David Strickland and proved in court on January 29, 1838. They didn't waste time in those days!
Strickland's willTreads, " David Strickland, his will and Testament. Four cows and calves and $40 worth of hogs to Anna Strickland. One horse, saddle and bridle, one rifle goes to Joseph Strickland and one bouey (sic) knife. Ten dollars to Elizabeth Strickland. William M. Williams owes me $140. One hundred is to go to Williamson and Boorman and $40 to clear the land out of the office what I have on the government and what is owing to me is to pay my debts and the balance to Nathaniel D. Pendergrass. Signed David Strickland X (his mark)." Joel C. Fuller and J.F. Spence, witnesses. NOTE: On April 12, 1838 John G. ,Jouett presented his claim to the Board of Land Commissioners for Strickland's 1st Class Land Grant of 1/3 League of Land, stating that Strickland had emigrated to Texas in 1825.