Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
From Dr. Rowlett on Red River
Bonham Daily Favorite, April 23, 1995
One of the most frustrating things facing anyone who attempts to mine the history of a region is the lack of documentary evidence to either prove or disprove long cherished stories and "facts." This lack originates from several sources. Consider that many of our ancestors were simply illiterate and so no recorded evidence exists to mark their influence on an area.
Officials, elected and otherwise, have simply failed to provide the means of properly preserving such historical evidence. Time, insects, acts of God, neglect, willful and otherwise, have all contributed to the destruction of our historic past.
Probably one of the most obvious reasons for the lack of good records stems from one source, lack of paper or supplies on which to record this history. On the American frontier a shortage of paper becomes evident when one looks at the means chosen to record official and unofficial records. Fannin County certainly didn't escape this shortage. Look through our archival material sometimes. You'll marvel at the variety and choice of paper used to record the history of this county through its official records.
County officials certainly made efforts to secure the proper supplies, but with the difficulty of importing most needed supplies into the county, paper must not have been considered to be a priority item. Record books certainly do exist to record those legal and official events such as the filing of deeds, court minutes, official minutes and like documents, but look at such things as marriage licenses. These records are written on a wide variety of papers. The most frequently used, at least a year or two into the official functioning of this county, was a type of pale blue lined paper, much like a school boy's notebooks.
Some of this paper contains a heavy rag content and still remains supple and fairly well preserved to this day. Other papers are in a state of advanced deterioration and will not long exist into the next century.
Among the more mundane and exotic papers used are those found among documents such as charge accounts at area trading posts, agreements, such as loans or business transactions, wills, or bills of sale. This type of ephemera is most often found in the probate files of an individual's estate. Seemingly, when someone died on the Texas frontier every scrap of paper even remotely connect with that individual was gathered up and filed with the probate court.
Sometimes these documents stand a better chance of survival if they have been placed in the files of a larger government entity such as a state court or agency or among the papers of a noted individual. One such document which is most revealing about the origins of Fannin County was written more than 150 years ago and for many of those years has remained relatively undisturbed in the collected papers of Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar.
About 1839/40 Dr. Daniel Rowlett, the Father of Fannin County, wrote an extensive report to President Lamar about the situation along Red River in the area that we now call Fannin County. It is likely that Rowlett wrote this report while serving in the Texas House as Representative from Fannin County. These dates correspond with Lamar's term as President. On the original document the upper corner is torn obliterating the date.
Because of the wealth of information contained in this report/letter a reprinting and synopsis of the information it contains should be of general interest to anyone courious about the origins of our county. Most of the words which follow are Rowlett's. Only for brevity's sake will the material be edited or identified.
INFORMATION FROM DOCTR. ROWLETT ON THE RED RIVER: EARLY SETTLERS AND INDIANS DIFFICULTIES.
About the middle of February 1836 the Steam-Boat Rover, commanded by Benjamin Crooks, landed at several places along the Texian line between the white-oak shoals, and Jonesboro; having on board emigrants from the United States, many of whom settled themselves and now reside along the Red River, and about the first of March 36 landed at Jonesboro in Red River County when she discharged the families of John Stephens, Edward Stephens (from Lamar County, Alabama), Daniel Slack (from Missippi) Richard H. Lock (from Somerville, Tennessee and D. Rowlett (from Waidsboro Kentucky) all having left their homes in the fall of 35 for the young Republic, and having spent the whole winter on the WAY. About the same time Jabez Fitzgerald and Mark R. Roberts crossed the Red River at the Fort Lawson landing from Tennessee (note: Probably Fort Towson, Indian Territory). Which 7 families in a short time moved up Red River on the Texian side until about the first of April 36. D. Slack settled on the lower side near to Bois D Arc Creek, and the other 6 families passed up into what is now Fannin County, in which at that time was 2 men by the name of Westbrook, Johnston, 1 Jay (note: probably Ivy not Jay) and 1 Quillen, most of whom left imediately, and Thomas January (Journey) Charles Smith and 2 Dugan and 1 Russell moved into sd Territory. And about the 10th of May 36 there was an organization of all the men in sd bounds into a militia company - imediately after the organization of sd Company which was at the residence of D Rowlett consisting of five men passed up Red River for the purpose of holding talks with the Indians there residing along sd River and on the 12th of May 1836, discovered a fresh Indian trail passing to the North, which was imediately followed to the River where was found a party of Kikapoo, Indians, who upon examination informed us that the whites had whiped the Mexicans, that the horses of the Mexicans were all sick, and the Mexicans were leaving Texas, never to return.
For the record: there is some information about the individuals that Rowlett indicates were already in the area when he and his party arrived on the scene. One of the Westbrooks mentioned was probably Stephen Westbrook who later had a blacksmith shop in the little village that spring up around Fort Warren. The other by that name is unknown and no other mention of him is found in the records.
It is surmised that the Jay mentioned is probably an Ivy. Transcriptions of Rowlett's report usually misread this name but very close scrutiny of the original document, in spite of the faded and difficult handwriting, suggests the name Ivy as correct. This reference is possibly to brothers George and Jefferson Ivy. Both men appear in the earliest records of the county and there is some evidence that the men were of black or mixed ancestry.
January is certainly Nathaniel Thomas Journey famed Indian fighter and militia captain. Charles Quillen was soon to be accused of the murder of Carter Clift. The Dugan family story is well documented and the Russell is probably the John Russell who received the first land grant in Fannin County.