Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

The Rich Area between the Red and Rio Grande Rivers

Bonham Daily Favorite, June 14, 1992

In the waning years of the eighteenth century as the American society began to look to a westward expansion of its territory, many persons began to express an interest in the rich area between the Red and Rio Grande Rivers. Spain, who now controlled the area, looked with suspicion on anyone showing an interest in settIing in the region, especially those deemed to be "foreigners." However, the Spanish government was more than willing to allow settlement by those heads of Spanish families or other Spaniards who would make improvements in the region, notably with the construction of sawmills in the timbered regions.

Into the nineteenth century the Spanish goverment showed a willingness to allow controlled settlement through the awarding of land grants to foreign contractors called Empresarios. Those so favored were expected to persuade families and other individuals to emigrate after first swearing allegiance to the Spanish government and agreeing to follow certain standards expected of the emigres. The first of these grants was awarded to Moses Austin in 1821.

After the Mexican Revolution and its independence from Spain in 1824, the new Mexican government reaffirmed the contract with Austin and continued the same basic policy with other foreign agents.

Two of these Empresario contracts impinged on the area that was the future Fannin County. In 1827, John Cameron, a Scot, was awarded a contract to introduce 100 families into the north Texas area. Old maps of the grant show his contract to extend to its eastern limits in the general area between Big Mineral Creek and Bois d'Arc Creek. However, Cameron failed to fulfill his contract since no Mexican or Republic of Texas records show any families settled in the area. Cameron did receive two extensions to the contract.

The seond of these grants was awarded to General Arthur G. Wavell, a native Britisher. Wavell, a noted writer and military man had served for a time in the Spanish army and came to Mexico as a military advisor in 1822.

WavelI's grant was awarded in 1826. He proposed to establish settlers into "WavelI's Red River Colony."  Most of the proposed colony embraced the same area claimed by Miller County, Arkansas, and later Red River and Fannin Counties.

Shortly after receiving the contract, Wavell turned over all duties connected with the colonization to Benjamin Rush Milam. Milam received power of attorney to register entrants on the land, survey the grants, and award titles. Although the colony did develop, mainly in that area now encompassed by Red River County, most of the terms of the contract were never completed because of land disputes, the stringent immigration policies of the Mexican government in the 1830's, and the absence of its empresario. The described boundaries of Wavell's Colony are somewhat vague but they appear to either abut Cameron's Grant  at about the present day western boundary of Fannin County or even to slightly overlap.

Two later contracts issued by the Republic of Texas were awarded to W.S. Peters in 1841 and Charles Fenton Mercer in 1843. In the early 1840's the young republic was in serious financial difficulties and officials began to make a concerted effort to attract more settlers to help provide an infusion of capital into the treasury.

Although neither of these colonies were located in present day Fannin County, both contained sizable portions of land in the areas of Hunt, Collin, Dallas, Grayson, and Denton Counties that were then part of the original Fannin County. The office for the Mercer Colony was established in Bonham with Palmer J. Pillans as agent and Dr. Daniel Rowlett, founder of Fannin County, as the official surveyor.

Nearly all the colonization efforts were unsuccessful partly because of fraud and mismanagement. The most attractive proposals for potential immigrants were the headright programs established in the Texas Constitution of 1836 and subsequent laws put into effect in 1838.