Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Tobacco, Divine, Rare, Potable Gold

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 3, 1993

British clergyman Robert Burton probably said it best in his 17th century treatise Anatomy of Melancholy, "tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, potable gold, a sovereign remedy to all diseases... but, as it is commonly abused by most men 'tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purveyor of goods, land, health, hellish, devilish, and damned tobacco the ruin and overthrow of body and souls.

Burton's sentiments might not have been too popular with the early settlers of Fannin County for surprisingly tobacco was one of the earliest staple crops in the area during those formative years. Evidently these early settlers found the soil to be hospitable to the crop and since North Carolina and Kentucky, both tobacco growing states, were two of the major feeder states into the area it is not surprising these yeomen would be familiar with the necessary skills for the cultivationm of the crop.

English physician Edward Smith in his 1848 travels through the Red River Valley remarked on the various crops under cultivation. He commented that although tobacco was not grown for a cash crop primarily it would sell for about one shilling a pound. The largest part of the crop was designed for home consumption.

Smith commented on the luxuriant growth of tobacco in the area but although the "Texan tobacco produces fine flavoured cigars and smoking tobacco the ignorance of the farmers as to the mode of of curing the leaf prevents them from converting it into manufactured tobacco."

"The black soil appears to be most suited to its growth, and might be most profitably employed in its production. It is well known to be a product which rapidly impoverishes the land, and in Texas this is obviated by sowing the seed on wood ashes in the wood, whence after a few weeks the plant is removed to cultivated land.” Smith's favorable findings on tobacco production must have been flawed to some degree. Although both the 1850 and 1860 agricultural censuses for Fannin County show several hundred acres of tobacco in production the popularity of the crop was in decline by the beginning of the Civil War. The 1870 census shows no cultivation of the crop.

In 1875 tobacco as an industry took hold in Bonham with the arrival of a young physician from Greenville, Kentucky. Dr. Richard E. Martin and his wife settled in Bonham for the doctor to establish a medical practice. He arrived in the community knowing only one person, a fellow Kentuckian, Judge W.A. Evans.

Dr. Martin's father E.W. Martin was a member of the firm of D.A. and E.W. Martin prominent merchants and tobacco manufacturers who did an extensive business in the eastern part of the United States and in England.

Martin had grown up in the tobacco business but after receiving a literary education he opted for studying a course of medicine rather than joining the family business. He graduated from the medical school at St. Louis University and attended special lectures in New York City.

Dr. Martin found, at first, that his professional calls were few. In partnership with a brother-in-law he rented a farm north of Bonham and made one crop of tobacco.

His medical practice took hold after he was successful in treating several illnesses among some of the prominent families in town. With continued success in his chosen field Martin abandoned plans for the establishment of a tobacco factory in the area.

However the plans remained viable for the next few years until the arrival of Harry Martin, his younger brother. Harry Martin had also come to Bonham to seek his fortune but he had not had the professional training enjoyed by his brother. Like his brother Harry too had been raised in the tobacco business owned by the family in Greenville, Kentucky.

Dr. Martin purchased some property behind his home on north Main Street and ordered the erection of a building to house the Martin Brothers Tobacco Company. The factory was located on the present day corner of West Ninth and Willow Streets

The plant was a two story wooden structure with rooms for curing, cutting, and a line for rolling cigars. Three brands of smoking tobacco were manufactured, INO, WENO, and UNO. Several sacks of the INO brand still exist. The Fannin County Museum has two full bags and several empty sacks. To date none of the WENO and UNO sacks are known to exist.

The company also produced a plug tobacco called KENTUCKY WHITE ROSE and several different types of cigars. The firm advertised frequently in area publications stressing that their tobacco products were made of "selected North Carolina and Virginia tobaccos."

Part of the labeling on the INO sacks lists the company as "Factory No. 1, 4th District of Texas. The manufacturers of the tobacco herein contained have complied with all the requirements of laiir. "

The company started production about 1884 and continued until Harry Martin's death in 1910. Dr. Martin died in 1913.