With But Little Education

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 10, 1993

The disadvantages of schools in the early settling up of Texas caused many children to grow up to manhood and womanhood with but little education.  William Banta aptly described the status of education in Texas when he was a young boy growing up on Bullard's Creek in eastern Fannin County.

As with many frontier families education was not the number one priority in a land where Indians were lying in wait for the unwary settler, bears, cougars, and other dangerous wild life were constant threats, or just scratching out a meager existence were more to the front of the frontier conscious. Too, the enormous migration from east to west in the beginning decades of the nineteenth century seemed to have lessened the importance of education in the minds of most immigrants. Certainly parents had some desire to see their children, especially the boys, receive the minimum education necessary for survival on the frontier.

As settlers arrived in a newly opened area, the most pressing need was shelter for the family, followed by steps to insure an adequate food supply, and the prompt acquisition of the land that had been the drawing card in the first place. When these needs had been satisfied then schools and churches were to be dealt with in due fashion.

But even as school houses were built in the wilderness and the services of a school master or mistress obtained, children were often called on to help at home or on the land so that consistency in attendance was rare. Perhaps one of the most fearsome of deterrents was that remembered by Banta, "I well remember when going to school our fathers or older brothers would escort us to the school house with gun on shoulder and then return home; and in the evening we were not permitted to leave the school house until our fathers or brothers arrived to guard us home, often a distance of three miles, and most of the time on foot."  

As more settlers arrived in a particular section of Fannin County, these neighbors, once the needs for survival were met, often organized the neighborhood into a school district, the size of which was determined by the number of school age children. From the meager information available. today it appears that probably the first school in Fannin County was located at Fort Warren.

The fort and the little village that sprung up around it provided a nucleus for and the most likely location for a school. In those early days most of the settlement was along Red River, the first retail establishments were located at the fort, and the seat of government for the county was also in evidence there. Logically the next step was to provide a means of education for the children of the area.

The threat of Indian raids had also caused the families in the area to take refuge at the fort and many of these families made the move on a long term basis. Many built cabins in the area surrounding the fort while others preferred to take less permanent measures opting instead to live in tents. During the day the older men of these families would return to their fields to tend the crops or other chores feeling secure that the women and children were safe near or within the confines of the fort.

Because of the unsettled state of the area many of the families found themselves away from their homesteads for longer and longer periods of time so these same families decided to have a school at the fort.

Joseph Sowell, tavernkeeper, donated the use of a log structure that had been used as a stable. Families members pitched in and cleaned out the structure. Splits logs were brought in for benches, a crude desk constructed for the teacher and one of the settlers who was considered to be the richest (in terms of chairs) donated a seat for the school master.

The services of a man named Trimble were obtained and the Fort Warren school was ready for operation. Among Trimble's first duties was a census of the school age children of the area. Also an inventory of all the books in area homes was conducted to determine what was available in terms of material suitable for use by the students.

Many years later a daughter of pioneer George Dugan recalled some of the books used in the school, The New Testament (Dugan stated that the Old Testament was considered to be too historical for new beginners), Life of Nelson, A Methodist Preacher, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Fox's Book of Martyrs, some old spellers, and Murray's grammar book and some arithmetics.

The school at Warren flourished under the tutelege of Mr. Trimble. He was succeeded by Roswell W. Lee who was later to be Fannin County's county clerk for many years.

Nothing is known of Trimble's origins or educational background. Roswell Lee however, was probably one of the better educated settlers of Fannin County.

Lee was a native of Connecticut and a graduate of West Point. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army upon his graduation from the academy but some time later resigned his commission because of some personal difficulties. He emigrated to Fannin County in 1840 and settled at Fort Warren where he married Susannah Moody.

Lee was elected county clerk in 1842 when the county seat was still at Fort Warren. At the removal of the government to Bois d'Arc in 1843 the Lee family moved to the little village surrounding Fort Inglish. He remained county clerk until 1852 when he entered private law practice.

At the Fort Warren school the third teacher was a Mr. Graham, the last of known teachers at the school. The school continued at Warren well into the nineteenth century, but these first teacher's were certainly the pioneer educators of the area.

Because of Miss Dugan's writings, in 1883, of her childhood in Fannin County, we have some valuable information on the beginnings of the educational system in the area, particularly at Fort Warren. Unfortunately similar information about other area schools was never recorded or has yet to be discovered.

A number of persons have written that Wilkinson *Wilks" Fletcher established the first school in Bonham after the town was named county seat. The information comes from some published genealogical material on the Melugin family and may have originated in an article written for The Trenton Tribune by Dr. W.C. Holmes.

However the information is somewhat at odds when an examination of the available evidence is made. First, it seems unlikely that Bonham would not have had a school before it was designated as the county seat. Deed records for the county show that Fletcher did not purchase any property until 1848, indicating an approximate date of his arrival in the area. Admittedly the 1850 census shows his youngest daughter to have been the only child born in Texas and her stated age of 6 indicates arrival about 1844.

At the February 1848 term of the commissioners court an order was issued to "sell the old school house on lot #1, block #10 in Bonham." This location would be just off the southeast corner of the square.

The 1850 census also shows Fletcher's residence some 12 to 15 miles northwest of Bonham, a rather lengthy ride to make twice a day. Until other evidence is available the authenticity of the claim for Fletcher's school remains somewhat in doubt.

Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas