A Little Historical This and That
Bonham Daily Favorite, January 16, 1994
History is often considered to be made up of wars, catastrophic events, influential persons both evil and good, or other earth shattering occurrences. In actuality the fabric of history is woven of small events or minor influences which create the larger picture.
In compiling the history of a particular area all sorts of these seemingly inconsequential influences come to light. In essence most of them are too minor to detail at length in any compendium of a history. Fannin County's history is no exception. Many small bits make up our history as they are mixed with the larger view.
Todays' column deals with some of these bits and pieces. Some are documented; some are structured from folklore, but folklore, while sometimes an exaggeration of the truth, always contains at least a kernel of the truth in its telling.
* * *
A year after the creation of Fannin County in 1837, the Congress of Texas enlarged the area encompassed by this new county so that the all of the Red River Valley west of the original Fannin County line was contained within the new territory. The southern border of the county was moved some 75 to 85 miles from Red River and the western border was moved approximately 365 miles to the west and curved up into the Panhandle. This expansion was to later furnish the lands for all or part of twenty-six present day counties.
Within a couple of years of the expansion the territory just to the west of Bonham had become more populous as waves of settlers poured into the area. At the creation of the county the Congress had provided for only one court district. With the expansion and the increase in population, the one court was hard pressed to handle all the judicial business of the county. Four years after the organization of the county, Congress ordered the creation of a second court for Fannin County.
Everything west of a line extending from Choctaw Bayou to the southern boundary in present day Collin County was ordered to the new western court. The court was to sit in session at the cabin of early day settler Seymore Bradley. Bradley had claimed his homestead just to the west of present day Denison.
* * *
In 1843, Charles DeMorse, editor and publisher of The Northern Standard published in Clarksville toured the Red River Valley and reported on conditions to his readers. His comments on Fannin County are among the first to create for us an accurate picture of the early days in our history.
"We have seen no prettier townsite for a long time that the county seat of Fannin. It is situated in the corner of a fine prairie which is just at the edge of timber. . . Water of good guality may be procured in any desirable quantity anywhere by digging twenty to forty feet. . .In three or four years it will be quite a thriving little town. Fannin is a county of fine lands and has a voting population of 400 which will be much increased in the next two years by emigration. With navigation to a point within 15 miles of it will necessarily soon be a town of respectable size. There is no difficulty in bringing goods in or shipping cotton from Robert's Landing on red River 15 miles from Bonham. (Note: This landing was near present Telephone.)
* * *
Bring up the subject of cattle drives and most people will mention the Chisolm Trail from Texas to Kansas. But the Chisolm Trail was far from being the only means of transporting Texas cattle to the markets in the Mid-West and the East.
New York, ever hungry for good beef cattle had to settle for Illinois fattened cattle which had arrived at the Chicago market by several means. However, in 1854 the New York markets were to see the first longhorns brought directly from Texas by two young and enterprising cowmen.
In the spring of 1853 Tom Ponting and Washington Malone rode horseback into north Texas and over the course of the next several weeks were able to assemble a herd of about 700 head. Using a site in Fannin County the herd was put together and the drive crew hired.
In late summer the drive started from Fannin County aimed at a wintering site in Illinois. The exact point where the herd crossed Red River is unknown but the first record of them after their departure is recorded at Fort Gibson in east central Indian Territory near present Muskogee. One of the major north Texas crossings for the cattle drives was at Spanish Fort in northern Montague County. It seems improbable that Ponting and Malone would have traveled that far out of the way. Since the drive took place in late summer it is entirely possible that Red River was low enough to offer a shallow ford crossing at some point between Fannin County and Red River County.
They arrived in Illinois in the late autumn and wintered the herd there. Early the next summer 150 fat prime beeves were selected for delivery to New York. The small herd was driven to Muncie, Indiana and then shipped by rail to the market in New York.
At Allerton's yards in New York City, the beeves brought upwards of eighty dollars a head. The New York Tribune noted that it cost only $2.00 per head to get the cattle from Fannin County to the Illinois wintering site but it took seventeen dollars per head t get them to Indiana and by rail to New York.
, * * *
One of the more interesting figures in nineteenth century Fannin County was a man named Thomas R. Williams. Williams could be said to have been a true entrepreneur of the type that could be found in many a frontier village.
Arriving in Fannin County in 1841, Williams settled along the banks of Coffee Mill Creek where he constructed one of the first and most successful grist mills. After selling the mill in 1850 he then chose Bonham as the site for his next financial campaign.
Starting with capital from the mill sale he began to haul large quantities of general merchandise from Jefferson to his newly constructed storehouses in town. For several years he acted as wholesaler to many general stores throughout north Texas. Shortly after the Civil War he elected to go into the retail business for himself and built a large brick building in the middle of the west side of the square in Bonham. One of the most popular businesses in town, Williams stocked everything from plows to calomel and molasses to silk dresses. A disastrous fire in 1872 destroyed the business and Williams was never able to recover financially.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas