Fannin Guards to Protect the Frontier

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 30, 1994


It must have taken a great deal of personal courage or perhaps a measure of foolhardiness for those first settlers of Fannin County to settle along the Texas frontier in the fledgling days of the new republic. Despite the enticement of rich, fertile land, clean waterways, and plentiful game, there must have always been the real threat of attack from those who viewed the white man's arrival with alarm.

In general, historians have believed that there is little real evidence to support the existence of an Indian presence in this part of the Red River valley except for the occasional hunting parties who seasonally came into the area in search of the small herds of buffalo which roamed the area. The most prominent of the Indian settlements were those of the Caddo some distance to the east. Choctaws were scattered in the area north of the river as a result of the U.S. Government resettlement in the 1820's.

Delawares were also in the area to some degree in the 1830's and early 1840's. The one exception to the nomadic character seems to have been at an established village of Shawnees somewhere in Fannin County near Red River. The exact location of this village is unknown although some evidence places it along the border of Fannin and Grayson Counties. The only record is found in documents from an 1838 attempt by President Sam Houston to establish treaties with various Texas tribes.

The more warlike tribes such as the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches ranged further to the west and southwest. And there is indication that these tribes rarely ventured into the valley as it was being settled.


But the danger was there. Between the years of 1836 and 1844 it was estimated that over 200 settlers of Fannin County were massacred in Indian raids. Remember however, that Fannin County in those years covered an area approximately 85 by 365 miles although most of the settlements were in the area now bounded by the present day county limits, plus Grayson and Cooke counties.

As the threat of Indian depredations grew, it became evident that some form of frontier militia had to be initiated. From the earliest days the able bodied men of the area organized their own companies until finally in 1840 the Texas Congress enacted a measure of relief for the settlers.

In the closing days of the Fourth Congress, Dr. Daniel Rowlett, representative from Fannin County shepherded a bill through the house and senate to provide legal sanction and funding for a militia company along the Red River valley. On January 7, 1840 an act passed both houses of the Congress to establish the "Fannin Guards," a company of sixty mounted gunmen.

In actuality all this bill did was to provide legal sanction to these militia companies. The defensive measures were already in place about two years before the law. One of the first of these companies to be identified was under the command of Robert Sloan, brother-in-law of Bailey Inglish.

A muster roll for the company which was styled the "Fannin County Rangers" exists at the Texas State Archives. The term of enlistment seems to have been about four months with the company being organized during the months of September and October, 1838. Sloan is identified as the Commander and Mark R. Roberts his First Lieutenant.


The three non-commissioned officers were 1st Sgt. A.H. Fitzgerald, 2nd Sgt. L.W. Fitzgerald, and 3rd Sgt. John Davis. Twentysix men were listed as privates. The date of discharge for this company was January 14, 1839.

Simultaneously another company was active in the area and identified on their muster roll as N.T. Journey's Volunteer Militia. This company enlisted for a term from September 14, 1838 to March 13, 1839. Nathaniel Thomas Journey was the 1st Lieutenant Commander assisted by 2nd Lt. Richard Sowell and Bushnell Garner, 1st Sgt. Thirtysix privates made up the rest of the complement.

Three weeks after their discharge from the militia, Solomon Chambliss and Isaac Camp along with friend David Alberty were ambushed on the road from Fort Warren to Holland Coffee's trading post at Preston. Garner and Camp were shot from their horses and died instantly. Alberty managed to temporarily escape,on foot, the attacking Indians but was finally overtaken, stabbed to death and scalped. His companions were also scalped.

The most extensive information about these frontier militiamen can be found in four muster rolls at the Texas Archives. All four rolls are for Joseph Sowell's "Minute Men." All of the rolls indicate only short terms of service and seemingly are for primarily for pay purposes. The rolls record the number of days service for each man and one roll indicates the pay due each one.

Since the period covered by these records is from July to September 1841, it might be assumed that the actual term of service was about three months and these records are merely the pay records. However, each of the rolls shows differences in the number and names of the members of the company.

Joseph Sowell is enrolled as Captain. L.B. Hill appears on two rolls as 1st Lt., William Bailey appears twice as 2nd Lt., William C. Twitty is 1st Sgt. on two of the rosters. The number of privates varies from 12 to 20.

The roster for the period from August 1 to August 31, 1839 also indicates the amount paid for each man's service. Sowell received $50, John Sharpless, 1st Sgt. received $40, and each of the privates were paid $25.

Two muster roll also exist for a company headed by Mark R. Roberts. Initially Roberts had served as 1st Lt. in Robert Sloan's company.

The first of Robert's rolls shows a small complement of men for a three month enlistment January 14 to April 13, 1839. Roberts is the only officer for which he received $120. Eleven privates received $75 for the three month period.

By September Roberts' company had grown to 47 men who enlisted for a six month term ending on March 15, 1840. In addition to Roberts other officers were 1st lt. Daniel R. Jackson and 2nd Lt. William C. Wiley. Five non-commissioned officers were 1st Sgt. James Martin, 2nd Sgt. Gibson May, 3rd Sgt. A.M. McKinney, 1st Corporal S, U. Santiago, and 2nd Cpl. Charles C. Quillen.

Roberts received $262.50, Jackson, $210, Wiley, $175, Martin $140, and May $87.50. No amount is indicated for the remaining N.C.O.'s or the privates.

Fannin County Museum of History

   

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