Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Four Forts on the Fannin Frontier

Bonham Daily Favorite, February 13, 1994

When the Texas Congress finally got around to establishing a frontier militia with the creation of the Fannin Guards the legislative act seemed almost action after the fact. Certainly the settlers of the Red River Valley had had to deal with Indian depredations almost from the time that the first wagon trains arrived in the area.

Of necessity was the erection of some sort of fortification to be used by these settlers in the event of Indian raids. A cursory look at the locations of frontier forts in Texas would seem to suggest that these structures were preponderantly strung out along the Red River. Such is not the case for protective forts of varying design were scattered throughout the landscape of Texas from the Spanish influenced adobe structures to the more primitive log structures influenced by similar fortifications of the American Colonial period.

Fannin County in those tumultuous days was crossed by four fortifications built to protect the people in the particular areas most generally populated. These four defensive structures ran in a diagonal across the present day county area from Red River to Sulphur River. And all four proved their value because each experienced an attack or incident from warring Indians.

The first of these forts was located on Red River near the present day border between Fannin and Grayson Counties. Sometime in the early summer of 1835 a young entrepreneur from Massachusetts aided by a band of traders, Indian guides, and adventurers selected a spot about one mile south of Choctaw Bayou. There, they began the construction of a trading post within the confines of a a structure composed of two blockhouses surrounded by a stockade.

Fort Warren, as it was soon to be called, was constructed for the sole purpose of establishing trade with the area Indians. The defensive structures were solely for the purpose of providing protection for those engaged in the trade. At the time of the construction wagon trains of settlers had not yet arrived in the area.

The trading post was a failure. Abel Warren, the founder, had miscalculated the potential for trade since most of the Indians he planned to deal with were actually located much further upstream. Warren abandoned the post in the Spring of 1836 and moved to a new location on the banks of Cash Creek in southern Indian Territory.

About the time Warren left the first settlers were arriving in the area. The site around the abandoned trading post proved to be attractive to these settlers since a protective structure was already in place. Soon a small settlement sprang up around the fort and a town was platted with town lots being sold to a number of people who took up residency along with an assortment of tradespeople and their establishments.

One of these first settlers at Warren was also the only one to die at the hands of Indians in what was the sole raid launched against Fort Warren. After the infamous massacre at the Dugan homestead, Joseph Sowell, Captain of a Fannin County Militia company took a party of twenty or so men across Red River where they attacked an Indian camp, killing a dozen or so Indians. Sowell's purpose in conducting the raid was to give warning to other Indian bands that their presence in the area was unwelcome and any further attacks would be met with force.

A week or two after Sowell's foray, the District Court for Fannin County was scheduled to meet at the courthouse in Warren (then county seat of the county) on the first Monday in October, 1841. A number of people who had business with the court as well as the usual complement of interested observers began arriving in the village on Saturday.

Many of these men were quartered at Sowell's tavern in the settlement and their horses stabled at the tavern's lot for the evening. Beginning with the evening meal the time was pleasantly passed by the guests in an night of drinking and story telling.

The revelry was interrupted by the sounds of the horses neighing and tramping in the corral. Through the door to the tavern several Indians were seen attempting to drive the horses from their pen. The men, most without guns or weapons, rushed from the building. Sowell and his partner J.S. Scott, armed with a pistol and shotgun ran towards the breech in the corral fence where Sowell discharged his pistol at the thieves.

The raiders immediately fired a volley of arrows at Sowell and one found its mark striking him in the stomach and passing clear through the back. As he fell, Sowell shouted to Scott to fire the shotgun and then fell dead. Scott managed to get off one shot killing a raider who fell at Sowell's feet.

The Indians fled from the scene but later reorganized a few miles to the southeast of Warren on the Fort Inglish - Warren road. There they piled all manner of brush and obstacles across the road to stop anyone who might be traveling between the two villages. They secreted themselves and lay in ambush through the night but no one else fell victim to their treachery.

In the month of March, 1837, Bailey Inglish led a wagon train of about ten families to a spot some twenty miles south of Red River near the confluence of Bois d'Arc and Powder Creeks. The tall lush grass, rich land, and abundant timber seemed to Inglish and his party the ideal spot on which to claim their homesteads.

The Inglish family settled near a wooded area about one half a mile west of Bois d'Arc Creek. There they felled trees and constructed a compund of living quarters and outbuildings. The other families spread out to the west and south and initially probably not more than a mile or so from each other. (Note: When Texas began its system of land grants in 1838, many of these early settlers claimed large tracts of land and moved at greater distances from their neighbors.)

By late summer of 1837, stories of Indian attacks and potential threats to the settlers began to reach the area. Responding to the changing situation, Bailey Inglish called his near neighbors to a meeting at his compound.

The settlers spent much time in discussion of the threats to them and their families. At Inglish's urging, plans were formulated to construct a blockhouse and stockade for the protection of these families The next was the selection of the optimum site for the fort.