Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

We Lived So Lonely

Bonham Daily Favorite, May 1, 1994

If you have been following this column for the past few weeks undoubtedly you are aware that the trials and tribulations of the first settlers Fannin County would make for a far more exciting presentation than all the scenarios prepared for the movie and television screens. Populated by larger than life characters, the fact and fiction of nineteenth century America rarely paints as accurate a picture as those frontier writers who preserved the truest picture of the past.

In the annals of Texas, Fannin County certainly didn't corner the market on courageous and fearless persons. Nor were the persons who crossed the frontier landscape any more exceptional or outstanding than many others who were in the vanguard of the western tide. But Fannin County does have its share of remarkable personages. It is their contribution to the history of this area that in many ways make the county and its people what they are today.

Rarely do we find a written document or reflection that provide the clues as to why these people came to Fannin County.  Certainly for those earliest of settlers the lure was land, lots of fertile, productive land which could be had for the asking.

For others it was a chance to start life anew, to escape from untenable situations of their former lives.  For some, no doubt, a chance to escape the cliched "long arm of the law."

But there were also the dreamers, the curious. and the adventurers.  These were the people who had to know what was over the next hill or in the next valley.  More than anything else it was these people who made a difference and who left an indelible stamp on the history of Fannin County.  From time to time over the next several weeks we shall take a look at some of these memorable people.

The first sketch shall deal with not one person, but a whole family stretching over three generations.  The progenitor of this family was one of the early settlers in the area and like many of the founding families of Fannin County came across Red River after a long journey from Tennessee.

Samuel A. Erwin, a native of Virginia, had spent a number of years in Tennessee before beginning his trek to Texas.  No research has turned up much information on Erwin antecedents or the time frame in which he moved south.  Erwin was born in 1786.  He probably grew to manhood in Tennessee, possibly in Franklin County.  Family history recounts that when Sam Erwin took young Sallie Crisp as his wife in 1822, the ceremony was performed by Sam's long-time friends Davy Crockett who acted in his official capacity as Justice of the Peace in Franklin County.

The Erwins started their married life and began their family in that third decade of the nineteenth century in Tennessee.  At various times Samuel Erwin worked as a surveyor, seemingly had a knowledge of the law, and clerked in and owned several types of businesses.

The most intriguing part of the Erwin history comes from an undocumented family legend concerning the Sam Erwin and Davy Crockett.  The story recounts that in 1835 when Crockett first began to cast an eye toward Texas he began a campaign of persuasion for his long-time friends to accompany him on the adventure.  Erwin resisted all of Crockett's blandishments and decided to remain firmly rooted in Tennessee.  After his friend's death at the Alamo and as stories of the opportunities in the new Republic began to filter back, Sam Erwin began to rethink his earlier decision and after a time joined the westward movement in the fourth decade of the nineteenth century.

The family first journeyed to the Missouri frontier where they remained for a short time.  Evidently the resettlement did not work out to Erwin's satisfaction.  He began to investigate the stories pouring out of the new Republic.

In the autumn of 1837 the Erwin family found itself in the Red River Valley as a part of that flood of immigrants who poured across Red River.  Sam Erwin settled his family in that part of Red River County which was to later become Lamar County.  Two years later they again pulled up stakes and moved to Fannin County settling on Blue Prairie.

In 1892 Erwin's daughter Louisiana described their life, at the beginnings of Fannin County, to an old settlers reunion.  "It is fifty years ago today since my mother and father with their four children came to this place to live, then a wilderness, now a flourishing city, our nearest neighbors were Captain Yeary and family three miles away, and they had only a few months before been attacked by Indians in broad daylight.  It was not only the Indians we had to fear in those times but the many vicious people roaming the country and we lived so lonely.

My father first built a small log cabin in which we resided in the coming winter.  The next summer built a larger house, the plank for the flooring being sawed by hand with a whip saw.  The house is still standing.

The beautiful spring of clear, cold, sparkling water, when I first drank of it I thought it tasted the best water I had ever tasted and when on the journey to California I longed for a draught from the cool spring.

My mother was very much dissatisfied with this new home and begged father to take us back to the settlement.  I was delighted with the place and tried to encourage mother by telling her that there would be a town here someday.  She would reply, "Yes child, it may be so when we are dead and gone."

Sam Erwin finally acceded to this wife's persuasion and in 1842 moved the family.  This time a survey adjacent to the site of present day Honey Grove became home.

Erwin and B. S. Walcott entered into a business partnership and Erwin at his partner's behest surveyed, platted, and laid out the blocks and lots for the rapidly growing town of Honey Grove.  He also entered into the political life of the county.  Standing or election the first time in 1841 when he was elected Justice (present day County Commissioner).  It is unknown whether or not he chose not to run for re-election for the next term or the term after that for his name does not appear among the office holders of the county for those years.  Returned to office in 1844 he served two more terms as justice.

Sam Erwin died at his home in Honey Grove on July 13, 1854 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.