The Creation of a County
by Bernard Mayfield
Cherokee County is situated in the central portion of East Texas, bounded on the west by the Neches River and for 30 miles on the east by the Angelina River.
Measuring 50 miles north and south and 30 miles east and west across the middle, the county contains 1,049 square miles of broken terrain. In some sections the hills approach the dignity of small mountains with an elevation of more than 750 feet. One chain, about eight miles east of the Neches River, extends almost the length of the county. East of Med Creek, a sizable stream flowing across the northeast corner of the county and emptying into the Angelina River, the land is also quite hilly. Contrarily, the river bottomland in the southern part of the county descends to an elevation of 250 feet.
The climate is usually humid and warm, and the temperature averages about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Average annual rainfall is 45 inches, occurring mainly in late winter and early spring.
Under the liberal Mexican Colonization law of 1825, the region began to attract white settlers a decade or more before the Cherokee Indians were driven out in 1839. The first land grant of four leagues was patented in 1828 by Helena Kimble Dill, a widow of Capt. James Dill. In 1830, Helena deeded the southeast league to her daughter, Delilah, wife of Joseph Durst; the northeast league went to another daughter, Mary Sevier, and eventually to Gen. Kelsey H. Douglass, while the southwest league became the Forest Hill Plantation home of another daughter, Helena and Capt. Henry Berryman.
Another grant of six and one-quarter leagues, part of a nine-league grant, was made to the trading firm of William Barr and Samuel Davenport and was patented by John Durst in 1832. Soon thereafter, 1,000 acres of the grant located along the San Antonio Road about three miles west of the Angelina River were purchased by Peter Ellis Bean, a colorful figure in Texas and Mexican history, who came to Texas with Phillip Nolan’s Expedition in 1801.
In June, 1835, Roland W. Box purchased one-third league of land in the Stephen Burnham grant west of Box’s Creek. He built a log fort where his father, John m. Box, and Roland’s brothers, Samuel C., William, James, and John A., settled. In October 1835, a league and labor of land to the northwest were granted to William S. Box, and Later to John A. Box lived in the Peter Lovejoy Survey.
Many grants were made in 1835 through the colonizing efforts of Impresarios David G. Burnet and Joseph Vehlein. Some of the really old pioneers were Zaccheus Gibbs, Nathaniel Collier, Martin Lacy, James Bradshaw, William Roark, William Hicks, J.W. Adkinson, Daniel Meredith, and Daniel Rawls.
After the Cherokee Indians left, Isaac Kendrick’s family came from San Augustine to occupy the Kendrick League northeast of Mud Creed. Robert Graves Stadler settled on the eastern half of the Edward Hockett League in the same area.
A few settlers, including John Williams and Green Wallace, lived along the Ft. Houston Road just east of the Duty Crossing on the Neches River in the Pine Town area.
A few villages existed before the county was organized. Lockranzie, three miles west of the Angelina River and north of the San Antonio Road, was founded by the Durst and Bean families, who owned the Joseph Burst Bridge (toll) at the Angelina River on the upper San Antonio Road. William W. Frizzell, hotel owner, was appointed postmaster Nov. 2, 1847, followed on April 26, 1850, by Daniel D. Culp, who served until May 26, 1851, when the office was moved and renamed Linwood. Located south of the Durst Bridge on the west side of the Angelina River and promoted by James H. Durst and Ann Harrison Terrell, Linwood existed from the late 1830’s.
Although anticipated navigation on the Angelina River failed to materialize, Linwood was a thriving business center. Early store owners were Nacogdoches merchants Charles Chevallier, Charles Raguet, and Henry W. Raguet. G. W. Butler clerked in R.W. Mitchell’s store until Mitchell located in Alto in 1851. Then Butler clerked for D.A. Gates and R.A. Powdrill. The Linwood post office was discontinued in 1903, but two stores owned by W. T. Williams and Mrs. C. C. Bowden operated until the late 1930’s. Nearby Grange Hall school was active until 1956.
Another settlement clustered around Cook’s Fort, built at the crossing of the Fort Houston and Neches Saline Roads three miles south of present Rusk. Joseph T. Cook, who had been in and out of the Indian ground for the previous decade, had the fort built in 1834 on his league of land. After his son, James Cook, built a store a colony of 250 inhabitants prospered. It could have become the county seat except for Cook’s refusal to sell land to the Legislature-appointed locating Commission in 1846. Certainly, it was a self-defeating position, because most of the colonists later moved north to the new county seat.
In addition to the unfortunate Killough settlement already mentioned, Striker Town has been specified by various sources as a pre-county organization period white settlement. The village was just nort of the south boundary of the Jose I. Sanchez Survey on the west bank of Striker Creek at the crossing of the Caddo Trace from Trammel’s Trace to the Neches Saline. The site was well-documented when the Cherokee Indians controlled the territory. One deed of June 8, 1835, refers to improvements made by William F. Williams and George May on the road six miles west of Striker Town in November, 1934. Other sources indicate the two would-be settlers were pushed out by the Indians but no record confirms who inhabited Striker Village. The place was probably of Indian origin or was at least, a hangout for renegades since “stryker” is an old term for outlaws.
After the Cherokee Indians were expelled in 1839, the Republic of Texas government, desiring to sort out the confused land claims in the Indian territory, discouraged further settlement. Finally, in January, 1844, an act of the Legislature validated Spanish and Mexican land titles and provided for the occupation of vacant lands, which spawned a mass migration to the area. By 1846, the Texas Legislature was petitioned to create a new county in the northern reaches of Nacogdoches County. On April 11, 1846, the boundaries of Cherokee County were fixed by law as follows:
Beginning on the Neches River at the southwest corner of the Neches Saline Survey; then due east to the west boundary of Rusk County; south along the boundary to the southwest corner; then east of Rusk County’s south boundary to the Angelina River; down the Angelina River to the lower end of an island at the bottom of the Juan Cruz Survey; then from the west bank of the Angelina River proceeding south, 50 degrees west to the Neches River and north on the river to the beginning point.
On at least two occasions, petitions seeking to sub-divide the county were submitted to the Legislature. One argument for the changes were the extreme distance some citizens were required to travel to do business at the courthouse. In December, 1847, citizens living south of the San Antonio Road petitioned to join parts of Houston and Rusk Counties to form a separate county. Then in 1874, a proposal was introduced to create a new county-to-be called Dillard – out of the north end of Cherokee County. The pleas were understandable in the days of slow transportation, but so much opposition was expressed by other county residents that the Legislature denied both petitions.
The law creating the county also named a Commission composed of Elisha Moseley, John H. Irby, Col. Cyrus Parks, Nathaniel Killough, William Roark, W. Y. Lacy, Samuel Box, and William S. Box to mark the boundaries of the count; to locate a county seat to be called Rusk within three miles of the geographic center of the county; to purchase at least 100 acres of land for the town site (by condemnation if necessary); and, to reserve lots for a courthouse, jail, and public buildings.
Absalom Gibson was engaged to survey the county boundary lines. After failing to secure a site for the county seat at Cook’s Fort, the Commission purchased 100 acres of land from James F. Timmons William Roard surveyed the county seat town site and prepared the original plat map. Lots were reserved for a courthouse, jail, and school. The remainder of the 100 acres was then sold to the highest bidders to finance the construction of the necessary public buildings.
John Kilgore, already living nearby in an Indian cabin, was the first Anglo-Saxon resident of the county seat. He was joined soon by William T. Long, El. L. Givens, and G. J. Carter. Givens operated the first hotel, located on the east side of the square, and T. L. Philleo, the first merchant, operated in a log store.
The first doctors in town were T. J. Moore, James B. Vaught, and Cosby Vining. Many lawyers were attracted to the new county seat, among whom were S.L.B. Jasper, Joseph L. Hogg, Rufus Chandler, R. H. Guinn, S. P. Donley, M. H. Bonner, A. H. Shanks, W. B. Davis, and F. W. Bonner.
Elected on July 13, 1846, the following officers were sworn to county duties: Lewis H. Gideon, Chief Justice; William Roark, R. J. Banks, A. C. Walters, and William Isaacs, County Commissioners; Cosby Vining, Sheriff: Jesse Gibson, Tax Assessor and Collector; John S. Thompson, County Clerk; and John Conner, District Clerk.
At the first meeting of the Commissioners Court on Oct. 12, 1846, H. C. Crossland was named County Treasurer, and work was begun to provide roads, to approve land grant application, and to direct and finance the construction and furnishing of much-needed public buildings.
The first District Court session for the county was convened Oct. 5, 1846, in a log building on the east side of the present courthouse. W. B. Ochiltree was the Judge, and Thomas W. Blake was acting District Attorney.
In 1848, Senatorial District 10 composed of Cherokee, Anderson, and Houston Counties was resented by Isaac Parker of Houston County. By 1853 Cherokee County comprised a separate Senatorial District 11; and again in 1860, along with Rusk and Bexar Counties, Cherokee County was one of three separate Texas counties populated sufficiently to comprise a singe Senatorial District. After the Civil War caused a decline in population, Cherokee and Houston Counties composed District 3.
Information from The Cherokee County Historical Commission. Cherokee County History, published by The Cherokee County Historical Commission in 1986, second printing 2001. (Books are available at the Courthouse in Rusk, TX or at Post Office Box 1128 Jacksonville, TX 75766.)
Special thanks to Karol Hughes