More than two centuries have passed since the Spaniards and French explored
our country and blazed the trail from the Rio Grande at San Juan Bautista below
Eagle Pass to San Antonio, thence northwest to Nacogdoches, San Augustine and
Louisiana. According to tradition and history this road was first traveled by
St. Denis in the year 1714, and became very important. It was the original and
most used route in the building of the missions at San Antonio. This trail --
the historic Presidio Road -- traverses the northwest corner of Frio County,
created in 1858 with the town of Frio as the county seat.
The county comprising some 1036 square miles and embracing various fertile
soils, was then under the jurisdiction of Bexar county. Also at one time it was
attached to Medina and later to Atascosa counties. The name was derived from the
Frio (cold) river, which winds its way through the rich land.
On June 24, 1871, the legislature ordered that B. A. Sheidley, H. M.
Daugherty and John B. McMahon appoint justices fo the peace, and an election was
called for July 17 - 20. W. C. Daughtrty was then elected district clerk and E.
C. Woodridge, sheriff. At their first meeting, Aug. 8, 1871, A. L. Oden was
appointed to lay off the town of Frio, in Frio county. The sale of lots was
advertised in the San Antonio Express, to take place Oct 3, 1871. The town was
founded on the Frio river, just below the Presidio Crossing, a beautiful spot.
The original crossing is still used, being maintained by the ranch people of the
Here, too, is handed down by tradition that Santa Anna, with his army, spent
some time in resting before his final march to the Alamo. Also a story is told
of a battle in Elm Valley, nearby, where many years ago gun barrels were found.
In 1900, a Mexican unearthed a gun and pistol with flint locks, a sword hilt,
decayed bones and bits of military uniform. The sword hilt bore insignia of
Spanish or Mexican origin.
Later in 1836, Santa Anna with his troops entered Texas by way of the
Presidio at San Juan Bautista; also, when General Woll invaded Texas in 1842, he
entered and departed by way of Presidio at this point; then again General Ugalde
(Uvakde) with several hundred troops crossed the Rio Grande into Texas at the
same place to chastise a band of Indians, and a battle was fought somewhere near
this vicinity. It is possible this forgotten battle field could be traced to any
one of these events. Many fights occurred which were not chronicled in history.
The Yo lo Digo Creeks tributaries of the Leona river, it is said, received
their names from the following incident:: Mexican troops were camped near Elm
Creek. Sentinels were stationed on the highest hill near where these creeks have
their sources. For some reason the sentinels failed to detect the approaching
enemy. As the sleeping soldiers were charged, to late the warning was given.
Some one asked, "Who said so?" Another replied, 'Yo lo digo." (I say it.) Berry
Creek, another tributary of the Leona, was named for Tillman Berry, father of J.
E. (Jim) Berry. "Los Burros" or Jack Creek received its name from a band of wild
"burros" that ranged along the creek. Also at an early day, Frio county had
great numbers of wild horses, as well as Mexican or long horned cattle. There
are numerous legends of buried treasure, still unfound.
The first post office was established in the new town with the name of Frio
City. L. J. W. Edwards, the first merchant was also the first postmaster. His
successors were L. S. White, T. H. Rogers, J. I. Barnes, W. Y. Kilgore and the
present postmaster, Mrs. Artie C. Roberts, whose commission is dated June 6,
1893. First mail was carried by W. C. Randle on horseback from Benton City.
Later a contract was awarded to Lee McCaughan to carry it from San Antonio by
November 28, 1871, the county court ordered that W. C. Daugherty receive bids
on a 20x40-foot "California" house, with a 10-foot partition, this to be used as
a court house. The contract was awarded to L. J. W. Edwards. In January, 1872,
this structure was built out of lumber cut from cypress trees that grew along
the Frio river and was roofed with shingles made near by. The lumber, bought of
John Leakey, was trekked by ox wagon some eighty-five miles. Mr. Leakey owned a
sawmill where the town of Leakey now stands. Later E. J. Emsley was emploed to
"whitewash" the court house inside and out for the sum of $20.00 in coin.
In 1877, that building was destroyed by fire, and in 1878 was replaced by a
two-story edifice of native stone architecturally beautiful in its simplicity.
The stairway with its gracefully curved railing of walnut is greatly admired to
this day. The contractor's bid on this building was not sufficient to meet his
obligation. W. J. Slaughter, one of the bondsmen, assumed full charge,
completing the building at his own expense.
The first jail of stone was built by Dempsey Forrest in 1872. Before
completed, it was voted that the upper story be built of stone instead of wood
as was originally planned. This was to be used as a jury room. The walls of the
building are still standing. Many notorius characters of early days were locked
within its walls, among them Sam Bass, Jesse and Frank James, these not for
criminal but for minor offenses.
In 1872, roads were marked out from Frio City to various points. A crossing
made on the southwest bank of the Frio river, intersecting the street opposite
the court house square, was known as the San Antonio Crossing.
The first grave in the Frio City cemetery was that of Calvin Massey, killed
by Indians, the second, of Wesley Hiler, age seventeen, son of W. S. Hiler,
killed by a horse. A number of Indian victims are buried therein, their graves
unmarked and most of them forgotten.
In the spring of 1873, Mrs. Ed Massey saw the Indians kill her father-in-law,
Calvin Massey. Unaided, with her three small children, she managed under cover
of the Frio river banks to reach the town in safety. The Indians, forty-five in
number, were followed but made good their escape.
In the fall of 1876, and Indian raid, carrying devastation and great loss of
life occurred. At the break of day, Bilie Allen and Jim Berry were holding a
herd of cattle near the Indian Crossing on the Frio river just above the mouth
of Elm Creek. Jim Berry, before seeing them, rode within twenty-five yards of
sixteen Indians, lined abreast. On sight, he turned, making his way quickly to
the Live Oak motte nearby. (Jim Berry did not county the Indians! Another man
For some unaccountable reason, the Indians did not molest the men, but
turning, went on up the creek to W. J. Slaughter's sheep camp where they killed
William Rittberg, the foreman, and four Mexican herders. Going on to the Leona
valley that same day, they killed Mr. Butler and Nick Brian who were employed by
Mont Woodward, W. J. and C. H. Slaughter. In fact, in 1876 the Indian raids were
so frequent that the citizens felt their inability to cope with them and called
on the State for Ranger protection.
Major John B. Jones marched his escort company to Frio county. About December
1`5, 1876, Company "A" with Neal Coldwell as captain, made camp on Elm Creek,
three miles southwest of Frio City; hence, the historical "Ranger Camp" whose
site was on the south bank of Elm Creek in a fine grove of elm and oak. A short
distance from the camp was a beautiful level prairie know as "Soldier's
Prairie," on which the Rangers made a race track where they exercised their
horses and where they whiled away many pleasant hours. Capt. J. B. Gillett, the
only known swurvivor of this company, is authority for the above.
The last raid in the early spring of 1877 was made on the Caven Woodward and
Louis Oge ranch. Fifty head of horses were being driven away. A party of men
were in pursuit. The Rangers were notified, and were also in pursuit. The
Indians realizing their inability to escape, left the horses and rode rapidly
away. No lives were lost in this encounter.
More than one time the settlers were forced to bring their families into Frio
City for protection, finding refuge in the court house and in the homes of
friends. In 1878, a lone Indian slipped into the Mexican section of the town.
Sheriff J. C. B. Harkness, with a number of citizens rushed to the scene. During
the excitement over the accidental discharge of the sheriff's gun, which caused
the loss of one of his toes, the Indian quietly disappeared. Thus the fear of
the savage Indians passed almost as quietly and peacefully as did the lone
Among those who preached the gospel to the early settler were the Reverend
William Monk, John W. DeVilbiss, W. C. Newton and the well known fighting
preacher, A. J. Potter. Also, later, D. Johnson, J. M. Neatherlin and J. C.
Russell. Early in June, 1880, seven men journeyed on horseback to Frio City and
in the court house, organized the Rio Grande Baptist Association. E. A. Briggs
of Benson City was chosen moderator and C. B. Hukill of Black Creek, clerk. The
fiftieth anniversary of this organization was celebrated Jun 5-6, 1930 in the
old court house, and in the grove adjacent.
Those who gave aid to the sick and injured were Dr. E. W. Earnest, Dr. Amos
Graves and the much-loved little woman, Mrs. Minerva Slaughter, wife of Benjamin
Slaughter. Her name was a household word and her hand soothed many a fevered
Schools were not neglected. Very early the following school directors were
appointed for the different school districts: S. G. Speed, J. G. Woodward, W. S.
Hiler, R. B. Whitter, Alvin Helvey, J. W. Craig, Geo. Brown, P. E. Wilson, R. S.
Ragsdale, John Walden, Joe Adams, J. W. Jones, J. E. Roberts, Silas Hay and
The first school was taught by J. M. Ellege. Other early teachers were Mr. &
Mrs. Kingsbury, Miss Mary McGee, Dan T. Price, and Mrs .A. E. Coates. Later Frio
Academy was founded by B. C. Hendrick as principal and Mrs. Hendrick as
Tillman Berry came to Frio county in 1858. Dick Thompson, B. L. Crouch, Louis
Oge, Mont and Caven Woodward, H. M. Daugherty, W.S. Hiler and many others were
here at an early date.
During the trail driving days vast herds of cattle were sent out of Frio
county by such cattlemen as Captain B. L. Csouch, Caven Woodward, Louis Oge, J.
H. Blackaller, W. J. and C. H. Slaughter and others. Driven by such cowboys as
J. J. Roberts, M. Taylor, J. H. Loxton, J. H. Cook, B. I. Gilman, J. J. Little,
Billie Henson, W. A. Roberts and others.
Various symbols, letters, figures and combinations of these made the brands
of the cattlemen. The "Heart" brand of Tillman Berry, "T Diamond" of W. J.
Slaughter, ZH of W. S. Hiler, OL of Caven Woodward were among the first placed
on record and are still used by the descendants of these early citizens. Other
ranch brands were UL bar, and UL of J. H. Blackaller, and 2A of J. E. Roberts.
Trail or road brands were placed on all cattle sent up the "trail" -- that of W.
J. Slaughter "Diamond" and 7P, and of B. L. Couch a bar from shoulder to flank
on both sides of the animal, of Caven Woodward Y at the point of the shoulder
and Lazy Y on the loin, and Jo of J. H. Blackaller.
The early settlers were not without public enterprise. Building material had
to be trekked many miles; therefore soon there were established a shingle mill,
brick factory and lime kiln, thereby utilizing the natural resources of the
country.During the interim of 1858 to 1871 when Frio county was formally
organized, Indians made numerous raids. Early one morning in the spring of 1860,
Leonard Eastwood, John Speers, and R.A. Sanders rode off to their work. Mr.
Eastwood and Mr. Sanders were killed by a raiding band of Indians; Mr. Speers,
though wounded, succeeded in reaching the home of Levi English, near a place
still known as the English Crossing on the Leona river.
In October, 1861, a large band invaded the country, and in their wanton role
of death and destruction, not only was there great loss of human life but much
loss of stock killed and stolen. At this time "Mustang" Moore and James Winters
were killed near the present town of Moore; Dr. Thomas Speed and L. T. Ward were
wounded. Others engaged in this encounter were James Craig, James Bishop and
July 4, 1865, Indians chased Ed Burleson, but he managed to reach his home in
safety. The following neighbors started on the trail of the redmen: namely, Levi
English, A. L. Franks, G. W. Daugherty, A. D. Aiken, Ed Burleson, W. C. Bell,
Dean Oden, Bud English, John Berry, Frank and Dan Williams. A fight ensued in
which Dean Oden, Dan Williams and Bud English were killed. Five others were
wounded and only three escaped unscathed.
Dean Oden, with his two comrades who fell on this fateful day rest in a long
deserted and almost forgotten cemetery near the old Martin ranch, located above
the mouth of the Leona river and a short distance above and overlooking present
Frio State Park.
About 1876-1877, the Bennett settlement on the Leona, named for Hamilton
Bennett, became a thriving community. An irrigation project was contemplated, a
dam and canal was about completed, when floods swept the dam away, which was
In 1878 a post office was established by name of Hamlin. This was soon
discontinued. At the Bishop Hollow settlement, a few miles from the present town
of Pearsall, a post office was established in 1878 by the name of Ireland,
although it was also known as Pencilville. This office was discontinued in 1881.
Another important neighborhood, near the line of Frio and Medina counties,
was the Tehuacana settlement, located along the Tehuacana Creek. The Live Oak
settlement on the Live Oak Creeks has long since been abandoned. It was located
near the center of the vast ranch of Captain B. L. Crouch, now owned by Halff
Many Mexican war veterans were early settlers of Frio county, among them
Benjamin Slaughter, William A. A. Wallace, James W. Winters, and James Winters.
Benjamin Slaughter with a band of followers, left Mississippi January, 1836, for
Texas to join the forces in the field. When within a short distance of Houston,
they learned of the complete victory over the Mexican army. Later he served in
Captain Hill's company. Colonel Hays' Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers. James
Winters, a valiant San Jacinto veteran, was killed by Indians.
James W. Winters, who fought in the battle of San Jacinto and heroically
assisted in winning Texas Independence, was born in Giles county, Tennessee,
January 21, 1917. He came to Texas in 1834 and to Frio county about 1880, died
October 15, 1903 and is buried in the Brummett Cemetery near Big Foot, Texas.
William A. A. (Big Foot) Wallace figured largely in Frio county history. He
was born in Lexington, Va., April 3, 1817. He came to Texas in 1836. He was
known as a great Indian fighter and ranger, a man of fine character and
indomitable courage. A participant on many fights with Mexicans and Indians, he
miraculously escaped in many dangerous encounters. "Captain," as his friends
called him, was a welcome visitor in every home. His friendly benevolent manner
won many friends. Children, as well as older people, gathered near him and all
were eager to hear him relate his interesting experience.
Often he told the story of when he and Benjamin (Ben) Slaughter were
prisoners together during the Mexican invasion of Texas. The Texas prisoners
were forced to draw heavy loads of stone for building construction. Ben
Slaughter, with his great sense of humor, would soon have the Mexican guards
convulsed with laughter; yet he gained great favor and was one of the first
prisoners exchanged. With a smile of reminiscence, he would say, "We broke up
many a cart and tore up lots of harness."
William A. A. Wallace died January 9, 1899. His body was first interred in
Longview Cemetery at Big Foot. Later it was removed to Austin and now rests in
the State Cemetery.
The town of Bigfoot, named for "Big Foot" Wallace, was established about
1880. It is an interesting place with much early history. The present residents
are mostly descendants of the early citizens; name, John Brummett, John Thomas,
Peter Gardner, Box Dixon, J. A. Leach, George Henson and others. Located near is
the Brummett cemetery. The first grave therein was that of an Indian, killed, so
the story goes, in a fight with the whites and given a civilized burial by the
Until 1878-1879 the country was unfenced. At this time cattlemen began to
fence their holdings. This displeased those who were reaping the benefits of
free range. Consequently, the fence cutters (Free Grazers, they styled
themselves) organized and destroyed many miles of fence. This act of destruction
ceased in 1884, when a law was enacted by the legislature, making fence cutting
a penitentiary offense.
In 1880 a survey was made and the International and Great Northern Railroad
(now the Missouri Pacific) extended its main line through Fri county, missing
Frio City. On July 4, 1881, the first passenger train pulled into the newly
founded town of Pearsall. On this day lots were sold. The first offered, that on
the corner opposite the railroad station was sold to R. G. Long. The town was
located on the site of a large sheep ranch. This place was known as Waggoner's
Well. At this time the rolling prairie country was covered with a luxuriant
growth of grass. Prairie fires were of frequent occurrence. The grass became
ignited from a camp fire and fanned by a brisk breeze, was soon a sweeping
flame. Many of the new residents had a hard fight to save the lumber for their
Again the sound of the hammer was heard in Frio City, a thriving town of one
thousand people or more, but this time it was laying low the houses and moving
them to Pearsall, thus ending the fair little city. In 1883 the county set was
moved from Frio City to Pearsall, and in 1886 the name of Frio City was changed
to Frio Town.
At Pearsall, a temporary courthouse was built of lumber. In 1904 the present
brick building was erected -- also the present jail is of brick. With the two
temporary two temporary lumber buildings considered, Frio county has had four
Pearsall has had steady growth with substantial business houses and many
Dilley, Derby, Melon and Moore are towns along the railroad. Dilley, the
second town in size, is an enterprising and growing town. Moore was named for
"Mustang" Moore, who was killed by Indians in 1861.
In 1879 John Bennett moved where the town of Derby now stands. He was an
engineer in the survey of the railroad line in 1880. His descendants are now
living at Derby, which Mr. Bennett named for his old home in England.
Miguel, Sand Hollow, Keystone, Orelia, Divot and Schattel are important
farming and stock-raising communities.
Since 1858, when the county was first created, to the present time, the mode
of travel, in regard to speed, has been reduced from weeks to hours.
After these courageous men of the early days had made the county safe, paving
the way for the present peace and civilization, their children have not stood
still. Although the ranches have been cut into smaller tracts, and the heards of
cattle reduced in number, the cattle are better bred. Much land has been turned
to cultivation, many acres to truck farming, irrigated from a vast underground
supply of water.
At present, there is an interesting development in oil, and Frio county has
promise of becoming a great oil field.
Frio County - Frio Colorful History