Welcome!County Coordinator is Jane Keppler.
County Co-Coordinator is Jean Huot Smoorenburg
If you have any questions or would like to submit information for Robertson County, please email one of the above.
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C O U N T Y I N V E N T O R Y
INVENTORY OF THE COUNTY ARCHIVES OF TEXAS
No. 198, ROBERTSON COUNTY (FRANKLIN)
The Texas Historical Records Survey
Division of Community Service Programs
Work Projects Administration
Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences
The University of Texas, Official Sponsor
Published by Robertson
This County Inventory was beautifully typed by volunteer Darlene Klonaris
The first twenty pages of this inventory contain a general historical sketch of the county. This information is provided below. A bibliography containing primary and secondary source materials used to compile this inventory is also provided below. This information is reflected in the table of contents in light blue with hyperlinks. The remaining information is more structural in nature and did not contain a great deal of information of interest to genealogical researchers. Given this, these sections are not included here. To access these additional sections of this inventory, consult the source materials.
Table Of Contents
County Offices & Their Records
Subject & Entry Index
List Of Survey Publications
The Inventory of the County Archives of Texas is one of a number of guides to historical materials prepared throughout the United States by workers on the Historical Records Survey Program of the Work Projects Administration. The publications herewith presented, an inventory of the archives of Robertson County, is number 198 of the Texas series.
The Historical Records Survey Program was undertaken in the winter of 1935-36 for the purpose of providing useful employment to needy unemployed historians, lawyers, teachers, and research and clerical workers. In carrying out this objective, the project was organized to compile inventories of historical materials, particularly the unpublished government documents and records which are basic in the administration of local government, and which provide invaluable data for students of political, economic and social history. The archival guide herewith presented is intended to meet the requirements of day-to-day administration by the officials of the county, and also the needs of lawyers, businessmen and other citizens who require facts from the public records for the proper conduct of their affairs. The volume is so designed that it can be used by the historian in his research in the unprinted sources in the same way he uses the library card catalog for printed sources.
The inventories produced by the Historical Records Survey Program attempt to do more than give merely a list of records - they attempt further to sketch in the historical background of the county or other unit of government, and to describe precisely and in detail the organization and functions of the government agencies whose records they list. The county, town, and other local inventories for the entire country will, when complete, constitute an encyclopedia of local government as well as a bibliography of local archives.
The successful conclusion of the work of the Historical Records Survey Program, even in a single county, would not be possible without the support of public officials, historical and legal specialists, and many other groups in the community. Their cooperation is gratefully acknowledged.
The Survey Program was organized by Luther H. Evans, who served as Director until March 1, 1940, when he was succeeded by Sargent B. Child, who had been National Field Supervisor since the Inauguration of the Survey. The Survey Program operates as a Nation-wide series of locally sponsored projects in the Division of Community Service Programs of which Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner, is in charge.
The Texas Historical Records Survey is a unit of the Texas Statewide Records Projects which is sponsored by the Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences of the University of Texas, and operates under the Research and Records Section of the Division of Community Service Programs of the Work Projects Administration.
The objective of the Survey in Texas is the preparation of complete inventories of the archives of each county, municipality, and other local governmental unit.
This publication, an inventory of the archives of Robertson County, includes, in addition to descriptive entries for each extant records series, a historical sketch of the county and a map of its past and present boundaries; an essay on the present governmental organization and records system, accompanied by a structural chart; a discussion of the conditions under 3which the records are preserved, accompanied by floor plans of the courthouse; a section devoted to abbreviations and symbols; and a brief statement of the legal status of each office and agency, prefatory to the listing of its records.
The Survey is now engaged in preparing a comprehensive statement of the general law regulating county government, to be entitled County Government in Texas. It is expected that this book will serve as a handbook on the organization, structure, and evolution of county government and records in Texas, and will make it unnecessary to repeat in e4ach inventory information applicable to all counties in the State. The office essays in this inventory are, therefore, limited to the creation of the office and its present status, the manner in which it is filled, the term, and special legislation affecting Robertson County. Pending issuance of the volume on County Government in Texas, it is suggested that the reader consult the inventory of the County Archives of Texas, No. 94, Guadalupe County, for more detailed essays than those found in the present inventory.
The Inventory of the County Archives of Texas will, when completed, consist of a separate volume for each county of the State. Each unit of the series is numbered according to the particular county’s respective position in the alphabetical list of the 254 counties. Thus, the volume for Robertson County, herewith presented, is No. 198. Units of the inventory are issued in mimeographed form for free distribution to state and local public officials, public libraries in Texas, and to a limited number of libraries and governmental agencies outside the State. See page 140, this inventory, for a list of the publications of the Texas Historical Records Survey Project.
The records of Robertson County were listed January-August 1937, and a verification check was made in may 1940. The volume was compiled and edited in the State office of the Texas Historical Records Survey Project.
The courteous cooperation of the Robertson County officials, for whom this work was done, is acknowledged.
G E N E R A L
1. HISTORICAL SKETCH
Robertson County, in central Texas, is on the edge of the East Texas timbered region. The Navasota River forms the eastern boundary and the Brazos the western. Falls and Limestone Counties are to the north, Leon County is to the east, Brazos to the south, and Milam to the west. A level to rolling terrain, with sands and sandy loams in the uplands, gives way to deep alluvial soils in the river bottoms. The principal timbers are elm, pecan, ash, mesquite, and several varieties of oak. Deposits of lignite, fuller’s earth, and brick clay are largely undeveloped.
Draining the county are three rivers, the Navasota, the Brazos, and the Little Brazos, which parallels the Brazos at distances never exceeding 3 miles. These streams, flowing through deep ravines in the uplands and issuing upon almost prairie country, are given to sudden rises. Floodwaters have again and again dropped rich deposits of black soil in the valleys, until the fertility of the bottom lands has become proverbial. Since flood control methods have been adopted and malarial conditions eliminated, the low lands between the Brazos and Little Brazos have materially increased in value.
Except for the river valleys, the terrain is relatively high and unbroken. This topography, combined with the heavy timber which stood in early days just above the present southern boundary of the county, which are important factor in the exploration and settlement of the region. The sandy soil provided a natural roadbed for the cumbersome vehicles of early travel; and the timber, in addition to its inherent value to settlers as lumber, served as a protection against the plains Indians, who usually avoided deep woods.
When the Spanish explorers, missionaries, and soldiers passed through the region between the Brazos and Navasota Rivers in 1716, on their way to establish the East Texas missions and presidios,1 they encountered the friendly, semi-nomadic tribes of Tonkawas and Tawakonis. Bearing north to avoid a network of streams after crossing the Brazos, they found a course which led them over high ground to the Navasota.2 Their route became the main path of travel, called El Camino Real (the King’s Highway),3 which was in use for nearly a century and a half.4 This portion of their trail now marks the southeast boundary of Robertson County.
Mexican & Anglo-American
Although present Robertson County was approximately midway between the important settlements of San Antonio de Bexar and Nacogdoches, the Spanish Government apparently made no effort to develop this region. Anglo-American colonization began soon after Mexico won her independence in 1821.5 In 1825 Robert Leftwich, agent of a Tennessee company,6 received permission to settle 800 families in Texas. The territory now included in Robertson County fell within his grant.7 After some adjustments within the company, Sterling C. Robertson became empresario of the Texas grant.8 On his initial visit to the region in 1826, he found a squatter named Early, who apparently was the first settler here. Little is known of Early except that he stubbornly resisted efforts to remove him.9 Various circumstances delayed colonization and created dissension between all parties involved; eventually Stephen F. Austin and Robertson became involved in a controversy over ownership of the grant. The Mexican Government passed the contract back and forth between Austin and Robertson to the very eve of the Texas Revolution.10
In the meantime, colonists had settled the lower reaches of the disputed territory, particularly that portion which later became Robertson County. They came in groups of four or five families, and built their houses close together for protection against Indians. Families of these “neighborhoods” regularly borrowed meat from each other. Since the settlers believed it impossible to cure beef in that section of the country, they seldom tried it, but simply agreed that only one family at a time would butcher. Everyone in the neighborhood borrowed from that family until the meat was gone, whereupon a calf was killed by another family, and so on around the borrowing circle.11
About 1829 a group of Irish immigrants settled in the wooded sections just north of the San Antonio-Nacogdoches road (El Camino Real). this settlement, first known as Staggers Point, and later as Benchley, was the first within the present limits of Robertson County.12 In 1830 the Mexican Government established the military post of Tenoxtitlan on the Brazos River, just below the road, to protect the frontier and encourage settlement.13 At least 20 grants were made to land within present Robertson County during 1833 and 1834.14
Homes of the early settlers were generally simply log cabins, built of whatever timber was available; some had puncheon floors, others earthen. Oak pins took the place of nails; mud served as mortar.15 Sometimes the cabins were built in a circle, or a square, with outside walls as high as 12 feet and the roofs slanting inward.16 Practically every little settlement had its own blockhouse or stockade. The Wheelock and Dunn families both had strong houses, and the Parkers built such a combination of stockade and blockhouse that it was called Parker’s Fort. Other stockades, built later, were at Fort Boggy and on Cobb’s Prairie.17 Although successful Indian raids were made on outlying cabins, no record has been found of any blockhouse being taken save Parker’s Fort; and this fell when the region had been all but depopulated during the Revolution.18
It is not definitely known when Robertson’s vast colony was organized as the Mexican municipality of Viesca, but it had an ayuntamieno, or governing board, as early as 1830.19 Delegates from Viesca were seated at the various meetings of the colonists which preceded the Texas Revolution. Representing Viesca at the San Felipe Convention in 1832 were Jared E. Groce, Joshua Hadly, and William Robinson;20 and at the Consultation of 1835, were J. G. W Pierson, J. L. Hood, Samuel T. Allen, A., G. Perry, J. W. Parker, and Alexander Thompson.21 After the death of Ben Milam, who fell while leading the Texan attack on San Antonio late in 1835, the Provisional Government changed the name of the municipality of Viesca to Milam in his honor.22 In the Constitutional Convention at Washington on the Brazos, March 1, 1836, Sterling C. Robertson and George C. Childress representatives from Milam.23
In addition to other hardships connected with the revolution, the settlers saw the worst stages of the “Runaway Scrape” of 1836. The San Antonio road, from the crossing on the Navasota to Robbins’ Ferry on the Trinity, was choked with women and children and all the livestock they could drive, fleeing before the advance of Santa Anna’s army.24 Many sections of Robertson’s colony were practically depopulated.25 During and immediately after the revolution, the Indians made successful raids on the weakened settlements. With Anglo-American dominance established at the Battle of San Jacinto,26 the soldiers, and the families who had fled, returned to the abandoned areas. Although Indians depredations abated, it was on May 18, 1836, shortly after San Jacinto, that the Comanches made their historic raid on Parker’s Fort, massacred most of its inhabitants, and kidnapped Cynthia Ann Parker.27
Creation & Organization
On December 14, 1837, the Second Congress of the Republic of Texas created Robertson County out of Bexar, Milam, and Nacogdoches Counties. The new county, named for Sterling C. Robertson, included only a part of Robertson’s colony, and much land that had not been included in his colonial grant. the chief justice, chosen by Congress, was directed to give 10 days’ public notice of an election for a county seat. The act of creation also attached the county to the Senatorial district of Milam, and set forth that it was entitled to one Representative in Congress. The county was placed in the third judicial district, and a schedule of court terms was established. County Court was to be held on the third Mondays of February, May, August, and November; District Court on the Mondays next succeeding the fourth Mondays in April and October.28
No record of the first election is available, but in March 1838 county officials began to file their bonds. Chosen by popular election were Alanson Hardy and Robert Henry, Justices of the Peace.29 Harrison Owen, county clerk and recorder;30 John D. Smith, “high Sheriff”; and William C. Watson, district clerk. The following officers had earlier been chosen by Congress: Francis Slauter, chief justice; A. W. Cooke, county surveyor; Thomas Dillard, president of the board of land commissioners and register of the Land Office; Alanson hardy, postmaster at Navasota, the first post office in the county.31 In November 1838 John R. Henry was appointed by the county to assess the county for 1838 and 1839.32
In 1839 a frontier company of minute men was organized to guard the outlying settlements north of the San Antonio-Nacogdoches road, and between the Brazos and Navasota Rivers. Capt. Eli Chandler commanded the organization, and its headquarters was at Franklin.33 Other units of militia were organized along the frontier at approximately the same time, and some new blockhouses were erected, among them Fort Boggy in present Leon County.34
The rudimentary character of the county administrative setup and its intimate relation to the community in the spring of 1840 is illustrated by the fact that County Clerk Harrison Owen was unable to issue an eloping couple a marriage license until the cows came home. Owen could not get into the courthouse because the key to that building was taking the place of a clapper in a calf’s bell.35
All of part of 17 other present-day counties36 have been created from the vast territory over which the first officers of Robertson county had jurisdiction. The original boundaries were:
"..the line beginning on the Brazos River at the county line of the county of Washington, and running on that line easterly to the Trinity River; thence up that to the northern edge of the Cross timbers; thence due west to the Brazos River; thence down that river to the beginning point."37
The first change in the Robertson County boundaries came on January 30, 1841, with the creation of present Brazos County. This took away from Robertson County a small portion of land above the San Antonio Road immediately east of the Brazos River, fixing the present southern line of Robertson at that point.38
A large section of Robertson county’s original territory was removed from the southwestern part on March 17, 1846, when Leon County was created.39 Three days later a large tract was subtracted from the northeast corner, when Dallas County was created.40
Limestone41 and Navarro42 Counties were created out of Robertson on April 11, 1846, and on that day the present Robertson county boundaries were defined as follows:
"Beginning at the northwest corner of Brazos County on the Brazos River; thence up said river twenty-five hundred varas, above the northwest corner of a survey made for Jacob Welch, as represented on the county map made for Robertson County; thence, north, sixty degrees east, to the Navasota; thence down said river to the line of Brazos County; and thence, with said line to the point of beginning on the Brazos River."43
County Seats & Courthouses
The first election for a county seat resulted in the choice of Franklin, a site above 1 1/2 miles southwest of present Franklin,44 and now referred to as Old Franklin. A house belonging to William Love was used as a temporary courthouse.45 On June 8, 1838, a contract to build a courthouse was awarded to Leander Harl46 but in February 1839 the county court ordered that suit be brought against him for failure to carry out the conditions of his agreement.47 Harl died,48 and the building was completed by George W. Cox, and accepted by the county on August 17, 1839. This first courthouse was a two-room structure of “good strong timber,” 20 feet wide, 20 feet long, and about 18 feet high.49
A two-thirds’ vote of the people on October 5, 1850, move the county seat from Franklin to Wheelock.50 On October 15, all county offices were ordered to move to the new county seat “as soon as it is possible for them to do so,” and the November term of court was held at Wheelock.51 A call for courthouse construction bids was ordered the next summer,52 and the following November the commissioners decided upon specifications for another two-story, wooden county building, with an outside stairway.53
It was not until may 1852 that building plans submitted by A. L. Brigance were approved,54 and still another year went by before the courthouse was finally accepted on August 15, 1853, nearly 3 years after the county government had taken up residence at Wheelock. The commissioners were not entirely pleased with the new building; they deducted from the contract price, $65 “for failing to place the balustrade about said Roof,” required the contractor to continue painting the roof and stipulated that should it leak, he was to produce a “good and Substantial” new one.55 The reason is not given, but in February 1854 Brigance was ordered to improve the roof, raising it “in proportion to the size of said Court House.”56
But the building of a courthouse had given the county seat no permanence. On the very day that the commissioners entered their order accepting the new courthouse they announced the results of an election held a few days earlier, at which the voters had named the center of the county as their choice for a seat of government. The court accordingly appointed four commissioners to see if the center of the county were suitable for a town site, and if not, to choose one or two more places within 5 miles of the center, to do what they could toward procuring donations from the landowners. County offices and archives were, however, to remain at Wheelock until suitable quarters were provided elsewhere.57 The calm attitude of the county fathers evidenced in this last order seems to have been particularly well-advised, for three years passed before the will of the people in the matter of this county seat change was gratified.
The commissioners appointed to find a county site near the center of the county and receive propositions made their report. They had chosen a place on the Francis Slauter head right,, about 1 1/2 miles southeast of the center of the county, "on the head of Cedar Creek." The county court accepted the report on November 22, 1853, at the same time declaring the place the new county seat "so soon as the legislature passes an act confirming the same," and recommending that the people petition the legislature for such confirmation.58
On February 13, 1854, the legislature passed an act “to locate the Seat of Justice in the County of Robertson.” It directed the chief justice to order an election, to declare any place within 5 miles of the center of the county chosen by the majority of the votes cast to be the county seat; provided that the seat be called Owensville, that as soon as the necessary buildings were erected there the county offices and courts should be moved from Wheelock, but not before.59 In November 1854 the county court, still meeting at Wheelock but admitting itself desirous to locate the county seat “permanently,” directed the chief justice to procure from the District Surveyor of the Robertson Land District a certificate showing the “precise center” of the county, appointed three commissioners to select two or more sites within 5 miles of the center and procure "the best donations they can and report the Same to the Chief Justice Instanter."60 Their report has not been found, but an election was held on April 7, 1855, and a location on land donated by David H. Love, “on the Waters of Walnut Creek” was chosen.61
In November 1855 the commissioners contracted with A. L. Brigance to build a courthouse at Owensville. The specifications called for another two-story wooden building with outside stairway, this time to be 40 feet square, “to be set on good sound oak blocks,” its doors to be fitted with “good locks & fastenings,” and to be “well painted roof & all.” Brigance was to complete the courthouse by August 1, 1856, and to receive as compensation one two lot in Owensville and $2,750.62 He met his deadline; the building was accepted on August 5, and county officers were ordered to move into their new quarters. County court met at Wheelock for the last time on August 19, 1856. It held a special term at the new courthouse in Owensville on August 28.63
Owensville remained the county seat until July 12, 1870, when an act of the legislature moved the seat to Calvert.64 The first session of the county court was held at Calvert on August 1 of that year.65 Although it was the county seat for nearly 10 years no courthouse was ever built there. Offices were rented for a time,66 and at one period a building was leased by the year at $75 per month.67 Finally, a two-story house fronting on Main Street was acquired by the county and came to be known as the Court House Building.68 In November 1874 the voters considered the proposition of removing the county seat to Englewood, but apparently voted to remain at Calvert, for on June 1, 1875, the county court dismissed a contest of the election;69 and the court continued to meet at Calvert until March 1880.70
At an election held December 16, 1879, Calvert lost the county seat to Morgan,71 a development of the Texas Land Company72 on the International and Great Northern Railroad.73 On December 29 the commissioners appointed Captain Overall and Capt. H. Holdeman a committee to make arrangements for a courthouse at Morgan, to receive all donations made to the county, to see that the town was properly laid off, and to “report the best means of removing the records of the Court to Morgan."74 But in the meanwhile it was discovered that there was already a post office named Morgan in Texas, and the commissioners renamed the new county site Franklin.75 Early in March 1880 the records were moved to a “frame building 25 x 100 feet” in Franklin.76 And on March 8, 1880, the Commissioners Court held its first term at the new site.77 Almost exactly a year later the plans of F. E. Ruffini, Austin architect, for a $30,000 courthouse were accepted, and the contract was let to J. B. Smith, Austin contractor.78 This building, accepted on January 7, 1882,79 still serves the county, although it has been extensively remodeled.
When Texas seceded from the Union, Robertson County organized and equipped two companies, one commanded by William P. Townsend, the other by B. Brooks. These companies were active in many important battles of the Civil War.80 Money, uniforms, and provisions were sent to them throughout the course of the conflict. At home, funds were raised for the support of destitute families of soldiers, and particularly for widows and orphans of men killed in action. Cotton cards were shipped in, and surplus cloth from the State penitentiary was brought to the county at various times. Beef and corn were purchased by the Commissioners Court for distribution to need families.81
World War I
On June 5, 1917, there were 2,525 men of Robertson County registered for military service, with 793 claiming exemption. The county had a well organized and efficient Local Board and an active County council of Defense. Successful campaigns promoted the sale of Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps. The Red Cross, Food Conservation Staff, and various other war activities found men, women, and children eager to help.82
Although a large number of the early settlers of Robertson County were from cotton-growing States, hunting, and the cutting of timber north of the San Antonio Road seem to have been the principal occupations of the earliest settlers. Fear of Indians for a time kept the settlers in the woods, away from the fertile river bottoms. Farming was for domestic purposes only. In the early fifties, settlers turned to rounding up wild cattle for the New Orleans market.83
Farming & Ranching
Cotton raising was the inevitable pursuit of these people from the deep South. As soon as the development of the rich valley lands became practicable, they built large plantations and brought in Negro slaves to work and harvest the crops. About 1850 the county had its first gin, and was basically devoted to farming.84
A severe drought in 1857 caused the only recorded corn crop failure of the pre-Civil War period. An old settler relates that in this year, he and his wife walked to his 10 acre corn field, gathered all the corn that grew, and took it home in his wife’s apron to cook as roasting ears.85 Good crops, however, were harvested in succeeding years.86 Stock-raising continued to be important.87
In common with the whole South, the region suffered from the labor problem following the Civil War. In 1866 it was said of the freedmen:
" ... there are many doubts regarding their profitableness; they perform about two-thirds of what they did previous to emancipation; their wages range from $8 to $12 per month, or one third of the crop."88
The report for 1870 was that:
"Freedmen do not improve, but are disposed to be idle and improvident. They usually hire for wages, which are usually $15 per month in coin, for the year, and board."89
With the coming of the railroad in 1869 came a tremendous increase in cotton production. The trains could transport as many bales over the 50-mile road to the nearest market in 1 day as 1,000 ox-teams could carry in 2 weeks.90 Cotton buying centers grew up in the west, facilitating marketing of the fiber grown in Robertson County.91 In 1876 one of the largest gins in the world - it had 21 stacks - was built at Calvert by John H. Gibson. In 1882, 32,000 bales were received in Calvert alone.92 In 1894 one man sold 3,400 bales from his own land.93
Numerous rains, some resulting in floods, early proved serious setbacks to farming. In 1899 heavy rainfall damaged the crops. One rain, unofficially measured as 30 inches in 84 consecutive hours, gave Hearne the world’s record for cloudbursts.94 Early in the twentieth century many acres of excellent farm land along the Brazos River seemed likely to be ruined by frequent inundations. Just prior to the first World War, levee construction was undertaken along the river banks in Robertson County and much land was reclaimed.95 Robertson County today is regarded as one of the best farming counties in Texas. The Brazos bottoms are still covered with small plantations, worked chiefly by Negro farmers.96
In recent years there have been numerous attempts to secure an appropriation to clear the channel of the Brazos and make it navigable again. Organization of the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District is considered an important step in this direction.97
During the days of its early history, Robertson County lay not only on the principal route from San Antonio to the East Texas settlements, but also on the course most traveled from the coast to the rich river bottoms of east-central Texas. Oxcarts and covered wagons labored along the streets of old Franklin and Sterling.98 With the development of the county, population centered along the roads. Old Franklin, established as the county seat because the site was near the center of the county, yielded the court-house to Wheelock, which was on the San Antonio Road.99 Farmers carted their produce over the level prairies to Sterling, and there sold it to teamsters who hauled it to San Antonio in wagon trains.100 Benchley, they called Staggers Point, which by 1850 was an important community, was also on the San Antonio Road.101
When the first train of the Houston & Texas Central line arrived in Robertson County it brought with it, among other things, an official name for Staggers Point, the temporary terminus. The Irish settlers agreed that the conductor’s name should be adopted as the name of the station. The conductor was a Mr. Benchley, and the town is still known by that name.102
Although the residents had eagerly awaited the coming of the railroad, when the first train rolled in, horses wheeled and ran, and many of the farmers did likewise. The people of the rural community recognized its advantages, but the railroad did not affect their everyday lives for some time. For years trains did not run on Sunday because few would desecrate the Sabbath by riding in them.103
Towns followed the railroads. This resulted in a general redistribution of population. The entire town of Sterling moved to meet the rails, and even took a new name, Calvert, to honor Judge Robert Calvert, who had persuaded the railroads to come through the county.104 As the terminus of the rails, Calvert was a busy, thriving town.105 In 1870 it became the county seat.
"Its main street was lined with saloons, cowboys, cotton wagons; and stacks of gold were a common sight on the tables of the famous gambling houses. This village was one of the greatest trading points of the country."106
The seventies saw the birth of three towns along the right-of-way of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad: Hearne, Hammond, and Bremond. The International & Great Northern Railroad gave new life to Franklin, and in 1879, it was voted the permanent county seat.107
The old San Antonio Road along the southern border of the county is now a modern highway. The main route of north and south motor travel is State Highway 6, which connects Benchley and Bremond, via Hearne. From northeast runs State Highway 43, linking Easterly, Franklin, and Hearne.108
Besides the Irish immigrants and the families from the frontiers of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky who followed Sterling C. Robertson into this region, the county, soon after it was created, numbered among its inhabitants several comparatively wealthy planters from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,109 who had brought their own slaves. A visitor to this region in about 1850 wrote:
"Emigration has been immense during the last year, consisting of a highly valuable class of citizens, who not only possess the means of developing the resources of the soil but whose moral worth is happily calculated to make a favorable impression on society."110
With the increasing importance of cotton raising, more slaves were imported, so that by 1858 there were almost as many Negro residents as white.111 The result was that during the days of Reconstruction difficulties were political as well as economic. In 1869. 1,169 Negro voters registered in the county while only 714 white men registered. State police stations were set up at Franklin, Calvert, and Owensville to keep order. Following the fall of the Davis regime and the end of Reconstruction, most of the Negroes returned to the plantations as tenant farmers.112 In the meanwhile, a number of foreigners had come in and set up a system of small farms worked by the owner.113
They came with the railroads. Of the 23,021 county residents in 1887, 600 were Germans, 465 Poles, and 11,088 Negroes.114
Benchley for years continued to be predominantly Irish. Mexican immigrants who came about 1871 concentrated largely at Hammond.115 The Poles, most of whom came in the letter 1870’s, established themselves in the town of Bremond, on the northern boundary of the county.116 German immigrants, settled by the Texas Land & Immigration Company in 1881, colonized New Baden, on the International & Great Northern Railroad. The residents of these communities have retained many of the social customs and other characteristics of their respective fatherlands.117
Old Franklin and Staggers Point (present Benchley), were the first villages in the county. Franklin was not only the county seat, but the headquarters of a vast land district, and therefore, of the land locators, “the most adventurous and daring class of persons on the frontier.” The county seat touched the very rim of Indian country. Many newcomers stopped their to get information and to rest before making final locations. Indian fighters and surveyors gathered at the courthouse to exchange news and wait for opportunities to work. Large numbers of chain carriers and other help required by land prospectors assembled at Franklin.118
Of more permanent character was the progressive Staggers Point. It had the first church in the county, the first shooting club, and the first race track. “It is said that many fine horses ran on this track and the betting became the talk of the state. This naturally drew much of the rough element, and caused much horse-stealing in this section.”119
Wheelock, the second county seat, named for Colonel E. L. R. Wheelock, one of the organizers of Robertson’s colony and later a Texas Ranger, was on the San Antonio road and one of the most colorful of the early towns.120 Although it had an equal number of stores and saloons, 12 of each, it also had fine homes, at one of which Sam Houston was a guest.121
Sterling, as Calvert was known in antebellum days, had yet another character, one more typical of the Brazos bottoms. Headed by Judge Robert Calvert, a descendant of Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore,122 of a number of prominent Southern families settled here, and the plantation life which soon typified the bottoms centered at this point.123
W. S. Allen, Calvert pioneer, remembers that:
"In those days men were vain over their small feet. We paid Mr. Conitz fifteen and 20 dollars a pair for French calf-tongue boots with quilted Morocco leg tops. The tops were quilted in colored roses and other designs. When we put those fancy boots on and went to church ... we felt mighty dressed up."124
Churches & Schools
One of the early acts of the county commissioners was to set aside land for the establishment of a public school, too be called Franklin Academy.125 This move followed the 1839 Act of Congress which set apart for each county 3 leagues of land from the public domain “for the purpose of establishing a primary school or academy.”126 The following year the Congress added a league to each county’s school land apportionment.127 Land values, however, were to low to provide sufficient funds and the plan failed.128 There is no further mention of Franklin Academy, or of school districts or teachers, in early records of the county. the first educators of the county were probably the circuit-riding preachers who led the old “field schools.”129 As late as 1850 it was remarked:
"A very large majority of the rising generation of middle Texas ... are entirely destitute of school instruction ... in many of our counties, common schools cannot be found. In many neighborhoods the Sabbath school is the only means of instruction afforded ..."130
One of the first ministers in the county was Rev. Robert Crawford, a Methodist from South Carolina, who had fought at San Jacinto.131 Probably the first house of worship in the county was the “Old Ireland Church,” a long structure built by the Irish settlers of Benchley, who were Presbyterians. The first pastor of this church was named Fullenwider. Of him it was said:
"The minister did not only preach but worked wherever he was needed, helping to “clear the land, work the crops, nursing the sick, and burying the dead.” He was a widely known Indian fighter, and once had to whip a man before he could convert him."132
The second church built in this community, and possibly in the county, was intended for use as a schoolhouse, and was called Red Top. This house served as a community meeting place for many years. Here women teachers “tutored a child as long as he cared to attend school as grades were unknown at that time.”133
In 1856 Chief Justice A. L. Brigance was ordered by the Commissioners Court to deed two county lots in Owensville “for school purposes,”134 and a description of the county published in 1858 mentions a “female academy” which was then under construction in Owensville.135 Reference is made in the Commissioners Court minutes, November 22, 1879,136 to a schoolhouse at Mount Vernon, and to a Methodist Church at Mc Christian’s Mill, June 3, 1861.137
Soon after the Civil War, there were seven or eight schools in various parts of the county. There were also four churches, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Christian.138 On May 21, 1867, the “Quarterly Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, on the Owensville circuit,” asked and received from the county a donation of 2 lots in Owensville, on which to build a church and a parsonage.139 The Hearne Station Baptist Church was organized on April 18, 1869.140 A number of churches came into being during the 1870’s. Mention is made in the Commissioners Court minutes of the White Rock Church, May 27, 1873;141 the Freeman’s Church, March 1874;142 Chapel Hill and Mount Vernon Churches, July 1874;143 Elm Church, 1876;144 and Hickory Grove Church, February 1877.145 Calvert at this time had four churches.146
In 1876 Father Mosiewicz organized the Polish parish at Bremond. For a time he served the church from Marlin in Falls County, but later, the Bremond colonists subscribed money to bring Father Peter Litwora from Poland.147
By 1880 Hearne had three Protestant churches and a Roman Catholic church for white residents; three churches for Negroes; and two schools. Englewood had one church building, shared by Baptist and Methodists, and “a good school.”148 On June 22, 1880, a lot in the new county seat of Franklin was given to the Methodist Episcopal Church.149 By 1882 the Roman Catholics and all the leading Protestant denominations had organized churches and built houses of worship in the county, and regular religious services were being held by the Jewish residents of Calvert.150
The State free school fund in the early eighties was apportioned to a scholastic population of 3,075 in Robertson County, and public schools were established for white and Negro children in proportion to their numbers. There were several private schools of primary grade, and at least one private high school.151 The office of county superintendent of public instruction was set up in 1892.152
The first newspapers in the county, the Weekly Central Texas at Bremond, and the Tribune at Calvert, were established in 1870. Although both publications were short-lived, Robertson County has never been without a newspaper since that time. All present-day newspapers are weeklies. They are the Bremond Press, the Calvert Tribune, the Franklin Favorite, and the Hearne Democrat.153
When yellow fever was raging through the South in the early 1870’s, Calvert was almost depopulated. Most of the inhabitants, believing the fever to be directly contagious, left when it was discovered that a traveling printer had died from the disease in a room in the Bailey building. The town was quarantined, and trains were not allowed to stop. The windows of all coaches were tightly closed until the cars had passed beyond the town limits. Since there was no treatment for yellow fever, between three and four hundred persons died from it.154
Soon after this scourge had passed, the development of several mineral springs led to the establishment of the new village of Wooten Wells, 3 miles west of Bremond, as a health resort, while the waters of the Overall mineral wells at Franklin were marketed.155
The county commissioners in 1871 appointed a Dr. Mc Donnell as the first county physician, “to look after the sick paupers not otherwise provided for.”156
For years, the river lands were considered unhealthful,157 and malarial attacks were more or less frequent along the rivers and creeks in the summer and fall.158 The malaria was not severe, and in 1909 a survey of the county reported:
"Since the greater part [of the lowlands] has been put under cultivation, the sloughs have largely dried up, and this, coupled with the securement of excellent artesian water, has improved the conditions until the bottom land is about as healthful as the upland."159
The general standard of health has always been high on the prairies.160
Calvert was several times almost destroyed by fire between 1870 and 1873.161 On July 23, 1873, the county commissioners ordered the purchase of furniture and stationery to replace that destroyed by fire, and paid J. C. Parnell $5 for “guarding the County Records at the late conflagration.”162 There is a lapse in the Commissioners Court minutes from June 1, 1871 to May 27, 1873, indicating that these records may have been lot by fire.163 Brick buildings generally replaced the frame structures which were destroyed in the series of Calvert fires.164
Fire also leveled almost an entire block of Bremond’s busiest trade section in the early 1890’s. Here, too, brick buildings soon replaced the frame ones which had burned.165
Footnotes For Historical Sketch Section Of Inventory
E. Castaneda, Our catholic
heritage in Texas, II, and a map.
2 Ibid., p. 53, tells how Indians attached themselves to the Spanish expedition after it crossed the Brazos, and before it reached the Tejas Indian country to the east.
3 Charles W. Hackett (ed.), “Locations of the Early Spanish Missions and Presidios in Nacogdoches County," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLI (1937-38), 218.
4 Castaneda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, II, end map. The principal route of travel changed gradually to north and south, beginning in the 1820’s, when Stephen F. Austin’s first colonists came from the coast into central Texas. Ibid.
5 The Texas Almanac for 1939-40, p. 62, hereinafter cited as 1939-40 Almanac.
6 Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Texas, 1793 - 1836, p. 331, hereinafter cited as Barker, Life of Austin.
7 Translations of Empresario Contracts, p. 22 (ms. in Texas General land Office, Austin).
8 Barker, Life of Austin, pp. 336-358
9 Eugene C. Barker (ed.), The Austin Papers, vol. I, pt. II p. 1304.
10 Baker, Life of Austin, pp. 371-373.
11 Prendergast, H. D., “History of Robertson ,” American Sketch Book, IV (1878), 324, 325, hereinafter cited as Prendergast, “History of Robertson,” Sketch Book.
12 “Origin of names of Robertson County,” Hearne (Tex.) Democrat, Apr. 9, 1936, hereinafter cited as “Origin of names.”
13 Mattie Austin Hatcher, Letters of an Early American Traveler, Mary Austin Holley, p. 133.
14 Texas General land Office, map of Robertson county, Jan. 1919, hereinafter cited as Land Office Map.
15 Lawrence Ward St. Clair, History of Robertson County, pp. 50, 51 (ms. Master’s thesis in University of Texas Library), hereinafter cited as St. Clair, Robertson County.
16 James T. De Shields, Cynthia Ann Parker, p. 10, hereinafter cited as De Shields, Cynthia Ann.
17 St. Clair, Robertson County, pp. 57-60.
18 De Shields, Cynthia Ann, pp. 12-19.
19 Gam. Laws, I, 355.
20 Ibid., p. 479.
21 Gam, Laws, I, 508.
22 Ibid., p. 1002.
23 Ibid., p. 824.
24 St. Clair, Robertson County, p. 63.
25 “Texas Towns of Historical Interest That Have Been Abandoned or Remain Small Towns Today,” The Texas Almanac for 1936, p. 124.
26 1936-40 Almanac, pp. 66, 67.
27 De Shields, Cynthia Ann, pp. 12-15.
28 Gam. Laws, I, 1398.
29 Bond Book, vol. 1, pp. 4, 5, in Official Bond Record, see entry 105.
30 Probate Minutes, vol. A, p. 2, see entry 187.
31 Bond Book, vol. 1, pp. 1-7, 37, in Official bond Record, see entry 187.
32 Ibid., pp. 20, 21.
33 St. Clair, Robertson County, pp. 80,81.
34 W. D. Wood, “Sketch of the Early Settlement of Leon County, Its Organization, and Some of the Early Settlers,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, IV, (1900-1901), 205, 206.
35 Prendergast, “History of Robertson,” Sketch Book, IV (1878), 324, 325.
36 See map, p. 1. The judicial county of Waco, which the legislature attempted to create Jan. 29, 1842 (Gam. Laws, II, 752) was never organized, a decision of the Supreme Court at its January term the same year declaring judicial counties unconstitutional (Stockton v. Montgomery, Dallas TX, p. 473.
37 Gam. Laws I, 1398.
38 Ibid., II, 550. Brazos County was first called Navasota.
39 Ibid., p. 1314
40 Ibid., p. 1332
41 Ibid., p. 1378
42 Ibid., p. 1438
43 Ibid., p. 1366
44 Probate Minutes, vol. A, p. 5 see entry 187.
45 Ibid., p. 24
46 Bond Book, vol. 1, p. 38, in Official Bond Record, see entry 105.
47 Probate Minutes, vol. A, pp. 24, 25, see entry 187.
48 Bond Book, vol. 1, p. 20, in Official Bond Record, see entry 105.
49 Ibid., p. 28.
50 Of Land Certificate County Court (cover title, County Court Book County Records), vol. BC, pp. 179, 180, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
51 Ibid., p. 183
52 Ibid., p. 199.
53 Ibid., p. 203.
54 Ibid., p. 218.
55 Ibid., pp. 250, 251.
56 Ibid., p. 275.
57 Ibid., pp. 249, 250.
58 Of Land Certificate County Court (cover title, County Court Book County Records), vol. BC, p. 258, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
59 Gam. Laws, III, 1553.
60 Of Land Certificate County Court (cover title, County court Book County Records), vol. BC, pp. 302, 303, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
61 Ibid., pp. 332, 333.
62 Ibid., pp. 352, 353.
63 Records (cover title, Record of the County Court Robertson), vol. D1, pp. 24, 25, 32-36, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
64 Gam. Laws, VI, 205.
65 Commissioners Court Minutes 1863 to 1871 (cover title, Police Minutes), vol. C, p. 340, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
66 Ibid. p. 362; Day Book, vol. 2, pp. 2-53, passim, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
67 Commissioners Court Minutes 1863 to 1871 (cover title, Police Minutes), vol. C, p. 394, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
68 Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A, p. 38, see entry 1, shows an order for an auction of this Courthouse set for April 21, 1880.
69 Day Book, vol. 2, pp. 235, 236, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1. On December 1, 1874, the court held questioned its own authority to decide election contests, but reached no decision; when the question was put to a vote, one member declined the issue, and the other two were of opposite opinions. Ibid., pp. 188, 189.
70 It met at Calvert for the last time Feb. 25, 1880 (Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A, p. 28, see entry 1); at Franklin for the first time Mar. 8, 1880 (ibid., p. 37).
71 Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A. p. 9, see entry 1.
72 On Feb. 9, 1880, the court ordered that the plan of the City of Morgan as presented by the Texas Land Company be approved and that the company be authorized to name the streets (ibid., p. 12).
73 St. Clair, Robertson county, p. 100.
74 Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A. pp. 9, 10, see entry 1.
75 St. Clair, Robertson County, p. 101.
76 Reception Record (1872-97), notation on flyleaf, in Register of Instruments Filed for Record, see entry 40.
77 Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A. p. 37, see entry 1.
78 Ibid. , pp. 137, 138.
79 Ibid., p. 201.
80 War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. I, vol. XI, pt. II, p. 569; vol. XII, pt. II, pp. 601, 616; Dudley G. Wooten, A Comprehensive History of Texas, II, 576-592.
81 Records (cover title, Record of the County Court Robertson), vol. D1, pp. 247-425, passim, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
82 Seldon Bain Graham, War Activities of Robertson County, Texas, 1917-1919, pp. 5-7 (Master’s thesis in University of Texas Library).
83 Marjorie Rogers, “The Town of Calvert,” Frontier Times Magazine, Oct. 1931, p. 581, hereinafter cited as Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times.
84 “Origin of Names”; Melinda Rankin, Texas in 1850, p. 125.
85 Prendergast, “History of Robertson,” Sketch Book, IV (1878) 329.
86 The Texas Almanac for 1858, p. 43, see Land Values, hereinafter cited as 1858 Almanac.
87 The Texas Almanac for 1857, p. 70; 1858 Almanac, p. 42.
88 The Texas Almanac for 1867, p. 150, hereinafter cited as 1867 Almanac.
89 The Texas Almanac for 1871, p. 145, hereinafter cited as 1871 Almanac
90 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, p. 582.
91 J. L. Waller, “The Overland Movement of Cotton, 1866-1886.” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXXV (1931-32), 141-144.
92 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, p. 582.
93 J. P. Mc Lendon, “Pioneer Citizen Writes of Early Robertson County History,” Hearne (Tex.) Democrat, Oct. 2, 1936, hereinafter cited as Mc Lendon, “Pioneer Citizen.”
94 Texas Reclamation Department, Bulletin No. 25, Excessive Rainfall in Texas, pp. 27-39.
95 Frank W. Johnson and Eugene C. Barker, A History of Texas and Texans, II, 752.
96 WPA Writers’ Program (comp.) Texas, A Guide to the Lone Star State, p. 570.
97 1939 - 40 Almanac, p. 136.
98 St. Clair, Robertson County, pp. 80.
99 See footnote 50, p. 7.
100 May Foster, “Picturesque and Aristocratic Old Sterling Once Was Dream Spot of Settlers,” Dallas (Tex.) Morning News, Aug. 18, 1935, hereinafter cited as Foster, “Sterling.”
101 “Origin of Names.”
103 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, pp. 581, 582.
104 Foster, “Sterling.”
105 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, pp. 581, 582.
106 Ibid., p. 581.
107 See pp. 9, 10.
108 Texas Highway Commission, Highway map of Texas, 1936.
109 Foster, “Sterling”; St. Clair, Robertson County, p. 54; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils, Soil Survey of Robertson County, Texas, pp. 7, 8, hereinafter cited as Soil Survey.
110 Rankin, Texas in 1850, p. 125.
111 1858 Almanac, p. 93.
112 1871 Almanac, pp. 226, 228.
113 Soil Survey, pp. 8-52.
114 Texas Department of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics, and History, Agricultural Bureau, Texas Agricultural and Statistical Report 1888, p. 188.
115 “Origin of Names.”
116 Edward J. Dworaczyk, The First Polish Colonies of American in Texas, pp. 168-170, thereinafter cited as Dworaczyk, Polish Colonies.
117 “Origin of Names.”
118 Marjorie Rogers, “Surveyor’s Fight,” Frontier Times Magazine, Dec 1931, p. 123.
119 “Origin of Names.”
120 Texas Commission of Control for Centennial Celebrations, Monuments Commemorating the Texas Independence, p. 155.
121 St. Clair, Robertson County, p. 90.
122 “Origin of Names.”
123 Foster, “Sterling.”
124 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, p. 583.
125 Bond Book, vol. II, p. 47, in Official Bond Record, see entry 105.
126 Gam. Laws, II, 134.
127 Ibid., p. 320.
128 Frederick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas, pp. 88, 90.
129 Ibid., pp. 93, 94.
130 Rankin, Texas in 1850, p. 128.
131 Texas Commission of Control for Centennial Celebrations, Monuments Commemorating the Texas Independence, p. 175.
132 “Origin of Names.”
134 Records (cover title, Record of the County Court Robertson), vol. D1, p 46, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
135 Jacob de Cordova, Texas: Here Resources and her Public Men, p. 252, hereinafter cited as De Cordova, Texas.
136 Records (cover title, Record of the County Court Robertson), vol. D1, p. 222, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
137 Ibid. , p. 333.
138 1867 Almanac, p. 150.
139 Commissioners Court Minutes 1863 to 1871 (cover title, Police Minutes), vol. C, pp. 144, 145, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
140 “70 Years History Behind Hearne’s Baptist Church,” Hearne (Tex.) Democrat, 50th Birthday Edition, Feb. 17, 1939.
141 Day Book, vol. 2, p. 4, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
142 Day Book, vol. 2, p. 84, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
143 Ibid., p. 123.
144 Minutes County Court Robertson County, vol. 3, p. 95, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
145 Ibid., p. 178.
146 Mc Lendon, “Pioneer Citizen.”
147 Dworaczyk, Polish Colonies, pp. 168-170.
148 H. M. Hoxie and Allen Mc Coy, Home in Texas on the Line of the International and Great Northern Railroad, p. 97.
149 Commissioners Court Minutes, vol. A, p. 99, see entry 1.
150 Texas Commission of Insurance, Statistics, and History, The Resources, Soil, and Climate of Texas, p. 263, hereinafter cited as Resources.
152 Record of Election Returns, vol. 2, p. 17, see entry 33.
153 WPA Historical Records Survey Program (comp.), Texas Newspapers, 1813 - 1939.
154 Rogers, “Calvert,” Frontier Times, Oct. 1931, p. 583
155 Resources, p. 264; Texas Department of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics and History, Geological Survey of Texas, Report on Grimes, Brazos, Robertson Counties, p. 83.
156 Commissioners Court Minutes 1863 to 1871 (cover title, Police Minutes), vol. C. pp. 419, 420, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
157 Soil Survey, p. 8.
158 Resources, p. 38.
159 Soil Survey, p. 8.
160 Resources, p. 38.
161 Prendergast, “History of Robertson ,” Sketch Book, IV (1878) 330.
162 Day Book, vol. 2, pp. 12, 13, in Commissioners Court Minutes, see entry 1.
163 See entry 1.
164 Prendergast, “History of Robertson,” Sketch Book, IV (1878), 330.
165 Dworaczyk, Polish Colonies, p. 168.
Barker, Eugene C., ed., The Austin Papers. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1924, 1928; Austin, The University of Texas, 1926. 3 vols. (labeled II, II, III; first vol. in 2 pts.).
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State, 1845, in H. P. N. Gammel, Laws of Texas, II, 1277-1302. Austin, The Gammel Book Company, 1898. 10 vols.
State, 1866, in H. P. N. Gammel, Laws of Texas, V, 856-886. Austin, The Gammel Book Company, 1898. 10 vols.
State, 1869, in H. P. N. Gammel, Laws of Texas, VII, 393-340. Austin, The Gammel Book Company, 1898. 10 vols.
State, 1876, Vernon’s Annotated Texas Constitution. Kansas City, Mo., Vernon Law Book Co., 1927, 2 pts.
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Hackett, Charles W., ed., “Locations of the Early Spanish Missions and Presidios in Nacogdoches County,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLI (1937-38) 212-224.
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