Chapter I

Page last updated:  June 20, 2013

by John L. Baldwin

Introduction

Statement of the Problem

This thesis represents an attempt to trace the early history of the County of Walker in East Texas from it's beginning up to approximately the year 1900.  The county itself was created by a legislative act passes for that purpose on April 6, 1846, but our story must begin before that time.  Walker was originally part of Washington County, but was included within the boundaries of Montgomery County as created in 1837.  White settlers began to come into the region even while Texas belonged to Mexico, the first known settler in the Walker County area being Christopher Edinburgh, who came here in 1824.  (Personal interview, T. B. Edinburgh, Huntsville.  Mr Edinburgh is a grandson of Christopher Edinburgh.)

These early settlers were not the first, however to visit what is now Walker County.  Spaniards and Frenchmen had crossed the county long before, and there were also quite a few Indian inhabitants of the area.  The town of Huntsville, present county seat and one of the first settlements in the county, was established primarily for the purpose of trading with the friendly Indian  tribes in the vicinity.

Organization

The first 4 Chapters of the investigation deal with matters of general consideration in connection with the county.  Chapter 2 deals with geography and topography of the county, the early Spanish and French activities in this area, and the Indian inhabitants.  the creation and organization of the county are considered in Chapter 3, in which a detailed tracing of the legislative acts pertaining to county boundary adjustments is undertaken.  These various laws are quoted in part, in order that the reader might more closely follow this development and thus see how the present-day county has retained it's shape.  A map shows these changes.  Chapter 4 includes early industry and occupation activity and the development of transportation, involving the a study of navigation on the Trinity River, early roads and stage lines, and the coming of the railroad to the county.

Following these chapters are studies of the various towns and settlements.  These communities which are still in existence at the present time [1954] are discussed first, with Huntsville, since it is the largest and also the county seat, being given the most consideration.  Waverly, New Waverly, Phelps, Dodge and Riverside complete the list of present- day communities.

Cincinnati, Tuscaloosa, Newport, Carolina, and Elmina are the most important "ghost" towns of the county.  these were once flourishing communities, but now have ceased to exist.  The first 4 of these towns were important ports along the Trinity River, which owed their existence to the riverboat trade.  As such trade steadily decreased, chiefly because of the coming of the railroad, the towns decreased in size and finally vanished altogether.  Elmina, on the other hand, owed its growth and development to the lumbering industry, and when most of the useable timber in the area was used up, the town rapidly declined.

This study will include such things as the early beginnings of the towns, the first settlers, early businesses, development of educational facilities, and growth of churches.

Need for This Study

Any inhabitant of the county should attempt to be become better acquainted with the history and background of the region.  Such a knowledge leads to a greater feeling of pride in it's development.  The person who knows the story of the beginning of the county, who are acquainted with its progress, and who are aware of the problem along its path of development are more likely to take an interest in it's future growth and prosperity.  They will do their part in promoting those things which will work for the best interests of the county and it's citizens.

There is in addition, the pure pleasure that may be derived from obtaining glimpses of the early days of our modern communities and the people who began them.  Walker County is especially rich in historical interest.  It is located in one of the oldest settled areas of the state, and boasts of such famous citizens as Sam Houston, hero of the Texas War for Independence, President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of the State, and U. S. Senator from Texas, and Henderson Yoakum, who wrote one of the first histories of the State while living at his residence southeast of Huntsville, the ruins of which may be seen today.

Most of the citizens of Walker County who have been here for any length of time are familiar with various stories connected with its history, but there has been no attempt to bring together these accounts so that they can be preserved.  As time goes forward, records and other sources of information become more difficult to uncover, or cease to exist.  When the old settlers who have spent their lives in the county are gone, much of the history they have made will go with them.  Some of the persons interviewed in seeking information for this study have expressed regret that they made no attempt to record some of the things told to them by a grandfather or some old settler of the county, who is now dead.  Often some book or paper has been sought which is known to have been in existence but which cannot now be located.  These things need to be collected and recorded so that they will not be lost.  This thesis is an effort in that direction.

Method of Investigation

The following are chief sources of information which have been used in the preparation of this paper:  Courthouse records, Deed records, proceedings of the county commissioners, and probate records were the chief type of records studied. Personal interviews have been conducted with some of the older settlers in the county, or with descendants, or with individuals who have occasion to possess particular knowledge of phases of Walker County's background.  Another Walker County newspaper, The Huntsville Banner, has been used to some extent, but copies of this paper are very scarce, since it ceased publication in 1849.   Various other newspapers have also been used.  Statute books have been used in tracking specific legislative enactments pertaining to the county or to the communities within the county.  Private documents such as letters, family histories and diaries have been used to some extent.  Various secondary sources have also been used, in order to cover areas about which original documents and records have not been located.  Visits to important sites within the county have been made, in order to determine locations and observe the layout of the land, particularly in connection with the "ghost" towns discussed. Cemeteries located in the various communities have also provided much information about the early residents.  Church records have been studied in order to trace the organization and growth of the various denominations.

Related Studies

Several studies have to do with some phase of Walker county's history have been made.  Perhaps the best overall account may be gained from T. C. Richardson's East Texas, It's History and It's Makers, in which he gives a historical survey of each county.

In 1948 the Huntsville - Walker Chamber of Commerce compiled an Economic, Educational, and Social Community Survey, which gives valuable statistics on various resources of the county, along with other economic studies, a treatment of schools and education facilities, and social considerations.

Other studies are concerned primarily with communities within the county, Huntsville in particular.  Mrs. I. B. McFarland wrote A History of Huntsville in the historical issue of the Item, March 6, 1941.  Mrs. Davis Cox wrote S.H.N.I. and Historic Huntsville Through a Camera, published in 1899, which includes a history of the first 20 years of S.H.N.I. and an account of many of the early settlers and leading citizens of Huntsville.  The book had many excellent pictures of early homes in the city, street scenes, and well known personalities of Huntsville, accompanied by biographical sketches.  A Sociological Study of Huntsville was written by Logan Wilson as a thesis for the University of Texas in 1927.  Two other thesis written at the University of Texas have dealt with education aspects of Huntsville.  David Ellison Bunting compiled A Documentary History of S.H.N.I., and Boyce Smith wrote on Andrew Female College, and early Huntsville schools located in the present site [1954] of the elementary school.

Two other communities have also been studied.  Mrs. Henry Leis has written Retrogression of a Rural Community, a research paper prepared in the Education Department of the S.H.S.T.C., which deals with the history of Waverly, and old settlements of the southern portion of the county, about 10 miles of New Waverly.  Mrs. Verna M. Morley of Navasota has prepared a pamphlet on the Dodge Community History.  This work is in the form for the most part of a study of the early families settling in the Dodge region.

This work written and researched by John W. Baldwin in 1954.

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