Fannin County, Texas

Dedication of Historical marker for Fort Lyday

Sunday, September 30th


A Texas Historical Marker commemorating Fort Lyday, one of three forts established in the area by the Republic of Texas, will be dedicated Sunday, September 30, at 2:00 p.m.  The dedication ceremony will be held at the site of the marker on FM Road 904, between Pecan Gap and Dial where the road crosses North Sulphur River.  Markers for the other two forts, Fort Inglish and For Shelton, have already been established.  These forts were established in the 1830s to protect early day settlers from Indian raids.  As Fort Lyday is located on the present day Fannin-Lamar County line, the Fannin County Historical Commission and the Lamar County Historical Commission are joint sponsors of the marker.


This account of Fort Lyday was verified by Julius Puckett of Hainesville, whose grandmother, Elizabeth Varner Haines, was born in Fort Lyday on April 20, 1840.  She was a the daughter of Martin Varner, Indian fighter who helped build the fort.  She recalled that large dogs were kept in the fort for protection when the men were away, since the Indians were more afraid of dogs than of rifles.


Judge A. W. Neville, historian, wrote of hunting parties organized by the pioneers to seek out marauding Indians after attacks in 1837.  The settlers lived outside the fort on their farms, but gathered at the fort when trouble was expected.


Eighty families stayed inside the fort at its peak.  As the Indians were killed off and scattered, its need became less and less.


Tilden Lyday, who, in 1865, still lived at Dial, believes the fort was built in 1836.  "The best we can tell, Isaac Lyday was fixing to abandon it in 1838," Lyday recalls, "when a Ranger force was organized.  They elected Isaac captain over 80 men, and the fort was their headquarters for several years."


The site is a quarter-mile walk through Post Oak timber and pasture from the nearest passable road.  Two miles away is the old Lyday Cemetery, with broker and scattered headstones dating back to 1832 burials.  Among them, no doubt, were victims of the Indians.  The cemetery is near the Bledsoe Community.  


Early settlers at Fort Lyday included Isaac and Andrew Lyday, Wiley B. Merrill, James McFarland, the Dillingham Brothers, Elbert Early, Ansalem and Andrew Terry, David Waggoner, James H. Woods, the McCowan family, the Lane family, M. W. Bledsoe, G. W. Wilkerson, R. Brown and Al Miller.


Although scouts were constantly alert Indians still managed to penetrate the guards' posts, to steal horses, to kill cattle on the prairies, and to massacre settlers and solitary travelers.  Hunting was practically stopped except that carried on by the scouts who were successful in obtaining ample supplies of meat for barricaded settlers.  Other supplies were hauled from Clarksville.  It took two weeks to get there as the daily travel was never more than six miles per day.


Crops were planted, tilled and harvested cooperatively.  According to Tex Strickland, in his "History of Fannin County, 1836-1843," two men watched, one on either side of the field, while the arms of those engaged in farming were piled conveniently close at hand in the center of the tract.  This principle of division was observed in distributing the harvest.


Isaac Lyday was formally chosen to be in charge of the armed citizens at Fort Lyday between September 1st and November 29th, 1838, as captain of the Third Red River county Rangeing Company.  He was discharged on February 28th, 1839, when he returned to direct it as a private citizen until Indian troubles finally subsided which was after the Civil War.  Several authors refer to Isaac as "Colonel" where his only known military title was "Captain".


Daniel Davis, whose house and land was located east of the fort, moved his wife, son and baby into Fort Lyday in December, 1838, a long with other settlers.  He stayed at the fort until the following autumn when he returned to his deserted farm.  Indian raids had apparently ceased.  Luckily he left his wife, son and baby in the confines of the fort as he was killed at his farm by marauders on the morning of the twelfth day of his return.


The son, Andrew Davis, became one of the first Methodist circuit riders in Texas.  After his father's death he left Fort Lyday to attend McKenzie's College at Clarksville.  In Andrew Davis' Autobiography, which was contributed to the Southwestern Quarterly by R. L. Jones, he describes the death of his father from the accounts of those who witnessed it.


Another Texas pioneer who visited the fort from time to time was David Anders who in his "Historical Sketches" mentions that his sister lived in Fort Lyday.


Isaac Lyday, his brothers and his neighbors and their slaves protected Fort Lyday by themselves until 1838, when Captain Will B. Stout, Commander of the Red River County Rangers, was ordered by General John H. Dyer of the Fourth Militia Brigade, arrived.  They had been sent to help defend against Indians as they rode into the country during the light of every moon.


Settlers at Fort Lyday had a favorite pet - a gentle hog.  It spent much of its time on the porch of the fort.  One day while the men were away, the women heard screams in the nearby woods.  They thought Indians were trying to coax them from the fort.  The women grabbed their guns and started to the woods in the direction of the screams.  Instead of finding Indians, they found the pet hog clutched in the embrace of a huge bear.  One woman shot and killed the bear and saved the pet hog.


That woman was Minerva, wife of David Clark of Clarksville.  She was the sister of Bailey Inglish, who founded Fort Inglish at Bois d'Arc, now Bonham.

Fort Lyday Marker Unveiled


A long-awaited event for members of the Lyday family as well as some concerned and interested area residents observed the realization of several years of hard work by the combined efforts of the Lamar and Fannin County Historical Commissions Sunday, September 30, as the official State Historical marker for Fort Lyday was unveiled at the site located on FM904 south of Dial.


William Alford Lyday of Abilene accepted the marker on behalf of the Lyday family, members of which attended the event from all over the state.  Tom Scott, Fannin County Historical Commission Chairman, and Bob Burns, Lamar County Historical Commission Chairman, jointly presented the plaque at the well-attended event.


The marker identifies the location as the site of Fort Lyday, built there in 1836 by Captain Isaac Lyday, an early pioneer of Texas.  Detailed histories of the early days and lives of the settlers are documents in several places, including this newspaper and in the archives of the Fannin County Historical Commission.  The settlers at the original fort had to contend not only with the forces of Texas weather, but had to deal with the wild animals and Indian raids as well.


Scott, master of ceremonies of the vent, told the crowd of the adventures of Captain Lyday, and of the building of forts Inglish in Bonham Shelton in Lamar County, and Lyday near Dial.  Inglish and Shelton have had markers for some time now, and the cycle is complete with the awarding of the marker to the Fort Lyday site.


Among those involved in seeing the marker to fruition have been Johnny Avery of Honey Grove, Dr. Evan Paul Roberts of ETSU, Mr. Scott and Mr. Burns.


​The Fort Lyday site is now owned by Mr. Melvin E. Foster of Paris.

Fort Lyday


Context:  Early Texas pioneers, led by Isaac Lyday, built Fort Lyday in 1836 for protection against hostile Indian raids in northeast Texas.  There were 25-30 families living in the fort, clearing and farming their surrounding lands communally in what is now Fannin and Lamar Counties.  The fort was located on a small hill, giving full view on all four sides, three-fourths of a mile east and a half mile north of the old Lyday Crossing on the North Sulphur River (now FM 904).  Typical of small private forts on the Texas frontier, Fort Lyday covered about a quarter acre, with several ten-by-twelve-foot storerooms against its north wall, and similarly sized living quarters against the other three.  Floors in the rooms were hand hewn from local post oak timbers.  The fort was surrounded by a picket palisade and had a large well in the middle of the parade ground, where the women gathered to coo, wash clothes, and watch their children play.  A livestock corral was attached.  Isaac Lyday, his brothers, his neighbors, and their slaves protected the fort by themselves until 1838.  The fort was then garrisoned by the Red River County Rangers under the command of Capt. William B. Stout.  Under the order of Gen. John H. Dyer, commander of the Fourth Militai Brigade, Stout's men repaired the fort, brought in other families, and selected Isaac Lyday to be in charge of the armed citizens.  The fort saw sporadic activity until about 1843, when troubles with the Indians in the area at last subsided.  Thereafter, Fort Lyday was allowed to all into decay.


Overview:   Isaac Lyday and his brother Andrew, two Texas pioneeers from Tennessee, first settled on North Sulphur River in Fannin County, near the Lamar County line, in the 1830s.  Hostile Indian bands roamed the countryside, and  were so bad along North and South Sulphur that the 25-30 families in the area built a fort in 1836 and named it after the Lydays.


The site of old Fort Lyday was pin-pointed in 1965 through research by Dr. Evan Roberts, biology professor and then sponsor of the East Texas State College Archeological Society, and Tilden Lyday, great-grandson of Captain Isaac Lyday and Doug Sears, who played in the fort ruins when a child.  An abandoned old well, standing in a pasture south of Dial in southeastern Fannin County, was once surrounded by the courtyard of Fort Lyday and used by the pioneer women to draw water for their daily needs.  The well, now filled with dirt, was 10 feet in diameter and lined with rock.  The actual location of Fort Lyday was a small hill giving full view and protection of all four sides, three-quarters of a mile east and a half-mile north of the old Lyday Crossing on Sulphur River where the present Pecan Gap highway (FM 904)passes over Sulphur.


According to Doug Glenn Sears, who vividly recollected the old fort ruins, the compound occupied a quarter-acre.  There were 10 x 12 foot storerooms on the north side and living rooms, also 10 x 12, making up the rest of the rectangular fort.  Floors in the rooms were hand hewn from post oak timbers.  The center of the fort was open, and the women gathered there to cook, wash their clothes, and watch the children play.  A livestock corral was attached.


This account of Fort Lyday was verified by Julius Puckett of Hainesville, whose grandmother, Elizabeth Varner Haines, was born in Fort Lyday on April 20, 1840.  She was the daughter of Martin Varner, Indian fighter who helped build the fort.  She recalled that large dogs were kept in the fort for protection when the men were away, since the Indians were more afraid of dogs than of rifles.


Two graveyards are near the site of Fort Lyday, the Bledsoe cemetery and the older Lyday cemetery.  Isaac Lyday is buried at the older cemetery along with the oldest negro and white settlers.  Andrew Lyday is buried at the Bledsoe cemetery.  Andrew Lyday's gravestone is located in the Bledsoe cemetery, located across the road from the original site of Fort Lyday (land now owned by Bill and Mary Ann Thurman). 


Early settlers at Fort Lyday included Isaac and Andrew Lyday, Wiley B. Merrill, James McFarland, the Dillingham Brothers, Elbert Early, Ansalem and Andrew Terry, David Waggoner, James H. Woods, the McCowan family, the Lane family, M. W. Bledsoe, G. W. Wilkerson, R. Brown and Al Miller.


For further research and a more detailed account of life at Fort Lyday, including additional historical context surrounding these times, see the account written by Don Raney for the Dallas Geneological Society.



Read about Fort Lyday in the Handbook of Texas and in Fannin County Folks & Facts.

Marker Text:


Early Texas Pioneer Isaac Lyday built a fort in this area soon after settling here in 1836.  The compound, located 75 mi. E and .5 mi. N. of the old Lyday crossing on the North Sulphur River, consisted of living quarters, storerooms, and a large community well.  Many local families gathered inside the Fort during Indian raids.  Due to an increase in these raids, the area was almost abandoned by Anglo settlers until Texas Ranger Captain William B. Stout arrived in 1838 to organize a Ranger force.  Lyday was elected captain of the Company and served until 1839.  Fort Lyday continued to shelter settlers until the raids subsided ca. 1843, and the fort was eventually abandoned.


Directions:  From Ladonia, take FM 64 east 4 miles to FM 904; then north on FM 904 for 4 miles to right of way.

Fort Lyday