By Tom Scott
Bonham Daily Favorite, February 19, 1986
When Texas received its independence from Mexico in 1836, 23 old Mexican municipalities became the original 23 counties of the new Republic.
These original municipalities embraced large areas of lands and usually encompassed several settlements. Population was small enough and in general so well scattered that these new counties were of necessity a generous size.
All of the northern area of the Republic along the Red River was assigned to Red River County. Anglo-American settlement in this area began as early as 1814 when immigrants from the United States began to claim land on both sides of the river. in the period from 1818 to 1836 there were three principal settlements, Clear Creek and Pecan Point on the north bank and Jonesborough on the south.
By 1830 Arkansas was claiming this territory as a part of its Miller County. That area north of the River was cleared of Anglo settlers during the Choctaw Cession of 1825 and many of the uprooted settlers chose to re-establish their homes on the south bank.
Even after Texas established Red River County in 1836, Arkansas still laid claim to the territory and the settlers, unsure as to which government held legal control, chose to elect representatives to both the governing bodies of Arkansas and Texas.
Early in the winter and spring of 1836 additional settlers began to arrive in the area and chose to establish homesteads in the more western reaches of Red River County. Dr. Daniel Rowlett introduced a party of seven families to the area in February of 1836. These seven families represented the vanguard of pioneers who were to settle on the western frontier of Red River County.
In the summer of 1837 approximately 125 families had settled along Red River, Bois d'Arc Creek and near Caney Creek. The seat of just for Red River County still remained in LaGrange, south of Jonesborough, necessitating a trip of over 60 miles for settlers who had to transact business with the courts of the county. Sometime in the latter part of 1837 a petition signed by 118 residents of Red River County was carried to the Congress by Representative Dr. Daniel Rowlett requesting the creation of a new county out of the western territory of Red River County.
On December 14, 1837 the Congress of Texas passed an act entitled "Creating the County of Fannin." Within the bodyof the act was a description of the boundaries determined for the new county:
"Beginning at the mouth of Bois d'Arc Creek, then up said creek to the crossing thereof at the residence of Carter Cliffts; thence south to a point thirty miles in a straight line from the place of beginning; thence westwardly and northwardly to Red River, so to include all the territory within the aforesaid bounds, and east of the cross timbers, thence down Red River to the place of beginning, be and the same is hereby created into a new county to be called the county of Fannin."
Initially, when Rowlett introduced the bill for the creation of the county, he requested the name to be 'Independence,' but after a lengthy argument the fill was amended to name the county for James Fannin, hero of the battle at Golaid.
The new Fannin county embraced the territory along Red River to about the middle of present Cooke County and included parts of later Hunt, Collin, and Cooke Counties and all of Grayson County. Since the western boundary was vaguely defined as "east of the cross timbers" another bill was introduce din November, 1839 "to better define the boundaries of Fannin County." The eastern boundary was unchanged except to extend its length to 60 miles. The western and southern boundaries were then extended more than 350 miles to the west, curving up into the Panhandle area and including all or parts of 26 present day counties where they remained unchanged until the advent of statehood and shrank to the present size in February of 1846 when Hunt, Grayson, and Collin Counties were created.
The original act of 1837 also ordered that the seat of justice be temporarily located at the cabin of Jacob Black and the first court to sit on the last Monday in January, 1838. The act further ordered that the county court at the firs term "appoint two commissioners from the lower, two commissioners from the upper end, and one commissioner from the centre of the county."
The Texas Congress established that the governing body of each county was to be a county board and initially the members of this board were appointed by the Congress. However by 1840, the voters of the counties were to elect their own officials with one or two exceptions. The county board was to be composed of a Chief Justice, Justices of the Peace (in 1845 four elective commissioners were substituted for the justices of the peace), Sheriff, Coroner, and Clerk, a Tax Assessor (appointed by the county board) and a Surveyor, appointed by the Congress. The Sheriff of each county was responsible for collecting the taxes.
When the first county court met at Jacob Black's cabin, (near Lexington on Red River) the following men composed the court: Chief Justice John G. Jouett, Justices James R. Oneal, Joseph Swaggerty, Thomas Lindsey, Mabel Gilbert, Thomas G. Kennedy, Robert B. Fowler, Joseph Murphy and John Legg. Legg never served and moved from the area shortly after the first court convened.
Captain John Hart was also present in his capacity as sheriff. No tax assessor was listed for the county until 1840 when Solomon Chambliss assumed that office. The first surveyor of record was Daniel Montague who evidently was not appointed until 1840. The records of the commissioners court do not list a county treasurer until 1841 when Joseph Sowell was filling theh position. Thomas Jouett, brother of Chief Justice John Jouett was the county clerk and when the first district court met in 1840 J. S. Baker became district clerk.
One other important county board sat in first session in February, 1838, the Board of Land Commissioners for Fannin County. In many ways the land commissioners were the most important public officials of the Republic for it was their responsibility to issue the land grants being awarded to the settlers and to insure the legality of the land claims presented by these settlers. The first land commissioners were Bailey Inglish, president, Joseph Murphy, and William H. Burton, associate commissioners, and J. S. Baker, clerk. After the first meeting Burton was replaced by Samuel McFarland.
When the Fannin County government was first organized most of the settlers ranged along the banks of Red River, the upper reaches of Bois d'Arc Creek, and a few near the present day boundary of Grayson County. Only three locations could even be considered to be settlements.
In the northeast corner of the county, the Jouett brothers had established a small settlement, around their general store, that they named Raleigh, for their birthplace of Raleigh, North Carolina. near the point where Peppercamp Creek emptied into Red River, Daniel Rowlett and his son-in-law established the town of Lexington, Jacob Black's cabin was in the vicinity of this budding village.
Probably the largest settlement area was aroudn Fort Warren in the present northwest corner of the county. At Fort Warren, in addition to the fort itself and Abel Warren's trading post were also a blacksmith shop operated by Stephen Westbrook, a general merchandise store owned by Daniel Montague and William Henderson, and Joseph Sowell's tavern. Some town lots had also been sold at Warren and in all likelihood several cabins had been erected on them.
At the April 9, 1838 meeting of the county government a commission was appointed to select a permanent location for the county seat. The commission, made up of Wiley B. Merrill, Willam R. Baker, John G. Stephens, Sr., William Caruthers, and Andrew Thomas must have reported back to the court on the selection, although no report of the commission's finding are recorded in the court records. On January 9, 1939, plans were drawn up for a new court house to be constructed for the new county seat at Warren. The court met, at Warren, for the first time on January 8, 1840. The district court had not met in Fannin County until the time that the county seat was moved to Warren and sat in its first session on April 7, 1840.
It was soon evident that Warren was in many ways as difficult to reach, for the ever increasing numbers of citizens who had chosen to settle in the central and southern areas of the county, as LaGrange had been for the earliest settlers. By the time the county government had moved to Warren a small settlement was developing in the vicinity of the fort built by Bailey Inglish on the banks of Bois d'Arc Creek.
A petition was sent to the Congress to rename the village Bloomington but once again the Congress, under pressure from other representatives, filed to follow the wishes of the petitioners and opted instead to name the town Bonham for Texas hero and defender of the Alamo, James Butler Bonham.
One of the most important government services to the early settlers was mail delivery and soon after the establishment of Fannin County the citizens were clamoring for ways of receiving their mail nearer to home than the county seat of Red River County. Several mail routes to serve Fannin County were established by the Texas Congress. In January 1839 a mail route was set from San Augustine to Post Caddo and on to Holland Coffee's Station in Fannin County. earlier, on October 10, 1838, a petition from the citizens of Red River County asked for compensation of J. W. Fletcher Elliott for carrying mail from Nacogdoches by way of Epperson's Ferry on Sulphur Fork to the seat of justice of Red River County and on to Fannin County. This contract had been let by Dr. Daniel Rowlett, a member of Congres sin January 183.
Among the post offices and post masters of Fannin County, during the days of the Republic, were Hollarnd Coffee at Coffee's Station, Daniel Rowlett at Lexington, Joseph Murphy at Montague (Refers to Daniel Montague's store at Warren), J. G. Jouett at Raleigh, Joseph Murphy at Warren, Joseph Sowell at Warren, chancy Mill at Fannin County Courthouse (probably at Warren), Thomas Lindsey at Lexington, J. A. Caldwell at Coffee's Station, and Baily Inglish at Fort Inglish.
The Post Office Department accepted bids for the carrying of mail from January 1, 1838 to January 1, 1840 on the following routes: Route #7 from Jonesborough to Seat of Justice of Fannin County, 100 miles once every two weeks. Leave Jonesborough on Sunday 7 a.m. and arrive at seat of Justice of Fannin County on Wednesday 8 p.m. Leave Seat of Justice Fannin County, Friday 7 a.m. and arrive at Jonesborough Monday 8 p.m.
Of interest is the payment made to the mail carriers of these routes. Among the extant receipts of the Post Office Department of Texas is a receipt from Daniel Rowlett made out to G. W. Links, Post Master General. The payment is for $60 paid to Yelverton Kerr for carrying the mail on three trips from Jonesborough to the Seat of Justice of Fannin County.
By the time Texas entered the Union in late 1845, Fannin County was one of the more settled and prosperous counties of north Texas. Thriving settlements were already apparent at Bonham, Warren, Money Grove, and Ladonia. Other early settlements like Lexington and Raleigh were too far from the center of activity to retain their identity for very long and soon disappeared from the records of the county.
Almost a 100 percent agriculturally oriented county for nearly 25 years, the area soon responded to the changes brought about by the Civil War and by the beginning of the latter quarter of the 19th century saw a slight decline in the agricultural resources and an increase in manufacturing of such products as flour, wine, cider, whiskey, cigar and other tobacco products, furniture, wagons and buggies, lumber and the exporting of Bois d'Arc seeds all over the eastern and midwestern areas of the country to be used to grown natural windbreaks in agricultural areas.