Fannin County, Texas

Historical Marker for Joseph Sowell

Captain Joseph Sowell came to Texas in September of 1836 and settled on his 1280 acre second class Land Grant number 19, which is located just west of where Texas State highway 78 crosses the Red River.  It is said this home overlooked the Red River and the site was called Sowell's Bluff.  The designation is still used on the highway markers and the Texas Highway maps.

There is ample evidence of his interest and concern for his duty as a citizen and his willingness to make use of his abilities and provide his time and energies. During the five year period of residence he held several positions and took part in the affairs of the area.  In 1837 he served as Postmaster at Warren.  At one time he was on the County Board of Land Commissioners.  He and his brother, Richard were on the committee requesting the formation of Fannin County.  When the county was established and organized he served as the first County Treasurer in 1841.

During this period there were many harassing raids from Indians residing north of the Red River.  Hoping to discourage such disruptive and fatality producing attacks there were several organized retaliatory attacks.  At least four times Captain Sowell was called to duty as the leader of his company of the Militia (Minute Men) to protect the communities and settlers from hostile Indian activity.  There dates are recorded as times he was on active duty: August 1-31, 1839; July 6-9, 1841; July 17-25, 1841, and August 15-25, 1841.

One account of this activity is recorded as follows: "Incensed at the repeated depredations upon the frontier, Capt. Joseph Sowell with a company of rangers crossed the river in the Summer of 1841, stole upon a band of Coshatta, burned their huts, killed 10 or 12 Indians and and captured the spoils they had stolen on Texas soil.  A retaliatory expedition of the Coshatta resulted in the death of Captain Sowell."

Judge J. P. Simpson was the Sheriff in 1841 and gives us this account of the event that occurred on the night of October 31, 1841.  "The District Court for Fannin county was to commence in 1841 at Warren, on Monday morning.  Owing to the long distance those summoned as witness and jury-men had to travel to court, many went on Sunday evening, who would put up at the tavern kept by Capt. Sowell and J. S. Scott.  After securing lodging for themselves, and their horses cared for, they would indulge in drinking, and engage in a recital of the dangers, narrow escapes and combats with the Indians."

"Capt. Sowell had a fine and favorite charger which he kept to himself securely locked in the stable, his guest's horses in a substantial enclosure close by.  That night the Indians had cut the door facing in two with their knives and removed the chains and lock from the door shutter, bridled the fine stallion and mounted him for the purpose of driving out the horses in the lot.  The Indians had laid down in the fence corners and stationed themselves at the bars armed with bows and arrows, with their horseman on the fine charger in the lot driving the horses out.  The neighing and tramp of the horses gave the alarm to those at the tavern, notwithstanding by this time they were in high glee and uproar at the house; for they had arrived at that point, that every man was a hero, a general, a statesman, or some great man, in his own estimation; hearing the mighty crash and tramp of horses their amusement ended in short meter; all hands ran for their horses, most of them without their guns or pistols.  Sowell and Scott ran to the gap laid down by the Indians;  Sowell armed with a pistol, Scott with a doublebarrel shot gun; Sowell discharged his pistol at them without effect, when they sent a volley of arrows at him, one passing through his stomach and out at his back.  He fell at the Indian's feet and called to Scott to shoot the Indian, and expired without a groan.  Scott discharged his gun and one Coushatta fell dead with Capt. Sowell.

He was survived by his widow, sons John, Joseph, and Stephen, and daughter Mary.  He was buried near his home, now a cultivated field some one and a half miles west, northwest of the intersection of State Highway 78 and Farm Road 24 to Mulberry.

The provisions of his will tell us of the operation of agricultural practices on his land.  This included cows, calves, horses hogs and slaves.  The farm land was divided between his children.  The property at Old Warren and his hogs were to be sold and the proceeds used to settle any debts.  The property at Old Warren was a Tavern operated in association with J. S. Scott.  This was to be the site of his slaying.

Being the county seat at the time, Warren was a gathering place of business, legal and social activities.  Records indicate that Captain Sowell was the postmaster there for one year.

One noteworthy incident his oldest son, John.  "His oldest son John was captured by Indians about 1837 and held as a prisoner for eighteen months, after which he was ransomed by Sam Houston and returned to his father."  There is a family tradition telling of a meeting between the Indian tribe and Captain Sowell where several young men were lined up for inspection.  Captain Sowell was to receive his son if he recognized him.  He nearly gave up, but at the last minute some flicker of recognition occurred and the youth was reunited with his father.

One of his services was as a member to inspect grants at the Land Office.  At one session several applications were denied.  Among them was that of Holland Coffee who had established the trading post that become Glen Eden on Preston Point in today's Grayson County.  Sowell's will requested Mr. Coffee to serve as guardian of son Joseph Sowell lf the need ever arose.  When the will was probated and the request presented, Mr. Coffee declined to serve.

Marker Text:

In September 1836, Joseph Sowell (1804-1841) came to Texas shortly after the Republic was established.  Settling on his 1280-acre land grant just south of the Red River, Sowell made his home about 1.5 miles northwest of this site.

In the short time he lived in Texas, Sowell was closely involved with the creation and development of Fannin County and with the protection of the printier settlers.  Upon the creation of Fannin County in 1837 and its organization the following year, Sowell was appointed to the County Board of Land Commissioners and served as County Treasurer.  He and fellow pioneer J. S. Scott built a tavern at Warren, the first county seat, where Sowell had served as postmaster.  As leader of his militia company to defend the frontier and its settlers, Sowell led several attacks against the region's Native Americans.  Additionally, he served as quartermaster for the Army of the Republic of Texas.

On October 31, 1841, a band of Indians raided the horse stable at the Tavern in Warren.  In the ensuing struggle, which involved the guests and proprietors of the tavern as well, Joseph Sowell was killed, leaving behind a widow and four children.  He was buried near his homesite.

​As an early settler in northeast Texas whose interest and concern for his duty as a citizen was realized in the position so he held and his active involvement in local affairs, Joseph Sowell played a significant role in Fannin County's early development.

​Directions:  Drive 10.5 miles north of Bonham on SH 78 to the intersection with FM 274.

Read more about Joseph Sowell in the History of Fannin County, Texas, by W. A. Carter, on the Fannin County GenWeb site.

Joseph Sowell