Fannin County 54 Years Ago and As It Is Now

Fannin County, Texas

The Daily Favorite, January 11, 1909

The following letter, written from Bonham, by Colonel C. C. Poole, is an interesting description of Fannin County as it was fifty-four years ago, when he first knew it. Colonel Poole’s home is now at Alado, Parker County, and he is known all over Texas as the traveling correspondent of the Texas Stockman-Journal.


In the winter of 1854 in Lafayette County. Missouri, where I had been born and raised, I had read about Davy Crockett, his journey to Texas, the great numbers of all kinds of game in Texas, and I determined to migrate to the Lone Star State and get my share of the game. I had just finished a two and one-half years' apprenticeship of the carpenters’ and joiners’ trade. I bought a splendid double-barreled shotgun, plenty of clothes, and in company with Henry Coursey and family pulled out for Texas Overland in a wagon the last of March, 1855.

We fell in with two other families near the Missouri State line, making four wagons in our party. We killed turkeys, prairie chicken, quail and deer all through Indian Territory and lived on the fat of the land, camping out every night. There were two pretty girls and a dashing young widow in the crowd and I was not slow in getting acquainted with them, as I had just passed my 19th birthday on the 17th of March, just the right age to love the girls as hard as a mule could kick downhill. 

Yes, I was dreadfully mashed on those sweet girls. but I managed to retain my appetite for all that game and fish we were getting. It was one of the most enjoyable trips I ever had. We lay over and rested the stock every Sunday. It so happened there were good streams every place we stopped for the Sunday and the young ladies and I always put in the day fishing and hunting. When my mind carries me back to that pleasant five week’s trip I wish I was a boy again to make another trip like that. As it is, I can’t keep from loving the pretty girls yet.

We crossed Red River the 4th of May, 1855, where we separated, one family going to Collin County, one to Dallas County, one to as Lamar, while our party stopped in Fannin County. I remained with the family in Fannin County a few days only and then walked into a good job of carpentering work at $3 per day. Mechanics were scarce in the country.


Fannin County was then very sparsely settled. Land was very cheap, from 25 cents to $1 per acre, and everybody wanting to sell land. The farm houses then were principally built of logs, which made very comfortable homes, especially in winter. We made all doors, sash and window lot blinds by band—in fact all lumber was worked up by hand in those days. We dressed, tongued and grooved all flooring and ceiling, weather boarding, etc., and all the pine lumber used in these upper counties in those days was hauled by ox teams from East Texas. 

Then there was plenty of grass and camping room, as the little farms and houses were scattering. Cattle stayed fat all the year round. All the farmers killed their own pork out of the woods as hogs would get big and fat on the ma__ fall and winter. It was novelty to me, coming as l did from a county where we had to fatten all kinds of meat in the pen __ yet these people had plenty of fine bacon and lard all the year around. It was a rare thing that you would visit a home that did not have loads of fine honey as ever went down any man's neck. Honey was used extensively for making preserves. Fannin County had more wild bees than any place I ever knew. It was no trouble to find all the bee trees one wanted and the county was covered in spring and summer with all kinds of flowers in which the bees worked. Late in summer and fall every fellow who was not too lazy went to the woods and laid in a year’s supply of the little bees hard labor, I still believe it meant highway robbery, yet I often took a hand in it.
There were thousands of deer, wild turkey, prairie chickens, wild geese, ducks and occasionally a bear.
Bonham then was a very small little burg. I suppose there were not more than half a dozen doctors in the community. Dr. Sam McKee lived in town and Dr. Whitsitt out four miles southeast. He had opened a little farm of sixty or eighty acres and he had about six negroes that did the farm and house work. He practiced his profession when called on and like the remainder of the country people raised lots of hogs, horses and cattle.  In those days $12 to $14 was considered a good price for big, fat steers from 4 to 6 years old. No one ever thought of killing a steer under 4 years old and often they would be 7 or 8 years old.

In those days everybody was glad to see anyone ride up to spend the night with them. It made no difference if he or she was an utter stranger—they were received with hearty greetings.

I think there were only three lawyers in the county—Colonel Sam Roberts, Judge Evans and Bob Taylor. Mr. Taylor was from Mississippi, a red-hot Whig and one of the most hospitable men I ever met. I was doing some carpenter work for him and his brother-in-law, Newt Gilbert, took dinner there. The meal being over, Taylor said, “Newt, I want eight bull yearlings marked or branded. Can you furnish them to me?” Gilbert replied that he could and they soon agreed on a price, which I think was $3 a head.


“Now,” said Taylor, “I want four black ones and four with as much white on them as possible. In two or three days Gilbert brought six to him, four black and two almost white, saying, that was all he could get at that time.
Next morning Taylor said to me: “Pooley, (that was what he I always called me) I want you to come out to the cow lot and a help me and the niggers brand those bulls." They were the old fashioned Spanish cattle that would fight their shadows when they got their blood warmed. We fell to work and did the job in good shape. We branded "Bob" on the left side and “Taylor" on the right side in large letters, but did not mark their ears. I was a little curious and wanted to know of him why he was so particular about the color and number. 

Said he: “I am sending them out as my advertisement. The black ones are Whigs and white ones are Democrats. They will scatter out over two or three counties and for ten years will be a standing advertisement. Every one who sees them hooking the banks, pawing the ground and bellowing will say, “Bob Taylor, that lawyer of Bonham!"
There was no newspaper printed, if I remember rightly, nearer than Clarksville, Red River County. I saw two of these old bulls after the war was over, one in Collin County and one in Dallas County. Taylor was right. It pays to advertise.

In those days all goods and groceries were hauled in wagons from Jefferson and Houston, principally by ox teams. The first steam engine that ever came to Fannin County was brought in on a wagon by Thomas Williams. He hauled it from Houston with ten yolk of oxen to his mill two miles south of Bonham, on the banks of Bois d'Arc creek. They were six weeks making the trip. It had rained and the roads were muddy.


There were three or four mills in the county at that time and they ground all the corn and wheat that the people used. The mills were run by inclined wheels floored over like a bridge. Four or five big steers were tied with a rope around their horns and the mill started. The steers would keep climbing the treadmill for hours.

These clumsy little mills made good meal and flour. They ground for toll and everybody got his meal and flour out of his own grain, hence every farmer took pains to have the best grain possible because he knew his family had to eat the flour or meal from it. Now it is different. The farmer who has first class wheat and the one whose grain is ____ or inferior fare alike.

There was one carding machine in the county in these days and it made wool rolls. It. was also run by steer power. Almost every farm had spinning wheels and a loom and all the cloth and wearing material was made at home. The old fashioned socks and gloves made in those days beat the new-fangled ones.

There were comparatively few people living in old Fannin County at that time, but they were mighty good ones. A man could ride for miles and miles and never see a house. It was no uncommon thing to ride into a little dogwood thicket and route out as many as a dozen deer on an acre of ground.

Now, I presume, taking the county over, it will average a house to every 160 acres. There are school houses, churches and little towns every few miles. Nine-tenths of the land is in cultivation. These lands now command a price of from $40 to S100 an acre. At one time I thought they would never be worth $3 an acre.

Major Ed Dodd came here from Kentucky in 1845 and settled at a little place on Bullard’s Creek, about a mile and a half east of where Dodd City now stands, and I am reliably informed the farm still produces corn, wheat, oats and cotton as well as it did sixty years ago. The old Billy Jones farm, which joins Dodd’s, was settled by Mr. Jones in 1849. It is still bearing crops right along as it did over fifty years ago. Of course the early settlers farmed on a small scale. The man who had forty to fifty acres in cultivation was considered boring with a big auger. They all worked off the grass. Corn and wheat were for people to eat, not horses and oxen.

In those days the ladies rode to church or town horseback or in farm wagons. It was common to see the family hop in a wagon and drive six or eight miles to attend church, driving a trusty yoke of steers. But now. what a change! The ladies all wear store clothes, ride in buggies and are too proud to even ride on a horse’s back. All the young fellows wear sharp-toed patent leather shoes and part their hair in the middle, trying to imitate the ladies. It wouldn’t surprise me much some of these days, to see these young dudes wearing short-sleeved shirt-waists and bustles.

I am now on my old stamping ground, where I was nearly forty-four years ago. I am visiting John O. Jackson and family, eight miles south-east of Bonham. I am living on the fat of the land—spareribs, backbones, sausage, quail, turkey, honey, pound cake, preserves, milk, butter and sweet potatoes. I am having the good time of my life.
I have known the Jackson family fifty-three years. John O., is a first-class farmer, in the prime of life and about 46 years old. I knew his grandparents and his father and mother before he was born.

Nearly all the old-timers have passed away—the Austins, Bill Nail, John Shaffer, R. B. Davis, Major Dodd, John and Bill Brotherton, Dr. Sam McKey, Dr. Whitsett, Bailey Inglish, Mat Brown, Thorn Wheeler, Bob Taylor, Wash Doss, C. C. Alexander, Colonel Sam Roberts, Alf Pace, Carroll Grant, Colonel Bill Freeman, Colonel Gid Smith, Newt and Bill Gilbert have all cashed in and gone on. The young generation has taken their places.