Fannin County, Texas

A Short History About the Trials of the Early Pioneers of Fannin County

By Anderson Rowlett (Colored), Bonham, Texas

The following document, reportedly written in 1904, and the photograph below, have been provided by Glen Smith, a descendant of David Rowlett.  The transcript comes from his family history, although he does not have a copy of the original.  Portions of the document are quoted in an article in the Paris News of January 3, 1940, by A. W. Neville.  We hope to find a copy of the original.  Read the obituary of ex-slave Anderson Rowlett at the Fannin County GenWeb site.  He registered to vote in Fannin County in 1867.  In October, 1872, he was appointed a member of the Board of Appeal for the County of Fannin.

By request of some of the white people of this city, I will relate a little history of some of the first settlers of Texas, I being the only one now living who came to Texas in 1836. 

I was born in Kentucky. I was a servant of Dr. Rowlett, who brought me and my mother and sister, a baby, to Texas. We came from Kentucky to Tennessee and stopped in that state about three months, waiting for Mr. Locke to get ready to come with us to Texas. We then came down to Memphis where we took a boat for Texas. We took Christmas in Memphis, as we had to lay over waiting for a Red River boat. Then we landed at the mouth of Bois d'Arc creek. That was some time in January, 1836. 

The families that came with us were John Steven's, Ned Steven's, Daniel Slack's, Hillry Bush’s, Dick Locke's, Jacob Black’s and Mr. Harmon. We all landed at the mouth of Bois d'Arc and then moved up Red River to where the Rowlett place is, on the bank of the river, fifteen miles north of Bonham. Three of the families formed a settlement - Dr. Rowlett, Mark Robberts and Javis Fitsgerald. Those three families joined each other; the other families scattered from the mouth of Bois d'Arc up to our settlement. Mr. Locke joined on the east side of our place and built a house on a little hill about a mile and a half from where we built. My boss built on the bank of the river. He cut some logs and built a little cabin, and we fenced in a little roasting ear patch, and then my boss went to the Mexican War and left my old mistress, my mother and myself. Both the women had a baby. 

​The first raid that was made on the people that settled in this place, known now as Fannin County, was made in April or May 1836. The Indians were seen by somebody making their way into the settlement, and he went to all the neighbors and told them to close up their houses, Indians were seen coming, and to look out for them. When he got to our house it was night. There was no man on the place. We all set up. Some time in the night we thought we heard some one crossing the river above the house. A short time after that we heard them whoop and we knew they were Indians. Then the women packed up their babies and ran down into Red River bottom, with me right behind them. They kept right down the river and never stopped until they run into a lake of water up to their knees. I called them and told them not to go any further into the lake, that they would get in too deep water; to come back. My old Mistress said "Lord, have mercy; what shall we do? I have lost my shoes in that lake; I am barefoot and my feet hurt so bad". Then she turned to me and asked me if I knew where we were at. I told her "yes mom". Then she said if I was sure, I could get before and they would follow me. When I turned she said "You are going right back to the house". I told her we had to go back to get across the lake. "Don't you take us back to the house", she said. I told her that I would not go back home, that I would take them to Mr. Fitsgeralds. She said "Well, try to get there for I am suffering so much with my feet". Both of the women were wet up to the waist and trembling with cold. There were no roads then; a small path blazed out from house to house was the only guide. I got out of the bottom, found the path and took to Mr. Fitsgerald's. When we got near the house we were afraid to go up. We thought they would be on the lookout, and were afraid they might think we were Indians and shoot. We stopped a little while, studying what we should do. I told them I would creep up close enough and call Mr. Fitsgerald and he would know my voice and somebody would come. So I got up close enough to make them hear my voice. I called Mr. Fitsgerald several times before he answered. He asked what was the matter. I told him we were running from the Indians. He said “Where are your people?" I replied we were all here. Then he came to us and took us to the house. He had three boys and two colored men. he put them all out on guard, and then made a good fire for the women to dry themselves. By that time my old Mistress took a hard chill and was very sick; she never had any more good health from that night until her death. She lived several years after that night but it shortened her days. 

​The next day some of the white men took all the white women to Red River County, and we staid in that County about three weeks. By that time General Tarrant had make up about four companies of men, and had brought them up to what is now known as Fannin County, and stationed them right where the Court House now stands, for the protection of those who had settled on the frontier. The women were then brought back from Red River County, and those men, with some others of the settlers, built a fort about two hundred yards from where Judge Inglish then lived on his land. General Tarrant then divided his four hundred men into two companies. He would send one to hunt the Indians and the other he would keen here on guard at the fort. When the first returned he would send the others to the West to meet the Indian if he was on the war path. General Tarrant appointed my boss Colonel of that army, and he and General Tarrant would take it time about with the men going out west. The Captain of the first company was Thomas Journey; the second company was Mr. Washburne. General Tarrant took the first trip west with his men and run on a little Indian village of wild Indians and scaterred them. There was no man in the village; only a few women and children who left. He caught one woman and boy. All the men were supposed to be out on the war path. Our men took all the horses that were left and the woman and the boy and brought them back home, and when the General had rested a few days he started to go home and take the prisoners, the woman and the boy. At that time there was no road through the country as there is now, and he had to go from here to Red River and take the trail leading from there to Bowie County, and he had to cross at the Rocky ford. The day that he left here he stayed all night at the Rocky ford on Bois d'Arc and some time that night the Indian woman lay down and watched the General and his Captain until they went to sleep, then she slipped out and cut the General's fine horse loose, jumped on him and made her escape. The General's horse was a very fine large, black one, but he never got him any more. It left the General afoot. After he lost his horse it seemed to break him up. He never went west with us any more after that. The next trip out West was made by my boss and Captain Washbourne and his company of soldiers. I went out west with them. When my boss came back from the Mexican war he brought me a gun and learned me how to shoot it. I was small, but I could shoot all right. It was a short gun and I could handle it easily. When we started from here on an Indian hunt my boss told me if they got in a fight with Indians that I must kill one, and I was in hopes every day that we would find some Indians so that I might get a chance to shoot one. We marched on several days. After a while we struck the Planes, found some water and struck camp for the night, The next morning we took the Planes and traveled all that day in the hot sun. It was in July, and you know how warm it was. Not a shade to go under to cool a little. We traveled all day without a drop of water. About dark we stopped. The Colonel gave orders for every man not to take his saddle off, as we were liable to be attacked by Indians at any time. He then said for the men to form a line around the horses and hold to the ropes and guns. No one to strike or speak loud. Well, we all sat there all night, suffering for water. My mind changed that night. I had been hoping for two or three days that we might find some Indians so that I might shoot one, but that night I was afraid that they would come. I was suffering for water and I did not wish to see him until I could get some water. We traveled the next day until about three o'clock. About that time we all rode right up to a creek - a good big creek, running right through the Planes; not a stick of timber to be seen, and from the looks of the bottom of the creek, it had been six months since it had water in it. It was the dryest creek I ever saw. We were then fagged down and so weak that when we got off our horses, we could hardly get up again. The men all stopped on the bank of the creek and talked with each other about what course to take. They decided to follow the creek down to see if they could find any water. We followed it all that evening. About sunset we came to where there was a fall in the bed of the creek, and it had washed out a large basin and it was about half full of water. It was about twenty feet wide and about fifteen feet deep in the middle of the hole. It was miserable and horrible looking water. The wild beasts had watered there as long as they could. It was a sand rock in the bottom of the creek and the bank was so steep that nothing could get out after it got down to the water. There was about a dozen dead animals in that hole. On top of the water the skum and foam looked to be an inch thick, and it was working with live worms from side to side. The Colonel called to the men and said you must not drink but one swallow of that water; that they had been starving so long they must only drink a sup at a time. A sup at a time, it will not hurt you so much. But that did no good; the men pitched into it and never stopped until they got through. My boss would give me a sup at a time till I got enough. In an hour the men began to throw up and groaned all night long. We never unsaddled our horses and was expecting at any minute to be surrounded by Indians. If they had come that night they would have had a good time taking us in. We sat up all that night, holding our horses. Some of the men were too sick to set up. The next morning we wanted to leave that place, but some of the men were too sick to ride and we stayed with them until about 12 o'clock. By that time they were all able to ride and we struck out for the head of the Red River. We traveled until near sundown when we struck the timber of the river and then we found some good water. That night we camped there, but we were very much exhausted and half sick. From there we started home. We got back here to Fort Inglish all safe. We were not bothered by Indians the whole trip, and it was a blessing to us, for we were not able to fight them. After we had starved two days and one night without water, and having to use the water we did, made us all feel feeble and bad. But we had good luck not to be captured by the Indians while in that fix. 

​Now it was Captain Journey's time to go west with his men, but he never left camp until the rains had set in. He then started with 200 men and traveled until they got near the Planes. The first thing they knew the Indians had them all surrounded. The Indians had their guns drawn on our men. Then our men said let us all drop our guns. This kept the Indians from firing on our men. The Indians then closed up on them. There were about 200 of our men. The Captain said he thought there was about 1600 Indians. Captain Journey said that it was the first time that he was ever bad scared. "I felt small enough to go in an auger hole", he said, "when I saw all them Indians pointing their guns at us". But the Indians never hurt any of our men. They had an Indian with them that could speak our language and he did the talking for them. The Indians, I think, from what our men said, kept them about half of the day, holding a council over them. They then took all the best horses and best guns and all the blankets that our men had and told them to go home and "me Ketch you agin me shoot you". Our men said they were very glad to get off that easy. They thought the Indians would kill them. The most of them had to walk home. After that our men never went to the Planes any more. They stayed in camp here until the government sent some troops to Texas, and they built a fort where Fort Worth now is. After that we were not bothered much with the wild Indian. 

I will now give you the names of men that settled here in 1836: Judge Inglish, John Hart, Mr. Gavelin, Mr. Merfill, Mr. Cliff, Mr. Logan, Mr. Heath, Mr. Quillen, Joe Swagaty, Joe Sowell, Thomas Journey, Mr. Westbrook, Willis Boon, Mr. Damron, Mr. Care. 

Alex Johnson brought the first dry goods to Bonham. He built a log house on the lot right opposite Mr. Wilson's just north of the four oak trees that stand in the middle of the street now. Bob Inglish clerked for him. Robert then was a small boy. 

Thus, I have given you some of the worst troubles we had in the early days.

​ A. Rowlett