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A History of Navarro County, Texas
This history was transcribed in 2002
from a pamphlet in the Center for American History,
University of Texas, Austin, Texas.*
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected for the 2002 transcript.
SHORT HISTORY OF NAVARRO COUNTY AND CORSICANA
BY C. L. JESTER
By an act of the Second Congress of the Republic of Texas, December 4, 1837, Robertson county was created. It included all the territory between the Brazos and Trinity rivers north of old Washington county and extended to the cross timbers on the north, and within this territory was included what is now Navarro county. Franklin was designated as the permanent seat of justice of Robertson county by act of the Third Congress January 26, 1839.
Probably the first white man residing in the vicinity of what is now Navarro county was James Hall, who lived in what is now Freestone county as early as 1834, and conducted a sort of supply station to surveyors who began to arrive at that time.
The first land grant in the present territory of Navarro county went to Thomas Jefferson Chambers, September 23, 1834, then followed grants to Jahu Peoples, John Taylor, Enoch Frier, Michael Shire, Jeremiah Latham, Martin Latham, and John Choate, all in the month of October 1835, and to Rachael Leach October 27, 1836.
The Battle of Battle Creek.
The earliest recorded history of Navarro County tells of the battle of Battle Creek, fought in October, 1838, near Dawson, between a surveying party consisting of twenty-four men, and about three hundred Indians of the tribes of Tehuacans, Ionies, Wacos, Caddoes and Kickapoos. The surveying party was composed of W. F. Henderson, General Walter P. Lane, Samuel T. Allen, Asa Mitchell, a boy named Baker, John Baker, Sr., Violet, Euclid Cox, Ingram, Neill, Jones, James Smith, Thomas Smith, Fikes, (about 80 years old), Richard Davis, Hard, W. M. Love, Wm. Jackson, Wm. Tremier, Rodney Wheeler, McLaughlin, Thomas Barton, J. Button, and Earle. All these participated in the battle except W. M. Love and Wm. Jackson, who had been dispatched before the battle to Parkers Fort for surveying supplies, and all were killed except the latter two, and Walter P. Lane, W. F. Henderson, J. Button and Violet. This battle though participated in by few in numbers, furnishes one of the most heroic and courageous incidents in Texas history.
Geo. W. HillNavarro County's First SettlerSpring Hill.
The first resident of Navarro county seems to have been Dr. George W. Hill, who settled near Spring Hill about the year 1838, for Col. W. F. Henderson, participant in the battle of Battle Creek just mentioned, tells of the surveying party having spent the night previous to the battle at his house in October, 1838. He was sometime a member of the Texas Congress and was appointed to the office of Indian Agent by President Houston; in 1843 he was appointed Secretary of War of the Republic of Texas by President Houston, was reappointed by President Jones in 1844, and served as such until the annexation.
How Hill County Got Its Name.
At a session of the Texas Legislature, held in the Spring of 1853, Roger Q. Mills was reading clerk of the Texas House of Representatives; he was reading a bill providing for the creation of a new county lying to the west of us, but the name of the county was left blank in the bill, so young Mills, who was a great friend and admirer of Dr. George W. Hill, read the name of "Hill" into the bill, which was adopted as read. Thus Hill county received its name after Dr. George W. Hill of Navarro county, who sleeps his last sleep beneath the soil of which he was the first settler and which he had sanctified in service and in sacrifice. He died in Spring Hill, Navarro county, and his body was buried there May 29, 1859. He was a great uncle of Dr. B. W. D. Hill of Dawson.
Britton Dawson in the Battle of San Jacinto.
The present town of Dawson, near which the battle of Battle Creek was fought, was named in honor of Britton Dawson, a participant in the battle of San Jacinto, and who was an early settler, moving there from Milam county in 1849; he was a large land owner living in that vicinity when the Cotton Belt Railroad was build through there in 1880. He was of the tall, angular, rugged pioneer type, always a privileged character in any company, possessed a voice commensurate with the size of the broad acres over which he reigned. Upon the location of Dawson, Spring Hill, which until then had been a trading point of some consequence, became then and still remains well nigh "a deserted village" but rich in memories and in tradition. The last of the old settlers there, Harvey Matthews, departed this life within the past few years.
Dresden, the Early Metropolis.
If Spring Hill was the first, Dresden, known then as Melton, was the second settlement in the county, it having been settled by Ethan Melton, John Welsh, and Wm. J. Ladd in 1844.
Melton was the first postoffice in the county, established in 1846, and Ethan Melton was the first postmaster, dispensing the mail from his residence about a mile from the village. Dresden was for many years the commercial center of the county. Several men, afterwards prominent in commercial pursuits in Corsicana, began and conducted their business in Dresden until Corsicana took the lead after she became the county seat; while some awaited the arrival of the railroad. Dresden has been a fickle dame and has changed her name some four or five times; at one time she was called "Melton" in honor of Ethan Melton, her first settler, and again "Spanky," then some say "Possum Trot," and there is of record in the County Clerk's office (Book "A" page 23) a map of the village under the name of Richland," promulgated by Jacob and D. B. Hartzell and J. A. J. Roark in 1849; it consists of four blocks of seven 125 by 250 foot lots each, which are divided by two streets running at right angles. It seems that a committee headed by Dr. W. S. Robinson was appointed to name the village and the name Dresden was selected at the suggestion of Dan Hartzell, who was of German descent, in honor of the German city of that name. But another tradition is that it was named by Dr. Robinson after the town of Dresden in Tennessee, from which state he came in about 1852.
The Mercer Colony.
On January 29, 1844, President Houston made a colonization contract with Chas. Fenton Mercer and associates, covering Navarro county, and in the years 1844 and 1845 there had moved into Navarro county only twenty-five families, living principally around Dresden and Spring Hill, but some were scattered in other portions of the county, some around Mount Pisgah near what is now the Richland community. Among these early settlers were Dr. George W. Hill, Ethan Melton, David R. Mitchell, Owen Humphreys, Reese Morrell, Bill McCabe, Thos. I. Smith, John Welch, Wm. Watkins, Sam Bowman, John Hillburn, South James and Wylie Jones, Corbin Jones, J. B. Moore, Gainor, Jack Sharp, Jacob and Dan Hartzell, Wm. J. Ladd, H. Matthews, W. N. Anderson, Younger, and possibly others.
Bazette an Early Settlement.
Beginning as far back as 1845 there were some few scattering settlers in the neighborhood of the Bazette community, principally between Bazette and Buffalo, and as early as 1846 this community began to attract the pioneer Christians to its annual camp meeting, and that custom continued for several decades. Among the early settlers in this community were John M. and John T. McFadden, Reuben and William Jones; Zack and William Westbrook; Abner Barnett; Mrs. Edna Peck, whose son P. A. Peck was born there in 1847; John Singletary and perhaps some few others, all of whom moved there in the forties or the early fifties. It is believed that John M. McFadden, Jr., who was born there in 1848, is perhaps the oldest native citizen of Navarro county; he now resides in Kerens, Texas, only a few miles from the place of his birth. There are many descendants of these early pioneers now living in the county and most of them in the vicinity of the old settlement, which includes the thriving town of Kerens where several of them now reside.
Porter's Bluffa Shipping Point.
In 1846 settlements began in and around Taos, now commonly known as Porter's Bluff, on Trinity River in the northeast portion of the county, headed by Col. Robert H. Porter, James T. Lee, Mrs. Matthews, John Noonan, ----- Melton, Joseph C. Bartlett, father of J. M. Bartlett, the latter was born in Washington county, Texas, in 1841, and moved with his father to this county in 1845; the writer is indebted to him for much of the information contained in this article, especially concerning this particular locality; he was a stalwart character and a much respected man; he died while this article was being prepared in July, 1922, and was perhaps the oldest citizen, in point of residence, in the county. There were possibly some few others who should be mentioned in this group, but their names are not available. Taos, or Porter's Bluff, was once the head of navigation on the Trinity and "packets" with regular schedules furnished direct service to and from Galveston. There appears of record in the County Clerk's office a map of Taos (Book "A" page 367-8), which was sufficient to accommodate a town of five or six thousand people, said to have been drawn by John H. Reagan, surveyor for Captain Robert H. Porter, owner. There has been for years a tradition to the effect that Taos, or Porter's Bluff, came within a few votes of being made the Capital of Texas, but investigation fails to verify it.
ChatfieldHow It Got Its Name.
Chatfield was settled about the same time. It took its name from an old man by the name of Chatfield, who settled at the spring there, living in a tent. He sold tinware through the country from a wagon and made the spring his headquarters; then there was a man by the name of Kincaid who settled at another spring near the present Hodge place; then followed George M. and William Hogan, and John and Jonathan Richardson, B. F. Lisman, Capt. Robert Hodge, whose son, R. L. Hodge, was born there and who now lives in the home in which he was born, sixty-five years ago; the Spurlins, the Jeffers, the Loops, W. D. and L. B. Haynie, Capt. T. B. Poitevant, the Claytons, the Fortsons, ancestors of John T. and J. B. Fortson of Rice, the Ransoms, I. B. and E. J. Sessions, Noble Wade, and later the Ransoms, the Witherspoons, then others whose names are more familiar because of their descendants living there at this time.
Robertson County Divided1846.
Robertson county, as first created, remained intact until April 26, 1846, when the first Legislature of the State of Texas, created Navarro county from a part of Old Robertson county, and included within its bounds, all of what is now Navarro, Ellis, Hill, Johnson, Tarrant, Parker, and parts of Palo Pinto, Somervell and McLennan counties and provided "that until the seat of justice shall be permanently establish * * * * the temporary seat of justice shall be at the residence of W. R. Howe and all courts shall be held thereat." W. R. Howe was the first settler in Ellis county, having moved there in 1844, and his residence was located near Chambers Creek in what is now Ellis county.
How Navarro County Got Its Name.
J. Antonio NavarroPatriot.
Navarro County was named in honor of J. Antonio Navarro, an early Texas patriot, who was born in San Antonio, February 26, 1796, but whose father was a native of the Island of Corsica. He was a member of the Legislature of Coahuila and Texas, and made repeated efforts to obtain a separation of Texas from Coahuila. In 1832 he tendered his resignation, which was not accepted until he finally sent his reasons therefor. He was one of the delegates to the convention in the old town of Washington and was one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence; he was a member of the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition, and was tried for treason and sentenced to be shot. He lay for years in a dungeon in the castle of Juan d'Ulloa until 1845, when he was released for reasons never explained, but supposed to be due to his membership in the Masonic fraternity. He was a member of the State Senate of Texas in 1848. He had traveled in the United States and was an ardent admirer of its government and its liberty-loving people. He was the first Mexican to join the Methodist Church in Texas. He contributed two sons to the Confederate Army, one a captain and the other a first lieutenant. During his latter years he retired to private life, living in San Antonio and spending his summers on his estate in Atascosa county. While a great deal of prominence has not been given him, there are but few men connected with the early history of Texas whose lives were so romantic and none whose services were more patriotic. He died and was buried in San Antonio in the year 1870, and his descendants live in and around there. A grandson, S. C. Navarro, living in the year 1905 at Concepticion, Texas, and serving then as a school teacher there, furnished most of this information through a letter addressed to the writer, the original of which was deposited in the cornerstone of the court house, built in 1905.
Navarro County Court Houses.
Since its organization, Navarro county has had six court houses, the two mentioned elsewhere and four others. The third was built in 1853, by T.J. Haynes, afterwards County Judge, at a cost of $4,000.00, and was a two story frame building 40 by 46 feet, with a tower; this building was destroyed by fire in 1855, supposedly by an incendiary, when many of the District Court records, including all indictments, were destroyed. The fourth court house was built in 1858, and, as the last one mentioned, was built on the present court house site; this was a brick structure, the foundation was laid on heavy cedar boards which were found to be in fairly good state of preservation when the excavation was made for the last court house in 1905; it was the meeting place for all the pretentious social functions in the county for many years. The fifth court house was built in 1881, at a cost of $560,00.00, and the sixth, the one now occupied, was built in 1905, at a cost, including furniture, of about $175,000.00.
District Judges of Navarro County.
The following in the order named have served Navarro county as District Judges, all with honor and all have reflected credit upon themselves and their district:
R. E. B. Baylor, Benett H. Martin, John H. Reagan, Henry J. Jewett, John Gregg, James Walker; all of whom served before the Civil War except the latter who served during the war; Robert S. Gould, Nat Hart Davis, F. P. Wood, D. M. Prendergast, L. D. Bradley, Samuel R. Frost, Rufus Hardy, L. B. Cobb, H. B. Daviss, and Hawkins Scarborough, all of whom have passed away except Rufus Hardy, now a member of Congress, H. B. Daviss, in the active practice, and Hawkins Scarborough, the present incumbent.
County Judges of Navarro County.
At the first election in the county after its creation in 1846, held in July of that year, Dr. John A. Young was elected Chief Justice, now called County Judge; he died soon after his election and his place was filled by Gen. E. H. Tarrant, who organized the County. It is believed, with possibly one or two exceptions, that the following in the order named, constitute all who have held that office since the organization of the county: Dr. John A. Young, Gen. E. H. Tarrant, S. C. Cross, P. Donaldson, J. R. Loughridge, S. H. Kerr, Samuel Wright, John L. Miller, W. R. Bright, T. J. Haynes, S. R. Frost, R. C. Beale, James L. Autry, J. L. Harle, John H. Rice, M. L. Shelton, J. F. Stout, A. B. Graham, C. L. Jester, J. M. Blanding, R. R. Owen, H. E. Traylor and A. P. Mays.
Early Lawyers of the County.
The first lawyers to settle in Navarro county and enter the practice were C. M. Winkler and W. F. Henderson, who came here in 1847, then came S. C. Cross, Wm. Croft, Alexander Beaton, Roger Q. Mills, J. L. Miller, L. T. Wheeler, Gen. E. H. Tarrant, John E. Craven, Nat M. Burford, G. L. Martin, J. L. Halbert, father of J. L. Halbert, the present mayor of Corsicana, and some few others; all have passed to their reward.
Among that little company were men who afterwards became prominent in the affairs of State and Nation. Roger Q. Mills served in the Congress of the United States, both as representative and senator, he was the Democratic leader in the house and was the author of the "Mills Bill" and was regarded as one of the best authorities on the tariff question; C. M. Winkler was Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas and became a Judge upon the State Court of Criminal Appeals, and both commanded regiments in the Confederate Army. J. L. Halbert, Christian gentleman and model citizen, was a captain in the Confederate Army and was tendered a place upon the Supreme Court of Texas by his friend and compatriot, Governor-elect Coke, but the condition of his fortune, brought on by the war, impelled him to decline. Wm. Croft was for more than fifty years the leading practitioner of the criminal law in the county and enjoyed a statewide reputation in that branch of the profession. Some of them confined themselves with success to the practice of their profession, while others drifted into different pursuits, but all added luster to the county and state of their adoption.
Lawyers of the Second Generation.
Since the passing away of that coterie mentioned above another has come and gone, among them were some who took high rank in the profession throughout the State, of whom may be mentioned: Samuel R. Frost, one of the really big men and lawyers of Texas, who would have adorned the United States Senate or a place upon the Supreme Court, and Robert S. Neblett, his partner, finished product in the law, whose knowledge of the decisions was an ever recurring marvel to the bench and bar; R. Channing Beale, Virginian, an advocate of great force and charm, and his partner, James L. Autry, who became General Counsel of The Texas Company and attained large wealth; John J. McClellan, successful practitioner and man of fine character and of rare humor and charm of personality; John H. Rice, gentleman, for many years an able County Judge and always of fine integrity; E. O. Call, who as a trial lawyer in criminal cases had no superior; E. J. Simkins, fearless prosecutor in his early days and afterwards State Senator and member of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and his brother, W. S. Simpkins, the only one mentioned still living, a law book writer of repute and professor of law in the University of Texas; and John D. Lee, the most brilliant of them all, whose legal arguments were masterpieces in logic and eloquence. It is not within the scope of this article to mention in this connection any of the attorneys of the Navarro County Bar now engaged in the active practice, and without violating this rule mention may be made of Dexter Hamilton, now a Judge upon the State Court of Civil Appeals.
Early Preachers of the County.
Among the early preachers of the county were Rev. David Rose, an Englishman, and a Methodist, who preached first around old Dresden, and later when settled, in Corsicana; Elder N. T. Byars, Rev. Hardin, father of notorious John Wesley Hardin; Rev. Cardwell, and two brothers, Henry and Walter South; Rev. Ferguson, father of Ex-Governor James E. Ferguson; Revs. Manley and Fly; Revs. N. P. Modrall and Horace Bishop, both mentioned elsewhere; the Rev. Andrew Davis, father of B. L. Davis, born in Red River county Texas, in 1826, whose father was killed and who himself was captured by the Indians, and afterwards a student at old McKenzie College, who lived under five separate flags and governments in Texas. John Noonan, mentioned elsewhere, while not a preacher, is entitled to be mentioned in this connection. He was a devout Catholic, the first and for many years the only one in the county. Growing weary of his isolation in Taos, or Porter's Bluff, so soon as some of his own faith began to gather in Corsicana he moved there and later purchased and donated to his church the convent property so long used by that denomination, but which has since been acquired by the City for the public schools.
The Old Log Court HouseCost $100
Before the first church was built religious services were held in the old log court house, and sometimes in the "McKinney Tavern," and for quite a while in "The Academy," which stood near where the T. P. Kerr residence now stands between Second and Third avenues. The lower floor was used for school and church purposes and as a general assembly hall for public gatherings, while the upstairs was the lodge room of the Masons.
The First Court HouseThe Cumberland Presbyterian.
The first church was built some years later near where the Will Gordon residence now stands between Second and Third avenues; it was built and controlled by the Cumberland Presbyterians, but was donated to and used by all denominations at agreed times. The Rev. N. P. Modrall was the first preacher of that denomination; he died a much beloved and respected man, whose influence was then and continues to be a blessing to the town. In the outskirts of the city there is a small cemetery bearing his name in which many of the early settlers are buried; little is known of this old burial ground by the average citizen of today, but a visit there will be found of interest to those who love tradition.
The MethodistThe Second Church House.
The next church house was built by the Methodists in 1871 on the site where the present handsome edifice of that denomination stands. This was the church in which the Democratic Convention, mentioned elsewhere, was held. The first minister was the Rev. Horace Bishop, now a superannuate, but then only recently a valiant soldier in the Confederate Army who so lastingly endeared himself to those to whom he preached and ministered that though a half century and more has slipped by, he is yet spared to return at times to join in holy wedlock or to baptize the children and the grandchildren of his early friends, or to lay to rest the parents of those children. The Master whom he has served so faithfully and so long has never fashioned a purer or finer man.
The Baptist began their activities in the county as early as 1846, and organized in 1848 the Trinity River Baptist Association, which included Navarro county. As early as 1846, Elder N. T. Byars had settled in the county, and he and a visiting missionary and organizer, Elder T. N. Modrall, in collaboration with the District Judge, Elder R. E. B. Baylor, of Washington county, began to look after the interests of that denomination. Judge and Elder Baylor, who had served the Republic and State as District Judge, was a great force for righteousness and was invincible before the people; he arranged his court engagements so that he could preach the gospel as well as adjudicate the rights of men. Baylor University is his namesake.
Other preachers of the denomination acme in later, among them the Revs. Freeman and Mullins, the former, father of Fred W. Freeman, prominent in the oil industry in Denver, Colorado, and the latter, father of Rev. Edgar Y. Mullins, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the eminent divines of that denomination; Corsicana was their home town.
The Presbyterians (The Old School).
The Presbyterians, called the Old Schools, were organized May 30, 1868, with but a small membership, by Dr. S. A. King of Waco; a charter member of that little company, Mrs. Alex Duren, still survives; other charter members now deceased were Perry McCammon, Mark H. Bird, J. G. Cook, Captain M. M. Morrison. Rev. Hillery Moseley was the first preacher of that denomination in Corsicana; they have since added to their numbers many of the stalwart citizens of the county who furnish fine examples of citizenship of the right sort.
The Rev. Rotterstein preached at times for the Episcopalians in the court house as early as 1855, but it was not until about the year 1874 that they were organized under the prayerful guidance and wonderful preaching of the venerable Bishop Alexander Garrett, who though now blind and aged, yet lives to enjoy the fruits of his ministry in a well organized and useful parish, furnishing the town some of its best and most representative citizens.
The Protestant Methodists.
The Protestant Methodist denomination was planted in Blooming Grove as early as 1867 and built its first church there in 1869; another church of that denomination was organized at Cryer Creek by the Rev. C. P. Miller in 1869.
The Christian Church.
The Christian Church, or Disciples of Christ, was first organized in the county at Blooming Grove in 1874, and have since established prosperous and useful organizations over the entire county.
The Jewish Colonyand Other Denominations.
The Jewish Colony, and branches of other denominations of the churches mentioned, began their activities later than the time of which this article treats. But it may be mentioned that the Orthodox and Reform branches of the Jewish faith, and most branches of the several other churches mentioned above, are not represented by congregations made up of faithful members who are doing well their part in the Master's Vineyard.
In the year 1846, the Rev. Hampton McKinney, a local Methodist preacher, son of John McKinney, then deceased, a revolutionary soldier, a native of North Carolina, but living then in the State of Illinois where he moved in 1816, immigrated to Texas with his two brothers, Jefferson and Jubilee McKinney, and a son-in-law, John Harlan, and their families and other relatives. He first went with his family to old Dresden and spent nearly a year there. While living in Dresden he attended with his family, a camp meeting held in the vicinity of where Bazette now is, and on their return passed over that part of the county upon which the present city of Corsicana is now located. There are two members of that party yet living in Corsicana, both daughters of Rev. McKinney, Mrs. Jane (McKinney) Beaton, now past ninety years of age, and Mrs. Mary (McKinney) Miller, a few years younger, and the story of the location of Corsicana is thus told by them.
How Corsicana Was Located by Hampton McKinney.
Upon our return trip from the meeting, which was made in a large carry-all in which we had ridden to Texas a few months before from Illinois, we drove by the present site of Corsicana. There was nothing to be seen except a cabin here and there used on the farms or cultivated patches, but it was such a beautiful part of the country and our father was so charmed with it that he decided to locate his certificate there and make it a permanent home for himself and family. The land was high rolling prairie with plenty of large trees scattered along the course of the streams; it was just the spot he was looking for; therefore, he moved from Dresden and came here, bought an empty cabin and moved it to where the R. Q. Mills place is, and located his headright certificate, being entitled to 640 acres as the head of a family, and his sons, John O. and Thomas McKinney, being entitled to 320 acres each. After locating his certificate here, he lifted it and laid it in Johnson county in order to assist in establishing a town on the site. He built a larger house by moving two cabins together, leaving a hall between them and building a porch in front and a shed room behind; this was at the site between the present court house and jail.
Hampton McKinney and his two sons built "The McKinney Tavern" at the site of the present jail out of rough boards riven out of logs; this was the only hotel in this section for many years and accommodated within its walls some of the makers of Texas history: Clinton M. Winkler and Roger Q. Mills were regular boards there; John H. Reagan, afterward a member of the Confederate cabinet and a United States Senator, etc.; Asa H. Willie and Robert S. Gould, afterwards, members of the Supreme Court of Texas, and others of their kind and time were frequent guests at "The McKinney Tavern."
The Rev. Hampton McKinney, founder of Corsicana, was born in 1796 and died in 1857, and his wife, Mary M. Kinney, was born in 1797 and died in 1883. Both are buried in Oakwood cemetery, Corsicana.
Some of the Descendants of Hampton McKinney.
At the McKinney Tavern in 1852, Major Alexander Beaton, participated in the Mexican War, a native of Scotland, who witnessed the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, was married to Miss Jane McKinney, and from this union descended the Beatons, among whom is Ralph Beaton, whose faith and vision has directed the public mind to many an enterprise and natural resource which was receiving no attention from those less thus less endowed than he. It was this faith and vision that moved him to organize a company to drill the first test for oil in the Corsicana field, after the accidental discovery of a trace of oil in an artesian water well, and it was this same faith and vision that betook him to Pennsylvania to successfully interest experienced oil men in that pioneer oil field of the mid-continent. He passed away in his seventieth year, in September 1922, after this article was prepared but before it went to press, hence it chronicles this account of his death. A little later Miss Mary McKinney married Major J. L. Miller, recently from Tennessee where he had served as a member of the Legislature from Murray county, a personal friend of Jas. K. Polk, and from this union descended the Millers. The oldest daughter, Diadema McKinney, had married Levi Jester, in Illinois, after his death she and her children moved to Corsicana, in 1858, and from this union descended the Jesters. The three brothers, Charles W., George T. and L. L. Jester, under the firm name of Jester Brothers, began the banking business in Corsicana in 1881, and they and Garitty and Huey, who began ten years earlier, conducted the only banks in Navarro county for many years; this business in another form has passed to the management of a younger generation of the same family. These three brothers under the guidance of a widowed mother early identified themselves with the church and with the moral and cultural side of every move looking to the profit of the town and county. Charles W. Jester, the oldest and who was an officer in the Confederate Army, passed to his reward in 1903, leaving being him an honored name and an unblemished character; he was a model of integrity and wholly without guile. George T. Jester became a State Legislator, a State Senator, and Lieut. Governor of Texas; he was actively identified with constructive legislation passed under the administration of Gov. James S. Hogg, and became Lieut. Governor under Chas. A. Culberson, who succeeded Governor Hogg, and whose administration completed the constructive work began by his great predecessor; he passed away in his seventy-sixth year, in July 1922. L. L. Jester, the youngest, but now passed the allotted three score and ten years, quit the moorings of his youth and is now living in Dallas; he organized and successfully conducted banks in Houston, Tyler and Dallas, and at the end of a successful business career has retired from active business, but continues, as did his older brothers during their lifetime, to give much of his time and means to the church of his and his ancestors choice.
Winkler, Henderson, White, Riggs and OthersAmong the First.
The first newcomers to the village were Clinton M. Winkler, father of Mesdames Sam R. Frost and Kate Mooring of Corsicana; then W. F. Henderson and R. N. White, whose sons, Harry Henderson and Cyrus White, were the first children born in Corsicana; Col. W. F. Henderson is mentioned elsewhere; R. N. White was the first County Clerk of the county, being elected in the summer of 1846 and continued in that position for many years; he died years ago and is survived by three daughters, living in Corsicana, Mesdames Aaron Ferguson, W. J. Green, and A. M. Wilson, and by a son living in another portion of the State. Then came J. M. Riggs, the first District Clerk of the county, father of Mesdames W. N. Kenner and Ruth Teas, who now reside on the land occupied by their father in 1850. Then came other whose names are mentioned elsewhere in this article and some whose names are perhaps not mentioned. About the time the village was platted there lived within a radius of fifteen miles of the settlement on small farms, using the open prairie for grazing, quite a few families, well known and now largely represented in the city and county, among them being the Pettys, the Highnotes, the Whites, the Hamiltons, including J. D. Hamilton, now living in Corsicana; W. M. Love, who afterwards built the most palatial mansion in the county, the Crabtrees, Buck Barry, Indian fighter and fearless sheriff of the county, Eleazer Nash and H. C. Nash, father of the present citizens of that name, C. and M. Fouty, Benj. Roberts, Evan Roberts, still living and who came here with his father in 1846, from Illinois; Col. Henry Jones, father of Mesdames Fannie J. Halbert and R. Q. Mills; John Pickett; Wm. W. Frost, father of Judge Sam R. Frost, and A. Barry, father to Bryan T. Barry, a native of the county and twice mayor of Dallas, who lived in Old Raleigh, and some others who have been mentioned before.
How Corsicana Got Its Name.
Until 1848, there had been no name for this new settlement, but Clinton M. Winkler, who became a member of the legislature from Navarro county, brought about the establishment of the permanent county seat at the place where the McKinney Tavern was located. The honor of naming the county seat was very appropriately given by Mr. Winkler to J. Antonio Navarro, then a member of the State Senate, and the old patriot wrote upon a piece of paper the name of "Corsicana," saying through in interpreter that his father came from the island of Corsica, the birthplace of the great Napoleon, and that the names of Navarro and Corsicana when taken together signify "Navarro the Corsican." Another tradition is that the town was named in honor of a daughter of the old patriot, but this theory is evidently wrong for a letter to the writer from a grandson of Antonio Navarro says he had no daughter by the name of Corsicana. And by the act of the second Legislature of Texas, February 12, 1848, Thomas I. Smith, Wm. F. Henderson, Ethan Melton, James B. Johnson, and James Riggs, were appointed commissioners "to select the most suitable portion of the survey marked on the map of the Robertson County Land District in the name of G. A. Campbell in the neighborhood of what is known as Richardson's Settlement, and the point thus selected shall be and the same is hereby declared the county seat of Navarro county to be called by the name of Corsicana, and the various courts shall be held thereat after March 1, 1848."
David R. Mitchell Donor of the Townsite.
The land on which Corsicana was located was originally granted to a Mexican settler named Jesus Ortez by virtue of his certificate of settlement dated march 16, 1838; this certificate was traded in and passed through several hands prior to its final location, at one time being owned by one G. A. Campbell and finally passing to David R. Mitchell, who was surveyor of the Robertson County Land District, which included Navarro county. He held in his name the title to this land for himself and his associates, J. C. Neill and Thomas I. Smith. The title being in dispute, in order to permit the immediate building of the town, he gave the town commissioners a bond for title on February 23, 1848, agreeing to make deed when the title was clear. The title was finally cleared and he conveyed the 100 acres known as the "Old Town Plot of Corsicana," to the town commissioners on January 30, 1850. Thus David R. Mitchell was privileged to do what his associates in all probability would have done had they survived, and he has become known as the donor of the townsite of Corsicana. In recognition of his great generosity to the town and county there was erected to his memory by the county a suitable monument in Oakwood cemetery where he rests. He is survived by many descendants in the county who reflect credit on his name.
The Town Commissioners Build a Court House
And Have a MeetingEarly Finances.
In 1848 the town commissioners contracted with J. D. Johnson for the building of a temporary court house costing $100.00, built of logs, situated on the northwest corner of Block 262 of the present city map, some attended it as a temple of justice, some made daily pilgrimages there as the only seat of learning here, whilc others on the Sabbath gathered there to do homage unto God in those primitive days gone by. They also contracted with Charles Wantland and Francis Young to dig a public well for $100.00, but the job not being satisfactory, the dispute was submitted to arbitration and $68.00 was awarded to the contractors. These expenses were defrayed from the sale of town lots by the commissioners and not from the collection of ad valorem taxes, for a report of the Tax Collector, Wm. Hamilton, shows that the financial condition of the county would stand no such extravagance, and since that was before the people were educated to the idea of bond issues other means were devised for raising money. The sworn report of that officer shows that for the three years of 1846, 1847 and 1848, respectively, there was collected 52c, $5.20, and $95.72 taxes, a total for the three years of $101.44. In 1850, however, the financial condition of the county was evidently improving and the Court made bold to order two Bibles to be used in the administration of oaths, and authorized the District and County Clerks to purchase on ream of paper. By the year 1850 the town had grown to a population of about three hundred and continued to show a gradual increase in population until the Civil War.
Some Settlers in the Early Fifties.
In the early fifties there moved to the village Wm. Croft, G. L. Martin, Alexander Beaton, Roger Q. Mills, John L. Miller, L. T. Wheeler, Mack Eliot, William Roberts, father of the late Hawk Roberts, Thos. J. Haynes, J. L. Halbert, Col. Jacob Eliot, and his son-in-law, Dr. B. D. McKie, gallant Captain in the Confederate Army, father of W. J. McKie, a present prominent citizen; L. S. Tatum, father of William Tatum; the Kerrs and the Johnsons, names which are too numerous to individualize, but which are synonyms of good citizenship and which are now perhaps more largely represented in the town than any others; E.E. Dunn, officer in the Confederate Army, father of Mesdames J. W. and N. B. Edens, and Mrs. O. E. Hyndman and Wm. F. Dunn, and forbear of a large connection; W. H. Neblett; Drs. Oaks, Wooten, Tate, Croom, and Green Kerr; Marion Martin, who afterwards became Lieut. Governor of Texas and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875; the Van Hooks and others, the descendants of many of whom are daily met upon the streets of Corsicana. It is believed that not one of these early settlers just mentioned survive to correct the inaccuracies which must have crept into this article.
Corsicana's First School.
It was in the court house built in 1848 that the first school was taught in Corsicana, by a Prof. Laffoon and then by Mack Eliot, father of Mesdames John D. Lee and Ellen Chancey, and grandfather of Mrs. H. G. Johnston; and Prof. Wilkinson, an Englishman, and Monroe McKinney, son of Hampton McKinney, and by Prof. Dickson, all in the old court house; then came W. M. Peck, father of the now prominent citizen by that name, who taught here as early as 1851; he and others of them boarded at the McKinney Tavern; then, there was a Prof. Robb who taught at Old Academy; then, to quote from a letter written in 1854, " we have two schools which can scarcely be beaten in Texas, a primary school taught by S. H. Kerr and a high school taught by G. A. Rakestraw, Esquire, an accomplished classical scholar." S. H. Kerr was the father of F. S. Kerr, S. M. Kerr, Cal E. Kerr, and Mrs. Abe Mulkey; G. A. Rakestraw was the father of Mrs. B. L. Davis and Mrs. Chas. W. Jester. Then the Rev. N. P. Modrall, a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher, and Capt. H. H. McCoy, both rendered the community fine service as teachers.
Education After the Civil War.
After the Civil War, in 1865, J. D. Hamilton taught for a session, and then Henry Bishop and Jno. E. Bishop, brother of the Rev. Horace Bishop, conducted for several years a flourishing school in the southern part of the town, the site for which was donated by the enterprising citizens of the town; and Prof. Roberts and others taught in Cedar Hall; then Capt. J. A. Townsend and wife, Mrs. Emma Townsend, she still living, conducted for many years a large private school, and scores of Corsicana citizens still living attended that school; Miss Ellen Ferguson, afterwards Mrs. N. J. Mills, still living, and Mrs. Dr. J. W. Gulick, also conducted private schools; and there were from time to time other private institutions of learning until the advent of the public free school system about the year 1880, which seemed thereafter to attract most of the patronage.
Early Business Houses Around the
Public SquareSome Early Merchants.
Until 1871 all of the business houses in Corsicana were built around the public square, and among the merchants of those days were William Hamilton; Alex Michael, who built the first brick building; N. H. Butler, father of J. E. Butler; A. N. Byars; Morris and Alex Fox, the latter only recently deceased; Jim Cyrus; James Kerr, father of T. P. Kerr; Chas. W. Jester, mentioned elsewhere, W. H. McElwee, father of W. T. McElwee; Dr. Leach; J. M. Talley, father of Mrs. R. E. Prince; J. D. Clark, father of Mrs. Mattie Houston, the Corsicana Carnegie Librarian; Melton and Duren, of which firm John Duren, still living, was a member; D. B. Smith; H. D. Moss; C. L. Jernigen and possibly others. It is believed that all except John Duren has passed away.
Among the prominent doctors at this time was Dr. William Love, father of Mrs. Frank P. Wood, who came in the fifties and should have been mentioned earlier in this article; also Dr. Starley, who moved here from Freestone county, and Dr. J. W. Gulick, a Northerner, who had served in the Confederate Army.
Corsicana and Secession.
At a meeting held in Corsicana on January 14, 1859, a resolution favoring secession was passed, signed by C. M. Winkler, W. F. Henderson, G. L. Martin, W. H. Neblett, father of the late R. S. Neblett, Jos. Clayton, Elijah Melton and J. P. Anderson, the committee. Navarro county responded early to the call for service in the Confederate Army. Many a [illegible word] man and officer enlisted and gave good account of themselves. Besides the two Colonels mentioned elsewhere, the gallant John B. Jones (son of Col. Henry Jones, who himself though overage was Brig. General of the Militia at the home), made quite a name for himself and became Major during the war; he was Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas, and also became Adjutant General of Texas in the seventies or eighties, commanded the Texas Rangers on the frontier, defending against Indian depredations [illegible words] in general; he led the forces that captured the notorious Sam Bass and rendered his State other services of a like character; there were the brave Captains Wm. Melton, J. D. Clark, C. Fouty, H. H. Molloy, B. D. McKie, J. L. Halbert, and Barber and possibly others, who organized and commanded companies from Navarro county. Captain McKie, who had been previously wounded in the Mexican War, was again seriously wounded, from which he never fully recovered; the gallant and much respected Capt. Molloy was the only one who fell in battle, the others lived to return home and to continue to serve their country in peaceful pursuits; all have now passed to their reward.
The Reconstruction Period
Col. C. M. Winkler, Capt. A. R. Chaffee.
For the first five years and more following the war, the horrors of reconstruction were, in common with the entire South, suffered by the town and county, but with a fortitude and patience which reflected only honor upon the people. During the reconstruction period, the federal troops stationed at Corsicana, were in command of Capt. A. R. Chaffee, afterwards a General in command of the U. S. troops in the Philippine Islands and conspicuous in the Spanish-American War, and it was due to his fine poise and common sense that chaos did not reign during that period. This instance will illustrate the quality of his leadership: While Col. C. M. Winkler was walking towards his home in a perfectly peaceable manner, he was insulted without cause by one of the federal soldiers, and being unable to suffer such indignity, he felled the offender to the ground with a large cane which he was accustomed to carrying. There was a bugle sound and soldiers from every direction rushed to the scene, but fortunately Capt. Chaffee was nearby and promptly quelled the riot. After an orderly court-martial proceedings, the offender was properly reprimanded and Col. Winkler held to be blameless. This incident seemed to gain for Capt. Chaffee the respect of the entire community and was the means of avoiding much disaster and bloodshed.
The Coming of the H. & T. C. R. R. in 1871.
The Houston and Texas Central Railroad Company was induced to build through Corsicana in 1871, largely through the efforts of a committee composed of Major Alexander Beaton as chairman, and James Kerr, Sr., Judge Loughridge, Wm. Croft, and R. N. White, and possible others, and it was in recognition of these efforts that with one accord the main street of the city was named after Major Beaton. There was many a stormy session of this committee, the chairman's enthusiasm for the enterprise caused him to brook no obstacle whatever, whereas the last mentioned member was much perturbed lest his bois d'arc hedge might be destroyed by the advent of the iron horse, but all differences were composed and be it said to his credit he unselfishly gave way and the two families have been close and loyal friends since 1846. With the railroad came new life and many new faces, afterwards prominently identified with the progress and growth of the town and the State.
The Railroad Brings New Faces.
Among them was Capt. James Garitty, then recently of the Confederate Army, now passed eighty, benefactor and donor of a $100,000.00 fund for the poor of the county, the nestor of the banking fraternity in Navarro county, and with him came his partner, Joseph Huey; they organized the banking house of Garitty and Huey in 1871; they were the Gibraltars of local finance and splendid examples of business sagacity and integrity, their business continues under the National Banking System; also came E. J. and W. S. Simpkins [sic], uncles of Richard Mays of Corsicana, the now President of the Texas State Bar Association; the Van Horns, editors of "The Observer," who came in the sixties; J. M. Blanding, now chairman of the Board of Trustees of the $100,000.00 Garitty Fund, nestor of Corsicana Bar, and now President of the Board of Trustees of Austin College at Sherman, Texas; J. E. Whiteselle, deservedly successful and popular; B. H. Woods, Sr. and family, including State Senator J. H. Woods; F. W. Carruthers; J. W. and N. B. Edens, stockmen and planters; Stephen Smith; Capt. Chas. H. Allyn, a union soldier who had just married a southern bride and who so fitted his life into the lives of those with whom he cast his lot that when he passed away in 1918, he was beloved and respected of all men; Aaron Ferguson, still living, a retired merchant; S. A. Pace, who attained wealth and prominence in business; J. M. McCammon and wife, who rode into Corsicana on the first regular passenger train; Wm. Tatum, long a resident, but about this time entering upon a successful business career; Alex and Phillip Sanger, and T. L. Marsalis, who afterwards moved to Dallas; the Schneiders and Padgitts, Adams and Leonard, who also joined the Sangers; A. Sutherland and his son, Bank Sutherland, who as undertakers have buried perhaps ninety per cent of the dead in Corsicana for the past fifty years; also Albert Lea, a retired United States Army officer and an Ex-Confederate officer, classmate at West Point of Robt. E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Edgar Allen Poe, and who stood third in the class of which Robt. E. Lee stood second; a contemporary of John C. Fremont, whom he accompanied in his explorations of the great Northwest, and after whom Albert Lea in Minnesota is named; who participated with the Confederates in the Battle of Galveston at the capture of the "Harriet Lane," a U. S. vessel of war, and whose son in the union navy, Lieut. Commander Edward Lea, while in command was mortally wounded on that vessel, but lived long enough to be found and ministered to by his father, one of the most touching incidents of the civil war. Also Commodore Brown of the Confederate States Navy; and Louis Cerf and E. Raphael native of Alsace-Lorraine in France, and Max H. London, who came to Texas in 1853, Confederate soldier, native of England; B. Marks, the latter three still living, and David Deutchner, L. Cohen and Aaron Shwarts, all splendid representatives of their race and whose descendants are daily met in the town; also W. D. Johnson and his brother, E. W. Johnson, father of Luther A. Johnson, unopposed candidate for Congress; they deserted old Dresden and moved their business; J. F. Stout, an ex-county judge and ex-mayor of the city; J. T. Johnson and M. Drane, father of the present prominent citizen, F. N. Drane, who is always at the forefront of all worthy enterprises in the town and county, began their partnership about this time, the former having been a merchant at Dresden and the latter moving from his farm a few miles west of Corsicana; and John S. Gibson, successful merchant and planter; about this time Abe Mulkey began business, failed, paid up and began business again, making a signal success, but afterwards retired to enter the ministry, and using his own business experience in his great sermon on "Restitution," became one of the leading Evangelists of the country. There were others, some of whom, or their descendants, are still living in Corsicana. The majority of those mentioned now sleep their last sleep in Oakwood Cemetery, Corsicana.
It is not the province of this article to mention those citizens who are leaders at the contemporaneous time, no matter how worthy, except that they have descended from those who wrought as far back as fifty years ago; this would necessitate an article all too long and would only tell of people and incidents generally known. But it may be added that few communities of equal size could present a more creditable showing if such were the program.
Before proceeding to take notice of the more modern Corsicana the writer can not close that portion of this article which refers to the early history of the town and county without first expressing his gratitude to Mr. James D. Hamilton, for many of the facts and incidents related; his information and his statements, like his life and character in this community for the past seventy-five years, are always correct and dependable.
The State Democratic Convention of 1872.
In 1872, just fifty years ago, one of the most historic meetings in Texas, the State Democratic Convention, was held in the then recently completed Methodist church. The Dallas News is now in its "Fifty Years Ago" column reproducing the names of the delegates to that convention from the different counties. All the great democrats of Texas were in attendance. It was the first meeting of its kind after the Civil War which was held without the handicap of the military and out of it came the restoration of Texas from the rule of the E. J. Davis administration. It was at this convention that a Corsicana citizen, Roger Q. Mills, was nominated for Congress. Though half a century has elapsed since that convention, it is now never mentioned by any one who was present that does not refer to the fleas which infested the delegates. It seems that there was no hog law in those days and the hogs lounged under the church where the convention was held, and it is said that it was a lively conventionpolitically and otherwise.
The Oil IndustryCorsicana Discovery Field.
Corsicana is the cradle of the oil industry of the mid-continent, and furnished the first oil field west of the Mississippi River, the discovery being made by H. G. Johnston, E. H. Akin and Charles Rittersbacher, composing the American Well & Prospecting Company, in 1894, while drilling for artesian water for the city. Of the members of this firm the first named now resides in Corsicana and has retired from active business, while the two last named are deceased, but two sons of Mr. Rittersbacher, J. E. and Edgar, now conduct in Corsicana the business organized by the old partnership and devote themselves in the manufacture of deep well machinery under the old firm name; it is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the country, shipping its products to every oil field in the world. Many men, some of whom afterwards became nationally prominent in the oil business, came to Corsicana following the discovery, and while Corsicana was the cradle of the oil industry in that section it was also the kindergarten and the graded school of the industry. It would be difficult to go into any oil field west of the Mississippi and not find some one of the craft who had learned the trade or who had not at some time worked in the Corsicana oil field.
Mr. J. S. Cullinan, now of Houston, who, together with Judge Jas. L. Autry, also of Corsicana, as counsel, and others, organized the Texas Company, was a pioneer oil refiner and dealer in petroleum and its products in Corsicana, coming there as a young man and removed from here to Beaumont after the "spindle top" strike.
Messrs. E. R. Brown, Vice-President and General Manager, and W. C. Proctor, Treasurer, and others prominent in the affairs of the Magnolia Petroleum Company, spent the first nearly twenty years of their Texas residence in Corsicana and laid the foundation there for that great Texas institution, which was organized in Corsicana and which now maintains a refinery there. A visit to the Magnolia offices in Dallas today is like an old settlers reunion of Corsicana people, and a visit to the Texas Company's offices in Houston would impress one similarly.
Mr. E. H. Buckner, Vice-President and General Manager of the Houston Oil Company, is a native of Corsicana and obtained the firm grasp upon the business which he now holds from the early training there.
The Corsicana of Today.
The Corsicana of today in reality began in 1871, after the coming of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. Before that time the town perhaps had never acquired a population of more than eight hundred people, but since 1871 it has maintained a steady growth and is now the largest city between Dallas and Houston. It has some twenty miles of paved streets and perhaps a hundred and fifty miles of brick and concrete sidewalks; churches of every denomination; educational facilities, upon completion of its present program which will not be excelled by any city; graduated eighty-five from its high school in 1922; a water works system consisting of a three billion gallon artificial lake covering some seven hundred acres of land, furnished excellent fishing and recreational facilities; several hot artesian wells, furnishing medicinal and bath water excelled nowhere; a country club and golf links which is one of the beauty spots of Texas; four railroads, including three trunk lines radiating in seven directions out of the city, with fifty-two passenger and interurban trains daily; an interurban line to and from points north, furnishing hourly service both ways; three hundred miles of hard surfaced roads projecting in every direction from the city; the junction point between the main line of Colorado and Gulf Highway north and south, and Texas and Mexico branch of the Bankhead Highway from Mexico City; the State and Odd Fellows Orphans Homes, wonderful institutions, are both located in the outskirts of the city; electric street car system; modern incinerating plant and sewerage system; complete motorized fire fighting system with a 28c key fire insurance rate; commission form of city government; natural gas in abundance, some wells producing as high as sixty million cubic feet daily; a live and progressive Chamber of Commerce, operated on the budget system; handsome homes and well kept lawns; Carnegie Library; $150,000.00 Y. M. C. A. plant, paid for and successfully run; all the secret orders are represented, most of them owning their own property; five strong banks whose deposits exceed five million dollars; post office of the first class, annual receipt exceeding $43,000.00; a morning and evening and weekly and semi-weekly newspapers; various soils suitable for diversified farming. Navarro county is the third largest cotton raising county in Texas, near the center of the great black land cotton belt and crop failures are unknown; an annual rainfall of thirty-nine inches. Navarro county ranks fourth in Texas in individual farms; Navarro county has the greatest number of acres in farms, and is second in value in farm improvements in Texas; and is sixth in farms operated by owners; Corsicana factory output $15,000,000 annually; wholesale output over $25,000,000.00; twenty-five wholesale houses; thirty-one industrial plants; cotton mills, twine mill, only one in Texas; home of the De Luxe fruit cake shipped everywhere; District center of Trade District No. 17 of the Texas Chamber of Commerce, including nine counties; was during the Great War designated as center of large area for war activities; petroleum pipeline center of Texas; district headquarters for seventy-five nationally known business concerns; home of 156 traveling men; large cotton warehouses and compresses; two cotton oil mills. And best of all Corsicana and Navarro county possess a cultured, law-abiding, church-going, God-fearing and hospitable people, who extend an outstretched hand to strangers from without and who are welcome an opportunity to share with them the traditions and the history of which they are the happy inheritors.
*The following two paragraphs are dated November 30, 1943 and appear as an introduction to the pamphlet:
"This short history of Navarro County and Corsicana, Texas, is written by C. L. Jester, former County Judge. It was printed about the time it was writtenSeptember, 1922in The Corsicana Daily Sun and repeated in The Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light. Copies of papers containing these articles have become very scarce. The newspaper office (and other) files for this period are incomplete, and the author himself had disposed of all his copies, even to his manuscript.
"The following photostated copy of the history is madewith the exception of the eighth installment--from a file of The Corsicana Daily Sun lent by Dr. H. Bailey Carroll, Director of Research in Texas History and Associate Professor of History at the University. The eighth installment was taken from a copy of the Light, (September 22, 1922), also lent by Dr. Carroll. The installments appeared in successive issues of the Sun (except on September 17) beginning with September 13, 1922, and ending with the September 22 issue."
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