Historical Timeline for Bosque County (1721-1860)
In the year 1721, a Spanish expedition led by the Marquis de Aguayo from San Antonio de Bexar to the East Texas missions, outposts of Spanish dominions in the new world, abandoned the old San Antonio Road and took a more northerly route. They camped on the Brazos near the present site of Waco. Here they discovered a large tributary which ran into the Brazos. Because of the dense woods surrounding the juncture of the two streams, the Spanish named the tributary, Bosque, meaning “woodsy.”
One hundred and thirty-three years later, when the Anglo-American frontiersmen petitioned the state for county organization, they proposed that the name of the county be Bosque after the river which divided it into almost two equal parts. (Eleanor Claire Buckley, “The Aguayo Expedition into East Texas, 1719-1721,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XV, 33.)
The colonizing project which eventually came to be known as Robertson Colony, or the Upper Colony of Austin and Williams, originated with the formation of the Texas Association of Nashville, Tenn., in 1822. This organization petitioned the new national government of Mexico for a grant of land in Texas. The Mexican government approved the application brought by agents of the Association on April 15, 1825, to settle 800 families in Texas in the Brazos River basin west of the Old San Antonio Road.
“The boundary began at the intersection of the Navasota River and the Bexar-Nacogdoches Road, followed the Road westward to the watershed between the Brazos and the Colorado, followed the watershed northwestward to the Comanche trace, ran eastward with this to the Navasota, and down that stream to the point of beginning.”
This huge region chosen by Agent Leftwich was well-watered and immensely fertile; it was, however, exposed to the depredations of the Wichita tribes (Tawakoni and Waco), and the area, 100 miles wide and some 200 miles deep, included all or parts of 30 present Texas counties. However, in 1830, when Sterling G. Robertson planned to bring 300 families to the Brazos grant, the Mexicans closed the frontier to American immigrants. It was not until 1835 that the Texas revolution put an end to the disagreement between the Mexican government and the Americans.
In March 1836, at the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Milam County was created out of the lands of the old Robertson or Austin and Williams Colony. In 1837 the territory was subdivided into Robertson County to the east of the Brazos and Milam County to the west. Early settlements north of the Old San Antonio Road are of considerable importance to the exploration and settlement along the middle Brazos and Bosque Rivers for its was from these communities that the first explorers and surveyors came into the area now known as Bell, Coryell, McLennan, and Bosque Counties.
The early settlements north of the Old San Antonio Road are of great importance to the subsequent explorations and settlements along the middle Brazos and Bosque Rivers. Old Viesca was established at the falls of the Brazos in present Falls County in 1834 as the headquarters of the Robertson’s land office. William H. Steele issued land titled to the settlers and Moses Cummings was the surveyor. The name was changed from Viesca to Milam in December 1835.
Nashville-on-the-Brazos was laid of by General Thomas J. Chambers in the fall of 1835. Founded by the families of McLaughlin, Davidson, Boales, and others, it was located on the southwest bank of the Brazos River about two miles below the mouth of the Little River.
Frontier families who lived in this community during the middle and late 1930s included: Sterling C. Robertson, Laughlin McLennan, George B. Erath, W.H. King, John C. Pool, James Bell, Jack Hopson, Neil McLennan, John McLennon, and Henry Eichelberger. Some of the Nashville residents were temporary and moved on to blaze new frontiers in Bell, McLennan, Coryell, and Bosque Counties.
In March 1836, the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos created Milam County from the old Robertson Colony. Of the many surveying parties organized at Nashville who went out into the unoccupied lands along the streams of the Brazos drainage basin, it was often necessary for the pioneering surveying teams to double as Indian fighters. Several of the surveyors were killed by the Indians, and in 1836, Laughlin McLennan, a brother of Neil, and his wife were killed by Indians. His mother, the mother of the McLennan clan, was burned alive in the cabin and his three children were captured. In reaction to these events, a battalion of rangers was raised in Milam County.
In early winter of 1839, Captain George B. Erath led a small detachment of Texas Rangers from Nashville-on-the-Brazos to the headwaters of the Bosque River to scout for Indian signs. After completing a rather uneventful mission, the rangers began their return journey. When they reached the Bosque River valley, the soldier were so impressed with the beauty of the area that they asked Erath to survey land for them. These were the first locations made on the Bosque.
The field notes for the surveys in the Bosque River Valley between Clifton and Valley Mills reveal the following names and dates: Claiborne Neill, Nov. 19, 1839; John C. Pool, Nov. 20, 1839; John McLennan, Nov. 22, 1839; Anson Darniel, Nov. 19, 1839; and James Hughes, Nov. 19, 1839. An oak tree, which as the time was 63 years old, was located in the Anson Darniel survey.
The settlement of Waco Village and the establishment of Fort Graham and Fort Gates in 1849 stabilized the western frontier along the Brazos and Bosque Rivers.
On the morning of March 1, 1849, George B. Erath, John McLennan (oldest son of Neil McLennan, and several other men, including Lowry Scrutchfield met at Waco Springs and “went to work with compass and chain.” Lots were sold later in the day. Shapley Ross bought the first lot for $5 and the second for $10.
After Texas was annexed as a state in 1845, the U.S. government authorized the establishment of fort along the Texas frontier. Two of these forts, Fort Graham on the east banks of the Brazos and Fort Gates on the Leon River, furnished protection against the Indians and were significant factors in the settlement of Bosque County.
Fort Graham, established on March 27, 1849, garrisoned by companies F. and I, second Dragoons was considered very important for its location on the upper frontier near camps of various Indian groups.
On October 1849, Fort Gates was established and garrisoned by a cantonment of troops under the command of William Montgomery.
A road connecting Fort Graham and Fort Gates was surveyed in 1849 by William Whiting, Lieutenant Topographical Engineer. This road crossed southwestern Bosque County from the Hog Creek area to the mouth of Steele Creek on the Brazos and was known as the “military road” during the early years of Bosque County. Lt. Robert E. Lee, with the Topographical Engineers, took part in establishing this road. (Pool, William C., Bosque Territory: “The Frontiersmen.”)
The American frontier line reached the vacant lands along the Brazos and Bosque Rivers by 1850. Most of the Anglo-American pioneers to this area were descendents of generations of pioneers who, on successive frontiers for the Atlantic toward the interior, had cut and burned forest, fought Indians, and pushed forward the line of civilization. Behind the frontiersmen cam the pioneer farmer.
William C. Pool in Bosque Territory writes, “Equipped with little capital, the frontier farmer and rancher settled in small clearings near wood and water. In the course of time saw and grist mills were built, log cabins were replaced with frame houses, fields and pastures were enlarged. Towns were surveyed and lots sold.”
The first permanent Anglo-American pioneers came to Bosque Territory in 1849-1850, at which time it was a part of McLennan County. Although it is difficult to establish who came into undeveloped regions first, historians agree that Ewell Everett and his family who settled on the Bosque River near the present site of Valley Mills and the Albert Barton family who settled near the mouth of Steele Creek on the Brazos River in 1849-1850 were the first permanent settlers in what later became Bosque County.
In 1847, John W. McKissick purchased a league of land between Steele and Cedron Creek for 25 cents an acre. He built a log cabin on the land; however, this was before the establishment of Fort Graham and Indian danger was so great that he abandoned the cabin and returned to live in Waco. The McKissicks later came back to Bosque County in 1850-51 and were one of the early families.
James Cason Frazier, who was hired by the U.S. government to take 100 head of finest cavalry horses from Austin to Fort Graham, reached the present Valley Mills area in March 1851. The Bosque River was overflowing and Frazier and the dragoons accompanying him were waterbound for several days. In his diary, James C. Frazier wrote that they met the Ewell Everett family who furnished him and his men milk, butter, eggs, chickens, and cornmeal. Frazier later moved his family to Bosque County. They settled in the Morgan-Kopperl area.
During the years 1851-52, other families settled permanently along the Bosque. These founding fathers included Lowry Scrutchfield, J.K. Helton, William Gary, Jasper Mabry, William McCurry, and F.M. Gandy.
In the fall and winter of 1852-53, the families of Samuel S. Locker, Frank M. Kell, John Thomas, William R. Sedberry, and A.C. Pearce settled in the Bosque area. Samuel Locker settled near a rock bottom crossing on the Bosque River in December 1852—the site which was later to become known as Cliff Town (1860 census)—now known as Old Town Clifton.
(Pool, William C., Bosque Territory: “The Settlers.”)
In the winter of 1853-54, the pioneer settlers living in the Bosque Territory petitioned the state to form a new county to be named Bosque County. Unfortunately, the Bosque County Historical Commission does not have a copy of the petition; however, it does have a copy of the decree handed down by the Texas State Legislature on Feb. 4, 1854, creating the county of Bosque.
This act of legislature defines the boundaries of the new county. It also named six men—Lowry Scrutchfield, Samuel S. Locker, William McCurry, Jasper N. Mabry, William Gary, and T.E. Everett—to serve as commissioners. Their first duty was to locate the county seat as near the center of the new county as possible.
The commissioners with the exception of T.E. Everett, met on June 27, 1854, near the site of the present town of Meridian. They found that Israel Standefer owned a section of the land precisely in the center of the county. He offered to run off 100 acres of land into town lots, sell them himself, and give the county 10 percent of the money.
When Dr. J. M. Steiner offered to give the commissioners 100 acres and J. P. Eubank agreed to give them 20 acres for the location of the county seat, the commissioners decided to accept the free land even though it was two miles north of the center of the county. The name Meridian for the county seat was suggested by Commissioner Jasper N. Mabry.
Prior to July 4, 1854, George B. Erath surveyed town lots to be sold on that day. A big barbecue was held on the July 4th, and people came in ox wagons and on horseback from the surrounding country. Since this was a new county located almost in the center of the state, many of the settlers thought that Meridian might become the capital of Texas and some of the lots sold for fancy prices. (Cureton, Early History of Bosque County)
The first county election was held on Aug. 7, 1854. Three ballot boxes were provided for the voters: one located at the junction of Steele Creek and the Brazos River with Sam Barnes as election judge; a second at the site of Meridian with Israel Standifer as election judge; and a third in the Bosque River Valley under the historic oak tree west of the river with J.K. Helton as election judge.
[There were no qualified voters at Meridian, five at the Steele Creek site, and 12 at the Bosque valley location. Votes were counted and the county organized under the oak tree. The following officers were elected: Lowry H. Scrutchfield, Chief Justice (County Judge); Jasper Mabry, County Clerk; Isaac Gary, Tax Collector; Archibald kell, Treasurer; P. Bryant, Sheriff; A.C. Pearce, District; J.K. Helton, Justice of the Peace; J.H. Mabry, Sam Barnes, Osro Dennis, and Israel B. Standifer, County Commissioners.] Some of the preceeding information in brackets is suspect and we are in the process of reasearching it to confirm.
The County Court of Bosque County met for the first time on Aug. 28, 1854, in an emergency session held under the oak trees in Meridian. They ordered that William McCurry erect a building to be used as a courthouse and an office for Bosque County. A one room log cabin was built where the building which now houses the Tax Assessor-Collector’s office now stand (2002). McCurry was paid $125 for building the first courthouse which was used until 1860.
At the court meeting held on Nov. 30, 1854, Judge Scrutchfield and his Commissioners Court of Jasper Mabry, S.S. Locker, I.B. Standefer, and W.H. Slane handed down a resolution which divided the county into four school districts and ordered a census to be taken of all children of school age. Alvin L. Bronstad states in his History of Education in Bosque County that the first school in Bosque County was located on the L.H. Scrutchfield place in 1854 and Issac Gary was the teacher. About 15 students attended the school which was in session about three months.
From Cureton’s speech, Early History of Bosque County, written in 1904, the opening of the first District Court in the County held on June 9, 1856, is described as follows:
“The first district court of Bosque County was opened on the 9th day of June, 1856, with that distinguished pioneer jurist, Judge R.E.B. Baylor, as Judge, and N.W. Battle, District Attorney; I. Witty, Sheriff; and A.C. Pearce, District Clerk. It might be worthy of mention to here state that Judge Baylor was one of nature’s Noblemen, whose whole soul was bound up in the welfare of Texas and her civic development; and it always filled him with deep emotion, when by his assistance the lawful administration of justice and civil government was extended over a new county as was being done on this occasion. On this day above mentioned when he took the bench, he requested the sheriff to open court to which the sheriff replied: ‘ Judge, I never saw a court opened. I do not know how.” Where upon Judge Baylor said: ‘Well, I’ll tell you. Go to the door and say in a loud voice, “O yez, oh yez, oh yez, the Honorable District Court of Bosque County is now in session!’ As the sheriff turned away, the old Judge, filled with emotion, said to himself: ‘God bless Texas.’ The sheriff mistaking the last remark of the judge as a part of the ceremony to be proclaimed, went to the door and after proclaiming the regular opening words, exclaimed also in centurion tones: ‘God bless Texas.’ And thus in truly earnest manner, the administration of the law began in Bosque County.”
(Bronstad, A.L., History of Education in Bosque County; Cureton, H.J. and C.M., Early History of Bosque County; Pool, William C., Bosque Territory)
In 1856, Bosque County held its second regular election. The following officers were re-elected: Lowry Scrutchfield, county judge; Jasper Mabry, county clerk; and Israel Standifer, commissioner. John Hanna was elected sheriff; John C. Scowe become the new county treasurer; and Milton Jacks, Temple Spivey; and Marshall Ham were chosen as county commissioners.
Of all the newcomers to Bosque County in 1856, probably the most noted was James Buck Berry (1821-1906). He established his home on the East Bosque River northwest of present Walnut Springs. A veteran of Jack Coffee Hay’s company of Texas Rangers from 1845-46, Colonel Barry later became one of the most noted Indian fighters of the Texas frontier. For over five decades, he played a leading role in the history of Bosque County and the state of Texas.
William C. Pool writes in his book, Bosque Territory, that one of Buck Barry’s contemporaries recorded the following description of this rugged frontiersman: “He (Barry) was of medium height, erect and had a small waist and legs; his weight was not over 145 pounds. He had dark, long curly hair (which at death was gray but never white) which he allowed to grow long and fall on his shoulders. His carriage was erect, dignified, and indicated energy, while his manner harmonized with his militant, decisive bearing. His courtesy and interest in public affairs made him popular. He had some enemies but the better class of citizens were his friends. They who knew him declared him to be fearless. Long after most Texans had forsaken buckskin, Barry chose to wear it.
“He could never tolerate theft, or cowardice, or attacks on the weak, and he believed in upholding the law, even in the absence of law. During the days of reconstruction, Barry and such men as Captain Jack Cureton and Ed McKezick of Meridian, Texas, became the Nemesis of organized crime in their section of the state. Buck Barry was a typical westerner, and being one of the oldest settlers, was called on many times by newcomers whose horses had been stolen by the Indians. Colonel Barry had a horror of outlaws and thieves and did much to put the law on top.”
The population of Bosque County had increased only slightly by 1856. In 1857, Texas Almanac, T.C. Alexander describes Bosque County as a region with “hilly and rolling surface, healthful climate, and fertile soil.” He listed the population as 896, and the centers of population included Meridian, Flag Pond, Searsville or Rock School-Church on Hog Creek, and Clifton (Cliff Town), and Norman Hill. Galveston was named the seaport for Bosque County, and Houston and Galveston were listed as market centers.
The 1856 ad valorem tax roll for Bosque County named 173 taxpayers. The pioneer heads of families were located primarily south of Meridian in the Bosque Valley and on the west bank of the Brazos River, near the confluence of Steele Creek. William C. Pool says that the families of Green Powell, Samuel Barnes, Philip Howard, and John McKissick resided on the west bank of the Brazos.
“The fertile valleys of the Bosque River and Neils and Gary Creeks provided the settling for the cabins of L.H. Scrutchfield; H.R. Pinnell; Sarah, Matthew, Isaac, and Gaffey Gary; J.H. Robertson; C.B. Underhill; S.S. and J.P. Locker; Frank and Abraham Kell; Jasper Mabry; and the Norwegian pioneers.
During the first two years after the founding of the county, the early settlers had homesteaded over 30,000 acres of land and 74 town lots. They owned 1,426 horses, 11,417 cattle, and 213 Negro slaves.”
Pool adds that due to the importance of water and timber, “the early Bosque frontier can be described as a ‘water-course frontier.’”
Since Bosque County was organized in 1854, the first census was taken in 1860, 10 years after the first permanent settlers had settled in Bosque County. There were 312 heads of families listed. Two hundred ninety-one of those were born in the United States and Texas. Seventy of the heads of families were born in Tennessee which demonstrating the importance of the frontiersmen from Nashville-on-the-Brazos in surveying and settling in the county.
Twenty-nine were from Kentucky; 26 from Alabama; 25 from Georgia; 21 from South Carolina, 19 from Arkansas; 16 from Missouri; 15 from North Carolina; 14 from Texas; 13 from Mississippi; 10 from Illinois and Virginia; other states represented were New York, Iowa, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio. Vermont, and Maine.
Fifteen heads of family were born in Norway; two in England, three in Ireland, and one in Scotland.