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Bonham and Fannin County: Namesakes of the Texas Revolution

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Colonel James Westbrook Fannin


Colonel James W. Fannin’s claim to Texas fame played out during several battles of the Texas Revolution. In 1835 and 1836, he served as Captain of the Brazos Guards, Agent of the Provisional Government, Colonel of the Provisional Regiment of Volunteers at Goliad, and acted as Commander in Chief of the Regular Army from February to March in 1836 at Goliad. Fannin and his troops fought in the battles of Gonzales, October 2, 1835, Concepción, October 28, 1835, and Coleto, March, 1836.


In March, 1836, when Santa Anna’s troops captured the Texian forces under the command of Amon King and William Ward at Refugio, Fannin began a retreat from his location at Goliad. The Mexican troops surrounded Fannin's men and forced them to surrender at the Battle of Coleto. In Goliad, under orders from Santa Anna, after Mexican General Urrea had asked for clemency for the Texians, Colonel Portilla, who was in command at Goliad, shot Fannin and his 341 (344) men on March 27, 1836. This event is remembered today as the Goliad Massacre. (1)


James Butler Bonham


James B. Bonham served as an officer of the Alamo garrison. The Texas Historical Commission reported recent evidence that Bonham was a second cousin of William B. Travis. Bonham arrived in Texas in November of 1835 from Alabama well after the Texas Revolution was underway. Bonham attended but did not graduate from South Carolina College. Bonham practiced law in Alabama and Texas. He advertised his services in the Telegraph and the Texas Register in 1836.


Before his military service, Bonham took the position of an aide to then South Carolina Governor James Hamilton, and that job landed Bonham the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1834, Bonham had taken up the cause for Texas independence, and he organized a rally at the Shakespeare Theater in Mobile, Alabama. Two weeks later, Bohham had raised a volunteer company called the Mobile Grays for Texas military service.


In 1835, Bonham volunteered his services to Sam Houston in a letter and stated that he wanted no pay, lands, or rations in exchange. Houston commissioned him as second lieutenant in the Texas Calvary. However, Houston did not assign him to any cavalry unit. Houston and Bonham became close associates with high regard and mutual respect for each other.


Bonham at the Alamo


Lieutant Colonel William Barret "Buck" Travis ordered Bonham to leave the Alamo to muster aide for the garrison at Bexar possibly on February 16, 1836. Bonham returned to the Alamo through Mexican strongholds on March 3, with a letter from Robert Williamson informing Travis that help was being sent to Travis at the Alamo. Bonham died at the battle of the Alamo on March 6, and there is evidence that he died manning a cannon in the Alamo chapel. (2)


Pioneers of Fannin County


A man named Charles Quillian obtained First Class Land Certificate No. 30 from the Republic of Texas in 1834. His portion of land laid west of Bois D’Arc Creek. Two other men named Stephen Westbrook and Carter Clift also settled in the same area. The rivers in these first settlements supposedly supplied an easier mode of travel than immigrating in wagons across uncharted territory and also provided high-quality building timber along with the hard, long-lasting lumber from bois d’ arc trees.


Dr. Daniel Rowlett and six families arrived in what was then Red River County in March of 1836 in the steamboat Rover captained by Benjamin Crooks from Memphis, Tennessee. They disembarked the Rover at Jonesboro and the Jabez Fitzgerald and Mark Robert’s families joined with them. Rowlett built several small cabins on the bank of the Red River in the Tulip Bend settlement which was also called Lexington in early documents.


Another pioneer, George C. Dugan, led a wagon train to this area in 1834, then went back to his home in Arkansas, and returned in 1836 to settle and make way for more families near Orangeville. The Rowlett and Dugan settlements became the beginning of a powerful pioneering force in today’s Fannin County.


Fannin County's Militia 


In 1836, the men who settled on these parts of the Red River created a militia company. Under Dr. Rowlett’s command, the militia organized an exploration excursion. Within two days, they found a Kickapoo trail leading off of the bank of the Red River. They followed it to a group of friendly Kickapoos who informed them that the Texians defeated Santa Anna and he surrendered to the Texians at San Jacinto.


They continued east and met 30 Shawnees at Shawneetown north of Denison. Once there, the militia met an old friend from Kentucky named Jim Logan. Next, Rowlett’s group traveled south to the Trinity River headwaters where they met some Caddoes.


The militia informed the Caddoes that they would need permission to come to the Red River settlements of the whites. The Caddoes ceded to that agreement. The Caddo meeting is believed to have been near Sherman. (3)


Captain Crooks and Steamboat Rover Navigate the Red River


The following account by Dr. Rowlett tells of the difficulty of the trip aboard the Rover and pays tribute to the expertise of Captain Crooks. (4)


“We, whose name are hereunto subscribed, Cabin passengers, on board the steam-boat Rover, now in Red river, above the Raft, think it is a tribute of respect due Capt. Benjamin Crooks, to acknowledge our gratitude to him, for the perseverance and industry with which he has overcome all the obstructions and difficulties in the way of steam-board navigation, from Coats' Bluffs to the end of the Raft - going into the 12 Mile Bayou on the 31st Dec., 1835; removing and passing rafts and logs extending entirely across it; then entering Sodo Lake, passing to the north-west over it 20 miles to Clear Lake, about 6 miles in length; then entering Black Bayou, ascending it 12 miles to the falls, which are in many places so narrow and crooked as scarcely to admit of the passage of the boards; surmounting the falls of Red Bayou from its entrance into Black Bayou to Shinicks, of at least 6 or 7 feet in 150 yards; which was accomplished by building dams; then ascending Red Bayou 15 miles to its inlet from Red river, which, in many places, is so narrow, shallow, and crooked, as to render it impossible for the boats to pass up, until the Bayou had been made wider and straightened by diffing and cutting out a number of trees and stumps that stood placed in the channel - the water being raised by building a dam. After this has been done in 41 days, and we are now under head-way in a fine river, at least three times as wide as the river is below the Raft. There are two large keels in tow, which, as well as the steam-board Rover, are loaded with Army Stores for Fort Towson, and have on board about 150 persons bound for the west. We hereby request the insertion of this in the Arkansas Gazette.


“D. Rowlett [early Fannin County settler], James Cass, R. C. Harris, W. H. Smith, John Stephens [early Fannin County settler], _ Hadlock, Dan Slack [early Fannin County settler], J. J. McGregor, Edward Stephens [early Fannin County settler], W/ H. Gray, Hillory B. B____, Willilam Mays, W. R. Webb, A. R. Lock__, John Ross, C. T. Hilliard, J. Patterson, R. H. Locke [early Fannin County settler], Richard McLamore, James Harris, Wm. Harris, Littleton D. Stephenson, Edward P. Stephenson, Elijah Covington, R. Peebles, John W. Stephens, Alfred Harris, Wm. M______, Samuel Mays, Edward Stephens __, John Mays, John H. Peebles.”


Bois D’ Arc or Bodark Trees


Bodark trees produce the ever-notorious “Horse Apple”. The scientific name of the bois d’ arc tree is thorny maclura pomifera, and it is also known as the Osage, orange, hedge, hedge apple, horse apple, and mock orange tree. A fence post milled of bodark wood will function for 100 years or more. Bodark fence posts also played a significant role in the proliferation of barbed wire fences.


At one time, pioneers planted the bodark trees in hedgerows which created a fence for livestock. The main problem with the bodark hedgerows came in the form of Russian thistle and grass that grew up through them and caused fires. Land holders harvested the horse apples from the thorny bodark fences, stored them in ricks until they rotted, and then washed them to separate the seeds from the pulp. They sold the seeds by the bushel.


Native Americans held a high regard for and used bodark wood for crafting their hunting bows. They also used the bodark’s upper trunk bark that produced a tannin for tanning hides and its root bark for yellow dye. You can still use bodark wood today for pave stones. Pioneers built houses on bodark wood foundations and placed horse apples under their floors as an extermination agent.


The bodark tree matures for use between the ages of 8 -10 years. (5)


But, How Did Fannin County and Bonham Chose Their Names?


For the answer to that question, I called Mr. Tom Thorton at the Fannin County Historical Commission, and he replied,


“The Republic of Texas named the counties. Fannin County, when first established, was the second largest county in the Republic of Texas. It went from Paris to Childress to the west and south to about McKinney. Bonham's first name was Bois D Arc, named for a creek and trees that are found only in this part of Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The city council wanted to change the name to Bloomington, but the Republic of Texas suggested the new name be a hero from the Alamo.” (6)


After the Republic of Texas began organizing its new country, it took on the task of setting country and county boundary lines and naming towns, settlements, and counties. The birth of the Republic of Texas gave rise to 23 original counties in 1837. Fannin County was one of those counties. By the time Fannin County was legally named, the names Austin, Bowie, Crockett, Travis, Houston, etc. were taken.


Col. Fannin has the distinguished legacy of the City of Fannin in Goliad County and Fannin County named after him. 


Visit or Call the Fannin County Historical Commission @:


1 North Center Street, Bonham, Texas


903-583 5947


Visit Their Website @:


http://www.fannincountyhistory.org


(1) Handbook of Texas Online, Clinton P. Hartmann, "Fannin, James Walker, Jr.," accessed July 26, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffa02.


Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on June 30, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.


(2) Handbook of Texas Online, Bill Groneman, "Bonham, James Butler," accessed July 26, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbo14.


Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on September 29, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.


(3) https://www.jstor.org/stable/30235335?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents


(4) http://www.fannincountyhistory.org/arkansas-gazette.html


(5) http://www.texasescapes.com/DelbertTrew/Bodark-trees-tough-as-nails.htm


(6) http://visitbonham.com/fannin-county-historical-commission/


Pictures


1. James Bonham


2. James Fannin


3. Texas 1836


http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txwilbar/maps.htm


http://hometownchronicles.com/tx/wilbarger/maps/1836tx.jpg


4. Fannin County 1840


http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txwilbar/maps.htm


http://hometownchronicles.com/tx/wilbarger/maps/1840texas.jpg




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