A Brief History of Hopkins County

by: Hopkins County Historian, J.C. McDonald

 

Editor's Note: This article written by J. C. McDonald, an early Hopkins County historian, was published on March 5, 1933, in a special edition of the "Good Home Sunday Courier," that was devoted to Hopkins County and Sulphur Springs. McDonald was a longtime employee of the City National Bank in Sulphur Springs and wrote a number of early historical articles, about our area.

 

Hopkins County had no permanent white settlement prior to 1842, although white settlements were prevalent in North East Texas before Moses Austin ever dreamed of Texas. That feature of Texas history is not often taken into account by historians.

At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, 1803, many Americans claimed the Rio Grande as the New Territory's Western boundary. Others thought the Southern watershed of Red River as  much a part of Louisiana as its Northern watershed, the idea prevailed because of an international law forced by European Nations upon Spain, while parceling out the New World.

Following the Purchase of Louisiana from Spain, American settlers began to push up and settle on the south side of the Red River. Between Sulphur River on the north and old San Antonio road on the south, white settlements were rare until late in the career of the Texas as a Republic.

After the United States had bought Florida, in 1819 it ceded the Southern watershed of Red River to Spain with other concessions, and recognized Sabine and Red Rivers as Western and Southern boundaries of Louisiana.

Then the great Cherokee Nation of Indians, resentful of being harassed by the whites, accepted the sovereignty of Spain and interloped to Texas. They were by nature timber dwellers, which accounts for their occupancy of the Old San Antonio Road, known as the Old Spanish Trail. The Cherokees were semi-civilized, and white people along the Red River fared well with them and regarded them as a protection against the wild Indians. But further toward the South this condition differed: Mexican agents were constantly among them inciting revolts and riots, until they became a menace to the white settlers, and it was dangerous to settle North of the San Antonio Road or South of the Sulphur River. Few settlers encountered the danger.

 

 

General Sam Houston was a Cherokee by adoption, consequently their friend, but when General Lamar became president, in 1839, he ordered the Cherokees to vacate and enforced the order with his army. Two decisive battles were fought in which their chief was killed and the tribe scattered. Most of them fled to Indian Territory and to Mexico, but some remained with fragments of other tribes and built a large rendezvous on Village Creek, between Dallas and Fort Worth, from which they raided and pillaged  the whites. A band from this village murdered the Ripley family, near Winfield, in April 1844. Soon thereafter General Tarrant traced them to their village, and with the aid of General Smith of Nacogdoches, drove them from the county. Then the South Sulphur area became safer than it had been along Red River, because Indians from the territory could raid the settlements there and return before capture. Thereafter it became the Indians' turn to be afraid of entering the area south of Sulphur River.

 

 

The Indian menace removed, white settlements were more frequent. Among them William and Harvey Hargrove, brothers from Indiana, came to Clarksville, in December of 1842, with a caravan of eighteen people, inquiring for a place to settle. They were advised to come to the Bluffs on the south side of Sulphur, in what was then the eastern part of Lamar County. Seylon Stouth, then a young man, guided them to their new location, and the First Settlement in Hopkins County was made at what we now call "Old Sulphur Bluff" (December 1842). There was one white man named John Bivins, living about five miles east, who disappeared and has not been heard of since.

Following the settlement, others poured in from the north and east. Until when two years later, when Texas was admitted to the Union and had a sufficient population to ask for organization of a county.

The first legislature, by an act approved March 25, 1846, ordered the creation of a new county from the south end of Lamar County and a part of the north end of Nacogdoches, to be named Hopkins. It also appointed a committee to determine the geographical center and ordered two cities designated within a three-mile radius, and an election to determine which should be named "Tarrant," and become the county site.

Two of the Hopkins' submitted tracts of land, which they offered to donate for the purpose, and Eldridge Hopkins' proposal, by a vote of fifty to sixty was accepted. The location was on a high prairie about one mile north of White Oak Creek, where the new "Paris to Gulf" highway crosses. It was a beautiful site, the town was immediately platted and construction begun. The county had no money with which to build a court house or jail. But as was customary then and is typical now of these old rugged pioneers, they provided a way.

A man named Pleasance or Pleasants of Louisiana had driven three hundred head of cattle to graze on the prairies of Hopkins, and these old timers, astute lawyers and students, found a statute forbidding one out of state to graze cattle in the state. They confiscated the cattle, sold them, and with the proceeds proceeded to build. The court house was a frame building and the jail was of hewed logs.

 

 

The town of Tarrant built rapidly thereafter with a prospect of permanent progress, but just south was White Oak Creek with a bottom a mile wide and north was Caney with a half mile of bottom. These streams ran together eastward, and frequently the town was inaccessible; moreover, W.S. Peters and J. Fenton Mercer had contracted with the Republic to settle all the country west of Hopkins County to the Brazos River. Both had conducted extensive Advertising Campaigns throughout the United States, in consequence of which people were settling as far west as Dallas, at the same time in Hopkins. From the west supplies were hauled from Jefferson. The rout of travel was near the headwaters of the Sabine, following the divide between Red River and the Gulf Costal Plain, to avoid creeks and rivers. This route lay south of White Oak and missed Tarrant entirely.

 

 

Five miles south was one of the best camping places on the Jefferson highway. A small branch crossed the road, and along the branch were hundreds of beautiful springs, some impregnated with sulphur, and were known as "The Sulphur Springs." This was on a dividing line of the prairie and timber. To the traveler eastward bound it was the first place, plenty of good spring water and firewood was available and to the westward traveler, it was the last place that such necessities were available, until you reached a further destination.

Someone had built a store at this camping place; traditions says Eli Bibb. In 1850, Dr. S. O. Davis bought all of the land around the springs, and decided in his own mind that a city should and would be built. He was a real booster for his day and time. Without recording a plat of the town, he mapped it out clearly in his own mind and sold lots according to the mental picture. By the time the Civil War was on, Sulphur Springs was a village of considerable size, at one time larger than Dallas.

 

 

After the war, Texas was under military rule, and Union soldiers were sent to administer the affairs of Hopkins County. Tarrant was off the main highway and so inaccessible in bad weather, that these soldiers headquartered at Sulphur Springs. To administer public affairs with the county seat so far was difficult, hence, upon their own authority, they ordered all the county records moved to, and the county seat established in Sulphur Springs. The people of old Tarrant were furious, but there was nothing they could do about it!

Mr. W.H. Furney, father of Furnay Bros., connected with this magazine, was one of those employed to haul the records to Sulphur Springs in 1868. Before the departure of these soldiers the question arose, as to whether an act supposed to have been performed at the county seat be legal if performed outside. To settle the question, by special session of the state Legislature of 1870, a law passed making Sulphur Springs the permanent county seat and declared all acts by the military authorities valid.

 

 

 

When Sulphur Springs thus became the legal seat of County Government, people of Tarrant lost all hope of regaining it, and most of them moved to the new capital. Today, the "Old Tarrant Site" is occupied by some of the most beautiful and best kept farms of the county. The first survey of Hopkins County was a perfect rectangle, including all of its present territory with about half of Delta and the northeast quarter of Rains counties. The upper half of Delta county belonged to Lamar county. It was so difficult during high water and wet weather for people living between the Sulphur Rivers to get to Sulphur Springs or Paris, that they began to talk of a county of their own, until the 12th Legislature of 1870 authorized the organization of all territory between the Sulphurs owned by either Hopkins or Lamar to become a separate county of Delta, which left Hopkins with an irregular boundary north of the juncture of the rivers Sulphur, which was regained by Lamar County, act of the Legislature of 1871.

In 1870, Rains County was organized and a corner was taken out of Hopkins County. Since with the exception of a few contentions about the location of the south line, there has been no charge contemplated, and the counties' history has varied little, except a gradual development in spite of calamities and obstacles.

The "East Line and Red River" was the county's first railroad, a narrow guage, built from Jefferson, reaching Sulphur Springs in 1979. It was widened to a standard guage in 1892, and is now the "Louisiana Railway and Navigation Co." The Cotton Belt was built through the county in 1887.

The old Jefferson (Road) is now Highway No. 1, from Dallas to Mt. Pleasant, and is a state highway from there on to Jefferson.

When the county seat was established at Sulphur Springs a jail was built but a court house was rented, until 1881. A brick court house was finished about midway of the east side of the public square in 1894 and the present "temple of Justice" was completed in 1895.

Beside Tarrant and Sulphur Bluff, most of the trading points of the county were creations of the Jefferson Highway. Black Jack Grove (Cumby), Sulphur Springs, Lollars Store (Weaver), the Twin Groceries (Saltillo), Carroll's Prairie (Como), Cornersville, and Bucksnort, were either on the main highway or one of its branches. Dike, Nelta, Addran, Fairyland (Peerless), Soon Over (Emblem), Cold Hill (Bonanza), Miller Grove, and Riley Springs were points of convenience for their neighborhoods, while Ridgeway, the present town of Weaver, and Saltillo, as we know them, Pickton, and Brashear were established with the building of the railroads.

Limitation of space will not permit a complete history in this article, but I have endeavored to give a rather broad summary and if any reader will kindly contribute incidents or events to complete my data and files, I shall be pleased if you will write me.

The history of our section of Texas has never been written, an no one person can write it unaided. It will take our combined effort to properly complete it, toward which end your cooperation and contribution will be very helpful and of much service to the people effected.

 

 

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