History of Early Day Settlements Near the Falls on the Brazos
By Leonard Kubiak, author and Texas historian from Rockdale, Texas.
EARLY DAY SETTLEMENTS NEAR THE FALLS ON THE BRAZOS
The region surrounding the Falls on the Brazos and the present-day town of Marlin, Texas is rich in history and has given rise to such towns as Bucksnort, Viesca, Fort Milam, and Fort Marlin. The falls of the Brazos River have long been an important fording and camping area for Indians for thousands of years and for the white settlers arriving in ever increasing numbers in the 1820's.
Modern-Day Map of the Brazos River
Anglo-American Colonization in Texas (1822)
A trading post was established on the river in 1822 but was abondoned in a couple of years due to problems in dealing with the Mexican government.
In 1825, the Falls on the Brazos area was included in the empresario grant to Robert Leftwich of the Texas Association, a group from Nashville, Tennessee, which planned to settle in Texas. Colonization did not take place at that time, however.
When white settlers arrived in the area in 1829, the area served as hunting grounds for several tribes, including Wacos, Tawakonis, and Anadarkos, all of whom were often attacked from the north by the stronger Comanches.
Cherokees and a few white families arrived in the area in the early 1830s and were there in 1833 when Sterling C. Robertson began bringing American settlers to his Nashville colony (later called Robertson's colony).
Texas was opened to Anglo-American colonization in 1822 when the government of Spain granted Moses Austin permission to bring in three hundred families from the United States. Moses died while planning this major undertaking, but his son, Stephen F. Austin, replaced him as empresario.
In a bitter struggle, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and the newly elected emperor, Iturbide, confirmed Austin's contract. Then General Santa Anna overthrew Iturbide, and a federal republic was established with Coahuila and Texas joined together as a state.
In 1825, The Mexican legislature, eager to attract settlers from the U.S. to prevent the land falling into French handspassed a general colonization law. Under this law, Stephen Austin and several other empresarios were given contracts to settle additional families from the United States in designated territorial grants.
Stephen F. Austin and his partner, Samuel M. Williams, claimed the area near the Falls of the Brazos River for their fifth colony, but their contract remained mostly unfulfilled.
Thomas Jefferson Chambers, surveyor general and chief justice for Coahuila and Texas, had seen the Brazos area while surveying lands. The bankrupt Mexican state was unable to pay Thomas Jefferson Chambers's salary and instead,passed a legislative act giving him "five leagues east of the great Falls" for his services.
Sarahville de Viesca (1832)
Although it was illegal under new laws passed by the Mexican government, nine families had settled in the area by 1830.
In 1833 Robertson established the capital of his Nashville colony and called it Sarahville de Viesca and later Fort Viesca. The empresario, Sterling Robertson, claimed part of Austin's fifth colony area and established the capitol of his colony at Viesca, west of the Brazos, on a high bluff overlooking the Falls. His colonists lived there in relative safety, and a company of rangers guarded them when they worked in the nearby fields.
Officials of the colony were Williams H. Steel, commissioner of land titles, and J. G. W. Pierson, surveyor general. The alcaldes were John Marlin, A. G. Perry, J. L. Hood, and George W. Childress.
Childress, as a delegate from Viesca, was later to write the Texas Declaration of Independence.
Another famous inhabitant of the early-day settlement of Viesco was James Fannin who came to Texas with his wife and two daughters in 1834, and settled at Valesco. Soon after his arrival, he became active in the cause for independence from Mexico. He was a participant in the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835. Later the same month, he and James Bowie led the Texas forces in the battle of Concepcion.
In 1835, the citizens of Viesca began preparing for war with Mexico and changed the name of their settlement from Fort Viesca to Fort Milam.
In early 1836 when word of the massacre at the Alamo reached Fort Milam, all the settlers fled in what was called the Runaway Scrape. This gave Viesca the name of "the town that died overnight."
John Marlin Granted a League of Land East of the Brazos
Robertson granted a league of land east of the river to his colonist John Marlin, who was joined by Z. N. Morrell, a canebrake Baptist preacher from Tennessee. Morrell who arrived in 1835 "to meet David Crockett at the Falls of the Brazos for a bear hunt." Crockett was missing, but the game was abundant, and he hunted with Marlin.
In his memoirs Morrell wrote, "Our expectations as to the great value of the lands were fully realized. The country was all we could desire-lands very rich, range extraordinarily good, wood and water aplenty, and the prospects for health very flattering. The river at this time was very low at this point-water knee deep to our horses-the falls about ten perpendicular feet, and the water below them abounding in fish. We examined the place minutely with reference to its capacity to run machinery."
Morrell preached and fought Indians at the Falls, and was fascinated by the mustang, deer, buffalo, and other fauna and flora. He remembered the winter of 1836 as mild and balmy, "with wild rye and grass in the Brazos River bottom over knee high, and potato vines still alive in the fields."
When the rangers left to fight in the Texas Revolution, Morrell and the colonists abandoned Viesca, which was burned by the Indians in their absence in the spring of 1836.
Bucksnort Settlement Established in 1836
After the battle of San Jacinto, families slowly began returning to the area, but Fort Milam never reached its former importance except as the head of the Brazos military operations against the Indians.
A new trading post called Bucksnort was established on the east side of the Brazos River near present-day Marlin and by 1837, the Marlin family returned to Bucksnort, near Fort Milam, along with the Morgan family.
By this time Indians had become a constant threat. In June 1837 several men were attacked and one killed. On January 1, 1839, the women and children at Morgan Point, the home of the Morgans, were killed in what came to be called Morgan's Massacre. On January 10 the same group of Indians attacked Fort Marlin and were repulsed. Six days later the men from Bucksnort attacked the Indians; each side lost ten men, but the Indians won the encounter. Later that year the Texas legislature authorized men to patrol the region, and conflicts with Indians soon ceased. Peace was officially declared in 1845.
In 1844 Sam Houston, the President of the Republic of Texas, held an Indian council at Bucksnort, "this being the most convenient place for obtaining provisions and the last chance of getting anything to drink."
"Bucksnort was a place where Indian fighters gathered to share a drink and recount incidents of their exploits in the badlands. It was a distributing point for supplies needed by the early settlers as far north as what is now Ellis County."
After Texas had joined the Union in 1845 and war with Mexico was declared in 1848, "Bucksnort became an army camp. Volunteers from a wide section were outfitted for service, and Colonel Jack Hays, the intrepid commander, rallied his rough riders and rangers there." Nelson Denson, brought to the area as a slave by Jim Grundy, recalled "the old circular mile racetrack at Bucksnort frequented by sports from all over the state who made their headquarters at the Porter House, one of Bucksnort's leading business establishments."
In 1989, the Texas Historical Commission errected a marker at the site off FM 712 that reads:
"This area was first settled in 1837 by members of the Marlin and Menefee families. The settlement grew steadily, and for a time was known as Jarett Menefee's Supply Station. By the 1840s the village boasted a school, general store, blacksmith shop, racetrack, stable, saloon, stagecoach stop, and post office. According to local legend, the name Bucksnort was coined by an inebriated patron of the saloon. By the 1850s, as settlers moved into other areas in the county, Bucksnort was no longer a viable community."
Lizzie Wyche Powers (born in Texas in 1866)
The transcript below, part of an interview with Lizzie Wyche Powers (born in Texas in 1866, provides a great deal of first hand information about the early history of the Marlin area. It will also be of interest to descendants of Elijah Powers who "joined the Robertson colony in Tennessee and came with General Robertson to old Nashville in 1834", then moved to East Texas in 1835, and came to Falls County, Texas in 1844.
She talks about the family of Elijah Powers who had sons William Powers, Lewis B. Powers, Andrew Jackson Powers, Elijah Powers, and Francis Powers.
"I was born in 1866 at Bedias, Texas , in Grimes County. My father ,
Dr. George Wyche, with his family, came to Texas about the year 1859
from the State of Mississippi. He was a plantation owner and sold his
plantation with the slaves and came to the new state of Texas, seeking
a better climate for the health of his family."
"In 1883, I married Mr. Sam Powers, who was a ranchman and lived ten
miles north-east of Marlin, in the vicinity of Big Creek. He was a
grandson of grand-father Elijah Powers who joined the Robertson colony
in Tennessee and came with General Robertson to old Nashville in 1834,
where he lived for a year and then moved to East Texas, and in 1844,
came to Falls County and settled on a league of land which the Mexican
government gave him, when Mexico was giving the colonists land for the
settling of the state.
"Grandfather Powers had five sons, William, who died in Falls County;
Lewis B., who took part in a number of Indian fights and died in Fall
County, also; Andrew Jackson, who was killed in the Indian fight
following the Marlin-Morgan massacre. I will tell you about this fight
as it has been handed down through the times to us, from the other two
brothers who were also in this fight. In the excitement of the battle,
Jackson was wounded and fell off his horse. His brothers and
companions stopped and tried to put him back on the horse.
"The horse was so frightened that he plunged so they could not get him
on the horse. He told them 'that he knew he was killed and for them to
leave him and save themselves, before they too were killed.' The two
brothers were William and Lewis who were in this fight, and the story
has been handed down by them. Jackson was killed, but his
self-sacrifice for his companions will live as long as there is a
Powers left to tell the story.
"This fight was between the settlers and the Indians, on the high-way
between Waco and Marlin, ten days after the Morgan-Marlin massacre;
the whites were led by Captain Benjamin Bryan of Bryans Station and
the noted Indian chief, Jose Maria, led the Indians. This fight
occurred in 1839.
Other sons of Grandfather Powers were Elijah and Francis, the father
of my husband. Francis settled in Falls county and engaged in ranching
until he enrolled in the Confederate army. He served the duration of
the war. He returned and helped in the organization of Falla County.
He died in January of 1877. He reared a family of six children. His
eldest son, Joe, was a stockman of Falls county who moved to
Archer Edward county, where he died. Tom, another son, moved
to Archer county. My husband, Sam, lived near Mart. A daughter, Mary,
married William Waite of Reagan; another son, Frank moved to Falls
County and still another son, John, lived at Reagan. All these are
Falls County is Created with Viesca (Fort Milam) as the County Seat- 1850
On January 28, 1850, the Texas State Legislature passed an act creating Falls County from portions of Milam and Limestone Counties. It further provided that Viesca, which had been renamed Fort Milam, be designated the county seat.
However, the citizens of Falls County successfully petitioned the Legislature to allow them to make their own selection. A spring near the home of Dr. Allensworth Adams, a few miles northeast of Bucksnort, became the favored location.
Adams-Second County Seat of Falls County (1851)
An election was held on January 21, 1851, and Adams became the county seat with twenty votes. On February 24th, the first county court was held "for the purpose of transacting any business that shall come before the court." Taxes were levied and a road ordered from Adams to Springfield.
Marlin Becomes the Third County Seat
The first Falls County Court selected the town of Marlin as the county seat, naming the town in honor of John Marlin, the dead alcalde of the Robertson colony.
In April Judge R. E. B. Baylor called the district court together at the new "town of Marlin."
John W. Jarvis, First Postmaster of Marlin (1851)
The Marlin post office was established in 1851 with John W. Jarvis (sheriff and a former teacher)named as the first postmaster.
Samuel A. Blain, Jarvis's son-in-law, laid out the streets and lots and drafted a map around a square. Lots for Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches were the first to be assigned. The Presbyterian church was first to be constructed and used as a union church. All three churches relocated east of the square.
Zenas Bartlett's General Store was the first business, and its brick building was used for a school for a short period. Bartlett's wife later deeded the property to the city as a site for the city hall.
Marlin also had a freighting business, a stage stop, a tavern, a law office, and later the Green-Bartlett Mercantile Business.
The first courthouse was a log cabin used to house a variety of town functions including court, school (taught by Dr. Giles W. Cain), church, community hall as a meeting place for political and community meetings, and as a dance hall.
Marlin's Calvary Cemetery
Marlin's Calvary Cemetery, located near the Marlin Courthouse, was established around the start of the Civil War. Stephan Ward, Sr donated the land for the first portion of Calvary cemetery. Ward was a native of Mississippi and came to Marlin in 1852 where he engaged in merchandising, cattle raising and farming and served as one of the early Mayors of Marlin.
The city of Marlin took control of the cemetery in 1929.One of the oldest stones in the cemetery is marked 1859 and bears the name Moore, however there are many others without names or dates.
Two of the many distinguished persons buried in Calvary cemetery are General H.B. Shields and U.S. Senator Tom Connally.
Marlin is Incorporated (1867)
Marlin, county seat of Falls County, was incorporated in 1867 during a period of heavy Polish and German immigration from Europe.
The Houston and Texas Central Railway completed its line in 1871 which resulted in a county wide growth with the creation of new towns and businesses along the railroad lines. In less than 10 years, the population of Marlin grew to just over a thousand.
First Sheriff Killed in Falls County.
Pleasant Clarke Whitaker was born in South Carolina about 1818 and immigrated to Texas where he served as a Major in the Army of the Republic of Texas in the early 1840's (his commission, signed by Sam Houston, is dated May 18, 1843). Whitaker made his home in Falls County (TX). On Nov. 9, 1841, he married Mrs. Rebecca Jane Hinton Capps (1819 SC - 1871 TX), widow of William Capps. [Elivirah Pearl Capps married Thomas Jones.] Whitaker children: James Lewis Whitaker (1842-1862) died at home on leave from CSA; Eliza Jane Whitaker (1844-1901) m. Jeremiah Terry Steward; Mary Worth Whitaker (1846-1920) m. Lamb & S. J. Lake; Martha Elizabeth Whitaker (1849-1929) m. Alexander Tazewell Watson; Thomas Clarke Whitaker (1851-1855) scarlet fever; Olive Whitaker (1853-1855) scarlet fever; Annie Whitaker (1856-1942) m. Marcus Seely; Henry McKenzie Whitaker (1858-1900) m. Charity Sellers.
Eliza Jane Whitaker (1844-1901)
From 1854-1856, Whitaker served as Justice of the Peace and then elected Sherriff of Falls County. He was serving as Sheriff of Falls County and living on the Whitaker plantation when he was shot and killed by his brother-in-law, (William) Bill Hinton, on December 27, 1859. The family Bible lists the cause of death as "of being wounded".
The story says there was an eggnog party at the Whitaker home. Rebecca wasn't feeling well and P. C. asked his brother-in-law, William "Bill" Hinton to leave. Hinton had had too much to drink and became insulted. He took a gun from the wall and shot and killed Whitaker. The family Bible says he died "of being wounded." I also believe that Hinton and tried, convicted, and hanged. Rebecca took in Hinton's daughters and raised them. All the Whitaker daughters were teetotalers and refused to allow either liquor or loaded guns inside their homes.
Male and Female Academy Chartered in Marlin
Also in 1871, a new school (the Marlin Male and Female Academy), was founded on Ward Street just north of the public square. This was the first public school within the town of Marlin. It changed names and locations, and the property was finally sold in 1886. Fire destroyed the public school building in 1900, and a new brick school was constructed in 1903.
Two community black schools were organized in Marlin in 1875. Classes were held in the Baptist and African Methodist church buildings.
1892-A Year of Explosive Growth for Marlin
The "Gay 90's" ushered in a period of tremendous growth in Marlin. In 1892,
the Bank of Marlin was chartered which operated until 1963.
The Marlin Compress and Cotton Seed Oil Mills were established in 1892 by a board of directors headed by J. A. Martin.
1892 was also the year, hot mineral water was found during the search for an artesian well. Bathers with arthritus found relief in the healing hot waters and Dr. J. W. Cook began promoting Marlin as a health center.
Bethesda Bathhouse, Majestic Bathhouse, Imperial Hotel, Torbett Hospital, and the pavilion for the flowing hot water fountain were all founded soon after. Visitors by the hundreds of thousands flocked to Marlin and the town soon received international acclaim.
Healing Hot Mineral Waters Put Marlin on the Map
Old Bath House Health Center
During this era of major growth, Marlin chartered a Fire Department to protect the area homes and businesses.
The Old Marlin Fire Department
Modern Utilities Reach Marlin
Telephones reached Marlin by 1900; automobiles, electricity, and Lone Star Gas soon followed. Marlin had the Peacock Bottling Company, stock pens, a brick yard, a turkey-processing plant, a saddlery, a water crystalization plant, and a pottery plant.
Second Railroad and New Bank Stimulate New Marlin Growth
By 1901, a second railroad, the International-Great Northern, laid its tracks into Marlin and dredged a lake in what became the City Park, which is still used as a recreation area, a site for Marlin Festival Days, and as a Youth Center for its Falls County Future Farmer, 4-H Club, and Future Homemaker annual shows. About the same time, the Marlin National Bank and the First State Bank were chartered and are still operating today.
New All Grades School Built in Marlin
In 1903, the new school building was completed and put in operation.
Marlin Public School-All Grades-Built in 1903
Hot Springs Continue to Bolster Marlin's Economy
For the next fifty years Marlin continued to gear its economy to the health industry. Dr. S. P. Rice operated an infirmary and drugstore. In 1925 Dr. Frank H. Shaw built a crippled children's clinic, providing treatment and therapy for handicapped children, including victims of polio and arthritis. He utilized the hot mineral water in a swimming pool and provided other muscle building therapy. This hospital was closed after World War II.
Marlin has had several newspapers, including one published by the black community, called the Falls County Freeman, and others that lasted only a short period of time. The Marlin Ball began publication in 1874 by T. C. Oltorf and continued until about 1901; then the Marlin Democrat, established by two Kennedy brothers in 1890, became a daily paper about 1898.
In 1916 the city council voted to build a school for blacks. Later, the school was moved to Commerce Street and was named Booker T. Washington. Teachers and students were integrated in the Marlin Independent Schools by 1970-71.
Mayor of Marlin Drowns in 1922
Two ford automobiles and one truck and about 20 people were sight-seeing on the Marlin to Chilton bridge over the Brazos about 5 miles west of Marlin when it collapsed into the Brazos river that was near it's crest due to heavy rains upstream. The bridge was in poor condition and warning ropes had been placed across the entrances to the bridge to keep people off during the high waters.
With the collapse of the bridge on the morning of May 17, 1922, seven people lost their lives including Marlin's Mayor, Frank Stallworth, Frank Wilkinowski, Will Harris, Dr. W.H. Allan, Mrs. E.A. Moseley, B.J. Higgs, and an unidentified negro man.
Several other people were rescued after drifing several miles downstream with many being rescued by ropes near the falls on the Brazos. The following day, the Mayor's body was pulled from the Brazos River near the Cedar Springs bridge.
A poontoon bridge was temporarly installed over the Brazos River until a permanent bridge could be constructed later in the year.
The old suspension bridge between Marlin and Chilton-Washed out in the 1922 flood of the Brazos (Photo curtesy of Robert Haddock, a Falls County native).
In 1923 the Marlin Independent School District was established.
The New Marlin High School (1923)- I attended school here 1953-1955
A weekly newspaper, the Falls County Record, was popular in the 1940s and 1950s.
Marlin in the 1990's
The old Buie-Allen Hospital is now a halfway house for girls. In September 1989 the Texas Department of Corrections opened the 1,000-bed William Pettus Hobby Unit.
In 1990 the population of Marlin was 6,386. By the 1990s there was an auction barn, independent cattle trucking companies, and nursing homes. The population showed a steady increase, peaking at about 8,000 in 1970.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Roy Eddins, ed., and Old Settlers and Veterans Association of Falls County, comp., History of Falls County, Texas (Marlin, Texas?, 1947). Roy Eddins, ed., Marlin's Public Schools from the 1840s to 1960 (Marlin, Texas: Marlin Ex-Students Association, 1961). A Memorial and Biographical History of McLennan, Falls, Bell, and Coryell Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1893; rpt., St. Louis: Ingmire, 1984). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.
For more facinating first hand accounts of Marlin area history, see:
First hand accounts of early-day Marlin area history
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