Pioneers - William R. Howe Family

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Pioneers of Ellis County

History and Biographical Sketch of the William R. Howe Family

Contributed by Granville D. Edwards


Pioneers who came to Texas from Lauderdale County, Tennessee, in October, 1839, while Texas was a Republic. The first (white) settler to locate and build a home in what is now Ellis County. This home was built on the north side of Chambers Creek in the first months of 1842.

By James A. Lavender, Sr.

Republished electronically by descendants of William Howe, Granville D. Edwards and Patrick Howe Edwards solely for the use, at no cost, to you who are interested in the early history of Ellis and Navarro Counties of Texas.


We, who find satisfaction and reward in searching for our ancestors and the events that shaped their lives, are ever in debt to the few from the past who have taken the time to make a record of those who lived in times past. James Lavender was one such researcher, having recorded the early history of Central Texas in the mid 1800’s as viewed through the eyes of a person who lived those times. Francis Ann Howe, daughter of William Ross Howe who is recognized as the first white settler in the wilderness of central Texas in what is known today as Ellis County. Lavender’s work has circulated within my family since he recorded and published it in 1941 but is largely unknown outside our family circle. And so my son, Patrick Howe Edwards and I have taken on the task to publish this record in electronic format so that it may be read and enjoyed, without cost, by interested researchers of early Ellis and Navarro Counties.

William Ross Howe was my third, maternal, great grandfather and his daughter, Mary Jane Howe, was my second great grandmother. I find it humorous that on page 9 of Lavender’s record that he refers to my side of the family as follows: “not much is known about that side of the family.” Being on “that side of the family” and having done a considerable amount of family history research, I suspect that James and Frances Ann were just not prepared to handle the turmoil that occurred after Frances Ann’s sister, Mary Jane Howe, married William Lenoir (Brack) Mitchell. Lavender says that Brack Mitchell was a Post Master and a well known lawman in Hill County. He does not mention that Brack, his brother and the Files boys caught some cattle rustlers one night and strung them up. Nor that a few nights later, five men entered his brother’s home and killed him. Brack took off after the killers riding West, finally ending up in the frontier town of Eskota, Texas where he served as a deputy sheriff. He was shot and killed by an outlaw when he was 70 years. But that is another story well worth telling which I hope to do eventually. And I forgive James about the business of being on the “wrong side of the family” and sincerely praise him for taking the time and making the effort to record this bit of history.

Granville D. Edwards
1214 Westover St.
College Station, TX 77840
June, 2004

This history prepared and written under the direction and with the help of an eyewitness to those events, Mrs. Frances Anne Lacy, a daughter of William R. Howe, who was brought to Texas while a babe in arms, and died in the writer's home at Dallas, Texas, in 1933 at ninety-four years of age.

These facts were collected and written during the years 1920 to 1940 and published in 1941.

BENJAMIN BURTON LACY AND WIFE, the former Frances Ann Howe, daughter of William R. Howe, were married in 1857. Mrs. Lacy was reared in this home and during her last years gave the writer many interesting stories of pioneer life in Texas. She died in 1933.


The writing of this brief biographical sketch and history of the WILLIAM R. HOWE FAMILY is attempted that we of this generation, our children, and future generations may read of when, how and where their forefathers came from and settled in the new Republic of Texas. I have devoted much time and thought to ascertain the true facts with reference to dates of events, and actual happenings as they occurred. Much of this information came from an eyewitness, Mrs. Frances A. Lacy, a daughter of William R. Howe and wife, who was born in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, January 30, 1839, and died in the writer's home in Dallas, Texas, in 1933 at 94 years of age. Mrs. Lacy also contributed bits of written history left her by her father and mother, and this was incorporated in this history. Another eyewitness contributing historical records was Mrs. E. S. Guy of Lancaster, Texas, a daughter of Mrs. Frances A. Lacy, as was Mrs. J. A. Lavender of Dallas, Texas, also a contributor of family records and also a daughter of Mrs. Lacy. The writer desires to express obligations for assistance in this task from several friends, notably Mr. R. E. Sparkman of Italy, Texas, chairman of the Ellis County Centennial Historical Committee of 1936, which committee has compiled much valuable information with reference to the early history of Ellis County, particularly with reference to post offices at Chambers Creek and activities at the W. R. Howe Settlement, as also of Robertson County, of which Ellis County was a part, while Texas was a Republic. Some of the official records I have used were furnished me by the General Land Office at Austin, Texas; others were taken from the Ellis County records at Waxahachie. I am also indebted to the Italy News-Herald, the Waxahachie Enterprise, and Mrs. W. J. McDuffie for enlightening papers of Ellis County history. Some of the historical facts were secured from Texas histories, particularly Dudley G. Wooten's, and John H. Brown's; also John H. Cochran's History of Dallas County and J. F. Kimball's History of Dallas; also The Texas Scrap Book.

With a sincere desire to record and perpetuate the most important events in the history of one of Texas' earliest pioneers, one who came while Texas was a Republic, William R. Howe, I am recording these events to show something of his relation to the development of north central Texas as it occurred a century ago, and dedicate this history to his descendants.

James A. Lavender, Sr.


When in the course of human events a group of people decide to leave home and journey to a distant land to cast their lots and build homes in a new Republic, it becomes necessary to carefully select those colonists in order that the group may include men and women who are qualified to perform certain duties which are essential to the welfare of the colony. Therefore there were among this group farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, a preacher, a shoemaker, and men trained in defense and offense to protect those who were to inhabit a land where the Indians were a constant menace to life and property. Wm. R. Howe of this group was peculiarly fitted to perform many such tasks. Being a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, he was resourceful and capable of directing their activities along many lines. As I have studied the results of his efforts, and talked with those who knew him personally and intimately, one is made to realize that he was possessed in an eminent degree of the strong and inflexible will which characterized the early settlers of Texas. While his name was never coupled as were some of this group with heroes who participated on the field of battle for Texas independence, he arrived in Texas too late to have a part in those battles; however, I have been reliably informed that he gave liberally of his time and resources to help make Texas great.


After months of preparation to start on a journey to secure a home in the Texas Republic, when everything had been sold that could not be taken along, the late spring of 1839 was chosen as the opportune time for the colonists to commence their journey to Texas. The following named families composed the group of immigrants: William R. Howe and family; Capt. Thomas I. Smith and family; his brother, Abraham Smith, and family; Guy and William Stokes and their families; Parson Wright, a Methodist preacher, and his family; and an unmarried person, a Mr. Waddell.


Future generations when they read these lines may ask the question, Why did our forefathers in the early years of the nineteenth century leave kinfolks, friends, and homes in the old states and go to a new country to start life all over again in a place where there were no improvements, no roads, no farms ready to plant, only wide open prairies with occasional wooded sections along the creeks and rivers-a place where the only neighbors were Indians and many of them would kill and scalp you if they had the opportunity? On account of these facts, it was necessary to go in groups for mutual protection. The answer is in three parts: Number 1-During the years of 1837 to 1841 economic distress in the United States made times hard and many people found it very difficult to pay their bills and make a living, which created unrest. Number 2-The stirring events of the Texas revolution, with its gripping tales of the Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto, had fixed the eyes of the people of the United States on Texas. It thrilled the hearts of many of those back in the old home states. Number 3-It soon became known that in the new Republic of Texas much of the land was as rich as could be found anywhere in the world. Then Texas was offering free to all families who would come here, establish a home, and become permanent settlers 640 acres of choice land wherever they might desire to locate. This was a great inducement to ambitious immigrants, and as a result hundreds of families left the old states from 1836 to 1846 to cast their lots in Texas.


William R. Howe married Mary Jane Smith, a daughter of Capt. Thomas I. Smith, in Lauderdale County, Tennessee. From this union there were born three children-Mary Jane Howe, Frances Anne Howe, and a son, William Howe, who was the first white child born in north central Texas. This son died of measles in 1863 while in service in the Confederate army. Mary Jane Howe married W. L. (Brack) Mitchell, and on account of little definite information about this branch of the family I am unable to record their names except to state that W. L. Mitchell was well known in Hill County as a peace officer, and was at one time postmaster at Chambers Creek. Frances Anne Howe, the writer's mother-in-law, married Ben Burton Lacy, a native of Alabama, in 1857, and he served through the Civil War in the Nineteenth Texas Cavalry, C. S. A., and died February 2, 1872, and is buried in the old Forrest Cemetery, situated about one and one-half miles south of Forreston, Texas. There were born to this union four daughters, Sallie, Nancy, Willie, Janie, and one son, Henry Howe Lacy. Sallie married E. S. Guy of Lancaster, Texas, who died in 1940. He is survived by wife and four daughters, Mrs. Lena Hagan, Mrs. Frances Irby, Mrs. Beth Hall and Mrs. Irene Catlow, and one son, Robert Guy. Nancy, who died in 1903, married H. O. Rawlins of Dallas, Texas. Survivors are husband and three sons, Burton, Gregory, and Edward L. Rawlins. Willie Lacy married R. J. Gregory in 1887 and he died in 1888. Mrs. Gregory married Dr. R. E. Taylor of Lancaster, Texas, in 1898, who died in 1922, and Mrs. Taylor died in 1923, leaving no heirs. Janie Lacy married J. A. Lavender of Lancaster, Texas. There were born to this union two daughters, Geraldine, now Mrs. C. C. French, and Margaret, now Mrs. L. H. Curtis, and one son, J. A. Lavender, Jr. Henry Lacy died in 1890.


On a late spring morning of 1839 the colonists left Lauderdale County, Tennessee, by wagons drawn by horses to go to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they were to embark on a boat for Galveston, Texas. This, the first lap of their journey, was a new and tiresome trip, and upon arrival at New Orleans it was decided to buy considerable supplies to be taken by boat with them to Galveston. The real work of the immigrants commenced at Galveston when they started north through the interior of Central Texas to select their homesteads. The wagons used were made with wooden axles and spindles. The spindles were lubricated with tar and every wagon had a bucket of tar tied to the rear end of the coupling pole. The wagons were equipped with bows and sheets and were loaded with food, tools, weapons of defense and offense, the necessary camping outfits, bedding, etc. Farming implements consisted of the old-fashioned prairie plows used for breaking the sod, also bull tongue and shovel plows; tools such as foot adz, hammers, handsaws, augers, cross-cut saws, chisels, iron wedges for splitting logs, broad ax and several others. The weapons were mostly the old muzzle-loading rifles.

These immigrants were really trail blazers. There were only a few marked trails, and those were in South Texas-only a few bridges. The creeks and rivers had to be crossed where the banks were suitable for fording. Often the colonists were delayed several days on account of overflows. This, however, gave the men time to kill game, which was the main supply of meat. The country was one vast wilderness. The prairies were covered for the most part with luxuriant grass ranging from twelve inches to four feet high, and in the spring bedecked with flowers of all shades of beauty. In the fall the grass often caught fire and caused serious losses. The rivers and creeks were heavily timbered. Post oak ridges covered large sections of the uplands. Many thousands of sections of the most fertile lands were called hog-wallow lands on account of the small pools of water that would dot the prairies most of the year. With all the obstacles encountered, the pioneers went forward with their struggles to conquer the frontiers, to bring organization out of chaotic conditions which confronted them when, with stout hearts and determination, they undertook each day to solve their many problems. Days and weeks passed by quickly as they journeyed on to North Central Texas. This country proved to be a land of milk and honey. They found the autumn season trees loaded with pecans, walnuts, hickory nuts, persimmons, winter grapes, post oak grapes, plums, and during the spring there were dewberries and blackberries. They found honey n hollow trees, which supplied them with nature's sweets. The colonists brought with them peach and plum seeds, also numerous garden seeds and Indian corn, which grew well and were found to be well adapted to Texas soil and climate. They were soon provided with a splendid variety of foods. For their supplies of meat, deer and wild turkey were found in abundance. Prairie chickens, quails, and squirrels were plentiful. The living expenses of those early pioneers were comparatively very small.


The immigrants proceeded north through Central Texas into the interior of the Republic and stopped in the early fall of 1839 at a place call the "Falls of the Brazos" in Robertson County, situated near the present site of Marlin, Texas, in Falls County. The stop was made at that place in order to afford mutual protection for themselves and other colonists at that point against marauding Indian tribes who often made raids on white settlements during these years.


As soon as possible after his temporary headquarters was established in Robertson County, William R. Howe, as an immigrant to Texas, sought from the office of Land Commissioner of the Republic of Texas a certificate upon which to base a claim for the 64 0 acres of land of the public domain of Texas to which he was entitled as a settler in 1839. Acting upon his application, the General Land Office issued to William R. Howe a conditional certificate, Number 1301, issued under date of January 10, 1840, for one section of land. After a careful inspection of the lands in North Central Texas, he selected 640 acres situated about one and one-half miles south of what is now known as Forreston, Texas in Ellis county, and four and one-half miles north of Italy, Texas, and on the north side of Chambers Creek. The records of Ellis County at Waxahachie, Texas, show that an unconditional certificate, Number 14, was issued to William r. Howe, July 6, 1846. This certificate was laid on a survey made by B. J. Chambers, deputy surveyor, R. C., and certified by him according to law. The instrument was dated April 14, 1840. The same was patented to the original October 10, 1849, by patent number 168 in volume 6 of the General Land Office of Texas.


The State of Texas to

William R. Howe, Patent

Third Class, Number 168

In the name of the State of Texas, to all to whom these presents shall come: Know ye I, George T. Wood, Governor of the State aforesaid, by virtue of the power vested in me by law and in accordance with the laws of said state in such case made and provided, do by these presents grant to William R. Howe, his heirs or assigns forever 620 acres of land situated and described as follows:

In Robertson District, Navarro County, on chambers Creek one-half mile from the town of Navarro, by virtue of Conditional Certificate Number 1301 issued by the Board of Land Commissioners of Harrisburg County on the 10th day of January, 1840, upon which Unconditional Certificate Number 14 was issued by the Board of Milam County on the 6th day of July, 1846.

Beginning at stake the N. corner of a 1/3 league survey in the name of John Shay on the S. W. line of Thos. I. Smith 30 labor survey from which an ash bears N. 89 E. 11 varas. Another bears S. 5 east and 4 varas, thence N. 30 west with said line at nineteen hundred varas a stake from which a Spanish oak bears S. 18 degrees west 18 varas, a pecan tree bears S. 4 west 8 varas, thence S. 60 W. at nineteen hundred varas a stake in prairie, thence South 30 E. at nineteen hundred varas a stake on the N. W. line of said Shay's survey in a prairie, thence N. 60 E. at eighteen hundred sixty-three varas Chamber's Creek, at nineteen hundred varas the place of beginning.

Hereby relinquishing to him the said William R. Howe and his heirs or assigns forever all the rights and title in and to said land heretofore held and possessed by said State and I do hereby issue this letter patent for the same.

In testimony whereof, I have caused the Seal of the State to be affixed, as well as the Seal of the General Land Office. Done at the City of Austin on the 10th day of October in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred forty-nine.


In the fall of 1839 the site of the government of the Republic of Texas was moved to Austin. As soon as it was thoroughly established, the congress decided to survey a military road from Austin north through the central part of the Republic. In September, 1840, Col. William G. Cooke set out to make a survey for the route of this road. On his way north he passed a village of friendly Waco Indians where the city of Waco now stands, thence north through what is now Hillsboro, Chambers Creek, Waxahachie, Lancaster, and Dallas to Bonham, Texas. This road was not only surveyed, but through the timbered sections the trees were cut, and on the prairies stakes were driven to mark the route. Later, in making his report of this project, Col. Cooke wrote that on account of a drouth in this section at the time he found water very scarce, and stated that on one occasion while his company was camped a short distance above what is now Chambers Creek, five of his men in disobedience of his orders went back unarmed to Chambers Creek for water and while there were attacked by fifteen Indians; resulting in all five of his men being killed. Col. Cooke stated also that during the fall of 1840 buffalo were found to be plentiful just north of Chambers Creek. Buffalo meat was very palatable, and when dried the hind quarters were often kept for months and was an important part of the colonists' food.

In addition to that, the hides were used to make leggings and moccasins for men. Deer skins were used to make suits for men, caps made of raccoon skins were worn by men.

In this connection I want to emphasize the fact that William R. Howe looked over this part of North Central Texas in 1839 and located his section of land just north of Chambers Creek almost a year before Col. Cooke and his crew surveyed this new military road. Although William R. Howe never completed the building of his home on Chambers Creek until the early spring of 1842 on account of the danger of Indian raids which continued to occur even during the year of 1842.

May I suggest just here to the reader that the facts pertaining to the labors of these early pioneers which I am assembling now during the years of 1939 and 1940 are being prepared for publication just one century after the road was surveyed as I have described above. So as a matter of comparison when we think of the work of Col. W. G. Cooke of the Army of the Republic, having surveyed for the first time the well known State highway through North Central Texas from Austin to Dallas, a distance of about 200 miles, and the average immigrant with ox-team and wagon traveling that route made about ten miles a day, it took him twenty days to make the trip, while today, a century later, we can drive an automobile all the way over solid concrete roads in three hours, and we can go in planes in one hour.


After the selections of home sites during the fall of 1839 and 1840 on which to build their homes in Texas, the colonists decided after careful consideration that the danger of Indian raids was so great that it would be the better part of wisdom to remain at the place for mutual protection for another year. After that final decision was made the next thing in order to be done was the building of temporary homes at that place. William R. Howe, being a carpenter, was the directing genius of the building campaign. Timbers had to be cut and hauled to building sites, logs hewn into shape for the walls, boards cut for roofs and fences built around the houses. One can well imagine there was plenty of work to do.

The women had a conspicuous part in much of this work, in addition to cooking, housework, using the old spinning wheel, making the yarns and weaving the cloth for the dresses worn by the children and themselves. However, occasionally, the women had the opportunity to buy some plain white cloth at trading stations located about 100 miles away. It was necessary at this time to break some lands for both gardens and field crops ;however only small acreage was put in cultivation in 1840. All days were busy days around the Falls of the Brazos during 1840, William R. Howe, being a carpenter, devoted the time he could spare to the building of furniture for his permanent home to be erected at Chambers Creek as soon as it was safe to work there.


From the pen of Abraham Smith we learn that during the summer of 1840 practically all the horses belonging to the colonists were stolen in an Indian raid, and he further states that the principal amusement of the early pioneers was catching wild mustang ponies. During this summer it became necessary to recruit their supply of livestock. He informs us that wild horses were very numerous in Central Texas at that time. Many lf them were large, bell built, very fleet, and capable of great endurance. Like other horses, they were of various colors. The colts could be caught with lariats, but the older horses were caught usually by building corrals with wings which extended out to some distance. Usually, a group of men would set apart certain days to run these horses down, taking fresh horses of their own to chase them in relays, and when the wild horses became tired they could be driven into the corrals. Occasionally, a stallion was caught as he clung to the rear of the herd, and when once in the corral the stallions would fight like tigers, often driving the men from the pens. Sometimes a good American horse was taken. Another sport was chasing Indian raiders who came into the settlements occasionally, claiming to be in search of game, while really their presence was there to steal. These had to be driven back to the hills on the west. The most exciting days were those when the prairie grass caught fire. These fires often would leap over branches and creeks. It was necessary at times to drive herds of cattle through these flames, which was done by forcing droves up to the edge of the fire and the stock in the rear would force the front line through. The men rode through.


Early in 1841 when the majority of the colonists had reached the conclusion that the opportune time had arrived for the development of their government allotments which had been selected upon arrival in the Republic and were preparing to go to them, and build permanent homes, disturbing factors developed as news came of probable Indian raids by the hostile tribes. Then in a few days came a call to the Falls from the Texas Rangers for volunteers to fight the Indians who were reliably reported coming that way. Answering that call, all the men in the colony promptly volunteered to go. However, iit was decided it would be necessary for on of their group to stay at home to look after the women and children, and direct the preparations for the planting of gardens and field crops for that year. So William R. Howe was prevailed upon to remain at home on account of the fact that he was a carpenter, blacksmith and shoemaker as well as a farmer. All plans for the building of permanent homes on government lands during 1841 were now abandoned, and the women of the colonists commenced work to plant gardens and crops sufficient for the needs of 1841.

After a hard campaign the Indians were driven back again, and the men returned to their temporary homes, took charge of the farm work which they developed on a larger scale than in 1840. William R. Howe took with him his Negro slave "Reuben" and went up to his allotted section of land in what is now Ellis County, later known as the Howe Settlement, and proceeded to build his permanent home. This was the first home built in Ellis County for any member of the white race. This home, when completed, was not built along the lines of the average pioneer's home. William R. Howe was a man of more than ordinary talent, and possessed considerable material means.

Being a carpenter, he took great pride in building his home and constructed one that most of us would be proud to call our lodge today if located on some wooded lake where we could ge and take our friends for week-end outing trips. He build a two-story log with two rooms below and two above with large halls between and a stairway built in the lower hall leading up to the upper hall. A front porch added to the comfort and adornment of his home. The logs were adzed on the outside presenting a clean, smooth surface. The spaces between the logs were chinked with wedges of wood, and plastered with mortar to make it weatherproof. The corners were fitted into neat notches of the dovetail type. The floors were made of sawn boards. Inside the rooms the walls were covered with planks. There were two chimneys with stone fireplaces with mantles extending twelve inches beyond the fireplaces which were used for candles to read by. This home was built on the north side of Chambers Creek, bordering the military road surveyed out by Gen. William G. Cooke and about one mile from the main channel. It was located about 100 yards from the edge of the hill facing a grove of large pecan trees. May I add that the old cemetery was located one hundred yards south of the Howe home.


The Pilgrim mothers who came to America from England with their husbands on the Mayflower in 1620 landed at Plymouth rock and established a colony there, made no greater sacrifice nor deserve any more praise or credit than those pioneer women who came with their husbands a century ago from the old states to the Republic of Texas to establish a home here in a country inhabited to a large extent by tribes of savage Indians who were ready to kill, scalp and rob white settlers, and did so on numerous occasions, several described in this history when the Indians were able to get the advantage of white settlers or find them unarmed. These women bore their burdens with fortitude, and with a courage and bravery never excelled. They deserve our highest praise and gratitude for their sacrifice in doing a worthy part for their children and generations to come, by laying a foundation, and clearing the way for us to follow who are now enjoying the fruits of their labor, and reaping the benefits of their sacrifices a century later.


Time has proven that William R. Howe builded wiser than he knew, for this county was destined to make a world record in the production of cotton.

It is well to state here that William R. Howe did not come to Texas for adventure, but he came to create in Texas a suitable environment in which to locate his wife and children. His selection of a home site proved to be a wise one, located as it was in one of the finest and richest agricultural lands in America. The settlement was soon widely known throughout North Central Texas as the Howe Settlement. It soon began to attract other settlers, men and women of the highest type of citizenry. Man men who in later years, through their service to the State, won the everlasting gratitude of the people of Texas. Many men of Ellis County the State has honored by erecting at several places in this county markers to perpetuate their memories as being worthy of the highest traditions of American manhood and womanhood. More of this period of Ellis County history will be described as the writer continues the story of the progress made by the pioneers who came and settled here a century ago.


In order to protect his family and home from the Indians, Mr. Howe erected around his house a barricade built of split logs placed perpendicularly and reaching a height of ten feet above the ground, all placed so close together that the Indians could not see through the cracks to shoot his trained watch dogs that stood guard inside the walls. Friendly Indians, of which there were quite a few camped in nearby locations, could not enter the yard unless some member of the family held the dogs. Many amusing experiences of those early days at the Howe home were related to me by Mrs. F. A. Lacy, a daughter of William R. Howe, who was reared in this home and a personal witness to these events. I will relate a few of these as she told them to me.

Mrs. Lacy said it was their custom in the spring at the close of the day to hobble their horses after dark and turn them loose just outside the barricade to graze of the grass. Sometimes Indians would sneak up, catch the horses, cut their hobbles, and drive them away. On some occasions the Indians would divide their party in groups. One group would approach the barricade from the south, while another would come from the north, and the group which caught the attention of the dogs first would entertain them while the other group would sometimes scale the barricade and steal. "On one occasion;" said Mrs. Lacy, "I remember that mother had left her day's washing out on the line to dry, and they took all the family clothes off. We heard them as they scrambled over the fence and from their war whoops as they ran off they seemed to enjoy the prank quite as mush as we regretted the loss."

Another interesting incident related to me by Mrs. Lacy occurred at their home when she was about four years old. One early afternoon an Indian squaw who lived with her family in a wigwam about a quarter of a mile from the home, a woman who had been in their house on several occasions, came up to the home to trade some articles she had, and when she was ready to go asked Mr. Howe to let her take Frances Ann Howe with her for the afternoon, promising to return the child safely before sundown. Her wigwam, which she pointed out, was in sight of the house. The request was granted, and at sundown, when the men came in from the field, Frances Ann had not been returned and no one was in sight near the wigwam. Two of the men went down to investigate, and upon arrival looked in the wigwam and saw the Indian squaw putting the finishing touches on a pair of buckskin moccasins she had made that afternoon, hand-painted in the customary Indian style and given to Frances Ann as a present.


In the winter of 1842-43 several families moved into the settlement, including Capt. Thomas I. (Ingles) Smith, Abraham Smith, the Stokes brothers, Parson Wright and a Mr. Waddell. Capt. Thomas I. Smith had a league of land granted to him by the government for services rendered the Republic, and these families located on this land. “One may imagine our delight when they came, for they were members of our colony who arrived in Texas from Tennessee in October, 1839. Up to that time we had no neighbors within a radius of more than 100 miles except the Indians with whom we could not be friendly, or rather neighborly is the better word to use,” said Mrs. Lacy.


In the winter of 1842-43 a call came to Capt. Thomas I Smith to lead another expedition to fight the Indians and the trail led them up on the east side of the Brazos River in Johnson County. They overtook a large number of Indians, and in a skirmish they were fired upon by several Indians. As a result of this battle, Abraham Smith, a brother of Capt. Thomas I. Smith , was killed. About an hour after this fight, Jose Maria, a famous Anadarco chief, descended the hill in an attempt to scalp Abraham Smith, but several of Capt. Thomas I. Smith’s men were in hiding, anticipating his return for that purpose; they fired upon Maria and wounded him, he fell forward, caught his horse by the neck and rode out of sight. Capt. Smith and his men buried Abraham Smith under four feet of ground in the trail they had followed, placed the earth back and rode back and forth over the grave until all resemblances of a grave was obliterated. Capt. Smith and his men returned to Chambers Creek.

In this connection I want to quote William J. Stokes of the 1839 colonists who moved into the Howe Settlement in the fall of 1842 and said: “I stopped with my brother-in-law, William R. Howe, who always had plenty of meat, and stated further that he found buffalo there in abundance and that he could kill one any time. He also said often when I got up in the morning they would be lying within 100 yards of our house. When we found it necessary to go down to the Falls of the Brazos for food supplies it took two days to go or to return. We found it necessary on these trips to camp out one night, and wend we did that we always stopped before sundown, built a fire and cooked supper, then, after putting the fire out, we would drive two or three miles off the regular road to sleep so as to be sure the Indians would not come upon us while asleep.”


The William R. Howe home was a stage and mail coach stop for the first post office in North Central Texas by authority of the Texas Republic. This post office served all the territory between Bonham on the northeast, and Nashville, a colony of Tennesseans who settled at the Falls of the Lower Brazos. At that time there was no Dallas or Waco and this post office served almost an empire in area, even though few people called for mail. When Texas was admitted into the Union in 1845 Chambers Creek post office became a United States post office, as described later on another page.


The years of 1843 and 1844 were years of great development around the Howe Settlement. Immigrants continued to arrive from the old states. The men were selecting lands for homes, building houses, breaking the sod and starting the cultivation of field crops. The breaking of the sod was a slow process in those days, both on account of the inferior implements with which the land had to be turned, for the old style prairie plows were a poor substitute for what are used today; then these plows were drawn as a rule by oxen, and the average ox-team or teams, when several yokes were worked together, would travel only about ten miles per day, and those old plows were made to cut only about six to seven inches of land. So one can imagine how slow the progress was; however, these ox-teams had great strength to pull, and a driver who knew how to get the job done could get great results with them when heavy loads had to be hauled. The big advantage of the ox-team was in the fact that they were able to work to the plow or wagon for long drives, eating only such grass as they could find at night. The expense of maintenance was very small.

1843 AND 1844 IN TEXAS

With the establishment of the post office by the Texas Republic at Chambers Creek, came the development of the military road from Austin to Dallas and Bonham as surveyed by Col. W. G. Cooke in 1840. However, the development was only started and consisted chiefly in grading crossings for creeks and branches. The letters mailed back to relatives and friends in the old states by the first settlers were for the most part appeals to them to come to Texas and come now while there were available some of the finest lands in the world, being given to permanent settlers by the Republic of Texas.

Those appeals got results, and the population increased at a rapid rate. One feature of the appeals in those letters that induced many to come to Texas was that while there were hardships to be borne, it was easy to make a living in Texas. The writer has known many instances which illustrate that fact, and I am reminded of one family in particular who came to Texas in 1845, and on arrival had only five dollars in cash and in a few years developed their section of land and such resources as they brought with them to such extent as to have a good income for life. Not only that, but many men were soon able to give their children, when married, homes on adjoining farms.

These early settlers soon sensed the fact that there was money to be made in stock and as a result the years of 1845 to 1860 saw the livestock industry develop to large proportions; it was a common thing to see these pioneers with two or three hundred hear of livestock. However, many men lost all their herds while gone to the Civil War.


Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845. President Anson Jones called the Texas Congress in special session, Annexation to the United States was given a favorable vote, which was followed by a convention which ratified annexation and wrote a State constitution which the people approved October 13, 1845. On December 29, 1845, the Congress of the United States accepted the new State constitution of Texas and this date has been declared by the Supreme Court of the United States as the actual date of the annexation of Texas.

Shortly after becoming a State of the Union the post office at Chambers Creek was made a United States post office, and the first United States postmaster was Capt. Thomas I. Smith, appointed by President James K. Polk, May 2, 1846. He was the only United States postmaster to serve prior to the organization of Navarro County. He was followed by W.L. Mitchell, better known as Brack Mitchell, who married a daughter (Mary Jane) of W. R. Howe. The next postmaster was Gen. Edward H. Tarrant in 1848. William Young succeeded him in 1849, then several others who served until 1891 when the post office was moved to Forreston. This move was made on account of the fact that about that time the M. K. and T. railroad had built their line south through Ellis County and had located a station about one and one-half miles north of Chambers Creek.

Gen. Edward H. Tarrant, being a member of the legislature, secured the passage through that body of a law officially fixing the name of the Howe Settlement as Chambers Creek, named in honor of Judge Thomas J. Chambers, of the outstanding men of his day and superior judge of Texas prior to the Revolution. Chambers County was also named in his honor. In this connection I want to record the fact as set forth in Texas that a notable act of patriotism in those times was a gift by Judge Chambers of ten thousand dollars in cash for supporting an army of reserve which he was authorized to raise. This from Dudley G. Wooten’s history of Texas.

Chambers Creek, between Italy and Forreston, designated the place where the first white settler, William R. Howe, located permanently in North Central Texas in the early part of 1842, and which place was at this time in Robertson County. It was later the first county seat of Navarro County as outlined below.

The following connecting history of Ellis and Navarro counties was written by Col. Croft, a prominent lawyer of Navarro County, and published in an old copy of the Observer:

The legislature on July 13, 1846, created the county of Navarro, and its organization was effected the same year. Up to that time all the territory between the Trinity and Brazos rivers up to about the south line of what is now Dallas County was in Roberton County. Navarro County, as created in 1846, included all the territory now composing the the present counties of Navarro, Ellis, Tarrant, Hill, Johnson and part of McLennan. Immediately following the creation of Navarro County, as outlined above, the county seat was located at the home of William R. Howe in Chambers Creek, situated about four and one-half miles north of Italy, Texas, and about one and on-half miles south of Forreston, Texas, on what is now known as Highway No. 6.

He further states that so great was the influx of population it soon was found necessary to cut off a considerable portion of this territory into Ellis and Tarrant counties. Subsequently, other counties were created and Navarro was thus soon reduced to its present limits, and the county seat was moved in 1850 to Corsicana. During the period of about three years, 1846-1849, the sessions of the district court, over which Judge R. E. B. Baylor presided, were held in one room of the William R. Howe home at Chambers Creek, and Judge Baylor was a guest in the Howe home during those days. The court records were kept at the same place. Chambers Creek remained the county seat of Ellis County until Waxahachie was selected in 1850.


During 1849 and 1850 Gen. E. H. Tarrant, being a member of the legislature, introduced a bill creating a new county named Ellis in honor of his former, Judge Richard W. Ellis, who was president of the constitutional convention at old Washington.

In the spring of 1845 Gen. E. H. Tarrant, a leader in the Texas Revolution and a very close friend of William R. Howe, purchased a large tract of land out of the Thomas I. Smith league and operated a plantation farther down the creek. Capt. Thomas I. Smith and Gen. Tarrant were much occupied in the military service during these times, and this community, Chambers Creek, was the scene of many interesting military and social activities in activities in honor of distinguished leaders of the Republic of Texas who frequently were called here to counsel on matters pertaining to Indian affairs as well as political, affecting the Texas Republic. Gen. Sam Houston was in the William R. Howe home at Chambers Creek as was Col. Sul Ross and other men now famed in Texas history. Gen. E. H. Tarrant often represented Gov. Houston in making treaties with the Indians. I will refer particularly to one made at Bird’s Fort, located about twenty-three miles southwest from Dallas, on September 29, 1843. A treaty was negotiated with several tribes and they established frontier lines where trading posts were located. One line ran from Fort Worth via Comanche Peak south to old San Saba.


Thomas I. Smith was one of several men prominent in Texas affairs who lived at Chambers Creek, going there to make his home in the winter of 1842-43. He built the second home at Chambers Creek which was located just across the road from the William R. Howe home. Capt. Smith, who came back to Texas in 1839 with the Howe colony, had previously spent several years in Texas. He took part in the Texas Revolution, was at the battle of Goliad, after which he was made a captain of a company of Texas Rangers and served several years driving back warring Indians. Thomas I. Smith was awarded a league of land near Chambers Creek one mile south of Forreston for services rendered the Republic. He was a close friend of Gen. Sam Houston and was sent by him on several drives to force the Indians back. On one occasion he was selected by President Houston to lead a company of men who were instructed to move to move from Austin to Houston the records and archives at the Capitol. This step was taken because President Houston feared Gen. Vasquez’ army was planning an effort to take the capitol at Austin. In this Capt. Smith was unsuccessful, and this effort was called the “Archives War.” Capt. Smith came to Texas first in 1836 and joined the army under Gen. Felix Houston. He was wounded in the fight with Woll’s men at Salado Creek, and died in Austin in 1847.


One can well imagine how few opportunities there were during early pioneer days for children to enjoy the advantages of schools. Often among citizens of colonists there were mothers who were not only capable but anxious to teach their own and the neighborhood children in their homes. Such was the case at Chambers Creek. History recalls that one such school was conducted during 1848 and 1849 by Mrs. George Crouch who, with her husband, came to Chambers Creek in 1846 after being married in New Orleans. Mrs. Crouch was a highly educated lady who was born in British Honduras, and reared in London, England, and was honored by being selected as a flower girl at the wedding of Queen Victoria. During 1849, Mr. Crouch being attracted by the lure of gold went to California during the gold rush and never returned, having died soon after arrival there. Mrs. George Crouch taught the first school in the settlement in her log cabin home. Another who taught school during these early days in her home was Mrs. Tarrant Miller. Mrs. F. A. Lacy told me of an incident in her school days at that time. While she and her brother, William Howe, were on their way one morning to this school they had to cross a branch near where the Tarrant mill was located and they saw a bear which greatly frightened them; however, the bear seemed to be scared as much as they were, and it retreated through the woods with considerable haste as the children proceeded to Mrs. Miller’s school.

During 1854 and 1855 Mary Jane and Frances Ann Howe were sent to a boarding school for girls which was being conducted at Johnson Station in Tarrant County at the time, and they lived in the home of Prof. Johnson during these years. I want to emphasize in this connection that I have been reliably informed that Guy and William J. Stokes, two of the colonists who settled at Chambers Creek in the fall of 1842 were well educated men and contributed no small part toward fostering the educational matters at this place during these early experiences. The history of Ellis county states that William J. Stokes was Chief Justice of Ellis County, and The Early Texas Scrap Book quotes him as saying “I came to Texas in October, 1839, with my mother and in company with my uncle, Capt. Thomas I. Smith who participated in the Texas Revolution in 1836 and was at the Battle of San Jacinto.”


The first Negro to live in Ellis County was Reuben Howe, a slave belonging to William R. Howe, who brought him to Texas in1839 and to Chambers Creek in 1842. Ruben was a faithful worker and did a worthy part as best he could to serve his master. Reuben never left the Howe family after he was freed but stayed with them until death. During his last years he was not able to do much work, only a few chores around the house. One day he was missing at noon, and later in the after he was found under a tree in the rear of the home with his hat over his face, dead.

Mr. Howe gave to each of his daughters, Mary Jane and Frances Ann, when they were married, a Negro woman slave who were freed at the close of the Civil War.

I am authorized to record the fact that something very unusual happened in the Howe home during 1842 when Mr. and Mrs. Howe took two Indian girls to rear, and kept them until the next exchange of prisoners between the whites and the Indians when it was necessary to let them go back to their tribes to redeem white prisoner. These girls seemed very reluctant to leave their home.


I have been reliably informed that the five years preceding the Civil War were years of greatly increased commercial activities at Chambers Creek. The surrounding community was fairly well developed for stock raising and farming. The population had increased sufficiently to permit the stocking by local merchants of larger supplies to meet the needs of the population, and before the Civil War commenced in 1861 the future of this community was very bright. However, the march of time goes on. Historic old Chambers Creek passed into memory and remained so until resurrected by interested parties to become one of the historic shrines in Texas.

The Ellis County Centennial Historic Committee, under the leadership of Mr. R. E. Sparkman of Italy, Texas, developed during 1936 a splendid history of the happenings in Ellis County, Texas, and neighboring counties, commencing with the winning of Texas’ independence in 1836. The citizens of Ellis County are greatly indebted to the Ellis County Centennial Historic Committee for its strenuous effort to acquaint its people with the early history of this county.


Located one and one-half miles south of Forreston, near the point where the first house was built in Ellis County, on what is known now as State Highway No. 6. The monument thereon is engraved as outlined below.




During 1935, when Texas commenced preparations to celebrate her one hundredth anniversary of independence from Mexico, the State Historical Commission of 1936, composed of nine of the best qualified historians in Texas to judge the claims presented to them for their study and investigation, led to appropriating historic funds to mark historic points in and near Italy, Texas, of which this is one, Chambers Creek Park, comprising one and one-half acres of land situated near Chambers Creek on State Highway No. 6, was established by the State of Texas, in which a suitable marker was erected in1936 by the State Historical Committee.

This place is acknowledged to be the most important historical point in all North Texas for the many historical events transpiring there during the days of the Republic and immediately following the admission of Texas into Statehood.

Anyone visiting this State park will find erected there a marker inscribed as outlined above.


It was the privilege of the writer to attend in company with his wife, Mrs. J. A. Lavender, who is a granddaughter of William R. Howe, the unveiling and dedication ceremonies held in Waxahachie, Texas, Sunday afternoon, July 3, 1938, in the auditorium of the Getzendaner Memorial Park. This ceremony covered the unveiling of several markers erected in Ellis County in honor of heroes and pioneers, among which was the Chambers Creek Park marker.

This occasion brought together several hundred citizens, mayors of several cities from North Central Texas, several men who are now holding high official positions in Texas, and many descendants of the early pioneers and their friends. Many interesting speeches were made on this occasion which was presided over by Mr. R. E. Sparkman, chairman of the Ellis County Historic Committee. The main address was given by Lieut.- Gov. Walter Woodul of Houston, Texas. Chambers Creek Park was presented to the county by the How. John W. Wood, senior State Highway Commissioner, through which agency the park was made possible. Also, dedicated by the presiding officer, R. E. Sparkman of Italy, Texas, was a monument to William R. Howe and family, located in the Pioneer Park at Chambers Creek. The Howe family were the first settlers in this community occupying their home near this park in the early spring of 1842.

Monuments to other pioneers unveiled were Gen. Edward H. Tarrant, noted Indian fighter and statesman. Gen. Tarrant’s monument is at Chambers Creek on his plantation home site.

Other monuments unveiled were to James McDaniel, hero of the Texas Revolution, and his wife, whose marker is located at Milford, Texas, and another marker which is located at Ennis, Texas was dedicated to Frederick Rankin, Texas Revolution hero. He was a member of Austin’s first Texas colony. A tribute was paid to John Marr Hardeman, also a hero of the Texas Revolution, whose marker is at Italy. Lem Wray gave the life of Thomas J. Jordan, a Texas Revolution hero, and his wife, who are buried at Milford where the marker is located.


While it is not directly connected with this history of Ellis County, I am persuaded that on account of the fact that this family settled in another part of the same county at a very earl day, and that they, too, had a part in development of the county in a small way, I want to include the statement that the writer’s grandfather, Archibald M. Lavender, came with his family first to Lancaster, Texas, during Christmas week of 1846, stopping only twenty-eight miles north of Chambers Creek, and then went southeast from that place to a point about eight miles east of Ferris, Texas, to his first location, settling there and building a home.

During 1849, he too, being attracted by the lure of gold, left with a party to seek riches in California, leaving his family after placing his oldest son, James I. Lavender, then sixteen years old, to direct the activities of the affairs at home while he was away. A. M. Lavender returned in 1851 bringing $2,000 in gold. Upon his return he selected a section of land and had patented to him 640 acres located about one and on-half miles northeast of Red Oak, Texas, and developed it into a magnificent farm in northern Ellis County.


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