Milam County, Texas - History

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SOURCE: Crawford, Dorothy, Easy Search for Milam Ancestors, Milam County Censuses for 1850, 1860, and 1870, Cameron, TX: Computer Census Indexing, 1985.

Milam County was named for BENJAMIN RUSH MILAM, a veteran of the war of 1812. A Kentuckian, Milam was trading with the Comanche Indians in 1818 when he met David G. Burnet who was living with them. Milam was with the Long expedition, and in 1821 he joined the Mexican army. He assisted in some of the empressario efforts. Toward the end of the siege of Bexar as the army was about to withdraw, Milam shouted, "Who will go into Bexar with old Ben Milam?' Some 300 volunteers joined him. Milam was killed on the third day of the assault, December 7, 1835.

Milam County was organized in 1836 as one of the original twenty-three counties of Texas. Situated in Central Texas on the edge of the East Texas timbered region, it has both level prairies with black waxy loam and rolling hills, some with deep, white sandy loams with red clay underliner. Along the three main river bottoms, the Brazos on the east side, Little River through the center and the San Gabriel through the southern portion, are deep alluvial soils laid down by once frequent floods.

Stream beds are easily located in the grassy prairie by the growth of cottonwood, sycamore, elm, pecan, and hackberry trees along their banks. A wide variety of oak trees grow in the uplands. The fertile soil and favorable climate, as well as the absence of malaria so prevalent in the lower coastal plains, were important factors in the early settlement of the region.

Travelers on the El Camino Real (Old San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road), soldiers, missionaries and settlers looking for land, frequently wandered north of this main thoroughfare into the present area of Milam County. There they were confronted with repeated attacks by hostile Indians. The three missions established by the Spanish in the middle eighteenth century in the southern portion of the area were doomed to failure and lasted only a few years.

Harassed by fierce Apaches, hounded and martyred by autocratic and debased military officers, ravaged by disease, the formerly friendly Indians began to disappear. In despair, the missionaries abandoned these locations to move closer to the better protected and settled region near San Antonio.

Soon after Mexico won her independence from Spain in 1821, a group in Tennesseans sent Robert Leftwich to Mexico to secure a grant of land for colonization. Three years later he received permission to bring eight hundred families to the area above the San Antonio Road which included all of present Milam County. Sterling C. Robertson became the empresario, but various circumstances delayed colonization and created dissension between everyone involved.

The grant was transferred to Stephen F. Austin and Sam Williamson and controversy became even more bitter. The contract was transferred back and forth between Robertson and Austin several times until the beginning of the Texas Revolution, confusing the legality of the land titles of early settlers who began to settle along the Brazos River in the southern portion of the colony.

In 1830 Mexico established a military post called Tenoxtitlan on the Brazos near the Old San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road to protect the frontier, but withdrew the troops in 1832. A village which had grown up around it contained about a dozen families, six of them Anglo-American and six Mexican. In the summer of 1834 an influx of immigrants from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana came to the colony.

Two other towns were established at that time, both on the Brazos, which remained the easiest trade and immigration route. Nashville was founded on the west side of the river two miles below the mouth of Little River, near the present Gause. The village consisted of a cedar log blockhouse and a few log and frame houses. For a little while this was the location of Robertson's headquarters.

The community became a place for incoming settlers to rest, restock their supplies, seek out suitable homesteads and apply for titles. During the periodic Indian raids, the blockhouse provided security and a small cannon to reinforce their guns.

The "falls of the Brazos" was the site of the second settlement, located a few miles south of present Marlin. It was first called Sarahville of Viesco after Robertson's mother and the governor of Mexico. It now became the capital of Robertson's Colony. The population was mostly temporary; like Nashville, it was mainly a way-station for newly arrived immigrants.

Robertson's Colony was organized as the Mexican Municipality of Viesco as early as 1830, but after the death of Benjamin Rush Milam who was killed leading the Texans' attack on the Alamo on December 5, 1835, the Texas Provisional Government changed the name of the municipality and the town of Viesco to Milam in his honor.

During the Texas Revolution the settlers were caught in the worst stages of the "runaway Scrape" of 1836, a general exodus of the colonists before the advance of Santa Anna’s Mexican army after the fall of the Alamo. The settlers of the southern portion of the region made their way through rain and mud, over roads choked with families, livestock and loaded carts to Clapp's Crossing on the Trinity River. Here rumors reached them that Sam Houston's Texas army had been annihilated and the few remaining men among the refugees hastily began erecting log breastworks for defense. With the arrival of couriers with the news of the Texas Victory at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the settlers began their return to Nashville.

The settlers in the northern portion had not gone to the Trinity, but had sought protection at Parker's Fort on the Navasota River in present Limestone County. After the families had returned to their homes; they received news that in June Comanche warriors had massacred all the inhabitants of the fort except for several children who were kidnapped, one of whom was Cynthia Ann Parker.

Warned of a coming attack on their village, the colonists again loaded up their household goods, rounded up their livestock and headed south towards Nashville. The Indians caught them on the way, but they escaped with the loss of two men and survived numerous other hardships to finally reach the town. Not one white person remained in the region north of Nashville for many months. A few finally ventured forth, but frequently had to flee to Nashville for protection from the Indians, returning to their cabins when the danger had passed.

A company of Rangers was assigned to guard the area from further depredations. They constructed a blockhouse at the falls of the Brazos and called it Fort Milam. Later, another fort was garrisoned at the three forks of Little River. In the meantime, almost every community had built its own blockhouse. one each at Nashville, Tenoxtitlan and Milam, as well as the one A.W. Sullivan built on the Brazos north of Nashville in the late 1830's and a blockhouse and stockade built by Benjamin Bryant on Little River, about six miles west of present Buckholts, to protect his trading post.

In October 1844 at the falls of the Brazos a treaty was made with the Indians which fixed a line of demarcation between them and the settlers. It helped somewhat, but as late as January 1845, Indians continued to hunt on Brushy Creek and Little River in violation of the treaty.

From the vast territory of Robertson Colony as defined in the original grant, renamed Milam County, all or part of 36 present-day counties have been carved. First, all land east of the Brazos was de-annexed. A number of changes took place in the early 1840's and the area was greatly reduced during the years of early statehood. In 1850, Bell, McLennan and Falls County were created and a final definition of the Milam-Bell County line on April 4, 1861, left the boundaries of Milam County as they are today.

A place for a permanent county seat was chosen by seven commissioners to be in a grove of post oaks a mile and a half east of Little River on the Daniel Munroe League. The new seat of justice and government was named Cameron in honor of Ewen Cameron, a member of the Mier Expedition who was captured and shot by the Mexicans. He was said to have bared his breast to the firing squad and shouted, 'I will show you how a brave American can die."

Cameron has remained the county seat and four courthouses have been built there. The two story brick courthouse burned April 9, 1874 and all the archives were destroyed except a few case records and one volume of surveyor's records. It was a major loss to local history.

By the late 1840's, now that clear titles to the land and more protection from the Indians were available, immigration increased rapidly and existing colonists were hard-pressed to supply new settlers farm products until they could raise their own crops. Insects, drought and flooding rivers were ongoing problems for farmers for many years.

As late as 1875 transportation in Milam County was by wagons and stagecoaches. In 1861 the Houston and Texas Central Railroad reached Millica, fifty miles east of Cameron, in Brazos County. Produce from Milam moved through this town to Galveston and Houston. The Brazos and Little Rivers were navigated to some extent prior to the Civil War. A steamboat line was established on the Brazos, with wharves for receiving cargo at Port Sullivan, where the Austin-East Texas, and Waco-Houston roads met.

In 1850, the steamboat WASHINGTON brought a consignment of merchandise up Little River to a point near Cameron for Cameron merchants, McCown and Company. It was the only steamboat to ever navigate Little River.

In 1876 the first railroad was completed through the county when the International and Great Northern built a line from Hearne to Austin, crossing the southern portion of Milam County. Trade immediately centered along the railroad, making Rockdale the largest town in the region during the 1870's and 1880's. In addition to the railroad, it was in the center of a coal field which was mined during this period. Thorndale, Gause and Milano, (formerly Milam), also became important trading points because they were on the railroad line. The old towns along the old river trade routes on the Brazos dwindled away and disappeared. Cameron was cut off from the railroad until 1881, when the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe completed a line connecting it with the coast and Fort Worth. In 1890, a third line, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass gave Rockdale its second railroad and three new communities, Ben Arnold, Burlington, and Minerva grew up along this line.

The first attempt at a free school system was made in 1848 and the first high school was the Port Sullivan Male and Female College, established in the 1850's. By 1871 there were schools at Jones Prairie, Maysfield, Cameron and Davilla. By 1881, Rockdale also had a free school system.

The census of 1850 showed a population of 2,907, including 436 slaves. In 1860 the population had risen to 5,175, including 1,542 negroes. By 1870 the total population was 8,984 and in 1880 it was 18,659. Since the 1890 census burned in Washington, D.C., the population for that date is not known. 1900 showed the most dramatic increase in population in this largely agricultural county to 39,666. it declined slightly by 1910 to 36,780, and lost more during the depression years, but surprisingly, the population has remained remarkably stable ever since at about 22,000 to 23,000.

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BACK to Milam County Web Page

Created on 15 Feb 2001 and last revised on 2 Dec 2006

Copyright © 2001,2002,2003,2004,2005,2006,2007 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.

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