Milam County, Texas - History

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SOURCE: White, Dabney (ed.), East Texas: Its History and Its Makers, Volume III. New York, NY: Lewis Historical Publ. Co., [ca. 1940]. (p. 1113-1120)

Milam County, Texas

This county of 959 square miles is the remnant of a once imperial domain which extended from the Navasota River on the east to the divide between the Brazos and Colorado on the west, and from the Old San Antonio road northward to a vague boundary in the vicinity of the present Haskell and Throckmorton Counties. More than fifty present counties and parts of counties were included in the original Milam.

It had its inception in the empresario grant of the Nashville Company, better known as the Robertson Colony, and became the Municipality of Viesca in the Department of the Brazos under the Mexican Regime. As such it was represented in the consultation of 1835, and in December of that year the Provisional Government changed the name to Milam, in honor of the brave leader who had just lost his life in capturing Bexar from the Mexican forces under General Cos.

Sterling C. Robertson and George C. Childress represented Milam in the convention of March 1836, which declared the independence of Texas and wrote the constitution of the Republic. Childress was the “Thomas Jefferson of Texas,” serving as chairman of the committee which drafted the Declaration, and is credited with having penned that document. Texontitan had been established by the Mexican government, Nashville and Viesca (at the Falls of the Brazos) by the Angelo-American colonists, prior to the Revolution. Frank W. Johnson and William Moore had begun surveying on the “upper” Brazos and Little River (then called San Andres) in 1832, when Texontitlan was the uppermost settlement in the region had been transferred from the Nashville Company to Austin and Williams for settlement. Later, when Robertson’s contract was reinstated, he established Sarahville de Viesca as his capital, and Nashville was laid out by other Tennesseeans who thus commemorated their former home.

All these settlements were exposed to Indian depredations until some years after the Revolution, and the threat of the Mexican invasion in the spring of 1836 caused practically all of them to join in the “runaway scrape” eastward. Some of them were still on the right bank of the Trinity when they learned of Santa Anna’s defeat, and returned to their homes. A ranger company was then stationed on Little River (Bryant’s company) and another contingent at Viesea, under Major Smith, where the settlers attempted to make a crop under guard while they worked their fields. Among them was the self-styled “Canebrake preacher,” Z. N. Morrell, whose part in sustaining the little community has been referred to elsewhere in this work.

Early in January 1837, the Rangers at the Little River fort found Indian signs leading toward the settlements, and a party of fourteen men under George B. Erath overtook the Indians on Elm Creek, about eight miles from where Cameron now is. There were about a hundred Indians, well dressed, many with hats, and all armed with guns, but Erath and his small party attacked, and did such execution that the Indians turned back from their evident intent to raid the settlements. The news brought Major Smith and some of his men from the Falls, and volunteers were aroused in the settlements as far down as Washington County, but “a big snow storm . . . sleet and ice came up delaying all movements” and nothing further was done.

The enlistment of the Rangers “expired in . . . 1837 and 1838,” explains Major Erath, “and until general Houston’s term expired there were hardly fifty men enrolled in the service of the Republic either by law or under his authority. The citizens had to do their own defending. The frontier settlements were rather retired than made further out. All the houses built on Little River in 1835 were evacuated, and the settlers from the Falls of the Brazos had to retire, leaving plenty of empty house.”

Erath, however, remained on the frontier, either as a Ranger or surveyor, through all these trying times. He was elected captain of the Milam County Rangers after 1841, and surveyed the town of Cameron when that site was chosen for the new county seat.

On December 20, 1836, the Texas Congress created the county of Milam under the constitution, setting forth its boundaries, and formally naming Sarahville as the county seat. In September 1837, the Texas Telegraph stated that “Sarahville, situated at the Great Falls of the Brazos, was the county seat . . . but the depredations of the Indians have compelled the inhabitants to abandon their homes . . . Nashville . . . is now the county seat and principal town . . . Tenoxtitlan, twelve miles below . . . is now nearly deserted. It contains but four or five house.” Nashville was three miles below Little River on the Brazos.

On December 24, 1837, all that portion of Milam lying east of the Brazos was taken to form Robertson County. Despite the efforts of the Rangers, the Milam County settlements were never safe from Indian depredations during the Republic, though a few bold spirits were scattered here and there.

Confusion in land titles also retarded settlement, and the county government was only perfunctory for several years. In 1842 Congress named commissioners to select a new county seat, to be called San Andres, but the county government was later transferred to Caldwell, where it remained until 1846, when Burleson County was created. That part of Washington County north of the Yegua had previously been added to Milam County, but the creation of Burleson moved the southern boundary back to its present location.

Also in 1846 commissioners were appointed to locate a new county seat at the center of the county, until which time Nashville again became the capital. The site chosen was named Cameron, for that brave Highlander and leader of the “Cowboys” who was executed by Santa Anna’s order after he had drawn a white bean in the tragic lottery at Salado (Mexico) in 1843 - Captain Ewing Cameron. On March 1, 1849, the Telegraph described the new town has having about forty houses.

Williamson County was formed in 1848, Bell, Falls and McLennan in 1850, reducing Milam to its present form and area. Viesca, Nashville, and Port Sullivan (for surveyor A. W. Sullivan, established 1839, and said to have been the first post office in the county) began to decline. Davilla (for Miguel Davilla, owner of the site) was established in 1845, a year ahead of Cameron. In 1850 (counting the portions given to Falls and McLennan later the same year) the census showed a population of 2,907 for Milam County.

In 1856 Nashville and Port Sullivan were still post offices, and besides Cameron there were Bryant’s Station, San Andres, and Willow Springs. In 1860 Milam County had a population of 5,175, and Cameron was described in 1861 as having “a brick courthouse, five or six stores, an equal number of lawyers and doctors, an academy, and a Baptist Church.” Port Sullivan, “on a bluff of the Brazos, had a hotel and high school.”

The railroad reached Millican about this time, and brought the markets nearly a hundred miles nearer than they had been at Houston. The population grew to 8,984 during the war decade, and the Houston & Texas Central having been extended to Calvert in 1868, freight and stage routes turned to this point, only a few miles across the river from Cameron. Maysville and Smith’s Mills were added to the list of towns during the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, while Nashville and Viesca lose their standings.

The International & Great Northern Railroad was the first to reach the county, and the first train from Hearne to Rockdale came through on February 4, 1874. It was completed to Austin in 1876, and Rockdale, which had briefly held the advantage as a terminal, remained the principal trading point in the county for several years. The opening of coal mines in the vicinity added to its commercial strength, and made it the Milam metropolis, though Thorndale took some of its former business when the railroad passed on.

Milano assumed more importance with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe crossed the International & Great Northern here about 1880, and Cameron became a railroad town. In 1882 we note that Cameron had a population of about 600, Rockdale about 1,400, Milano and Davilla about 200 each.

Rockdale “is built chiefly of brick and has a large trade . . . supplements the state (school) apportionment by a special city tax and maintains . . . free schools which are kept open ten months in the year.” Davilla had “a school of high grade.”

The population more than doubled from 1870 to 1880, when the number was 18,659 (about 22 per cent colored). In 1882 Commissioner Spaight reports that “the yield of corn in the river bottoms frequently reaching 75 bushels and the yield of cotton over a large part of the county the present year it is believed will average a bale to the acre. The . . . soil around Rockdale has been found especially adapted to fruit growing and much superior fruit is raised . . . Unimproved land suitable for farms . . . $1 to $10 . . . improved tracts $4 to $15 an acre. Rail fencing costs about $135 a mile, plank and wire about $250 to $300.”

The county had 9,192 horses and mules, 24,472 cattle, 18,801 sheep, and 15,650 hogs. In 1890 horses and mules numbered 12,937, cattle 38,289, sheep 1,366, goats 1,521, hogs 12,559. There were 1,506 farms in the county, which about 90,000 acres under plow, of which two-thirds was in cotton yielding 24,646 bales. Orchards and vineyards occupied about 520 acres.

Cameron had gown to 1,608, Rockdale to 1,505, Davilla 327, Milano 416, Maysfield 124, Gause 88, Baileyville 237, and the entire county had 24,773 people, an increase of 6,123 since 1880. The end of the century brought the population to 39,666, with 10,473 negroes, a population growth of nearly 15,000 for the decade.

About 1890 the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad crossed the county, giving both Rockdale and Cameron a second rail outlet. Burlington, Benarnold, (sic) and Minerva are also stations on this line, with a 1930 population of 200, 250, and 50, respectively. Around the turn of the century the county acquired a considerable sprinkling of people of German and Czech origin, though most were of the second generation with European parentage. The fine flack lands were particularly attractive to these thrifty farmers, and in 1890 the prices were quoted at $2 to $12 for unimproved and $3 to $25 for improved tracts.

In 1910 there were 5,055 farms (slightly fewer than in 1900) with nearly 250,000 acres in crops (162,778 in cotton). Livestock numbers had increased since 1890 with the exception of cattle and sheep, and the county was still in the fruit business to the extent of 117,123 “orchard fruit” trees.

The number of farms declined still farther by 1935, when there were 4,995, and crops were harvested from 242,539 acres in 1934. Cotton production has recently ranged from 40,000 to 60,000 bales. The trend toward more livestock on the farms is conspicuous, the last agricultural census showing 30,633 cattle, 3,724 sheep, and 14,690 hogs. The number of cows milked increased from 1929 to 1934 at the rate of about 270 per year, and 8,120 were in production in the latter year. As a matter of observation and not of record, it is believed that the increase in farm dairying has been accelerated since 1934. It is a heavy producer of poultry and is one of the leading honey counties.

Oil production in 1938 was 72,000 barrels, and the May 1939, allocation was 195 barrels daily.

Two paved roads cross the county from north to south and two from east to west, all passing through Cameron except U.S. Highway 79 which follows the rout of the I-G-N Railroad through the southern portion of the county. The others are Stateway 36 and U.S. Highway 77 and 190. The latter was graveled but not paved from Cameron to Hearne at the beginning of 1939. The 1930 census and Texas Almanac estimates give Cameron a population of 4,565; Rockdale, 2,204; Thorndale, 1,002; Milano, 920; Gause, 750; Buckholts, 800; Davilla, 400; Maysfield, 124; San Gabriel, 100.

Milam County lies at an altitude of 400 to 600 feet, and has an average annual rainfall of about 34 inches. The northwestern third of the county is in the black prairie region, the southern half is in the postoak and blackjack sands, and the triangle in the “fork” of the Little Brazos Rivers is principally of the Kirvin-Norfolks sandy loam type of soil. There are extensive alluvial valleys of great fertility along the rivers and creeks, some of which is subject to overflow at such frequent intervals that it is not cultivated, but which supports rich pasturage when the weeds are kept down.

The “weed prairies” of this county were highly esteemed by the early settlers since they could be brought into cultivation with no more labor than it required to burn off the weeds, which were “generally from ten to fifteen feet high, so dense that they are almost impenetrable to man or horse, resembling in some respects the cane-brakes of the alluvial regions.” (Kenedy; Texas, 1841.) “The soil is chiefly of a light mulatto color and remarkable fertile.” After the weeds were beaten down and burned off “the plough is seldom used . . . the settlers apply a large spiked roller usually in the form of a log with harrow teeth at intervals so as to form holes . . . into these holes the Indian corn is dropped . . . covered slightly with earth . . . kicked over it . . . the seed . . . soon throws up vigorous blades, and require no further attention until harvest except light hoeing.”

Historic Sites and Pioneer Graves

In Cameron is a monument erected in honor of Benjamin Rush Milam - “Born in Kentucky 1788. Soldier in the War of 1812. Trader with the Texas Comanche Indians 1818. Colonel in the Long Expedition in 1820. Empresario from 1826 to 1835.”

“Benjamin Rush Milam participated in the capture of Goliad October ninth, 1835. Was killed in San Antonio December seventh, 1835 while commanding the Texas Forces which later captured the town.”

“ ‘Who will follow Old Ben Milam into San Antonio.’ ”

Masillon Farley - “A Soldier of the Texas Army stationed at the Camp at Harrisburg April 21, 1836. First Chief Justice (County Judge) of Milam County. Died in 1882.” Old Cemetery, Cameron.

In the Winter of 1850-1851 with Captain Basil M. Hatfield, Commander, the Steamboat Washington landed here - “With a shipment of merchandise from Washington-on-the-Brazos to J. W. McCown and Company, merchants at Cameron; the first, last and only steamboat to navigate Little River.” Near Cameron

Port Sullivan - “Early important trade and educational Center. Established by Augustus W. Sullivan in 1835. River navigation extended to this point for many years. The Austin-East Texas and the Houston-Waco Roads crossed here. On this spot was located Port Sullivan College. Established in the early Fifties. Incorporated December 16, 1863. Destroyed by fire in 1878.” One and five-tenths miles East of Port Sullivan.

Bryant Station - “Pioneer Village of Milam County; established as an Indian Trading Post by Major Benjamin F. Bryant, frontiersman, who had commanded a Company in the Battle of San Jacinto. Appointed Indian Agent in 1842 by Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas. Little River Crossing on Trail and Stage Routes. U.S. Post Office, 1848-1874.” Six miles West of Buckholts.

Four and five-tenths miles Southeast of Gause, U.S. Highway 79, is the site of the town of Nashville - “Surveyed in the Fall of 1835 as the Capital of Robertson’s Colony; named for Nashville, Tennessee where Sterling C. Robertson and many of his Colonists had formerly lived. Seat of Justice, Milam Municipality, 1836; Milam County, 1837. First home in Texas of George C. Childress, Chairman of the Committee who drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence.”

The Mission San Francisco Xavier de los Dolores - “Established by Franciscan Missionaries in 1746 with the hope of civilizing and Christianizing the Coco, Mayeye, “Orcoquiza, Karankawa and other tribes of Indians. The martyrdom of Padre Jose Ganzabal and the circumstances connected therewith caused the departure of the Indians and the Friars and the removal of this Mission to the San Marcos River in 1755; re-established in 1757 on the San Saba River for the conversion of the Lipan Apaches with the new name of Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba.” Near Rockdale.

The Mission Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria - “Established by Franciscan Missionaries in 1749 with the hope of civilizing and Christianizing the Coco , Mayeye, “Orcoquiza, Karankawa and other tribes of Indians The martyrdom of Padre Jose Ganzabal and the circumstances connected therewith caused the departure of the Indians and the Friars and the removal of this Mission to the San Marcos River in 1755; re-established in 1762 on the Sabinal River for the conversion of the Lipan Apaches with the same name of Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria.” One and five-tenths miles East of San Gabriel.

The Mission San Ildefonso - “Established by Franciscan Missionaries in 1749 with the hope of civilizing and Christianizing the Coco , Mayeye, “Orcoquiza, Karankawa and other tribes of Indians The martyrdom of Padre Jose Ganzabal and the circumstances connected therewith caused the departure of the Indians and the Friars and the removal of this Mission to the San Marcos River in 1755; re-established in 1762 on the Nueces River for the conversion of the Lipan Apaches with the new name of Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz.” Six miles East of San Gabriel.

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

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