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Milam County, Texas

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Robert H. Flanniken

SOURCE: History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Milam, Williamson, Bastrop, Travis, Lee and Burleson Counties. (Chicago, IL: Lewis, 1893), p. 527-530.

Robert H. Flanniken, one of the few survivors of that band of pioneers who began to make Milam Land District, or as it was sometimes called, the "State of Milam County," their homes fifty-odd years ago, is a native of Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, where he was born on July 18, 1819. He comes of Irish, Scotch and Dutch ancestry, though his own parents were natives of North Carolina, born in Mecklenburg county. His father, James N. Flanniken, was born in 1795, and his mother, whose maiden name was Eleanor A. Hood, in 1800. His paternal grandfather, David Flanniken, was born in Ireland, coming to this country when young. He served in the war of the Revolution and bore from the field of conflict the evidences of his bravery and patriotism in the shape of an ounce ball embedded in his body, and received in an engagement with Cornwallis' soldiers. He survived this wound, however, as well as the attacks of disease for many years, dying at the advanced age of eighty. His brother, John Flanniken, was a member of the Mecklenburg convention, which passed the celebrated "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence," claimed by some historians to have antedated that passed by the Philadelphia convention.

James N. Flanniken and Eleanor A. Hood were married about 1818 and emigrated in 1826 to Alabama, settling in Russell's valley, where four of their children were born and all of them reared. Mrs. Flanniken died there in 1846, and the father shortly afterward came to Texas and made his home here until his death, which occurred in 1873. The children of this couple were: Robert H. Flanniken of this article Joseph L. Flanniken, Elias O. Flanniken, and David W. Flanniken, are still living, being residents of Bell county, this State.

Robert H. Flanniken was reared in Russell's valley, Franklin county, Alabama, growing up on a farm. He came to Texas at the age of twenty-one, making his first stop in what was then Milam, now Burleson county, securing work at a sawmill then in operation at a point near where Cedar creek empties into the Brazos river. This was in 1840, at which date there were no settlers northwest of the place just mentioned, the settlements being confined to points along the Brazos river. Mr. Flanniken thus became one of the first settlers of this region, and as he was young, active, and, as he expresses it, "considerably on the go," his recollections of those days are of interest and value to this work, and some of them will here be given in practically the same language in which he narrated them to the writer.

"Yes," said Mr. Flanniken, "I have been in Texas a good while, longer, it seems to me, when I measure the time by the progress of events than when I reckon it by years. I have witnessed the making of a great deal of Texas history, and I have known at different times in life many of Texas' most eminent men. Like most of those of my age whom you will meet, my mind dwells more on the Texas of the past than that of the present or the future. This was indeed a great country when I first came to it, a beautiful country and one that was inhabited by a brave, generous, splendid people. Settlers were few in those days, and I had not been here long before I knew personally every man, woman and child within a radius of forty miles of where I first stopped. Whether for merit or not, it would hardly be becoming in me to say, but for some reason or other my admiring fellow-citizens soon called me to office after I took up my residence in this locality; and from a stripling of a young fellow, comparatively inexperienced in the ways of the world, I soon came to be a public functionary of considerable authority, and a man who was looked up to in a general way by a large number of my fellow-men. While this was naturally gratifying to my Irish spirit, it brought with it its due weight of responsibility, and in many instances its hardships and personal annoyances. The office of Sheriff is the one to which I was first called, and filled. I was made Sheriff in the early 1840s, my title being Sheriff of Milam county, my bailiwick extending from the Brazos river to the Ricky mountains, and beyond, including the then important town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and my duties varying from the collection of taxes and the execution of the processes of court to the catching of runaway negroes, and the apprehension of those who refused to pay proper respect to the laws of the Republic of Texas. I had a rich and varied experience as Sheriff, as you may suppose, and if you had the patience and my wits were sufficiently collected, I could tell you a good many things that would probably interest you. I was in the sheriff's office almost continuously from the time I came to the county in 1840 until the Republic was annexed - in fact, I remained in office a year after annexation and wound up the unfinished business pertaining to the collection of taxes. Then, having married, in 1846 I settled in Washington county, where I resided engaged in farming until 1851, in which year I came again to what was then Burleson county, now Lee, and settled-in which general locality I have since made my home. I have been engaged more or less in farming all these years, and have served my fellow-citizens in whatever capacities they have seen fit to call me, having passed forty of the fifty-three years of my residence in Texas in one office or another."

Asked if he could not give some reminiscences pertaining to the more distinguished Texans with whom he was brought in contact, Mr. Flanniken said, "I suppose you mean those whom I met about the courthouse during my official career. Yes, I knew some men of note forty to fifty years in this locality, and some who though not so well known to fame were of the highest types of manhood, and whose worth and personal services have in a measure passed into the common fund of our possessions as a people, where they will exert a lasting good for ages to come, albeit their names have in a degree already and must in time entirely disappear from our annuals. When I was Sheriff, the system of traveling around the circuit was much more in vogue among the lawyers than now, and I met a Caldwell, which was the seat of justice for my bailiwick, most of the eminent legal lights in this part of the State. There was Judge Jewett, John Taylor, Barry Gillespie and R. M. Williamson among the lawyers, and John T. Mills and R. E. B. Baylor, who were at different times our presiding judges. Judge Jewett was in able lawyer and man of considerable reputation; so also was Barry Gillespie. John Taylor was an oddity. There was probably never such another combination of brains, flesh and sloth in the world. Nobody could ever understand him, and it is doubtful if he ever understood himself. He had talent - an abundance of it - and was a fluent talker, but lacked pride and self-respect, and more especially good, hard sense. If he had been supplied by nature more generously with this article, he would have made a more shining mark on the history of his State. Judge Baylor was a good man - an excellent citizen and a good judge. I never heard but one criticism made on him as a judge and that was that he was too lenient. He allowed his feelings as a man to influence his actions as an officer. But greater than any of those here mentioned and greater than any whom I knew in those days was Robert M. Williamson, known as 'Three-legged Willie.' A man learned in the law, of spotless integrity, unselfish in his devotion to the interests of his country, true to his friends, able, eloquent and earnest, he wielded a powerful influence in his day, and enjoyed an immense amount of popularity. He had but one fault, and but for that fault there is no telling what he might have accomplished. He was given to over-indulgence in strong drink."

"I might go on," said Mr. Flanniken,"and tell you of some of our early court proceedings, some of the unique and interesting trials, the wars of words between opposing counsel, the witty thrusts and apt replies, flights of eloquence and all of the exhibitions of genius and eccentricity and all of the exhibitions of genius and eccentricity that marked the doings of the men of those days. I might describe in my humble way our first temple of justice, a rude affair made of cedar lumber, whipsawed by hand, and the first jail built of logs, hewed square and fitted snugly one on the other; and the first mercantile establishment in the county seat and the character, cost and quantity consumed of merchandise; our religious, social and political gatherings and in fact many things respecting our public and home life; but I suppose these things have, at least in a general way, been covered by others. The subject of Texas history, as seen even by an unpretentious citizen like myself, is a vast one, and a man could undertake to go over but little of it in a talk like the present."

It has been mentioned that Mr. Flannikn married in 1846. The lady was Miss Margaret E. Wilson, a daughter of Rev. Hugh V. Wilson, a pioneer Presbyterian minister who in 1837 organized the first Presbyterian Church ever established in Texas, this being the one that was organized that year at San Augustine.

Mr. and Mrs. Flanniken had two children, both sons, Hugh James Flanniken and Robert H. Flanniken, the former dying at the age of sixteen and the latter at six. The wife and mother died in 1888, at the age of sixty-five. She had been a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church from early girlhood, and was a most worthy Christian woman. In addition to her other responsibilities, she had the care of as many as ten orphans at different times in life, and was ever marked for her unceasing attentions to the sick and afflicted of her acquaintance.

Mr. Flanniken joined the Presbyterian Church through her influence soon after marriage, and has been an active member since. He has been an Elder for many years. He is also a member of the Masonic fraternity, and in politics a Democrat. By the death of his wife he was robbed of his sole remaining joy, but has borne this affliction with calmness and resignation, and despite this and his age, with its attendant infirmities, is still cheerful, and a most welcome guest wherever he goes. He makes his home with an adopted son, Hugh Wilson Rowland, whom he and his wife took in infancy and reared to manhood, and who is now married and the head of a family. Mr. Rowland is discharging faithfully and affectionately his duties toward his foster-father.

We must say a special thank you to Sylvia Turner of Georgetown, Texas, for typing the above biographical sketch for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.

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