Birth of the county and the Runaway Scrape

Posted 7/21/20

This is a reprint of a Musings that first came out over four years ago, as I’ve taken some time off. It is not intended to tie into a neat package like I often attempt. Instead, I’ll call it a buffet piece, made of bits and pieces of local history.

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Birth of the county and the Runaway Scrape


This is a reprint of a Musings that first came out over four years ago, as I’ve taken some time off. It is not intended to tie into a neat package like I often attempt. Instead, I’ll call it a buffet piece, made of bits and pieces of local history.

The judicial Madison County was formed Feb. 2, 1842, from part of what was first Montgomery County, but judicial counties were later ruled unconstitutional as they had no representation in the legislature. Later what was northern Walker and Grimes Counties petitioned the legislature for a new county because residents there lived 40 to 50 miles from their county seats. Madison County was formed January 27, 1853, by taking part of Grimes, Walker, and Leon Counties. Our county government was organized that August, and the Texas Almanac says our county was started in 1854.

Madisonville Sidewalk Cattlemen’s Association sponsored our county’s centennial celebration June 4-5, 1954. The Madisonville Meteor published a special centennial edition the first week of June that year, and I’ve studied it at length. That edition, and also a few leading up to it, contained many old photos, interviews with some of the county’s older citizens, and essays by some of the same. Some of my time my favorite information is included here.

L.A. Wakefield told how Trinity River played a big role in helping populate the area that would become Madison County. Boat travel on rivers, including the Trinity, was the earliest means of transportation into the interior of our state. For years, steamboats regularly traveled up the Trinity, bringing coffee, flour, hardware, tobacco, and other supplies. The most famous of the boats was the Steamboat Harvey, which made scheduled trips carrying supplies as far north as Long Lake, near Palestine. Other boats made the trip as far north as Dallas.

When was the last time you saw a turkey or a bear in the wild in Madison County? In 1829, Daniel M. Larrison (1786-1845) settled where Highway 21 now crosses Larrison Creek (named for him). He found an abundance of deer, turkey, bear, panthers, wolves, wildcats, and small game. One morning he killed seven panthers within 300 yards of his home, and another time he killed a 400-pound bear, and. The wild animals did not disappear quickly. As late as the 1870s, Roy Jackson recalled his grandmother telling family members when they went hunting, “Don’t bring home any turkey or deer. I’m tired of cooking both.”

In the spring of 1836, Santa Anna and his army moved across Texas after slaughtering the Alamo’s defenders. Folks in East Texas settlers for their lives. Many abandoned their homes and hurried to escape, becoming part of what became known as “The Runaway Scrape.” Many of them were gathered at Robbins Ferry on the Trinity (north of where the Highway 21 bridge now stands), waiting to cross when a courier from the Texas Army arrived to announce the victory at San Jacinto and surrender of Mexico. Thus, the Runaway Scrape ended for many refugees near Midway.

One of Larrison’s sons, Joel G. Larrison (1821-1900), lived two miles north of where Highway 21 crosses Larrison Creek, all of his adult life. When he got older, he loved to tell that he had lived under four flags – Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States, and he had never moved. He had also lived in Montgomery County first, then Walker County, and finally Madison County.

The first Madison County officials included Dr. J.L. Duke, county judge; J. Wash Park, county clerk; James E. Mitchell, district clerk; J.R. McIver, tax assessor and collector; Jim Clarke, sheriff; and S.T. Allphin, treasurer. The first court was held under an oak tree on the Jim Mitchell farm, five miles north of Madisonville on the Leona road (no year was given). A Mrs. Jones and her two sons, all of Sand Prairie community, were tried for murdering her husband. All three were convicted and sent to the state prison farm.

The first local political rally was held here in 1859, at the site of the Al Stoddard building (which stood at the corner of Trinity and Elm Streets, where First Baptist Church’s front lawn is now). Sam Houston was seeking to be elected governor and campaigned there against Hardin R. Runnels. It was said there were 250 at the rally supporting Sam Houston and just as many against him. He had run for governor in 1857 and lost. He won in 1859, becoming the only man to serve as governor of two states, the other being Tennessee.

By the time the Civil War ended, Madison County had a bad reputation as a rough place, due to saloons, drunken brawls, and gunfights. Blue Frost Saloon, The Little Green Door Saloon, and the Brizzolara Saloon were three of the most disreputable. In 1901, in an effort to make the community more civilized, the Madisonville Independent School District held a local option election in which prohibition was voted in for the school district, with the district’s boundaries then being pretty close to the city limits today. Soon afterwards, The Rough Edge Saloon was opened two miles east of town, just across the border from the school district. Soon afterwards, The Last Chance Saloon opened a bit farther from town. In 1903 prohibition reached the whole county, so of course all the saloons closed. When the railroad opened in 1905, bottles of liquor ordered express from Navasota composed one of the main items shipped.

Mrs. Lizzie Parten Leonard wrote about the five Parten Brothers, the three youngest of whom came to Madison County in 1868 as orphans in the care of a great-uncle. They grew up to be hard working and successful farmers, stockmen, and merchants. I particularly loved that she said, “(they) had a wonderful sense of humor. Wayne was considered quite a humorist.” Those of you who knew David Cannon will understand why this interested me. The humorist Wayne Parten was David’s great-grandfather.

Leonard also said there was a vein of lead exposed in the Caney Creek bottom, three to five miles northwest of Madisonville. Old settlers extracted lead from it to mold into bullets. With passage of time, the mine’s location was lost, probably due to the changing of the creek bed.

My father, Harvey Cannon, sometimes said that he remembered riding a shod horse across that lead vein and hearing the clink of the two metals hitting, and I’ll bet many of you have heard the same.

The oldest man in Madison County at the time of the Centennial was James Hephner Mize (1858-1955), and he was interviewed for the Meteor. Though he had lost his right arm at the age of six, he was a successful farmer and rancher. The limb had been crushed in a sorghum mill and then amputated without an anesthetic. When asked how gay the Gay Nineties had been, he replied that he “Never gave them a thought. I was too busy farming.” Then he smiled and shared that once in the 1880s, he had traveled a hundred miles horseback to a dance. The trip took him through Huntsville into San Jacinto County. Perhaps the Gay Nineties arrived early in Madison County.

John R. Burtis Drug Store was noted as the oldest business in Madisonville at the time of the Centennial. Burtis came to Madisonville in 1872, and in April of 1886, he bought the drug store, paying $500. It stood on the north side of The Square, on the east end, and was the first brick building other than the courthouse to be constructed in Madisonville, having been built from bricks left over when the (now gone) courthouse was erected in 1894. The town’s first telephone switchboard was in the drug store. News of the Spanish-America War (April 25 – Aug. 12, 1898) was telephoned here from Navasota, and Burtis posted the dramatic facts on a bulletin board outside the store.

The Texas Watchman was Madisonville’s first newspaper (according to the Centennial edition), established in 1890 by J.P. Nall, a Baptist preacher. It was short-lived, and T.J. Stephens opened The Messenger in 1895, and then sold it to W.W. Sharp. Later on, the name was changed to The Madisonville Meteor. (I found in a January 20, 1941, Meteor that J.H. James, a 90-year-old former resident then, stated that the first Madison County newspaper was The Plain Dealer, followed by The Phonograph, established by Tom Ware, and then The Watchman and The Meteor, the latter of which he said was established in 1893). I sure don’t know the facts on that all! If any readers have copies of any of those earlier newspapers, I’d sure like to know and see!)

Mrs. Lewis Gibbs wrote the “History of North Zulch School” for the special newspaper edition, telling that a group of more progressive citizens banded together in 1908 to organize their first public school there. Until an adequate building was built, classes were held in the Free Will Baptist Church and were taught by W.S. Barron and Miss Irene Morgan. A photo of that first school, teachers, and students, accompanied the article, with names for everyone. Last names included Donaho, Keefer, Shannon, McGill, Rumfield, and more.

The first automobile came to Madison County more than 100 years ago. The first two in Madisonville were owned by Dr. Acie Spear and Mr. Sherman McAfee, in 1913, and the first in Midway was thought to be a Model T owned by D. O. Patton. The Centennial special issue contains a photo of that vehicle and a Studebaker, bought by Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Turner in 1916, succeeding the Model T Ford that the Turners bought in 1914.

Another essay was entitled “Baseball Was First Competitive Sport for Youth in Early Madison County,” written by L.A. (Buddy) Wakefield. In it, he said that only baseball was played for years, and was the only competitive sport enjoyed here except horse racing or wild horse riding. Just about every community had a baseball team, and most boys were proficient. Family names included McGinty, Corley, Prescott, Winters, McVey, Steele, Parten, Marsh, Wakefield, Starns, and more, and “A few of these old-timers played as many as five years without striking out.” The big years for baseball here were 1910-1930, and “possibly the most joking about baseball in good old Madison County is due to the fact the nine Wakefields played in Midway, and two brothers-in-law, Pres and Jim Kittleband, did most of the umpiring.” The caption of a photo of the Midway team in 1900 states that they defeated the Hollis team, “one of the hottest, toughest teams in this community.” Midway players named were Sam Starns, Robert Wakefield, Brown Melvin, J.A. Knight, John Rogers, Wilson Wakefield, Oran Wakefield, Fred Riley, and one unidentified.

The old newspaper included two photos of “The Hick Band of Madisonville.” Captions stated that the band was in popular demand for local entertainment in the early 1920s. Members performed comedy skits along with their music, and they always played at the Old Soldiers Reunions. Some of the players appear to be dressed in baseball uniforms, and Julian Burtis “remembered the ball team got clownist [sic] costumes for some ‘tacky party’ benefit ballgames.” Among the players named were Lewis Gibbs, Joe Cooper, Dal Evans, Nath Colwell, Robbie Burtis, W.E. Boney, Thurston Dean, Jewel Thompson, and Virgil Ford.

Mrs. Allen H. Menefee wrote “Women’s Reading Club Organized in Jan. 1922”. She was also one of the original members, and explained that twelve women assembled for the “purpose of discussing the advisability of organizing some kind of club which would have for its goal the intellectual and cultural advancement of women of Madisonville.” By the time the club was organized, thirteen became charter members, including Mrs. Erin Burtis, Mrs. Ottie E. Parten, Mrs. R.A. Parten, Mrs. A.H. Menefee, Mrs. W.D. Evans, Miss Jewel Evans, Mrs. J.O Thompson, Miss Mary Lucy Cleere, Miss Lettie Cleere, Miss Ray Wiley, Mrs. Herman Lynch, and Mrs. J.A. Byers. By the end of the first year, membership grew to twenty. Members were civic-minded. They secured a room in the Courthouse, bought furniture for it, and placed a sign thereon, “for the convenience of people over the county who might want to rest, eat lunch, etc., while shopping.” They also planted trees on the Courthouse lawn, sponsored a general clean-up, petitioned county officials for a home demonstration agent, and assisted a young lady to attend college.

Once a friend of mine commented that it doesn’t make any difference what I write as long as it brings to his mind some pleasant memories. I hope to have accomplished that here for some of you readers

Madison County Museum is closed at this time due to the pandemic, but we eagerly anticipate opening back up as soon as possible. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 61, but our street address is 201 North Madison, Madisonville, TX 77864.