Fannin County, Texas - The Courts

 

In the County Clerk's office may be found the probate docket of the county court of Fannin County, as far back as 1838. It seems to have been some time after the Declaration of Independence before the judicial machinery of the republic got into thorough working order. Justice J. G. Jouett had the honor to preside over Fannin County as her first Chief Justice. He held the position for many years his signatures to the minutes of the first terms of the court, were written in a cramped, uncertain style, but later on the old man seemed to acquire greater confidence in his ability to sign, for toward the last of his terms, his autograph is fixed to the minutes with a grand flourish that must have been appalling to his faithful little clerk who always spelled God with a small g. But for all this bad orthography and handwriting, that old docket is the place to find legal simplicity and perfection. It may be seen where one applies for the administration of his deceased neighbor's estate in "propria persona," and the business, from the application to the final account, inclusive, is contained on one page, and invariably correct to a cent.

The first term of the county court was held at Jacob Black's place on Red River in April 1838. There were several attorneys preset, as at the first term of district court held at Warren a year or so later, but who or what heir names were, does not appear on either of the dockets. Jacob Black's place, was the place fixed by a resolution of the congress of Texas as the seat of justice until a county seat should be located by that august body. In 1840 a subsequent resolution was passed by congress, removing the courts and their archives to a little place called Warren, which is in a north west direction from Bonham, about thirteen miles. Here the county court, convened regularly until 1843. When by an act of congress, Bois d' Arc, the place where Bonham is now situated, was selected as the County Seat: By a subsequent act of congress the name Bois d' Are was changed to Bloomington, but before the official documents to that effect arrived from the capitol, Congress was petitioned to call the place Bonham, in honor of an intrepid soldier who lost his life in the struggle for liberty.

The petition was granted, and the people very naturally fell into the habit of calling the seat of justice by the name it has ever since borne.

At Jacob Blank's place, was also held the first terms of the County Commissioners court. The first term was a failure. There were only two of the court besides the Chief Justice, present. The presiding Judge proceeded to enter up a fine of twenty-five dollars against the absentees, and adjourned the court until court in course. At the next term they went to business in earnest. Some of the fines imposed at the recent term, were collected, and others remitted. Some of the commissioners giving as an excuse, that they could not ride a hundred miles to court in so short a time. At this term a levy was made, and several ordinances passed, among which was one making wolf and panther scalps receivable for taxes at one dollar each. "At the succeeding term the fist petition for a public road in Fannin County was submitted, and for forty three years, this petition has been followed by others of a like nature, and in such numbers as to terrify the average county commissioner. No doubt the present commissioners think that every mother's son of them is still alive and getting up road petitions. This road started at Jacob BIack's place on Red River and ran an easterly direction across Bois d' Arc over "into Red River County now Lamar. After the removal of the court to Warren, a committee was appointed to select a suitable place for the seat of Justice, and at a subsequent term they reported in favor of Bois d' Are, now Bon-ham. Copies of this report were forwarded to congress and upon it, they passed the bill fixing Bonham as the place for the County Seat.

The district court never did convene at Jacob Black's place, but held its first session at Warren in 1840, Judge J. M. Hans-ford presiding, J. P. Simpson Sheriff, J. L. Baker clerk, and William M. Williams district attorney, all of whom were appointed by the government of the Republic. A term was to have been held in April, but the Judge failing to appear, the Sheriff adjourned court until court in course, or to the next term time, which was in November.

John Hart was appointed foreman of the grand jury, but if that body ever made any report of their findings and proceedings, there is no record of it. The bills of indictment were all drawn in the old stately dignified terms of the common law, setting forth, that -the said accused not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, did etc," The first criminal case was that of the "Republic, vs. John W. Davis," charged with murder. The minutes recite, that "after the bill of indictment Was read to the jury, in the hearing of the accused, and in a solemn form by the district attorney, (which proceeding is faithfully kept up by the, prosecuting attorneys of today, especially the solemn part) the accused pleaded `not guilty,' and threw himself upon his God and his country for trial." Davis was convicted, and sentenced to five years "in the custody of the Sheriff," What that magnate did with the convicts, is not well established, unless by a series of historical articles from his own pen, which, unfortunately have been destroyed. The archives of the district court were moved to Bois 'd Arc in 1842, along with those of the county court.

The system of practice before all the courts of the county may seem intricate to those who do not understand it, but it is indeed simple compared to the systems in some of the other states.

Never has there been a stain upon any of the judicial ermine of Fannin. County. In her courts the rich and the poor, the citizen and the alien have ever found justice and impartial consideration.

The territory composing the 6th judicial district at present, consist of the counties of Fannin, Lamar, and Red River; presided over by the Hon. David H. Scott, of Lamar County, who was elected on the Democratic ticket of 1884, without opposition, and is a lawyer of fine attainments, possessed of much executive ability, honesty of purpose and uprightness of character. The county court and the commissioners court are presided over by Judge E. D. McClellen, who is an efficient lawyer, and deservedly one of the most popular men in the county, as shown by his election to this and many other important offices of the county ever since he has been in public life.

'The promptness, efficiency and integrity of the two clerks of he court J. P. Noble of the county court, and G. W. Blair of the district court, have made them universal favorites. Besides these estimable qualities, their Mims are neatly kept, and they seem to realize the Democratic truth that they are the "people's servants and not their masters," for two more polite and accommodating gentlemen cannot be found in the state.

Additional Resources:

Bonham, County Seat

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