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....The City of Kaufman, county seat of Kaufman County, is the oldest community in the area of the "Three Forks" of the Trinity River that has been continuously inhabited. The "Three Forks" (West Fork, Elm Fork, and East Fork) region was known as a rich, fertile area which served as an Indian hunting ground and at the end of the l830s contained the largest Indian village east of the Brazos River.

....The way for prospective settlers in this area was blocked by the "Cherokee Lands"-land assigned to the Cherokee, Kickapoo, and the Shawnee Indians by the Mexican Government. The present Kaufman County, then a part of the Nacogdoches County, lay just to the west of the northern end of the Cherokee Lands. This early agreement was honored for several years by the new Republic of Texas under its first President, Sam Houston, despite pressure from land-hungry settlers. Finally, a new President, Mirabeau Lamar, using complaints of attacks and thefts by the Cherokees, ordered them to move beyond the Red River. They refused, but lost a decisive battle in July l839 in which their leader, Chief Bowles, was killed. They were then driven out of their lands. This battle opened the way for settlement, but there were still many Indians who were able for a while to intimidate those willing to venture into this northern area.

....Dr. William P. King, an entrepreneur from Mississippi, had come to Texas earlier in l839 as President of the Southern Land Company. This company had purchased Texas land script ("Toby Script") entitling the holder to locate and own land. This script had been sold by Sam Houston to raise money for the fledgling republic. Following the defeat of Chief Bowles, King signed a contract in August l839 with Warren A. Ferris to survey over 400,000 acres (90 leagues and labors) in the "Three Forks." Beginning the following month, Ferris began the first of several unsuccessful attempts to reach the region, but each time was turned back by Indian attacks or threats of attack. Finally, on June 3, l840, Ferris and King left Nacogdoches with 29 men. Despite the dryness of the season ("water was to be found only in holes"), over 500,000 acres of land was surveyed for King and others in June and July by three teams led by deputy surveyors, one of whom was the young Robert A. Terrell. Terrell was destined to play an important role in the country's history. Another surveyor who worked with Ferris in l840 was John H. Reagan, a man who was to play an even larger role in the history of the state and nation. On Ferris's return to Nacogdoches in early August, he wrote "...Thousands of occasional bear would sometimes cross our path. The prairies are boundless and present a beautiful appearance, being extremely fertile and crowned with flowers of every hue..."

....Following the completion of the survey, King established his headquarters on the present site of the City of Kaufman. He built a stockade called King's Fort on a bluff overlooking a creek now called King's Creek. This stockade consisted of four cabins surrounded by pickets, enclosing about three quarters of an acre. The pickets were formed of poles only a few inches in diameter and ten feet long, set about two feet in the ground. A garrison of only ten or twelve at times defied the whole Indian force of that section and sustained their position with as little difficulty as if they were protected by walls and battlements of massive stone. Robert Terrell related the story of one attack in which one day the gate of the fort had been left open and only four men were in the fort. The barking of a watchdog gave the men a warning of danger. They saw about thirty Indians riding rapidly toward the gate. The gate was shut just in time, and the Indians wheeled around, rode a short distance, and held a discussion. They then galloped back for an attack, but Terrell shot the lead horse in the forehead. As the rider fell, an Indian companion pulled him up on his horse. The Indians then gave up the attack, but stole the four horses belonging to the men in the fort. To the surprise of the men seemingly now stranded, seven horses stolen by the Indians at an earlier time in Red River County were left grazing nearby. They were quickly driven into the fort, and thus a profitable exchange was made.

....On another day (July l7, l84l), a party of 25 Indians, supposedly Comanches and Ionies, dashed by the fort in this manner.. However, finding they could not frighten the brave men who defended it, they retreated, taking with them the horses belonging to the garrison. A few of them rode by the pickets. It is worthy to remark that this fort was situated within fifty miles of the largest Indian encampment east of the Brazos so that the danger was both real and continuing.

....This location, also known as Kingsboro, represents what is said to be the first permanent white settlement in the area about the Three Forks and the Upper Trinity River Basin and has never been abandoned.

....During the summer of l84l, Dr. William P. King took Judge John H. Martin of Vicksburg, Mississippi on a tour of his property. Judge Martin was so favorably impressed with the country that he decided to join Dr. King and settle in Texas. Dr. King and Judge Martin started for Mississippi., Dr. King to visit his family at Holly Springs and to prepare for their move to Texas and Judge Martin to Vickburg to arrange for his family to move to Texas also.

....However, both men contracted yellow fever on their journey and died within a few days of each other some time during the week of September l8, l84l.. Adolphus Sterne of Nocogdoches wrote in his diary "Friday the 8th of October...news was received that Dr. King, the founder of Kingsborough, and Judge Martin, who lately visited this country, died at Vicksburg or on the River Mississippi of yellow fever. This is a great loss to this part of Texas. Dr. King was an enterprising man and the country near the Three Forks of the Trinity will be thrown (sic) back at least five years - unless some very strong effort is made by his heirs or successors to carry on the work which he began."

....Settlement continued in the area, mostly around Kingsborough and to the southeast. However, Robert Terrell noted that prior to l844 there were about six or seven families in present Kaufman County. He commented that during l844, l845 and l846 a good many families settled east of the Trinity River in what was called Mercers Colony. In the latter year, Henderson County was separated from Nacogdoches County and included the present Kaufman County as a part of it. The first meeting of the Commissioners Court was held in the home of William Ware and was presided over by Chief Justice John Damron, both residents of what is now Kaufman County. We find references to the layout of roads, one going through the "Kingsborough Prairie."

....Kaufman County was formed in l848 and was named after David S. Kaufman, a noted Texas patriot who in l845 was elected as one of the first members of the Texas Delegation to the United States House of Representatives. John H. Reagan, then a member of the state legislature, introduced the petition in order to honor his friend Kaufman. The county seat, when selected, was also required to bear the same name. The northen part of the county included the present Rockwall County and the eastern part included some of the present Van Zandt County, but the southern boundary was only about two miles south of Kingsborough. In February l850 new adjustments were made in the eastern and southern boundaries of Kaufman County.

....Despite the fact that Kingsborough was the only settlement of any real size in the new country, it was not initially the county seat. An election held in l848 to select the location of the county seat chose the geographical center of the county, and another election held after the shift of boundaries chose the new geographical center ("Center Point") on l50 acres to be donated by R.A. Terrell. Center Point was about three to four miles north of Kingsborough. A petition was subsequently submitted to the Texas legislature calling for another election and, in March l85l, Kingsborough was selected (93 votes for Kingsborough, 90 votes for Center Point). With that vote, the name of the town was changed from "Kingsborough" to "Kaufman" in accord with the legislation.

....In April l85l, Frances A. Tabor, the widow of Dr. King, deeded l50 acres of land for the new county seat, reserving only l2 lots for herself. This land included the site of the old fort and included much of what became the City of Kaufman. The work of the county government was then transferred there in November of l85l. It has remained there ever since, although in two elections in l879 and l885 the new town of Terrell was selected as the new county seat, although not by the two-thirds majority required.

....Since l85l the town square has remained the center of activity of Kaufman, and the courthouse the focal point. The first courthouse was a simple one-room building which had been remodeled. It was located at the southwest corner of Washington and Mulberry Streets, i.e., not on the present courthouse square. The courthouse was only twenty by thirty feet and the county's needs quickly outgrew this facility.

...A contract for a new brick courthouse was let in l859 and, following an intense dispute over the quality of construction, was occupied in l86l. The worst fears of some were borne out, and the courthouse was abandoned in l862. After using some temporary quarters, the old wooden courthouse came back into use, serving until l868. A contract for another courthouse was let in l869 and was first used in February l87l for the District, although it was not completed until August l872. This building was of frame construction, fifty feet by fifty feet, and had two stories. The courtroom occupied the second story, while various county officials had offices on the first floor.

....The continued growth of the county as well as concerns about the possibility of a fire in the frame building caused the county commissioners to vote for a new stone courthouse in December l885. The old building was moved to the corner of Cherry and Washington Streets and used while the new courthouse was under construction. The new courthouse was accepted in July of l887 and remained in use until early in l955 when it was torn down to make way for the present two-story building.

  • Kaufman Poor Farm Project

    ....The Kaufman County Poor Farm was created in July l883 when County Commissioners approved the purchase of 408 acres of land to be used for the purpose of housing and maintenance of people in the county who became indigent due to poverty, illness and epidemics. Later inhabitants of the farm included prisoners incarcerated for minor convictions.

    ....The farm is believed to be the only one left in Texas still owned by the County. The Kaufman County Historical Commission holds a 99 year, renewable, lease agreement with the County for the use of 27 acres located on Highway 34 between the Kaufman County Jail and the County Fair Grounds. The property includes a stock pond, original buildings such as the superintendent's residence, dining hall, dormitory, silo, water well and well house, blacksmith shop, barns, chapel, and other outbuildings. The old jailhouse is also located on the property. Many vintage farm implements, tools and utensils used on the farm are still in place.

    ....The Kaufman County Historical Commission plans to establish a "Poor Farm" museum designed to educate the general public about the history of the County Poor Farm, its function within the community, and the function of poor farms in general throughout the State of Texas and the United States of America.

    ....The "Poor Farm" Museum premises, exhibits, collections and programs shall be the primary means of making this information available to the public. It is felt the museum will become an important attraction in the county for tourists as well as an educational and research facility. Secondary goals will be the preservation and interpretation of the historic structures and farm equipment owned and/or operated by the "Poor Farm" Museum, the acquisition and preservation of artifacts and information which increase the desired body of knowledge, and the subsequent scientific and academic study.

    ....Administration and operations of the Museum will be the responsibility of the Poor Farm Committee of the Kaufman County Historical Commission with the assistance of a wide base of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers. Funding to be provided through donations, corporate and private sponsors, admission fees, special events, and grants from the Friends of Kaufman County Historical Commission, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of KCHC projects.


  • Kaufman County: Its Early Years

    A Part of the Lord's Big Garden - Kaufman County: Its Early Years by Horace P. Flatt
    ....Almost l50 years ago, Kaufman County was created out of Henderson County. The boundary between the two counties was established about three miles south of the small settlement near Kingsborough, the site of a frontier fort built eight years earlier. The eastern boundary between Van Zandt County and Kaufman County was about three miles east of the present city of Canton, so that the settlements around Prairieville and Four Mile Prairie were a part of the county. The county didn't have a post office, the closest being at Warsaw Prairie to the southwest of Kingsborough. There were about 200 voters in the county and later in the year they selected a site near the center of the county as the first county seat. By law, it was called Kaufman. An old map shows the Kaufman was located about halfway between the present community of College Mound and the present city of Terrell, not even a gleam in anyone's eye at the time.

    ....A new book, A Part of the Lord's Big Garden, by Horace P. Flatt, tells the story of these early days of Kaufman County including the first surveys, the Indian attack on King's Fort, the first settlers and some of their tales, the continuing controversy over the location of the county seat, and how Kingsborough was finally renamed Kaufman. Some existing myths about these early days and William P. King and his wife are put to rest, as the connection of Kaufman County with persons from Mississippi and Tennessee is outlined. The strong influence of Mercer colony grants upon the settlement of the county is outlined which led, at an earlier time, to the location of the first county seat of Henderson County in present Kaufman County.

    ....There are a number of maps, documents, and two drawings used to illustrate the l20 page book. The cover illustration is the painting "Summer Forenoon" by the famous Terrell artist, Frank Reaugh, who was particularly well-known for his pastel paintings of longhorn cattle.

    ....This book will be useful to those interested in the first surveys of Kaufman and its surrounding counties, as well as those seeking to understand the origins of the first settlements in Kaufman County itself. This story illustrates the all too human nature of the early settlers of the county, while paying tribute to their willingness to endure great hardships in an effort to build a better life for themselves and their families.

    ....All profits from the sale of the book will go to the historical preservation projects in Kaufman County. The pre-publication price of the book will be $20 for all orders paid for by December lst. After that time, the price will be $25. There will be an additional cost of $4 for books mailed.

    ....Orders may be sent to Friends of the KCHC, 209 Brookhollow, Terrell, Texas 75l60.


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