Early History of Parker County
The settlement of one of Texas’ most historical and colorful frontier regions began in the mid-nineteenth century. Soon after Texas became a state settlements began popping up and the frontier region became known as Parker County with settlers attracted to the varied soil and land. In 1854, the settlement of Parker County began and immigration increased the following year. Prior to the settlers the territory had roving bands of Indians and moving herds of buffalo, deer and bear. The area was first visited by Spanish explorers, but they made no attempts to colonize the area. A portion of the territory was included in the Austin and Williams grant in the day of the impresarios, still there was no effort to establish a colony so far from civilization.
Military posts had been established soon after Texas became a part of the United States in 1845 giving a greater sense of security to settlers. The troops were few and widely scattered, but they represented the protection the early settlers needed. It was not always afforded them as many raids on the settlers did occur with many deaths and kidnappings.
The County consists of 576,000 acres lying within the lands called the Grand Prairie and the Cross Timbers. The soil varies from the Brazos “red loam” to the “black-waxy” of the eastern and southeastern parts of the county. Geological surveys show Texana limestone and Paluxy sand.
The pioneers looked for water, and many water courses were found in the area. The Brazos River flows through a portion of the County with seventeen tributaries of the Brazos and Trinity River. A high ridge divides the waters of these two streams, and numerous creeks drain into one or the other. There are countless year-round springs, many of which head some of the creeks. These necessities of pioneer life brought settlers who came to stay. The water, prairie grasses, timber, native stone and rich soil the territory became known as the “Oasis of the West.”
Settlement was promoted for two other reasons: talk of the railroad to the Pacific through the area, and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which caused people to avoid the Midwestern frontier with its struggle with slavery.
In a short time, the people in the western part of what is now Tarrant County, but the Tarrant Territory, a part of Navarro County, presented a petition for the creation of a county of their own. Approximately 224 names signed the petition that was presented to the state legislature, November 8, 1855. Representative Isaac Parker of the Tarrant district, then a resident of Birdville, presented the document. The bill passed in the House of Representatives with the name of the county changed from Bedford to Parker. The County seat was changed from Covington to Parkersburg and then to Lovejoy.
In the Senate, Kickapoo was suggested as the name of the county, and Weatherford as the seat of government for the county. The final decision gave the county the name of Parker in honor of Isaac Parker. The county seat was named for the Senator of the district, Jefferson Weatherford of Dallas.
Parker County was officially created by an act of the Texas Legislature on December 12, 1855, from Bosque and Navarro Counties and is 30 miles square. The county seat is in the geographic center of the County. The act of legislation also provided for an allocation of land to be used for schools, churches, and other such institutions for a model community. This provision was not widely considered at the time. Early in 1856, Llewelyn Murphy, surveyor laid out the plan for Parker County.
March 2, 1856, 400 settlers cast votes in the first county election. Chief Justice James T. Morehead of Tarrant County presided over the election. The elected officials were: Chief (County) Judge, Robert Porter; Clerk, John H. Prince; Sheriff, Joshua Barker; County Commissioners, John Parker, William B. Hays, Hill Walker, and James Kidwell. These men served only until the regular state election was held in August.
An election was held in April, 1856, and a majority chose the present site for the county seat of Parker County, Weatherford. At the time of the election, there was only one cabin and one tent within one mile of the courthouse square.
D.O. Norton staked out lots around the public square, which was 500 feet each way. A sale of lots was held June 24, 1856, and $9,700 was paid for them. The sale took place in the center of the courthouse. A second sale was held in August, and by September eight families were living in Weatherford.
At the regular state election held in August, 1856, the elected were: Chief Justice, John Matlock; District Clerk, William M. Green; Treasurer, Samuel Barber; Sheriff, Robert Baker; Commissioners, John Parker, William B. Fondren; James Kidwell and A.B. Smith.
The first court held in Parker County was in the spring of 1856 with Judge Nathaniel Burford presiding. The men sat under a post oak tree near the Fort Worth and Belknap Road. More specifically, the court was held on the J. J. Beeman Survey about five miles from Weatherford on Beeman’s Branch, which flowed into Willow Creek.
The state historical marker was granted in 1964 and is located off the west side of highway 51, north of Weatherford.
On the site was a dugout, a well, and a “stage-stand” corral. It was known at the time as Ft. Beeman because it was a stopping and camping place for the freighters who carried supplies to Fort Belknap and other western posts.
Later the county commissioners had a “first” courthouse built on the north side of the square. It was built of rough undressed pine lumber, which had been hauled by ox teams from Red River County. It was one story, one room, which was 18×30 feet and with rough lumber seats and judge’s stand. This courthouse was finished in time for the second district court.
In 1858 a new brick courthouse was erected in the square by J.R. Campbell and B.L. Richey. It was a two-story brick building measuring 40 x 50 feet. The bricks were made by the contractors and the cost of the construction was $6,700. A jail was erected and attached to the courthouse. This courthouse with most of the records, was destroyed by fire in the early morning of May 13, 1874. Weatherford’s fire-fighting equipment consisted of a few buckets and three ladders, which was so inadequate that there was little could be done to save the courthouse or records. After the fire, the court leased Leach and Milam’s Hall for a courtroom, and an adjoining place was rented for the county officials.
On February 1, 1861, the State convention in Austin adopted an ordinance of secession and the people of Texas ratified the act of two-thirds vote. See another section for the history of the Civil War for Parker County.
On June 24, 1878, the cornerstone was laid for a third courthouse as seen in the photo:
This courthouse was built at a cost of $21,000. It was destroyed by fire on March 1, 1884. Eight days later a contract was made for a new building. The present stone structure, the fourth courthouse, was built at a cost of $55,555.55.
In 1876 some of the best land in the county was selling for $1.50 an acre. The constitution of 1876 provided for tax-supported free school in the state. In 1884 the county school tax was fifty cents per year. In 1910, 73 cars were on the vehicle registration record in Parker County.
The population of the county was approximately 27,000 by 1949 and 4, 582 were listed as being of scholastic age: The population of Weatherford was approximately 10,000.
Early in Parker County’s history there were two roads through the region—one between a military post at Fort Worth (and points east and south) and Fort Belknap to the northwest; the other between Fort Graham and Fort Belknap. The first road, passing a few miles north of the present location of Weatherford, was principally travelled by wagon teams with supplies for Belknap. After the county seat was settled, the road was changed to pass through the outpost of civilization. Soon several roads were to found in the county travelled by many ox wagons carrying freight, and a little later by stage coaches carrying passenger and the mail.
In 1857, a contract was let by the Post Office Department to convey the mail over a route covering 145 miles once a week and back. This route included Newburg, Copper Hill, and Weatherford in Parker County. At this time D.O. Norton was postmaster in Weatherford.
The stage coaches charged according to live weight. They also had another interesting custom—that of blowing the horn when not far from a state stand. The stage coach from Cleburne to Weatherford blew a horn just before descending the hill south of town, dramatically announcing its dashing arrival.
From the earliest years of the county’s history, the people were interested in securing the extension of the railroad to Weatherford. A meeting was held on June 4, 1856, at the house of J. J. Beeman on the old Ft. Belknap post road, in which resolutions were passed endorsing the plan of state aid in this section. John Matlock, J.J. Beeman, D.O. Norton, and John R. Cole were selected to attend a railroad meeting to be held in Dallas in the same month.
Nothing was accomplished for many years, not even in 1872, when on Christmas Day, a group of surveyors arrived in Weatherford. The next eight years saw Indian raids, depression, epidemics of yellow fever and hardships in general. The citizens organized the Parker County Construction Company in 1876, but because of the panic of 1873 and the depression that followed, the people had to wait for the outside financiers to realize their vision.
Before the actual railroad was finished, the outside world was brought much closer by the telegraph that went into operation on March 25, 1880.
The first train arrived on May 27, 1880. The coming of three railroads, the Texas and Pacific in 1880, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe in 1887, and the Weatherford, Mineral Wells, and Northwestern in 1892 changed the tempo of the village town.