2012-12-24 / Columns

Bob Bowman’s East Texas

Hopkins County’s history filled with misfortunes

As Hopkins County’s first seat of government, Tarrant had more troubles than most frontier communities in East Texas. In the end, the misfortunes converged to cause the town’s demise after 24 years of tenuous existence.

In 1846, the Texas Legislature created a new county named for the Hopkins family from portions of Lamar and Nacogdoches counties.

Two places within three miles of the center were chosen as suitable sites for the county seat. Eli Hopkins offered the county suitable land for a public square and courthouse if voters would decide in his favor. His brother Eldridge, however, made a similar but competing offer.

Eldridge’s tract won out and the county seat was named for General Edward H. Tarrant, a legislator who decided that he had rather fight Indians on the frontier than deal with politicians. He became a Texas Ranger and was popular among the frontier’s settlers.

As a county seat, Tarrant began to grow. The county used a log cabin as the first courthouse and county officials often carried county records to their homes for safekeeping. In 1851, a contract for a permanent courthouse was awarded, but the construction floundered for lack of money.

The solution was ingenious, if not legal. When an official noted that cattle herds being driven through East Texas by Louisiana cattlemen were munching on Hopkins County’s grasslands, the cattle were found to be in violation of a law that supposedly said Texas grass was not free.

Hopkins County charged the herd’s owners with breaking the law and seized some 300 head of cattle, sold them at auction and raised $1,772 to finish the courthouse.

Following the Civil War, and the imposition of Reconstruction rule in Texas, Tarrant’s people found that federal soldiers had little sympathy for East Texas.

The commander of a federal company in East Texas deployed his men at Sulphur Springs, instead of at the county seat, and ordered the county’s records delivered to his headquarters.

The county records remained there until 1870 when civilian rule was reestablished in the county and the records were returned to Tarrant. But Tarrant’s victory was shortlived.

The Texas Legislature soon approved a special act to make Sulphur Springs the county seat. The Tarrant courthouse was closed and sold at auction.

(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

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