The Free State of Van Zandt


From: History of Van Zandt County by William Samuel Mills


An act to Create the County of Van Zandt -- March 20, 1848
Be it Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That all the territory heretofore comprised within the county of Henderson, and not now comprehended within the counties of Henderson and Kaufman be, and the same is hereby constituted and made a new county to be called Van Zandt. That said county shall be organized in conformity with, "Act for the organization of the several counties in the State."

Approved 11th day of April, A. D., 1846.
That Jordan's Saline in said county be the county seat of said county, until otherwise provided by law, and that this act take effect from and after its passage. Kaufman county was created by the same legislature, by act of February 26, 1848, nearly one month before Van Zandt, hence Van Zandt was apportioned all the remainder of Henderson county not apportioned to Henderson and Kaufman counties.

Pursuant to the above act of the Legislature, the county was created in the manner hereinafter described.

On March 20, 1848, by act of the Legislature, Van Zandt County was created from the territory of Henderson County. Prior to this, on April 27, 1846 Henderson County had been created out of the Nacogdoches Municipality and included at the time the territory of the present counties of Henderson, Rockwall, Kaufman, Van Zandt, Wood and the major portion of Rains. By the act of creating it, Van Zandt included what is now Wood county and the major portion of Rains County.

In 1850 Wood and Rains Counties were cut from Van Zandt and made separate counties leaving Van Zandt with its present area. The county was surveyed in 1850, after Wood and Rains counties had been separated from Van Zandt, by E. C. Tinnin, running the south line and R. A. Terrell running the west line and E. C. Tinnin filed the following field notes of said survey "Beginning at N.E, corner of Kaufman county at a stake from which a survey in the name of I. Roarke 320 acres brs. 5, 75 W. 300 vrs; Thence East 11% miles to S.E. corner of Hunt County, from which a survey in the flame of A. W, Lanier No.55 N.E. corner vrs. North 146 vrs.; Thence South 3 miles and 1150 Varas to Sabine River; thence down said River to the N.W. corner of Smith County. Thence South with west line of Smith County to the Cherokee line as run by W. A. Farris; Thence S. 45 E. to the Neches River, Then down said Neches River to the S.E. corner of the A. Sidney Johnson 1280 acre survey; Thence West 36 miles and 900 varas to corner post from which the N.E. corner of George Waters survey of one League bears north 1500 vrs. and west 1500 vrs; Thence North 32 miles and 1500 vrs. to the place of beginning. E. C. Tinnin, Surveyor.

Van Zandt County has an area of 855 square miles, has an altitude of app. 500 feet average. The county is bounded as follows: On north by Wood, Rains, and Hunt Counties, on the East by Wood and Smith Counties, and the South by Henderson county and on the west by Kaufman County. Her population is estimated to be app. 33,000.




The folIowing statement to account for the sobriquet, "The Free State of Van Zandt" applied to the county is taken from Manning's "Some History of Van Zandt County."
"As above stated, Van Zandt county was created from territory of Henderson county, and had been stigmatized "free territory." When secession was accomplished it was self evident that war would inevitably follow. Slave owners along the borders at once set about looking out for places of safety for their property. Many slaves were brought to Texas during that contest. For that purpose the owner of a large number of slaves sent a slave driver to Texas to look out a place of refuge for his slaves. This man came by steamboat to Jefferson; there he secured a horse and saddle and came out on horseback to Gilmer, Quitman, and on to Canton, stopping at the Bivins hotel, the principal hotel in the town. Editor Johnson of the Times heard that a slave driver had blown into town, called upon him at his hotel, and in the run of conversation make bold to ask him if he thought he would bring his slaves to Van Zandt county. H--l no came the reply, I had as soon think of taking them to a free state. I came all the way from Quitman here and never so much as saw a slave. At that time very few people living in Van Zandt county owned slaves, and as misery loves company, the slave driver felt lonesome in Van Zandt county. Editor Johnson, commenting upon this in a short paragraph said: "Van Zandt county had been free territory since it had been created, and now it had been admitted as a free state." The war came on and this appellation was carried to the training camps and into the army and was over the whole south and it has grown to be a byword by many who never knew the significance of it."

Another story coming to us from a different source fixes the origin of the term at the creation of the county as follows: At the time Van Zandt was separated from Henderson County said county of Henderson was heavily involved in debt. Through over-sight, mistakes or design, we know not why; but in the agreement separating Van Zandt from Henderson, no reference was made to this debt, and Van Zandt was not made responsible for any portion of said debt, Van Zandt came to be called "Free Territory" for the reason that she was free of taxation and any responsibility, for the said indebtedness. The term "Free Territory" of Van Zandt soon was changed into the "Free State of Van Zandt," an appellation it has borne ever since.

Manning's explanation, as has been seen grew out of the Civil War. The following story to account for the same term, furnished by Mr. M. N. Crestman, also grew out of the War Between the States. We Will let Mr. Crestman tell his own story.




Mr. M. N. Crestman, a lawyer in Dallas, gives the following story of how the County of Van Zandt came to be called "The Free State of Van Zandt." The story was given to him by Rev. S. N. Allen, his mother's brother, a superannuated Methodist minister, now living at Beeville, Texas. Following the Contest of ballots, in 1867, which sent Texas back into the Union a Convention was held in Van Zandt County whereupon it was declared by the citizens that their county be a free and independent state, free and independent of the State of Texas, Southern Confederacy and the United States of America, and put themselves in a position to fight for their liberty.

General Sheridan had his headquarters at New Orleans, and when he learned that there was a "rebellion," sent a troop of cavalry to quell the riot. The woods in Van Zandt County in those days were such that horsemen were handicapped and the boys of the Free State used the process of "Pot-shot" on the Yankee soldiers to the extent that they faded away. Not being able to find the Union soldiers in time they assembled in the town of Canton, the Capital of the Free State of Van Zandt, and proceeded to celebrate the victory of defeating the State and nation.

But they imbibed the current standard of liquor to excess. In the height of their celebration Sheridan's troops came riding from every point of the compass and captured the entire army of the Free State. Federal soldiers proceeded to build a prison by setting upright in the ground, long and large logs encircling a few acres of ground in or near the present site of Canton, Texas. Each prisoner, bereft of his weapons, had a pair of anklets safely locked on him. Guards were put on duty around the prison, but the Free State were model prisoners, somewhat enjoying the food.

W. A. Allen and Hardy Allen, Ex-confederate soldiers -- (brethren of my informer), were of the number captured and put in prison. W. A. Allen, who had been captured and held a prisoner of war, had the habitt of wearing a knife in his boot and this was not discovered. As time went on the nights were occupied with using that knife, which had been made into a file, to wear the anklets down to the point where they could broken by hand. In time the rainy season set in, and the clay in which the post were set became soft. The guards had been reduced to one, who walked around the several acres in which they were imprisoned. The boys began throwing their bodies against two or three of the posts, and finally were able to lift them out and escape.

The prisoners scattered mainly in two directions - one towards the Sabine River on into the Indian Territory; the other towards the Brazos River and across over to the west side, from Waco, then on the east side. Young Bill Allen was with the group that went into the Indian Territory. Hardy Allen was with the other group and was later killed in a battle with Indians near Jacksboro, Texas. In the group that entered the Indian Territory was a Physician who procured his medical books and instruments and proceeded to establish himself near Lindsey, Oklahoma.

Young Bill Allen, as a student or apprentice to the doctor, made use of the library and became a doctor himself. Young Allen married a full blood Indian woman who died at the birth of their second child. By that time all danger for the participants in the cessation of the Free State had passed and Dr. Allen brought ht his two children back to the Free State and supported himself as a doctor. The youngest child, Indian, was received by his mother who nurtured both the little Indian girl and himself and kept her until such time as Dr. Allen was able to procure another wife. Dr. W. A. Allen continued to reside in Van Zandt County to the ripe age of 85, continuously almost to his last day, advising and treating his country patients. He died in 1926 and the little Indian girl now resides in Terrell, Texas, a widow, mother of one son and one daughter, who pride their one-half Indian blood, and are living in the "Free State." Almost as a sister to me, I pronounce my half Indian cousin, who shared my first dates, as a most lovable character, devout Christian, and a useful and patriotic citizen. The little Indian girl and I both, have pride in the "Free State of Van Zandt."

An earnest endeavor has been made to determine just how the term "Free State of Van Zandt" came to be applied to our county; but the deeper the research the more baffling the question became. Stories taken from M. N. Crestman of Dallas, Wentworth Manning and "The Southland" a magazine published at Waco in 1903, are submitted for the reader's consideration, leaving him to decide for himself to which he will give the greater credence.

Van Zandt County was named for Isaac Van Zandt, who served as a member of Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1840-41, and was sent as our diplomatic agent to the United States by President Houston 1842.

That the reader may get a little of the background of our country, we will state that the territory of this county, as with all the other territory of East Texas prior to 1836, was a part of Mexico, and was a part of the state of Coahuila and Texas. It was included in the territory granted to the Cherokee Indians, to use and occupy, under treaty agreement between General Sam Houston, John Farles, and Chief Bowles in February 1836. It was also covered in common with surrounding territory, by the Fredonian Republic, an ephemeral government established about the year, 1830 with headquarters at Nacogdoches, and having Hayden Edwards at its head. In a more continuous stream of government authority, it was a part of Nacogdoches municipality, the real specific boundary of which is not known, but it comprised much of East Texas. The western portion of the county was comprehended in Mercer's Colony.

It sits astride the watershed dividing the Trinity, Sabine and Neches rivers. This ridge runs through Wills Point in a zigzag direction near Myrtle Springs, just west of Canton, east of Tundra, and leaves the county just west of Walton, and has an altitude of app. 500 feet.

The drainage west of the watershed is carried by Lacy, Caney and other smaller creeks into Cedar Creek and ultimately into the Trinity river. The northern and north-eastern slope is drained into the Sabine river by McBee Creek, Gilliam, Mill, and Sabine Creeks and their tributaries. The southeastern slope is drained by Kickapoo, Horsely, and smaller streams into the Neches river.

The entire county is fairly well watered by springs, creeks and small streams. Well water in abundance at depths ranging from eight to eighty or more feet.

Most of the underground water in the eastern and southern portion of the county is comparatively free of minerals, and much of it pure freestone, pure and soft. Much of the water in the northwest is hard, containing more or less lime and other minerals. In the southwest it is mixed--some pure freestone and some contaminated with various minerals. As in many other respects, Van Zandt county can boast of more different kinds of water than almost any other county in Texas.

The topography of the county is generally level or slightly rolling in the western portion while the eastern half is broken into a series of hills and valleys of moderate elevation by the streams that cross it. Soils: Van Zandt County possesses a greater variety of soils than to be found, perhaps, in any other county in the state. The northwest portion, covering the prairie section of the county, we find a tight natured grey sandy loam soil, well adapted to the production of cotton, corn, oats, and grain sorghums and other small grains. East and south of the prairie section, there is a variety of grey, sandy loam soils, ranging from almost pure white sand to dark sandy loam, with sandy loam to stiff loams in the branch and creek valleys. This belt extends from the timber line just west of Edgewood east to Grand Saline and in a south direction entirely across the county.

This section produces the greatest variety of crops of any other portion of the county. It is not so good for the grains as the tighter prairie lands to the west; but all manner of fruits, berries and garden vegetables grow to perfection. Cotton, sugar cane, sweet and Irish potatoes, as well as turnips, tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, cucumbers and other have become of late years to be staple money crops. Peanuts and field peas and sorghums supplement corn and oats as the feed crops. Fruits except apples are grown in commercial quantities. The sandy loam, sweetgum branch bottoms produce the brightest, best flavored sugar cane syrup to be found anywhere.

The eastern half or portion of the county is fine alluvial soil, slightly darker or redder in color and firmer in texture than the central belt. This section is very productive, producing corn, cotton, fruits and vegetables in abundance. There lands are underlaid by stiff red clays. The entire county, save for a strip of prairie from four to eight or more miles wide along the west border, is well timbered. The predominance is held by the oaks: post oak, red oak, over cup, black jack, and white oak. Other varieties found are pine, confined to the southeast portion of the county, sweet gum, black gum, elm, birch, maple, hickory, and other. Pine, post oak and red oak have furnished the commercial timbers of the county. Much of these varieties have been all but exhausted.

Van Zandt county is very rich in mineral wealth. Greatest among these are salt and oil. Grand Saline is among the greatest salt producing centers in the United States. Both rock and evaporated salt are produced in vast quantities. The Van oil field, discovered in 1929 is one of the richest fields of its size anywhere. It is said to have the deepest oil producing sand strata of any known field. Other light producing wells are located north of Canton some four miles, and southwest about nine miles. Other minerals produced are lignite and brick clay. Some iron ore is found but not in commercial quantities, The average rainfall is 41.8 inches and the mean average temperature is 66.5 degrees, Canton, the capitol, is situated on 32’ 83” north latitude and 95” 52” west longitude, These conditions give the county a very desirable climate. Severe winter climate is tempered, to a considerable degree, by the heavy growth of timber over most of its surface.

Some of the earliest, most worthy and progressive citizens reached the county in 1850. Among these, to name a very few, were, in the southern part of the county, the Rileys, the Hobbs, the Sides, the Cox, and the Townley families, with others. In the eastern part we find the Jordans, Kuykindalls, Horsley, McGee and others.

Last updated August 29, 2008

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