Shelby County, Texas

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Shelby County, Texas

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  • Shelby County was formed 1836 and organized 1837 as an original county by the Republic of Texas. It was named for Isaac Shelby of American Revolution.[1]

5000 B.C. to 500 A.D. Archaeological artifacts have been recovered from near Sam Rayburn Reservoir in dating from the Archaic Period (ca. 5000 B.C.-500 A.D.). Caddo Indians were here.

1714 (18th century) French/ Spanish explorers discovered and utilized traces of east-west Hasinai Indian trail, which, after 1714, became a part of the El Camino Real or Old San Antonio Road.

1716 - Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais Mission was founded South of the present San Augustine.

1750-1826 The county is named after Kentucky's First Governor Isaac Shelby.[2]

1773 - Mission was abandoned for a short period, but was present until 1773.

1818 John Latham, settled in the SE part of the county.

1824 - Shelby county was first organized as the Tenehaw Municipality.

1825 Mexican restrictions forbade settlements within 20 leagues of Texas prevented honest settlers but it encouraged squatters. This was known as the Neutral Ground.Area was very violent

1847-1860 Shelby County continued to grow to 5,362 in1860. Anglo settlers came from other Southern states, brought the institution of slavery. Slavery was an integral part of the county's economy. The # of slaves in the county grew at a faster rate than did the free population. The 763 slaves present in 1847 were a little ~23% of the total population.

1860 1,476 slaves present were 28% of the total population. During the antebellum period the county was, for the most part, rural and agricultural, with most of the county's residents living on farms. The largest crop of any kind and the most important food crop was corn.

1861 - White voters supported secession, a vote of 333 to 28.

1862-65 Seven hundred fifty ( 750) men from Shelby County served in either state or Confederate army units. Shelby County was never occupied by Union forces. Citizens had lack of markets, fluctuations in Confederate currency, concern for men on the battlefield.

1866 County seat was moved to Center and has remained county seat.[2]

Former county jail in Center, Tx.

Postwar era -freedom for the county's black population. Most African Americans left farms for better working conditions. Most did not find improvement in working conditions.

1870 Only one black farmer owned his land, Most ended up working the land on shares, receiving one-third of the crop for their labors. For whites there was an economic loss. Slaves had been 50% of the taxable property of county). Property values plummeted.

Reconstruction Shelby County received little attention from federal political or military authorities.

1882 The Shelby County courthouse burned May 31, 1882 destroying all records. Tax lists were forwarded to Austin so still exist. Deed records were "reconstructed" by the county commissioners. [2]

1885 the Houston East and West Texas Railway was built through N part and 1904 the Gulf, Beaumont and Great Northern Railroad. These railroads gave farmers easier access to markets.

1890 - 1930 decrease of number of Shelby County farmers land owners owning all or a part of land to 42%. 1930 Farmers used antiquated methods to harvest crops.

1910 1/3 (160 out of 541) of all black farmers were landowners.

1940sCounty agriculture advances are still 1880s style. cotton, corn fields were plowed with a team of mules. Crops were harvested by hand. only 55 farms - tractors, 392 had trucks, and 1,119 had cars. (90% of houses did NOT have electricity or telephone. Roads in the county were paved.

Post World War II the population began a long slow decline,

Neutral Ground

1824 -Tenehaw Municipality Shelby County was first organized

1825 Mexican restrictions forbade settlements within 20 leagues of Texas prevented honest settlers but it encouraged squatters. Area was very violent. [3] See

1836--Shelby County was created 17 March 1836 from Old Mexican Municipality by the Republic of Texas.Nashville name was changed to Shelbyville, county seat until 1866.[2]

1837 - Shelby County was formed.. It was named for Isaac Shelby, a soldier from Tennessee during the American Revolution, and first Governor of Kentucky.

1839-1841 - The regulators formed in the Redlands of East Texas from 1839 to 1844, known as the Neutral ground. See principal leaders of the Regulators were Charles W. Jackson and Charles W. Moorman, and the principal leaders of the Moderators were Edward Merchant, John M. Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens. Cause: was fraud and land swindling in this Neutral Ground ( the area of East Texas known as lawless are between the American border and Mexican-Texas border, caused by the Redbone area. Mexico forbade settlement in this zone. the United States could not get Mexico to settle on this zone even after the Texas Revolution. The roots of the conflict lay in the frauds and land swindling that had been rife in the Neutral Ground, the lawless area between the American and Mexican borders.

Moderators and Regulators

1841-1844 Land title disputes, fraudulent land transactions led to the Regulator-Moderator War. Many individuals were killed, tried and hung. This gave the area a bad name. No one wanted to settle here.[4][5][2]

1847 Effects of Moderator War effects were: County population of 3,318. Land value dropped from $2.00/acre to 10 cents/acre

1839-1844 A Feud in East Texas Redlands was called the Regulator-Moderator War. Charles W Jackson and charles Watt Moorman led the Regulators. Edward Merchant, John Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J Cravens led the Moderators. the frauds and land swindling was the cause of the conflict. This resulted in a lawless land with no established Sheriffs in these early years of then Republic of Texas. [6]

Joseph Goodbread and Sheriff Alfred George had a dispute. Sheriff George called upon Charles W Jackson (former Mississippi riverboat captain and fugitive from Louisiana justice). This Charles Jackson shot Goodbred at Shelbyville, 1840. Jackson organized the Regulators to prevent "cattle rustling".Edward Merchant formed the Moderators to "moderate" the Regulators. [6]

July 12, 1841, Judge John M Hansford presided over Jackson's trial and was friend of Goodbread and the Moderators. The Regulators present in the court, intimidated the court so it could not proceed. They burned the McFadden family and Tiger Jim Strickland's homes. As the hostilities increased, Sam Houston was was irritated by the pettiness and was reported to say: "I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out." [6]

Charles W. Jackson and a "Dutchman named Lauer" were ambushed and killed by the Moderators. Watt Moorman became the new leader of the Shelby County Regulators. Moorman, also may have been wanted in Mississippi for forgery, led a party to avenge the fallen men. may have been wanted for forgery in Mississippi, led a party to avenge his fallen comrades. The party surprised the assassins 25 miles north of Crockett. The McFaddens were tried in Shelbyville in October 1841 for the Jackson-Lauer killing. All were hanged except the younger brother. [6]

The next quarrel began between Henry Runnels, a Regulator, Samuel Hall, an ex-Regulator, andStanfield. Stanfield accused Hall of hog theft and killed him. Hall's friends called upon the Moderators for revenge. Stanford escaped from jail, but was chased by Hall's surviving family . Watt Moorman's enemy, John M Bradley assumed the Moderator leadership. [6]

During this feud, Bradley and Moorman both went to court, where a Regulator judge nullified the charges against Moorman, and a Moderator judge dismissed murder charges against Bradley and Amos Hall, one of Samuel's brothers.[6]

1841-1844 land title disputes, fraudulent land transactions led to the Regulator-Moderator War. Many individuals were killed, tried and hung. This gave the area a bad name. No one wanted to settle here.[7][8][2]

This feud reminds this author of the Hatfields and McCoys Project



This was a feud in Harrison and Shelby counties, Texas, 1839 to 1844 in the lawless area, known as the Neutral Ground. This was called this due to Mexico having forbidden settlement within the Neutral ground as Mexico would not agree that the land was part of Texas and Louisiana. It became the Redbone land or Neutral "no man's land. See

Moderators were organized by Edward Merchant to moderate the Regulators.
Moderators were Edward Merchant, John M. Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens.
Regulators were Charles W. Jackson and Charles Watt Moorman.
Cattle rustling, and killing was very common in East Texas. Extreme vigilantes formed to control this crime spree, calling themselves the Regulators.
Second group formed to counter the vigilantes and tone down their actions, called Moderators.

Joseph Goodbread and Sheriff Alfred George had a dispute in 1840. Sheriff George asked Charles Jackson for assistance (a Louisiana fugitive). Jackson shot and killed Goodbread. Sheriff arrested Jackson, then released him until the trial. Soon he organized the Regulators to rid the area of cattle rustling.

1841, Charles Jackson’s trial for the killing of Goodbread was scheduled before Judge John M. Hansford in Harrison County, Texas who was a supporter of Moderators. Jackson’s friends, were armed at the courthouse. Judge John Hansford saw the armed arsenal, and fled the courthouse, saying he would not risk death by assassins. The trial was over.

Angry Moderators, killed Jackson, and an innocent man, Lauer. Now Charles Watt Moorman, (Mississippi fugitive) was Regulator leader. Moorman actually thought about overthrowing the Texas government and declaring himself dictator. Area residents lived in constant fear. Regulators succeeded in getting Judge Hansford impeached and he hid out at his farm at Jonesville.

1844 a mob of regulators went to Judge Hansford's home demanding slaves he was protecting. He refused to hand over the slaves.. Regulators Killed Judge Hansford.impeachment of Judge Hansford. One day articles of impeachment had been filed against Judge John Hansford for his failure at bringing Jackson to trail. On January 19, 1842, Hansford left office to escape the impeachment and retired on his farm near Jonesville. Two years later, a mob of regulators appeared at his house, demanding slaves that he was protecting. Hansford refused to hand over the slaves, the Regulators killed him. 200 Moderators attacked some 60 Regulators near Shelbyville at the Church Hill Battle.

Sam Houston had previously said, I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Harrison county free and independent governments, and let them fight it out

Soon, President Houston had had enough of the east Texas hotheads. Sam Houston was working to get Republic of Texas annexed to the United States. This civil war in East Texas was causing problems with annexation to the USA. So, August 15, 1844, he ordered state militia to Shelby County to put an end to the "war.” [9][10]


Government Offices

Shelby county has had 3 courthouses. Two are still standing, the 1885 courthouse and the current courthouse.

Margaret Wilson and Jesse Amason donated the townsite in 1856 or 1857.

With the 1866 election, Center became the county seat, in one of Texas' county seat disputes.

August 1866 the county records were stolen and brought to Center. This seemed to end the dispute.

1882, the courthouse burned. It was replaced by the 1885 courthouse which is usually regarded as one of the handsomest in Texas. J.J.E. Gibson designed this courthouse. Due to extreme cold weather, he requested suspension until spring. Commissioners urged him to keep working. The Blue Northern cracked some walls and Commissioners refused to pay for it. So he used his own money to repair this. They never repaid him.. for his expenses. Stingy.

2nd Courthouse, 1885. This courthouse still stands. The courthouse itself is a two-story Romanesque brick building. The two million-plus bricks were made by the architect, while the mortar was made from sand toted via oxcart 40 miles from Louisiana. There are 2 sets of stairs in the back. [11]

1885 courthouse.

3rd Courthouse and current

current courthouse.

Story of 1885 courthouse

Above the center of the back is a balcony where two deputies used to stand with their shotguns just in case there was a problem with the verdict.

The architect shuttered each window. If the windows were opened, the courthouse still remained cool, birds might fly in..High ceilings helped make the courthouse temperature bearable.

1st clock of 1885 courthouse.
Fireplace in restroom.

THE CLOCK..The outside clock has caused a ruckus.. When the photographer saw it for texas escapes, it looked good, there was an eagle on top. (It actually looks like a buzzard).

Previous clock history - the county had sentimentality surrounding that 100+ year-old, non-working, nearly one-of-a-kind clock. The courthouse and the clock are properties of the Texas Historic Commission, by state law, there is supposed to be no changes to the looks of the courthouse or its grounds without first getting permission from the commission. The current judge didn't like having a broken clock in front of the courthouse, so he had it removed without permission and had a new one put there. Talk about a feud!
new clock by Judge
Hitching Rings
Judge's Escape door.
The first floor used to hold offices for county officials. Gibson's portrait hangs above one of his fireplaces, and the various tools used to make the courthouse are displayed. The wooden floor is refinished to a shine, and the walls look clean and new.


Shelby County is on the eastern boundary of the state, in a bulge of the Sabine River separating it from Desoto and Sabine parishes in Louisiana.
County seat and largest town is Center,160 miles NE of Houston and 40 miles NE of Nacogdoches. :Centernamed for its geographic center of the county, 31°47' north latitude and 94°11' west longitude.
Transportation served by 2 railroads, the Timberrock Railroad, and Union Pacific
Size:791 sq. mi. of East Texas timberlands,
Vegetation -heavily forested with pine, cypress, and oak.
Terrain undulating to rolling
Elevation -150 to 400 feet above mean sea level.
Soil gray sandy loam on the uplands to a black rich loam in the bottom lands. '
Prime Farmland - 21 - 30% of the land in the county is considered prime farmland.
Climate is moist and mild
Temperatures high of 94° F in July to low of 34° in January
Rainfall - 50 inches.
Growing season 240 days.
River -Sabine River drained most of county, W part drained by Neches River
Mineral resources include lignite coal, sand, oil, and gas

Adjacent counties

Panola County (north)
adj. counties
De Soto Parish, Louisiana (northeast)
Sabine Parish, Louisiana (east)
Sabine County (south)
San Augustine County (south)
Nacogdoches County (southwest)
Rusk County (northwest)

Protected areas


In 2000, there were 25,224 people residing in the county with a population density of 32 people/sq. mi. The racial makeup of the county was 72.65% White, 19.44% Black or African American, 0.36% Native American, 0.23% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 5.87% from other races, and 1.44% from two or more races. 9.87% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. The median income for a household in the county was $29,112, and the median income for a family was $34,021. The per capita income for the county was $15,186. About 14.90% of families and 19.40% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.70% of those under age 18 and 16.90% of those age 65 or over.[12]

  • 1980s 75 % of county residents lived in rural areas. The county's population also had a high percentage of residents over age sixty-four and a median age of thirty-five, reflecting the young leaving the county.
1980 - County had 6 school districts:
7 elementary,
5 high schools,
2 special education schools.
The average daily attendance in 1980–81 was 4,151.
  • 49% percent of the 249 students planned to attend college.
  • The economic base of the county was agricultural.
  • Shelby County ranked 25th in the state in agricultural receipts, (96% from livestock and livestock products.
  • Pine and hardwood production in 1981 totalled 14,867,416 cubic feet,
  • 404 businesses in the county in the early 1980s was 404.
  • 14% of the labor force was self-employed, 14% in professional or related services, 21% in wholesale or retail trade, 14%percent in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and mining, and 23%employed in other counties.
  • Leading industries included sawmills, poultry and egg processing, road construction, agribusiness, general construction, and the manufacture of hardwood flooring, hardwood veneer, and plywood.
  • 1,100 farms and ranches covering 192,036 acres, 36% of which were devoted to crops, 34% to pasture, and 27% to woodlands

Agriculture products of county
Broilers, eggs, cattle, hay, vegetables, and watermelons

Beginning with the Civil War until the late twentieth century, the county generally voted solidly Democratic. In the 1982 primary, for example, 99 percent of those who voted, voted in the Democratic primary. Democratic presidential candidates carried the county in every election from 1872 through 1964. The area’s sympathies began to change in 1968, however, when independent candidate George Wallace won a plurality of the county’s voters. In 1972 Republican Richard Nixon carried the county, as did Ronald Reagan in 1984. Though Democratic presidential candidates won majorities in the county in 1976, 1980, and 1988, the elections of 1968, 1972, and 1984 marked the beginnings of a shift away from the area’s traditional leanings. Democrat Bill Clinton only won pluralities in the county in 1992 and 1996, and Republican George W. Bush won solid majorities in the county in the 2000 and 2004 elections. [13]


  • U.S. Highway 59
  • I-69 (future route of Interstate 69 planned to follow route of U.S. 59 west of Tenaha.
  • I-369 (future route of Interstate 369 planned to follow route of U.S. 59 N of Tenaha.
  • U.S. Highway 84
  • I-69--Interstate 69 planned to follow U.S. 84 E of Tenaha to Louisiana state line.
  • U.S. Highway 96
  • Texas State Highway 7
  • Texas State Highway 87
  • Texas State Highway 147
  • Texas Farm to Market Road 139
  • Texas Farm to Market Road 1970
  • US 59 goes through Shelby County. It is planned to be upgraded to part of planned Interstate 69
Space Shuttle, Columbia.



Formed From

  • 1836--Shelby County was created 17 March 1836 from Old Mexican Municipality.

County Resources

  • Poultry Festival in October
  • Toledo Bend Reservoir
  • Sabine National Forest also attracted sizable numbers of tourists.



Watson, William 1838, 1841
George, Alford Allen 1841 1843
Servellen, Aaron 1843 1845
Smith, J. W. 1845 1848
Straw, Leonard 1849 1850
Sanford, George 1850 1854
Tamplin, Zachariah 1854 1855
Butler, Abria 1855 1856
Straw, Jackson J. 1856 1859
Barbee, M. C. 1859 1860
Hanks, James 1860 1864
Ross, John B. 1864 1865
Yarbrough, James 1865 1866
Brown, A. W. 1866 1867
Weaver, George W. 1867 1869
Wheeler, Joel P. 1869 1873
Ross, John B, 1873 1876
Brown, A. W. 1876 1884
Sims, B. F 1884 1890
Garrett, L. M. 1890 1894
Pearce. W. J. 1894 1898
Sims, B. F. 1898 1900
Sapp. B. H. 1900 1902
Boothe, Zack 1902 1906
Sims, B. F.. 1906 1908
Burns, J. B. 1908 1912
Truitt, S. H. 1912 1916
Swanzy, James T. 1916 1920
Smith, J. N. 1920 1925
Holt, H. E. 1925 1927
Burns, Harry 1927 1931
O'Banion, Jim 1931 1932
O'Banion, Rilla** 1932 1932
Sample, Jesse B. 1932 1939
Brittain, Zack B. 1938 1943
Middleton, P. "Dick" 1943 1946
Samford, Claude 1946 1949
Sample, Tommy J. 1946 1951
Adams, Earl B. 1950 1953
Christian, Charlie B. 1952 1961
Schillings, Leon 1960 1969
Eaves, Maxie B. 1968 1977
Samford, B. F. 1976 1978
Ross, Paul 1978 1992
Shofner, Carl 1993 2000
Moore, James 2000 2004
Johnson, Newton 2004 -

Texas Rangers

  • P. W. "Dick" Middleton
  • Charles Neel
  • N. W, "Dub" Clark
  • John Hoyt


1850 --- 4,239 —
1860 --- 5,362 26.5%
1870 --- 5,732 6.9%
1880 --- 9,532 66.3%
1890 --- 14,365 50.7%
1900 --- 20,452 42.4%
1910 --- 26,423 29.2%
1920 --- 27,464 3.9%
1930 --- 28,627 4.2%
1940 --- 29,235 2.1%
1950 --- 23,479 −19.7%
1960 --- 20,479 −12.8%
1970 --- 19,672 −3.9%
1980 --- 23,084 17.3%
1990 --- 22,034 −4.5%
2000 --- 25,224 14.5%
2010 --- 25,448 0.9%
Est. 2015 --- 25,402



  • Center ISD
  • Excelsior ISD
  • Joaquin ISD (small portion in Panola County)
  • San Augustine ISD (mostly in San Augustine County)
  • Shelbyville ISD (small portion in Sabine County)
  • Tenaha ISD (small portion in Panola County)
  • Timpson ISD



  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5,_Texas_Genealogy
  3. [ county, Texas
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 “War in East Texas”, by Bill O’Neal and “A southern Community in Crisis, Harrison county”, by Randolph Campbell

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