Baldwin’s Bluff

B.F. Hicks

R.L. Jurney, Titus County businessman in the first part of the 20th century wrote a History of Titus County.  His work predates the prolific writings of Traylor Russell and the Jurney History is also more concise in attempting to cover only the period 1846-1960 in its 193 pages. 

Mr. Jurney refers to the Ante-Bellum History by Burnett Cecil Pierce and I have longed to obtain a copy of the Pierce history for years.  Harry Lawler, Hudson Old, and other friends have wondered where to obtain this document.  Finally, with the aid of the internet, my brother John Hicks was able to track down this elusive volume.  It turns out that we were dealing with a thesis (something akin now to a doctoral dissertation.  Titus county native Pierce wrote most of the text for a term paper while enrolled at North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas) in 1925.  The effort was then revised and submitted as a thesis.  The cover page carries the title:  “Titus County, Texas:  Its Background and History in Ante-Bellum Texas” with a subtitle:  “A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts.  Department of History.  1932.” 

John Hicks found the manuscript in archives of the University Library of the University of Colorado.  Upon inquiry John discovered that a copy of the manuscript was in the Dallas Public Library.  John Tutor and I went to the Dallas Public Library but the copy was so poor as to be almost illegible and copies were even worse.  This lead to a real effort in which Scott Harvey whose son is enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder paid at call at the archives; had his son accompany him; accessed the bound manuscript;  stood over a copy machine; and made a very good copy.  The copy is now back home in Northeast Texas and Scott presented copies for the genealogical society and the historical association.  

Ask our librarian, Robert Sterling Long, for the opportunity to review the work.  It’s super.  It’s Ante-Bellum after all and that means that Franklin County is totally within the boundary defined for the work:  both as to geography and social aspects.  

If you study the line of settlement patterns for density of land ownership in a Titus County map from the era, you see a line of settlement on a north-south line which would follow the Cherokee Trace.  Land titles here reference “the Cherokee Trace” until the 1930’s.  That Indian route, called by the early Anglo settlers “the Cherokee Trace” follows a much earlier Indian route which would have been established for a good 2,000 years with close to 500 years of Caddo use from Caddo major settlements and ceremonial centers near Tulsa, Oklahoma and Nacogdoches, Texas.  

That Indian highway (wide enough for four horses to ride abreast as described by the French traveler Pages in 1767) will establish the boundary between Franklin and Titus County when Franklin is carved out in 1875.  

The Burnett history is especially important for me.  My family has a strong tradition about the fort at Baldwin’s Bluff.  I have only one written account of the fort at Baldwin’s Bluff; that description was of a brick fort.  Burnett confirms the reports:  “a fort of baked brick, some two-thirds of which was built below the ground.  The part above ground had loop holes in each side from which to shoot….” (page 21, manuscript).  Burnett reports of the Ripley massacre.  It’s a great document. 

Pierce interviewed former slaves and old-time citizens.   He has a report from one man who lived as a child in the fort and a report of another man of extreme age who played in the fort.  My uncle Morris Hughes attended Baldwin’s Bluff for his first year of school about 1918 but then the family shifted to Flora Bluff.  If you’ve ever been to the site of this fort, you’d understand the choice of location; a high bluff with a sharp descent overlooking Ripley Creek.  The Ripley family opted not to stay in the fort and on April 10, 1841, the family would not have perished.  Pierce just reports in general numbers (a son, three daughters, several smaller children and the mother); numbers consistent with all other accounts.  He devotes one sentence to Fort Sherman which he says was south of Gray Rock.  Baldwin’s Bluff lies within Franklin County;  yes, we do have a pioneer fort.  

Pierce also confirms our reports of pioneer retaliation.  He places another fort near Mt. Vernon but I suspect it lay further west.  In any event, it’s a great document. 

Pierce devotes a great deal of attention to the Winfield area but we must remember that settlement was in that area and many of the families, including my mother’s family, were living on that line.  He interviews members of the Speer, Reed and Graham families, all Franklin County families.  In the interview with S.M. Speer, he has connected with a first cousin of both my great-grandfather C.G. Hughes and great-grandmother, Melody Aikin Hughes.  That’s not as bad as it sounds.  S.M. Speer is the son of Elizabeth Aikin Speer (Elizabeth is the sister of Melody’s father).  And S.M. Speer is the son of Isaac Speer (who will marry Ellen Oliver Hughes, mother of C.G. Hughes).  Two Hughes siblings marry into the Reed family.  The community was small; you married your neighbor.  

Oh, I overlooked the report that Scott Harvey shares ancestry here also.  Another sister of Elizabeth Aikin Speer, Vernetta Aikin will marry James Madison Brown (great-grandfather of Sam Harvey).   But don’t let me get started on the Browns; at least three or four Brown siblings marry Hughes siblings giving rise to a group of cousins who could form a company to volunteer for service by 1861.   For me, reading the manuscript is a pleasure for the “tales” but also offers genealogical insight.  And the manuscript confirms the tales passed down through generations.  My maternal grandparents pointed out the site of the Ripley Massacre (and that oral report was confirmed in records found in the state archives) and I’ve been to Baldwin’s Bluff and here is a confirmation from reports dated to 1925.  The pioneers blazed a frontier starting here and moving westward from about 1818 onward.  We have a proud heritage. 

Check out the book; one more great source for historical research and confirmation of our history and heritage.