History Of The City of Kaufman
The City of Kaufman, county seat of Kaufman County, is the oldest community in the area of the Three Forks of the Trinity River that has been continuously inhabited. The Three Forks (West Fork, Elm Fork and East Fork) region was known as a rich, fertile area which served as an Indian hunting ground and at the end of the 1830's contained the largest Indian village east of the Brazos River.
The way for prospective settlers in this areas was blocked by the Cherokee Land, land assigned to the Cherokee, Kickapoo, and the Shawnee Indians by the Mexican Government. The present Kaufman County, then a part of the Nacogdoches County, lay just to the west of the northern end of the Cherokee Lands. This early agreement was honored for several years by the new Republic of Texas under its first President, Sam Houston, despite pressure from land-hungry settlers. Finally, a new President, Mirabeau Lamar, using complaints of attacks and thefts by the Cherokees, ordered them to move beyond the Red River. They refused, but lost a decisive battle in July 1839 in which their leader, Chief Bowles, was killed. They were then driven out of their lands. This battle opened the way for settlement, but there were still many Indians who were able, for a while longer, to intimidate those willing to venture into this northern area.
Dr. William P. King, an entrepreneur from Mississippi, had come to Texas earlier in 1839 as President of the Southern Land Company. This company had purchased Texas land script (Toby Script) entitling the holder to locate and own land. This script had been sold by Sam Houston to raise money for the fledgling republic. Following the defeat of Chief Bowles, King signed a contract in August 1839 with Warren A. Ferris to survey over 400,000 acres (90 leagues and labors) in the Three Forks. Beginning the following month, Ferris began the first of several unsuccessful attempts to reach the region, but each time, was turned back by Indian attacks or threats of attack. Finally, on June 3, 1840, Ferris and King left Nacogdoches with twenty nine men; despite the dryness of the season (water was to be found only in holes), over 500,000 acres of land was surveyed for King and others in June and July by three teams led by deputy surveyors, one of whom as the young Robert A. Terrell. Terrell was destined to play an important role in the countys history. Another surveyor who worked with Ferris in 1840 was John H. Reagan, a man who was to play an even larger role in the history of the state and nation. On Ferris’s return to Nacogdoches in early August, he wrote . . . “Thousands of buffalo and wild horses were everywhere to be met with. Deer and turkeys (sic) always in view and an occasional bear would sometimes cross our path. The prairies are boundless and present a beautiful appearance, being extremely fertile and crowned with flowers of every hue . . .”
Following the completion of the survey, King established his headquarters on the present site of the City of Kaufman. He built a stockade called King’s Fort on a bluff overlooking a creek now called King’s Creek. This stockade consisted of four cabins surrounded by pickets, enclosing about three quarters of an acre. The pickets were formed of poles only a few inches in diameter and ten feet long, set about two feet in the ground. A garrison of only ten or twelve at times defied the whole Indian force of that section and sustained their position with as little difficulty as if they were protected by wall and battlements of massive stone. Robert Terrell related the story of one attack in which one day the gate to the fort had been left open, and only four men were in the fort. The barking of a watchdog gave the men a warning of danger. They saw about thirty Indians riding rapidly toward the gate. The gate was shut just in time, and the Indians wheeled around, rode a short distance, and held a discussion. They then galloped back for an attack, but Terrell shot the lead horse in the forehead. As the rider fell, and Indian companion pulled him up on his horse. The Indians then gave up the attack, but stole the four horses belonging to the men in the fort. To the surprise of the men seemingly now stranded, seven horses stolen by the Indians at an earlier time in Red River County were left grazing nearby. They were quickly driven into the fort, and thus a profitable exchange was made.
On another day (July 17, 1841), a party of twenty-five Indians, supposedly Comanches and Ionies, dashed by the fort in this manner; but, finding they could not frighten the brave men who defended it, they retreated, taking with them the horses belonging to the garrison. A few of them rode by the pickets. It is worthy to remark that this fort was situated within fifty miles of the largest Indian encampment east of the Brazos, so that the danger was both real and continuing.
This location, also known as Kingsborough, represents what is said to be the first permanent white settlement in the area about the Three Forks and the Upper Trinity River Basin and has never been abandoned.
During the summer of 1841, Dr. William P. King took Judge John H. Martin, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on a tour of his property. Judge Martin was so favorable impressed with the country that he decided to join Dr. King and settle in Texas. Dr. King and Judge Martin started for Mississippi. Dr. King to visit his family at Holly Springs and to prepare for their removal to Texas, and Judge Martin to Vicksburg to arrange for the family to move to Texas also.
However, both men contracted yellow fever on their journey and died within a few days of each other, some time during the week of September 18, 1841, at Vicksburg. Adolphus Sterne of Nacogdoches wrote in his diary, Friday the 8th October . . . “news was received that Dr. King the founder of Kingsborough and Judge Martin, who lately visited this country, died at Vicksburg or on the River Mississippi of yellow fever - this is a great loss to this part of Texas. Dr. King was an enterprising man and the country near the Three Forks of the Trinity will be thrown (sic) back at least five years - unless some very strong effort is made by his heirs or successors to carry on the work which he began.”
Settlement continued in the area, mostly around Kingsborough and to the southeast. However, Robert Terrell noted that prior to 1844 there were about only six or seven families in present Kaufman County. He commented that during 1844, 1845 and 1846 a good many families settled east of the Trinity River in what was called Mercers Colony. In the latter year, Henderson County was separated from Nacogdoches County and included the present Kaufman County as part of it. The first meeting of the Commissioners Court was held in the home of William Ware and was presided over by Chief Justice John Damron - both residents of what is now Kaufman County. We find references to the laying out of roads - one going through the Kingsborough Prairie.
Kaufman County was formed in 1848 and was named after David S. Kaufman, a noted Texas patriot who in 1845 was elected as one of the first members of the Texas Delegation to the United State House of Representatives. John H. Reagan, then a member of the state legislature, introduced the petition in order to honor his friend Kaufman. The county seat, when selected, was also required to bear the same name. The northern part of the county included the present Rockwall County and the eastern part included some of the present Van Zandt County, but the southern boundary was only about two miles south of Kingsborough. In February 1850, new adjustments were made in the eastern and southern boundaries of Kaufman County.
Despite the fact that Kingsborough was the only settlement of any real size in the new county, it was not initially the county seat. An election held in 1848 to select the location of the county seat chose the geographical center of the county, and another election held after the shift in boundaries chose the new geographical center (Center Point) on 150 acres to be donated by R. A. Terrell. Center Point was about three to four miles north of Kingsborough. A petition was subsequently submitted to the Texas legislature calling for another election, and in March 1851, Kingsborough was selected: 93 votes for Kingsborough, 90 votes for Center Point. With that vote, the name of the town was changed from Kingsborough to Kaufman in accord with the legislation.
In April 1851, Frances A. Tabor, the widow of Dr. King, deeded 150 acres of land for the new county seat, reserving only 12 lots for herself. This land included the site of the old fort, and included much of what became the city of Kaufman. The work of the county government was then transferred there in November of 1851. It has remained there ever since, although in two elections in 1879 and 1885, the new town of Terrell was selected as the new county seat, although not by the two-thirds majority required.
Since 1851, the town square has remained the center of activity in Kaufman, and the courthouse the focal point. The first courthouse was a simple one-room building which had been remodeled. It was located at the southwest corner of Washington and Mulberry Streets, i.e., not on the present courthouse square. The courthouse was only twenty by thirty feet, and the new county’s needs quickly outgrew this facility.
A contract for a new brick courthouse was let in 1859 and following an intense dispute over the quality of construction, was occupied in 1861. The worst fears of some were borne out, and the courthouse was abandoned in 1862. After using some temporary quarter, the old wooden courthouse came back into use, serving until 1868. A contract for another courthouse was let in 1869, and was first used in February 1871 for the District, although it was not completed until August 1872. This building was of frame construction, fifty feet by fifty feet, and had two stories. The courtroom occupied the second story, while various county officials had offices on the first floor.
The continued growth of the county as well as concerns about the possibility of a fire in the frame building caused the county commissioners to vote for a new stone courthouse in December 1885. The old building was moved to the corner of Cherry and Washington Streets and used while the new courthouse was under construction. The new courthouse was accepted in July of 1887 and remained in use until early in 1955, when it was torn down to make way for the present two-story building.