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Chapter 6: Early Life for Bridges Settlement and Stewartsville

The Peters Colonists that settled on land that is now The Colony were primarily farm families attracted by the promise of free land and a better life.  They must have been a strong and adventurous people willing to leave behind family, friends, possessions and civilization as they knew it in order to immigrate to a primitive land with no roads, homes, stores, or churches.  When they arrived they only had what nature provided and the possessions they were able to bring with them in a horse drawn farm wagon plus a few cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. 

Life was difficult for the Peters Colonist settlers in Bridges Settlement, Stewartsville and other area settlements in southeast Denton County in the 1840’s.  The first obstacle was the trip itself. For those settlers who came from Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee the trip took four to six weeks by horse drawn farm wagon.  Once they arrived in Texas they then had several interrelated obstacles to overcome; including finding housing, food, weather, and locating land.

One of the settlers’ first needs was to locate shelter.  This was particularly challenging for the first inhabitants because there was no one here to help them with temporary lodging and supplies.  The Peters Colonists first home was likely a small, crude log cabin with a dirt floor.  In some cases there would have been no opening except for a door and chimney.  The logs were likely held together with fitted notches or wooden pegs. The cracks between each log were sealed during the winter with a mixture of clay and mud to keep out the chilly wind and removed in the summer to provide ventilation (Bridges 30-31).

The primary occupation in the area was subsistence agriculture. Cotton cloth for clothing was spun by housewives, and practically everything eaten was raised. Food that was available included beef, pork, venison, turkey, prairie chicken, milk, fish, butter, cheese, pecans, acorns, and wild fruit such as: persimmons used for preserves, plums, grapes, and red and black haws. Food was cooked on an open fire (Harris 28- 29).

The nearest towns for the Peters Colonist to purchase supplies were Jefferson, TX or Shreveport, LA.  Supplies were shipped by ox train caravans that contained two or more wagons.  Each wagon was pulled by a team of four to six oxen and would hold between 4,000 to 6,000 pounds. The trip would take four to five weeks due to the lack of roads and bridges.  Supply trips could only be made in the spring when there was grass and water for the oxen. Due to the high cost of transportation ($4 per hundred pounds), store bought supplies were limited to necessities such as coffee, sugar, and tobacco.  Some rough pine timber was also shipped in from east Texas to use instead of logs for building homes (Bates 294-295).  The opportunity to obtain supplies was limited because many settlers had little or no money.  Therefore, most payment for commodities was done on credit or barter (Bridges 42).

The Cost of Goods in the Late 1840’s:

  • Cost of seed – 1847 corn sold for 8 cents a bushel in Missouri - in Texas $1.00 a bushel

  • By 1853 wheat averaged about 50 cents a bushel in Texas. (Bates 337)

  • Bacon 12.5 cents a pound.  (Bates 337)

  • Salt $6 - $7 per hundred pound sack

  • Rough green pine lumber for homes shipped from East Texas $4 to $7 per hundred feet  (Bates 295)

  • Cost of property – fifty cents to a dollar an acre in late 1840’s (Bates 90)

The land in the area around Stewart Creek consisted of moderately to gently rolling terrain of deep clay soils. The grass would grow knee in the spring months. The creek’s vegetation consisted of oak, juniper, and grasses near its source and pecans, hardwoods, and grasses near its mouth (Texas Online - Stewart Creek).

The hot dry summer weather caused various problems for the Peters Colonist in the summer months of June, July, and August.  The scorching heat would crack the Blackland prairie soil, causing it to cross crack every few feet. It was reported that some cracks were so deep they could hold an eight foot rail. The cracks made transportation difficult for fear that a horse would step into a crack and break a leg. The heat would also dry out the vegetation making the area susceptible to dangerous grass fires (Bates 297).

Those settlers who lived in Bridges Settlement prior to 1854 also had the added pressures of trying to obtain their land titles.  Due to inadequate organization and planning by Peters Colony, the company did not have agents in the area to coordinate and direct settlers to approved land grant sites.  Without guidance, those who arrived in the 1840’s picked the land they wanted to settle on and make their home

Unfortunately this haphazard settlement would later become a serious problem for both the settlers and the Peters Colony Company.  According to the Peters Colony contract they would be paid for their recruiting and surveying activities in land.  When Peters Colony later surveyed the land as required they realized that many settlers were living on land that had been authorized to be given to them.  Peters Colony’s chief surveyor, Henry Hedgecoxe, tried to force the settlers to move off the land the company claimed was theirs.   As expected Hedgecoxe’s actions caused much discord with those settlers being asked to move off of land they had lived on for years and considered their own.  

While the company worked to complete the land surveys, Hedgecoxe attempted to reassure the Colonists about the validity of their land claims by issuing land certificates.  However, they were not land titles, and did little to calm the colonist demands for official land titles (KY Connor 40).

The legislature attempted to help by passing an act on January 21, 1850 authorizing the governor to appoint a special land commissioner to travel thru Peters Colony and issue land titles.  Thomas William Ward was appointed as the special land commissioner and traveled throughout Peters Colony issuing what became known as Ward Certificates to Peters Colonists (KY Connor 47).   

In order to receive a certificate, Ward required the settlers take an oath that they had lived on their land for three years, had been a good citizen and produce two citizens to vouch that the colonist had settled on the land prior to the expiration of the Peters Colony contract on July 1, 1848.  Ward made two trips to Bridges Settlement, once in April through early May of 1850 when he issued certificates to Samuel H. Brown, Samuel Chowning, Lewis Higgins and Thomas Wilson and again in November when he issued certificates to William Bridges, Philemon Higgins, Mathew Jones’s widow Emily Jane, William Loving, Samuel Payton, John Ragland, John B. Martin and Thomas West.   Henry Hedgecoxe, even though he is recognized as a Peters Colonist, was the only Peters Colonist in The Colony that did not receive a Ward certificate.  He received title to his land grant in The Colony in June 1854 (Land Grant Titles – Texas General Land Office).

The Ward certificates however did not help the non Peters Colonist settlers obtain land titles. They were required to obtain their land titles directly from the county and state land offices.  Yet due to legislation passed by the legislature, state and county land offices could not issue titles until Peters Colony completed the surveys for land authorized to be given to them in payment for the company’s recruiting and surveying services.

The land title issue ultimately led to the Hedgecoxe War on July 15, 1852, when the land office in Bridges Settlement was burned.  The organizers of the Hedgecoxe War were mostly businessmen and land locators interested in claiming Peters Colony land prior to it being surveyed by the company (KY Connors pg 55).   It is unlikely any settlers from Bridges Settlement participated in the event because they had already received title to their land from William Ward in 1850.

The non Peters Colony settlers were finally able to obtain their titles after the Hedgecoxe War. The legislature passed an act on February 7, 1853 permitting settlers to file their land claims directly with the state land office in Austin, TX.  By 1854, those settlers that did not qualify as Peters Colonist were able to begin obtaining their land grant titles (Connor 64-65).  Appendix 3 contains information on all the settlers that received land grant titles in the City of The Colony. Appendix 4 contains additional information on some of the various types of land grant titles issued in The Colony.

Beginning in the 1850’s, due to the open prairies and abundant grass in the area, stock raising began its’ rise to becoming the principal occupation in southeast Denton County (Bates 304-305).  Grass was considered free, until barbed wire fencing became available in the early 1880’s (Bates 90).  The native grasses in this area included bermuda, fescue grass, burr grass, and sweet clover (Cowling103).  

Daily life during this time was less primitive than for the Peters Colonist in the 1840’s, but still difficult.  As the population increased more services and supplies became available locally.   For example grist mills to process grain became available as well as nails which allowed nicer homes to be built with wooden planks from the newly opened saw mills (Bridges 30-31).  It would however be another twenty years before cook stoves would became common in the area (Harris 29).  During this time the city of McKinney also became a source for many supplies(Bates 304). 

Go to Chapter 7: Stewarts Creek Settlement