The History of Fort Bend County: Part 1


THE MAKING OF FORT BEND | By Jonathan Fausset –

The Surrender of Santa Anna canvas painting by William Henry Huddle, 1890. Photo from www.tfaoi.com/aa/1aa/1aa4i.htm.

Back when the Karakawa Indians roamed these plains, there was nothing more than the Indians themselves, and the trees and wildlife. Take the pictures in your mind of the places you frequent in the Fort Bend county area, and fade out all of the stores, restaurants, homes, parks and freeways, forget about air conditioning, and that’s where we start.

In 1820, colonization of Texas was granted by the Spanish Government, and Steven F. Austin brought three hundred families to the area, but the actual move of these people didn’t begin until 1822. At that period in time, James Monroe was in his second term as the fifth President of the United States, and the War of 1812 was only 10 years in the past. The White House had only been rebuilt five years before, after being burned by British troops in the War. Napoleon Bonaparte died of stomach cancer the year before.

The settlers built two cabins near the bend in the Brazos River. One was named Fort Settlement and the other Fort Bend. The area was good for farmers to grow crops and ranchers to raise animals and livestock. Cotton and sugar became the big crops in the area and could be easily shipped down to the port of Galveston by way of the Brazos River.

With the Imperial Sugar factory close by, established in 1843, the sugar cane crops could be brought to the refinery quickly and easily. When the railroad was built from Galveston to Richmond in the 1850s, crops became marketable beyond the immediate area because it was easier to ship them in bulk. These crops had become international commodities.

A depiction of The Jaybird-Woodpecker War of Fort Bend County. Photo from www.bestliberalartscolleges.org.

A depiction of The Jaybird-Woodpecker War of Fort Bend County. Photo from www.bestliberalartscolleges.org.

In the early part of 1835, tension was rising between the settlers in Texas and the Mexican Government, and a revolution began. The Texas Revolution led directly to the Declaration of Independence of Texas, leaving the land and the people as a sovereign nation. Santa Anna’s march up the coast to what is currently the ship channel left much of the settlement around Fort Bend a disaster. His troops burned settlements and homes, scattered and slaughtered many of the rancher’s livestock, consumed many of the crops along the way and burned what his men did not consume.

Texas joined the United States on December 29, 1845 becoming the 28th state. On April 12, 1861, the newly seceded Confederate States of America began firing on Fort Sumter, thus beginning the Civil War. Texas seceded in February of 1861, becoming one of the first seven states to do so.

B. F. Terry assembled a group of volunteers for the Confederate Army from the area and were established as the 8th Texas Cavalry, popularly known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. These men were in 275 engagements for the Confederate Army, distinguishing themselves in several of those battles. They were one of the most effective mounted regiments in the western theatre of the war.

The Civil War never made its way to Fort Bend County, but the hardships of the reconstruction era did, and the economy of the area did not completely recover for about 20 years. Many of the problems of the economy laid in the political unrest of the government at the time. The plantations in Fort Bend County relied strongly on slave labor, and with the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect in the south with General Lee’s surrender, plantation owners had to restructure their businesses.

There was a violent outbreak known as the Woodpecker-Jaybird War in the 1880s that was fueled by the political unrest. The Woodpeckers were radical republicans, and the Jaybirds were the more conservative Democratic Party. The conflict resulted in the Jaybirds holding control on the county until 1959.