October, 2004

Tom & Sharon Douglas, Dan Vacek, Bernard Schmitz


Cherokee County is located in central East Texas, bordered on the west by the Neches River and on the east by the Angelina River. It was named for the Cherokee Indians, who lived in the area before being expelled by Texan forces in 1839. After the Cherokees and other tribes were driven from their homes, white settlers quickly occupied the abandoned Indian farms and the communities of Pine Town, Lockranzie, Linwood, and Cook's Fort developed. By 1846 the population in the area had increased enough to warrant creation of another county and Cherokee County was marked off from Nacogdoches County. The state legislature enacted a law creating the county on April 11, 1846, and it was organized by election on July 13 of that year. The same act specified that a county seat should be established within three miles of the geographic center of the new county, so the town of Rusk was established as the county seat. Ironically, the new town named in honor of Thomas J. Rusk was situated in the middle of an Indian cornfield. Only one white man lived at Rusk then; John Kilgore, who lived in an Indian "shanty" near the site of the old John H. Bonner home.

The county's settlers were mostly from the South and brought with them the economic and social traditions of that region. The 1850 population of 6,673 was the third largest in the state. By 1860 the population had nearly doubled to 12,098, of whom nearly a quarter, or 3,250 were slaves. Of the white families, 29 percent owned slaves, although only thirty-two plantations had twenty or more slaves; seven slaveholders in the county owned more than forty slaves.

In 1861, when the Civil War began, the county voters strongly supported secession. Twenty-four companies from the county, made up of over 2000 volunteers, entered Confederate service. When Abraham Lincoln was elected in November, an observer noted on election day that "the Lone Star flag floated over the courthouse and Abraham Lincoln, in effigy, was hanging from the limb of a sweet gum in the northwest corner of the courtyard." The Confederate Army maintained two training camps, a prisoner of war camp, a large commissary depot, and conscription and field-transportation offices in the county. War demands allowed the development of two iron foundries and a gun factory. A monument commemorating Confederate War Veterans was erected in 1907.

The twentieth century brought many technological improvements to the county. The first automobile arrived in 1905; by the 1920's automobile ownership was commonplace. During the 1930's and 1940's, due largely to WPA and CCC projects, the basic highway system in the county was paved and a new courthouse built. The first airport in the county was established at Jacksonville in 1934. In the 1940's the Rural Electrification Administration made electricity possible for rural homes.

Since World War II, industry has led the private sector of the economy, with Jacksonville the industrial and commercial hub of the county. Tourism is of growing importance, spurred by the establishment in 1971 of the Texas State Railroad State Historical Park, used as a site for the filming of several motion pictures. The last passenger train ran in the late 1960s, and in the early 1980s the Southern Pacific and the Cotton Belt stopped all service south of Rusk, signaling the end of an era.

REFERENCES: Barron, S. B. The Lone Star Defenders. 1908. Block, W. T. East Texas Mill Towns and Ghost Towns. Lufkin, TX: Best of East Texas Pub., 1995. Everett, Dianna. The Texas Cherokees: A People between Two Fires, 1819-1840 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990). Library of Congress. American From the Great Depression to WWII: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945. [Online]. LC #fsa 8a27374. The New Handbook of Texas, see Caddo Indians, Cherokee County, Cherokee Indians, Caddoan Mounds State Historic