Chambers County, Texas
Cities, Towns and Communities
CHAMBERS COUNTY The early history of this county is told in the pre-revolutionary incidents of Anahuac, the Turtle Bayou resolutions, and until 1858 its story is that of Liberty County, from which most of its territory was taken when the county was created. The first "Port of Galveston" established by the Mexican government was near the mouth of the Trinity River on the eastern shore of Galveston Bay, not on Galveston Island. Here Fort Anahuac was built, on a high bluff formerly known as Perry's Point, a short distance south of the present Town of Anahuac. During the Confederate war Fort Chambers was built nearby as a part of the coast defense system, but no Federal vessels ever penetrated the bay so far from the Gulf.
The county was created and organized in 1858 from parts of Jefferson and Liberty Counties, with an area of 618 square miles. The Trinity River, Galveston Bay, Trinity Bay, Turtle Bay, and East Bay, almost surround and sub-divide Chambers County, and until recent years its principal means of communication with the rest of the world, and between its east and west portions, was by water.
Says an official report of 1890, these bays occupy half of the county's area. "Trinity River, Old River, Double Bayou and Turtle Bayou and their tributaries traverse nearly every part of the county. . . . Wallisville is the county seat, population 83. The other principal towns are Turtle Bayou, 77: Smith Point, 56." The population of the county in 1890 was 2,241, an increase of 154 since 1880. There were only 194 farms in the county in 1890, only ten of which were operated by renters. But there were 27,163 head of cattle, 1,834 sheep, and more than a horse or mule for every man, woman and child in the county! By contrast, there were 428 farms with 16,772 acres of crop land in 1935: the population of the county was 5,710 in 1930, yet its rich pasturage still carried 22,375 head of cattle. The first large impetus in crop farming came about the turn of the century with the introduction of rice, for which Chambers County had both suitable land and ample supplies of irrigation water. The rice acreage at one time reached approximately 30,000, but has since declined, due to different reasons at different times. The old Town of Anahuac declined during the Republic, and Wallisville, on the banks of the Trinity River, took precedence some time in the 'fifties. It does not appear as a postoffice nor as a steamboat stop in 1856, but had a sawmill, a shipyard and considerable other business when it was made the county seat in 1858. Both Anahuac and Chambersia had post‑offices at that time, the latter becoming the present Town of Anahuac. Wallisville lost the county seat to Anahuac about 1908, after half a century as the capital.
The first railroad to touch Chambers County was the Gulf & Interstate (the "Jennie" popularly) now a part of the Santa Fe system. It enters the county near the northeast corner and skirts the eastern border to Bolivar Peninsula at High Island, Galveston County. Winnie and Stowell are the only towns in the county on the railroad, both serving farming communities developed after the railroad was built in 1896. Stateways Nos. 124 and 125 connect Anahuac with Beaumont and Galveston by way of Stowell, and No. 61 leads northward to a connection with U. S. Highway 90 (The Old Spanish Trail) in Liberty County. Until these roads were built a rainy season made Anahuac almost inaccessible by automobile.
Oil was discovered at Barber's Hill, in the western part of the county in 1916, and since 1935 several new fields have been opened in the larger eastern part of the county. The 1938 production was more than eight million barrels, and the May, 1939, data of the Railroad Commission credits the county with 498 wells, and an allowable production of 25,933 barrels, which is only a small percentage of the potential.
The northern part of the county lies in the timber belt, interspersed with prairies, while the eastern and southern quarter is an unbroken expanse of coastal prairies, graduating into a marsh near the southern border. The soils range from sandy pine lands to heavy black clay, and where adequate drainage is provided, the annual rainfall of about fifty inches assures the production of a variety of adapted crops. The growing season between frosts averages more than nine months, and severe freezes are so rare that sub-tropical fruits grow in protected locations.
Chambers County had no town with as much as a thousand population in 1930, but the new oil and gas developments, and the building of all-weather roads, will doubtless paint a different picture next year. In the western part is Mont Belvieu (600) :in the northern, Hankamer (200) and Wallisville (500) ; in the northeastern, Winnie (200) and Stowell (250) ; Anahuac had 700, while Eagle and Smith Point are small villages down the bay‑ shore from Anahuac. A ten-foot channel connects Anahuac with the Houston ship channel across the bay, and a barge line has been recently established which operates on the Trinity River as far up as Liberty.
Thomas Jefferson Chambers—Born in Orange County, Vir‑ ginia, in 1802, and liberally educated, the subject of this sketch left his native state at the age of twenty-four and spent three years in Mexico. He became proficient in the language, laws and institutions of the young republic, of which he was made a citizen by act of the Mexican Congress in 1829, receiving appointment as surveyor-general of Texas about the same time. In 1830 he, with J. A. Padilla, secured a contract to introduce 800 colonists to Texas, but the location granted was discovered to be beyond the boundaries of Texas, in what is now Oklahoma and Kansas, so nothing came of it. Mr. Chambers seems never to have exercised his authority as surveyor-general of Texas, and in 1834 he sought license to practice law, which was granted by a special act of Congress without examination. This is cited as Decree No. 245, January 8, 1834, and soon thereafter (April, 1834) Decree No. 277 created a supreme court for Texas and named Mr. Chambers as superior judge, at a salary of $3,000 a year. That the majesty of the judiciary should be properly impressed upon the laity, the law prescribed that the habili‑ ments of the judge should consist of a gown "black or dark blue, and a white sash, with gold tassels."
By the time the judge arrived in Texas to assume his duties, affairs were in such a strained condition that no court was ever held. After a year in office, and having received not a cent of the salary due, Judge Chambers agreed to accept land in pay‑ ment. The Congress of Coahuila-Texas had fixed the price to Mexican citizens at four cents an acre, and the authorities finally (June, 1835) settled with him on the basis of $100 per league. This entitled him to thirty leagues, or 132,840 acres, for a year's salary as superior judge, but it appears that he received certificates for only fifteen leagues on that account. The first land commissioner of the Texas Republic reported that Chambers also received five leagues for his previous services as surveyor-general, and five leagues each from two other Mexican citizens.
When Texas was threatened with invasion Judge Chambers appeared before the Provisional government and offered to raise $10,000 for the defense of Texas. His proposition was accepted. he was commissioned a Major-General for the purpose of enlist‑ ing men and securing arms, and he immediately left for the United States in order to carry out his project. He had no ready money, but using his land as security, he was successful in materially aiding the struggling Texans.
His report to Congress in 1837 showed that he had sold $9,033 in bonds, expended $23,621, and had sent 1,916 men to the Texas army. Two of the cannon he supplied now stand guard at the capitol entrance in Austin. Congress approved his report and the treasury was ordered to settle with him accordingly, but the Texas treasury, like that of Coahuila-Texas before it, proved a poor paymaster.
General Chambers located his lands in various portions of the State, and the site of Austin was chosen in an eight-league tract belonging to him. The land was condemned for the capital city, and the validity of his titles was adjudicated under Chief Justice Roberts of the Texas Supreme Court, yet more than four-score years passed before a state legislature paid his heirs for the land upon which the state capital is located.
Chambers Creek, in Ellis County, derives its name from the location of some of Chambers' land in that section. Other lands were chosen in the county afterward named for him, and where he made his home during the latter part of his life. He never commanded an army; though he raised one. He took an active interest in public affairs for many years; was a candidate for governor four times; represented his county in the Secession Convention; and in 1865 was assassinated in his Anahuac home. The murderer was never apprehended, nor the reason for the crime discovered.
Historic Sites—Eight miles northeast of Anahuac, State High‑ way 61, is the Taylor White Ranch—" On this Ranch, a part of the Grant of James Taylor White, who came to Texas in 1828, the Texan Force camped before Anahuac and the Colonists drew up the Turtle Bayou Resolutions, June 13, 1832." In Anahuac, is the home of Thomas Jefferson Chambers 1802-1863—` Surveyor General of Texas, 1829. Sole Superior Judge of Texas before 1836. Active in the Cause of Independ‑ ence. Member of Secession Convention, 1861. Chambersia, later Anahuac, and a Texas County were named in his honor." Six miles northwest of Anahuac is the site of—Mission Nuestra Senora de la Luz.—"Established in 1757 by Franciscan Missionaries with the purpose of civilizing and Christianizing the Orcoquiza and Bidai Indians; abandoned in 1772."
East Texas : its history and its makers, Counties of East Texas, 1940.