is an old Texas saying that goes something like this, "Every time
the Legislature meets, keep a close watch on your wallet and your
In the case of Trinity
County--a lovely East
Texas landscape dotted with pine trees and bordered by two rivers--the
Legislature grabbed more than the county's wallets and wives.
On two occasions, in 1858 and 1877, the Legislature took away portions
of the county's territory and attached them to neighboring counties.
The first raid occurred in 1858 when 32 residents of a portion of
the county--bordered on the west by Houston
County and on the south by the Trinity River--petitioned the Legislature
to place the land in Walker
The settlers said a sizable stream between them and the first Trinity
County seat of Sumpter,
which had been established four years earlier, was impassable much
of the year, necessitating a trip of 50 miles to circumvent the flooded
area and reach Sumpter.
The distance from Huntsville,
seat, was only 15 miles, they said.
Agreeing that the settlers had been inconvenienced by geography, the
Legislature on January 20, 1858, detached the land from Trinity
County and attached it to northern Walker
county. The area soon became known as Kittrell's Cutoff
for Pleasant W. Kittrell, a pioneer physician who lived in Walker
County and became a friend of Sam
Houston and a member of the Legislature in 1858.
The isolation of Kittrell's Cutoff made it attractive to whiskey runners,
gamblers and others who had little respect for Texas laws. Gunfighter
John Wesley Hardin, the son of a Methodist minister at Sumpter,
fled into the cutoff after killing three union soldiers in 1868.
Texas Rangers were often called into the cutoff to apprehend criminals
who intimidated lawmen from Trinity
and Walker counties.
In 1903 Ranger Bill McDonald was sent by state officials to bring
the law to the cutoff and observed: "Kittrell's Cutoff was probably
one of the most lawless places you could find anywhere." McDonald
had so much trouble that he wrote to his superiors that the territory
the 1870s, the Texas Legislature took another swath of Trinity
County lands. This time it was a triangular-shaped piece of the
county called Mistletoe.
The territory and its tax base belonged to Trinity
County until March 11, 1875, when the Legislature annexed it to
neighboring Polk County.
officials were not pleased; the lost land meant the loss of $4,500
in property taxes.
In the fall of 1876, Trinity
County attorney James Hill was dispatched to Livingston to remind
the Polk County commissioners
court that when the annexation took place, it was understood that
Polk County would
pay Trinity County the pro rata share of the county's debt that would
have been paid by taxpayers in Mistletoe.
Polk County worked
out an arrangement to pay $620, but the commissioners court changed
their mind and refused to pay the debt.
sued Polk County,
accusing the county of taking their territory "by force of arms,"
and asked a district court to make Polk
County pay the $620 with interest or return Mistletoe to Trinity
County with any collected taxes.
When the district court concluded that Trinity
County's claim was not supported by existing law, Trinity
County appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court. Five
years later, the high court upheld the district court's decision--and
left Mistletoe in Polk
The section of land would eventually see the founding of Corrigan
when the Houston East and West Texas Railroad ran its tracks from
Houston to Shreveport in
July 24, 2006 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman
of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of
more than 30 books about East Texas.)
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