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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

DeWitt County Courthouse

Cuero, Texas

DeWitt County

DeWitt County has had three courthouses:
1847, 1858, 1897

The 1897 DeWitt County Courthouse & Photos

DeWitt County and DeWitt County Courthouse History
by Lou Ann Herda, Ed. D

 TX - DeWitt County Courthouse
DeWitt County Courthouse in Cuero
Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, July 2008

The Present DeWitt County Courthouse
- Cuero, Texas

Date: 1897
Architects: Designed and built by A. O. Watson
(Completed by Eugene Heiner). See History below.
Style: Romanesque Revival
Material: Brown sandstone and pink granite quarried from Marble Falls

TX - DeWitt County Courthouse Cuero Texas
DeWitt County Courthouse
TE Photo, 2008

Restored DeWitt County Courthouse courtroom, Cuero Texas
The courtroom
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

Restored DeWitt County Courthouse courtroom, Cuero Texas
The courtroom
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

Restored DeWitt County Courthouse, Cuero Texas
DeWitt County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

Restored DeWitt County Courthouse, Cuero Texas
Another view of the courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

Photographer's Note:
Even though the rededication ceremony was on October 27th (2007), the building is far from done. The exterior is mostly finished and the scaffolding is gone. The original slate roof, the doors and the clock mechanism have been restored. The two story district courtroom is mostly finished but the rest of the interior is pretty much a mess. - Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

DeWitt County Courthouse in 2003:
The Courthouse Clock, Bell
and Architectural Details

DeWitt County Courthouse clock mechanism
How four faces keep the same time
TE photo, 2003
The Courthouse Clock, Bell
and Architectural Details

DeWitt County
DeWitt County Courthouse

by Lou Ann Herda, Ed. D
What does a turkey drive, a thirty-year feud, a lady in a clock, and a headless horseman have in common? The answer is DeWitt County.

The present county of DeWitt, named for colonizer Green DeWitt, was created from parts of Gonzales, Victoria, and Goliad counties in 1846. Since that time, there have been three courthouses in three different cities, including its present county seat, Cuero. Somebody or somebodies didn't care for the second courthouse because on Sunday night, April 8, 1894, it was torched. The Hallettsville Herald said it had been an eyesore to that beautiful city for many years*.

The replacement building was definitely not an eyesore. But getting there was a challenge.

Acclaimed Austin architect A. O. Watson both designed and built the courthouse. He had quite a time funding it, however. Finally in December 1896, the unpaid workers walked away, leaving the courthouse without a roof. Citizens complained. I guess it would be hard to hold court with rain beating down on your heads.

Watson went broke on his "labor of love." Winter was looming, when in steps Eugene Heiner, who saw its completion. DeWitt County got not one, but two Golden Age architects constructing their courthouse.

DeWitt County Courthouse, Cuero Texas 1907 vintage postcard
DeWitt County Courthouse as it appeared in 1907
Postcard courtesy William Beauchamp Collection

DeWitt County Courthouse, Cuero Texas old photo
The Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT

DeWitt County Courthouse Clock  tower
DeWitt County Courthouse clock tower
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2007

The 1897 Courthouse &
Lady in the Courthouse Clock
This 1897 Romanesque revival style structure is built of brown sandstone and pink granite quarried from near Marble Falls. Initially, the tower and the corner roofs were topped with fluted finials. Soon, at night on the lighted face of the clock on the north appeared the shadow of a full-skirted woman moving back and forth. No one knew who she was or why she was pacing. Some figured she was the ghost of a lady who had died waiting for her boyfriend to return. Her spirit then flew up to the courthouse clock. Maybe that way her boyfriend could find her more easily. (More Texas Ghosts)

Thirty years later, one of the four lower finials fell. Officials feared someone might be killed if others fell, so all the ornaments were removed. Legend has it that the lady in the clock had something to do with it, for right after that, she was gone forever. One of the original finials is kept in storage in the courthouse. I got a look at it, and it's taller than three watermelons stacked up on top of each other and fairly hefty. I wouldn't want that thing falling on me either.

Another oddity is that one of the balusters on the second floor balcony above the Gonzales Street entrance is upside down. The workers noticed it, but they thought that no one else would.

One of the finials that was removed shortly before the Lady in the Courthouse Clock disappeared.
Photo by Lou Ann Herda

The Sutton-Taylor Feud
El Muerto, the headless horseman

Now, the county has had its share of trouble makers. The most infamous ones are those who were involved in the Sutton-Taylor Feud. No one knows why this thirty-year fight started, but eventually over one thousand people were involved, including gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. Records of this court case are on display in the foyer of the courthouse.

The patriarch of the Taylor clan, Creed Taylor, was a former Texas Ranger, a Texas Revolution fighter, and cattleman. At one point, he and his Texas Ranger friend, Bigfoot Wallace, tracked down and killed a Mexican bandit who had been stealing horses and cattle for many years, including Creed's horses. Wallace made an example of this bandit, resulting in El Muerto, the headless horseman. Legend has it that this horseman, with its head dangling, can still be seen riding across DeWitt County during the darkest nights. You'll know when you see them because lightning flashes from the ghostly wild mustang's hooves and flames burst from the eyes of the severed head. Sounds like a wild ride.

Chisholm Trail

The cattle industry was big in DeWitt County from the late 1860's to the 1880's. Trail boss Thorton Chisholm from Clinton helped blaze a trail that has gone down in cow history as the Chisholm Trail. Before the end of the trail drives, over 5,000,000 Texas cattle walked to the railroad in Missouri or Kansas or to the ranges of Wyoming and Montana*.

Cuero Turkey Trot

Once the cattle drives stopped, people started driving something else. As many as 20,000 turkeys have been driven down the streets of Cuero. Since 1908, these gobblers, which could have been our national bird, would trot from their roosts along main street down to the packing house. People soon started flocking to see them. In 1912, the first Cuero Turkey Trot was held.

Cuero TexasTurkey Trol
Turkey Trot in Cuero
Photo Courtesy TXDoT

Now, I'm not prejudiced against any birds, but you won't see any eagles trotting along together to their deaths.

© Lou Ann Herda, Ed. D
July 2001

*Hallettsville Herald, April 12, 1894, page unknown.
*The History of DeWitt County, Texas, 1991, p. 29.

Related Article:

Two Texas Courthouses and Their Pennsylvanian Inspiration
The DeWitt and Lavaca County Courthouses
The Allegheny County Courthouse & Jail of Pittsburgh

Cuero - DeWitt County Seat
DeWitt County
More Texas Courthouses

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Texas Town List
Texas Counties
Texas Architecture

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