Decorum and Justice |
Mark Texas' Courthouse Histories,
Except for the Fights,
Arsons, Thefts, etc
by Bill Morgan
Morgan recalls the more interesting stories, characters, incidents, trips, facts,
trivia and what-not he picked up during his on-going odyssey among the courthouses
of Texas, the state that has twice as many landmark courthouses as its nearest
challenger and that is not a Texas brag, just a Texas fact.)
Note: Bill Morgan, retired Texas newspaperman, famed courthouse artist and
courthouse aficianado has probably spent more hours studying the exterior of courthouses
than most judges have spent studying the crown moulding or lighting fixtures of
1910 Harris County Courthouse in Houston
1939 photo courtesy TXDoT
nowhere better to get a feel of Texas' heritage than the nearest courthouse, whether
it's in the middle of Houston (pop.
1,603,524), Mentone (pop. 50
estimated) or any of the state's other 252 county seats. The county courthouse
is often magnificent, the county history is often scandalous.|
magnificent. Simple arithmetic proves that Texas has more old courthouses than
any other state. The state's 254
counties are home to more than 210 standing current or former courthouses
that date from 186l to the late 1930s. Georgia has the second-most counties in
the USA with 159. So Texas has 5l more antebellum to pre-World War II courthouses
than the No. 2 state has total courthouses. That's the end of that argument.
Proving the scandalous part might require a few more details. After chasing around
Texas courthouses since the late 1980s, I have the details. A sampling of examples:
How about the dog that ate all the evidence at a theft trial, while the participants
duked it out in a fist fight? Or the bull that butted down a courthouse? Want
to know the names of the horses whose votes carried more than one election? Incidentally,
the horses' names were spelled correctly, while at least ten, maybe as many as
14, Texas county and county seat names are misspelled? Have you heard about the
town that won a county-seat election because it allowed pigs to roam its streets?
Time out for another Texas brag - the Texas Legislature created more counties
(54) in one day (August 21,1876) than there are in 19 other entire states. Did
you know that wars were fought over where courthouses would be built? Or that
arson was an effective way to move a county seat from one town to another - just
burn 'er down and set up shop down the road? And a few less-than-scholarly Texans
thought a courthouse-leveling fire would eliminate indictments, get rid of incriminating
cattle brands or make other nagging felonies and misdemeanors go away.
The list goes on, so let's dispense with the roll call and get into a few particulars.
A disclaimer: these tales only scratch the surface. There are enough to fill a
book - I know because I filled a book I called Old Friends: Great Texas
Courthouses with these and dozens of other equally improbable tales of
a state coming of age.
Rites - All right, who ate the pig's ears?
Man, One Vote (Maybe Two)
Anybody Got a Match?
What's in a Name?
Artists in Brick, Stone and Mortar
grew up riding horses and herding cattle, so it's not surprising that farm and
ranch critters played a big role in the building of the ornate courthouses of
the late 1800s ... next
June 9, 2005
Old Friends: Great Texas Courthouses