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San Jacinto vets
and Brown County

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

In 1836, as Texas colonists faced the largest Army in North America, no one of European decent lived in what would become Brown County.

But the struggle against Mexico had a lasting impact on the future 956.9-square mile political subdivision along the as-yet-unnamed tributary of the Colorado that later came to be called Pecan Bayou. The Texas Revolution set in motion events that eventually shaped the county's property lines and attracted some of the men who guided the county's early governmental, religious and educational development.

The figurative trigger pull that changed history came when a rag tag assemblage of men with guns who thought themselves an army routed the previously victorious Mexican troops under Gen. Antonio Lope de Santa Anna.

On May 4, 1836, not quite two weeks after the battle that assured Texas independence, Oliver T. Brown (no known connection to the future namesake of Brown County, pioneer Henry S. Brown) sat down to write his parents in Pennsylvania. He had come to Texas, he said, "to fight the Mexicans."

He succeeded.

"I have been in two battles," the young man wrote, "one on the 20th of April [the skirmish preceding the main battle] the other on the 21st. You will find in print after some time. The most victorious battle ever fought in the known [illegible] to be down in the space of 18 minutes."

Brown described the battle and then waxed on with equal enthusiasm about what he had been fighting for: Land.

"The recompense from the Government of Texas," he began without pausing to plant commas, "$20 per month from the time we enrolled of a league of land which is 1111 acres 2/3 of a league of land which is 2900 acres will in all make about 4000 acres which is supposed in less than two years will be worth at least $2000. General Houston says we may rely upon it every man who was in the battle shall have two leagues of land but the above we are sure of."

While some of those who charged the enemy at San Jacinto found extra spring in their steps in revenging the Alamo and Goliad, most fought for land and the liberty that would go with it.

"As to the country," Brown continued, "it is a warm pleasant country. In the month of Jany. peach trees in full bloom - land very level tolerably well watered - prairie very extensive rich as can be. I think it is the best place in the world for a young man commencing on nothing to get rich."

But Brown never got his piece of Texas. Last heard of guarding Mexican soldiers captured after the battle, he disappeared from history, his service at San Jacinto and his letter home his only known legacies.

Two men who played a role at San Jacinto ended up in Brown County: Greenleaf Fisk and Noah Byars. Fisk is listed as among those having been assigned to stay in the rear to guard the sick and equipment. Byars wasn't there in person, but he literally had a hand in the victory. A blacksmith from Washington-on-the-Brazos, he chopped up horseshoes and other metal objects to make the grapeshot used with such deadly effect by the two guns that came to be called the Twin Sisters.

Texas paid those who served in the revolution quite generously, at least in terms of what land is worth today.

According to Texas General Land Office, Texas conveyed 5,354,250 acres in 7,469 bounty grants to veterans of the revolution. Each three-month hitch netted 320 acres, up to 1,280 acres. Texas also offered 240 acres to men who guarded the frontier, early day Rangers.

Veterans could qualify for additional grants for taking part in a specific engagement. San Jacinto vets, including guards like Fisk, got 640 acres. Texas issued 1,816 of those donation warrants, amounting to 1.16 million acres. Soldiers who arrived in Texas after the March 2, 1836 declaration of independence and before Aug. 1 that year also qualified for grants of one league of land. So did permanently disabled soldiers and the heirs of those who fell at the Alamo or Goliad.

New York-born Fisk first saw the land he one day would help settle in 1838. He survived an Indian scrape and while he made several other trips to the area, he did not come to stay until 1860. That was four years after the Legislature created Brown County - at least on paper -- by carving land from Comanche and Travis counties.

Through his grants and cash, Fisk acquired considerable acreage in the county. And having fathered 15 children, he helped to populate it. When he died at 82 in 1888, the Dallas Morning News called him a man "of wonderful energy and enterprise." Noting that he had donated the land for the original Brownwood town site, the newspaper pointed out that Fisk had held "...nearly every office within gift of the people, except sheriff and that he would not have."

Byars made his contribution to the county as well, helping to organize the First Baptist church and spearheading the effort to establish a Baptist college in Central Texas. Howard Payne, the school he had envisioned, opened a year after his death - also in 1888.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December 7, 2016

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