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Columns January 29, 2013  RSS feed

BOB BOWMAN’S EAST TEXAS A LOOK AT HISTORIC PLACES, PEOPLE AND EVENTS

Fort Brown: A refuge from Indian attacks

In early East Texas, dozens of forts were built by settlers to provide a safe and sturdy refuge from Indian attacks.

One such fort stood in north central Houston County where Indian attacks were common. Known as Fort Brown, it was built near Grapeland by Reuben Brown and his neighbors in the mid- 1830s.

Reuben and his wife Sarah settled on San Pedro Creek in 1834. Sarah was the daughter of Elder Daniel Parker, who came from Illinois around 1830, hoping to build a church, but Mexican colonization laws prohibited the establishment on any church except those of the Roman Catholic faith.

Parker returned to Illinois, organized his church there, and brought his forty members back to Texas in 1833 in a ox-drawn wagon train of 24 wagons laden with members of eight families and their possessions.

Following the route of the Mississippi River, the wagon train crossed Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and entered Texas. Crossing the Sabine River, they followed an old Indian trail, the Coushatta Trail, used by Indians for trading and migration, and eventually crossed the Neches River and made their way to the banks of San Pedro Creek in Anderson County.

Near the creek, the families built Fort Brown in what is today known as the Refuge community. Several tribes of Indians lived in the Houston County area and, while attacks were not consistent, they were enough to make settlers feel uncomfortable without a place of safety.

From the Refuge community, the Parker family went in different directions. Daniel Parker took his children and went to a site near Elkhart and reestablished the “Pilgrim Predestinarian Regular

Baptist Church” in 1833. It was the first Baptist church in Texas.

Other members of the Parker clan traveled westward to Limestone County and built Fort Parker near Groesbeck.

Fort Brown was built of post oak logs. Little is known about the fort, but it was used from 1833 until 1860 when the Indian scares subsided. It stood several hundred yards from Refuge Cemetery on land later owned by Huford Allen.

Some descendants of families who lived near the fort recall seeing the decaying logs used in the fort’s construction. Others say the logs were moved to other home sites for construction purposes. Pieces of pottery, glass and even cooking utensils have been found in the area.

Today, little is left of the Refuge community. Its principal landmarks are a rock store used for many years and Refuge Cemetery, where Reuben Brown, his wife and several children are buried.

The Browns’ oldest son, John, who died in 1921, lived his entire life within a mile of Fort Brown, his birthplace in 1865.

In the mid-1930s the settlement had four stores, two churches, and a number of houses. After World War II, many of the residents moved away, and by the mid-1960s only a cemetery, a sawmill, and a few scattered houses remained.

(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)


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