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County Seats of Kaufman County

Three different places have been the county seat of Kaufman County. From April, 1848 to August, 1850, the geographical center of the county was the official county seat. After the boundaries of the county were changed, the new center of the county was the county seat from August, 1850 to March, 1851. Third, the town of Kaufman has been the county seat of Kaufman county from March, 1851 to the present day.

The law which created Kaufman County in February, 1848 also provided for the selection of the county seat. A special committee, composed of Parson Sherwood, John J. Buck, Sr., Adam Sullivan, H. J. McKensie, William Price, S. G. Parsons, and Abner Johnson was appointed to hold the election on April 1, 1848 for the county seat. Since the center of the county was thought to be the fairest location, the law required that it be one of the places nominated for the election. In addition, the committee was empowered to nominate as many as two other places. While no records of any actions of this special committee have been found today, a number of facts indicate that an election was held and that the center of the county was chosen to be the county seat.

When the first District Court was held in December, 1848, it was under a post oak tree about five miles north of present Kaufman which is the general area of what was then the center of the county. Additionally, when the county commissioners met for the first time in February, 1849, they ordered “that a new election for County site of Kaufman City be held at the several precincts in this County on the 24th day of March next.” Obviously, an election had already been held since the county commissioners specifically called for a new one. Again, no record of the election of March 24, 1849 has been found; if, indeed, it was held at all. However, it is clear that the center of the county was considered to be the official county seat after March, 1849.

R. A. Terrell, who had been paid for surveying to find the center in May, 1849, was declared to have ascertained the location of the county seat by the county commissioners in August, 1849. The Legislature of Texas changed the boundaries of Kaufman County in February, 1850. Approximate 228 square miles were removed from the east and roughly 210 square miles were added to the south. This alteration of the boundaries meant the geographical center of the county was no longer where it had originally been. Consequently, the Legislature also provided for a new election for the county seat to be held on June 8,1850. The Chief Justice of the county (County Judge) was authorized to receive proposed donations for the county seat. In compliance with the act of February, 1850, the Chief Justice of Kaufman County, Cary Cobb, ordered an election for June 8, 1850, and five donations were placed in nomination for county seat. Donation 1, or the Kingsborough donation, was made by B. H. Martin. Bennet H. Martin was the Judge of the District Court; and apparently, he made the donation rather than Mrs. Francis Tabor, who owned the land, since her title to the land was not clear at that time. The Kingsborough donation was 150 acres located where Kaufman now is. Donation 2, or the Willow Pond, was made by Robert Stephens. Stephens owned land immediately to the south of present Kaufman and in the Warsaw area. On the basis of Local tradition, the Warsaw area seems to be the most likely location for the 150 acre Willow Pond donation. Donation 3, of 200 acres, was offered by D. M. Tullas. No indication has been found of where this donation was located. Donation 4, the Center Point, was made by R. A. Terrell. The Center Point was three to four miles north of present Kaufman, and Terrell offered 150 acres. Donation 5 was made by William Love and consisted of 100 acres which were probably located about one mile southwest of present Kaufman.

On June 18, 1850, the County Court counted the votes cast in the election and found that Kingsborough had 51 votes, Willow Pond had 39, and the center received 37 votes. Although Kingsborough had the most votes, no donation had a majority, and a run-off was necessary. The law stipulated that only those places which were within five miles of the center could be in a run-off, so the commissioners ordered James Smith to determine how far Kingsborough and Willow Pond were from the center. Apparently, Willow Pond was disqualified by this require- ment, since it was not in the run-off. Chief Justice Cary Cobb, on June 24, 1850, ordered that the run-off election be between Kingsborough and the center donation only. On August 15, 1850, the county commissioners met to count the votes of the run-off election and found that the center won the election with 113 votes, while Kingsborough received 106. The persons who had favored Kingsborough felt that the run-off election had not been conducted properly. B. M. Ballard argued before the county commissioners that the election was invalid, but the commissioners declared that the election would be upheld.

Undaunted, those favoring Kingsborough presented a petition to the Legislature of Texas on November 21, 1850. The Legislature responded by passing a law on December 2, 1850 that called for another election between the center and Kingsborough. The Chief Justice ordered the necessary election, and when the votes were counted March 31, 1851, Kingsborough won 93 votes to 90 for the center. Francis A. Tabor then deeded the Kingsborough donation, the present town site of Kaufman, to special county commissioners on April 17, 1851. Mrs. Tabor was given 12 lots in the town, and a provision was made that all land in the town owned by the county would revert to her if the county seat were ever moved from Kaufman.

The activities of the county government were moved to the town of Kaufman by November, 1851. Kaufman’s hold on the county seat was firm ‘from 1851 to 1873. In the latter year the town of Terrell was founded on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, and it rapidly surpassed Kaufman in population. There was some discussion of moving the county seat in 1874 when Terrell was just a year old. In 1875, there was again a considerable debate on the county seat question, but nothing was done. By 1879, Terrell had grown to a population of about 4,000 while Kaufman had dwindled to about 300. The Terrellites argued that the countv seat should be near the center of population and wealth rather than near the geographical center. Additionally, the courthouse and jail in Kaufman were in bad condition, small, and flammable. The Terrelites reasoned that if a new courthouse had to be built, it could be built in Terrell just as easily as in Kaufman. The Kaufmanites argued that the existing courthouse could last at least five more years. On August 29, 1879, responding to the petition of W. M. Lindsey and others, County Judge H. P. Teague called an election for October 4, 1879 to determine whether the county seat should be moved from Kaufman to Terrell. Both towns campaigned vigorously. In Terrell, according to the Fort Worth Daily Democrat of September 21, 1879, there were “‘ removal drink.’, ‘removal beer’, ‘removal cigars’, ‘removal hash’, and a great many other removal things.” The paper also com- mented on the fierceness of the debate by saying Kaufman County was “shaken from centre to circumference over the county seat removal question.” The result of the election on October 4 was 1,711 votes for Terrell and 1,232 for Kaufman. Since a two-thirds majority was necessary for Terrell to win, Terrell failed to get the county seat by 251 votes. By law, another removal election could not be held for five years, but the Terrellites felt confident of success in the next election.

Kaufman got a railroad connection in August, 1881. The population of the town began to increase so that, by 1885, it was about 1,200. Despite the face that Kaufman had improved, the old frame courthouse remained, and fears that the building would burn were intensified by the discovery of a small fire on one of the stairways in July, 1885. At the end of July, 1885, a petition calling for another county seat election was circulated at Elmo. The petition, signed by more than 200 voters, was presented to the Commissioners’Court on August 15, and the election was called for September 19. Terrell and Kaufman campaigned even harder than they had in 1879. The Terrell Daily Triumph and the Kaufman Eagle were two newspapers which were published especially for the campaign. The people of Kaufman and Terrell knew that the status of county seat would he an economic boon to whichever town had it; consequently, they used many economic arguments. The Terrellites argued that the county needed one great town, namely Terrell. Kaufmanites claimed that competition between two strong towns would be better for growth. A group of Terrell citizens signed a bond for $30,000 toward building a new courthouse, if the county seat were moved there, while the Kaufman supporters pointed out that such a bond was not legally binding. The Kaufman people also argued that Terrell was too far north for the people of the southern part of the county to travel to easily. Debates were held throughout the county where the claims of both towns could be heard and discussed. The election was held September 19, 1885, and the result was known that night. The official results were 2,501 for Terrell and 2,168 for Kaufman. Since a two-thirds majority was needed, Terrell lost by 612 votes which was more than twice the 1879 margin. Terrell accepted the defeat stoically, while in Kaufman there were bonfires, fireworks, parades, and more rejoicing than had ever been seen before. In December, 1885, the county commissioners voted to build a new $60,000 stone courthouse in Kaufman, and that decision effectively settled permanently the question of moving the county seat to Terrell which had vexed the county for twelve years.

By Justin M. Sanders from Kaufman County History Vol II

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