Liberty County History

An occasional gathering place for articles, documents, photographs, records and other ephemera dealing with the history of Liberty County, Texas.


Kevin Ladd is director of the Wallisville Heritage Park at Wallisville, Chambers County, TX and lives in Hardin, TX. He is chairman of the Liberty County Historical Commission and writes for "Texas Illustrated," a monthly publication of the Liberty Gazette newspaper, which is devoted to local history and folklore.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Yellow Fever at Liberty, Fall 1867

The Liberty Gazette
Published at Liberty, Texas
By T. J. & L. C. Chambers
Wednesday, December 4, 1867

The Yellow Fever

Which made its first appearance here in October, at one time showed a disposition to run its ninety days, in spite of the light frosts, on the 5th and 6th of November. But we are happy to state the epidemic has entirely disappeared. There is not a single case in town. Our up-country friends may roll in with their cotton bales, hides and loose change. Our merchants are fully prepared to relieve them of “all sich” upon the quickest and most approved plan known to the trade.

Yellow Fever Cases

In Liberty, from the 25th of September to the 2d of December:

Died. – Mrs. Ricca, F. G. Ricca, A. Renier, George Loving, B. W. Durdin, (black vomit,) Mrs. Servat, Child of M. Jeanatot, (black vomit,) The. Garrard, (freedman.)

Recovered. – John Loving, Mrs. Loving, Camilla Loving, Dr. P. L. Palmer, Miss Palmer, M. Breistley [Bristley], Miss Palmer, Mr. Woodsworth, Mrs. Woodsworth, Col. E. B. Pickett, Mrs. C. L. Cleveland, Mrs. J. W. Baldwin, Oliver Cleveland, Stewart Cleveland, Sidney Cleveland, Mrs. Deneke, Mrs. Bettie Cade, Paul Servat, Rev. Father Martinier, Ada Hiser, Sarah Holliman, (freedwoman,) Jane and Harriet, (freedwomen.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Obituary of Gilbert Azenor LaCour Jr. (1894)

T. Jeff Chambers, the legendary founding editor of The Liberty Vindicator newspaper, could write the best obituaries. They were succinct, fact-filled, and straight from his heart. The following obituary was published immediately after the sudden death of Gilbert Azenor LaCour, Jr.

The Liberty Vindicator
Friday, April 20, 1894


Mr. Gilbert LaCour, an old and respected citizen of this county, died suddenly Wednesday morning, at 9 o'clock at the home of his son, Mr. Bab LaCour, near Moss Bluff. The deceased was apparently in good health, having been engaged, but a moment before incleaning a fish, walked into the house and washed his hands and remarked that "his head was swimming," and for them to catch him. Before the family could place him comfortably in bed he expired, doubtless from heart disease. He was 76 years old, was a native ofLouisiana, but had lived here many years. His remains were brought to this place and interred in the Catholic cemetery, followed by a large concourse of relatives and friends. The Vindicator condoles with the family in their great distress.

Note: Gilbert was the son of Gilbert Azenor LaCour, Sr. and his wife Helen (Joffrion) LaCour. He was married to Aurelia LaCour, daughter of Leon LaCour and Heloise (Gillard) LaCour.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Journey to Liberty County (May 1857)

Tuesday, May 26, 1857


To resume my travels, I left Crockett on Monday the 4th [of May], and traveled east toward Sumpter. The roads for five miles were fine, and the lands adjoining presented a fertile appearance, when I entered the piney woods and with the exception of a mile or two of creek bottom and prairie, continued in the piney woods until I reached Sumpter and then, though in town, I was still surrounded on all sides by piney woods. The distance from Crockett to Sumpter is I think thirty-one miles. There are but few farms on the road and most of them small, the buildings occupied beingof the poorest kind.

Sumpter is improving, I should judge, quite rapidly, a number of new buildings having been built in thelast few months, while others are in some course of erection. The public square is yet without aCourthouse, the old log one situated at one corner, being still used. At McAlpin's hotel I fared sumptuously until the evening of the 5th, when I left for Moscow situated in the northern portion of Polk county. The road for near the whole distance, twelve or fifteen miles, ran through the everlasting pineywoods over a rough and broken country, and the recent rains had made the ever-bad-enough roads execrable,and it was with difficulty that I made my way at all. Moscow appears to be a flourishing business place and having large bodies of rich black and creek bottomlands in its neighborhood, its prospects are fair fora large increase in size and business. There are already four or five stores, two hotels, a good school and numerous private dwellings, besides the usual number of mechanic shops.


Leaving Moscow on the evening of the 7th, I traveled a few miles east on the road towards Woodville, thecounty seat of Tyler county. On the 8th made little progress towards Woodville, having to wander around the piney woods hills, in the neighborhood of Peach-tree Village, in search of gold or its representative; but precious little did I find I assure you. On the 9th, after a drive of eighteen miles, over as broken and hilly country as I have ever seen in Texas, all covered with a large thick growth of yellow long leaf pine, I arrived at Woodville, a town very pleasantly situated, with numbers of large Magnolia trees scattered throughout it. A newcourthouse is soon to be built, to take the place of the old barn-looking building now used. There are some half dozen stores, two hotels, an academy, andthe usual number of Lawyers and Doctors offices. Woodville, taking it all in all, is a very pleasant,flourishing, business place.


I left Woodville on the 11th for Livingston, a distance of about 35 miles. The road for a few miles, although over a rough, broken piney woods country, was very good and 'Dave' made very good speed, but these few miles being passed I entered upon the new road recently established between Woodville and Livingston and which had been made barely wide enough to admit the passage of a buggy and with little regard to the height of the stumps or character of the ground passed over, which made travelling at a speed of over four miles per hour extremely difficult, while a good lookout had to be kept from being upset or the buggy broken by the tall stumps, even at this rate of speed.

At Big Sandy Creek I came upon an encampment of Alabama Indians, some twenty or thirty in number. Their wigwams were composed of a few plank set on end around a frame of poles, while a roof was formed of pine bark taken from the trees in strips four or five feet long and two or three feet wide. A frame poles and cane covered with bearskins compose their beds. They cultivate barely land enough to raise cornsufficient for bread, hunting being relied upon formeat and the wherewithal to procure crops the fewarticles needed by them for clothing, tobacco, whisky, &c. Deer and bear are their principal game, the skins of which are sold at the stores for a low price generally.

Settlers along the road are few and far between, and an Indian and a Negro are the only humans I saw during my drive of about 30 miles. Livingston, the county seat of Polk county, presents rather a dull, unthrifty appearance. The courthouse is a fine looking building, and when this is said, near all is said that be to the credit of the place. The country surrounding the town is generally of a poor broken character, uninviting to the planter, consequently very few of the kind of settlers neededto build up such a kind of town are to be found in theneighborhood. My stay at Livingston was short, leaving on the morning after my arrival at night. Liberty being the next point I intended visiting, Itook a course down the river, visiting a place called Drew's Landing where there is a store and Saw mill. Quite a number of Coushatta Indians were camped nearhere and a portion of the trade at the store wasderived from them, skins being the principal articleof traffic.


Smithfield, a few miles below on the West side of the [Trinity] river, I did not visit, all ours subscribers being prepaying ones, but learned that aflourishing business was being transacted there by Colonel [Hamilton] Washington, and others in the way of trade with the Indians and surrounding inhabitants. Cold Springs lies some 35 miles east from Huntsville and nine west from the Trinity at the crossing at Swartout. There are four or five stores, blacksmiths, tinners and other mechanics shops, a neat handsome church edifice, a number of tasty private residences, &c. to be found here. The country surrounding, although very hilly and broken, is quite fertile and a number of large planters are to be found in the neighborhood of the town. The place takes its name from a number of cold springs which issue from the hill sides within the town.

Swartout, 9 miles distant on the east bank of the Trinity, is the shipping point for the cotton of thissection of country. There are but few scattering houses here, most of which present a ratherweather-beaten, dilapidated appearance. An idea was once entertained by a number of persons who investedin the speculation that a town of much businessimportance could be built here. But theunreliableness of navigation on the Trinity, plus anumber of other factors, prevented its consummation.

Liberty County I have seen but little of and cangive your readers but little information thereto; judging however from what land I have seen in cultivation, and the appearance of much of the timbered land bordering upon the roads traveled, there is a large quantity of fertile lands to be found in the county, and being situated favorably as to market,very desirable. The town of Liberty is improving rapidly and presents a flourishing business appearance. A large share of the cotton from Houston, Trinity, Tyler and many other northern counties now finds its way here,instead of to Houston as formerly, and the wagonsbringing it, return loaded with supplies of all kindsfor the country. The distance from Liberty to Crockett is, I think, 110 miles, fifteen miles less than to Houston and the road, with a little repairingand straightening would be equal to if not better than the one from Crockett to Houston. The citizens of Liberty cannot select a better time than the present to make a vigorous effort to draw tothemselves a still larger trade from the uppercounties, repairing her roads, opening new ones, andby a general display of liberality in all their acts. The merchants, most of whom I have visited, have fullstocks, which they appear to be selling very low andat very liberal terms.

Visiting the [Liberty] Gazette office, I found Mr.[Henry Clay] Shea up to his elbows in work. He complains of hard times, which I believe is theuniversal complaint among newspaper publishers in thecountry. The [Steamboat] 'Betty Powell' is as regular as clockwork in her trips, and Messrs. Powell and Ruthven, her enterprising owners, have the credit, generally, of having wrought the change that has come over this appearance of things at Liberty within the last few months. May they reap their rewards!.


Note: L. K. P. was a frequent correspondent to the Galveston News and regularly submitted travelogue letters such as this. His description of Southeast Texas and East Texas during 1857 is quite fascinating.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Judge J. C. Zbranek (1930-2006)

Jaromir Charles Zbranek was born on March 25, 1930 in Crosby, Harris County, Texas, the second of three sons to be born to Marie and Ladislav Leopold Zbranek, Sr.,both immigrants to the United States from what istoday the Czech Republic. As a young boy, he and hisfamily [including brothers Ladislav Jr. and Marion]moved to eastern Liberty County, where they settled in a log house a short distance south of Daisetta. He started first grade in the Hull-Daisetta school system, and graduated from high school there in 1947. After working a short while, he attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree there in 1952. While at the University, he was a member of the Czech Club, MICA President,Pre-Law Society, N.R.O.T.C., Pi Sigma Alpha, Friars,and Silver Spurs. He was also Student Editor of the Law Review, a member of the Rusk Literary Society, the Tejas Club, and the Discipline Committee, as well as Chairman of the Student Assembly. Honors received while at the University include the Jesse Jones Naval Scholarship, McKie Law Scholarship, and the Mike Flynn Award as Most Outstanding Student. It should be noted that he worked any number of jobs in and around campus in order to finance his education.

"Zeke" Zbranek served in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant from 1952 to 1954, serving most of that time aboard the USS Carmick during the Korean Conflict. After returning home, he earned the Democratic nomination for the Texas House of Representatives in 1954 and represented Liberty and Chambers counties for the next six years. He was defeated in a 1960 Democratic Primary race against State Senator Mrs. Neville Colson and thus ended his political career for awhile. While serving in the Legislature, he attended and graduated from the University of Texas Law School. He began his private law practice in Liberty in 1956, first in partnership with Thomas A. Wheat, but later opening his own practice in 1959. Zbranek purchased thehistoric Liberty County Bank building on the northside of the Courthouse Square, and painted the building in the burnt orange and white colors of his beloved University of Texas. He practiced law for the next 30 years, also serving as Liberty County Democratic Party chairman, and as a member of the Lamar University Board of Regents. In 1990, Mr.Zbranek was elected as 75th State District Judge in Liberty, serving on the bench until his retirement in 2002. He was an avid reader, enjoyed history and his family. He was honored by a resolution of the Texas Legislature in 2001 during "Liberty County Day in Austin," which recognized his long and enviable recordof distinguished public service.

He was married in 1958 in Liberty to Miss Nelda Forshee, daughter of Stanley Jennings and Hazel (Edwards) Forshee. They had three children: Felicia, Zeb and Zack Zbranek. Judge Zbranek died on August 4,2006 at his home in Devers, Liberty County, Texas after a brief battle with cancer. His funeral service was held on Monday, August 7, 2006 at Liberty's First Baptist Church. He was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, a few feet from the future resting place of legendary Longhorn Coach Darrell K. Royal -- what a fitting location for a Longhorn fan such as Judge Zbranek.

Although this brief sketch of the late Judge J. C. Zbranek provides the basic outlines of an extraordinary life, it says nothing about the respect he built through those seven and a half decades, the number of young men and women who followed him in the practice of law, and the joy he lent us all by passing this way.

The Munson Family (1820s)

One of the goals I had for this Liberty County History blog was to use this site to share information from other websites which had some connection to Liberty County history and genealogy. Believe it or not, there are many such sites out there. The links below will take you, Dear Reader and Fellow Researcher, to an excellent website that provides outstanding biographical sketches on four members of the Munson family. The Munson family has only a brief window in which they appear in Liberty County, namely the late 1820s. Here are those links:





I have been interested in the Munson family for many years, largely because the late Joyce Calhoon used to speak about them upon occasion. Unfortunately, I never knew as much about them as I would have liked to have known. And I must say I was startled to stumble onto these biographical profiles a few days ago and realize that the aforementioned Ann Binum (Pearce) Munson was a sister to my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Stephen Pearce of Cheneyville, Rapides Parish, Louisiana. They were both children of William and Sarah (Bray) Pearce.

Anyone who has ever attempted to write a biographical profile of anyone will come away from this website with an enormous amount of respect for the compiler, Laura Munson Cooper. The level of scholarship and documentation in these four profiles and throughout Mrs. Cooper's entire website is very impressive.

Friday, August 04, 2006

French, Greenville, Linney & McGinnis Cemeteries

The USGenWeb is a volunteer-based, volunteer-driven genealogical network, which is endeavoring to document the history and records of each county in the United States. This effort so far has led to the posting of complete transcriptions of tombstones in the French ad Linney cemeteries in Dayton, Greenville Cemeterys on FM 1008 in Kenefick, and McGinnis Cemetery just off of Highway 321 in Tarkington Prairie. The following links will lead researchers to these transcriptions:





Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Bootleg Truck

The early years of the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department have become somewhat steeped in legend, owing to the fact that those who were there when it was founded in September 1925 have since moved on to the big station house in the sky. The department was founded only a couple of weeks after a fire destroyed a large chunk of the downtown business district. Over these seven and a half intervening decades, however, the department’s most celebrated legend continues to be “The Old Bootleg Truck,” the second truck to be entered into service. The late H. R. “Bob” Martin, the first chief of the fire department, gathered himself into the front seat of the truck in January of 1950 and posed for a famous photograph. This story is a good one to pass along to a new generation of readers.

Let's roll the clock back to the year 1928, three years after the Liberty fire department was organized. The country was in the hands of President Calvin Coolidge, a taciturn Vermonter. Herbert Hoover would come into the White House the next year, in March of 1929. The stock market would collapse in October 1929. But in 1928, things were pretty much okay in the hinterlands as well as the board rooms.

Chief Martin was pursuing his day job, as a deputy sheriff, when he received a tip that something was afoot. The informant passed along the news that a Graham truck traveling along Highway 90 had collided with a bridge railing and could be found stranded on the other side of the Trinity River. The force of the collision had snapped the drive shaft and rendered the vehicle immobile. The big news, however, was that the truck reportedly was loaded down with liquor, a crime of immense proportions during the days of Prohibition. The informant told Martin if he hurried down there, he could catch the culprits red-handed.

As luck had it, however, there was only one culprit involved and he had moved along. The driver, overly aware of his predicament, had made some hasty repairs to the drive shaft. He had the vehicle landworthy enough to be back upon the road and promptly headed for some place of sanctuary. Martin, joined by other officers, easily spotted the aforementioned vehicle, pulled it over, and began a through search of the truck. No greenhorn at this business, Martin quickly found the fake bottom to the floor and discovered a grand total of 1200 pints of “Green River” whisky stashed inconspicuously therein.

As the ensuing investigation unfolded, it was determined that the driver was in the employ of a New Orleans liquor-smuggling crime syndicate. The driver got off a lot luckier than did his truck. The former served only a year in jail, but the truck spent the next several years in active duty. The Liberty County Sheriffs Department immediately confiscated the truck, and the local firefighters managed to gather up the sum of $675, all of which they put towards the truck. Still short of the asking price, they borrowed the other $300, which gave them enough to purchase the vehicle. The “Bootleg Truck,” as it was called, was used largely in a support role alongside a Model-T purchased from American LaFrance and outfitted as a pumper.

The Bootleg Truck remained in active use until 1944, at which time another vehicle was purchased. At the time Chief Martin posed for this picture the truck was in poor condition and a general state of deterioration, but it had already achieved a rare position as part of the local folklore. The Liberty Fire Department has a fine, new building on Lakeland Drive, just a short distance from the new WalMart Supercenter. Everything in the new station is sparkling and new, and these modern firemen can knock a fire out as fast as anyone. But through the mystic chords of memory, as Abraham Lincoln put it, I would like to go back and ride "The Bootleg Truck" just one time.