BRIEF HISTORY OF BEE COUNTY
Bee County’s Chamber of Commerce
and Historical Society
Bee County, located in deep South Texas, was created In 1858 by the Texas Legislature by taking parts of what are now the five contiguous counties — Live Oak, Karnes, Goliad, Refugio and San Patricio — for its 800-square mile area.
The county seat, Beeville, is the largest city on U.S. Highway 181 between San Antonio, about 90 miles to the north, and Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 55 miles south. Houston lies some 180 miles to the northeast on U.S. Highway 59, and Laredo and the Mexican border are another 132 miles to the southwest on the same highway.
With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, the two highways have greatly increased traffic and efforts are being made to widen both highways and make them interstate routes.
Bee County’s terrain is level to rolling, with black clay and sandy loam soils, the Texas Almanac states. Its early settlers were farmers and ranchers, and agriculture has played a major role in its economy to the present day. The first agricultural experiment station in the state was opened near Beeville in 1894 by Texas A&M College (now University), which continues valuable research projects there in the 1990s.
The discovery of oil in 1929 provided another industry, and the considerable quantities of oil and gas produced since then have made the petroleum business one of the county’s leading employers. Needless to say, the downturn in the industry in the 1980s had a severe impact on Bee County’s economy, but prospects for a brighter outlook began to appear in the early 1990s.
Naval presence felt
The establishment of a naval air station, Chase Field, in 1943, during World War II, brought both military and civilian personnel and their families to Bee County. Although the base was closed for a few years after the war ended, it was reactivated in 1953 and since then had consistently graduated some of the nation’s finest jet aviators until it was officially disestablished by the Base Realignment and Closure Com-mission on February 1, 1993.
Along with the men and women in the military and civilian workers came their families, many of whom were outstanding citizens who took lead ???? iflg roles in the county’s schools, churches, youth and charitable organizations, etc. Many of them made this area their home upon retiring.
In 1860, only two years after its organization, Bee County was listed as having 910 residents. By 1900, the county had grown to 7,620 citizens. The 1990 census gave the county 25,135 people, with 13,547 of them Beevillians.
Both 1990 figures have been questioned by city and county officials, who point to the increase in number of residents since the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decided to locate its first facility in this county in November 1989. Located southeast of the county seat, the William G. McConnell Unit, named for the late Beeville police chief, is the only TDCJ facility not occupying property which made up the former Chase Field Naval Air Station.
Most recent population estimates released by the U.S. Census give the county 32,359 residents, while Beeville has 13,129 citizens. Smaller communities in the county include Papalote, Blanconia, Skidmore, Pettus, Tuleta, Normanna, Mineral, Pawnee, Tynan, Clareville, Qrangedale, Cadiz, Olmos, Central, Candlish, Viggo, Quincy, Caesar, Colony, Central, Corrigan, Deaf Smith, Monteola, Poesta, Richland, Sid Smith and Yougeen. Many of these have long been absorbed into larger towns or simply ceased to exist.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
By the end of 1999, Chase Field’s former location was listed as the site for a large number of TDCJ facilities, including:
The above listed facilities and the McConnell Unit had an authorized 1,866 employees in Bee County as of late September 1999.
From the beginning
But let’s return to the county’s beginnings. This area’s earliest known inhabitants were the Karankawa Indians, who left their gulf fishing to come inland during the winter in search of buffalo. Later the Lipan-Apaches hunted on these lands, and near the end of the 18th century, Comanche warriors made lightning raids in this county for more than 50 years.
After Columbus discovered America in 1492, the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, was the first white man to cross this county, Grace Bauer said in her history written in 1958 to celebrate Bee’s centennial. Another Spaniard, Alvarez de Pineda, explored the Texas Gulf Coast region in 1519, and the French explorer, La Salle, came through this area in 1685.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 ,the Mexican flag began to fly over this part of Texas and the new republic opened up the land for settlers from the Old World. The colonization law gave the empresarios (land agents) and assigned territory in which to locate their colonists. John McMullen and James McGloin of Ireland were the two empresarios who brought natives from their homeland to this area, beginning in the late 1820s.
The original Bee County colonists arrived in 1829 and settled near the Papalote and Aransas creeks in the southern part of the county. Another schooner docked at Copano Bay in May 1834, bringing Mrs. Anne Burke, whose husband died of cholera at sea, and Patrick Carroll, who lost his wife in the same epidemic. In later years, Mrs. Burke married Carroll, and they and her son, Patrick Burke Jr., donated 150 acres of land for the townsite of Beeville on Poesta Creek.
John Hefferman, his brother, James Hefferman, and their families were among the first colonists to settle in this county. When the Texas Revolution began in 1836, both brothers, a cousin and most of their families were massacred by Indians while they were working in a field, which was located on the spot now occupied by the county courthouse in Beeville.
Settlers found wilderness
When the Irish colonists claimed their land grants in what is now Bee County, they found grass knee-high in much of the territory and realized that it could be developed into a stockman’s paradise. Then a wilderness, the region contained such wild animals as panthers, wildcats, opossums, skunks and badgers. Deer, turkeys, rabbits, javelinas, ducks and geese furnished meat for the settlers, but they were forced to grow their own vegetables. They bought salt, coffee and sugar, which arrived by boat at the port of Saint Marys, then by oxcart to San Patricio and the banks of Poesta Creek.
Following the heroic defense of the Alamo in San Antonio and the tragic massacre of Col. James Fannin and his men at Goliad, came the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, in which Gen. Sam Houston and his army of Texians defeated and captured the Mexican General Santa Anna. During the disturbed days of the Texas Republic (1836-45), Bee County’s settlers still feared the Indians, but news of the fertile grass-lands brought more and more newcomers into this area, where vast herds of Longhorn cattle and thousands of Spanish horses roamed.
County established, named
Texas joined the United States in 1845, and in 1858, Bee County was created by the Texas Legislature and named in honor of Col. Barnard E. Bee, who served as President Sam Houston’s secretary of war and as President Mirabeau B. Lamar’s secretary of state during the days of the Texas Republic. The first county officials were elected on Jan. 25, 1858, and the Commissioners Court met for the first time on Feb. 10. The selection of the county seat was a hot issue, and was evidently settled in an April election when a 150-acre site on Medio Creek, about seven miles east of present-day Beeville, won out over two other offers of land. However, the Medio Creek location proved unsatisfactory and in another election held in February 1859, the residents voted to find a more central location. The county court then accepted the offer of 150 acres from the Carrolls and her son, Patrick Burke Jr., and Beeville-on-the-PoeSta became the new county seat.
Growing county organized
With Bee County created and organized and the officers of the county and district courts located in the new courthouse by November 1860, the county seat began to attract new citizens and some businesses. George W. McClanahan, who became the town’s first merchant in about 1859 or ‘60, erected a store (now known as the McClanahan House) on the court-house square in 1867, operating it until his death in 1874.
The War Between the States began when Bee County was only three years old, and while there was no actual invasion of Texas territory, the people experienced many hardships. About 75,000 Texans served in the Confederate Army, including several companies from Bee County.
In every war since then — Spanish-American, World Wars land II, Korea, Vietnam and Persian Gulf— many of the county’s finest young men (and women) have answered the call to serve in the military. The names of the county’s World War I dead are listed on a marker in the courthouse rotunda. The names of all the county’s war dead are read aloud every year at a Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11.
Following are some other important events in the county’s history, presented as far as possible in chronological order:
By 1848 or earlier, Catholic priests visited regularly in the homes of Irish settlers in Bee County to perform marriages and baptisms and to celebrate Mass. Although the first records of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Beeville are dated 1876, the actual parish history goes back several years before that.
Protestant churches established in Beeville before 1900 include the
Many other local churches have been founded since 1900, including
The county’s smaller communities also have a number of churches, three of which were founded before or slightly after 1900.
all have historical markers.
Other community churches include
The county’s schools
Public schools in Bee County began operating as early as 1859, when T.J. Smith taught a few pupils in a tiny building erected near Normanna. McClanahan was the first teacher in a Beeville school (one room of his store in 1860. The first brick schoolhouse in Beeville was erected in 1894 and the first high school building in 1911.
Many outstanding teachers were involved with the educational development of the county’s early-day students, among them “Miss Gussie” (Mrs. John) Flournoy, who taught in Beeville from 1881-1908 and Professor William E. Madderra, who served as superintendent of the Beeville schools from 1900-1936.
During the early 1900s, there were about 20 common school districts in smaller communities throughout the county but the trend toward consolidation resulted in the establishment of only four school systems: the Beeville, Pettus, Skidmore-Tynan and Pawnee Independent School Districts.
Separate schools were provided for the Negro and Mexican-American students until their integration was finally completed in the 1 960s. The senior class from the Westside (or Mexican) school was transferred to A.C. Jones High School in the fall of 1938 and three members received their diplomas with the 1939 JHS graduating class.
In 1965, Bee County College, a two-year community! junior college, was established with Grady Hogue as the president. Following Hogue’s retirement in 1984, Dr. Norman Wallace served 15 years as president. In 1999, Dr. John Brockman became the institution’s third president.
In 1998, the school’s name was changed to Coastal Bend College to reflect the addition of two campuses offering many classes in Alice and Kingsville. By late 1999, more than 3,000 students were enrolled in academic, vocational and enrichment courses, and the college was providing cultural and artistic opportunities for the entire Coastal Bend.
Parochial schools in Beeville include St. Mary’s Academy, operated by St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Victory Catholic churches; St. Philip’s Episcopal; and First Baptist churches.
County attracts business
In 1876, attorney John C. Beasley came to Beeville from Virginia and opened a law firm, one which is still in existence today. His son and grandson were lawyers and longtime members of the firm, and now one of his great-grandsons is active in it.
Another business established before 1900 which is still operating today is the Beeville Bee (1886) and Beeville Picayune (1890), which merged in 1928 to form the Beeville Bee-Picayune. The latter now has both third- and fourth-generation journalists on its staff — descendants of Picayune publisher ~ Thomas R. Atkins and his son, George H. Atkins, who served as both Picayune and Bee-Picayune publisher in his 52-year career (1907-59). The latters’s son-in-law, Fred C. Latcham, Jr., completed his 40th year as publisher in 1999, and his two ~ sons, Chip and Jeff Latcham, are now co-publishers.
Four other firms established in the 1890s were still active until recently: First National Bank (1890); Commercial National Bank (1893); Burrows Hardware Co. (1893); and Hall’s Inc. (1899). Both Burrows and Hall’s were closed for good in the 1990s. The Commercial National Bank’s stock was sold to First Prosperity Bancshares in October1999 and its name was changed to reflect the change in ownership. Only the First National Bank retains its original name.
In 1886, the first railroad (San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad from the Alamo City to Corpus Christi) came through Beeville and in 1889, a second one (Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway) arrived. Both were brought here Iargely through the intercession of the public-spirited Capt. Allan Carter Jones, known as “the father of Beeville” because of the many civic projects he sponsored and often helped underwrite.
Although the railroads’ arrival brought about a surge in population and business opportunities, their history came to an end in 1987 (when no more trains arrived from the north) and 1995, when the last rails were removed and no trains could come here from the south.
In 1890, Beeville was incorporated as a town, with Jones as the first mayor; in 1908, it became a city with a mayor and four aldermen; and in 1912, the voters adopted a commission form of government with a mayor and two city commissioners. In 1951, the present system of five council members (one of whom is named mayor) and city manager was adopted. In 1970, Beeville’s first Hispanic mayor, Humberto Saenz, was elected; since then, other Hispanics, including Jesse T. DeRusse Jr., John Ybañez and Carlos Salazar, have served as head of the city government. Kenneth Chesshir is the current mayor.
Two Hispanics have been elected Bee County judge, Jimmy Martinez and the current judge whose term began Jan. 1, 1999, José Aliseda.
Many organizations begun
In 1890 the Bee County Fair Association was established; it was followed by other organizations like the
The Bee County Chamber of Commerce was launched in 1888, when the Bee County Immigration Association was organized to attract new citizens to come here. In 1899 the name was changed to Beeville Businessmen’s Club, and in 1911 the Young Men’s Progressive League was formed. The civic body became known in 1925 as the Chamber of Commerce, which was incorporated in 1940. The CofC has sponsored the annual western parade since 1937 — first, in con-junction with the South Texas Hereford Association’s fall show and sale, and in recent years, with Western Week.
Many of the county’s lodges, clubs and organizations have long histories. A few of these are the Beeville Masonic Lodge (established 1860); Rosetta Club (1902); Beeville Fire Department (1905); Order of Eastern Star (1908); Knights of Columbus and Boy Scouts (1912); American Legion Post (1920); Rotary Club (1921); Business & Professional Women’s Club and Order of Rainbow for Girls (1922); Wednesday Luncheon Club (1924); Kiwanis Club (1935); Mothers Club (1937); Girl Scouts (1939); Beeville Garden Club (1953); Navy League (1955); Junior Service League (1963); and Beeville Art Association and Pan American Round Table (1964).
Although several wooden hotels were built in the county before the turn of the century, none of those is still standing —many were destroyed by fire. Even Hotel Kohler, the first modern one, a three-story stucco structure erected in 1932, was razed less than 50 years later, and now the new City Hall, which was moved to that site in 1987, occupies the Kohler’s location at the corner of Washington and Cleveland streets.
At present, several motels provide lodging and/or meals for the traveling public, including the Best Western Texas Inn Inn, Beeville Executive Inn, Esquire, and El Camino.
This is not intended to be the final history of Bee County. Other authors, beginning with Thomas R. Atkins in 1908, traced the county’s early days for the Beeville Picayune, as did Mrs. I.C. Madray with her history, much of which appeared serially in the Bee-Picayune, in the 1930s and was published in book form in 1939.
Grace (Mrs. Paul) Bauer wrote a brief county history at the time of Bee County’s Centennial in 1958, and Camp EzeIl, retired editor of the Bee-Picayune, compiled a fairly complete history in his “Historical Story of Bee County,” which was published in 1973.
Beginning in 1991, a new Bee County Family History was prepared, with Mrs. Lois Chestnut of Beeville as project director for the publishers, Curtis Media Corp. Volunteer history enthusiasts throughout the county assisted with this volume, which was designed to preserve the heritage of all families who live or have lived in Bee County. Descendants of pioneer settlers and newcomers alike collected the stories of their families, along with old and/or new photos of some of the members, for inclusion in the latest history.
The book also contains the history of the county from its early days to the present — including businesses, organizations, schools, churches, transportation, communication, agriculture, military, communities, etc. compiled from the earlier histories, it makes a worthy companion to the histories written in 1908,1939,1958 and 1973.
History is still being written in Beeville and Bee County, whose story is an ongoing one which must be updated from time to time. The vision of their progressive citizens is not limited to the present but to an even bigger and brighter future for all.
Through the erection of these and subsequent Texas Historical Commission official medallions and markers, residents and visitors alike will be able to appreciate and under-stand the sacrifices and contributions of the county’s citizens from the arrival of the first colonists in 1834.
this fact, the Bee County Chamber of Commerce and Bee County Historical Society
are pleased to present this brochure
Photos and More