The Commerce Journal

May 10, 2012

Border story arouses interest

By James Conrad
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — Several months ago, Dr. Fred Tarpley heard an interesting fact about Hunt County.  Mark, Fred’s youngest son, said that his teacher had told him that Hunt County had more adjoining counties than any other county in Texas.

Fred, who teaches linguistics and the history of the English language at East Texas State University, is not the type of person to accept a statement at face value, no matter how trivial it may be, without first doing some investigation to figure out if it is accurate.

Several years ago, Fred wrote a history of Jefferson, Texas, (“Jefferson: Riverport to the Southwest”) and in the process made rubble of many of the most cherished “historical facts” about that small East Texas community.

To start with, Tarpley corrected the date on the founding of Jefferson from 1836 to 1844.  Worse yet for Jefferson’s Chamber of Commerce and local historians and boosters, Fred exposed the famous “Jay Gould Curse” as a fraud. For decades tourist guides and hotel owners told visitors that in the 1880s Jay Gould, the 19th century tycoon, had asked the city officials for the right of way to build the Texas and Pacific railroad through their town. But the city leaders arrogantly refused, so Gould cursed the city, saying that one day grass would grow in the streets of Jefferson and the buildings would house only bats. According to the legend, Gould built his railroad around the city and Jefferson declined.

The only thing wrong with this story is that it is incorrect. According to Tarpley, the railroad went through Jefferson a decade before Gould came on the scene, and Gould never told the citizens of Jefferson that grass would grow in their streets. The one time that Gould mentioned the city, he said only favorable things about Jefferson’s economic prospect.

But that is enough about Jefferson. What about Hunt County?

To check the truth of the story about Hunt County having more neighboring counties than any other Texas county, Fred spent days pouring over a Texas map meticulously counting counties bordering on each of Texas’ 254 counties.

The results of all this work? He found that Hunt County has the honor of being one of only four counties (the others being Bell, Angelo, and Smith) that have eight adjoining counties. (For those who don’t know the names of these counties touching Hunt, they are Fannin, Delta, Van Zandt, Hopkins, Rains, Rockwall, Collins and Kaufman.) Crockett, which borders on Val Verde, Sutton, Schleicher, Iron, Reagan, Upton, Crane, Pecos and Terrell, holds the record with nine neighboring counties.

With Fred’s investigative work as inspiration, I have done some research of my own on Texas counties. I found that the county with the fewest bordering counties is El Paso County, which has only one adjoining Texas county as a neighbor. The average county in Texas has six adjoining counties.

Furthermore, Hunt has not always had eight neighboring counties on its borders. In 1846, Hunt could claim only four adjoining counties: Collin, Fannin, Hopkins, and Henderson counties. The other counties now bordering on Hunt besides Hopkins and Collin, created in 1846, were not yet organized. The Texas legislature established Van Zandt and Kaufman counties in 1848, Delta and Rains counties in 1870 and Rockwall — the smallest county in the state — in 1873.

Dr. Jim Conrad has retired as Emeritus Archivist from Texas A&M University – Commerce.  He remains active in the area.