WT Block Jr -- Jasper Figures In Much Early Texas History
W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, August 18, 2004, p. A12.
The history of Jasper goes back to John R. Bevil about 1824; and to a political entity known as “Bevil’s Settlement,” which sent two men, Dr. S. H. Everett and George W. Smyth, to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. The town and county were named for an American Revolutionary hero.
Jasper also sent three companies of men to fight in the Texas Revolution. On Nov. 15, 1835, Capt. James Chessher enlisted 35 men, who fought at the Battle of San Antonio on Dec. 6-9. On March 23, 1836, Chessher enrolled 49 men, who had reached Harrisburg near Houston at the time of the Battle of San Jacinto. On July 16, Capt. M. B. Lewis enumerated 36 men who left Jasper to fight in the revolution.
Scores of families flocked to Jasper following the revolution and again after the Civil War. Bevil’s Settlement counted 156 families in 1835 and enumerated 192 households in 1850. The first courthouse in Jasper was built in 1837 for $22,000.
Jasper maintained a steady growth, and by 1860 numbered about 350 people. Despite about 3 billion feet of standing timber in the county, many plantations were carved out, which ginned 3,800 bales of cotton in 1859. Jasper’s river port was Bevilport on the Angelina River, where steamboats loaded cotton for Sabine Pass, and returned with scores of barrels of freight. In 1860 there were also one steam mill and three water mills in the county, which cut lumber, ginned cotton and ground corn meal.
Jasper suffered greatly during the Civil War, sending three companies, including Company E, 27th Cavalry; Capt. Stovall’s Company C, 25th Cavalry and Capt. Norsworthy’s company, away to the Confederate Army. Hardly anyone returned from Company C, several of its men having been killed at the Battle of Franklin, TN, and most of the remainder dying as prisoners at Camp Butler, IL.
The Reconstruction period was no improvement either. In 1866 E. I. Kellie founded the Jasper Newsboy, still the oldest, continuously published newspaper in Texas; and his fiery editorials were despised by Texas’ radical Reconstruction Gov. E. J. Davis. Davis’ State Police patrolled Jasper for years, as the Galveston Tri-Weekly News of Nov. 12, 1871 recorded:
“...We saw while in Jasper a few of the State Police, one or more of whom wore badges denoting their calling. From the quiet scorn depicted on the countenances of bystanders when these cattle are about, one would judge that their calling is neither honorable nor popular...”
The lumber business at Jasper was delayed for years for lack of a railroad, and between 1881 and 1895, cotton and freight were often hauled from Jasper to Woodville and Colmesneil. John H. Kirby began building his Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railroad to Jasper in 1895. The line was absorbed by Santa Fe in 1902, bringing with it the first heavy industry to the town.
In 1903, when Jasper’s population was about 1,500, its first sawmill, Brown and Downs, was built. Other mills followed in rapid succession. By 1932, the town’s population had reached 3,500.
As of the year 2,000, Jasper’s population exceeded 8,400, making it the largest city within a 50-mile radius. Its location—almost equidistant from Lakes Steinhagen, Rayburn and Toledo Bend—makes Jasper the envy of all of its neighbors.