Fannin County is located in Northeast Texas on the Oklahoma border. Bonham, the county seat, is fifty-five miles northeast of Dallas. The center point of the county is at approximately 33°30' north latitude and 96°10' west longitude. Fannin County comprises 895 square miles of mainly blackland, with a claypan area in the north near the Red River. The topography has little variety, with ranges of moderately rolling hills throughout the county. Fannin County has an elevation ranging between 500 and 700 feet above sea level. The average annual rainfall is a little over forty-three inches. The land is drained by the Red River and Bois D'Arc Creek and is watered by numerous springs. The average minimum temperature in January is 33° F, and the average maximum in July is 94°. The growing season lasts 228 days. The natural flora consists of oak, hickory, ash, walnut, pecan, cottonwood, elm, cedar, and Bois D'Arc trees, as well as redbud, spicewood, dogwood, pawpaw, and dwarf buckeye. The main natural resource is timber; consequently, wood-product manufacture has been important in the local economy.
When European explorers visited the region in 1687 they found it occupied by the Caddo Indians. By 1836, when white settlers first entered the area, no Indians inhabited the land. The Caddoes had joined a larger group known as the Cherokees and their Twelve Associated Bands. White settlers arrived by riverboat at Jonesborough in what is now Red River County. The pioneers crossed the river and established two early colonies. One, named Lexington, was located on the Red River and was headed by Dr. Daniel Rowlett. The other colony, begun by Daniel Slack, was on the east side of the middle Bois D'Arc Creek. Numerous other colonists quickly joined this initial band, and eighty-eight first-class land certificates had been granted before the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in March 1836.
Because of rapid population growth, Rowlett presented a petition to the Texas Congress on October 5, 1837, requesting that a new county be formed from a section of Red River County west of Bois D'Arc Creek. The county was originally to be named Independence, but during the course of opening debates over the bill the name was changed to Fannin, in honor of James Walker Fannin, Jr., a martyred hero of the Texas Revolution. The legislation, approved on December 14, 1837, designated the residence of Jacob Black the state house until a more suitable location could be found. The most significant act passed at Black's cabin was to approve the building of the first county road, from Rocky Ford Crossing to Daniel Montague's plantation. The road passed through Fort Warren and bridged Bois D'Arc Creek. Other important legislation dealt with attempts to end Indian hostilities.
On November 28, 1839, another act was passed by Congress to define the boundaries of Fannin County, which at the time included land that later became Grayson, Collin, Cooke, Denton, Montague, Wise, Clay, Jack, Wichita, Archer, Young, Wilbarger, Baylor, Throckmorton, Hardeman, Foard, Knox, Haskell, Stonewall, King, Cottle, and Childress counties, as well as parts of Hunt and Collingsworth counties. The present-day boundaries were established and approved on March 14, 1846.
The development of Fannin County resulted from the efforts of several leaders. These included Bailey Inglish, John P. Simpson, Holland Coffee, Daniel Montague, Daniel Rowlett, and Roswell W. Lee. The first successful center of commerce was Warren, a fort founded by Abel Warren in 1836. The first courthouse, school, post office, and Masonic Lodge (Constantine No. 13) in Fannin County were in Warren. The first sermon delivered in Fannin County was preached in Warren by John B. Denton, a Methodist minister. The county government was moved from Black's cabin to Warren on January 8, 1840. The first district court for Fannin County was established at the same time. On April 27, 1840, Judge John M. Hansford opened the first session in the new courthouse.
Bois D'Arc became county seat in turn on January 16, 1843, apparently for two reasons: the Indian threat at Warren, and a shift in political power that strengthened the Bois D'Arc community. Fort Warren no longer wielded significant influence on the development of the county after this move. In 1844 Bois D'Arc was renamed Bonham in honor of James Butler Bonham, a defender of the Alamo. The inhabitants wanted the name to be changed to Bloomington, but the Texas legislature wanted to honor a war hero. Bonham has continued to be the major center of commerce for Fannin County.
The early settlers of Fannin County faced many difficulties with Indians, particularly with the Cherokees and their Twelve Associated Bands. The first skirmish took place on May 16, 1837, when settlers attacked a band of Indians made up of various groups. Tension had been mounting as the Indians grew less friendly with the rapid influx of white settlers and the resulting damage to hunting. The Indians retaliated with constant raids of their own in which settlers were killed and livestock stolen. Stories describe brutal attacks of Indians on cabins and travelers. Residents of Fannin County were infuriated particularly by the Indians' practice of mutilating dead bodies, and their indiscriminate killing of women and children. Skirmishes with the Indians continued over the next six years until the Treaty of Bird's Fort was signed by Edward H. Tarrant with the Tehuacanas, Keechis, Wacos, Caddoes, Anadarcos, and others. This treaty, for the most part, ended Indian hostilities.
Early settlers were predominantly from the South, particularly from Tennessee. The population of Fannin County grew to 9,217 by 1860; about 19 percent of the residents were black. The county depended upon agricultural products for its main means of support, with livestock, especially beef cattle, being the predominant product. Before the Civil War the county had about 25,000 beef cattle; afterward the number was reduced by half.
The first church in the county was Rehobeth Chapel, built in 1850. Camp meetings had been held since 1840. Other early churches included the First United Methodist Church of Bonham (1844), Vineyard Grove Baptist Church (1847), and First Baptist Church of Bonham (1852). The county has remained overwhelmingly Protestant.
Numerous newspapers were started during the early years of the county. The Bonham Sentinel, the first to be published, began in July 1846. The Northern Standard was published in Bonham from a month later until April 1847 (see CLARKSVILLE STANDARD). Other early papers included the Western Argus (1847), the Bonham Advertiser (1849), the Western Star (1853), the Bonham Independent (1858), and the Bonham Era (1859).
The citizens of the county voted against secession following a passionate speech for remaining in the Union given by state senator Robert H. Taylor. Nonetheless, Fannin County supported the Confederate cause by raising several companies for the trans-Mississippi army. Taylor himself was elected colonel of a cavalry regiment. A Confederate commissary was located in Bonham, from where at least seven brigades drew supplies. A story has it that when a fire destroyed the commissary, which contained a large store of meat, the town turned out en masse to eat the accidental barbecue. More important than the commissary, the county hosted the military headquarters of the Northern Subdistrict of Texas, C.S.A., which was established by Gen. Henry E. McCullough and located at the site of present-day Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham. Finally, a Confederate hospital in Bonham housed many of the wounded soldiers during the war.
Fannin County grew steadily from the Civil War to the turn of the century. Agriculture remained the main source of income, with the number of farms increasing throughout the century, and crop production increasing as well. Cotton and corn were the two predominant crops. Numerous new businesses also were started after the war. Previously only five manufacturing establishments operated in the county; by 1870 factories numbered fifty-four, and new ones and continued to come into being. New newspapers included the Bonham News (1866), Honey Grove Independent (1873), Dodd City Spectator (1886), Bonham Review (1884), and Honey Grove Simoon (1884). The Fannin County Bank was chartered in 1872. The first railroad in the county, the Texas and Pacific, built an east-west track across the center of the county in 1873. Major communities received their first electricity in 1889. The first telephone exchange began in 1889.
Many schools and colleges were chartered during this time period. The county school board, constituted in 1888, helped organize county efforts to school the children. Carlton College was established in 1867 in Bonham by Charles Carlton. Other schools included Ladonia Male and Female Institute (1860), Paris District Honey Grove High School (1874), Savoy Male and Female College (1876), Lone Pecan School for Boys and Girls (1879), Masonic Female Institute (1881), and Fannin College (1883).
The population of Fannin County peaked in 1900 at 51,793 and slowly decreased afterward, with some fluctuations. Agriculture remained the main source of income. The chief crops were cotton and corn. Cotton production reached its highest level in 1920 with 65,154 bales. Corn production peaked in 1900 with 3,059,430 bushels. In 1900 the county had 7,202 farms, its highest number. Hogs and swine numbered 52,754 in 1900, also a record. Dairy farming had moderate success in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1920, the county fed 14,665 milk cows. The number of businesses in Fannin County peaked in 1900 also. In 1925 the Lone Star Gas company ran a gas main through the county, providing a new source of heat for residents. When aviation became practical, Fannin County residents raised money to build Jones Field near Bonham, in 1929. On December 31 of that year fire destroyed the bell tower of the county courthouse. Fortunately, no records were destroyed.
The Great Depression in the 1930s caused economic hardship that lasted until World War II. In the 1920s and 1930s the population stabilized at around 41,000, but during the 1940s it dropped to 31,253. Businesses hit an all-time low of fifteen in 1947. The number employed in manufacturing dipped to 310 in 1929 and slowly recovered to 630 in 1947. Product value dropped dramatically in 1929 but then slowly increased. Agriculture was hit hard. The depression forced the average farm value to plummet 46 percent below its value in 1920. The number of milk cows dropped sharply in the 1920s, and an effort was made to prime the market in 1929 with financial benefits raised by local businesses. In 1934 the Kraft-Phoenix Cheese Company moved to Bonham and provided a market. By 1940 the number of milk cows had risen to 10,279, but during the 1940s the number began to decrease dramatically. The only livestock to show promise during this time were beef cattle. The number of cattle increased considerably in the 1930s and continued to increase slowly during the rest of the century.
The number of people living in the county dropped dramatically in the 1950s and continued to decline slowly in the 1960s. Fannin County had only 22,705 people in 1970, fewer than its population in the 1880s. During the 1970s the county's population began to rise again, however; there were 24,804 people living there in 1990, and 31,242 in 2000. The educational level of the county gradually increased as well. Seventeen percent of county residents over twenty-five years old had high school diplomas in 1950, and 45 percent in 1980. By 2000 almost 60 percent had graduated from high school, and almost 13 percent had college degrees.
Cotton production took a sharp decline during the 1950s, dropping by half to 24,928 bales in 1959. In 1987 only 337 bales were produced in the county. Corn steadily declined to only 496,557 bushels in 1987. Wheat, the only major agricultural product to increase in the late twentieth century in Fannin County, peaked in 1982 at 1,997,530 bushels. Peanuts and sorghum also increased production in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The number of farms steadily decreased after 1920, to only 1,533 in 1987. Stock farming moved from hogs and milk cattle to beef cattle. Swine production slowly declined in the twentieth century to only a little over a thousand hogs in the 1980s. By 1987, Fannin County had nearly 65,000 beef cattle but only a few thousand producing milk cows. In 2002 the county had 1,976 farms and ranches covering 483,446 acres, 59 percent of which were devoted to crops, 32 percent to pasture, and 8 percent to woodland. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $57,364,000; livestock sales accounted for $37,683,000 of the total. Beef cattle, wheat, milo, corn, pecans, and hay were the chief agricultural products.
The number of manufacturing establishments increased from fifteen in 1947 to twenty-nine in 1958 and thirty-seven in 1987. The main commodities were lumber and wood products. Banking and service businesses slowly increased from 1950 to 1990.
The citizens of Fannin County were for many years steadfast Democrats, and during the mid-twentieth century the area benefited from the influence and prestige of Samuel T. (Sam) Rayburn, a resident of Bonham who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1940 to 1961. The voters of Fannin County favored the Democratic candidate in every presidential election until 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon carried the county over Democrat George McGovern. Though Democrats carried the county in 1976, 1980, and 1988, the area's voters had begun to trend Republican. Democrat Bill Clinton was able to win pluralities in the county in 1992 and 1996, partly because third-party candidate Ross Perot ran strong in Fannin County in those elections. (He got about 30 percent of the area's votes in 1992). In the 2000 and 2004 elections, however, Republican George W. Bush won majorities in the county.
Fannin County has remained rural and predominantly white. The racial proportions have been relatively stable, with African Americans constituting between 10 and 20 percent of the population over most of the county's history. The African-American population peaked in 1920 at 5,968 and afterward decreased to 1,633 by 1990. In 2014. the total population was 33,752, and Anglos constituted about 79.7 percent of the people living in the county; African Americans accounted for about 7 percent of the population, and Hispanics 10.1 percent. By 2014 there were 10,266 people living in Bonham, the largest city in Fannin County and its seat of government. Other towns included Honey Grove (1,746), Bailey (301), Dodd City (386), Ivanhoe (110), Ladonia (640), Leonard (2,063), Ravenna (213), Savoy (867), and Telephone (210).