Tidbits of Shelby County History
History of the Buena Vista Community

Buena Vista, Texas (Shelby County) according to the Texas State Historical Association is near the junction of Farm roads 1645 and 2026, twelve miles northwest of Center in northwestern Shelby County. It was originally called “Bucksnort” when it began to form in the early 1830's. It was renamed Buena Vista when it received a post office in 1848. For many years Buena Vista was the second largest town in Shelby County.

The following information about Buena Vista was shared by Evelyn Biggar and others.

Today Shelby County is one of the eight counties forming the eastern side of Texas. It is about in the middle, just where the Sabine River becomes the border of Texas.  Shelby County borders are the Attoyac Bayou to the west, Sabine River to the east, a straight surveyed line to the north, and a rather irregular surveyed line to the south.

The names of Jeremiah Bowlin and John Latham are some of the very earliest to settle in the N.W. part of the county. Jeremiah Bowlin’s character certificate stated hearrived in the area in 1826 with a wife and 2 children from the state of Virginia. An estimation of 13,000 acres of land originally owned by him bears the headright of his name.

Empresarios were given land by Mexico to encourage the settlement and development of the country They were to settle no person within 20 leagues from the border with the United States or 10 leagues from the coast.  Six years were allowed for an Empresario to fulfill his contract and for a settler to get his land under cultivations. All the landowner owed was taxes on the land with the average cost to the settler in 1831 of about 4 cents an acre. Each family who came must be able to be self-sustaining, brave enough to fight off Indians if necessary, and be ready to suffer privations and hardships. This gift of land was called headright certificates. The amount of land received depended upon when the settler arrived in the area before Texas became a state.

The main town in Shelby County during this period was Shelbyville, the county seat. Shelbyville had just gone through the Regulator-Moderator War (1838-1844) where many citizens were killed. President Sam Houston had to send troops to the area to settle the feud. At the time of the Mexican War, most counties only sent one company of soldiers to fight but Shelby County had two companies. One company was composed exclusively of Moderators, of which Capt. James Truitt was captain and the other exclusively of Regulators, of which M.T. Johnson was captain.

One of the settlers from Shelby County who volunteered to fight against Mexico was Joseph Burns. For his service, he received a league and a labor of land.  A league and labor of land is a Spanish measurement of land and amounts to 4605 acres of land. Joseph Burns selected his land and settled on it, locating on the northwestern part of Shelby County on the headwaters of the Flat Fork Creek. He built his home on a high well drained plateau overlooking the fertile valley covered with gigantic Red Oak trees.  Joseph Burns laid out a town site and named it Buena Vista in 1843. He donated ten acres of land for a cemetery and donated the town square. He gave other donations to the town. His wife was the first person buried in the Buena Vista Cemetery in the early 1850’s. The deed to the land for the town stipulated the oak trees never be cut. In 1952, the Champion newspaper quotes “Those trees are standing today, except as they have withered and yielded to time and nature.”

John C. Morrison moved from Alabama to Texas in 1839. He came to Texas by wagon train with the Oran M. Roberts family; his wife was a niece to O.M. Roberts, ex-Governor of Texas. They settled on the Patroon Creek area near San Augustine County, where the Roberts continued to live for more than fifty years. Roberts was born in South Carolina in 1815 and went to law school at the University of Alabama. Roberts was a merchant, a farmer, and held office from time to time. He was assessor and collector of taxes.

Morrison traveled on to New Orleans, Louisiana and bought a bill of goods to open a store in Buena Vista in 1847. His wife and children lived in Terrapin Neck one year and their children went to school at Lick Skillet. The old log house they went to school in was the center of one of the biggest battles fought by the Regulators-Moderators. Morrison’s son, Eli, often told about digging the bullets out of the logs with their jack knives. 

On the day Morrison received his first bill of goods, shipped by water from New Orleans to Shreveport, Louisiana and from Shreveport to Buena Vista by wagon, a largegathering of men came to witness the opening of the new store.  A barrel of whiskey was among the items shipped and the men insisted the busy Morrison to stop unpacking and sell them some of the whisky.Finally, in desperation, he filled a bucket, placed it and 5 cups on the steps and said just to help yourselves.  Soon the men were drunk and fighting broke out. One of the fighters picked up a White Oak strip basket a maker had left from making baskets and began whipping the men across their bare backs. One of the men jumped up and shouted, “Hurray for Buck Snort” and this nickname followed Buena Vista through time to the present day. This is one version how Buena Vista got its nickname. Another version of how Buena Vista became known as “Buck Snort” wassupposedly because a large buck snorted at “granny” Elizabeth Richards Burns when she tried to chase him from her pea patch.The truth behind the nickname of Buck Snort has been loss to time.

Buena Vista soon became one of the leading towns in East Texas, its trade territory extended from Nacogdoches to Shreveport and from Carthage to Shelbyville and San Augustine. It was the center of local politics and economic development, the period of the Republic of Texas and the brief period of the Confederacy. Most of the history of Buena Vista lies in the period between the early 1800’s and after the Civil War.

The town continued to develop and there were churches. The Buena Vista Baptist Church was organized on 4 September 1838. The church was established through the efforts of Elder Isaac Reed. He was the pastor, a missionary and the organizer of many churches in Nacogdoches, Shelby, Cherokee, and Panola Counties as early as 1834. A Rev. Turner was the first pastor of this church. Other pastors in the early history of the church included: Revs. Butler, Mott, James H. Scates, who served the church for 21 years, the Rev. W.R. Maxwell and J.W. Hendrick.

There was a tan yard operated by Nathan Timms who had moved from Mississippi in 1855. He tanned hides of all kinds into leather which he made into shoes for people of the community. He also made his leather into shoes for the Confederate Army.

There were several prosperous merchants doing business in Buena Vista. Some of whom were: John C. Morrison, Capt. J.W. Ballard, Bain Brothers, E.B. Morrison and Brothers, Dr. J.B. Bussey, Edd Bryan, J.C. Pullin, Bud Runnels, John W. Turner, Mr. Barron Sapp and others.

Dr. J.B. Bussey was the leading doctor in Buena Vista. Joel Hairgrove and Mr. Scates taught at the school. There were two drug stores in the town, owned by Dr. J.B. Bussey and R.H. Burns. A.W. Brown operated a blacksmith shop. Brown was sheriff of Shelby County for 12 years.  Eli B. Morrison built and operated a grist mill and ground corn into meal. He owned and operated a cotton gin.  A casket factory was also one of the town’s industries.

There was only one hotel, on the north east corner of the square, to serve the town and it was owned by Judge Robert Turner. Turner first lived in Shelbyville but moved to Buena Vista. There were two saloons, a racetrackwhich was located at a point near the front of the old church building and the post office. The first post office was established in 1848 with John C. Morrison appointed as postmaster. Among the other names listed as postmasters are Robert L. Parker, George Weaver, and Ransom Wheeler. The post office was ordered closed in 1886 and the mail was sent to Timpson.

Some of the families of old Bueno Vista were: Burns, Bryans, Blankenship, Booth, Bains, Brown, Cozort, Hairgrove, Henry, Hooper, Hammer, Foster, Johnson, King, Morrison, Sapp, Scates, Roberts, Runnells, Ross, Solomon, Timms, Turner, Richards, Young, Wheeler, and Ballard.

There is more to the history of Buena Vista and will be continued in another article. If anyone has history they would contribute, please email me at martin.vickie.1@gmail.com.