Historical Scrapbook : Simon P. Burns, military leader, politician

Brownwood Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

Simon Pierce Burns was born on January 1, 1835, in Logan County, Ohio to Christopher and Rachel Burns. Christopher had been born in Pennsylvania and Rachel was probably born in Virginia.

Christopher and Rachel moved with the frontier. Settlements developed, and what was untamed frontier moved past the settlements each time. Christopher moved to Ohio with his family when he was fourteen. He married Rachel sometime in 1825, and they were listed in the 1830 census in Wayne County. They moved to Logan County, Ohio when Simon P. Burns was born.

In 1845, Christopher Burns was shot and killed by a neighbor in a quarrel over a piece of land. Two years later, in 1847, Rachel married James Amen in Atchison County, Missouri. Pierce was close to his father, Christopher, a giant of a man, who was feared by his neighbors. His father died when a neighbor grabbed a rifle during a dispute over a piece of land and shot Christopher Burns dead in 1848. The death of his father was a severe blow to ten year old Simon Pierce. After over a year passed, his mother, Rachel met a miller named James Amen. They were married on May 29, 1847. Young Pierce could not stand to see this man in his father’s place. He would not let Amen be his stepfather. The family moved to Ohio later in 1887. Simon P. Burns ran away form Ohio in 1847, when he was twelve years old.

Young Pierce lived in Missouri for two years. When he was fourteen, Pierce decided to move hundreds of miles away to Collin County, Texas. From this point on, he was on his own. It was possible that he never saw his family again.

Collin County was on the edge of the frontier when young Pierce arrived in 1849. The county was created in 1846, and in the 1850 census, it had less than two thousand inhabitants. The County had good farmland on rolling hills. In some ways, it resembled Ohio and Missouri.

In 1854, Simon Pierce Burns married Sarah Ann Gibson in McKinney, Texas. Sarah and her parents had also come to Collin County from Missouri. Sarah had a better education than Pierce, and she taught him the basics of reading and writing. It may have been here that Pierce began his study of law and surveying.

When the Civil War began, Pierce, Sarah and their two children, James and Lida, moved back to Missouri to be closer to her parents. Her parents had moved to Sarcoxie in Jasper County, which is the southwest corner of the state. Atchison County, Missouri, where Pierce lived when his father was killed, was two hundred and forty miles to the North. On July 21, 1862, Simon Pierce Burns, at the age of

27, enlisted in Company B, 11th Battalion of the Missouri Confederate Infantry, as a private.

He advanced in rank quickly; in September of 1862, he was elected major and later promoted to lieutenant colonel, then colonel. He fought in Arkansas and Louisiana, and after the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, he took command of Parson’s Brigade. He fought at the battle of Jenkins Ferry. At the end of the war, he was appointed brigadier general on paper. The end of the war came before he received his commission as a brigadier general from the War Department. The rest of his life, he was called Colonel Burns. The appointment as General was never formalized and he never served as a General.

Late in the war, Colonel Burns took a thirty five day leave and arranged to have Sarah and their children moved back to Collin County. After the war ended, Colonel Burns returned to his family in Texas. On June 25, 1866, at the age of 32, he was elected County Sheriff. He was removed in November, 1867, along with officials across the state, as a part of the reconstruction after the Civil War. However, the family bond to law enforcement remained strong for many years. He continued to farm in Collin County until 1870.

In 1870, Colonel Burns and his family made one last move to what seemed to be the edge of the frontier. The family went to Brownwood, in Brown County, Texas. The first settlers to Brown County came in 1856, but settlement slowed during the war. Afterwards, the area boomed. Colonel Burns was only 36 when he came to Brown County. He did surveying, practiced law and was active in politics in Brownwood for the next three years.

One time, Sarah went to the outhouse fifty feet behind the house. On her way back to the house, a faint, dull pain had moved into both eyes. Two days later, Sarah woke to a pain so great that it blocked out the fragrance of bluebonnets and her view of the valley. The searing jolt occupied her whole consciousness. When she finally complained, the Colonel pushed back her eyelid and saw a blood red, swollen eye. The eight-mile horseback ride to Byrd’s Store took the Colonel the better part of two hours, even as the fast trot set by the big, black gelding. By the time the Colonel got to the edge of town, it was late morning. He turned off the main road and rode two blocks to Dr. Windham’s house.

Dr. Windham prepared a solution of boric acid in warm water and saturated two washcloths in it. Their warmth soothed the pain on the surface of the eyes, but the deep, aching pain did not go away. Dr. Windham came on the second day and looked at her swollen, red eyes He took her hand and said that he was sending her to Fort Worth. Later, the doctor ordered laudanum to help ease her pain. On the third day, fluid rushed from her eyes, ending the pain, but leaving her blind.

In 1894, Colonel Burns ran for the state legislature and won. In 1896, he won a second term. In 1898, Colonel Burns decided to run for the State Senate. He had served two terms in the legislature, and he had a large number of people in his district that supported him. On April 7, he spoke to a crowd on the courthouse lawn in Granbury, Texas.

The Colonel had rented a room in the main hotel in Granbury. At the end of the day, he invited several of the local Democratic Party officials to eat with him. They had a large meal and sat back to smoke their cigars and talk about the election. The Colonel began to feel uncomfortable and asked for a glass of water. He told the people at the table that he had colic and was going to his room to lie down until it passed. The next morning, the hotel manager went to his room, and found him dead.

When the bad news reached the ranch, Sarah asked her sons, Simon Pierce Jr. and Walter to get on the train, go to Granbury, get the body and return it to the ranch. The next day, Colonel Burns was buried in Heflin Cemetery, about a mile east of the ranch.

Taken from A Few Good Horses by Simon Pierce Burns, a great grandson of Colonel Burns. The book is for sale at the Brown County Museum of History.