Historical scrapbook: Brown County pioneers and businesses

Ronnie and Donnie Lappe
Special to the Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

Noah T. Byars was a pioneer and Baptist preacher who came to Brown County in its early days. This rugged old minister of the gospel was involved in the Texas Revolution from Mexico.

It was in his crude blacksmith shop at Washington-on-the-Brazos that the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed March 2, 1836. He is buried in Greenleaf Cemetery.  After his death, he was honored by a granite monument erected on the campus of Howard Payne University, commemorating his work for the Baptist Churches as well as for the State of Texas.

It was later moved to his grave. This inscription appears on the monument: “N. T. Byars Born in Spartanburg District South Carolina, May 17, 1808 Died at Brownwood, Texas, July 17, 1888.” The Daughters of the Republic of Texas obtained a memorial for this monument. The Brown County Historical Commission has obtained a Texas Historical marker for his grave, also.

Noah T. Byars moved from his South Carolina birthplace to the state of Georgia in 1830, and five years later, at the age of 27 years, came to Texas and settled at Washington-on-the-Brazos, which was later the historic site of the colonial government of the Republic of Texas. He opened a blacksmith shop there, and it soon became one of the community meeting places. When the convention of delegates met in Washington in March, 1836, his shop was the only building in the little town large enough to accommodate the meeting, and that was the reason that the Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed there.

He was a charter member of the first Baptist Church ever organized in Texas, which he helped to organize at Washington-on the-Brazos in 1838.

As the war for Texas Independence got under way, Byars was made armorer for General Sam Houston’s army, using his skills as a blacksmith more effectively than he could have used a musket in the ranks of the fighting men. After the war, he was Sergeant-at-Arms for the five years in the Senate of the Republic of Texas.

After moving to Bastrop in 1838, Noah T. Byars was licensed to preach that year, and was ordained as a minister October 16, 1841. Among those attending the ordination ceremonies were President Mirabeau B. Lamar, of the Republic of Texas, and members of his Cabinet, and other distinguished Texas patriots.

His first pastorate was in Burleson County, but he soon gave up pastoral duties to become a missionary spending forty years from 1848 to 1888, as a frontier preacher, revivalist, church organizer, and religious leader in communities scattered over most of Texas. He organized the First Baptist Church at Waco in 1851, and assisted in the organization of the First Baptist Church in Brownwood, in 1876, and was a pastor there.

He also assisted in the organization of several other Baptist churches at various points in Brown and neighboring counties and communities, including Trickham in Coleman County. He helped in the planning for Howard Payne University, a Baptist College.

A contemporary of Noah T. Byars, who is also remembered for his work in the community, was B. T. McClelland, D. D., who organized the First Presbyterian Church in Brown County, in 1876, and established Daniel Baker College in 1889. Dr. McClelland was born in Pennsylvania in February, 1845, and married Miss Mary Susan Smith, also a native of Pennsylvania, who became his faithful and dedicated helpmate in his work. It is said that this frontier preacher helped to quarry and haul the stones which were used in erecting the old Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Fisk Avenue and Anderson Street, where it served until the new building was erected in 1920.

In 1876, J. C. Allcorn and his family moved into Brown County. With an oxcart, he hauled most of the stones used in constructing the downtown buildings of the city. A lot of these buildings are still being used and, for a long period of time, were the only permanent structures in the downtown area. Mr. Allcorn and his wife were charter members of the First Presbyterian Church. He was a Confederate Veteran, and until his death, was active in the affairs of the United Confederate Veterans in the county.

Charles L. Steffins was organizer of the first band in Brownwood. Mr. Steffins came to the county from Comanche, where he had organized a brass band, in 1873, and in the spring of 1877 formally began the first band in Brownwood. He and C. A. Standenmyer are regarded as the first professional musicians in town, and Mr.

Steffins continued his active interest in music until his last years, playing a violin for many years in church organizations and taking an active part in other musical affairs of the community. Among the early pupils of Mr. Steffins, and members of his band, were four brothers: John, Frank, Harry, and George Knight; Jewell Fagg, Hart Mickle, and Frank Crumb. This group, aided by other musicians who arrived from time to time, played at all public functions for several years. Other members of the group were Gardner Thomas, the Gilliam brothers (Ed and Joe), C. Y. Jackson, Ed Jackson, and others.

Rex Gaither was the next notable band leader who came to Brownwood, and in 1903, began the reorganization of the town’s band, which led eventually to the formation of the famous Old Gray Mare Band, that won nationwide recognition under the leadership of R. Wright Armstrong, the husband of Dr. Molly Armstrong. The Brown County Historical Commission has obtained a Texas Historical marker for the Old Gray Mare Band that is located at the Depot, and a marker for Dr. Molly Armstrong, which is located on the corner of Avenue C, and Austin Avenue.

The press came to Brownwood along with the gospel and fine arts. The first newspaper was the Pecan Bayou Valley Eagle, which was first printed in1875. Less than a year later, it was absorbed by the Brown County Banner, which was established early in 1876 by Colonel William H. Martin, father of James P. Martin, and which was published for Brownwood’s weekly newspaper for many years. It was the survivor of a field of probably more than forty publications including several daily newspapers, which have been launched in Brown County.

Colonel Martin sold the Banner after two or three years to E. P. Mickle, and went into the banking business with the Coggin brothers and Henry Ford. In the 1880s, the Brown County Bulletin was established by a printer named Schafer, and the town had two weekly newspapers, until both were brought together under one ownership late in the 1880s by Will H Mayes, who published the paper under the hyphenated name of Banner-Bulletin.

After the daily Bulletin was launched in October, 1900, the Banner-Bulletin was continued as a weekly edition. In 1933, it was separated from the daily paper and sold to Wendell Mayes and John Blake, and in 1938, was sold to James C. White, who had been connected with the paper since January, 1903, as employee, and later as part owner of the Bulletin property. He wrote a noted history of Brown County.

An interesting episode of the early day period was the publication in Brown County of a newspaper called The Sunny South, by Ed P. Mickle and two brothers. The paper ran a lottery, giving chances for prizes with each subscription, and at one time during its brief career of two years, was actually printing 150,000 copies of each bi-weekly issue.

The capital prize in each drawing was a good black land farm, while other prizes were dollar watches and similar cheap items. J. T. Hall, father of Ira W. Maury, Ed G. and Lee Hall, had the mail hauling contract at that time, and the Sunny South almost broke him since he received no extra compensation for hauling the thousands of Sunny Souths twice a month, and it required extra equipment and heavy additional expense.

His mail stage was frequently hijacked by robbers. The Sunny South ceased to exist, however, after about two years. There are many stories about the fabled old paper. One is that the owners lost title to it in a poker game. The probability is that it died on its own, since the lottery racket soon failed, and the paper had no news or advertising value. There is not a single copy of this old paper known to exist anywhere in this part of the Country.

There was also a daily paper in the county in the 1880s. It was called “The Bee” and it lasted only a short while. Most of the publications launched during the late 1880s and the 1890s were political in character, and there were many casualties among these ventures in the hazardous field of pioneer journalism. There were no casualties among the editors for what they printed, but it is of record that while an editor occasionally was beaten, none was ever severely hurt.