Milam County (1977 est. population 19,700) is a 1,028 square mile area located in Central East Texas. Named for Benjamin R. Milam, who died during the Texans' siege of Bexar in 1835, it was one of the twenty-three original Texas counties created in 1836. At that time Milam County contained one sixth of the land area in Texas, but the boundary changes over the years reduced the area to its present size by 1861. The state legislature designated the town of Cameron as the county seat in 1846.
Spanish hunters, travelers, and missionaries first entered the area that became Milam County because of its location just north of the Camino Real (Old San Antonio Road). Settlement began in the 1740's with the establishment of three missions, but disease, hostile Apaches, and lack of army support forced their abandonment in 1757.
Anglo-American colonization began in 1825 when the Texas Association, chartered in Tennessee, received a land grant and permission to import 800 families. Sterling C. Robinson became the leading figure in this effort and was responsible for bringing over 600 families into the area. The Robertson Colony later became part of the municipality of Viesca, a large strip of land 100 miles wide and 200 miles long comprising all or part of thirty present Texas counties, including Milam.
American immigrants from southern states established the first two towns in what later became Milam County in 1834. Robertson located a land office in Nashville, situated near the present town of Gause. The second town, Sarahville de Viesca, was thirty miles north of Nashville and became the colony=s capital.
The "Runaway Scrape" during the Texas Revolution caused all of Robertson's colonists to evacuate the colony and go to Clapp=s crossing on the Trinity River, returning only when they heard the news of Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto. Hostile Comanches frequently forced settlers to flee to Nashville until Indians and whites concluded a peace treaty at the Falls of the Brazos in 1844, establishing a line of demarcation between the two cultures.
The only method of transport was ox wagon or stagecoach until 1876, when the International and Great Northern crossed the southern part of Milam County. Cameron was not on a rail line until 1881, when the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe connected the town with Fort Worth and the Gulf Coast.
Large scale cotton production was the economic mainstay of Milam County for many years. In 1887 the county produced 14,773 bales, and by 1935 cotton production was approximately 50,000 bales annually. Other crops grown include corn, sorghums, wheat, hay, vegetables, peanuts, and pecans. Agricultural products presently contribute an average annual income of $30 million, but the emphasis has shifted from crops to livestock, especially cattle, hogs, and poultry, which is responsible for two-thirds of the annual income.
Milam County has large deposits of lignite which support some of the largest strip mines in the state. Other minerals include petroleum, natural gas, brick clays, limestone, sand, and gravel. Oil was discovered in 1921 and total production to January of 1979 amounted to 7,700,159 barrels.
Milam County operates under the Constitution of 1876 which outlines the major offices of the county government and their functions.
The present Constitution provides that the County Clerk
shall be clerk of the County and Commissioners Courts and recorder of the county, whose duties, perquisites and fees of office shall be prescribed by the Legislature, and a vacancy in whose office shall be filled by the Commissioners Court, until the next general election; provided, that in counties having a population of less than 8,000 persons there may be an election of a single Clerk, who shall perform the duties of District and County Clerks. (1)
These three functions result in this office having the responsibility for recording and maintaining the largest volume of records in the operation of county government.
County Clerk: As Secretary For Commissioners Court
As secretary to Commissioners Court, the County Clerk is responsible for attending all court meetings, posting notices of such meetings, preparing the agenda for each meeting, taking minutes, and indexing and maintaining these records. (2) The Commissioners Court serves as the administrative body of the county. The powers and duties of this body are granted and limited by the Constitution of the State of Texas.
The court consists of four commissioners, two of whom are elected every two years. The County Judge, elected from the county as a whole, presides over the Commissioners Court. (3) Two of the most important powers of the court are setting of tax rate for the county and the approval of the county budget. (4) Other duties include providing for the disposition off all school lands granted to the county; providing for necessary public buildings and their repair; conducting elections; establishing and maintaining roads, bridges, and ferries; auditing and settling accounts against the county; providing for the support of paupers and mentally incompetent persons unable to support themselves; (5) and serving as a board of equalization of state and county tax assessments. (6)
The Commissioners Court, as the main policy-determining body in the county, blends legislative, executive, and judicial powers and functions that are usually separated in American government. It is essentially a "court" that exercises legislative and executive functions but has virtually no judicial powers. (7)
County Clerk: As Recorder
As recorder, the County Clerk is required to record and maintain legal instruments of the county and its citizens. The statutory duties of the County Clerk had, to a large extent, already been defined during the Republic period. The Clerk was to record all deeds, conveyances, mortgages, and other liens on land; to record all estrays; to issue and record all marriage licenses; to issue various types of business licenses; and to post a list of taxpayers. (8) State laws after 1846 further required the Clerk to record deeds of trust, bonds, covenants, defeasances, and other instruments relating to property, including marriage contracts, powers of attorney, abstracts of judgment, and land titles. He is also to provide an alphabetical list of all names occurring in his records and to record all livestock marks and brands in the County. (9)
Since 1903 the Clerk has been required to record all births, and deaths in the county, and since 1919, he has been required to record official discharges of persons from military service. (10)
According to the Constitution, the State is to be divided into as many judicial districts as may be provided by law. (1) The District Court has jurisdiction in
all criminal cases of the grade of felony; in all suits in behalf of the State to recover penalties, forfeitures and escheats; of all cases of divorce; of all misdemeanors involving official misconduct; of all suits to recover damages for slander or defamation of character; of all suits for trial of title to land and for the enforcement of liens thereon; of all suits for the trial of the right of property levied upon by virtue of any writ of execution, sequestration or attachment when the property levied on shall be equal to or exceed in value five hundred dollars; of all suits, complaints or pleas whatever, without regard to any distinction between law and equity, when the matter in Controversy shall be valued at or amount to five hundred dollars exclusive of interest; or contested elections, and said court and the judges thereof, shall have power to issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, injunction and certiorari, and all writs necessary to enforce their jurisdiction. (2)
In addition, the District Court has appellate jurisdiction over the County Court in probate cases, as well as appellate jurisdiction and general supervisory control over the County Commissioners Court. According to a 1931 law, the District Court also presides over adoption proceedings. (3)
The Constitution provides that there
shall be a Clerk for the District Court of each county, who shall be elected by the qualified voters for State and County officers, and who shall hold his office for four years, subject to removal by information, or by indictment of a grand jury, and conviction of a petit jury. In case of vacancy, the Judge of the District Court shall have the power to appoint a clerk, who shall hold until the office can be filled by election. (4)
The District Clerk has the responsibility of recording and preserving all records created by the District Court. In addition to this primary function, the clerk records licenses of physicians, chiropodists, and chiropractors; makes reports to various agencies, including those to the Texas Industrial Accident Board, the Texas Judicial Council, and the Department of Public Safety; and prepares ballot boxes for all elections. (5)
The Assessor and collector of Taxes is elected in each county to a four-year term. As assessor of taxes in each county, he has the responsibility of making a list of taxable property and assessing the value of it. As collector, he receives and collects all taxes assessed in the county. (1)
During the Republic period a Tax Assessor was appointed for each county and the Sheriff served as collector. (2) The two offices were combined in 1846 in an elective position which required the Tax Assessor-Collector, in addition to assessing and collecting taxes on real and personal property, to draw up a list of delinquent taxpayers. (3)
The Constitution of 1876 originally provides for the election of a Tax Assessor for each county and for a Tax Collector in counties with a population of over 10,000, with the Sheriff serving as collector in the smaller counties. In 1932 this provision was amended to combine the offices of tax assessor and collector in counties with a population of over 10,000, and the Sheriff filled both offices in the smaller counties. A 1954 constitutional amendment authorized counties with less than 10,000 population to create a separate office of Tax Assessor-Collector upon the approval of the electorate. (4)
Since the time the office was created, the duties of the Assessor and Collector of Taxes have been to assess and collect both state and county taxes on real and personal property. In addition the Tax Assessor-Collector is "registrar of voters," and thereby
responsible for the registration of voters, keeping of records, preparation of lists of registered voters, and such other duties Incident to voter registration as are placed upon him by law. (5)
He is also charged by statutory law with the registration of all motor vehicles in the county. (6)
The office of the Justice of the Peace can trace its beginning to the Constitution of the Republic of Texas and has been included in every constitution since that time. The Justice of the Peace is charged by the present Constitution with
Jurisdiction in criminal matters of all cases where the penalty or fine to be imposed by law may not be more than for two hundred dollars, and in civil matters of all cases where the Amount in controversy is two hundred dollars or less. (1)
Because of that jurisdiction the Justice of the Peace Court is often referred to as the poor manís court.Ē In 1979 the Legislature increased the civil jurisdiction of Justice Court, concurrent with district and county courts, in cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $200 but does not exceed $500 exclusive of interest. (2)
The Justice of the Peace is also empowered to issue writs and warrants, arraign prisoners, and hold preliminary hearings, (3) In addition, he may act as registrar of vital statistics for his precinct area in towns of less than 2,500 people, and he is empowered to conduct inquests in cases where doubt exists as to cause of death. (4)
The office of Sheriff is an old one in American local government, tracing its roots back to the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the English-speaking people. In Texas the office has been provided for in every constitution of the Republic and of every State. The present Constitution provides that
there shall be elected by the qualified voters of each county a Sheriff, who shall hold his office for the term of four years, whose duties and perquisites and fees of office, shall be prescribed by the Legislature, and vacancies in whose office shall be filled by the Commissioners Court until the next general election. (1)
Chief among these duties is that of peace officer if the county, but the Sheriff is also an officer of both the county and the district courts in which he is responsible for the service of writs and processes. In addition to these duties, the Sheriff is also charged with the maintenance of the county jail and the supervision of its prisoners.
The County Judge, elected for a four-year term, serves as the presiding officer of the Commissioners Court. In addition to being the administrative head of the county, the Judge is also charged with the duty of presiding over the county and probate courts in those counties where special county courts-at-law or probate courts have not been rovided by the Legislature. (1)
The office of County Treasurer was created by the Republic as an appointive position in 1840. (1) The Constitution now provides for the election of the County Treasurer, who serves a four-year term, and has the primary responsibility of receiving and disbursing county funds. (2)
The office of County Auditor was established in 1916. (1) The Auditorís main duties are the
general oversight of all books and records of all the officers of the county, district, or state, who may be authorized or required by law to receive or collect any money, funds, fees, or other property for use of, or belonging to, the county; and he shall see to the strict enforcement of the law governing county finances. (2)
In counties of less than 225,000 population, the auditor estimates revenues and expenditures so that a county budget can be formulated by the Commissioners Court. (3)
The Constitution provides that
A County Attorney, for counties in which there is not a resident Criminal District Attorney, shall be elected by the qualified voters of each county, who shall be commissioned by the Governor, and hold his office for the term of four years. In case of vacancy the commissioners Court of the county shall have the power to appoint a County Attorney until the next general election. (1)
The County Attorney has the responsibility of representing the State in the district and inferior courts in his county. Where there is also a resident District Attorney, the County Attorney prosecuted cases in the county courts below the district court level. (2)
The major offices of county government in Texas have operated for more than one hundred years now under the Constitution of 1876. Historians and other researchers should remember, however, that the state had three other constitutions in the period from 1845 to 1876 and that the titles and functions of county offices often varied during those years. Under the Constitution of 1866, for example, the Commissioners Court was called the Police Court. The Constitution of 1869 provided that the District Clerk serve ex officio as County Clerk and that the Commissioners Court be composed of five ďJustices of the Peace.Ē Unless noted in advance, such variations in title and function can be confusing to anyone utilizing local records in historical research. An excellent account of the constitutional changes in county government prior to 1876 is found in the WPA Inventory of the county archives of Guadalupe County published by the Texas Historical Records Survey in 1939. (1)
1. Constitution of the State of Texas. Article V., Section 20.
2. Ibid., H. P. N. Gammel, comp. and arr., The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols. (Austin: The Gammel Book Company, 1898), VIII, p. 888.
3. Constitution, Art. V, Section 18.
4. Fred Gantt, Jr., Irving O. Dawson, and Luther G. Hagard, Jr., eds., Governing Texas: Documents and Readings, 3rd. Ed. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1974), p. 313
5. Vernonís Annotated Revised Civil Statutes, VII-A, (St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1971), Article 2351 (hereafter cited as VARCS).
6. Constitution, Art. VIII, Section 18.
7. Gantt, Governing Texas, p. 312.
8. Constitution, Art. V, Sec. 20; Gammel, Laws of Texas, I., pp.1215, 1272, 1294; ibid, II, pp. 189-196, 273; ibid., I, pp. 1512, 1514.
9. Gammel, Laws of Texas, II, pp. 1542-1547; ibid., III, p. 156.
10. General Laws of the State of Texas, 28th Legislature, 1903, Chapter 135, Section 2, p. 220; General Laws, 36th Leg., 1919, Chap. 96, Sec. 2, pp.154-155.
11. General Laws, 37th Leg, 1921, Chap. 73, Sec. 1, pp. 142-143; Gammel, Laws of Texas, IX, p. 1119; General Laws, 38th Leg., 1923, Chap. 183, Sec. 13, p. 416; General Laws, 37th Leg., 1921, Chap 51, Sec. 10, p. 162; General Laws, 28th Leg., 1903, Chap. 95, Sect. 5, pp. 124-125; General and special laws of the State of Texas, 40th Leg., 1927, Chap. 231, Secs. 2, 3, 5, 7, pp. 343-345; General Laws, 34th Leg., 1915, Chap. 73, Sec. 1, p. 126; VARCS, XIII (St Paul: West Publishing Company, 1975), Article 1301a.
12. Constitution, Art. V, Sec. 20; Gammel, Laws of Texas, VII, p. 846
13. Constitution, Art. V, Sec. 16.
14. Gammel, Laws of Texas, I, pp. 1074, 1209-1210, 1213; ibid., II, pp. 91, 1287, 1614-1624; ibid., III, pp. 113-120; ibid., V, p. 868; ibid., VII, pp. 411-412.
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article V, Section 7.
2. Ibid., Sec. 8.
3. Ibid.; General Laws of the State of Texas, 42nd Legislature, 1931, Chapter 177, Section 1, pp. 300-301.
4. Constitution, Art. V, Sec. 9.
5. Vernonís Annotated Revised Civil Statutes, XII-B (Kansas City, Missouri: Vernon Law Book Company, 1966), Article 4499 (hereafter cited as VARCS); VARCS, XIII (1960), Article 4571; VARCS, XII-B, (1966), Article 4512b; VARCS, VII (1971), Article 2328a; VARCS, Vol. 19.5, Article 6701d, Section 152; and Article 6687b, Sections 24, 25, 30; VARCS, IX, (1969) Article 8.15.
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article VIII, Section 14.
2. H. P. N. Gammel, comp. and arr., The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols.( Austin: The Gammel Book Company, 1898), I, pp. 1319, 1246.
3. Ibid., II, p. 1653; ibid., III, p. 202
4. Constitution, Art. VIII, Secs. 14, 16, 16a
5. Vernonís Annotated Revised Civil Statutes, IX (1967), Article 5.09a (hereafter cited as VARCS).
6. VARCS, Vol. 19.5 ( 1969 ), Article 6675a-2
Justice of the Peace
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article V, Section 19.
2. General and Special Laws of the State of Texas, 66th Legislature, 1979, Chapter 377, p. 846.
3. Vernonís Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, V ( Kansas City, Missouri: Vernon Law Book Company, 1967), Rule 523; Vernonís Annotated Code of Criminal Procedure of the State of Texas, I (1966) Article 15.17; ibid., Art. 16.01-16.21.
4. Vernonís Annotated Revised Civil Statutes, XII-B (1966), Art. 4477, Rules 36a and 41a.
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article V, Section 23.
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article V, Section 15 and 18.
1. H. P. N. Gammel, comp. and arr., The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols. ( Austin: The Gammel Book Company, 1898), II, p. 200.
2. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article 16, Section 44; Gammel, Laws of Texas, II, pp.1645-1646.
1. Inventory of the County Archives of Texas, Milam County, (n.p.: Milam County, Texas, 1941).
2. Vernonís Annotated Revised Civil Statutes, III-B (1962), Art. 1651.
3. Ibid., Art. 1666.
1. Constitution of the State of Texas, Article V, Section 21.
Note to Researchers
1. Inventory of the County Archives of Texas, Guadalupe County (San Antonio: The Texas Historical Records Survey, 1939).
We must say a special thank you to David Ray Galbreath of Frankston, Texas, for typing the above for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.
Created on 9 Jan 2004 and last revised on 26 Oct 2004