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  • Writer's pictureTravis Ransom


Texas became a state on December 29, 1845 and the First Texas Legislature convened from February 16 to May 13, 1846 in regular session. Cass County was established as a county during that legislative session and its temporary county seat was Jefferson, Texas. The county seat was moved to Linden following an election and Marion County would be formed later with Jefferson serving as its county seat as it does today. While cleaning out an old storage area recently, part of Cass County’s foundational history was uncovered. I have to give my daughter Anna Ransom credit for the discovery because she was the first to notice an old book sitting on top of a box of old paperwork that looked out of place. The book’s cover was missing and the pages were brownish yellow and looked very old. The pages appeared to be an official record of sorts. Items were numbered and hand written. At the top of the first page read, Jefferson, Texas, October 12, 1846! Just a few months after Texas became a State! The records began with the number “1” and the exaggerated cursive handwriting made it a challenge to make out the words. We had discovered a foundational document for our county, one which documented the very beginning as it outlined the preemption certificates of our early Cass County Settlers.

In the early days of the Republic of and now the State of Texas, in order to build a tax base and encourage settlement in Texas, immigrants were granted land by the government. The amount of acreage issued was based on the time period in which an immigrant arrived in Texas. Preemption grants were one such category of land grants. From 1845 to 1854, individuals could claim 640 and later 320 acres of land from the unappropriated public domain. The amount was reduced to 160 acres in 1854 and the grant program was canceled in 1856. Preemption grants of 160 acres were reinstituted in 1866 and continued until 1898. To qualify for a preemption grant, settlers were required to live on the land for three years and make improvements. Different types of certificates also existed. A conditional certificate was issued in order to give the grantee the right to occupy a portion of the public domain, while the unconditional certificate was issued only after the completion of certain requirements. (i.e. the land had to be lived on for three years, a portion of the land had to be cultivated).

As I read through the pages, I wondered if this book had ever been digitized and made available online for research. The Texas General Land Office retains a robust database of land grants and deeds. I searched and queried the data without success. I picked a name at random out of the handwritten pages to see if I could find a record in the General Land Office databases for one of our early settlers. Certificate number 47 in the book stated,

“Personally appeared before us the board of land commissioners for the County of Cass M. B. J. Holcomb and taken the oath prescribed by law and proven by A.F. Holcomb and Nelson H Haney that he has resided (in) The Republic now The State of Texas three years and performed all the duties required of him as a citizen he is therefore entitled to three hundred and twenty acres of land.”

I searched the General Land Office database for the last name Holcomb and found an old deed which showed that Mr. Holcomb sold a portion of those original 320 acres to another gentleman and that Mr. Holcomb had originally received the land via certificate number 47. It was referencing the book we had uncovered and I was literally holding the original record. It had never been digitized. It had not been preserved. I had the only copy. I immediately called the General Land Office and told them what we had. My next call was to Gary Endsley who serves on the Cass County Historical Society Board. He came by to inspect the book in person but was careful not to touch it with his bare hands, lest we get oils on the book which might hasten its deterioration. I also called our County Clerk, Amy Varnell to seek her advice. When you file documents with the Cass County Clerk’s office, a small fee is collected which goes towards the archival of historical documents which the County maintains in perpetuity. We were able to use those funds to ship the book we now call “Book 1” to a company called Kofile. They specialize in document preservation and restoration. Kofile cleaned and repaired the pages of the book as well as conducted de-acidification of the pages and encapsulation of the pages into protective sleeves which were placed into a beautiful leather bound binder. Kofile also scanned all the pages digitally and provided a digital copy which Cass County will provide to the Texas General Land Office as well as the Cass County Genealogical Society for their records and research. If you are interested in seeing this one of a kind historic document in person, drop by the Cass County Judge’s office where we have “Book 1” on display.

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