Tidbits of Shelby County History
Tenaha, Neighbors

This week’s article is about the city of Tenaha written by Milton Turner in 1952 and additional articles with unknown writers. It covers the history of the town and some of its citizens.

Tenaha and its Neighbors

Tenaha, Texas, June 26 – The little town of Tenaha is the culmination of all things that carry an east Texas flavor. Lying quietly in the pine forest of Shelby County, its roots are firmly implanted in pioneer soil.The City of Tenaha is located in Shelby County Texas on U.S. Highways 59, 84 and 96 and is situated south of Carthage, north of Center, and east of Timpson.(Note: the town is in the northern part of Shelby County, established in February of 1886 soon after the completion of the Houston, East and West Texas Railroad which extended from Houston across the northern portion of Shelby County and terminated in Shreveport. Most of land that is now the town of Tenaha was owned by pioneer lumbermen, E.S. and C.B. Hicks, brothers, who gave some of their property to the railroad company in order to entice the company to establish a depot where the townsite was to be laid out. The tracks are right on a break where the water falls on the south tracks run into Flat Fork Creek, and the water that falls on the north track run into McFadden Creek.)

Shops and store on three sides of the business district face the “town green”, a small parkway where the courthouse would be standing if this were the county seat. There are no business houses on one side of the district for this is dominated by the life-giving railroad tracks and depot.

Present day Shelby County was a part of an area known as the Municipality of Teneha in the first part of the nineteenth century.  It has always been thought that Tenaha, an Indian name meaning “muddy water”, but according to Frank X. Tobert, the great writer of Yesteryear with the Dallas Morning News, claimed by his research that it means “urine of a horse” in the Cherokee language. Some say that the Hicks Brothers named the town of Tenaha. Others give credit to F.L. Johnston, father of Judge R.F. Johnston, Mesdames G.J. and J.W. Butler of Tenaha, and Mrs. A.L. Pinkston of Center, for naming the town after Tenaha Creek and the municipality of Tenaha as Shelby County was first known. In 1837 Harrison and later Panola Counties were curved out of the giant municipality as were parts of Gregg, Upsher, and Marion Counties. 

The town map was laid out and lots sold. Many of the first purchases of these lots came from Woods post office. Some of the first deeds from E.S. and C.B. Hicks were as follows: Dennard & Co., Dec. 11, 1885 (present location of Bouland & Davis); S.J. Ross, Dec. 16, 1885 (McNeill & Brown); Bryan & Christian, Dec. 16, 1885 (Harris Hardware); J.W. Burns, Dec. 31, 1885 (Tenaha Mercantile); W.H. Wall etal, Jan. 6, 1886 (Wall Drug Co.) A.J. Jolley and son – grandfather and father of John B. Jolley, Feb 5, 1886 (Tenaha Grocery Co.); J.W. Burns, Feb. 1, 1886, Block No. 2 (present homes of Ferrin Stanley, the teacherage, and Ben Scheide; B.G. Hooker, Feb.11, 1886, Block 3, (G.B. Brown, E.W. Muckleroy homes); W.H. Wall, Feb. 23, 1886, Block 28 (William Wall, Dr. J.M. Parker J.D. homes); A.J. clayton, Tenaha’s first depot agent, Oct. 23, 1886, Block 15 (Jim White, Mrs. J.D. McClenny homes); J.N. Woodfin, Tenaha’s first postmaster, Oct. 27, 1887, five acres on the Joshua Smith Headright. Part of the old Woodfin home is still standing back of the present residence of G.B. Brown; J.E. McNeill, Sept 1, 1887, Block 25; A.B. Bryan, Dec. 27, 1889, Block 40 (Arthur Erwin home.)

There was a deed to a Mr. Ramsey, who ran a sawmill back of what is now Harris Hardware Company. There was also a deed to a Mr. Weaver, two blocks of land where the Baptist Church, the homes of Knox Riley, W.D. Sherman, Tap Hooker, A.E. Covington and Clyde Barr are now located. Mr. Weaver ran the “Weaver Carriage, Buggy, Coffin, and Cabinet Shop: on the present location of the Baptist Church. (Note: This information was provided by R.E. Burns, Editor East Texas Light.)

The town of Tenaha was incorporated in 1902, with A.B. Knight as first mayor Mr. Knight has many descendants in this area, especially in the Woods Community on Highway 59 north of Tenaha.

Most of the residences of Tenaha that were built before 1890, were modest and plain. The majority were constructed of one-by-twelve inch boards with the seams or cracks covered with batting. Drop siding was not available when the first houses were built, although the Hicks planning mill began the manufacture of this type of lumber after it was erected in 1892. Because lumber was very cheap, there was not a brick building in Tenaha prior to 1900, although there was a brick factory owned by J.J.E. Gibson located just below the present site of Tenaha Milling Company. A Mr. McClenny was another early brick man who built many of the local buildings. Early carpenters were John Holeman, Albert Barber, the Pulleys and Paxtons.

Many homes had brick chimneys, but a large number could not boast of this permanent improvement and had mud chimneys, made from clay, a little sandy loam, and some coarse grass, thoroughly mixed together, kneaded into balls, patted to a sort of brick size and placed in layers with enough force to change the conformation to fit the exact spot where they were applied. In this manner the chimney rapidly grew to the desired height.

The early families of the incorporated town were mostly from Woods, Cedar Yard, Newburn, Raman, Spivey Town, which later became Paxton, and other surrounding communities: these were the Walls, the Parkers, (Dr. Jim Ford, Hunter, Rogers, etc.) from Newburn community; then these from the Woods area…..the Knights, the McNeills, the Davises, the Hookers, Bryants, Kyles, and Baldwins. The R.F. Johnston, the Butlers, Harrison, Dukes, Risingers, Corleys, and Bogards were from other surrounding communities as were the Jolleys, Whites, and Christians. Early black families were the Hoopers, Mosleys, Thompsons, Caraways, Alexanders, Reeds, many more whose descendants still live in Tenaha.

The leading merchants around 1900 were Mr. Gus Bouland; The Walls (Wall Drug Store); Kyle Merchandise, John Burns, Dennard and Sons, John or Jim White.

The town has grown from a small village with wooden stores, sandy streets, and kerosene lamps, with its source of water two wells on the public square, to a modern town with brick buildings, electric lights, water and sewage system, many new homes and modern conveniences, three paved State and Federal highways and the only town in the county with two railroads – a town where neighborliness, good will, and faith in each other still abide.

Note: I will email some of the last pictures from the exhibit in a separate email. Anyone who hasn’t seen the current “Pictorial History of Shelby County” at the museum needs to do so soon. The next exhibit will be “Toys and Trains”. If anyone has older toys, books, or train sets, they would like to loan to the museum for the next exhibit, it would be greatly appreciated. For additional information, please contact me at 936-332-4847. Your assistance with the next display is needed.