Hardin and Martin Hart


    In 1917 a history of Constantine Lodge in Fannin County included numerous tributes to early Masons, with no mention at all of John Hart. 

    “The first English-speaking white man to look upon the area which was later to be known as Preston Bend was probably John Hart,” states a history of Grayson County, the creation of which in 1846 set today’s western boundary of Fannin County. In that account John Hart, born in 1790 in Kentucky, was on the “southwest frontier” as early as 1822, as a trapper and Indian trader operating out of Fort Smith, Arkansas Territory. On the Washita River that year, the story goes, Hart was attacked by Indians, who killed his guide.  “Alone,” he built a canoe from a tree four feet in diameter and sixty feet tall.  He “gouged” and burned out the inside. Then, on a day when the Washita was high, he loaded his hides and honey and “floated them down” to the Red River, and from there “clear down to Shreveport where he changed to a big boat and carried the whole thing to New Orleans and sold it.”

    In 1831 John Hart was operating a store in Jonesboro on Red River, the “outermost edge” of civilization then. His youngest son, Martin, born around 1821 in Indiana, was with him. Some will say that John Hart had a part in the approaching Texas Revolution. Son Hardin remained in Jonesboro to mind the store. In 1837 the Harts settled in Warren. It is not known whether Martin, who grew to adulthood in Warren, accompanied his father the next spring to “punish the Indians.”

    Also in 1837, with two partners, “the Baker brothers,” John Hart returned to the mouth of the Washita. “During the fall of that year and the spring of 1838 the partners cleared and fenced about seventeen acres and built three cabins.” In April of ‘38 John Hart and James Baker bought land from Hart’s sons, Hardin and Free Hart, on the south side of Red River, “a bottom situated about 3/4 mile below the Junction of Fas Washata.” Free Hart: John Hart had named his firstborn, in 1812, “Freeman Liberty.”

    Go back to 1835. Whereas John Hart ventured “alone” into the wilderness, Holland Coffee came with forty trappers and scouts to trade with the Indians. He may have known seven dialects. Coffee married Sophia Sutton “who boasted that she was the first Texas woman on the battlefield after General Houston defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto.” Coffee became prosperous and built the house called “Glen Eden,” famous for hospitality at Preston Bend.

     Return to John Hart’s “three cabins”. His land on Red River was claimed under a provision of the Republic of Texas that allowed ownership after three years of occupancy and improvement. The “improvement” involved clearing and cultivating about ten acres out of each 640, and erection of a house, usually of logs, on the land. “Hart acquired several tracts along with some partners, the Baker brothers, and they built at least three houses on the land and rented them and the land to tenants who were to stay out there three years, at the end of which time the title to Hart and his partners would become permanent.” But the tenants moved early and Holland Coffee and Silas Colville took possession, “action permissible under the law when land was abandoned.” They had it surveyed and installed their own tenants. 

    Judge Simpson’s narrative about Andrew Pennarro who killed his “Mexican brother” started with a jury called to consider “a case of this kind”.  The jury decided in favor of Coffee and Colville, an outcome not to the liking of Captain John Hart. On May 1, 1841, Hart and Colville met and fought on a street in Warren. Colville wrote to his brother-in-law from Shawneetown, Texas, on July 10, 1842:

    The affair between Capt. John Hart and myself took place about the first of May 41, in which I acted on the defensive and Hart fell, a Victim [to] a misguided and overbearing disposition. The relatives of Hart in this Country are numerous and they partake a good deal of the disposition of the unfortunate Decd. They are a lawless Set and have always carried their points by violence. Since the affair between their leader and myself they have watched my path for an opportunity to assassinate me up to the time of my trial, since which time their anger has greatly subsided. Public opinion was so much in my favor that it seems to have cowed them.

    My trial took place on the 1st Monday of May last. Judge Terrell, formerly a lawyer of Tennessee but a Native of S. Carolina, presided. The trial was short but created a great deal of excitement. The friends of both parties were on the Court yard Armed and equipt (not according to law but according to custom). The Verdict of the Jury and the Judg of the Court and the warm congratulations of the Spectators who were anxiously awaiting the Issue proclaimed me Justifiable.

    I am now on my little Farm attending to my pigs and poultry, in good Health with fine prospects of a plentiful crop.... I shall close by adding that Holland Coffee, who was here since I commenced writing, sends his friendly regards.

    Three years after Silas Colville killed John Hart, he was himself killed, by Indians, or partisans of the Hart clan. Martin Hart will sue Daniel Montague over the land dispute that caused his father’s death, and during his rampage for the Federal cause, during the Civil War, some looked back for an explanation to the same old bitterness with slave holders in Texas.

    Martin Hart (photo) was a Northern sympathizer during the Civil War. In 1862 he organized a company in North Texas

and became its captain. Receiving Union credentials in Missouri and Kansas, Martin and his first lieutenant (named Hays) took their men on “marauding expeditions” in Arkansas, killing landowners and pillaging farms. These actions ended when Confederate soldiers from Hunt County, Texas (where and Martin and Hardin practiced law) captured Hart’s company in Arkansas. Martin Hart and Hays were hanged on January 23, 1863.

    Hardin Hart, in Hunt County in

1863, was one of a party sent to coax Northern sympathizers out of Jernigan’s Thicket. Some surrendered, but two Hart men slipped back through the vigilantes’ lines at night and made their way north- westward into Fannin County, where the Harts had many family members they could turn to for support.

    Mirabeau B. Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, had signed an order on July 14, 1841, granting Hardin Hart one third of a League of land, “situated on the South side of Red River, about one mile and a half below the mouth of Caney Creek...beginning at a Stake...to a mound in the Prairie....” 

    Hardin will attempt to sell this land more than once: (yet again) He claimed the original sale in1843 was a fraud. From his deposition, April 29, 1873:

    ...I am 58 years of age, reside in Dallas county...lived in Fannin County from 1836 to 1848.... I refuse to answer this question for want of certainty...my wild lands...the amount paid me was...expressed in the deed...in gold coin...he made no inquiry of me as to the land title.

1873 May 23: (Dallas Herald) Judge Hardin Hart has put on a clean shirt...