Montague County was an undisturbed wilderness before 1850 when white men began
to settle the area. Rolling upland prairies of native tall grasses beginning just south of Montage
County and continuing to Canada, provided the famous habitat where the buffalo
roamed. According to testimonies of residents three tribes occupied this territory before
1850—the Wichita, the Kiowa, and the Comanche. Indians relied on bison for food, clothing, and shelter
in a nomadic existence.
Comanches were fierce warriors who lived
on the Southern Plains. They are one of the most historically
important Indian cultures from Texas. The Comanches were much more
than just warriors. According to the old Spanish records and other
sources they were also very good traders. The Spanish used to hold trade fairs in the city of
Taos and in Santa Fe in what is now New Mexico. Records from trade
fairs in old Taos and Santa Fe describe the Comanches at the trade
fairs. They were well dressed. The Comanche leaders often wore fine
European clothes, with many silver conchos and fine leather boots.
And they had money. They would come to trade in organized groups.
There was always one Comanche in these groups who could speak
Spanish, French, and four or five Indian languages. The group always
had a leader who was very skilled as a trader and diplomat. The
problem was most of what they had to sell or trade was stuff they
had stolen. They sold the stolen horses and women and children they
had kidnapped. The relatives of the women and children would come to
these fairs to buy them back. This kidnapping for ransom would later
get the Comanche in big trouble with the American settlers who were
much less tolerant of it than the Spanish or Pueblo Indians were.
Comanche named Bow and Quiver.
Painted by George Catlin in
Opinions are divided as to who the county’s first settlers were. However, it is
generally accepted that the first community was that of Head of Elm (now Saint
Jo). Although the exact date is not known, we do know Col. James B. Leach camped
at Head of Elm in 1857. The town of Forestburg claims to be the second earliest
settlement in the county. Lending proof that Saint Jo and Forestburg were the
first two settlements is the fact that in 1858, the only voting places in the
county were (Head of Elm) Saint Jo and a site west of Forestburg.
Montague County came into being on December 26, 1857, by an act of legislation,
but the government was not organized until August 2, 1858, which is the date
recognized as the county’s birth.