Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring Texas Forest Trail Region Forts

Map of Walker County

Topics (click on a topic to jump to that section).
Akin Hill | Besser, General John Slater | Cincinnati | Crabb, Hillary Mercer | Dodge | Edinburg, Christopher C. | Emancipation Park | Old Gibbs Store | Founding of Huntsville and of Historic Indian Post | Houston, Sam | Woodland, Home of Sam Houston | Sam Houston Memorial Museum | Huntsville Springs | Huntsville "Walls" Unit | Newport | Oakwood Cemetery | Town of Riverside | State Penitentiary C.S.A. and Texas Civil War | Walker County | Five Courthouses of Walker County
Akin Hill

Marker Title: Akin Hill
County: Walker
Marker Location: From Huntsville take SH 19 NE approximately 8.2 miles.
Marker Text: A landmark on the "Old Colony Road" between Huntsville and Ryan's Ferry on the Trinity River. Named for Thomas Akin (1828-78), a native of Mississippi, who came to Texas in 1853 with his wife, Ruth Leakey Akin, whom he met and married in Bienville Parish, La., along the way. Akin, a horse trader, farmer, and singing teacher, came to this area in 1854, settled in the rural community of McGuire, and built a cabin at the base of the hill. While Akin served in the Civil War as a courier for Confederate Gen. John B. Hood, Mrs. Akin moved the family a few miles to the east. The couple had 7 children.

Besser, General John Slater

Marker Title: Besser, General John Slater
County: Walker
Marker Location: Near Sam Houston grave memorial in Oakwood Cemetery (corner of 9th Street and Ave. I); Huntsville.
Marker Text: A native of Pennsylvania, John Slater Besser was a brigadier general, legislator, and judge in Missouri before moving his family to Texas in 1842. While living in Montgomery and Walker counties, Besser held a number of public offices before and after the Civil War. He served as director and financial agent of the state penitentiary under Governors Bell, Henderson, Pease, Runnels, Houston, Clark, and Lubbock, and was Walker County Judge from 1878 to 1880. Married four times, Besser was the father of nine children born to his first wife, Julia Hampton.


Marker Title: Cincinnati
County: Walker
Marker Text: Important shipping point in Trinity River navigation. Founded in 1838 by James C. De Witt. Abandoned after yellow fever scourge in 1853

Hillary Mercer Crabb

Marker Title: Hillary Mercer Crabb
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: From the intersection of SH 75 and IH 45, take SH 75 NW approx. 2 miles; Huntsville.
Marker Text: Georgia native Hillary Mercer Crabb, a veteran of the militia in his home state, moved his family to the Mexican state of Texas in 1830. While awaiting a land grant they settled in the Sabine District. From there Crabb joined the Texas militia and served in such action as the 1832 Battle of Nacogdoches. In 1835 he was granted property at this site. The rural community that developed around his homesite (400 yds. W) became known as Crabb's Prairie. Crabb was instrumental in the early development of Huntsville and Walker County. A leader in civic and social activities, he became the first probate judge when the county was created in 1846. He also served as a justice of the peace and chief justice (county judge). In 1852 he was elected to serve the unexpired term of State Representative F. L. Hatch. Among Crabb's accomplishments as a legislator was the introduction of a bill to create Madison County. Opposed to secession, Crabb moved to Lavaca County at the outbreak of the Civil War. He later moved to Madison County, where he served as sheriff. His influence as a prominent landowner, church leader, Mason and public servant had a dramatic impact on the early growth of this area.


Marker Title: Dodge
City: Dodge
County: Walker
Marker Location: Intersection of Farris Street and FM 405; Dodge.
Marker Text: The town of Dodge was established in 1872, when the Houston and Great Northern Railroad built a line through this area. W. J. Johnson gave land for the railroad right-of-way with the stipulation that a station be built at the new settlement. The town was platted along the tracks, with streets named for early pioneers. Dodge soon had a school, two churches, a Masonic lodge, a bank, a cotton gin, and several stores. After 1900 a rail line from an Oakhurst sawmill was built to transport lumber to the main line at Dodge for shipment.

Christopher C. Edinburg

Marker Title: Christopher C. Edinburg
County: Walker
Marker Location: From Huntsville take FM 247 N approx. 13 miles to FM 2989; then W on FM 2989 approx. 1 mile to Falba Cemetery (marker is in cemetery).
Marker Text: Came to Texas 1824. Fought at San Jacinto. Died in 1864

Emancipation Park

Marker Title: Emancipation Park
Address: 302 Ave. F
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: 302 Ave. F (Martin Luther King Drive); Huntsville.
Marker Text: Celebrations of "Juneteenth"--the anniversary of the June 19, 1865 emancipation of Texas slaves--were first held in homes and churches. Later, festivities took place outdoors. By 1915, Huntsville blacks, led by former slave Jane Ward (d. 1933), had moved the annual observance to this site, known as Emancipation Park. Dave Williams, another former slave, organized the Band and Park Association to raise the down payment on the property. In 1933, R. A. Josey, a white businessman, completed purchase of the land for use by the black community. The 9.04 acre site became a city park in 1963.

Picture of General Sam Houston
General Sam Houston
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Old Gibbs Store

Marker Title: Old Gibbs Store
Address: 1116 Cedar Stree
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: 1116 Cedar Street; Huntsville.
Marker Text: Old Gibbs Store, oldest business in Texas under original ownership and on first site. Established 1841 in Republic of Texas by Thomas Gibbs. Building erected in 1847 after Sandford Saint John Gibbs joined firm. General Sam Houston was steady customer of the partners, who became bankers after lending use of their safe to neighbors. Gibbs National Bank, established 1890, was forerunner of First National Bank, established 1922.

Founding of Huntsville and of Historic Indian Post

Marker Title: Founding of Huntsville and of Historic Indian Post
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: North side of Walker County Courthouse Square.
Marker Text: Located here about 1830, this Indian post was established by Pleasant Gray, adventurer and pioneer from Alabama. Friendly Indians of East Texas had long used the nearby springs and they came to exchange agricultural products and pottery for hides, ponies, and cured meat brought by the western Indians. Soon settlers began to move into the region and by 1836, during the Republic of Texas, the future town of Huntsville had started to spring up here. Gray sold his post in 1846, as he could no longer tend it. He died in 1848. He had one son.

Sam Houston

Marker Title: Sam Houston
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: At Ave. I entrance to Oakwood Cemetery (corner of 9th Street and Avenue I); Huntsville.
Marker Text: Born March 2, 1793, in Rockbridge County, Va.; son of Samuel and Elizabeth Houston. Moved to Tennessee in 1807 with widowed mother and her family. In 1813 joined U.S. Army under Gen. Andrew Jackson, with whom he formed lifetime friendship and political ties. In Tennessee, taught school, kept a store, served in U.S. Congress, was state governor. In 1829, after his young bride left him, resigned as governor and went westward. Settling in 1833 in Nacogdoches, became a leader in cause of Texas independence from Mexico. Elected March 4, 1836, to command the Army of the Republic, engineered retrograde movement that led to victory of San Jacinto, which won Texas independence. President of the Republic, 1836-1838 and 1841-1844, he was senator after annexation. In 1859 he was elected governor, and served until secession. In 1861 he declined to take oath of office in Confederacy, retiring instead after a quarter-century of service to his state. However, he did not oppose Confederate army enlistment of his young son, Sam Houston, Jr. While the Civil War continued, he died on July 26, 1863, at his home, "Steamboat House," Huntsville. With him was his family, to hear his last words to his wife: "Texas--, Margaret, Texas--".

Woodland, Home of Sam Houston

Marker Title: Woodland, Home of Sam Houston
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: On the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and Education Center grounds (in front of Sam Houston home); Huntsville.
Marker Text: General of the army which won the war for Texas Independence, 1836, and first President of the Republic, 1836-1838, Sam Houston was one of the most controversial and colorful figures in Texas history. In his eventful career, Houston had resided in Nacogdoches, Liberty, Houston, and Austin. He and his wife Margaret (Lea) built this house, "Woodland", in 1847 to provide themselves with a town place. With enthusiasm, he wrote to a friend that the new home was a "bang up place!" and that the climate was "said to be healthy". Houston and his wife lived at Woodland while he was a U.S. Senator, 1846-1859, perhaps the happiest and most prosperous years of his life. Four of their eight children were born here. The house was built in a style common to the South at the time: squared logs covered with hand-hewn, whitewashed boards. The detached kitchen and law office were built of unfinished, squared logs. In 1859 Houston was elected governor but, although opposed to secession, he could not keep Texas from joining the Confederacy in 1861. Deposed from office, he returned to his second Huntsville home, called the "Steamboat House", where he died in 1863.

Sam Houston Memorial Museum

Museum Name: Sam Houston Memorial Museum
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2057 SHSU
City: Huntsville
Zip Code: 77341
Street Address: 1836 Sam Houston Ave.
Area Code: 409
Phone: 294-1832
County: Walker
Types of Exhibits/Collections: Military, Interactive, Photos, Historical, Local/Pioneer History, Archives, Other

Huntsville Springs

Marker Title: Huntsville Springs
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: In Founders Park near the intersection of 10th Street and University Ave.; Huntsville.
Marker Text: Kentucky native Pleasant Gray and his wife Hannah (Holshouser) left Tennessee with their two children in 1834 and in 1835 settled here on land granted to them as part of Mexico's colonization effort. At that time natural springs located nearby served as a campsite for the area's native Bedias Indians and for immigrants passing through the region. After establishing a trading post near the springs with his brother Ephraim, Pleasant Gray subdivided his land into home and business lots and advertised the property in Alabama, Tennessee, New Orleans, and various steamboat offices. Settlers soon arrived and a town developed which Gray named after Huntsville, Alabama, a former family home. The area's bountiful springs were observed in the Texas chronicles written by British scientist/adventurer William Bollaert in 1843-44. Huntsville was incorporated in 1845. For many years townspeople were accustomed to using spring water captured in a trough near the springs. In 1893-1894 the city dug an artesian well within a few feet of the springs to provide water for municipal distribution and an ice factory. Shortly thereafter the watering trough at the spring fell into disuse, and the spring itself was boarded over.

Huntsville "Walls" Unit

Marker Title: Huntsville "Walls" Unit
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Year Marker Erected: 2001
Marker Location: Avenue I and 12th St., Huntsville
Marker Text: (Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville) The Republic of Texas Congress passed a law to establish a prison system in 1842, but it wasn't until 1848, after a new law passed the state legislature, that steps were taken to achieve the goal. Huntsville was selected as the site for the state prison facility, and Governor George Tyler Wood appointed master builder Abner H. Cook as first superintendent and construction supervisor for the prison. The first three inmates -- a cattle thief, a murderer and a horse thief -- arrived to a partially completed facility in 1849. Throughout its history, the Walls Unit has cycled through periods of negligence and reform, with a variety of administrative boards governing its operations. In the 1850s, the prison operated a cotton and woolen mill with inmate labor to help generate its own revenue. In 1866, the state legislature enabled the superintendent to lease the prisoners for work in the private sector. This convict lease system lasted until the reform movement in the early 20th century accomplished its abolition in 1910. Additional reforms and a need created during the Great Depression to operate the facility more efficiently led to the establishment of canning operations, a license plate manufacturing plant, and the inauguration of the Texas Prison Rodeo. This penitentiary has held Kiowa chiefs Satanta and Big Tree, infamous gunslinger John Wesley Hardin, and Federal prisoners of war during the Civil War. As headquarters of the Texas prison system until 1989, the Walls Unit is the facility from which capital punishment was carried out from 1924 until 1964, and then again after 1982. (2001).


Marker Title: Newport
County: Walker
Marker Location: From FM 980 and FM 3454 intersection take FM 980 N approx. 1.5 miles to Newport Village Rd.; then W on Oillage Rd. approx. 1 mile to private property fence. (Marker is at Werner Cemetery.)
Marker Text: Founded in 1846 by Joseph Werner, a German emigrant. Abandoned with the decline of Trinity River navigation.

Oakwood Cemetery

Marker Title: Oakwood Cemetery
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: Ave. I entrance to Oakwood Cemetery (near the corner of 9th Street and Avenue I); Huntsville.
Marker Text: This cemetery existed as early as 1846. For three graves were placed here that year. Pleasant Gray, Huntsville's founder, deeded in 1847 a 1,600-square foot plot at this site. The original tract has been greatly enlarged by other donations from local citizens. Numerous graves bear the death date 1867, when a yellow-fever epidemic swept the county. Among the many famous persons buried here are General Sam Houston; Henderson King Yoakum, author of the first comprehensive history of Texas; state congressmen; and pioneer families.

Town of Riverside

Marker Title: Town of Riverside
County: Walker
Marker Location: From the intersection of SH 19 and FM 980 (Riverside) take FM 980 E approximately .5 miles.
Marker Text: Founded 1872 when Houston & Great Northern Railroad (later, International & Great Northern) was being built into the area. Walker County landowners gave earth, timber, and rock to the road in order to gain shipping facilities. Post office was moved here Feb. 23, 1872, from Newport (6 mi. SE), where wharves were idle when Trinity River was low. Riverside developed churches, a 4-teacher school, and two blocks of businesses, including stores, blacksmith shop, livery stable, saloon, barber shop, 2-story hotel, cotton gin. In the 1920s, Fuller's earth refining plants were built.

State Penitentiary C.S.A. and Texas Civil War

Marker Title: State Penitentiary C.S.A. and Texas Civil War Manufacturing
Address: 12th Street
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: On 12th Street between Avenue I and Avenue G in front of the Dept. of Criminal Justice Building Annex; Huntsville.
Marker Text: Inmates, slaves, free men worked in the penitentiary textile factory, main source of cloth goods for Confederate Southwest. Here "king cotton" and wool became millions of yards of cloth and yarn, osnaburgs, uniforms for state troops, Confederate army, needy families of soldiers, cloth sales supported 300 inmates and Union prisoners of war briefly kept there. As Union blockade tightened, army requests flooded in and family cloth distribution rationed. Later financial difficulties and worn machinery caused production lag. A memorial to the Texans who served the Confederacy; erected by the State of Texas 1963 (back side.) TEXAS CIVIL WAR MANUFACTURING, 1861-65 Heavy military demands-90,000 Texas troops, a 2000 mile coastline-frontier to guard-plus reduced imports, caused a fast expansion of Texas industry. Arms and munitions plants were built, and land grants were used to encourage production. Private industry met the need and produced vital supplies for military and civilians. The Confederate quartermaster formed depots and shops for military goods. Production of salt and "king cotton" was hiked to trade for scarce items. Ladies and societies spun and sewed to outfit soldiers.

Walker County

Marker Title: Walker County
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Marker Location: N side of Walker County courthouse square; Huntsville.
Marker Text: Created, 1846, from Montgomery County. First named for Robert J. Walker, U.S. Senator; in Civil War, Samuel H. Walker, Texas Ranger and Mexican War hero, was made honoree. Huntsville, county seat, was once an Indian trading post. First courthouse was built, 1848. A second one burned, January, 1888, and the present one was built in August, 1888. Walker County today contains much of Sam Houston National Forest. Headquarters for Texas Department of Corrections and Sam Houston State College, the oldest state-supported college in Texas, are in Huntsville.

Five Courthouses of Walker County

Marker Title: The Five Courthouses of Walker County
Address: 1100 University Avenue
City: Huntsville
County: Walker
Year Marker Erected: 2000
Marker Text: The first Walker County Courthouse was available for county commissioners court meetings in July 1848; the building was finally completed in the center of the Huntsville public square in 1850. Because of a defective foundation, a second courthouse had replaced it by 1853. Repairs made in 1856 did not hold long. The design for the third county courthouse featured a grand jury house in the southwest corner of the grounds rather than inside the courthouse itself. Dubbed "The Little Courthouse," the grand jury house was completed and in use by 1861. Construction on the main courthouse was interrupted by the Civil War; it was finished in 1869 but major repairs were necessary within a couple of years. On the first day of 1888 the grand jury house was again called into service after the main courthouse burned. The commissioners court selected Eugene T. Heiner of Houston to design a new building. The construction contract was awarded to . N. Darling of Palestine. Darling set to work in late spring and erected Heiner's vision, replete with Victorian Gothic, Renaissance revival and Italianate details. That structure, the fourth Walker County Courthouse, gradually welcomed back the social and religious groups of the county. Other uses included the Walker County Fair of 1912 and a lecture series sponsored by Texas A & M University in 1914. The interior of the building burned in 1968. At that time, it was one of the 25 oldest courthouses in the state of Texas. The fifth Walker County Courthouse, a modern brick and steel structure, was completed in 1970. It remained in service at the dawn of the 21st century. (2000)

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