In Abe Landers’ time, the mid-19th century, sense of humor was more prized than sense of urgency. Abe was a mirthful sort. The first county judge of beloved Hood, he once adjourned court so jurors could investigate the presence of a billy goat in the street … and then reconvened court in a nearby saloon.
He was also a patient sort. On three occasions, he rejected election results designating the site of the county seat. He then appointed a panel of three commissioners to make the decision … and they opted for land preferred by Abe.
Which is how Granbury came to be in the late 1860s before being incorporated in 1873.
Abe sounds like the sort of guy we would have liked. He never met a string he couldn’t pull.
We went in search of additional pertinent facts at Granbury Cemetery, where Abe rests in relative peace while his triple-great-grandson, Cody Martin, stands guard during functions such as Sunday’s Preserve Granbury Cemetery Stroll.
“Abe was apparently a lot like what you hear about Judge Roy Bean in West Texas,” Martin summarized.
His own man, in other words.
And his own law.
“Abe was an interesting gentleman,” Martin observed. “He was born in Kentucky in 1797, moved to Tennessee as a young man and prospered there. He owned slaves in Tennessee. In 1838, he freed one of his slaves, Lewis Roberson.
“Abe and his family and a number of relations, plus the freed slave and his family, all moved to Southwest Missouri. There, Abe sold Mr. Roberson a tract of land for the same price Abe paid for it. At the same time, Abe sold his brother-in-law a tract for three times what he paid for it.
“Obviously, he liked Mr. Roberson better than his brother-in-law. He allowed Mr. Roberson to earn enough money to purchase his wife and children.”
When Abe wasn’t emancipating slaves, he was reveling in politics.
“He served three terms in Southwest Missouri as a state representative and one term as state senator,” Martin said.
Perhaps accounting for his political popularity, he believed in providing entertainment for the constituency.
“There’s a historic landmark in Missouri that still exists called Jollification Mill,” Martin said. “That’s where farmers and others would congregate on Saturdays to have their grain ground. Abe would buy the whiskey, and fistfights would follow. Abe termed that a jollification.
“The name stuck. To this day, it’s called Jollification Mill.”
Abe grew bored of bare-knuckle pugilistics and in 1852-53 migrated with a number of folks from Southwest Missouri to North Central Texas and the present Hood County.
“In the early 1850s, they settled in Stockton, which was the predecessor to the town site of Granbury,” Martin said. “Stockton would be where the Peninsula development is now on Stockton Bend Road.
“Hood County was formed in 1866. He was elected its first county judge, I suppose because of his political background. One of the first chores of the county government at the time was to select the site for the county seat.”
Abe cast an approving eye on 40 acres owned by the Lambert and Nutt families. This was understandable, considering the familial circumstances.
“Sarah Nutt (wife of David Nutt Jr.) was Abe Landers’ sister,” Martin said.
Jesse and Jake Nutt and Tommy Lambert, another pioneer, desired to donate the land where Granbury now sits.
“Other people wanted to donate land for the county seat, too, small parcels within larger parcels that they owned, so that when the town grew, they’d make money out of it,” Martin said.
“So Hood County held an election, and a place named The Center was selected. It was the other side of Comanche Peak. It was within five miles of the geographic center of the county. But before the result could be declared official, Abe Landers threw out the election and adjourned court.
“They had another election and picked a site at Thorp Spring. Abe threw out that election, too. In the ‘History of Hood County,’ Ewell states that a third election was held. I don’t think the site was revealed. But it still wasn’t the Lambert-Nutt site, so Abe threw it out.
“Three elections had been invalidated by Abe because the voters didn’t pick the site he wanted. He called in three commissioners he picked from Bosque, Erath and Johnson counties. As Ewell states, that was in no manner known to Texas law. He just did it.
“And lo and behold, the three commissioners selected this site. According to Ewell, hard feelings existed for years over that.”
Hard feelings aren’t shared by tourists today. The square, and such historic venues as the former Opera House, are easily accessible, barring accidents, via Highway 377.
Abe lived to see the birth of Granbury. He died in 1873.
“But I doubt he lived in Granbury,” Martin said. “He probably died at Stockton.”
His legacy, however complicated, lives on.