Sheriffs of Navarro County Part II
By Stephen R. Farris
Special to the Navco Chronicle
Last week we looked at Navarro County’s first elected sheriff, James Allen Johnson. This week, we’ll look at sheriff’s William J. Stokes, James Buckner Barry, and Nathaniel Henderson.
Stokes took over as Navarro County Sheriff in 1849, taking over for Johnson, who decided law enforcement wasn’t his cup of tea. Stokes was a “rough and tough frontiersman” who came to Texas in the fall of 1839. According to stories about Stokes, he would claim he’d walk out of his front door in the morning, step out onto the porch and shoot a buffalo for breakfast. He and his family first settled in Milam County, where they had run-ins with some of the Native American tribes, mainly horse theft. He eventually landed in the small community of Freezeout in Ellis County. The area was still sparsely settled. His nearest neighbors were in Dallas and Bucksnort on the falls of the Brazos.
Stokes seemed to be the best candidate for the Navarro County Sheriff position, since he had served with the Texas Rangers. He was instrumental in rescuing John McLellan from a tribe of Native Americans. According to Stokes (at the time), he had to tie McLellan up because he didn’t want to leave his captors. McLellan eventually became “civilized” again, and the County of McLellan is named after him.
Stokes was elected twice as Navarro County Sheriff. His first stint (1849-1850) was short. He didn’t agree with the responsibility and duties of the position. Back in that era, the sheriff literally had to be a jack-of-all-trades type of individual that may have covered overseeing roads, surveying, and so on. Similar to what many employers expect from their employees today. To be versatile. Stokes – even though he knew what was expected of him – ran for sheriff again in 1852 and won. He lasted only a few months before resigning on December 17, 1852.
Any records or documentation of his terms in office, as to what he accomplished as a law enforcement officer, are unknown, or probably destroyed in the 1855 courthouse fire.
In between Stokes’ two short terms, a fellow by the name of James Buckner Barry was elected Navarro County Sheriff. According to his description from Vol. XXI of the Navarro County Scroll, Barry was “fearless, straight shooting, intelligent, and stood for law and order.” A native North Carolinian, Barry arrived in Texas in 1845 and almost immediately joined the Texas Rangers. He fought with the U.S. Army down in Monterrey, Mexico in 1846, where he was wounded. He pulled through, returning to Texas and settled in the Bazette community. Barry’s notoriety prompted county officials in Corsicana to talk him into running for sheriff. Barry agreed, and he was elected in July 1850. At that time, Corsicana was only four-years-old, and the County was six-years-old and still covered a lot of the North-Central Texas landscape. During his first term, Barry was able to do what Johnson and the previous sheriffs couldn’t, arresting William “Bill” Ladd, the bondsman.
In 1852, Barry decided to run for Navarro County Treasurer. He won, leaving the sheriff position in the hands of Henderson. Henderson served his two-year term, but we’ll look at him later on in the column. Barry ran for Navarro County Sheriff again in 1854 and was once again elected. One of the biggest cases he handled in his second term was arresting William M. Love for the murder of Dr. W. N. Anderson, who resided near Pisgah Ridge.
His second biggest accomplishment was a case he worked on and put together to arrest Jacob Eliot, who was accused of forgery of a land patent and murder. The case went to trial, but the jury voted to acquit Eliot of the charges. After hearing the jury’s verdict, Barry was furious, and probably enraged by the jury’s decision. With everyone still in the courtroom, Barry pretty much told the jury how he felt. One can only imagine what he said, but after he was through lashing out at the jury, he immediately resigned from sheriff and stormed out of the courtroom.
Barry went on to purchase the Prairie Blade newspaper in Corsicana. Eventually, he decided to leave Navarro County and moved to Flag Pond in Bosque County. He still owned quite a bit of property in Navarro County. While in Corsicana, he lived where the present-day library is located. Barry went on to publish a book about his service with the Texas Rangers. It was titled “The Texas Ranger and Frontiersman.” Barry died at Walnut Springs in 1906 at the age of 85. Prior to his death he had become totally blind.
Now we move on to Henderson. He was the brother of Col. William F. Henderson. If you remember the column, I wrote in 2021, Col. Henderson was part of the two surveying partys that were attacked by Native American hunting tribes in the spring and fall of 1838. Col. Henderson survived both ordeals. Nat Henderson was elected Navarro County Sheriff in July of 1852. During his two-year term, Henderson was instrumental in the building of the first jail. He also had run-ins with a few of the ruffians, especially one Joseph Pierces. Pierces, according to the Navarro County Scroll, was a “church going Baptist,” who liked to gamble on the horses. Pierces biggest problem is that he had trouble getting along with folks. When folks had had enough of Pierces shenanigans, a petition was gathered and he was forced to leave Navarro County.
Apparently, Pierces inability to be “sensibly social” caused his demise. Not long after Pierces left Navarro County, he was shot and killed horse race by a peace officer in Waco. Henderson’s term was nonetheless very busy. By the 1854 election, he was more than ready to move on.
Next week we’ll look at Navarro County Sheriff Jessie Simion Walton.
If you want to learn more about Barry, his biography can be read on http://www.navarrocountyhistory.com. Just type in his name in the search box.
(References: http://www.navarrocountyhistory.com, Navarro County Scroll Vol. XXI published in 1976)