Nineteenth Century Criminal Records of Cooke County, Texas
Cooke County is located in north central Texas on the border with Oklahoma. Gainesville, the county seat and largest population center, is located seven miles south of the Red River and seventy-one miles north of Dallas. The county was established in 1848 by an act of the Texas legislature and was named for William G. Cooke, a hero of the Texas Revolution. The boundaries of the original county encompassed its present area, along with land that later became Montague, Wise, Clay, and Jack counties. Cooke County assumed its present boundaries in 1857. It is crossed by several early historic trails, including the Chisholm Trail and the Butterfield Overland Mail route. The southern and eastern parts of the county were settled by people primarily from Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. The western part had only scattered settlements prior to the late nineteenth century, when German land speculators founded the towns of Muenster in 1889 and Lindsay in 1891. The earliest settlers brought slaves with them, but not in the numbers that accompanied migrants from the Deep South to East Texas. The slave population of Cooke County in 1860 was 369, which was almost 11% of the total population. Although in 1861 the county's citizens voted more than 61% against secession, there was much sentiment for the Confederacy. In October of 1862, forty-two men were executed in Cooke County because they were believed to have participated in a pro-Union conspiracy (The Great Hanging.) Throughout its history, Cooke County has been heavily agricultural. Cattle, corn, oats, wheat, and cotton all were produced on the farms of Cooke County. Almost 15 years after the end of the Civil War, farmers were able to export their goods on the train. The Denison and Pacific Railway (later the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad) reached Gainesville in 1879 and the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe connected Gainesville to Denton on January 2, 1887, on its way to meet the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe at Purcell, Indian Territory. The population of Cooke County has grown very slowly. The 1880 census counted 20,391 inhabitants. By 1980, there were 27,656 people living in the county. [Most of this information is from the Handbook of Texas Online.] The county records in this collection were generated by the Cooke County Courts, the offices of the Justice of the Peace and the Sheriff, and the Civil Courts.
There are 37 ledgers in this collection, which were selected from a larger group of ledger books for their content reflecting criminal activity in Cooke County, primarily during and after the Civil War. The oldest ledger in the group dates from 1857-1871 and is a Criminal Docket (Judge's State Docket, District Court record. The latest ledger in the group is a County Court Execution Docket ledger, dating from 1877-1928. The criminal records include Bar Dockets, Judges Dockets, and Civil and Criminal Dockets, which provide a record of the movement of cases through a court, as well as the filing of case papers. Docket ledgers often include the name of the defendant, case number, type of case, names of attorneys, names of parties, the offense, the date of filing, court orders, and possibly case fees. Judges docket ledgers record the name of the defendant, the names of attorneys, the charge, an indictment date, the date of capias, and proceedings of the court. Criminal Minutes for the County and District Courts are the County Clerk's record of the proceedings of the county court in criminal cases. These ledgers may include the case number, date, name of the defendant, names of attorneys, the plea, the court term, the charge, motions, orders, the verdict and sentence, dismissal or acquittal, and the judge's and clerk's signatures. The District Court Criminal Minutes also include a listing of indictments handed down by the Cooke County Grand Jury. The Record of Convict Labor is a record of labor done by county convicts to pay off their fines. It shows the case number, the name of the court in which the individual was convicted, a description of the convict, the name of the employer, how the convict was employed, fines and costs, to whom money was due, the amount and date of bond, the amount due monthly, the date paid to the County Judge, the date warrant issued, the amount of the warrant, and officers' and witnesses' receipts. The Jail Register ledger is a record of prisoners confined in the Cooke County Jail, their registration number, their name, a description of the prisoner, their date of inprisonment, their date of release, the days served, their offense, by what authority they were dismissed, and the name of the jailer. The Execution Docket ledger has the case number, the style of the case, the date of judgment, the amount of the judgment, the rate of interest and costs, and to whom the prisoner was delivered. The Record of Fugitives, District Court ledgers include the name of the fugitive, their charge, the file number, and the date of the entry, while the Sheriff's Fugitive Record also includes the age of the fugitive and a description, as well as where the individual is wanted, the name of the officer, the reward, and remarks. In addition to criminal records, the collection includes a record of paupers in the county and a ledger recording the Justice of the Peace's Inquest Records, which provide a glimpse into the lives of the poorest inhabitants of the county and offer information about how and why people died.
Restrictions on Access
Open for research.
Literary Rights Statement
For reproduction of any copyrighted materials, permission must be obtained from the owner of the copyright. This is a responsibility of individual researchers, not the University Archives.
Materials are available for research only in the University of North Texas Archives, during its normal hours of operation. Materials are not loaned out. Depending upon how fragile the materials are, they may or may not be allowed to be photocopied or scanned.
The Cooke County ledger books were donated to UNT by Cooke County in the late 1970s. The UNT Archives has been designated by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to be the official regional repository for the county records of Cooke, Wise, Denton, and Montague Counties.
Nineteenth Century Criminal Records of Cooke County, Texas, University of North Texas Archives, Denton, Texas.
Detailed Description of the Collection