Stephen F. Austin State University

Courthouse, Home for Historical Images (November 2011)

Courthouse, Home for Historical Images
By Deborah Burkett

County courthouses are primarily thought of as places where judicial and county business is done but often a courthouse is the center of special activities. This column, along with two images, makes the case that for over 100 years the Cherokee County Courthouse in Rusk, Texas has been the scene for historical events captured by photographers of the time.

In the first photograph taken in the early 1900s one can see something special must be happening to warrant the photographer who has positioned himself on top of the clock tower to record the event. This is actually the third courthouse building which was used from 1890 to 1926.

Horses and buggies can be seen on dirt streets in the background. A celebration of some sort is occurring, possibly a parade. In the foreground of this picture is the monument to Civil War dead in Cherokee County. Notice the lady standing at the monument; her attire suggests springtime or summer; also of interest is the fence surrounding the courthouse grounds. On the left one can see steps that allow people to pass over the fence; note a man sits and enjoys the view.

For the second photograph included with this column, one must fast forward to November 15, 2011, when a dedication was held for the Courthouse Photo Preservation Project. A year in the making the project culminated in many historical images hung on the wall of the courthouse, some are 11 x 14 matted and framed photographs while others are large canvases.

The Preservation Committee is seen presenting Sheriff James Campbell with a canvas of a rare 1930s photo of Sheriff Bill Brunt and his horse Traveler. Long known as a history buff and leader of preservation projects in both Anderson and Cherokee Counties, District Judge Bascom Bentley III speared headed this effort and is seen on the left. Next is Sheriff Campbell, then Jacksonville lawyer Ricky Richards, and County Judge Chris Davis. Not pictured is the final member of the committee, Deborah Burkett. She took this photo and is proud to be following in the footsteps of the photographer who is pictured standing atop the clock tower.

Private funds were raised for the project with Bentley, Richards and Davis sponsoring the majority of the images while Cherokee County families sponsored others. The early 1900s photo mentioned about is part of the exhibit. Other images included churches and baptism, schools, veterans, CCC Camps, libraries, businesses and peace officers.

The history surrounding Peace Officer Bill Brunt touches many in Cherokee County. Brunt was shot and killed in the line of duty. At Bill's funeral thousands of people paid homage to this hero, the largest funeral Cherokee County had ever seen. This clean cut family man from Alto, Texas who had enlisted in the Navy and served Cherokee County admirably was laid to rest in the family cemetery. His 26 year old wife, Mary Dear Brunt, was sworn in as sheriff to serve out Bill's term. A popular 1940s song 'Pistol Packing Mama' was written by Jacksonville, Texas native Al Poindexter; the song was about Mary, the new sheriff of the county.