July 16, 1849 Henry Briden and Lucinda Sevier were married and immediately Henry brought his bride to what later would be Johnson County and settled on land (part of a Spanish grant) given them by Mrs. Briden's uncle, A. H. Sevier. Her father, Charles Sevier, and his brother were surveyors. A. H. Sevier helped the young couple to build a two-room log cabin on the Nolan River above Dripping Spring. The roof and door were made of thin boards hewn from the trees.

The Seviers were members of the very prominent Sevier family of Hill County. Charles E. Sevier was a member of Capt. A. W. Adams' company, Mounted Volunteers, in the Mexican War and was killed in battle in 1847, two year's before his daughter's marriage.

Although the Barnard brothers lived farther north than the Bridens, that land would eventually be in Hood County, so without realizing the fact at that time, Henry Briden would become the first settler in Johnson County. Many histories give Samuel Myers as the first settler in the county, others name William Balch. Myers did not come to the county until 1851, and although William Balch staked out a claim in December 1849, he left and did not return until 1851, so neither was here as early as Henry Briden.

The Briden family was constantly worried by Indians traveling up and down the Nolan River, as their home could easily be seen and although they liked their River View (Rio Vista), they moved to the west side of the river in a densely wooded section which could not possibly be seen by anyone traveling up and down the stream.

In 1856, because his family was increasing, Henry Briden built a four-room log house and covered it with lumber, which he hauled by ox-wagon from Houston. The logs for all three of these homes were cut here on his own property. This third house has a porch across the front, and both the front west-room and front east-room had huge rock fireplaces. The rock chimneys have fallen, but parts of both the homes, built on the west side of the river, are still standing, and even a part of the yard fence is still here. The country along the river is much the same today as in 1856. It is still impossible to see either house from the river.

Mrs. Susie Smith, a granddaughter of Henry Briden, told me she rocked her babies before the big fireplace in the west room. She and her sister, Faye Carmichael, are descendants of Henry Briden's second marriage - their grandmother was a Foard. Briden's first wife, Lucinda, died and is buried here on the old farm. After the death of his second wife he married a third time and she is buried alongside Briden in the old Grange Hall cemetery, west of Rio Vista.

Henry Briden enlisted in the Confederate cavalry, was captured July 17, 1863 at Honey Springs, Arkansas and was not released until June 1865. He was discharged at Atlanta, Georgia and rode the train to Salem, Alabama, which was as far as the trains went. He then started walking. His son told Jim Carmichael that he arrived at home riding a mule - he did not know where his father secured the mule.

Briden found his wife had sold some of their land for, at that time, worthless Confederate money.

When William Jack, W. M. Wilhite and Samuel Miller drove into Johnson County Dec.17, 1862, Jack said that so far as he could find there was only one respectable residence in the county, and that was Meredith Hart's house on Mustang Creek. Two-story impressive homes were not the order of the day.

Meredith Hart came to Texas in 1834, and first settled in Red River County, then Fannin, and then Hunt County. He is said to have been the first white settler in Hunt County. He and his brother, Captain John Hart, fought in the war against Mexico, then Meredith went back to Hunt County, living there and in Hopkins County a number of years. In 1855 he brought his family to Johnson County and located on Mustang Creek. He and his brother-in-law, Sam White, and their families drove a herd of cattle overland. Mrs. Hart was riding a pony and carrying a child in her arms.

Hart bought his homeplace of 1,280 acres, with a fine spring of water, from B. J. Chambers at $2.50 an acre, turning down the land on which Cleburne now stands. He later bought ranches in other counties, running stock in old Navarro, Erath and Comanche counties. Just before the Civil War he was branding 1500 calves per year. He suffered a considerable loss from Indian incursions. He marketed his first cattle at Fort Belknap to the Indian agent, Charlie Barnard. Afterwards he drove his stock to Shreveport, shipping them down the river to New Orleans.

Hart built a large two-story frame house east of Rio Vista, the studding being made of post oak timber hewn down to the heart and put together with wooden pins. The lumber was hauled from East Texas mills and dressed by hand, and the hardware came from Houston, all being hauled by ox-wagon. The cost of the house was $10,000.

Meredith Hart died in his home in 1863 - followed five years later by his wife, Casandra. His first wife was Miss Riley. Her children were: Jack, Lafayette, Nancy (Mrs. Tom Pollard) and Iredelle "Bay". His second wife was Casandra Wilkins, who was the mother of Miles and Meredith.

Jessie Hart, daughter of Iredelle, married Ed Ball. They had four children: Coyle, Weldon, Maida Vance, and Nell. Other children of Iredelle "Bay" were: A. J. Hart of Mangum, Okla., Mrs. Ada Cooper of Rio Vista, and J. C. Hart of Rio Vista.

See House of Hearts (Nemo community) for story on Jack Hart, and Parker community for story on Miles Hart.

The town of Rio Vista was born after the Santa Fe railroad put their line through in 1881. A depot and gin were located on the west side of the tracks. W. H. Hughes owned the property and it is believed he laid off a town, but someone said he asked so much for his lots that another section was laid off to the east of the tracks on property belonging to the Menefee family.

A man named Swope laid off at least part of this little town which was one big main street with wooden buildings, one and two stories high. The bank occupied the only brick building erected before the big fire of 1914. J. B. Huffman was probably the first postmaster. There was a Glascock Saloon, although he may have called it by another name. There was a store run by one of the Chapmans and another operated by Ed Pyeatt and his son, Glenn Pyeatt. The Pyeatts owned land out near the Richard Bennett ranch. Louis Pipes operated the water works; he later moved near Alvarado where he had a large pecan orchard. In 1898 C. H. Hoffman founded a small drug store in Rio Vista, where he filled prescriptions, operated a soda fountain, and sold many items besides drugs, very like our modern drug stores. He soon took in a partner, the first was J. W. Chapman and later it was R. C. Lott. Others added to the staff were Fred Colquitt, G. V. Blasingame, Frank Lacewell and Lowell Smith. Coffman finally bought out Lowell Smith and became the sole owner. Lowell Smith then went into banking, operating the Rio Vista bank.

Eventually the depot was picked up and moved to the east side of town. We know there was a gin and a blacksmith shop, but there does not seem to be any complete history of the town. After fire destroyed the town in 1914 a square was laid off and a pavilion was erected in the center as a meeting place, for speakings, singings and domino games.

Rev. W. O. Menefee and his brother, H. F. Menefee and John Wesley Smith were early settlers in this vicinity. The Menefee brothers were sons of William L. Menefee, who came to Texas in 1830 and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1836. He was also on the commission selecting Austin as the site for a capitol and served six terms in the Congress of the Republic of Texas, and one term in the State Legislature.

Near the Rio Vista bank is a marker commemorating the Menefee family reunion at Smith Springs on the Nolan River. This event has been held each year since 1890.

Lowell Smith, a grandson of H. F. Menefee and John Wesley Smith, lives in the restored homeplace of his paternal grandfather, whose headrights were in Shelby County. John Wesley Smith came to Johnson County in the early '70s and built the home, a beautiful Southern type mansion with a quarter mile pecan bordered drive from the highway to the front gate. Something which would have amazed the original owner is an airplane with accompanying hangar and strip.

Off county road 916 west of Rio Vista is the Bennett Ranch, built in 1870 by a Civil War veteran, Richard Bennett. The sturdy log cabin (still intact) is now the living room (or fireplace room) enclosed within the walls and beneath the floor of the large ranch house, now occupied by Richard Bennett's grandson, Richard Oden (Odie) Bennett. Bennett showed me a Bible, which his wife's family (Windham) brought from Alabama along with a lovely doll and other keepsakes, all well over 100 years old. He also showed me a pair of old spurs, which he wore almost constantly when he was younger.

Besides herding cattle, when anyone was sick Odie Bennett was sent across the Brazos to Kimball Bend to get Dr. U. D. Ezell. Sometimes the river was flooded and they had difficulty swimming their horses across. He said winter was the time someone usually got sick and the river often had a thin coating of ice. The doctor would thaw out before the old fireplace before treating the patient.

Odie Bennett dug a large dipping vat in the west pasture, along with cattle pens and chutes. This was used by the entire community.

Odie Bennett showed me a large rock which he said covered a cistern, half of which is dug through solid rock. When there was insufficient rain they would have to go a mile north to Newball Springs, where there was a constant stream, and haul water to pour into the cistern. They drilled a deep well (410 feet) in 1898 and got artesian water. Their present well is deeper into the stream, 460 feet deep, and has a submersible pump.

For many years after the Bennetts arrived, Indians continued to camp in a canyon in their west pasture. The canyon is called Still Hollow, because an old whiskey still was located here.

Three large live oak trees on a high hill, the highest point in Johnson County, in the Bennett pasture can be seen from three counties and provided a landmark for the old Chisholm Trail herds. After crossing the Brazos at Kimball, about eight miles away, the drovers headed for this spot to bed down their herds under the huge oaks. Here was lush grass, as there still is - blue stem and side-oats grama, and the Bennetts were gracious hosts.

A recent article by Mrs. Wm. B. Tyler of San Angelo about her grandfather, Isaac Newton (Ike) Sandusky and his son, her father, Ben F. Sandusky, says that the Sandusky family lived on the old wagon road from San Antonio-north, which became a trail for the Chisholm Trail herds. This road passed their home, which was between the Bennett Ranch and Cleburne. She says her grandfather went to Galveston and New Orleans where he bought cattle and drove them up the trail, where he either sold them to the drovers or took them on up the trail to the Kansas market. She also says that her father (who died March 2, 1963 at 83 years of age) would either trade horses with the drovers or sell them fresh horses.

The Chisholm Trail followed along rivers and streams as it crossed the country, such as the Nolan River and its tributaries, including Buffalo Creeks. The Nolan River is named for a man of great mystery. No one seems to know for certain where Philip Nolan was born nor where he died. He was a protege' of General James Wilkinson (whose capacity for double-dealing has never been surpassed in all American history), the commander of United States forces in Louisiana. Perhaps Nolan was raised by the General; anyway Nolan came from Louisiana to Texas as a horse trader as early as 1791, and with permission of the Spanish officials bought horses for the U.S. Army. He made several trips, and is thought to have drawn maps of Texas as he passed through. The Spanish thought, and perhaps rightly, that Wilkinson was planning an invasion of Texas.

In the early 1800's Philip Nolan entered Texas with a party and was followed by about 150 Mexicans from Nacogdoches with orders to arrest Nolan. A fight broke out between the two parties, and here history differs - some say it was near Waco, others say it was in the Tehuacana Hills, but the people of Johnson and Hill counties believe the fight occurred at a small log-fort on the Nolan River. Philip Nolan and several others were killed, the remainder captured, taken to Mexico and imprisoned and later cast dice to see who should die to satisfy the decree of the Spanish monarch.

Some people firmly believe that brush-covered mounds near Price's Chapel may be graves of some of Nolan's men. Others think Nolan was buried in a little cemetery near where the battle occurred (or where they believe it occurred) southwest of Rio Vista on the Nolan River.

Lowell Smith says he saw bullet holes in the trees along the Nolan River when he was a boy, which could have been made by the Mexican weapons.

About four miles south of Rio Vista on Highway 174 is a marker erected to the memory of Philip Nolan. This is on the Hill County side and the small cemetery is west-northwest in the timber, near the river. The mystery of Philip Nolan has never really been solved.

The History of Johnson County and Surrounding Area

By Viola Block - 1970

Part 2