What Made Orange Great: John Harmon was first to settle in Orange

Published 7:17 am Wednesday, December 1, 2021

By Mike Louviere

One of Orange’s first names was “Green’s Bluff” given to the place on the riverbank that Resin, or Rezin, Green visited and stayed a short time, but the first to bring his family and settle in the area was John Harmon.

In 1826, John Harmon was a young married man living on a parcel of land on the northern Sabine River on the Louisiana side. The crop he made in 1827 was barely enough to sustain his family. The heavy rains in the winter of 1826-1827 were enough for him, with a helper, to cut and float out a number of large cypress logs. His intention was to make clapboards and puncheons for the roof and floor of his house and to make posts for fencing.

However, since his crops had been poor, the grazing for cattle was bad, and in addition, bears were so numerous and bad that he had trouble raising hogs, he decided to move downriver in the hope of finding better land and be less troubled by wild animals.

He built a large raft with a small cabin on it, put his family  aboard along with their household effects, loaded a wagon with tools and farm implements, one pair of oxen, one horse, one cow, and in December 1827 he put the raft in the current at a place then known as Whitman’s Landing.

Each night, he would tie up the raft and take the stock ashore to let them graze. The next morning, he would drive them back aboard the raft and into their pens, untie the raft and head downriver again.

The current would carry them at a rate of about 15 miles per day. They made good headway, until one day about noon in late December, when the raft hit dead water at a place now known as “Big Eddy”, little below the junction of old river.

For two days the raft stayed in the eddy, subject to changing winds, but not able to break out of the eddy. Harmon finally tired of the raft being caught and only drifting in slow circles so he decided to take his dugout canoe and go ashore and cut vines to use, along with his rawhide ropes, to make a Spanish windlass to move his raft out of the eddy.

Once free of the eddy, he tied up and let his stock out to raze, for the first time in two days. One of his oxen roamed off and it took all of the next day to find the ox and get it back aboard the raft.

He cast off again and floated down river until December 31when he tied up at Willow Point. The next morning, he cast off and went adrift again. He got caught up in another eddy, but since it was New Year’s Day, he decided to take the rest of the day off. He decided to tie up to the bank where there was a large cypress tree.

The site he chose would later become the foot of Fifth Street.

The family disembarked and Harmon took his rifle and went into the woods in search of game. He flushed a  flock of turkey, shot one, and came home with a large gobbler which became their New Year’s Day supper.

In exploring the area, they found evidence of an Indian village, and not far away evidence where a camp of Mexican Rurales had been while making trips along the Mexican-U.S. border while looking for smugglers.

The family decided to stay there a while and let the stock graze. The men could hunt and cure meat.

At the end of their first week there they learned that the land had not been claimed by anyone. The soil was good and there was ample grass for grazing and there were no neighbors east of Adams Bayou.

Their next action was to take the clapboards and puncheons from the raft and build a temporary shelter. Harmon fenced some land further down and built pens for his stock. He then went back to Louisiana and drove the remainder of his stock to their new home.

He built a small house and lived in it until about 1840 when he moved and settled on the west bank of Adams Bayou. He lived at this site the rest of his life.

The land he filed on is still known as the John Harmon League.

A patent dater December 8, 1834, and filed March 17, 1904 is recorded in Volume E, Page 385, Deeds Records, Orange County. Styled, State of Texas to John Harmon, it includes the original Petition, Certification and Grants.

There are several records filed in the Orange County Courthouse; one is the Request for Land by John Harmon to “His Excellency, Lorenzo De Zavalla”. It reads, “I, John Harmon a native of the United States of the North with due respect, present myself before you and say: That attracted by the General Provisions of the Colonization Laws of this State, I have come with my family consisting of my wife and five children to settle myself in it if you think proper in view of the attached certificate to admit me in the Class of Colonists, conceding me one League of Land of said enterprise. Therefore, I supplicate you to grant me the favor of which I implore you for which I will be forever grateful. (Filed) Nacogdoches, Texas December 8. 1834 (By) John Harmon.

Harmon’s request for land was approved and the survey was completed, and the Decree issued on May 21, 1835. The title to the League of Land was issued in Nacogdoches on May 21, 1835. John Harmon was then a landholder, a colonist, and a citizen of the State of Coahuila and Texas. On that date, John Harmon also became the first “legal” resident of the future town of Orange, Texas.