M.L. Hair and the Willie County (Texas) Democrat

Yesterday’s Willie County rabbit was a fun one to chase, so today we’re going to continue to chase it from the First Christian Church building in Taylor all the way up SH 95 through Granger and into Barlett, which straddles the Bell/Williamson County line.

Bartlett was the home of the Willie County Democrat, a paper established in 1886 by M.L. Hair, who seems to have been a supporter of the move to create the new county (or perhaps he was a shrewd businessman who saw a good opportunity).

If we go back to the December 16, 1888 edition of the Fort Worth Daily Gazette, we find at the end of the article a brief statement that gives us one reason that some folks wanted a new county:

“An idea of this Willie county move may be had from the statement that no opposition to it exists in the proposed boundaries, embracing 700 square miles of the richest land in Texas, with a population of 30,000, a voting strength of 4300, and taxable values amounting to $8,755,000. The surrounding county seats are twenty-five, thirty and forty miles distant and it is very inconvenient and expensive for the citizens to transact their county business.”

And there’s one more interesting note in this article… the chairman of the new organization formed to promote the creation of Willie County was J.T. Shrock of Bartlett.

Now Bartlett is fifteen miles north of Taylor. But it’s about twenty-two miles from either Georgetown (the county seat of Williamson County) or Belton (the county seat of Bell County).

And I presume (though I haven’t found any definitive proof yet) that Taylor would have been the county seat of Willie County, had it actually been formed.

So, even though I have not yet found a copy of the map of the proposed boundaries of Willie County that was reportedly drawn up at one point, I do think it’s very likely given all of the above that Bartlett would have been wholly inside the bounds of Willie County.

Back to the Willie County Democrat and its publisher… M.L. Hair is Montgomery Lafayette Hair, who would have been just thirty at the time he started publishing the Willie County Democrat.

But that’s not the only paper with which Hair was involved.

In Volume 2522 of the United States Congressional Serial Set, we find correspondence from Hair, who is listed as the editor of the Bartlett Searchlight, and a George E. Sayles, who is the editor of the Corn Hill Clipper (Corn Hill was located a little north of Walburg) petitioning for the establishment of a mail route between the two towns. This petition (along with several others from citizens of Bartlett, including John Bartlett himself) is dated May 1886.

And even more interesting is that the Portal to Texas History, which contains quite a few scanned copies of the Bartlett Tribune, states that M.L. Hair began publishing the Tribune in 1886.

The 1889 edition of N.W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual lists the Willie County Democrat, with M.L. Hair as its publisher, as having a circulation of about 400.

The next edition of the Annual that I can find online is the 1892 edition, which again lists one paper in Bartlett, this time just named the Democrat. And this paper is also published by Hair, and has a circulation of around 400.

By the time the 1898 edition of the Annual is published, the one paper in Barlett is listed as being the Tribune.

Here’s my working theory, based on these tidbits of information: In 1886, Hair started publishing the Bartlett Searchlight. The move to form Willie County first started in 1887, around the time the Twentieth Texas Legislature was in session. Around this time, Hair changed the name of his paper to the Willie County Democrat. Once the move to create Willie County failed in 1889, Hair changed the name to the Bartlett Democrat. Then at some point in the 1890s, Hair changed the paper’s name again, to the Tribune.

In 1901, Hair sold his paper to R.F. Cates, who published it until 1932. I’m guessing it was about that time he relocated to Grandview, where he died and is buried.

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