By David Tuma
Barry Harper, who has been a fixture in the Belton community for decades, is a member of The Sons of the Republic of Texas, an organization for residents who settled in Texas before it became a state.
Harper spoke to the Belton Lions Club about the history of his family. He is a direct descendant of Andrew Thomas, who came to Texas in 1836 with the wagon train that included Davy Crockett. Thomas ended up homesteading 1,280 acres of land near Whitewright, Texas.
For the past 177 years, Harper’s family has ranched or farmed the land and received one of the first Family Land Heritage Awards given by the state. To this day Andrew Thomas’ great-great grandson Robert Houston Darwin and his sons work the ranch near Whitewright.
Thomas decided to settle in the area near Honey Grove and Crocket decided to go further south. “If my great-great grandfather had not made the decision to stay in the area I would not be here today,” said Harper.
Crockett asked Thomas to take his 27 lb. long rifle in trade for one of Thomas’ shorter ones that would be easier for traveling. Crockett went on to the Alamo and Thomas went back to Tennessee to get his family.
Twice Thomas walked 275 miles to Austin by night to avoid Indians to make sure his land was recorded in the records. Crockett’s gun went with him everywhere and Thomas was an expert shot. He killed many Indians, defending friends and family over the years. The Indians knew him because of his ability with the rifle and his size. Barry says his ancestor wasn’t a small man himself.
Thomas’ group was attacked near Fort Inglish and he killed five with an ax handle. Thomas died in 1888 and is buried in a nearby cemetery. He left his prize gun with his daughter Elizabeth Darwin who passed it down to her sons.
Harper got to hold the gun until he was 12 years old. In 1963, the gun was donated to the Alamo. It is on exhibit in the Long Barracks building along with what is thought to be Andrew Thomas’ gun that was used by Crockett at the Alamo.
It has been said that the family’s land in Grayson County is the only tract of land in Grayson County that has never been transferred.