Archive for the 'elected officials' Category

Records of the County Surveyor

The records of the Travis County Surveyor, dating from 1838-1999, are now available for research.

The office of County Surveyor is one that dates back to the early days of Texas.  Under the Republic of Texas, the County Surveyor was appointed by Congress. The Constitution of 1845 made the office elective for a two-year term, and in 1954, a constitutional amendment increased the term of office to four years. Over the years, as open land in Texas began to disappear, the importance of the office decreased and the office was left vacant in many counties. In Travis County, the office was abolished in 2001.

The duties of the County Surveyor included surveying land and recording and examining field notes of surveys made in the county. The County Surveyor made plats of all surveys in the county and transmitted sketches and field notes of the same to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, along with a list of all certificates or warrants on file in his office.

The collection consists of Surveyor’s Record books, Surveyor’s Record Index books, Surveyor’s Record File books, field notes, and assorted records.

Surveyor’s Record books, dating from 1838-1999, include surveys, plats, field notes, land warrants and scrips. The earliest records, those dating from 1838-1839, date prior to the formal establishment of Travis County, and are therefore referred to as Bastrop County records. Earlier records also include properties in counties outside Travis but within the Travis Land District. Volumes overlap in date, as several volumes were recorded in concurrently.

Surveyor’s Record Index books are organized alphabetically by grantee name, and refer to the information found in the Surveyor’s Record books. Many of the entries in the first three books are duplicated from one to the next. They include grantee name, number of acres, and a reference to the Surveyor’s Record volume and page number. Index Book Z is an index to Travis Land District records, and Index Book 6 is an index to Certificates of Survey.

Surveyor’s Record File Books, 1856-1907, are records of application to the County Surveyor for survey. Books 4, 5 and 6 have indexes included within the volumes; book 7 is not indexed.

Field notes are the primary record of the survey and are recorded at the time the fieldwork is being done. These loose records date from 1848-1930, but are scattered and incomplete and are not indexed.

Assorted records include materials relating to the disputed location of 4 leagues of Travis County school land in Throckmorton County, and undated blank forms used by the Surveyor’s office.

To view the collection finding aid, click here.  Please contact the Archivist at 512/854-4675 for more information or to view these records.


Travis County History Day 2011

Just two more weeks until this year’s big event!  We hope that you can join us!

Parking for History Day will be available in the 700 Lavaca parking garage.  Visitor parking is located on the second floor; any other unmarked spots may also be utilized – parking tickets can be validated at the event.

Travis County Elected Officials, 1840-present

An alphabetical list of all current and former Travis County elected officials is now available on the Travis County Archives site:  The list includes nearly 1,000 individuals.

Precinct 4

Precinct 4 Commissioner Lawson Boothe with staff, 1957.

Lawson Boothe was the Precinct 4 Commissioner from 1948-1970. County Commissioners are responsible for overseeing the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges within their respective precincts.

The Office of the Justice of the Peace

The origins of the office of Justice of the Peace extend back to the Middle Ages in England, where the King commissioned knights to preserve peace in unruly areas.  Responsible for ensuring that the law was upheld, these knights were known as “keepers of the peace.”  The title “Justice of the Peace” originates from an Act of Parliament passed in 1361.

When the American colonies were founded by the British in the 17th century, one of the first offices established was that of the Justice of the Peace, or magistrate, to establish and maintain order among the colonists.  The colonial Justice was a person of recognized standing who exercised both criminal and civil jurisdiction, as well as local executive and administrative powers.
In Texas during the days of the Republic, the Justice of the Peace was an integral part of the county government, as both an important judicial officer and an influential political officer.  In fact, the chief governing body of the county was the county board, which, up until 1845, was composed of the Chief Justice and elective Justices of the Peace.
Travis County was established by the Republic of Texas Congress on January 25, 1840. Prior to the county’s formation, Chief Justice James W. Smith mapped out four militia beats, each assigned to a militia unit to patrol.  These four beats would come to be called precincts, and they were served by Travis County’s first Justices of the Peace: D. Laughlin, B.F. Johnson, S.J. Whatley, and W.Y. Wood.

Map of Travis County, 1840, Courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Precincts were changed often in those early days, both in number and in name.  In accordance with the 1836 Texas Constitution, a “convenient number” of Justices of the Peace were elected to help keep the peace, and this number varied from year to year.  In 1855, Travis County had as many as 10 different precincts.  For a brief time in the 1850s, the precincts were referred to by geographical name rather than by number, such as “Austin Precinct,” “Onion Creek Precinct,” and “Webberville Precinct.”
Throughout the years, changes to the Texas Constitution altered the terms and requirements of the Justice of the Peace office, and precincts were adjusted accordingly by the Commissioners Court.
In 1936, there were six Justice of the Peace precincts, an arrangement that would stand for nearly 40 years.  As the population in Austin grew, however, the precincts became more and more disproportionate, with urban precincts having a much higher percentage of the population than the rural precincts.  In 1973, the Commissioners Court took steps to remedy the disparity by redistricting all of the precincts.
Precinct 1, the smallest of the precincts (serving a mere 502 persons), was abolished, and the county was redrawn into five new precincts in order to equalize the populations contained within.  Downtown Austin, which had previously been located in Precinct 3, the largest of the precincts and served by two Justices of the Peace, was placed into the new Precinct 5.  The geographic size of Precinct 5 was reduced so that it could be served by a single Justice of the Peace, and the remaining four precincts were increased in size to balance out the population distribution.  This arrangement of five Justice of the Peace precincts has prevailed to the present day.
Today, the Justice of the Peace is the legal jurisdiction closest to the average citizen and is elected by the qualified voters of the precinct.
Justices of the Peace handle both civil and criminal cases, including small claims court, justice court, and administrative hearings.   In practical terms, these are lawsuits over debts, evictions, car accidents, unlawful towing, and property.  Their criminal workload involves disposing of misdemeanor cases punishable by fine, such as traffic citations and issuances of bad checks.
Other duties of the Justice of the Peace include issuing warrants for search and arrest, setting bonds, conducting preliminary hearings, administering oaths, and performing marriages.  Since the creation of the Medical Examiner’s Office in 1977, Travis County Justices of the Peace no longer perform inquests.
The Travis County Archives has collections of records from Justice of the Peace Precincts 1 – 8.

Travis County Officials in 1840

Travis County was established on January 25, 1840, by an act of the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas, days after the community of Waterloo had been renamed Austin and approved as the capital city.   The county was in operation as early as 1839, prior to its official establishment.  The first election for county officials was held in February of 1840, at which time the population was reported to be 856.
County officials in the year 1840 included:
Chief Justice (later called the County Judge): James W. Smith
Commissioners Court: Martin Humpff, Jno. D. McLeod, B.F. Johnson, A.C. Hyde, W.Y. Woods, David Laughlin, A.I. Adkison, Thos. A. Duggan, S.J. Whatley
Constables: Reuben Towers, Beat No. 1; Moses Woods, Beat No. 2; Matthew Moss, Beat No. 4
County Clerk: M.C. Hamilton, Pro Tem; James C. Harrelson, Pro Tem; Muhlenberg H. Beaty
County Sheriff: Wayne Barton
County Surveyor: William A. Force
County Treasurer: William H.H. Johnston
District Clerk: B.D. Bassford
District Judge: John T. Mills, 3rd District Court
When officials are elected or appointed to office, official bonds and oaths of office are filed with the County Clerk.  Official bonds guarantee the honest and faithful performance of the official’s duties as prescribed by law, including the honest account of all monies entrusted to the official while in office.  Oaths of office are formal affirmations taken by individuals prior to undertaking the duties of an office.  The oaths bind them to perform their duties conscientiously and in good faith.

Official Bond of B.D. Bassford as Clerk of the District Court, 1840

Oath of Office of James W. Smith as Chief Justice, 1840

Official Bond and Oath of Reuben Towers as Constable, Beat No. 1, 1840

The Travis County Archives has a number of Travis County official bonds and oaths of office in its collections, many of which date back to the Republic of Texas days.  For more information, view the County Clerk collection finding aid.

Flickr Photos

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