Wallace B. Jefferson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
A Connecting Thread to the Past The Supreme Court of Texas has embarked on an ambitious effort to preserve the history of Texas. Much of the evidence of our past lies in boxes and file cabinets, slowly dissolving into dust. Faced with this vanishing history, the Court established the Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force. Led by public officials and private citizens, the Task Force has found documents about Sam Houston, litigation surrounding the tumultuous relationship between Texans and American Indians, immigration records in Galveston County, and, of course, the plight of African Americans who the law defined as property before the Civil War. In this latter category, the Task Force discovered records pertaining to Judge Nicholas W. Battle. Judge Battle owned a slave named Shedrick Willis. After the War, Willis served two terms on the Waco City Council. A slave, then a public servant, Willis is an example of perseverance. Judge Battle, who fought for the Confederacy, later became an advocate for the rights of former slaves. Battle and Willis occupy one page in a huge volume chronicling the rich lives and culture of our common past. Every page is important to history and perhaps to your own family. Shedrick Willis was my great-great-great-grandfather. I hoped the Task Force could have found the case file for Westbrook v. Mitchell , 24 Tex. 560 (1859), a case where Judge Battle declared void a contract in which a free black man had agreed to sell himself into slavery, but the file was likely lost in a courthouse fire. The Task Force did, however, discover extraordinary records about Judge Battle and his work as the presiding judge of Comanche County. Comanche County District Court Minute Book A, dating back to 1858, depicts the challenges of running a court in Indian territory prior to and during the Civil War. To hold court in Comanche County, Judge Battle would ride out from his home in Waco and conduct court business in a log cabin. The book shows that the court in Comanche County shut down for approximately one year and operated irregularly between 1862 and 1864. Perhaps it was due to Judge Battle’s participation in the war or maybe the dangers associated with increasing Comanche raids in the area. By the time the Civil War ended, the population of Comanche County dropped from more than 700 people to less than 60. This record is but one thread in a tapestry of stories about this state, its people, and its history. Like many court records still undiscovered in shipping containers, attics, and basements throughout courthouses and government buildings in Texas, it chronicles the impact of significant, life-changing events that shaped Texas history. Maintaining these records, and the stories within them, is imperative to preserving our past. By Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson This record is but one thread in a tapestry of stories about this state, its people, and its history. Like many court records still undiscovered … it chronicles the impact of significant, life-changing events that shaped Texas history.
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