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Brazoria County’s First Sheriff - Robert J Calder

By Marie Beth Jones

Brazoria County can arguably claim to be the oldest sheriff’s department in Texas. The county’s first sheriff, 26- year-old Robert J. Calder, had already served as a law enforcement officer when the Legislature of the Republic of Texas organized the county on Dec. 20, 1836.

Calder, a strapping young man with an enviable reputation for both bravery and good sense, was chosen by David G. Burnet, Interim President of the Re- public, to serve as Marshal of Texas. His duties included taking charge of ship- wrecks and prizes, as well as executing the laws of the court over which Judge Benjamin Cromwell Franklin presided.

A native of Baltimore, Md., Calder was the son of James H. and Jane E. (Caldwell) Calder. He was still a child when his father died, and was reared by his mother’s brother, James P. Caldwell, with whom Calder and his mother moved to Kentucky, and then, in 1832, on to Texas.

time, Calder and his relatives experi- enced the big Brazos River flood of 1833, and were saddened by the toll of the terrible cholera epidemic that struck that same year. This epidemic, combined with damage from the river “overflow,” so seriously depleted the colonists’ abil- ity to cultivate their fields that the crop failed and they were caught up in the simple matter of existence, leaving little time or energy for political consider- ations.

But by 1835 the political situation had again taken the forefront of the col- onists’ worries, and Calder was among those who took up arms against Mexico when the Texas Revolution began in October. As an officer in The Army of the People, he served during the Battle of Mission Conception, where he was one of the seven men ordered to view the battle from the church tower, from which they could occasionally pick off a Mexican cavalryman who came within range of their rifles.

Although Calder did not arrive in Bra- zoria in time to take part in the Battle of Velasco in June of 1832, he apparently went to Velasco immediately thereafter, remaining on duty there until the fort surrendered.

Like others in Austin’s colony at that

Calder accompanied Captain James Walker Fannin on a recruiting mission, and in 1836 joined the army at Gon- zales, where he was elected captain of Company K, First Regiment of Texas Volunteers. This was composed primar- ily of Brazoria County men, and in- cluded Anson Jones, later to become the

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last president of the Republic of Texas. Calder continued to serve as captain of that company during the Battle of San Jacinto.

Writing many years later of the morn- ing of April 21, he recalled the “restless and anxious spirit pervading the camp” after the troops heard rumors that the Mexicans had received reinforcements. As to the brief engagement, itself, he said his division’s fire “was delivered when we were within sixty yards of the foe,” and added that the action was very poorly contested on the part of the enemy.

Following the Texians’ victory at San Jacinto and the subsequent capture of Mexican General Santa Anna, Calder, Judge Franklin - who was also a mem- ber of Company K - and two soldiers were sent to Galveston to deliver news of the Texian victory to President Bur- net. Traveling in a skiff powered by oars and elbow grease, it took four days of arduous work to reach their destination.

Calder had a burning personal reason for wanting to reach Galveston as rapidly as possible. He knew that his sweetheart, Mary Walker Douglass of Brazoria, was among the hundreds of Runaway Scrape refugees who had made their way to the island. In recollections he wrote many years later, he remembered that as he strolled with Mary they overheard talk of the victory, as well as expressions of doubt by many of those they passed,

concerning the rag-tag Texian army’s defeat of Santa Anna’s forces and cap- ture of the Mexican dictator.

“No, gentlemen;” one said, referring to Calder and his companions, “those fellows are scoundrels and deserters. It is too big a story, and they ought to be taken into custody at once.’”

Calder and Mary were married on Jan. 3, 1837. He received 640 acres of land for his service to the Republic. His ap- pointment as marshal of Texas in 1836 and his election as Brazoria County sheriff were only the first of several governmental posts he would hold.

Apparently popular with voters, Calder

First Sheriff...cont. on page 23

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