John Miller Stephen
Founder of Stephenville Charter Member of Waco 92 Texas Revolution Veteran
John Stephen was born December 29, 1814 in Missouri. When he was fourteen, his father, James A. Stephen, brought the family to Texas after spending the 1827 winter in Arkansas. James began to acquire large amounts of land in central Texas and when John came of age, he too began to purchase land. John’s land was located in the Chambers grant near what eventually became Waco.
When the Texas Revolution erupted, all of the Stephen men enlisted and John fought in Kuykendall’s E Company, participating in the infamous Runaway Scrape led by Sam Houston. After the War, John received more land(on the north side of present day McLennan County) and wealth for his service. His home was apparently very near the Waco area in 1841 which was then inhabited mostly by natives. He became one of the first Wacoans when the village was established by his friend and fellow Waco 92 charter member, George Erath, in 1849.
John and Lee R. Davis teamed up to survey some of the land along the westside of the Brazos during the 1850s. Some of that land later became Cameron Park.
On February 24, 1853, John Stephen reached a deal in Waco with the brother of John Blair, who had been killed in the Battle of the Alamo, to purchase remaining acreage from the deceased’s property along the Bosque River. One year later, John established a trading post within that tract of land and then in May of 1855, Erath and Neil McLennan asked John to travel westward with them and a team of about thirty other settlers to do land surveys of the surrounding area. In order to establish a town, he donated the land around his store. Thus the town of Stephenville was founded and the group of settlers began to build homes around it with John Stephen serving as the town’s first postmaster and continuing to operate his trading post. The town map was finished by Erath and Stephen on July 4, 1855. At the time, Stephenville was the most westerly of the Brazos River settlements and this made it susceptible to raids by native Americans. However, the Caddo natives living in the area remained peaceful with the settlers until the so-called Erath County Rangers began to attack the natives in 1858. Sadly, John’s seventeen year old son Samuel was shot in the back of the head by friendly fire during a skirmish with natives that same year. He was one of the first people laid to rest at West End Cemetery in Stephenville and the rest of the Stephens eventually joined him there. John Stephen died on March 31, 1862 and was buried at West End. At the time of his death, his estate was valued at a modern day equivalent of $1.5 million even after donating great portions of it to the establishment of Erath County.
One year after the founding of Stephenville, Erath County was formed and Stephenville was selected as county seat. It has remained such to the present day and so the hardy friendship of Waco 92 charter members George Erath and John Stephen is forever honored. The mark of Waco 92 on Stephenville did not stop there, though. The courthouse for which the city is known today was designed by Waco 92 member W.C. Dodson in the late 1890s.