Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925. These court records are not just paper, they are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston’s history. Some of the most badly deteriorated records have been restored and preserved by the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Those efforts have been honored with a 2004 Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

What Can I do to Help Save Harris County’s History?

The Harris County District Clerk’s Office has teamed with the Houston Bar Foundation to raise the funds needed to continue restoring and preserving Harris County’s past. The Houston Bar Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations to preserve records. We do not suggest an amount for your donation as any amount is greatly helpful and appreciated.

Checks can be made payable to: Houston Bar Foundation Records Preservation and mailed to P.O. Box 4651, Houston, TX 77210. For a contribution form to include with your check, please click here.

In addition to preserving case files, bound volumes such as criminal case indexes, minute books, fee docket books and accounting books from as early as the Republic of Texas days are being saved. Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book. Donors who contribute an amount necessary to preserve one entire book may, if they wish, be recognized on the spine or outside cover of the book. Standard wording for such recognition will be, “In memory of _________,” “Graciously donated by ________,” etc. Other wording desired by the donor will be taken into consideration.

The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care. They are unfolded, pacified, then encapsulated in special Mylar plastic sheets to protect them from further damage caused by exposure to air and moisture. The process being used will preserve these records for up to 300 years and prevent further deterioration of our historical records.

Services Available in the Historical Document Room

  • Public viewing of original documents
  • Requested copies for $1.00 per page

Historical Documents Available Online

As a public service, the documents that are made available over the Web are provided at no charge. Please note, while the clarity of some of the documents is exceptional, the quality of others is poor. This is directly related to the quality of the original document as well as the penmanship of the scribe in some instances. Click below to begin viewing these priceless historical documents.
 

View Online

Historical Case Of The Month

The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson has been instrumental in the development of the Harris County District Court Historical Document Project. An avid legal history buff, Judge Davidson continues to write and serve as a special advisor to the ongoing Case Of the Month articles.

Case of the Month: The Case of the Challenged Candidate - Maddox v. Ferguson, et. al.

Judge Mark Davidson

What happens when a run for office or an election is disputed in a court of law? Most of us remember, or have read about, the 2000 case of Bush v. Gore, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled who would receive Florida’s Electoral College votes and therefore who would become President. The lawsuit was, at the time, called “unprecedented.” Buried away in the archives of the Harris County District Clerk's Office is a case in which the 61st District Court decided whether a Texas Governor candidate who was favored to win was eligible to run. In so doing, Texas history was changed.

James Ferguson had been elected Governor of Texas in 1914 and was reelected in 1916. In 1917, he was impeached by the Texas House of Representatives. After a lengthy trial, the Texas Senate found him guilty of nine of the nineteen counts brought against him. They then voted to return the next morning to vote on his punishment – admonishment, removal from office, or a prohibition against holding public office. That evening he resigned, taking the position “You can’t fire me, I quit!” The next morning, an irritated Senate voted to remove him from office anyway and to prohibit him from holding office in Texas again.

In 1924, Ferguson announced that he would run for governor again. The Texas Democratic Executive Committee (TDEC) was in charge of regulating the election. Apparently, a majority of its members aligned with Ferguson in opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. However, a minority of the members of the TDEC then brought an action in the Harris County District Courts to enjoin (prohibit) Ferguson’s name from being on the ballot.

Ferguson brought many defenses to the lawsuit. He said that his resignation ended the power of the Legislature to remove him from office. He claimed that the Senate had no power to ban him from public office again, since neither the Constitution nor the statutes defining the offense he had been impeached on specified the range of punishments. He also argued that he had not designated his impeachment as something that the Special Session of the Legislature had been authorized to act on. He asserted that it was therefore void.

The minutes of the Court reflect that the hearing lasted only one day and that Judge Walter E. Monteith of the 61st District Court overruled all of Ferguson’s arguments and granted the injunction banning his name from appearing on the ballot. Ferguson appealed this ruling to the First Court of Appeals (then located in Galveston) and the Texas Supreme Court to no avail.

The ruling was affirmed and he was not allowed to run.The lawsuit turned out to be a short-lived victory for Ferguson’s opponents. The next day, Governor Ferguson’s wife, Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, filed for the office of Governor promising “Two Governors for the Price of One”. She obtained twenty percent of the vote in the primary election, but comfortably won the runoff against Felix Robertson, a Dallas Judge supported by the Ku Klux Klan. Upon taking office, she always called her husband “her number one adviser”. Texas therefore owes its first woman governor to the decisive action of the judge of the 61st District Court.

Click here to view the historic case documents for the Case of the Challenged Candidate