Did you know that the first Anglo settlers in Texas did not follow Stephen F. Austin to Austin’s Colony in 1821, but were here in North Texas as early as 1816? True! One story I’ve heard is that a few Tennessee soldiers heading home from the Battle of New Orleans decided to stop along the Red River and do a little hunting. Remember how Davy Crockett killed him a b’ar when he was only three? Well, these men were supposedly in the middle of some of the best hunting in the country, right here in Hunt and Fannin Counties.
Claiborne Wright also heard about the vast open prairies of lush grass, ample water and enough timber to build a cabin and keep it warm. Skipper Steely, a descendent of Wright’s and one of the two Steely brothers who are outstanding Texas historians, wrote Six Months From Tennessee in 1983. It is the sole work that I know of about the settlement of lands on the south bank of the Red from Pecan Point to Preston Bend.
Wright, his sons and laborers, built a 60-foot keelboat and floated down the Cumberland River from Carthage, Tennessee to the Ohio, then down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Red. There they turned northwest, poled their way through the Great Raft and up river to Pecan Point. The trip took six months, and on the night of their arrival Indians stole the keelboat.
The Wright family first chose to settle on the north bank of the Red where they lived for several years until the U. S. Army forced them to leave and move to the south bank of the river. The north bank became home to immigrant Choctaw Indians as a result of Dancing Rabbit Treaty.
Needless to say the Wrights and their neighbors were not happy to leave their homes and crops, and move. So they burned everything down after crops and livestock crossed to the Texas side. When they moved in 1821 they honestly believed that they then lived in Miller County, Arkansas. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had not clearly identified what was United States and what was Spain/Mexico. The Anglo settlers paid taxes to the state of Arkansas, sent representatives to the Arkansas legislature and claimed to be Americans. It would no be until 1836 when Texas became a Republic that attempts were made to clarify the boundary issues.
It has often been said that Texas was settled by three types of men (and a few women) who were three steps ahead of the debt collector, running from the law, or escaping a soured marriage. Yet some fine families settled along the Red River. As more and more people arrived with families and slaves, they drifted inland to Hunt County.
The settlers built houses, raised livestock and grain crops as well as their own food, and developed communities with churches and schools. The prairies were full of bears, coyotes, wild hogs, herds of buffalo and mustangs, hundreds of birds, and clean streams filled with fish. They raised horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs for their own food and to sell at markets down the Sabine.
The stories these early families left are amazing.