Fannin County Museum of History

   

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Frontier Rife with Danger Along Red River Valley

Bonham Daily Favorite, August 9, 1992


For whatever reasons the first settlers came to Texas, free land, adventure or flight from the law, none of these reasons alone could be sufficient to make these settlers subject themselves to a frontier rife with danger along the Red River valley. Even the Spaniards and Anglo settlers in south Texas faced difficulties with hostile Indians. The no-man's land along the Louisiana border was populated with a large criminal element. As much as anything else territorial disputes over unsettled land presented a very real obstacle for settlement. Yet, in the face of all these seemingly insurmountable hardships, Texas still glittered like a precious jewel to the restless populace of nineteenth century America.

Although the Anglo presence was evident along Red River in the first decades of the nineteenth century, attempts at settlement generally took place along the river area in northeast Texas. Dr. John Sibley, surgeon, erstwhile newspaper man and explorer left his home in Natchitoches, Louisiana for a trek along the upper reaches of Red River in 1802 and ultimately reached the vicinity of today's border between Fannin and Lamar Counties. His complete accounts, recorded in the Congressional Record of the Ninth Congress, give a fairly detailed account of the area. He provides information on Nahaucha Creek, as named by Indians in the region, or more familiarly at the time, as Bois d'Arc Creek using the then prevalent French name. Sibley reported no settlements in the area only beaver trappers who reported more success in their trapping along Bois d'Arc than along any other tributary of Red River.

Settlers along Red River were most numerous by the 1820's at Jonesborough and Pecan Point on the south bank of the river and at Clear Creek on the northern side. The number of families increased south of the river in 1825 when the U.S. government moved all settlers on the northern side, as a result of the Choctaw Cession.

The future Fannin County saw the arrival of Anglos in early 1835. Dr. Daniel Rowlett in an 1840 letter to President Mirabeau B. Lamar cites the presence of only a half dozen men in the area when Rowlett's party of settlers arrived in early 1836. Among these men was a Johnston who evidently left the area soon after the arrival of the settlers, brothers George and Jefferson Ivy who were most likely trappers and hunters; George Ivy was to later claim a head-right certificate from the Fannin County Land Board. Stephen Westbrook was engaged in blacksmithing at Fort Warren; he too later received a land grant. Charles Quillen, a man of questionable character, who had fled counterfitting charges in Missouri was in residence at or near Fort Warren. Abel Warren who had established the trading post on Red River earlier in the year left the area soon after to reestablish his outpost further up river.

Rowlett and his party of settlers engaged Captain Benjamin Crook of the steamboat Rover to transport them from Memphis to Jonesborough by way of the Mississippi and Red River, in the autumn of 1835. In addition to the Rowlett party there were a number of other prospective settlers who established themselves in the area of present day Red River and Bowie Counties.


After disembarking with their goods at Jonesborough, Rowlett's party were joined by two other families who had traveled overland. Leaving the women and children at the settlement, Rowlett and the other men along with a few of their slaves set out up Red River scouting for potential settlement sites. How long the search took is unknown but at some point they landed near the present day community of Tulip, decided the location was ideal and returned to their families downstream to prepare for the move to their new home.

Of these original families, the Rowlett's, Richard H. Locke's family, the John and Edward Stephens families, and the Jabez Fitzgerald family settled along Red River from the mouth of Bois d'Arc to the point now called Sowell's Bluff. Garrett Fitzgerald chose a site near present day Windom and Daniel Slack was to eventually settle in the northern part of Hunt County.

Between the early January 1836 landing date of Rowlett's party and early summer approximately 15 more families or individuals settled in the area. The greatest influx began in late summer after word of the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto. From that time until autumn of 1837 more than 250 families or individuals arrived in the area providing the nucleus for the future Fannin County.