What Might Have Been . . . .
Bonham Daily Favorite, July 3, 1994
By most of the world's measurements the United States is a very young country. By measurement fro the Pilgrim's landing at Plymouth or the arrival at Jamestown, Texas is a very young state. Young in terms of civilized behavior and organization as a society. Often we take for granted what surrounds us, what we see everyday. How often do we merely wonder what was here before the first settlers arrived? Who were the first non-natives to see what we call Fannin County?
Historians have long argued and studies the fragmentary evidence of the first presence of the white man along the Red River Valley. Many of the opinions are conjecture. But provable or not these suppositions offer an interesting look at "what might have been."
On May 21, 1842, Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto died on the banks of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Arkansas. For three years, De Soto and his expedition, some six hundred strong, had wandered throughout the southeastern part of North America as an extension of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and in search of the fabled wealth of the new world.
Before his death, De Soto had appointed an officer in his company, Luis de Moscoso de Alvarado, to succeed his command. Following the burial of the commander, Moscoso met with the other officers of the company and the decision was made to return to Mexico. Oddly enough the group chose to make a journey overland rather than rafting down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
The exact route Moscoso chose has long been in contention among authorities on the Spanish colonial era. One group holds that the company moved south through present day Arkansas and arrived on the banks of Red River near today's location of Texarkana. From there the men moved south until they arrived in the vicinity of the Caddo villages in east Texas. Angling to the southwest Moscoso led the men to the banks of a large river, supposed by proponents of this route to have been a branch of the Brazos. The company gave up on further land travel and returned to the Mississippi.
Still another theory proposed that the route from Arkansas took Moscoso to east Texas between Natchitoches and the Sabine River. By July of 1842 he had encountered another large river, identified by some as the Neches, then on to the west northwest to the area where the headwaters of the Trinity River rise. From there the men marched to the vicinity of cross timbers in Cooke County and on to a point further west where they came upon the Brazos.
Still confused and greatly unsure of the proper course of action, Moscoso and his men had been on the march throughout north and central Texas for nearly four months without reaching their destination. The group turned back and retraced their steps to the Mississippi.
There are yet other theories about the proposed route, but one of these suppositions presents some interesting points as related to the beginnings of Fannin County. J. R. Williams, oilman, teacher, and historian had a life long interest in discovering and delineating the trails that crossed the southwest during the Spanish colonial period.
From a vast amount of information and a scholarly evaluation of this information, Wiliams determined that Moscoso and the remains of De Soto's band were the first white men to see the northeast section of Texas. Many historians dismiss William's theory, but he does present some intriguing justification for his suggested route to the Brazos undertaken by Moscoso.
Williams carefully analyzed the accounts of De Soto's company as presented in a 1904 publication "Narratives of the Career of Hernando De Soto in the Conquest of Florida," by Edward G. Bourne. Bourne's book contained detailed information reportedly from members of the original expedition.
Using these writings Williams conjectured that Moscoso led the men from De Soto's burial spot near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers on a westerly course for some distance before curing in a more southwest direction.
WIlliams posits that the progress of the expedition was unusually slow. Records indicate that the company was short of horses and was further slowed by a sizable group of captured Indian slaves. Perhaps one of the greatest impediments to rapid travel was a rather large herd of hogs which accompanied the group. De Soto had brought these hogs from Cuba when he landed in Florida and he carefully had the herd shepherded through the southeast on his trek. To De Soto, the hogs represented an insurance policy against possible starvation.
According to Williams' research, the herd had grown to over 700 hundred head at the point at which Moscoso took command. He even felt that strays from this herd were the beginning of the razorback breed found throughout sections of Arkansas and east Texas. He also offers other proof concerning the wild game that would have been available to Moscoso's men and compares the records of game killed and supplied to the company to the known fauna of northeast Texas.
To Williams, Moscoso's band came into Texas in an area called Naguatex, possibly the homeland the Cadodacho Indians. Expedition records indicate that at his area, the Spaniards were confronted by a river which remained at flood stage for more than eight days, despite the lack of any rainfall in the area. WIlliams offers the proof that nowhere in northeast Texas is there a waterway with extensive enough coverage to produce such a situation exempt for Red River.
The most interesting part of William's supposition, as it relates to the area now encompassed by Fannin County, took place some two weeks after the company had crossed into Texas. Using a formula of his own design, Williams state that, encumbered as the company was by lack of horses, groups of slaves on foot, and a large herd of hogs, the average distance covered in one day was only six miles.
In Bourne's book it is indicated that two weeks after crossing the large river, the company was, on more than one occasion, led by deceptive Indian guides into thickets where both men and beasts found themselves in almost inextricable situations. William's assumption was that the expedition must have been traveling in relatively open country and were unaware of the extent of these thickets.
Looking at the known topography of this area, it is clear that a two week journey would have brought the Spaniards into what is now the southeast corner of Fannin County and into the infamous Jernigan and Black Cat Thickets on the present border tween Hunt and Fannin Counties.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas