The Indian Name for Bois d'Arc Was Nahaucha

Bonham Daily Favorite, July 10, 1994

Despite a preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointing to Moscoso's possible traversing of present day Fannin County in his search for an overland route to Mexico, the actual path his band of adventures took remains this day in dispute.  Admittedly most historians point to a more southeastern track through the pine forests of each Texas but the Fannin County possibility remains an interesting point to ponder.

The next most likely candidates for establishing a non-native presence along the Red River valley are the French.  Despite the fact that we point to the French flag as one of the six which flew over Texas soil, most persons show little knowledge of the French presence here.  Once again, in the absence of concrete evidence we must deal with supposition when suggesting that French explorers once saw the hills, valleys, and plains of Fannin County.

Of course the most obvious evidence, or sign is simply that a major watercourse of the present day area carries a French name, Bois d'Arc Creek.  Even with our Anglicized pronunciation, "Bo-Dark," the French influence shines through.  If  the French were here, who were they?  In 1718, Bernard de la Harpe, who had obtained a contract to settle the lands along Red River in Louisiana, brought about fifty settlers and established a trading post sixty or so miles each f the mouth of Bois d'Arc Creek.  The post, often called Fort St. Louis de Cadodacho, was originated for trade with the Caddo Indians of the area.  The French presence remained in the area for several years and it perhaps that group which named Bois d'Arc Creek.  It is said that the name was chosen because of the fondness of regional Indians for saplings of the Bois d'Arc tree from which strong flexible bows could be made.  Translated from the French the name becomes "bow wood."  Later explorers of the region indicated that the preferred Indian name was Nahaucha, or "The Thick," probably an allusion to the thickets of bois d'arc trees and saplings so often found in the region.

Dr. Rex Strickland, Fannin County native and historian who frequently wrote of the earliest days along the Red River valley, also cites records which indicated that a Frenchman named Francois Herve was recalled by Caddo Indians as being a settler in the area around 1735. Dr. Strickland stated that Herve supposedly had taken an Indian woman as his wife and for two or three years farmed along Red River.  His first settlement was near the mouth of the Kiamichi River, but later he was believed to have farmed near the mouth of Bois d'Arc.

The French also had an outpost in present day Montague County.  The site is today located on a point along the banks of Red River which is referred to as Spanish Fort.  The name is a misnomer.  Early Anglo setters found the ruins and made the assumption that the position had been occupied by the Spanish.

The outpost evidently was a supply point for French trappers as early as 1719 and remained as such until the 1790's.  Certainly those settlers of La Harpe's in present day northeast Texas and the trappers and suppliers for the outpost 150 miles up river must have had some congress.

It remains until about 1800 before we find evidence of another influence in and about Fannin County.  An Irishman of dubious reputation named Phillip Nolan was in Texas in 1790.  Styling himself as a horse trader, Nolan went into the interior of Texas the next year and remained with the Indians for about two years.  Later reports indicated his presence along Red River where he described the area around Blue River as it emptied in Red River just across from the mouth of Bois d'Arc.

​Whether or not Nolan actually purchased or traded for horses among the Indians in the area is unknown.  The Spanish authorities became very suspicious of his activities and issued orders for his arrest.  He was killed in 1801 near present day Waco by a Spanish force which had been sent to secure his arrest.  Many authorities believe that Nolan was the first Anglo-American to make a serious effort to map Texas.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century there was renewed interest in the lands along the Red River Valley on the part of the U.S. Government.  Every school child is familiar with the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the American Northwest, but less well known is the fact that this famous exploration was in actuality only one of several excursions into the American West.

Because of the proposed Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson realized the importance of an information gathering expedition along the Louisiana - Texas border in order to deal with the Spanish claims in the area.  Of the more extensive reports to reach Jefferson was one filed by a physician of Natchitoches, Louisiana, John Sibley who ostensibly journeyed up Red River in 1803.

Sibley's report which as published in the Annals of Congress for 1805 was widely distributed and read.  However, later historians have suggested that Sibley actually relied on earlier reports from some French-Caddo hunters and never actually made the full journey.  Whatever the source his description of the Fannin County area present an interesting if somewhat inaccurate picture as follows in edited form.

"After passing Kiomitchie, both banks of the river are covered with thick cane for about 25 miles, then a high pine bluff appears after which nothing for about 40 miles, which brings you to the mouth of a handsome bayau, left side, called by the Indians, Nahaucha, which in English means "the thick," the French call it Bois d'Arc or Bowwood Creek from the quantity of that wood that grows upon it.

In this bayau trappers have been more successful catching beaver than on any other water of the river; it communicates with a lake, three or four miles from its mouth, called Swan Lake, from the great number of swans that frequent it; it is believed that this bayau is boatable at high water twenty or thirty leagues, from what I have been informed by some hunters with whom I have confirmed, who have been upon it.

The low grounds are from three or six miles wide, very rich, the principal growth on it is the bois d'arc.  The prairies approach pretty near the low grounds on each side of this creek."

Sibley also described the water of Blue River but placed it several miles further upstream than its actual location where it empties into Red River nearly opposite the mouth of Bois d'Arc Creek.

Fannin County Museum of History


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