Preston: Drowned Town that a Store Built
In the shallower depths of Lake Texoma - along the
southern shore of what used to be the free-flowing
Red River - lies a small town that has a big past.
Preston, Grayson County, Texas (or Preston Bend,
depending on who you're talking to) was once the
center of trade for the upper Red River, but now
only a cemetery, relocated there once the Corps of
Engineers dammed the river and flooded the
valley,  remains.

Preston was founded by a man who called himself
Holland Coffee - whether his mother called him that
is still open for debate, because such a melodious
name does not just happen. Coffee was one of
those early Anglo-Texas frontiersmen who dabbled
in pretty much everything and anything. Born in
Kentucky, he set up several trading posts along the
Red River in order to exchange goods with the
Comanches,
Kiowas and Wichitas who called the
river home. The stockades and stores he built
helped to bring American capitalism to an area that
was dominated by nomadic bison hunting and
Mexican-Indian trade.
An 1853 map depicts
Preston at the Washita
River Bend. To the
southwest can be seen
several plats claimed
by Holland Coffee.
An outbuilding, with cellar, at Holland Coffee's
trading post at Preston.
Notice how Preston moved a little further south from its original location in this 1871
map (either that, or it was surveyed wrong in one of these plats). This map also shows
the location of Shawneetown, a village just across the river from Colbert's Ferry. In red
is written: "Houston and Texas Central Railway," which by this time had not been built
this far north. Instead, the Missouri Kansas Texas Railway built southward from Indian
Territory into Texas, terminating at first in Shawneetown, then Red River (Joe Town)
and finally, in
Denison.
Along with his partner, Silas Cheek Colville, Coffee established his first post
between
Spanish Fort (Montague County, Texas) and Petersburg (Jefferson County,
Oklahoma) in the 1830s. The post was probably situated on top, or near, and old
French trading post that Bernarde de la Harpe set up in the late 18th century, later
called San Bernardo by the Spanish after they successfully claimed the Red River
for themselves.

Since the post was located in the newly-created Choctaw Nation (established
during the late 1820s when the Choctaws were forced to remove to Arkansas
Territory, which became Indian Territory in 1828) and it did not have permission to
conduct business there, in 1835 Coffee and his partners moved their operations to
where Cache Creek entered the Red River, south of today's Lawton in Jefferson
County.  

Coffee apparently believed he was inside Texas, not Indian Territory, as the post lay
beyond the 100th Meridian (the 100th Meridian was considered the Louisiana
Purchase boundary, according to the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty). Lo and behold, he
was still in the Choctaw Nation. By 1837, he crossed the Red River and set up shop
on a loop of land on the river's south shore in what was then Fannin County and
would later become Grayson County, Texas. The settlement that grew up around
Coffee's Trading Post, and in which Coffee invested, became known as Preston, but
before that it was known as Washita Bend. (I have searched high and low and still
don't know why the town was called Preston. If you have an idea, shoot me an
e-mail.)

The site of Coffee's last and most enduring trading post was opportune. It sat along
what some have called the "Old Spanish Road," "Branch of the Chihuahua Trail,"
"Red River Santa Fe Trail" or what-have-you, a path that connected Nacogdoches to
Santa Fe alongside the Red River. In the north/south direction, Washita Bend was at
the point where Texas cattle were driven across the river along what became
known as the
Shawnee Trail. Several cotton plantations were being founded in the
area as well, in both Indian Territory and Texas, and along with them came profitable
slave transactions. Talk about steamships coming up the Red River brought the
promise of more economic opportunities. And since the federally-controlled
Indian
Territory had outlawed the sale of liquor, an easy ferry ride into Texas brought many
Choctaw and Chickasaw customers to Coffee's trading post, where saloons
welcomed them.  
Holland Coffee's original tomb at Glen Eden
Coffee's tombstone at Preston Bend Cemetery
Just below the post lay the small settlement named
Georgetown, which sprang up around Fort
Johnston, a lightly used fortification that was
supposed to protect Texas settlers from Indian raids
and Mexican hostilities but didn't really do much of
anything. The Snively Expedition (a military
operation authorized by the Republic of Texas in
1843 that was supposed to confiscate trade goods
ferried by Mexican traders along the portion of the
Santa Fe Trail claimed by Texas) commenced from
Fort Johnston, so there's that. Lastly, the road from
the Red River at Preston southward connected the
trading post to a burgeoning little village known as
Dallas, designated in 1841 as "Preston Road."

I always find it funny how much of Texas history is
mythologized by re-imagining many of the state's
Anglo founders as heroes when in reality, their
characters were often found wanting. The whole
point of the "gone to Texas" movement in the early
1830s was to escape regimented society and the
law, so many of these dear pioneers were more than
a little flawed. Holland Coffee and his associates
serve as prime examples of this.
The marker commemorating Coffee's Trading Post
was erected in 1936 and moved to the Preston Bend
Cemetery when Lake Texoma flooded the town of
Preston. A pet cemetery surrounds the marker now.
Coffee and Colville had established their trading post on a headright claimed by
John Hart, an early Texas trader who had served in the Texas revolutionary army.
Hart had settled along the Red River at Warren's trading post (the first Fannin
County seat), where he acted as sheriff. When Hart tried to claim his land at Washita
Bend, Silas Coville stabbed him instead. I guess that's one way to develop real
estate. By the way, Colville himself was stabbed to death a few years later by an
unknown assailant.

Coffee's transactions with Kiowas, Wichitas and Comanches, which included trading
items for American and Mexican captives who could then be ransomed back to their
families, led the Republic of Texas to condemn and investigate him. Luckily Coffee
knew Sam Houston, who once was his neighbor at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory.
Houston cleared Coffee's reputation and instead named him an Indian Agent for the
Republic. In this role, Holland Coffee successfully negotiated a peace treaty with
Wichita tribes and the Republic, most likely in order to continue his trading
operations with the Natives.

After serving a term in the House of Representatives during the Republic of Texas,
Coffee married Sophia Suttenfield. Before he did that, however, Sophia had to
petition the courts to divorce Augustine Auginbaugh, who had abandoned her. After
making their relationship legal, Holland and Sophia acquired a number of slaves
who helped them to build a plantation at Preston, which they named Glen Eden.
Alas, marital bliss did not last forever. Coffee died in a confrontation with another
trader, who had apparently made a rude remark about Sophia (Sophia had a
somewhat dubious reputation, with some people claiming that she was a prostitute
who had followed the Republic of Texas army from camp to camp.)
This notice in the Northern Standard (Clarksville, Texas) sparked a feud with John Hart.
Sophia's grave (right) sits next to her last husband's,
James Porter. Sophia claimed to have nursed Sam
Houston at the Battle of San Jancinto; warned
Confederate Colonel James Bourland of Union
encroachment; and that her third husband, George
Butts was killed by William Quantrill's guerillas.
Even without its founder, Preston continued on. The
town served as the starting point for
Randolph B.
Marcy’s journey up the Red River as well as a few
dragoon expeditions. But it was surpassed in
importance within a few decades. Sherman, Grayson
County's seat, was founded in the 1840s and quickly
became a major trading center. Benjamin Colbert, a
Chickasaw citizen, established a ferry in the 1850s a
few miles downriver, linking his plantation to
Shawneetown in Grayson County across the river.
Colbert's ferry helped to solidify the Texas Road, a
pioneer trail from Missouri and Kansas into Texas,
and his plantation house, which also served as a
hotel, became an overnight stop on the Butterfield
stagecoach line. By the 1870s, the
Missouri Kansas
Texas Railroad paralleled the Texas Road and
crossed into Texas at Colbert's Ferry, bypassing
Preston. Directly across the river from Preston,
Woodville was founded at a freshwater springs in the
1880s. When the Frisco Railway built its tracks
through Woodville, it did so from the east to the
west, and thus Preston never saw train service.

Preston stayed a small town until the 1940s, when the
Army Corps of Engineers evacuated the town in
order to create Lake Texoma. Many of the prominent
landmarks, including Glen Eden and the cemetery,
were moved to avoid being drowned. The cemetery
was relocated about a mile from Preston's original
site. The Old Settler's Association, a group of
Grayson County pioneers who worked to preserve
the memory of the antebellum years, assisted in
preserving several of Preston's structures, which
eventually found their way to Loy Lake Park, a living
history village.

Preston's no more, but it sure gave us a good run
when it existed.
Sophia Suttenfield Auginbaugh Coffee Butts Porter was one of those interesting
Texas characters who had a knack for reinvention. Her reputation spanned from a
camp-hanger-on to a frontiers woman to a slaver to a plantation mistress to a
consummate gardener to a historian to a  born-again-Christian.
How to get there: You can't see the original site of Preston
anymore, but you can visit its relocated cemetery. From
Pottsboro, take FM 289 (Preston Road) all the way north
until you can't anymore, and you'll end up at the cemetery.