Impact of Purchasing Louisiana
All Texans know that the first Americans to move to state were patent holders who came under Moses and Stephen F. Austin's
empressario. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase, however, brought Americans into Texas long before the Austins did - and they settled right
along the Red River!
Though Texas was Spanish territory at the time of the purchase, Thomas Jefferson and his government deemed the Red River watershed,
which drained directly into the Mississippi, to be part of the natural boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson's government even
funded an expedition to document the Red River, hoping that it led to Santa Fe. Americans, beset on settling any land as far west as
possible, seized the moment. They considered the lands south of the Red River America. To anchor their position, the first white American
men entered northeastern Texas via an ancient buffalo crossing on the Red River in 1811. They built a small, guarded outpost on a
peninsula jutting into the river. The settlement and the bayou surrounding it were called Pecan Point.
Arkansas or Texas?
To avoid complications with the Spanish, the new settlers around the Red River insisted that the Pecan Point settlement was an
extension of Miller County, Arkansas. Why would they do such a thing?
One theory purports that the American settlers wanted to attach their land claims to an American territory rather than a Spanish one to
gain more American-held land. Or, the Americans may have wanted to expand slavery into the far reaches of the Louisiana Territory. Still
others believed that by claiming the land as part of the US, they could run the Indians out of it. Other theories speculate that this was an
attempt at getting Spain out of North America (Aaron Burr, Jefferson's vice president, had tried to do that himself, though his plan led to
his infamous treason trial). Yet other historians simply regard the claims as an honest mix-up.
There were some settlers, however, who tied themselves to New Spain (and by 1824, Mexico) and voluntarily rescinded their American
citizenship, as they hoped to gain title to free land offered by the Mexican government when authorities decided that they could not fight
back the tide of American filibusters. Unbeknownst to them, they even signed fraudulent documents in their quest to gain legitimate title
to their lands - James Bowie and Ashley Crittenden passed phony claims amongst the anxious Americans and triggered an international
incident between the U.S. and Mexico.
At first, the Spanish were quite aware that Americans were invading their territory, and they were not happy about it. In a treaty negotiated
by John Qunicy Adams, American Secretary of State, and Don Luis de Onis y Gonzales, the Spanish Minister to the US, the southern
boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase were formally established. The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 affirmed that the lands south of the Red
River were under Spanish control.
By this time, however, settlement along the southern Red River was in full swing. Jonesboro had become a ferry crossing and trading
center, and plantations were built around Pecan Point. By 1824, Indian Territory had been established, and early Choctaw, Chickasaw, and
Cherokee refugees had formed towns just north of the river.
Oddly, the Spanish did not venture much into the northeastern corner of their territory. Instead, American explorers traced the area, and
trading roads - including the Trammel Trace, a branch of which linked Jonesboro to Nacitotches, Louisiana - were established. Famed men
such as Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and Benjamin Milam crossed into Texas via Jonesboro and Lost Prairie (Miller County)
and Fulton (Hempstead County).
|This marker in northern Red River County indicates that Sam Houston first stepped on Texas soil at the old ferry crossing site of Jonesboro.
|The beautifully restored Red River County courthouse in Clarksville houses
Republic of Texas and early statehood documents.
|The First American Settlement in Texas...
was not Austin's Colony!
The Isolated Gateway
The change-over from Spanish Texas to Mexican Texas did not seem to worry the renegade American settlers along the Red River. Mexico
granted Moses and Stephen F. Austin land to establish settlements in the south, and offered title to the lands held by Americans in
northeastern Texas if the interlopers signed loyalty oaths. Mexicans themselves did not pursue these land grants themselves, and no one
- American or Mexican - took up John Cameron's empresario along the western Red River. This may have been due to the hostilities with
the Comanches and Wichitas, as even the Spanish had hesitated to go the western Red River where they met with the dreaded nortenos
(northern Indians). Mexicans also seemed to be hesitant to settle near the seemingly less-civilized frontier Americans.
During the Texas Revolution, the eastern Red River lands continued to be populated by American settlers, mainly from Tennessee,
Missouri, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Still convinced that they were legally an extension of Miller County, Arkansas, Northeast Texans sent
delegates to both the Arkansas and Texas constitutional conventions.
Thoroughly Texan, and Southern...
Once Texas declared it independence in 1836, Miller County (the Texas portion) was dissolved, and Clarksville (est. 1831) became the seat
for Red River County, which encompassed the entire northeastern corner of the state. Settlers started arriving in earnest, expelling the
few remaining Caddos from their ancestral lands and pushing the frontier westward. In short order, (Old) Boston, Paris, and Bonham were
established during the Republic years. The new settlers brought several slaves with them, continuing the Southern plantation system - and
the reason why Texas was admitted to the Union as a slave state.
This little-known story is definitely a needed addition to Texas history books!
|The Great Bend of the Red River at Fulton, Arkansas Territory marked the border between the United States and Mexico. Not all Americans
honored that division, however, and even accused the American government of working against its own citizens when representatives sided with
Mexico's legitimate claims. PS: the wooden stakes that line the river mark old docks and ferry landings along the northeastern border of the Red
River at Fulton.
|Though now Pecan Point is simply surrounded by an oxbow lake, it once was a prominent northern jut of land south of the Red River in what is
today's Red River County, Texas - which was once considered Miller County, Arkansas. Confused, yet? Click on map to go to the larger image.
|Map of Texas as a Republic in 1841 (LOC). The boundaries were in constant dispute, however; especially in the west (New Mexico), south
(Mexico believed Texas ended at the Neches River) and northeast (the Red River bend near Arkansas). Click on the map to see a cutout of the