|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,
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.
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
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.
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.
|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.
|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
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 (and, before the Revolution, to leave the United States!) 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 enslaved people who built 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 may have nursed Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jancinto; warned
Colonel James Bourland of Union encroachment; and learned 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, also served as a hotel, However, Preston had a
somewhat seedy reputation, and the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach bypassed it in favor of Sherman. By the 1870s, the Missouri Kansas
Texas Railroad paralleled the Texas Road and crossed into Texas at Colbert's Ferry, and once again, Preston was bypassed. 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 an historian
to a born-again-Christian.
|How to get there: Unless you want to swim, you can't see the original site of Preston anymore, because it's
beneath Lake Texoma. 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.
|Preston is one of the ghost towns featured in the Texas tour of the Red River Valley
in Red River Historian's newest book, Traveling History among the Ghosts:
Abandoned Places along the Red River Valley. Order your copy today on Amazon
or through Red River Historian Press!