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by 1824, Mexico) and voluntarily rescinded their American citizenship, as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
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
|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
|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
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 disputed area.