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Anglo Americans in Texas before Austin: Illegal Immigrants on Wavell's Grant and in Miller County

House with water tower.
One of the earliest homes in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas belonged to Charles DeMorse, who published "The Standard." DeMorse (actually, Charles D. Morse) purchased a log cabin and then built a more substantial house around it.

Anglo Americans before Austin in Texas: Illegal Immigrants on Wavell's Grant and in Miller County

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 territory. 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? For one, much of the settlement remained on the northern river bank in Arkansas Territory. Secondly, 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 a question of geography: if parts of Pecan Point were in Spanish Texas and parts in American Arkansas, where exactly did the people there live? Off-limits Texas 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 Quincy 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, settlement along the southern Red River was in full swing. Jonesboro (on the Spanish side of the river) had become a ferry crossing and trading center, and plantations were built south of 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 established trading roads - including the Trammel Trace, a branch of which linked Jonesboro to Natchitoches, Louisiana. 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). 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. The Mexican government did not care if the land grant holder was Anglo or Indian - it simply wanted settlers. Therefore, several American Indian tribes also claimed land grants in northeastern Texas, such as the Shawnees and Choctaws.

As more people entered northeastern Texas, Arthur Wavell, an Englishman who helped Stephen Austin secure his father's empressario, applied and received an empressario of his own in 1827 to create honest people out of all the squatters. Wavell's grant wasn't successful, though. While Wavell hired Benjamin Milam to act as an agent, and Milam was able to secure Mexican citizenship and land rights for several families in the Red River region, James Bowie decided to scam them instead. James Bowie and Ashley Crittenden passed phony claims among the anxious Americans and triggered an international incident between the U.S. and Mexico. Masquerading as a land agent, Bowie "secured" titles for the filibusterers in exchange for gold coins. When his ruse was discovered, the damage had already been done, and Wavell's empressario never enjoyed the organized success that Austin's land grant had.

After Wavell, John Cameron obtained an empressario but the people who already lived in the Red River Valley of Texas did not really care. Hispanic Mexicans did not pursue these land grants themselves, either. Mexican hesitancy 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.

Therefore, the majority of settlers in the Red River Valley were whites who were also the enslavers of black people. 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 state and Texas Republic constitutional conventions. Much of their motivation stemmed less from outrage at Santa Anna's antics - after all, they were so far removed from Mexican authority that they were not personally affected by the military takeover of Mexico's government - and more about ensuring that they could continue to enslave people and profit of their labor. 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. These slavers were a main reason why Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845 as a slave state. * Anglo is a catch-all word used to describe the even more nebulous 'white.' The majority of white people who settled in Texas in the first quarter of the 19th century were predominantly 'Scotch-Irish.' Scotch-Irish people are often mistaken for Ulster Scots who resided in Ireland for a generation before leaving for the British colonies. Most of the Ulster Scots were actually men, women, and children from southern England and London. The English removed their poor from slums and communally owned land and forcibly placed them as buffers in hostile territory, such as Ireland and eventually, in their North American colonies. The Scotch-Irish came to the colonies as indentured servants who, after their indentures ended, received small tracts of land in the back country of the colonies, where they acted once again as buffers between hostile natives and rich English landowners.

Pecan Ppint, or Punta Pecana, is shown on this USGS map as inside today's Oklahoma, but its school in the early 20th century was south of its ford (USGS).

Newsapper article
Working as a Mexican land agent, Benjamin Milam was tasked to legitimize the American squatters in the failed land grant. Here is his notice in the Arkansas Gazette of 1830.

Wavell's Land Grant is shown at Pecan Point and hugging the Red River in this 1833 map of Arkansas (LOC).

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