Who Keeps Count of Birthdays After 150 Anyway?

Nick Trammell would have been 239 years old on January 13, 2019  . . . but who's counting?

Trammell was born in 1780 just outside of what is now Nashville, Tennessee. When I was thinking about what to write to recognize his birthday, I recalled again how the years of his life were incredibly pivotal in the history of our nation and the state of Texas.

My former mother-in-law was almost 100 years old when she died and it is incredible to think about all she saw in her lifetime. For Nicholas Trammell, his span of years was just as remarkable. 

“The Station Camp - Dogs and Deerskins” by David Wright. Used with permission. www.davidwrightart.com.

“The Station Camp - Dogs and Deerskins” by David Wright. Used with permission. www.davidwrightart.com.

The Trammells and the Mauldings, his wife's family, were early arrivers into the Tennessee-Kentucky settlements, holding key offices as justice of the peace, sheriff, and captain of the militia. Trammell grew up in the county where Andrew Jackson had his legal practice. When he left Tennessee and began settling in the Missouri Territory it was only five years after the Louisana Purchase.

Along with other Tennesseans, Nick was among the earliest Anglo settlers to push into Missouri, Arkansas, and ultimately to Pecan Point on the Red River when Texas was still Spanish territory. When it became Mexico, he tried to head south into Austin's colony like many others but was rejected due to his poor reputation.

In the leadup to the Texas Revolution, it was his presence at a Trinity River crossing of the El Camino Real that led to his expulsion from Texas, and to the Fredonian Rebellion in 1826.  Trammell spent the next 25 years in Arkansas along the roadways increasingly filled with other Anglo immigrants to Texas. When he and his family finally moved back to Texas, where he died in 1856, he had seen Texas move from Spain to Mexico, to Republic, and finally to statehood. The explosion in the population and the increasing loss of the "frontier" of East and Central Texas was complete. Cotton and slavery had come, and Texas was never the same.

"Watching His Backtrail" by David Wright. www.davidwrightart.com

"Watching His Backtrail" by David Wright. www.davidwrightart.com

Nicholas Trammell lived on the periphery of some of the most pivotal events in our history, and in the middle of more than a few. May we always remember how he and other ancestors paved the way through their own hardship and loss. . . . and won a few horse races along the way.

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"Watching His Backside," by David Wright.  www.davidwrightart.com


Decembers to Remember

Our cousins in the more northern latitudes have a different relationship with December than we do here in East Texas. During a recent vacation in New Hampshire and Maine we found things starting to shut down "for the season" on Columbus Day. In North Carolina this week, I saw signs coming out in preparation for closing part of the Blue Ridge Parkway due to the coming weather. Here in Texas, even with a crazy one-day snowfall like we just had, winter is just now becoming the time to get outside.


In Texas Decembers past, much the same was true. The later months of the year, after all the harvests were completed, was a time for moving about the country. Reminders of those December moves are found all through the history I researched for Trammel's Trace.

In December 1820, Moses Austin arrived in San Antonio, working to gain permission to bring 300 Anglo colonists into Mexican Texas. A year later, Daniel Shipman and his family were on the move toward that new colony. Shipman and his family moved along with other Tennesseans to Arkansas in 1819, and then to Spanish Bluff on the Red River. They followed Trammel's Trace from Pecan Point to Nacogdoches on their way to Austin's colony.

By December 1824, Nicholas Trammell and his family had moved south as well, ending up on the Trinity River at a crossing of the El Camino Real. The land he occupied was part of an ownership dispute with an old Spanish landowner named Sartuche.  At the end of 1826, Trammell was chased off the land in a precursor to the Fredonian Rebellion.

Stephen F. Austin, in December 1826, wrote the Mexican governor to say there are "some bad and rebellious men, who must be expelled from our country." Those bad men issued their short lived Fredonian Declaration of Independence on December 21, 1826.

Weather made December travel more tolerable, but we all know winter to be the wet season at times, and snow can surprise us at any time. On a chilly Christmas Day in 1841, Josiah Gregg, a diarist and frontiersman, traveled up Trammel's Trace. A light snow fell on the group as they crossed the Sabine River at Ramsdale's Ferry. He noted the river was only a "half leg deep, so forded easily" (pause here to shiver).

As Mickey and I make our way up interstates and paved highways to Alto and Caddo Mounds State Historic Site today for a presentation, I'll be thankful for the temperature controls inside the truck and revisit all these December events warmly indoors.

A Matter of Perspective

In a state as diverse as Texas, it is surprising that we are only just beginning to understand that one's view on history is determined by perspective. A radio story by the Texas Standard points out that Anglos were the first undocumented immigrants to Spanish Texas (story here). What some call battles, others call massacres; liberation for some may be an expulsion for others. 

Concepts of Manifest Destiny led Anglos to believe they "owned" land that was occupied and settled by others.

Concepts of Manifest Destiny led Anglos to believe they "owned" land that was occupied and settled by others.

I am on that thought because in looking back at notable November events in Trammel's Trace history, one of the most significant in both the history of east Texas and later the Texas Revolution, was also was a major event in the life of Nicholas Trammell.

On November 25, 1825, Trammell laid claim to a league of land on both sides of the Trinity River crossing of the El Camino Real. The problem with that was that it was already owned by a Spanish citizen named Ignacio Sartuche. Haden Edwards, an empressario given a contract by Mexico, used heavy handed tactics to illegally grant land to Anglos like Trammell. 

The relationship between Trammell and Sartuche is like many of old Nick's acquaintances -- a mix of patronage and dominance. There is evidence that Sartuche continued to live on the land, and that Trammell may have helped him with food and supplies. Trammell may have been living there a year prior to the claim.

Sartuche tried to reclaim his land in December 1824, but the sale continued. Ultimately, this led to an entirely different story about how Trammell was evicted from the crossing, his half-brother was killed by Martin Parmer, and the whole series of events led to the Fredonian Rebellion. The rebellion was one of a growing number of attempts to wrest Texas from Mexico.

Texas heroes, or land-grabbing invaders? Perhaps simply opportunists in either case. 

Six days after Trammell's eviction, Ignacio Sartuche's Trinity River land claim was resurveyed. Sartuche walked the boundaries with the surveyor and exercised the typical Spanish demonstrations of ownership. Sartuche gave thanks to God as he pulled up weeds and tossed them in the air. At each of the corners, he tossed stones and cried aloud, perhaps tossing one in the direction of Trammell's hasty retreat. Dirt and stones flew behind Trammell as well, but only those loosened by his horse's hooves as he escaped north up Trammel's Trace.


Trammel's Trace State Park??

If a group of Tatum-area citizens had their way, Martin Creek Lake State Park would have been named Trammel's Trace State Park. 

Not long after Martin Lake was built to supply the lignite-based power plant, efforts to get the state to build a park got underway. In June 1975 while the park idea was gathering steam, Rusk County Judge James Porter was given a petition from 84 Chapman area residents suggesting the park be named after Trammel's Trace. Judge Porter and State Representative Ben Z. Grant had both heard from others in Tatum, led again by Cecil Williams, long-time publisher of the Trammel Trace Tribune, the weekly paper for Tatum. The Tatum Garden Club and the Tatum Kiwanis Club were both in support.

It certainly made sense since the old trail followed the eastern edge of the lake. In some places it was just beyond the dam and in others the lake covered the former route.

A year later, in July 1976, the new park was ready for opening but still had not been finally named. The group promoting Trammel's Trace State Park was still beating the drum, but a smaller group had begun suggesting Harmony Hill State Park, named for the old settlement just to the north of the lake.

When Williams personally carried his the petition to the state, Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman, Mike Herring, told him there were priorities in naming. In order they were prominent geographic features, outstanding natural resources, significant historic events or people, and several other lesser options. The Martin family, descendants of earlier settlers whose land was inundated by much of the lake, lobbied for the name it would end up with. The Martin family cabin salvaged from the area to be flooded is now at the Depot Museum in Henderson. Even though the Trammel's Trace name seemed to fit the bill, the park was instead named Martin Creek Lake State Park.

Honestly, the name has always confused me a bit. Is it a creek, or is it a lake? Yes, I know it is a lake made from a creek, but still. Same feeling when I see streets named such-and-such Parkway Drive Circle or something like that. Pick one!  :)

There was a Trammel's Trace Marina for a time, where boaters and bank fishermen could buy bait for some fine crappie fishing. But then there was discussion about closing the lake due to selenium releases from the power plant. Now that things have settled down and miles of Trammel's Trace have been dug up due to lignite mining, maybe its time to start that petition again.

Regardless of the name, Park Superintendent Nic Maloukis has been working to better interpret the history of the region and provide visitors with more information about Trammel's Trace. You can even walk part of the old Stagecoach Road from Tatum to Henderson. Martin Creek Lake State Park is a fine place to visit whatever it is named.

1975-06-09, Longview News-Journal, p 7C, Trammel name for State park.jpg

Longview News-Journal, June 9, 1975, p 7C

1976-06-20, Longview News-Journal, p 11A, Martin Lake park named Trammell.jpg

Longview News-Journal, June 20, 1976, p 11a

Martin cem rd 2.jpg

Remains of old county line road along route of Trammel's Trace that had to be relocated when the lake was built. This is looking south from Martin Cemetery. Photo by Gary Pinkerton.

The Biggest Event in the History of Trammel's Trace

The research never stops. Just found these yesterday. More below.

On May 5, 1977, one of the biggest single events in the history of Trammel's Trace took place in Tatum, Texas. That was the day almost 500 people turned out at the football stadium for the presentation of the Trammel's Trace bicentennial marker that stands there still.

Cecil Williams, the longtime publisher of the Trammel Trace Tribune, led a community effort to get the marker. Local history students, along with the Tatum Garden Club, helped raise the money. Elementary students dressed as Caddo Indians and Anglo pioneers danced on the football turf. There was even a Trammell descendant there, a Dan Trammell, who seemed not know much about the history. Evelyn Corry Appelbee of Henderson read her poem which memorialized the people who used the road over the centuries. The county judge and commissioners, the Lion's Club, the president of Panola Junior College, and other local dignitaries were all in attendance. What an event!

As I have talked about in my own presentations, one of the presenters also understood even then the challenges of preserving this old road. "The recent importance of lignite as a fuel source has brought the are a renewed economic boom, and with this unparalleled growth comes the threat of Trammel's Trace being forever lost," Those words, spoken by Tony Christian, head of the high school's language department, still ring true today.

Now if I can get some of those people to order a book . . . Gary

Applebee Poem.jpg

Poem by Evelyn Corry Appelbee of Henderson, read at the dedication.

1977-05-05, Longview News-Journal, p 2, Trammel Trace Marker.jpg

May 5, 1977, Longview News-Journal, p 2

1977-05-06, Longview News-Journal, p 16B, Tatum marker.jpg

May 6, 1977, Longview News-Journal, p 16B

1977-05-06, Marshall News Messenger, p 1, Trammel Trace Marker.jpg

May 6, 1977, Marshall News-Messenger, page ONE

The People Who Keep History Alive

History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity. Dexter Perkins

"I think my wife helped you with your book." That was the subject line of an email I received last week. What it had to say touched me personally. His wife, Kristi, who had helped me understand Trammell family genealogy very early on, died last year. When my book came out, a friend sent him a copy, and he said he cried a little when he realized what it was about. And I teared up a little in appreciation for him letting me know.

His note started me thinking about all of the people I've met over the years of doing this project who have also passed away. I have had the good fortune to meet people who have been pillars of the preservation of history -- people who have been incredibly influential.

"Buffalo" Ed Talley, Gary Pinkerton, Sam Dickinson - 2007, Prescott, Arkansas

"Buffalo" Ed Talley, Gary Pinkerton, Sam Dickinson - 2007, Prescott, Arkansas

I was able to speak with Mary Medearis, the sage of SW Arkansas tales and history before she died. Through an introduction by "Buffalo Ed" Talley, I was able to meet "Mr. Sam" Dickinson in Prescott, a 93 year-old who had traveled north and south America collecting primitive art and artifacts. Dr. Gordon Pettey wrote about the Smuggler's Road around Nacogdoches and was an original gadfly. Judge Jim Lovett from Red River County was an amazing legal historian and his enthusiasm for playing history detective was infectious. Gail Martin at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archive not only knew her history, but was just the most wonderful person you could ever meet.

It wasn't just people who wrote about history whom I've met, it was people who were part of it. Henry SoRelle and his brother A.C. were part of an effort in 1958-1959 to find the Hendricks Lake treasure. Diana Waldrop Herring was the daughter of Barnie Waldrop, a Carthage TV repairman with treasure dreams of his own. She pushed the plunger to dynamite the bottom of the lake and instead of treasure only found piles of fish and snakes floating to the top.

The stories each of these told me not only contributed to the story of Trammel's Trace, but their own unique personalities became part of how I understood the stories they told. Truly, meeting people like these has been the best part of this work. It makes one realize how delicate history is in the hands of those who cherish it and pass it on, and how important it is that we receive what they offer and cherish it ourselves.

I am thankful.

And someday I'll tell the story of how I traveled to the middle of Arizona to meet an 80-year-old hard hat diver only three weeks before he died.



The Tranquility of the Inhospitable Wilds

Ever since I read that phrase, I was captured by the sound of the words and the images it conjured up. For a time, it was even the working title for this book. I loved the way the words rolled. Wiser thoughts prevailed when it came to the title, but it still lingers for me.

When the United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, the boundary with Spanish Texas was ill-defined. Tensions along the border In October 1806 led to a stand-off between Spanish and US forces along the Sabine River between Nacogdoches and Natchitoches. In a letter to the Spanish General, Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, General James Wilkinson commanding the US forces used the phrase. In seeking to avoid a battle, Wilkinson said he would "risque the approbations of my Government to perpetuate the tranquility of the inhospitable wilds." (See whole document at the Portal to Texas History

General James Wilkinson, commander of US forces in the Neutral Ground, 1806

General James Wilkinson, commander of US forces in the Neutral Ground, 1806

It is that juxtaposition and contrast of the two words that attracts me still because they seemed to so readily capture the earliest years of Trammels Trace. It is difficult to fully imagine the beauty of east Texas in the early 1800's. No human had as yet cleared land, cut trees, or plowed fields. The rivers ran true to their bounds, whether muddy or clear, and the only sounds heard were those made by nature. Early diary accounts mentioned making contact with very few people along the entire 180-mile route. Images of enormous cypress, pine, and oak come to mind, with very little undergrowth except in the river bottoms. A beautiful and tranquil image indeed.

Yet within that imagination I must remind myself of the separation and distance from anything that might have been considered as civilization. Along Trammel's Trace in the years before immigration grew in 1821, there was nowhere to turn in an emergency, no place of refuge or protection. One ate what they carried or killed along the way. Wooded places of beauty were impractical for farming, and without farming few were able to keep themselves fed and alive. The inhospitable was never far beneath the image of tranquility and peace. Death was there in the wilds if one did not protect themselves from it.

The "tranquility of the inhospitable wilds" is a phrase that will stay with me for while. Someday my artsy impulses may use it again.

The Adventures of Writing

Adventure and writing?  I know it sounds bookishly exciting in a somewhat boring way, but the nature of the unexpected when it comes to putting a book out into the universe really has been adventurous. 

Back on November first, I wondered out loud about the travails of public response to such a work as this and feared the "red pen effect" with Texas historians. But I could not be more pleased with the feedback from readers. I've heard of the book devoured in a day, and gotten praise for using primary research to further the topic. I signed a book for Don Henley (shhhh) and hope that he was pleased as well. The response has been supportive, both from everyday readers and from those with credentials. 

A big part of the adventure has been being on the road doing presentations and book signings. My expectations have been exceeded by the support of folks who have organized and publicized the events, and the turnouts in small towns across east Texas. I've stood in restored courtrooms, in a room full of art, and near a mule-drawn sugar cane press. In Hughes Springs the event was on the big digital sign board, and in Jefferson I was taped by local cable. Meeting people is the best part of this and though Mickey and I are worn out, the fact that the reception continues so positively is really neat.

Four months into this project we have sold out the entire first printing and another 500 books are now in the warehouse. It's been rewarding to see how word of mouth and social networks have extended the reach of the story of Trammel's Trace. As I  hoped, I'm very excited that new interest in the road is stirring among landowners and county historians. There is talk of two new markers focused on Trammel's Trace.

The real adventure is that this pebble in the pond keep expanding. Thanks to all of you who have been a part . . . so far.

Is that with one "L" or two? Yes.

Okay I knew it would raise questions. But I did it anyway.

In the book I spell Trammel's Trace with one "L" and Nicholas Trammell with two. So the question is why? I've gotten the question enough of late that I thought I'd answer it here.  

From an 1841 court case. The clerk wrote the spelling of the name.

From an 1841 court case. The clerk wrote the spelling of the name.

Mostly I've been asked that question by all of the Trammell descendants who have found the book. That would be the descendants who spell their name most often as Trammel or Trammell, but if you look in the old court records, it might appear as Trammill, Tramel, Tramil, or Trammael. Their Cornish ancestors might have also used Tramell, Tremayle, Tremmel, Tremmell, Tremmil, Trimlin, Trumnell, or Trimnill. 

So I was happy to narrow it down to just two standard spellings.

But it wasn't me who did that. It was an outstanding historian AND Trammell descendant, Jack Jackson.

I explain the method to my madness in the book within footnote 3 in Chapter 3, page 228. (You are reading all the footnotes too, right?) Given both Jackson's stature as a historian and a descendant of Old Nick, I simply accepted his convention. Here is the explanation.

"On old maps, the name of the trail is most often seen as Trammel, two M’s and one L. The Handbook of Texas spells it as such. Jack Jackson, a noted historian and Trammell descendant, made a case for Nicholas Trammell’s name to be spelled with two M’s and two L’s, a change also reflected in the Handbook of Texas. This convention will be used throughout this work."

So there is the answer. Rather than choose one spelling, I chose two. But it was no labour at all. 

The Elusive Nicholas Trammell

In writing a work like this and researching a "main character" in Nicholas Trammell, I could not help but  want to know more about him. Every tidbit of information I uncovered seemed to lead to a whole host of new questions. So when a Trammell descendant said she had a picture of him I was incredibly excited. This is the photo I received.

Photo of a young surveyor family reports attribute to their ancestor, Nicholas Trammell

Photo of a young surveyor family reports attribute to their ancestor, Nicholas Trammell

Trammell is often reported to have "surveyed" Trammel's Trace so I can understand the connection to the equipment. Even through I've found no evidence of him being an actual surveyor, that bit of historical overreach is carried on some Texas historical markers.

I've learned to investigate facts so I reached out via email to some members of the Surveyor's Historical Society to ask for their assessment of the equipment shown in the hopes it would establish a date for the photo. What I got back was detailed and incredibly complete. These folks know their stuff.

They told me very quickly that this is a photo from the Library of Congress (click here) with the date 1851 written on the back. In 1851 Trammell was 71 years old. So this is likely not Nicholas Trammel, unfortunately. I hate disappointing family members, but I do like learning the facts.

So what DID Nicholas Trammell look like? The illustration and text below are one of the few first hand descriptions of any aspect of Trammell personally.

Description from a soldier's account when passing through Washington, Arkansas. The illustration "Frontiersman With Pipe" is by the masterful historical artist, David Wright.  www.davidwrightart.com

Description from a soldier's account when passing through Washington, Arkansas. The illustration "Frontiersman With Pipe" is by the masterful historical artist, David Wright. www.davidwrightart.com

A couple of things about this observation. At the time Trammell would have been 66 years old, so he must have been remarkably healthy to have been mistaken for a younger man. The soldier also noted that though Trammell "would perform with fidelity and honor, whatever he undertook, but it was prudent to watch him after he completed his assignment." Like a guest who would steal your silverware at the end of the meal.

Better than any other source I have found, Wright's illustration gives us an image where we can hang our hat of imagination on a depiction that matches a much younger version of the soldier's physical description of Trammell.

Mr. Wright is meticulous in his research. He was an adviser in selecting the clothing and arms for the Sam Houston sculpture recently erected in Maryville, Tennessee. As a result he pointed out for me that this clothing is in the date range of the War of 1812, not the time frame of the soldier's quote. That is even better in my mind because now we can envision what Nicholas Trammell looked like around the time he was accused by the Cherokee in Missouri Territory of stealing their horses. Both the dress and the physical description of the soldier match this artwork incredibly well. So for me, this is how I visualize Nicholas Trammell.

Now if one of the Trammell descendants can help me find his headstone somewhere in Gonzales County, Texas I will be packed and in my truck in under 42 minutes.  Road trip!!!

Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another. . . Map?

I've met very few people who are completely disinterested in maps. 

My map of Trammel's Trace attracts a lot of interest. When people stop at the visitor center at each state line, what do they have stacked at the counter?  There are beautifully folded state maps that most everyone will take. On the continuum of map affinity from "how do I fold this back" to the truly addicted cartophile, there are more people on the love them end of the scale than not. That is especially true when it comes to old maps.

In this project I've been able to exercise fully my life long admiration of a well-illustrated map by researching maps of Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee over the last 200 years. The map below is one example. 

E. F. Lee,   Map of Texas containing the latest Grants and Discoveries,   Cincinnati: J.A. James & Co., 1836,     Map #93855  , Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

E. F. Lee, Map of Texas containing the latest Grants and Discoveries, Cincinnati: J.A. James & Co., 1836, Map #93855, Holcomb Digital Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

This is one corner of a map available at the Texas General Land Office. Click here to open the full map where you can zoom in for detail. On this 1836 map the road that was Trammel's Trace can be seen heading south from Fulton and passing the Caddo villages which were east of present-day Marshall and the Cherokee village that was north of Henderson. The road was actually to the east of the Cherokee, but in these days that kind of detail as not consequential. It is identified as the Road to Little Rock, generally known at the time as the Southwest Trail or the Military Road.

Even on this relatively late map with regard to settlement, the nature of Trammel's Trace as the first road to Texas from the north is clearly visible.

Part of the attraction to these old maps is their artistic nature. The legends and illustrations were often magnificent in their detail. The style of the map title example below was what Nancy Tiller so wonderfully captured in the map of Trammel's Trace we produced for the book.

So yes, keep those old maps coming. Stay tuned for information on the map exhibit coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science opening at the end of January. I wonder if there is a discount for map nerds. . . 

Wife Comma Wonderful

There are benefits to producing your own index when you write a book. Right there in the back of the book is both an acknowledgement and a thank you. In the midst of index entries referencing early Anglo settlers, colonists, and a traitorous general is a simple entry to which I would like to call attention.

         wife, wonderful (See Hammond, Mickey)

When you produce your own index you can do such things. I did so because she is in large part how I was able to finally finish this book. She was supportive and encouraging, she let me know the limits of being a "book widow," and she wielded the red pen gently but firmly through multiple readings.

With events starting now, she will be with me to help tell the story and get the book in your hands. This past Saturday at the Syrup Festival we were up at 5:30 two days in a row and she helped with all the setup and logistics. If you come to one of the events coming up, you'll likely get to meet her and see why she is "wife comma wonderful," . . .  Mickey Arnold Hammond.  Thank you!

A Few Hundred Red Pens

This book stuff is incredibly interesting. And mildly frightening.

Writing a book is about much more than just writing a book. Finishing the work is no small feat. I've told people the more I write the harder it is to write. What I mean is that my standards went up and I discovered that the words I chose to explain what is in my head did not always transfer smoothly to paper.

Then there was the whole production cycle. I consider footnotes the root canal of writing. Indexing was not nearly as painful. Then the copy editing, the illustrations, and at every point along the way something to fix. The birthing process of a book is quite long and requires patience and tenacity.

Now that the satisfaction of holding it in my hands has come (at last!), the excitement of getting it out there has arrived. The website and online sales have been incredibly simple and accessible. Creating this blog and the Facebook page are part of the marketing and really quite fun. My first book event is now less than two weeks away.

And then it dawned on me. That feeling that every author gets no matter how many times they are published. What if people don't like it? 

Putting out a book, particularly about a topic on Texas history where there are so many experts, is a risky venture. As the first books start to arrive in the hands of patient family, friends, and scholars it is time for both nervousness and excitement. Though there have been some very favorable early reviews by readers I respect, now it is time to really find out if I achieved my goal of not only informing readers but engaging them in this old road.

So please take the time to enjoy the book, tell others about it, save your notes on corrections for a few weeks please, and (covering my eyes) let me know what you think. Gently, of course.  :)                                                                          

Ruts of a Different Kind

Okay, I have a job for you. I need a few people to dig a trench five feet wide and up to sixteen feet deep for 3/4 mile through rocky soil full of trees. Are you in?  Oh and you can only use a pick and shovel. I don't care how many people you bring, but the whole job will pay $1,500. 

When can you start?

Those are the conditions under which the Mill Race in Wimberley, Texas was dug in 1870. A race is a fast flowing, water-filled trough, this one to provide the necessary 21-foot drop in elevation required to power the Winters Mill. Mill Race ran from Blue Hole to the village of Wimberley near Cypress Creek.

Mickey and I stayed at a creek-side cottage with an address on Mill Race, but I had no idea what the name meant. I saw the ruts and then found the sign to explain them.

Almost as interesting was the fact that there was such a thing as an archaeological landmark designation for features like this. My thoughts shifted to such a designation for a certain old east Texas roadway.  

Not every rut is an old road, but man-made ruts like these whether dug or worn have many stories.

(click picture to see more)


The (early) reviews are in!!!

In the process of getting a book to print, the publisher sends out pre-release copies to reviewers to generate those "blurbs" on the back cover. The three reviewers who have commented are each people whom I highly respect and who have an often intimate knowledge of my work over the years. I am extremely proud to share these and highly appreciative of the endorsements from these three scholars.


Dr. Jim Bruseth is the former director of the Archaeology Division of the Texas State Historical Commission and led the effort to recover the Belle, the lost ship of LaSalle.

“Gary Pinkerton’s book Trammel’s Trace, The First Road to Texas from the North is an impressive contribution to our understanding of the Nineteenth-Century settlement of eastern Texas.  For the first time, a comprehensive compilation has been made about Trammel’s Trace and the life of Nicholas Trammell, the man who developed the trail system to first smuggle contraband and later to engage in legal commerce in Texas.  Pinkerton is the perfect author of this study, having personally located  many present-day remnants of the trace with his team of historians and archaeologists.   Pinkerton’s exhaustive research in Texas, Arkansas, and other archives has enabled him to describe the trace with stunning detail and to make a plea to the present generation about the urgent need to preserve the parts of the trace that still exist.  Moreover, his presentation of Nicholas Trammell’s life from Tennessee to Texas appropriately highlights the contributions Trammell made to Texas.  Anyone interested in the history of settlement in the Lone Star State will want this book for their library.” — Jim Bruseth, Ph.D.


Jeff Williams is Technical Coordinator and responsible for the GIS lab at the Temple School of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University. He is also a fellow rut nut who has spent many hours on old roads of east Texas.

“Western expansion following the Louisiana Purchase created turbulent pressures on the boundaries of Spanish Texas and the United States which neither nation could afford to ignore.  During these disquieting years the sparsely patrolled frontier and the lure of lucrative trade in horses gave rise to numerous smugglers in the wild fringes of Texas and none was more colorful than Nicholas Trammell.  Pinkerton’s wonderfully written and meticulously researched history of Trammel’s Trace follows the life of Nicholas Trammell; exposing him as both a scoundrel and an entrepreneur.  Pinkerton leaves no doubt that Nicholas Trammell, like all the shadowy figures associated with the early borderlands of Texas, played an integral part in opening Texas to those who wished to emigrate from the United States.  Trammel’s Trace, while belonging to history as a smugglers trail turned artery of early Texas colonization, exists today as dim paths through forests or as shallow swales across forgotten pastures, and in some places as county roads and highways. In his book, Pinkerton has expertly demonstrated the depth of his research through the retracement of this early and often obscure road across the landscapes of today.  Backed by solid evidence from dedicated examinations of landownership abstracts, historic maps and documents, as well as sifting through voluminous antecedent documents, Pinkerton has written a compelling and intriguing story of the origin and evolution of an early Texas road that no historian should be without.” —Jeffrey M. Williams, Stephen F. Austin State University


Dr. Francis X. Galan is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. We met years ago through the East Texas Historical Association and his research focus on Los Adaes and early borderlands history has been an important guide for my work.

“Pinkerton’s glimpse at Trammel’s Trace as a ‘smuggler’s back alley’ into Northeast Texas offers a refreshing tale about other roads and characters beyond the traditional narrative of colonization in the Lone Star State. The transformation of Nicholas Trammell from clandestine trader to settled farmer and slaveholder by the early 1840s is a reminder that there remains more to learn about early immigrants to Texas than meets the eye. Pinkerton relates Trammell’s journey in a well-written, narrative style that different audiences may share alike.”— Francis X. Galan, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-San Antonio


I'm extremely proud to share these. Makes you want to read it, right?

Semi-Professional Curiosity

It has not been that long since someone pointed out to me that I am an "independent researcher." That apparently is how the work I've done on Trammel's Trace is best characterized from the perspective of real professionals who are researchers who actually get paid to have this kind of fun. Up until that point I really just thought of myself as a guy who turned his curiosity into something tangible.

Some independent researchers get paid, but this project has purely been one of the heart. As a personal interest in which to sink money it's probably about the same as having a serious fishing addiction. I get to be outside occasionally but the equipment costs are so high that each fried fish costs about $845 if a legitimate accounting was done. In this effort, I've put in a lot of miles, but wouldn't trade it for anything. 

So as an independent researcher, I've been asked to be on a panel at the upcoming East Texas Historical Association conference in Nacogdoches. The topic is "Living Outside the Ivory Tower: The Unique Role of the Independent Scholar."  Turns out there are not nearly enough of us around.

In thinking about what my message will be, what came to mind was the absolute richness of the history of northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas. Maybe you have seen markers like the one below basically saying "Nothing Important Ever Happened Here" as a parody of the real markers.  Well in east Texas that is far from the truth.

Markers that will NOT be seen in east Texas, cuz a LOT happened here.

Markers that will NOT be seen in east Texas, cuz a LOT happened here.

For anyone like me with any passing interest in a topic of early regional history there is an endless list of events or places about which to become interested. I feel fortunate in having bumped into a couple of subjects where when I pull a thread of interest a whole tapestry comes into view. Whether your subject matter becomes as large as this book project has become or is just a focus on a particular place or time, there is much about which to be curious.

Whatever any of us can do to make history real and present and to tell the stories as much as the facts will be a contribution. Happy Fishing!


Man, I've been at this at LONG time. . .

Thanks to my brother, Danny, for dredging up this article from a distant corner of the internet.  Back in 2007, I met up with Mary Rogers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the Dairy Queen in Tatum, Texas to talk about Trammel's Trace and the Hendricks Lake treasure myth.

We met there for two reasons:  1) The Dude, and 2) they had wi-fi. Here is the text of the feature article she wrote.


SEPTEMBER 16, 2007

Tales of Spanish Silver Lure Treasure Hunters to an East Texas Lake

By Mary Rogers, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

There is something about the idea of treasure hunting that worms its way into the damp folds of the imagination. Legends grow fat there and sing sweet and low of pirates and priests who held plunder in their hands -- then let it slip through their fingers for others to find.

For more than a decade one team of professional treasure hunters heard the siren's call, and earlier this summer Odyssey Marine Exploration hauled up an estimated $500 million in Colonial-era silver and gold coins from a secret trove deep in the Atlantic Ocean. Television crews jockeyed for the best shots as hundreds of plastic jugs filled with the coins were unloaded from a private cargo plane at a guarded location.

And right then, deep in some viewer's mind, the old legends began to sing. I heard them too, as I often do on lazy summer afternoons. But this year I didn't put them aside. I went looking for the lost treasure of Hendrick's Lake, a $2 million fortune in silver allegedly taken from a Spanish galleon by the infamous "Pirate of the Gulf," Jean Lafitte.

The story that fishermen, sometime in the last century, pulled several silver bars from the muddy waters with a hoop net seemed to give this legend legs. The search was to be a lark, a pleasant diversion.

I had no idea what was waiting to be uncovered.

Treasure lore

From the coast to the Cap Rock, Texas has more than 200 treasure legends. One cache is supposed to sit beneath a private 400-acre lake in the heart of the Sabine River bottom near Tatum. The ancient river snakes through Panola County near Carthage and divides Texas from Louisiana, but here, deep in this forest of pine and oak, it has always had a mind of its own.

When this land was young, the river changed its course, leaving behind slivers of spring-fed water that locals call "oxbow lakes" or "lost lakes," including Hendrick's. The Sabine is a stone's throw away; some say that the ancient river and its fickle ghosts stand sentinel over any treasure that may be hidden there. In August, the thick air is filled with the shrill whine of mosquitoes. Cypress trees on the steep banks stretch their leafy arms skyward. A silvery scum tops much of the lake's bourbon-colored water and toothy alligator gar, snapping turtles and black bass swim its murky depths.

Occasionally, an oil field truck whizzes up the clay lane that was once a part of an early roadway called Trammel's Trace, splashing mud from the recent rains. According to legend it was here in 1812 or 1816, or maybe 1818, along this half-mile stretch of water, that Jean Lafitte's men, afraid that they were about to be ambushed, pushed several wagons loaded with silver ingots into the muddy water.

The wagons and the silver bars quickly disappeared into the soupy depths and the thick layer of bottom silt. Only one man lived to tell the tale -- the others were slaughtered.

No one knows for sure if that lone survivor came back to recover the silver, but it is clear that by 1884, treasure hunters were feverishly trying to drain the lake. The Galveston Daily News sniffed at the effort. "They should transfer their operations to the Gulf of Mexico. A good deal of wealth has been left under its waters by shipwrecks," wrote one reporter.

Before the treasure hunters could drain the lake completely, a storm tracked across the countryside and the angry Sabine River overflowed its banks and coursed through the lake, filling it to overflowing.

Treasure and the river

Decades rolled past. Teddy Roosevelt stormed San Juan Hill. The Wright brothers flew. Ford automobiles became the rage. The stock market crashed. Prohibition came and went. Women got the right to vote. The world went to war twice.

And then came the prosperous days of the 1950s. Treasure magazines became popular and searching for lost gold became an interesting distraction. True West Magazine printed a story about the long-forgotten Hendrick's Lake silver, and treasure hunters flocked to Carthage and Tatum, says Gary Pinkerton who is writing a book about Trammel's Trace and the legend.

Dallas oilman Henry SoRelle and his brother A.C. SoRelle Jr. were part of the onslaught.

"I was about 25 then, and my brother was 10 years older," SoRelle says. In those years, the younger SoRelle was the land man for the family's Houston-based oil business. In no time, he had inked a lease from the landowners, which included former Panola County Sheriff Corbett Akins; his chief deputy, "Cush" Reeves; and Peter Walker Adams, who wore overalls, carried an impressive knife and rented fishing boats at one end of the lake.

The SoRelle brothers had a large metal detector that they hauled around the lake. "All of a sudden we got a hit," SoRelle remembers, his blue eyes shining, his fist clenched in victory. "We thought we could get a scuba diver to just dive down there and get it, but we found out the lake was very deep in silt and the water was so murky you couldn't see very far." He leans back in his office chair, smiling. "That didn't work," he says.

They brought in a giant crane and attached a drag bucket to the cable, but the gooey bottom slime was too much for the machine, and the treasure was too far from the bank. More than once the crane almost toppled into the water. Soon the crane operator, fearful that he might lose his machine and his livelihood, went home. But the SoRelles weren't ready to call it quits.

They built a raft with a hole in the center and sank large pipes into the goop on the lake bottom. They lowered another contraption through the pipe to the lake floor. A light would come on when a probe hit metal. "It did light up, too," SoRelle says. Encouraged, the men worked on.

"We had a drill, which we turned manually," SoRelle says. The men laid into the chore with gusto, but there was too much gumbo silt to move, he says. Running low on cash, the brothers decided they needed a break -- and a better plan.

They headed for their Houston homes and a few days of rest, leaving the raft anchored in the center of the lake, confident that the sheriff would protect their find.

They hadn't been gone long when a great storm raced across Panola County. The rain came in torrents, and the Sabine River swirled over its banks. The river swept across the little lake, smashing the raft and washing away every shred of evidence that the SoRelle brothers had ever been there.

SoRelle shrugs at the memory. The brothers left the treasure for someone else to find, he says.

Wheel of fortune

Barnie Waldrop, a fix-it man and inventor who worked in a radio repair shop in Carthage, was the next man to look.

Waldrop had studied the legend -- and the lake -- for years and had long ago struck a deal with the landowners to search for the treasure with a water-resistant metal-detecting apparatus he perfected himself. In 1958, he finally had his chance to search.

"Mr. Barnie was kind of quiet. He tended to his own business ... He wore khakis and was neat about his appearance," says Brodie Akins, 69, son of the old sheriff who owned part of the lake. "If you needed something fixed, why you took it to Mr. Barnie and he'd fix it up, but he wasn't jokey."

Akins and his late sister's three sons inherited his daddy's portion of the land, but he remembers that he was in high school the summer of the treasure hunt. "Daddy never doubted Mr. Barnie," he says. Young Akins was there the day the dragline hauled up an ancient metal wagon wheel rim of the sort used on Mexican ox carts a century or more earlier.

"That ol' wheel came out of the water all covered with slime," he says. "Everything shut down. The operator got off the dragline. We all thought, oh yeah, we going to hit it now. We on to something now, but that ol' wheel is the only thing they ever found," he says.

The sticky silt lay more than a dozen feet deep on the lake's lignite bottom, and like other treasure hunters before him, Waldrop decided he had to move that mud to find the silver.

He tried dynamite. "Snakes and fish and all kinds of things floated to the top," says Waldrop's son Philip Waldrop, 62, of Carthage. He was often at the lake with his sister Diana. In fact, she is the one who dropped the dynamite charge into the lake that day.

Nothing worked. If the treasure was there, it remained hidden in the slime. Barnie Waldrop swallowed any disappointment he felt and soldiered on, writing at least one article for a treasure magazine and searching for the lost silver several more times over the years.

An occasional newspaper article kept the story alive and throughout the 1960s treasure hunters found their way to Hendrick's Lake, but none matched the expeditions launched by the SoRelle brothers or Barnie Waldrop.

A few years ago, treasure hunters, certain that the lake had silted in over time, decided the silver must now lay under dry land. They punched holes in a pasture near the lake but found no treasure, Philip Waldrop says.

The secret at the bottom

So is there treasure at Hendrick's Lake?

"Some thinks there is. Some thinks there isn't," Akins says.

He rocks back in a squeaky office chair and thinks a moment. "I'm not a believer in jinxes," he says, "but I've seen these people that have hunted. They've come in here with a good bit of money and they claim they get real close to it, and then that ol' river comes up and floods everything and they're right back to zero. I've seen it happen too many times.

"I think there may be a jinx on it -- but I'll say it's a good legend."

And what of the fishermen's silver bars found so long ago? That never happened, Philip Waldrop says. "It just was something to add to the story," he says.

Back in his Dallas office, SoRelle considers the treasure he's not thought of in years. "The only way to get to the treasure is to drain the lake," he declares, "but every time someone would try ... well, it's just amazing, there would be a storm. The river would take over."

If he owned the lake, he'd drain it for sure. "There's something there," he says and taps his desktop -- and his blue eyes dance.

That ol' wheel came out of the water all covered with slime.

Every time someone would try ... the river would take over.

Snakes and fish and all kinds of things floated to the top.

Three tips for beginning treasure hounds

1. Peruse the Internet ( www.legendsofamerica.com; www.treasurefish.com), but invest in a copy of Coronado's Children by J. Frank Dobie (University of Texas Press) and W.C. Jameson's Buried Treasures of Texas (August House Publishers Inc.) There are other Texas treasure books on the market, but these two little volumes cover most of the major stories.

2. Research the treasure that tickles your fancy and determine where it might be located; then contact someone in the area to help narrow your search area.

3. Remember that most treasure sites are on private property and you'll need permission to search before you get there.

Three more Texas treasure legends

Red River gold

The legend: In 1894 four men robbed the bank at Bowie and made off with $10,000 in $20 gold pieces and $18,000 in currency. They rode north toward the safety of Indian Territory, but when they got to the Red River they found the water too high to cross. They camped near a grove of trees for the night.

Meanwhile, the Bowie sheriff telegraphed a U.S. marshal named Palmore and told him to watch for the outlaws. Palmore apprehended the outlaws at the river crossing the next day and hauled them off to the hanging judge in Fort Smith, Ark. Before the men were executed, one told Palmore that the gold was buried at the campsite -- and then he winked.

The location: The gold is said to be on the Texas side of the Red River at the confluence of the Little Wichita River.

Sam Bass' cache

The legend: Sam Bass and his outlaw gang robbed many trains and stagecoaches and stashed the loot in several locations. In 1877, it is said, they robbed a Nebraska train of a fortune in newly minted gold coins. The robbers divided the gold and rode off in different directions. Young Bass made his way to Denton and hid his portion of the prize.

Around 1900, a farmer near Springtown, northwest of Fort Worth, found a trunk filled with 1877 gold coins that many believe is part of the treasure -- but only a portion.

The location: Treasure hunters say Bass' part of the gold is hidden at Cove Hollow, a brushy ravine shot through with shallow caves about 30 miles from Denton.

The lost San Saba silver mine

The legend: For more than two centuries, this lost mine with its rich vein of silver has been the Holy Grail of Texas treasure seekers. In 1756, Don Bernardo de Miranda, a Mexican official, learned of the mine from an Apache guide. It's said that American Indians worked the mine, often trading the ore in San Antonio. Over the decades, many men looked for the mine, including Jim Bowie a few years before he came to the Alamo.

The location: Somewhere near Menard, on the San Saba or Llano rivers.

News researcher Marcia Melton contributed to this report.


rog@star-telegram.com Mary Rogers, 817-390-7745

Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1067673/tales_of_spanish_silver_lure_treasure_hunters_to_an_east/#t3KpH0Kub7HeJCt3.99

Spring? Already? Bring on Digital Winter!

Not everyone will understand why I dread the onset of spring. It is not the work in the backyard, but when it comes to tracking old roads the reasons are related.

Spring growth.

Winter, if that's what we had, opens up the woods and clears out the undergrowth. The leaves leave. Not only is it easier to find ruts, it is easier to navigate through the woods to get there. Once the vines and thorns and tangles and jumble of fresh green leaves take over, it is back to the satellite images. 

Thankfully, there is progress being made on that front as well. As a result of some networking with a fellow rut nut, we are exploring the availability of existing LIDAR images along some of the route of Trammel's Trace. Digital genius and Texas Archaeological Steward, Bob Vernon, is on the case. In case you missed the post, LIDAR is essentially a penetrating radar imaging technique that can show depressions in the ground beneath trees or even beneath fill.

LIDAR image from Jeff Williams, SFASU

LIDAR image from Jeff Williams, SFASU

Yeah. I know! Digital Winter.

So I'll try to enjoy spring in the back yard and not in the woods for the time being. But who is up for some work on the ground next December????