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.