This is what a good weekend for a "rut nut" looks like. . .

I had the good fortune to spend this past Saturday up in Cass County with some landowners and co-enablers in this project of locating any remains of Trammel's Trace. 

As you might imagine, locating a 200-year old road is not an easy task, but using a combination of original land surveys, a variety of maps and images, some very neat software and educated guessing, it is possible to develop some ideas worth pursuing.  "Ground-truthing" a few of those ideas was the focus of last Saturday's field work near Cornett, north of Hughes Springs. So in the drizzling rain, with socks wet from crossing the soggy creek bottom, we were all out there with various GPS devices and mapping tools working to connect the dots from that spot to the known crossings both north and south of there. The pictures below tell a bit of the story.

The trip was initiated as a result of some communications with a landowner in the area. He had done some pretty extensive research on his own so had a good idea there was a chance the Trace was in his general area. He found me through this website and we started communicating. Most landowners will perhaps have heard of Trammel's Trace from older generations, but have little other factual information and hardly any technical data.

So as you can see from the pictures, with some preliminary work and study, the investigation on the ground confirms as best we can that Trammel's Trace crosses this owner's land. Though that is interesting in terms of confirming some historical curiosities, this project is really about the landowners. They (you!) are the ones who will preserve this history, and these particular landowners are very aware of that.

I horrify my mother in speeches sometimes by saying that I got interested in Trammel's Trace when I realized that Davy Crockett may have had a "rest stop" at one of the trees on our property. So when I threw that line out to the landowner's young son, it had the predictable response.  So what makes it ALL worthwhile is getting an email like this back from the landowner after our visit.


Thank you - I can't tell you how incredible the family thinks this information is. The next day the kids insisted on going to look. Even at their age they know the name "Davy Crockett." Can't wait for your book!

That is what it's all about. Making history something tangible and present. So only about 150 more miles of old road to find and we'll be done.

New Year brought reminders of sadness, not celebration for Trammell's

These days, we think of the new year as a time of renewal and celebration. During the lifetime of Nicholas Trammell, however, the new year was a bitter reminder of some of life's losses.

Trammell's son, Phillip, died quickly and unexpectedly in February of 1844, and another son, Robert, in January of 1849. Nicholas Trammell was in his 60s at the time, but the difficult loss of sons, and in his case business partners, is never borne easily.

The most life-changing loss of Nicholas Trammell's many Januarys was early in his life. In late 1783 or early 1784 his father, also named Nicholas, was killed by Indians in Tennessee following a skirmish over a deer carcass. The battle was recounted in some detail in Haywood's history of Tennessee, no doubt with proper heroic embellishments. His mother, Frances (Fanny) Maulding Trammell was made administrator of the estate on January 7, 1784.

Young Nicholas was only three years old.

As a result of the loss of his father, Nick's upbringing included both Trammell and Maulding relatives. The Mauldings were prominent in the region and held key roles in the formation of Logan County, Kentucky, where Andrew Jackson practiced law as early as 1794. Then in 1792, not long after Fanny remarried Zachariah Askey, his mother gave up custody of 12-year-old Nicholas to his uncle, Phillip Trammell.

In an era where life and death, loss and difficulty, were more present and prevalent it is difficult to compare our current sentiments of what his father's death may have meant in the life of Nicholas Trammell. We have no record to tell us how he felt. His Askey relatives were part of his life for many years, so that bond was there. His extended family was always there for him, and no doubt recounted the heroic story of his father's protection of the early Nashborough settlement. Maybe Trammell's reluctance to get involved in situations similar to that which led to his father's death was his imprinted life-lesson.

Stories of loss are also stories of what might have been. Though Nicholas Trammell was raised in the way of the Trammells and Mauldings, we are only left to wonder how being fatherless impacted the life of this infamous smuggler and gambler.








Sadly, History Continues to Fade

On a recent visit up to northeast Texas for Christmas with the family, we made a side trip back through Rusk County along the route of Trammel's Trace. Lignite mining has resulted in thousands of acres of land in Harrison and Rusk counties being dug up, sifted and sculpted back into place. Around 15 miles of Trammel's Trace no longer exists as a result.

I'm sure the good people responsible for restoration of the land would dispute and correct this characterization, but after mining the land is just a movie set version of itself. Soil stratification is gone, topographic features are altered, and though lovely, the land that was no longer exists. That includes the valueless but irreplaceable features of the land such as old roads and trails. After mining, nothing remains on the land which would indicate that history was made across it -- both by the Caddo people who used the trail for centuries and the Anglo immigration in the early 1800s which led to the Republic of Texas.

The pictures below show some of the current state of the area north and south of Tatum. The road to Hendricks Lake, the focus of treasure myth and Trammell legend, is now closed due to mining.  Land that I once walked and documented and photographed remains of Trammel's Trace is now nothing but cleared, sifted land.

Loss of the trail isn't always due to such massive projects. I am communicating with one landowner now who is pretty sure that after using the Trammel's Trace rut on his family's property as a dumpsite for years, they filled it with dirt level with the rest of the pasture. I've seen that more than once. I commiserated with one landowner who when I commented that it must be hard to let his family land be mined, he said, "yeah, it was kind of hard until the Brinks truck pulled up." Without a knowledge of the history, a rut is just a rut.

Though I realize that lignite mining is the type of progress that waits for no one, it is still sad to see Trammel's Trace disappear. That is part of the reason I'm working so hard to help landowners identify and protect any remaining ruts. If you are a landowner who thinks that Trammel's Trace may cross your property, let's talk. You can make a difference.

Nicholas Trammell and the Fredonian Rebellion

The fall of 1826, 190 years ago, was not a good season for Nicholas Trammel and his family. They occupied a key crossing of the El Camino Real at the Trinity River (later known as Robbins Ferry) and their "ownership" of that tract was in question. Haden Edwards and his cohorts were creating havoc with their misuse of authority over his land grant and the "old settlers" were up in arms. Trammell's brother, Mote, was shot and killed under unknown circumstances by none other than Martin Parmer on October 13th. Then on October 20th, the local authorities in Nacogdoches had enough and chased Nicholas Trammell and his family off their land and ultimately back to Arkansas.

That incident was a flashpoint which led an assemblage of about 30 of Edwards supporters to ride into Nacogdoches on December 16, 1826 and raise the Fredonian flag. Though they issued a Fredonian Declaration of Independence and sought allies in the Cherokee, their effort quickly failed.

Nevertheless, the seeds of later revolution were sown, and Nicholas Trammell watched it over his shoulder as he retreated to his safe haven in Arkansas. 

For more about the Fredonian Rebellion, see this entry from the Texas State Historical Association, "Texas Day by Day." 


December 16th, 1826 -- Republic of Fredonia stillborn in Nacogdoches

On this day in 1826, Benjamin Edwards and about thirty men rode into Nacogdoches and declared the Republic of Fredonia, thus instituting an attempted minor revolution known as the Fredonian Rebellion. Benjamin was the brother of Haden Edwards, who had received a grant near Nacogdoches and had settled some fifty families there. Fearing that the brothers were about to lose their land, Benjamin took the desperate step of declaring independence from Mexico. In spite of an attempt to get the Cherokees to help, the revolt was easily crushed by Mexican authorities, and Edwards was forced to flee across the Sabine. In 1837 he ran for governor of Mississippi, but died during the campaign.

Related Articles






Mapping Is NOT for the Faint-Hearted

Okay, now it isn't that hard, but in 1777, a Spanish mapping expedition sent to explore the Gulf of Mexico down to Matagorda Bay was overcome by a couple of deceptive Karankawa's. The ship was burned, the crew murdered, and the map was lost.

I deleted a map file once and burned my finger making toast.  Kinda the same.....

Here is more from Texas Day by Day. Second story at this link:


December 13th, 1777

Spanish mapping expedition heads for Texas

On this day in 1777, Luis Antonio Andry and a crew of thirteen sailed on the schooner Señor de la Yedra from New Orleans on a mapping expedition. Andry, a French engineer in the pay of Spain, was chosen by Louisiana governor Bernardo de Gálvez to map the Gulf of Mexico coast from the Mississippi River to Matagorda Bay. Andry's survey ship reached Matagorda Bay by early March 1778, its work essentially complete. Shortly thereafter, it fell victim to the trickery of apostate Karankawas from the Texas missions. Acording to the lone survivor of the crew, the expedition sought aid from Karankawa brothers Joseph María and Mateo who, feigning friendship, claimed to be soldiers from La Bahía. After first disposing of two parties sent ashore to obtain provisions, the renegade brothers brought their companions on board the ship, seized the crew's unguarded weapons, and murdered the rest of the crew with a single exception, whom they held as a slave. After removing the guns and other useful gear from the ship, they burned the vessel and with it perhaps the most detailed Spanish map of the Texas-Louisiana coast to that time.

Related Articles







Gambling in Early Nacogdoches, Noah Smithwick

In the late 1820s in the United States, anti-gambling movements were cropping up in areas which were frontier not that many years prior. Nicholas Trammell's tavern and gambling at horse racing put him on the other side of that line. Those resisting gambling mostly received only lip service from justice officials, so operations generally proceeded as usual but with a little less fanfare.

The Mexican settlement of Nacogdoches was a haven for gamblers more than eager to welcome a newcomer to Texas. Though the local council in Nacogdoches tried to control gambling through fines on gamblers and operators, their efforts were largely unsuccessful. The unwritten rules often left the unwitting relieved of their stake. One gambler, an unnamed future signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, spotted an easy mark that appeared to have money and directed him into a game. After the newcomer sat down, the future patriot went out to look for others to fleece.

Noah Smithwick was there for the game and wrote about it in his memoirs "The Evolution of a Nation. Smithwick said, "When he returned the game was over and the clique dividing the spoils. The steerer demanded his share. "Why you was not in the game," they contended. "The hell I was not; didn't I find him first?" and backing his claim with a pistol he secured his share." The future signer was not named, but was likely Martin Parmer.

The following entry from "Texas Day by Day" of the Texas State Historical Association recognizes the date when Smithwick was banished from the state. 


December 7th, 1830 -- Noah Smithwick banished from Texas as "a bad citizen"

On this day in 1830, Noah Smithwick was banished from Texas as "a bad citizen." Smithwick, born in North Carolina in 1808, came to Texas in 1827 and eventually settled in San Felipe. When San Felipe authorities ordered a friend of his who was accused of murder chained with leg irons, Smithwick, a blacksmith by trade, provided a file and a gun so he might escape. As a result, the authorities tried Smithwick, declared him "a bad citizen," and banished him from Austin's colony and Texas, providing an escort as far as the Sabine River. Smithwick returned to Matagorda in the fall of 1835 and reached Gonzales the day after the battle of Gonzales. He served in the Texas Revolution, married, and after an unsuccessful stint as a Williamson County cattle rancher established a mill near Marble Falls. With the coming of the Civil War, the Unionist Smithwick received threats and decided to abandon Texas. He sold his property and, with a number of friends, left Burnet County for southern California in 1861. In California, Smithwick gradually lost his eyesight but dictated his memoirs to his daughter. After his death in 1899, she had the manuscript published by Karl H. P. N. Gammel as The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days.

Related Articles









Rabbit Trails: The Joys and Perils of Research

In pursuing all the research that has gone into this project, I've had to resist pursuing what I call "rabbit trails."  Those are the interesting tidbits that seem irresistibly interesting and perhaps connected. Well, I've resisted all but one. When I bumped into Harry Rieseberg, the self-proclaimed world's greatest treasure hunter, in connection with Hendricks Lake treasure myths I couldn't resist. Now Harry is turning into a second book. (see and thanks for pursuing my rabbit trail.  See what I mean?)

In doing some research today, this article was just below the one of my interest.  Talk about a RABBIT TRAIL!  So far.....I have resisted a Google search to inquire more about this sect, but should anyone be so inclined, please keep me informed.  (grin)


              Seattle Times, 1935/05/23

              Seattle Times, 1935/05/23

The Alamo and Making History Present

I was working in San Antonio this week and had a couple of spare hours to revisit the Alamo. It was right across the street from my exceptional hotel, the Hotel Indigo. It had been a few years since I'd visited, and still remember childhood visits there.

I didn't remember that the Alamo proper is referred to as a shrine. Both the reverent atmosphere and the small scope of the displays kept people moving through to other areas. The Long Barracks displays are well done and there are a few Phil Collins artifacts for viewing. The $120 price tag on the book cataloguing his collection tempted me only briefly before I was able to resist.


While there I recalled a quote by Steven Levi sent to me by one of the many archivists and historians I have worked with on this project and others. not a re-creation of the past. It's an assessment of the past based on documents provided by people in archives and museums who will answer your letters.

Or in this case, what people put on display. Our view of "history" is guided by the current interpretations. Though I'm sure many wish it weren't so, there were still coonskin caps for sale and cardboard standups of Fess Parker on display. Across the street from the shrine, is the Guinness museum and the Tomb Raider adventure ride. How Alamo Plaza got "Disneyfied" I'll never understand, but the fact that those buildings are being acquired and a redesign for the plaza being developed is a real opportunity to make the whole experience more real and present.

History came to life for me on this project when I realized that Texas heroes passed down a trail that cuts across family land. For visitors to the Alamo, it will come to life when they take the time to dig deeper and make history personal.



The Neutral Ground

The Neutral Ground along the border of the United States with Spanish Texas was established as a place where neither country's military would engage. Essentially an agreement between two military leaders rather than their countries, it kept the peace but allowed a protected area for smuggling and other "criminal" activities. That mentality was part of the culture of horse smuggling in which Nicholas Trammel engage.  The below is from the Texas Historical Commission.  Enjoy....


November 5th, 1806 -- Border between Texas and Louisiana declared Neutral Ground

On this day in 1806, the United States and Spain signed an agreement establishing the Neutral Ground. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 the United States and Spain were unable to agree on the boundary between Louisiana and Texas. In 1806, in order to avert an armed clash, Gen. James Wilkinson and Lt. Col. Simón de Herrera, the American and Spanish military commanders respectively, entered into an agreement declaring the disputed territory Neutral Ground. The boundaries of the Neutral Ground were never officially described beyond a general statement that the Arroyo Hondo on the east and the Sabine River on the west were to serve as boundaries. Ownership of the strip was awarded the United States by the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1821.

Related Articles







An archive is only as good as the archivist

In the case of the Southwestern Arkansas  Regional Archive, both the archive and the archivist are amazing resources. Peggy Lloyd is retiring at the end of the year and I had an opportunity to go by and say hello again and wish her well. Her "retirement" will be anything but sedate. Enjoy your many projects Peggy!

You can learn more about SARA at:


Photographs are sometimes all that remain.

In the "Counties" navigation menu, you will see that I've started adding photos for each of the counties crossed by Trammel's Trace. In captioning the beginning set of photos for Rusk County, where our land is located, I was remembering how I had the opportunity to walk, map, and photograph some very nice sections of the Trace just before they were about to be destroyed by surface mining for lignite.

I said something to the landowner about how hard it must be to watch his land dug up. He said, "Yeah it was kinda tough until the Brinks truck showed up."  He was paid nicely for his minerals, and the land was "reclaimed."  But the ruts are gone forever.

Though there are many interests in the land, my focus on the ruts of a 200-year-old road has only increased my interest in finding landowners who can secure and protect their part of history.

Check the encyclopedia!

I grew up in a time when the World Book Encyclopedia was the be all-and-end-all of popular reference volumes. Of course there was the more prestigious Encyclopedia Brittanica, but who could afford those. Yes, there was a world before Google, but I'm not sure how we survived it.

For a few years now, I've been IN the encyclopedia. . . The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. . . with an article about Trammel's Trace. A good overview.  Check it out.


One "L" or Two?

My editor asked about the spelling I use for Trammel's Trace and Nicholas Trammell. Following a convention established some years back by Jack Jackson, I use one "L" in the name of the old trail and two "L"s for the spelling of Nicholas Trammell's last name.

Jackson, an incredible author, historian and Trammell descendant, argued that the two "L"s for the family name was more typical. Additionally, the old original headright survey maps used one "L" when referencing the trace.

So that's how you will see it here and in the website addresses for this site and my Facebook group on Trammel's Trace.

Train your spellchecker now!