first likely millionaire wasnít from Dallas
or Houston. He came from
East Texas--and he didnít
make his money from oil.
Frost Thorn, an early storekeeper from Nacogdoches,
had a worth of more than a million dollars after Texas
won its independence from Mexico
While the records of Thornís birthplace are sketchy, he lived most
of his life in Nacogdoches
and died there in 1851. Nacogdoches
was only a frontier outpost and Thorn operated a general store in
the downtown area, but his fortune was composed largely of real estate
spread over Texas from the Sabine
River to the Rio Grande.
A biographer wrote in 1934, ďThorn had property in every present-day
Texas county and his property was not in small pieces...anything less
than a league in those days was almost too small to speak of.Ē
Today, Thorn might have been called a land shark, but looking back
at his career, he was a remarkable visionary who knew that Texas would
someday be peopled by men and women with a passion for owning land.
was on the El
Camino Real--the major travel artery between Texas
and the U.S.--Thornís store became a place where he traded for horses,
whiskey, saddles, guns and anything else needed by the restless adventurers.
Realizing the opportunities, Thorn helped them fill out the necessary
papers allowing him to trade for their land.
His old store ledger, which recorded most of his transactions during
the early l830s, indicated he had customers in a radius of probably
100 miles around Nacogdoches.
was on the frontier, itís easy to understand why Thornís biggest selling
items were whiskey, gunpowder and lead--with whiskey the most demanded
commodity. It sold by the bit--12.5 cents a drink or two bits (25
cents) for a pint. Customers who bought a pint were required to make
a 25-cent deposit until the bottle was refunded.
Thorn also did a good business with local Indians. He bought deer
skins for 16 cents a pound and beef hides for a dime a pound. He then
turned the hides over to his tannery to produce leather goods, paying
his tannery workers $4.50 a week.
Thorn was not only Texasí first likely
millionaire, but was probably the stateís first banker, too. He advanced
money to his customers and charged them interest. And it wasnít uncommon
for some customers to issue a written order to an Indian or laborer,
who would get their money from Thorn.
The date that Sam Houston arrived in Texas
is also recorded in Thornís ledger. The first thing Sam bought was
a drink of whiskey at Thornís store. Thorn and his wife had two children,
a daughter Mary and a son, Thorn, Jr. Mary married New York financier
Both children of Texasí first millionaire
died tragically. The two families--Mr. and Mrs. Garner and Mr. and
Mrs. Frost, Jr.--were lost when their yacht was shipwrecked in an
Atlantic Ocean storm.
Bob Bowman's East Texas
June 13, 2010 Column
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
Copyright Bob Bowman
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