roads did not lead to Texas in the early 1800s. The early travelers
coming here from the north were on their own because there wasn't
a route into Texas from that direction until Nicholas Trammell came
along and forged what we know today as Trammel's Trace in East
Texas. Originally used as a horse trail, it ran from Nacogdoches
to various points in Texas and Arkansas along the Red River.
The man for whom the trail is named was born in a small settlement
on the Duck River in Tennessee in 1780, four years before his father
died in a battle with Cherokees. The kith and kin who brought young
Nicholas up were trackers, traders and surveyors who knew their
way around the wilderness. They were a restless lot, always on the
move, generally heading south and west.
Most of what we might know about Trammell, not all of it good, are
things we don't know at all. We know he was in Arkansas by 1808
and that he laid claim on a piece of land situated on the White
River crossing of the Southwest Trail to St. Louis, Missouri. He
opened the trail as far as the Ouachita River, but he kept moving
until he got to Nacogdoches.
Trace started (or ended) at what is now East Main Street in Nacogdoches
and took North Street through what is now Mount
Enterprise, then north between current Rusk
and Panola Counties
and across the Sabine River near Tatum.
From there the road jogged north through Marshall
crossing the Sulphur River at Stephenson's and Epperson's Ferry.
Trammel's Trace (it is nearly always spelled with one l though his
name bears two) was a horse trail at first because Trammell used
it to smuggle horses through the Neutral Ground to Nacogdoches
and across the Sabine River for sale in the U.S. Trammell probably
got them in trade with the various local tribes that were always
stealing horses from settlers and other tribes for fun and profit,
but mostly for fun.
That made Trammell guilty by association. One of the bad names people
called Trammell was "horse thief." "Slave stealer" was another one.
Historians in both Texas and Arkansas stress the point that no evidence
of these particular crimes committed by Trammell appear in the official
records. However, we're pretty sure Trammell was a gambling man
who liked to bet on the ponies.
Trammell spent most of his time on the Trace in and around the Neutral
Ground, a piece of land that Louisiana and Texas decided to leave
alone while they tussled over a border between the two states. Since
neither country had jurisdiction, the Neutral Ground became a haven
for outlaws, fugitives and outcasts from the wider world beyond.
It was the perfect setting for highway robbery.
After service in the War of 1812, Trammel returned to the area and
cut a trail for settlers in the Neutral Ground who were trying to
escape troops from Fort Smith, Arkansas with orders to evict the
settlers. The villages of Jonesborough
and Pecan Point owe their existence to the Trammel Trace.
Trammel moved his family to the Nacogdoches
area from the upper Red River and bought land from empresario Haden
Edwards in 1825. He operated a ferry on the Trinity River crossing
of the El
Camino Real, or Old San Antonio Road, until a man who claimed
the Mexican government had already awarded him the tract contested
the transaction. Similar difficulties across the region resulted
in the Freedonian Rebellion, pitting old settlers against new. Trammel
hit the road back to Arkansas and set himself up as a trader, tavern
keeper and man of mystery. By then he had learned to appreciate
the value of a low profile.
During the Mexican War, the old trailblazer and man of mystery led
10 companies of Arkansas volunteers south to fight. Later, he returned
to Texas with his family to settle in the Guadalupe
River country he saw on his way to Mexico. He lived there the
rest of his life and died in Gonzales
County in 1856.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
February 3, 2018 column