Springs and Trammell’s Treasureby
than 300 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, the community of Hughes
Springs owes its existence to a fanciful pirate story and one man who believed
Born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama, Reece Hughes first
saw Texas in 1829 when he crossed the Sabine
to hunt buffalo.
The expedition proved short-lived.
“This little band of adventurers was
soon driven out of Texas by a much larger force of hostile Indians,” son Howell
Rose Hughes wrote a century later.
Nine years later after his first visit,
Texas having wrested its independence from Mexico, Reece Hughes returned with
his younger brother. They settled in Red River County, but an intriguing tale
Hughes had heard on his first trip to Texas lured him to what is now Cass County.
his son remembered it, “an old sea pirate who bore the name of Trammell” had buried
“a great stong box of gold coins” near an Indian village on the trail that later
bore his name – the Trammell Trace. Others gilded the legend, claiming
Trammell had once been a member of Jean
Laffite’s not-always-jolly band of saltwater brigands. After Laffite
got run off Galveston Island by the U.S. Navy, the tale continued, Trammell decamped
for St. Louis with his share of the loot. Hounded by hostile Indians while on
the way to Missouri, he buried his treasure in Northeast Texas.
and his brother set out to find Trammell’s treasure, following the trail to an
old Indian village along a mineral rich spring-feed creek in a handsome valley
about a mile east of present Hughes
Springs. On March 28, 1839 they pitched a tent and started chopping trees
for a log cabin about a mile from the spring.
| “If they ever found
the golden treasure for which they were searching I have no record of it,” Hughes’
son wrote. “But they built their log cabin, cleared their little farm, and planted
a crop of corn and peas and some garden truck.”|
That fall, convinced that
in putting down roots in Texas he had found another
kind of treasure, Hughes left his brother in charge of their farm and rode back
to Alabama to bring his father and other family members to Texas.
As his son later remembered, others “seized with the Texas fever” joined the party
and soon all “began to prosper wonderfully.”
the reputed pirate who played an unintended role in the beginning of Hughes
Springs, certainly would have understood another fellow’s desire to live prosperously.
A Tennesseean like Hughes, Trammell had migrated westward to Arkansas
as a young man. After working as a French and Indian interpretor for a time, he
settled on the White River and began selling salt. Coming from a family of traders
and trail-blazers, Trammell in 1819 began cutting a trail from the early-day Texas
community of Jonesborough on
the Red River to Nacogdoches.
Soon he relocated to that town in the pine trees along the Camino
Real, the old Spanish road from Louisiana to South
While nothing in his still-sketchy biography suggests he ever
participated in piracy on the high seas or buried treasure in East
Texas, Trammell fell a bit short of “Citizen of the Year” status. As the late
artist-historian Jack Jackson pointed out in Trammel’s “Handbook of Texas” entry,
the pathfinder was about as good at finding trouble as blazing new trails. A fondness
for horse racing led to difficulties over unpaid wagers and Trammell occasionally
stood accused of slave and horse thievery.
After getting caught up in
Rebellion in 1826, Trammell thought it expedient to return to Arkansas. There
he operated a tavern and continued as a trader. But, as Jackson wrote, “His mysterious
comings and goings gave rise to many legends.”
When the Mexican War broke
out in 1846, Trammell led 10 companies of volunteers from Arkansas through Texas
to take part in the conflict. It was about this time that someone referred to
him in print as “old Nick Trammell, notorious highwayman and slave smuggler.”
Jackson theorized that on his way south to Mexico,
Trammell must have passed through the Guadalupe River valley and liked what he
saw. When the war ended and Texas’ status as the 28th U.S. state had been assured,
Trammell moved his family to Gonzales County and remained until his death in 1856.
About the time Trammell had marched off to war, Hughes – by then a wealthy planter
– founded a town he named after the springs named for him. Hughes
Springs did well for a time as people came to enjoy the supposed curative
value of the mineral water bubbling up from below, but by the mid-1870s, its economy
wrecked by the Civil War, the pace had slowed considerably. A new townsite came
with the arrival of a rail line in 1878, but Hughes
Springs has remained just a small, pleasant East
Texas town, a place built on one man’s lust for pirate gold and another man’s
October 21, 2010
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