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Music from two country masters

Excerpted from
"The East Texas Sunday Drive Book"

by Bob Bowman

Book Hotel Here › Carthage Hotels

Concentrated largely in Panola County, this Sunday Drive will provide you with some of the flavor of East Texas' country and western music, a look at a ghost town, a stop at an old railroad depot, and a drive through the beautiful pine and hardwood forests along the Sabine River.

Start your Sunday Drive at Carthage, the county seat of Panola County (Panola means cotton in Indian), where Potlatch, a festival of arts, crafts and country foods is held every October.

Carthage wasn't named for the foreign city, but for Carthage, Mississippi. It became the county seat in l884 when Jonathan Anderson donated 100 acres for the townsite.

If you find yourself hungry in Carthage, we recommend Joe's Cafe, which serves some of the best country-style meals in the area. The meatloaf is especially good when it's on the menu.

Joe's Cafe is located about a block off the town square, where you'll find a good collection of quaint shops as well as the Heritage Museum, located in a restored bank building, and the Panola County Historical Museum, located in the old county jail.

Former Panola County Jail, Panola County Historical Museum, Carthage Texas
Former Panola Couny jail
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, April 2006
From Carthage, head east on U.S. 79. Four miles out of the town, on the right side of the highway, stop at the Jim Reeves Memorial, a tribute to the country singer known as "Gentleman Jim". Reeves was born near here in l924 and grew up around DeBerry. He was killed in an airplane crash in l964. At the peak of his career, Reeves recorded a number of successful songs, including "Bimbo," "He'll Have To Go" and "Four Walls." He also starred in a film, "Kimberly Jim."

Panola County is also the birthplace of another famous musician, Tex Ritter, who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in l964. Ritter, christened Woodward Maurice Ritter, was born here in l907 and intended to be a lawyer. He made his first recording, "Rye Whiskey," in l931 and became the first artist signed by Capitol Records in the l940s. He made more than 80 western films before he died in l974 at Nashville, Tennessee. Ritter is the father of another movie and television star, John Ritter. ( See Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair by Archie P. McDonald )
Woods Methodist Church, Texas
Woods Methodist Church SE of Carthage
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, May 2004

At DeBerry, turn north on Farm Road 31, go through the settlement of Elysian Fields (which means "a heavenly place"), and continue until the highway intersects with Farm Road 2625. Follow it in a westerly direction until you arrive at the intersection with Texas 43. Turn south here and proceed through the town of Tatum.

Enroute you will cross the Sabine River, one of the major tributaries in East Texas. The name Sabine comes from a Spanish word meaning cypress and refers to the great growth of cypress trees found on the river's lower regions. The river, which becomes the border between Texas and Louisiana further south, was probably named by Domingo Ramon in l716; it is so designated on a map from l721 giving the route of the expedition led by the Marquis de Aguayo.

At Tatum, you'll find a restored Sante Fe railroad depot dating back to the days when the town bustled with railroad commerce. The depot is located in a city park about a block east of Texas 43.

Tatum was laid off in l885 on land donated by the Tatum family when the railroad arrived.

Not far from Tatum is Hendrick's Lake, which has been attracting treasure hunters since l913 when a man name Miller supposedly dredged up three silver bars. Treasure hunters have probed the 470-acre lake (located on private property) time and time again, using everything from ox-drawn scoops to electronic equipment. If they've found anything of value, they've kept the secret well.

The Hendrick's Lake treasure -- supposedly several million in silver bars and (by some acounts) two barrels of gold nuggets -- is rooted in a legend tied to freebooter Jean Lafitte, who reportedly took the loot from a Spanish ship and hired a notorious smuggler, Casper (Hot Horse) Trammel, to haul the plunder from Galveston to St. Louis over an early road known to thieves as Trammel's Trace. In what is now Panola County, Spanish calvarymen intercepted the wagon train. In desperation, Trammel ordered the wagons pushed into Hendrick's Lake and fled with his men.

When you leave Tatum, drive a a few miles south of the community on Texas 43 and take a left on Farm Road 1716. You'll come to a dead end at historic Harmony Hill Cemetery, one of the last vestiges of the old town of Harmony Hill, once a trading settlement. Just down the road from the cemetery is Martin Creek Lake State Park, a small but attractive lake overlooked by an electrical generating plant. Harmony Hill was a prosperous trading center on Trammel's Trace, but died when the railroad came to Tatum, bypassing its merchants on the old road.

Back on Texas 43, return to Tatum, take Texas 149 southeast to the settlement of Beckville, which was founded before the l880s by Matthew W. Beck, who settled in the area about l850. The town was originally established about a mile north of its present site but was moved in l887 to be near the railroad.

At Beckville, take FM 124 and proceed in a southerly direction until you come to the community of Fair Play at the intersection with U.S. 79. Travelers supposedly gave the town its name in gratitude for the way they were treated at John Allison's store, hotel and blacksmith shop in the l850s. One legend tells the story of a young girl, member of a wagon train moving west, who died here and was buried in a local cemetery. Over the years, townspeople have tended to the grave as if it were one of their own. Just down the road from Fair Play is another rural village known as Rake Pocket, which supposedly got its name because merchants often cheated visitors.

From Fair Play, take U.S. 79 back to Carthage, completing your Sunday Drive.

Book Hotel Here > Carthage Hotels

January 2000
Excerpt by permission of author Mr. Bob Bowman.

Carthage Chronicles

  • Carthage, Texas

  • Panola County Courthouse

  • Margie Neal by Archie P. McDonald
    Margie Elizabeth Neal of Carthage, Texas, really was the first woman to do lots of things and do them well, besides.

  • Another College Among the Pines by Archie P. McDonald
    We who give "All Hail to SFA" think of our University by one of its earlier nicknames, "The College Among The Pines." That also described another excellent institution headquartered in Carthage, Texas, named Panola College after its host county... more

  • Carthage Texas Forum
  • Letter from a founder's descendant:
    Andy Anderson of Cartage wrote to correct an error and to extend a cordial invitation to visit Carthage. "Jonathon ANDERSON not Allison, donated the 100 acres of land. Jonathan "Old Shelby" Anderson was my Great-Great Grandfather [who is now buried] at the old plantaion site, where the Anderson cemetery now stands. He out-lived three wives. They are buried north & south and he is buried at their feet, east & west." Mr. Anderson also mentions that the recently constructed Veterans Memorial and the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Museum should be included under Carthage attractions. - Editor, January 2, 2006

  • ..... Thanks for sharing your web sites ..... I grew up in the Carthage/Panola County area and enjoyed that info. .... Tex Ritter is "Father" of movie and tv's John Ritter. I'll try to share these sites with some other folks. - Wayne

  • See Carthage, Texas

    Panola County

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