Pathway to the past
By Randy Grider
Gary L. Pinkerton spent more than a decade researching and documenting an important aspect of early Texas history -- the first immigration road from the north. And that route, which carried the first Anglo people into this area, traversed western Cass County.
Pinkerton’s project has culminated in a recently published book titled Trammel’s Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North.
Trammel’s Trace was an early 19th century pathway that first brought smugglers from the United States into Spanish Texas and later settlers and historical figures like Sam Houston, James Bowie and Davy Crockett.
Pinkerton’s book tells the story of the 180-mile long Trammel’s Trace, which included two starting points -- Fulton, Ark. and Pecan Point in present day Red River County -- to Nacogdoches, where it connected to the east-west El Camino Real. Trammel’s Trace was named for Nicholas Trammell, a Tennessee native, who was a controversial character when he helped carve out portions of the road from existing Native American trails.
“A portion of the road was on the [Pinkerton] family farm near Mt. Enterprise where I played as a child when we visited,” said Pinkerton, who grew up in Longview. “It was only after I was grown that I learned it was part of Trammel’s Trace, and I became curious about its role in the history of Texas.”
Pinkerton began reading and researching the road and the more he learned, the more his passion grew. Soon he was meeting with landowners across East Texas, documenting the original route. He utilized diaries, old maps, land surveys, satellite photos and mapping software to discover portions of Trammel’s Trace that can still be seen in many areas due to the indentions in the landscape.
Pinkerton has discovered that a few of the impressions from the well-traveled Trammel’s Trace are quite deep -- up to 8 feet. He said he often meets with other “rut nuts” on weekends. Some parts of Trammel’s Trace run along present roadways, sometimes crisscrossing modern roads, while other parts are located on private land far from the general public’s view.
In this area, Trammel’s Trace ran north to south along two routes (from Pecan Point and Fulton) that converged south of the Sulphur near the old settlement of Old Unionville in western Cass County. Fording two areas of the river, it continued toward present day Hughes Spring, Jefferson, Marshall and points south.
Pinkerton said it is the ferry crossings that give him chills.
“The Sulphur River crossing in Cass County was at Epperson’s Ferry at the border of what is now Bowie and Cass,” Pinkerton said. “It was a location where there was a natural shoal. It had been a natural crossing used by early Spanish explorers.”
And it’s the legendary figures who used the road adds even more prominence to the road -- and even a little levity for Pinkerton.
“I tell people -- and horrified my mother -- that I got interested in the road when I realized that Sam Houston could have taken a leak on our property,” Pinkerton said laughing.
“But it’s kind of cool to think of all the immigration that came down that trail. Houston and Crockett both came down from that Pecan Point route and have come across the property that my family owned.”
The book includes a “day-to-day diary-like trip down the trace as well as a background on the road’s namesake, who Pinkerton calls a character. Disliked by Stephen F. Austin, who helped colonized Texas, Trammell was even kicked out of Texas at one point over a land dispute.
“I included quite a bit of information about Nicholas Trammell,” Pinkerton said. “He ran taverns, raced horses and was a gambler. He was not the kind of person Austin wanted in Texas. Trammell was associated with the Pecan Point settlement and Austin considered them to be a bad crowd.”
Pinkerton said, overall, he wrote the book to help modern landowners along the original road to understand how their property they own played an important role in Texas history.
“I wanted to connect with landowners,” Pinkerton said. “When we meet with landowners and find the ruts, they are just amazed. Trammel’s Trace is still a part of the landscape.
“Really it’s about landowners having the same feeling that I do, that this is a part of history. I want them to continue to tell the story.”
Pinkerton, who lives in Houston, will have a talk/book-signing in Linden on Jan. 14, and he has plans to do a similar event in Atlanta at a date to be determined. For more information on the book and updates on when Pinkerton will be in Cass County, visit www.trammelstrace.org.