Sadler & Lamar Enter Texas

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Captain William Turner Sadler Picture
Captain William Sadler

With the introduction of the steamboat, travelers like Lamar and Sadler took the Red River up to Natchitoches and headed west to the old King's Highway in Texas. Lamar's account of their trip gives a nice first-hand account of that countryside in the 1830s.:

The whole country up the river exhibits but one unvaried aspect: the private residences are small and inelegant; very few highly improved places. About 100 miles above New Orleans a church stands on the banks of the river. It looks solitary and useless. I was much disappointed in the appearance of the crops. They were not so luxurious as I expected. Cane was small and corn was inferior to that of the Alabama River. Cotton was good, but [there was] little of it. The settlements looked not like plantations, but like military encampments.

The following is from the book, Taming Texas, by Stephen L. Moore:

Lamar was impressed with the Romeo's captain, a "noble, honest" man who possessed gentlemanly qualities that he found to be "uncommon" in riverboat captains. The Romeo stopped long enough before breakfast on July 1 to pick up a female passenger just south of the settlement of Plaquemine to the left of the river. Two more big bends and two more miles of the river brought the little steamer to the thriving city of Baton Rouge, which stood on a bluff to the river's right. Its name meaning "red stick," Baton Rouge was a station for U.S. soldiers in the 1830s and was located on the Mississippi 130 miles above New Orleans.

About thirty miles upriver from Baton Rouge, the Romeo passed the town of Bayou Sara on the right hand bank. This rich cotton-growing area was a major source of river shipping of cotton bales down to New Orleans. The Mississippi River was joined by the Atchafalaya River at a point about fifty-seven miles above Bayou Sara and about three miles below the mouth of the Red River. The Atchafalaya, believed to have split at one time from the Red River, continues a southerly course and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Romeo reached the Atchafalaya at about 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 2, 1835. Work still continued on clearing these rivers for safer passage. A great water-logged jam of flotsam and debris, piled high with floating trees and known as a raft, had been cleared in 1833 by snagboats under command of Captain Henry Miller Shreve to enable steamboats to open trade between New Orleans and Natchitoches (pronounced "Nak-a-tosh"), Louisiana. Several years later, Shreve and his partners organized the Shreve Town Company on a bluff above this river's northern Louisiana area, and the town was incorporated in 1839 as Shreveport.

After leaving behind the mighty Mississippi, the Romeo headed due north for about eight miles to a junction of the Atchafalaya and Red rivers, at which point the Red River splits and turns toward Bayou Natchitoches. Lamar described the differences in these bodies of water.

In ascending the Mississippi, and after entering into the Red River, the water becomes clearer. I was gratified at this, as I was weary of washing in the turbid waters of the Mississippi. But in a few hours' run, I was disappointed: for I found that the appearance of limpidness that belongs to the Red River was owing to the clear, transparent waters of the Black River emptying into it. After leaving the mouth of the Black River, the Red River assumed the deep complexion which gives it its appropriate name. This River Red divides into a great number of branches, which leave the main channels at one point and enter it again at another. Each branch has its appropriate name.

...After entering the wide mouth of the Red River, the steamboat chugged along several miles before river banks could once again be clearly made out. This area of Louisiana was prone to flooding due to the low banks. Such floods kept the river branches fluctuating in their courses, and one bad flood in 1832 had moved the Red River miles eastward from the town of Natchitoches. This settlement was still accessible, however, by steamboats traveling up the Little River, which itself was becoming less navigable each year.

Bountiful cotton crops were evident in this area of the Red River, although the planters did not have enough field space allotted for hay for their horses. On board the Romeo were a number of large bales of hay for sale to these planters. Moving westward and up the Little River from the Red, the steamboat finally delivered its passengers to Natchitoches early on Sunday, July 4.

Here, Sadler and Lamar found much of the town's younger inhabitants "drunk as deacons and funny as fiddlers, throwing the whole town into a state of wild uproar." Although the Texas-bound travelers were a little taken aback that the people's behavior continued into Sunday, Lamar soon found that "the people were only keeping the Fourth of July, which at once unraveled these extravagant gambols."

Located about four-hundred miles by water from New Orleans, French-established Natchitoches was the oldest and most remote city in Louisiana. The Texas-bound travelers found it also to be a dirty town full of inhabitants who were improving their settlement largely by preying on the funds of the Texas immigrants passing through their area. Mirabeau Lamar arrived here sick with a "burning fever" which would plague him for several days as he lay recovering in a boarding house, alternately shaking with the chills and burning up with fever. In the process of recovery, he was "swindled by a Scottish physician" and was left with a less-than-high regard for Natchitoches, "never met I with a community more selfish, unfeeling, and ready to prey upon the necessities of fellow-creatures."

The author continues:

Acquiring a horse was little problem in this town, and from Natchitoches it was roughly a forty-mile trip to the Sabine River, which marked the Texas border. The road passed through the U.S. post of Fort Jesup. Named for Brigadier General Thomas Sidney Jesup, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, this post had been established in 1822 on a ridge between the Red and Sabine rivers, twenty-two miles southwest of Natchitoches, and served to protect the Louisiana and Texas borders. Past Fort Jesup, most of the route was barren countryside. Lodging and feed for horses were obtainable by the numerous immigrants who traveled this road from a number of area residents.

From Natchitoches, the road to Texas via the Sabine was known as the Old San Antonio Road or by its Spanish name, El Camino Real (the "King's Highway"). Established in 1691 as a direct route from Moncolva, Coahuila, to the Spanish Indian mission settlements of East Texas, El Camino Real ran for 540 miles through Texas from the Gaines Ferry to Paso de Francia on the Rio Grande River.

Texas was entered from Louisiana by taking a ferry across the Sabine River into San Augustine County. The ferry was operated by James Gaines, one of the earliest Texas settlers and also the county's earliest alcalde or justice of the peace. Once across the narrow, muddy stream that separated the province of Texas from the United States, it was approximately thirty miles into San Augustine, a flourishing young town of about four-hundred settlers. Again, Sadler did not stay long before continuing down the King's Highway into Nacogdoches. He arrived around July 10 after covering about one hundred and twenty miles from Natchitoches and having spent more than a month since departing home in Georgia.

Sadler Establishes Fort Houston

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