Red River, Preston and Gainesville, 1853

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.

R.B. Marcy | Marcy's 1849, 51, & 54 Expeditions | Red River, Preston and Gainesville, 1853 | Prairie Traveler | California Trail

W.B. Parker, a traveling companion of R.B. Marcy's 1853 trip into Texas, describes in his book, Through Unexplored Texas, his first impressions of the Red River, Preston and Gainesville.

...From Fort Washita to Red River, the soil is loam, with ridges of limestone. The timber, oak and pecan, with occasional bois d'arc and cottonwood. The river takes its name from the colour of its water, which is a dark maroon, full of sediment, and very unpalatable.

The Texas shore is very bold, presenting a stratification of red clay and white sand, giving a striking and very peculiar appearance in the distance, like chalk cliffs.

The stream is but seldom in good boating order, rapid, and full of shifting shoals, making a very tedious ferriage.

Whilst we were crossing, a herd of about twelve hundred wild cattle were driven into the river from the Texas shore, to swim them over into the Nation.

Taking the course of the stream, they swam down some distance, so that the whole herd was in the water at the same time, presenting a most singular appearance, with their long, sharp pointed horns and taper heads, only seen above the surface.

A herd of one hundred and fifty mustang mares was also driven across. These mares were taken wild on the plains, and were intended for the breeding of mules in Missouri.

Having read many descriptions, and seen drawings of the noble horse in his native wilds, what was my surprise to find a poor, miserable, spindle-shanked, puny stock, not one of which I would accept as a gift (particularly if good points were the object), and at the same time to be told that they were very excellent specimens of the breed.

I account for their degeneracy, from the unavoidable breeding in and in, which is inevitable in a wild sate, and to which may be attributed the ill shape and small size of so many domesticated Indian ponies.

The mustangs have proved entirely worthless for all service, wherever the experiment has been tried, very vicious, and of no powers of endurance on the road.

This experiment of mule raising, may be successful, but I should doubt it very much; the stubbornness of the ass, and the viciousness of the mustang, not being the proper ingredients for serviceable domestic stock.

...After leaving Preston, we entered upon the vast plains, which stretching to the Cross Timbers, gave us a foretaste of our home, and the seat of our labors for many weeks.

From this point, there is but a house here and there, and the little village of Gainesville, until we reach the Upper Cross Timbers, and then adieu to all outward signs of civilization.

Early in the afternoon, we stopped at the Basin Spring, a perfect fairy bath tub, and fatigued with the scenes of the past three days, overcome by the intense heat, and almost famished with thirst, but above all, enamored with the place, we determined to encamp for the night.

An apparently dry ravine ran at right angles to our course, on traversing which, we came suddenly upon a series of ledges of limestone rock, arranged like stairs.

Over these, the water trickled, and was caught in a basin, worn by time and the action of the water, about three feet deep, and five in diameter, and so pellucid, that the smallest article might be seen on the bottom.

After the muddy waters of Red River, and the stagnant pools of the prairies, what wonder that we hailed this fountain with delight, drank copious draughts, laved in its cool refreshing bosom, and poured out libations to the Naiad of the Spring. We did all this, aye,more, for we treated her to a serenade, the first we had felt any spirits for since leaving Fort Washita; and cooled, calmed and refreshed, an early hour found us wrapped in that slumber which only the tired man can really enjoy.

July 3d.-Daylight found us bidding adieu to the Nymphs of the fountain, and entering upon the last large prairie we crossed before reaching the Cross Timbers.

After marching three miles, we came to a house nestled in a clump of trees, in the open prairie.

We found, after making inquiries here, how deceptive distances are on these plains.

The man had never been beyond his house, in the direction we were traveling, and in reply to our inquiry, how far it was to the timber, which was in sight, and where we expected to join Captain Marcy, he said, "about three miles," and truly it did not seem farther, but it was eight miles, two hours' travel before we reached the outskirts, and three miles farther we found the Captain encamped in a very cozy skirting of timber by the roadside.

The eye is deceived quite as much on the plains as on the water; the long stretches of prairie, although undulating, present no object so prominent as the belt of timber which bounds them, so that the eye rests at once upon this, skipping over the intermediate space and shortening the distance just in proportion as the ground is level or broken.

These Cross Timbers are a very singular growth. The one we had now entered is called the Lower Cross Timbers, and is about six miles wide; then eighteen miles from the outer edge of this one, we should enter the Upper and larger. They extend almost due north and south, from the Canadian to the Brazos. The timber is a short, stunted oak, not growing in a continuous forest, but interspersed with open glades, plateaus,and vistas of prairie scenery, which give a very picturesque and pleasing variety.

...July 4th-Sun down, found the camp all bustle, preparatory to a night march, and ere the harvest moon showed her calm pale face, we were on the road to Gainesville, where we arrived in two hours.

This collection of five or six log cabins, dignified with the name of a town, was rendered celebrated in the annals of storms by a most terrific tornado, which occurred here on the twenty-eighth of May, (the same whose ravages I before remarked upon in the Choctaw Nation), the traces of which, had they not come under my observation, too palpably to be mistaken, I should have put down in the same category with the Munchausen stories.

About dark, on the day mentioned, this storm arose, and passing over the country in a vein a mile wide, left marks of its ravages, which were as indelible as they were destructive.

The motion of the tornado was undulatory, evidenced by the manner in which every thing it came in contact with was treated; as for instance, a very heavy ox wagon was taken up and carried a quarter of a mile, where it stuck in the ground to the axletree; taken up again, it was carried several hundred yards farther, and there the wheels were twisted off, and a tire broken and twisted into several pieces.

Fences were blown off, driven into the ground, broken off, and again blown a long distance.

Two women were taken up and blown three-quarters of a mile, impinging three times against the ground in their terrific flight.

A horse was blown into a tree, where it happened to catch by its fore-leg and shoulder; these were torn from the body and were still hanging there, the balance of the carcass lying in a field full a-quarter of a mile off.

A sheep was blown into the top of a high tree, where we saw it as we passed.

The strata of wind seems also to have been about ten feet from the ground, rising and falling, as the trees in its course were broken off in a manner clearly so to indicate. One house, also, was blown down to the foundations, whilst another, beyond and in a line with it, had the roof taken off. In short, the whole scene indicated the result of great and inconceivable power exerted, fortunately attended with but little loss of life and limb.

The same tornado destroyed the buildings and the beautiful parade at Fort Towson, one hundred and forty miles distance, creating a most singular coincidence, viz.: orders had just been received to abandon the post, and remove the troops, &c., to Fort Arbuckle; these were nearly executed, when the tornado occurred; so that, in the same week, it was abandoned by government and also by heaven, and is now a complete ruin.

Being considerably in advance of the train, P____e and myself went to a small store to make some purchases, when a laughable incident occurred.

On our way to the store, we met a man with but one leg, who proved to be the proprietor.

P____e, in conversation, asked him how he lost his leg; he told us, and proved to be a jolly fellow.

An article we wanted not being on hand, he directed us to another store near his; on going into which, what was our surprise to find its proprietor also minus a leg, and before we completed our purchase, our quondam acquaintance came in, when upon my remarking that two one-legged men were quite a large proportion for so small a place-"Oh," says he, "there are two more, and three of us board at the same house; I shouldn't wonder if he came in, he's here a'most every night,"-and sure enough he did (strange as it may appear), and joined in our merry laugh at so funny a coincidence.

I proposed a race for a bottle of whiskey, when, to our surprise, they assented, and started off up the road, whilst we, dying with laughter, were obliged to ride off, being behind the train some distance.

A more absurdly ridiculous sight cannot be imagined, than the six crutches and three legs scampering off in the moonlight. Long and loud were our shouts of laughter and those of our camp companions when we related the scene, and Gainesville remains the one-legged settlement, from that date, in our memories.

In an hour, we arrived at the last house in Texas, and entering a piece of timber which crossed our road-a spur of the Cross Timbers-found it impractical on account of the late storm, and consequently were obliged to encamp until a road could be cut through.

We retraced our steps to a clear spring, near the house, and despite musquitoes,-which abounded in thousand,-camped for the night.

During our detention, I visited the house to make purchases, if possible, of eggs, chickens, amilk, &c., for our mess, and was much amused-as I had been before-at the peculiar parlance of the settlers, as for instance-"Will you sell me some eggs?" "We ha'nt got nar an eggs." "Any chickens?" "We ha'nt got nar a chickens." "Any milk?" "We ha'nt got nary milk." These replies were given with a strong nasal twang, totally indescribable. I made out, however, at length, to get "a chickens," and returned to camp with the odd lingo still ringing in my ears.

July 5th-Our camp proved very uncomfortable and bare of pasture, so as soon as the road was clear, we struck tents and made a short march to a fresh and grassy meadow on the banks of Elm Fork of Trinity River.

At the crossing of this stream, we made some very interesting fossiliferous collections, among the rest a nautilus, very large and an entirely new species.

During the afternoon, Wagon saddled up and was gone about half an hour, when he returned with his first deer, a fat doe.

The stream abounded in fish, among which was a new species of catfish of a deep jet black, several of which were added to our collection.

Preparatory to our night march, we all indulged in a delicious bath in this clear limestone water, and at sunset were off, with a thunderstorm rumbling in the east, and lighted on our way by the prairie on fire in our rear. A high wind arose just as we started, and the cook's fire being scattered, a fine effect was produced, as the night waxed older and the storm-cloud grew blacker-on one side a pillar of fire-on the other a pillar of cloud-and the wilderness between-a striking picture of the sublime, which left a deep impression upon us all.

We made a very long march and at midnight encamped upon a branch of the same stream.

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