First north-south road into Texas still used today
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First north-south road into Texas still used today

March 12, 2024

By Jeff Williford

TYLER—From horse smuggling to Texas legends, this historic highway in East Texas guided the beginnings of the Lone Star State with tales of adventure.

Trammel’s Trace, running from northeast to deep East Texas, stands as the oldest known entry from the northern states into Texas.

According to the Texas State Historical Commission, the origins of the trail date back to the early 1800s when it was used for smuggling horses from the Red River prairies into Spanish Texas. Trammel’s Trace was the first ever road to Texas from the northern boundary and facilitated migration from Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

Nicholas Trammel is credited as the first person to traverse the 180-mile trail that now bears his name. In 1824, Daniel Davis assisted Trammel in cutting the trail, enabling its use by wagons for travelers heading toward Mexican Texas and Stephen F. Austin’s colony.

“Trammel’s Trace is one of the significant historical roadways in our state,” remarked John Dulin, a volunteer historian with the Rusk County Historical Society. “The roadway opened up trade and travel from the north all the way down to the historic El Camino Real in Nacogdoches.”

Dulin, a resident of Rusk County, finds Trammel’s story fascinating.

“Trammel was also known as “Hot Horse” Trammel due to his penchant for smuggling horses. He dabbled in various activities, including gambling, operating taverns, racing horses, and more,” Dulin said.

Trammel’s Trace not only serves as a historical passageway into Texas but also offers a journey into the Lone Star State’s folklore.

“Legend has it that Hendricks Lake in Rusk County, traversed by Trammel’s Trace, is the resting place of silver stolen by pirate Jean Lafitte,” Dulin said. “As Lafitte attempted to transport the silver north to St. Louis, Missouri, Spanish soldiers intercepted the convoy.”

Lafitte’s response ignited what would become Texas folklore for more than 200 years.

“Instead of returning the treasure to the Spanish, Lafitte dumped six wagon loads of silver into Hendricks Lake. Since then, numerous attempts to locate the treasure have taken place, all with no success.”

Many of today’s Texas heroes traversed Trammel’s Trace during its peak usage.

“Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and James Bowie all journeyed down Trammel’s Trace,” stated Dulin. “The significance and history of this roadway cannot be overstated.”

After Texas became a state in 1845, the use of Trammel’s Trace waned as roads began to spring up around the state. While the historical pathway began to fade from significant use, its historical significance and legendary tales will forever be part of the story of the Lone Star State.

The Trammel’s Trace path ran from Fulton, Ark. and into seven current-day Texas counties including Bowie, Cass, Marion, Harrison, Rusk, Panola and Nacogdoches.