The Great Beefsteak Raid

The white-haired man and the young boy sat side by side warming themselves in front of the fireplace.  The man turned to the boy. “Robert, did I ever tell you about the time I rustled cattle?”

The boy’s eyes grew wide. “Grandpa, You were a rustler? I thought rustling cattle was a bad thing.”

“Yep, usually is. But in this case it was a good thing and at the behest of General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War.”

“Robert E. Lee, he’s the general I was named for . . .”

“Right and a fine man he was.”

“What’s behest?”

“Behest means an order or command.” The old man smiled, “Let me tell you about it. It was quite an adventure.  Way back in the Fall of 1864—more than three years into the Civil War—things were not going well for General Robert E. Lee and our Confederate army. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army had Petersburg, Virginia under siege. By September of that year the siege was in the third month and supplies were short for us Confederate troops. I was one of the troops who had established a ten mile defensive line surrounding Petersburg.”

“Petersburg is on the James River, right.  Dad and I fish there sometimes.”

“Yep, good catfish fishin’. Petersburg was important because it had four rail roads and two roads making it the heart of Southern supply lines, especially for Richmond, where the Confederacy was headquartered.

“General Grant’s strategy was to strangle the Southern supply lines—to cut off shipments of food, weapons, ammunition, uniforms, too. Not that the Confederacy had many uniforms to ship. We were a ragtag bunch. At the same time, he was cuttin’ off our supplies, Grant worked to maximize supplies for his own Union troops at the major supply depot and his field headquarters over at City Point, Virginia, that’s where the James and Appomattox rivers come together. It was about eight miles behind Union lines. I’ve been told that 2,900 tons of supplies arrived every day from trains and from ships at the City Point Harbor.”

“Gee! That’s a lot.”

“Yep. You like bread and butter, right?”  The boy nodded.

“Well, the City Point Bakery turned out 100,00 loaves of bread each day. All this kept the Union soldiers well fed and well supplied while we Confederates were sittin’ around our campfires with growling stomachs. I remember being really hungry and worried about how to stay warm ‘cause winter was comin’. Sure would have liked some of that bread and butter.

“Needless to say, the food situation was pretty desperate. I remember being on sentry duty on September 5th, when one of our Confederate agents and scouts, a guy named George Shadburne came back from a reconnaissance trip behind enemy lines and reported to General Wade Hampton— he was Commander of the Cavalry Corp. of the Army of Northern Virginia— that there were 3000 cattle—intended to feed Union troops—being held at Coggins Point, just five miles from Grant’s headquarters. I overheard him say that he believed the beeves were guarded by about 120 soldiers and 30 unarmed civilians.”

“That’s a lot of cattle. Those are the one’s you rustled?” The boy’s voice  was eager.

The old man patted the boy’s knee. “Don’t get ahead of me now. I’m comin’ to that. General

Hampton recognized an opportunity to harass the enemy and get some food for us. General Lee liked the idea and gave us permission to go after the cattle. Hampton gathered a force of some 3000 of us soldiers including (and I quote) “several certified Texas cattle thieves”. . . or, cattle rustlers as we’d call them. I’d never been a rustler. Valued my neck too much. Didn’t want to swing by it from a tree. But, I was a Texan, so he figured I’d at least know how to handle cattle. We found some shepherd dogs to help as herders.”

“How’d you get past enemy lines?” The boy’s attention was complete.

“Well, on the mornin’ of September 14th, Hampton led us around the Union’s left flank, then turned us southwest toward Wilkinson’s Bridge on Stony Creek, where we cold-camped for the night. Next mornin’ we moved northeast at a quick march to where Cooke’s Bridge had spanned Blackwater Creek—that is, until the Union troops burned it.  FIgurin’ the enemy wouldn’t expect an attack from this direction, Hampton ordered our engineers to build a new bridge over the creek. By midnight, we had crossed the creek and were within 10 miles of the cattle at Coggin’s Point.

“Hampton divided us into three groups. Group one, that was my group—under the command of General Thomas Rosser, would launch the attack at Sycamore Church, the central point of the Union camp and the spot closest to the cattle. Group two would go to the left to offer us protection from the Union forces close to Petersburg, while group three rode to the right to provide support for us as we rounded up the cattle and then skedaddled back the way we’d come.

“It was 5:00 a.m. on the 16th when we burst into the Union camp. Sure surprised the troops there! We were surprised, too. There were more than 300 soldiers in camp instead of the 120 the scout had estimated. Took about three hours to get in control of the situation and round up the herd. We captured 304 Union prisoners along with their new Henry repeater rifles.  Also rounded up eleven wagons. A bunch of non-combatant Yankee herders changed allegiance and came back with us to help drive the 2,486 cattle we rustled. And can you imagine, all this happened just five miles from Grant’s headquarters?”

“Were you scared?”

“Robert, any time you ‘see the elephant,’ you have some fear.”

“Seeing the elephant means going into battle, right?”

“Yep. Anyway, the march back to our Confederate camp was across the new bridge we’d built over Blackwater Creek. When we’d had crossed with our new wagons, prisoners, and all those beeves, we dismantled the bridge so, any Union troops chasing us cattle thieves couldn’t cross the creek.”

Laughing, the boy said, “Weren’t many left behind to chase you, were there?”

The old man grinned, “Nope. The raid was successful, but we lost ten Confederates, forty-seven were wounded. One of those was my cousin Jack (he recovered), and four soldiers went missing. We lost a few stray cattle on the road back to Confederate territory, so we ended up with a total of 2,468 “Confederate cattle. 

“But there was a problem. Wasn’t any fodder to feed the captured herd, so it was necessary to slaughter them immediately and with little or no salt to use as a preservative, we needed to cook and eat two million pounds of meat. There was so much meat in the short term that we Johnny Rebs could eat our fill and have a bit to trade in private exchanges with Union sentries for other items which union troops had and we Southerners didn’t. We had some fun taunting the Union sentries, invitin’ them for a steak dinner or simply “mooing” at them. Couldn’t eat all that beefsteak fast enough and raw beef spoils fast. Before long, our Confederate food shortage was desperate again.

“You know, when President Lincoln heard about our raid, he called it, ‘the slickest piece of cattle stealing’ he had ever heard of. Story is that shortly after our cattle rustling raid, Grant was asked when he expected to defeat Lee. He supposedly said, ‘Never if our armies continue to supply him with beef cattle.’” The old man chuckled, making new wrinkles on his face.

“Several ‘certified Texas cattle thieves’ and the rest of us who were part of the raid, have stories to tell and braggin’ to do about the great “Beefsteak Raid.”  The old man laughed again. It’s a bit of cattle thievery which didn’t justify hanging.

The old man stood. “All this talk has made me hungry. What do you say we go to the kitchen and rustle us up a couple of steaks?” 

Jumping to his feet the boy said, “Make my beefsteak rare!”

In a final note:

Prince Georges County, Virginia holds a steak dinner each year commemorating the Great Beefsteak Raid.  Want yours rare, medium or well done?

Kings of the Road

The next time you’re tempted to complain about traffic, stop and think about traveling to Texas in the early to mid-1800s when the rush was on! Compared to today, travel was certainly slower and more difficult at best. Train travel wasn’t available yet on the routes to Texas. So, unless you were a single person coming on horseback, you needed a covered wagon. 

Wagons of the time had to be strong, solid, and made of seasoned hardwood. Smaller than the old Conestoga wagons, they were straight sided with a flat bed measuring about ten feet wide and with sides about two feet high. The slats had to be well caulked to handle water crossings and the double canvas cover needed to be well oiled to be waterproof.

You could plan on packing about 2,500 pounds, evenly balanced. With a full load you’d need four ox teams—that’s eight oxen. Plus you’d need good luck to deal with rough roads and river crossings. Add water barrels, an extra wheel, a couple of tar buckets for greasing wheels, some tools and spare parts and you’d be reasonably well equipped.

Wondering why oxen instead of horses were needed to pull the wagons? The weight of the wagon, the terrain to be traveled, plus the fact that oxen could forage for their food—while it was necessary to carry supplementary food for horses—all that combined to made oxen a necessary choice. But you had to take care of your oxen. Most likely you’d pass through a few towns on your trip and having your oxen’s cloven hooves re-shod would probably be necessary. Damaged hooves could bring infection and death. If you lost an ox, you were in trouble. Some travelers even carried small leather bags which could be tied to a damaged hoof to help protect it, hopefully until a blacksmith could be found.

Once your wagon and oxen were purchased, it would be time to load up the wagon with most every thing needed for the trip—from clothing to food to pots and pans. Not to mention the things you’d need upon arrival in Texas.

Travelers generally walked beside their wagons rather than riding to avoid adding extra weight to the wagons. Men walked leading the first yoke of oxen and the women and children walked behind—often gathering dry kindling and tossing it into a cowhide sling under the  rear of the wagon.  

Every wagon train needed a captain who could lead the way and be responsible for the wagon train and its travelers. Ideally, you’d find a captain who’d made the trip before. Decisions would need to be made by the group before starting. One common question was whether or not the train would travel on Sundays. Travelers in some trains voted to make Sunday a day of worship and rest, other trains chose to travel on Sundays, perhaps taking an extra hour at midday for hymn singing and bible reading.

Key to the trip were the roads. . .or, rather the TRAILS. Travel was on dirt trails which generally had been cleared by the military. A class one road was 30 feet wide when cleared and had tree stumps no higher than six inches. A class two road (more common) had stumps no higher than twelve inches. As you might guess, it was important to check the clearance on your wagon!

Many travelers to Texas from the Southern states and other nearby states, traveled the “Trail of Tears,” which consisted of the dirt trails and waterways used during the official “Indian Removal” from the southeastern U.S. to a new “Indian Territory,” which had been established by the US government in the early 1830s (in what is now Oklahoma). Although these trails were pretty well traveled, one still had to deal with fallen trees, washed-out areas, water crossings, and in some cases, heavy wagon train traffic—especially at the ferry crossings where there were actually wagon train traffic jams!

As to travel time, while wagon trains might aim for twenty miles a day for the first day or two to settle the oxen into a routine, the travel goal would drop to fifteen or so miles daily (if the roads were good) to keep from wearing out the oxen. Healthy oxen were key to a successful trip. Travel days would be lost due to problems with the trail, sickness, weather, break downs, deaths, and long waits at water crossings.

If you traveled through Indian Territory along the Texas Road to the Red River’s ferry crossings into Texas, you’d pass Choctaw and Chickasaw farms, where the people lived much like the settlers in Texas, and you’d have the opportunity to buy food and other items from farmers and from an occasional small village store.

Life on the road developed a pattern. Up before dawn to dress, cook and eat breakfast, gather and yoke the oxen, and begin the day’s travel. Eat a cold midday meal during a short break, then back on the trail. Circle the wagons at the end of the day, unyoke your oxen, build your campfire, cook and eat supper and also prepare a meal which could be eaten cold at midday the next day. Refilling water barrels, bathing and laundry could be done if camps were made by creeks, rivers, or lakes. Hunting and fishing were occasional activities to supplement the food pantry. If berries, grapes, wild onions and other edibles were spotted along the trail, the women would stop to harvest, then hurry to catch up with the wagons.

The final stage of travel to Texas was crossing the Red River and moving down the Preston Road which went from Denison to Dallas to Waco and on to Austin. There were several ferry crossings on the Red River. In the 1840s, the Coffee Crossing at Preston was a busy ferry across the river. Later, the Colbert Crossing, just seven miles away, attracted huge numbers of wagons. In 1853, Benjamin Franklin Colbert, a Chickasaw, had been granted a ferry license by the Chickasaw Nation. His ferry was a flat bottomed boat poled across the river by his slaves. Colbert also had a large plantation on the river and his river crossing became a station stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail stage coach  trail in September of 1858 when stage coach travel started in Texas.

It’s true that traveling to Texas was easier than taking the Oregon Trail to the West Coast. Settlers heading to the far West had a longer distance to travel. In addition they had to traverse the prairie, where the fierce Comanche and other tribes roamed and attacked wagon trains. They also faced the desert, mountains, and the challenges of those terrains. Nonetheless travel to Texas was no picnic as wagons dealt with lake, river, and deep creek crossings, traversed the mountains of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma and faced endless miles of the dark green tunnel created by the Cross Timbers forest—a tangle of stunted, interwoven trees dense with under growth and twisted vines. What Washington Irving (who traveled there) described as the Cast Iron forest.  Travel to Texas wasn’t easy. Graves marked the route.

The decade of the 1850s was a mad rush to Texas and the state’s population doubled and almost doubled again in this decade. Individuals and families in search of land and opportunity poured into the new state and entire plantations were moved to Texas as the Civil War loomed and planters feared invasion of the South by the Northern army—rightly so as it turned out.

While many new residents of Texas traveled by ship to Gulf Coast ports, especially Galveston, wagon trains were the kings of the road!

During the holidays, podcast posts will be every other week. Check back for new posts.

Remember to check out my novel, Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper 1856-1861 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and other popular book-buying sites. Thanks for listening! This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast, the best little podcast in Texas. Ya’ll come back.

The Back Story of the Texas State Fair

Let’s talk about Fletchers’ corn dogs, fried butter, roller coasters, Big Tex, football and prize hogs.  Have I conjured up the Texas State Fair for you?

Join me for a whirlwind trip through the 135 years of the Texas State Fair’s history—hitting just some of the high points. Then, I’d like to transport you back to the very first fair held in Dallas and the tiny log cabin village that started it all way back in 1859 — 27 years before the Fair’s official beginning.

The State Fair of Texas runs for24 daysand welcomes about 2.5 millionpeople annually. The food and midway rides are big attractions, but there’s more to love. Visit and you’ll learn more about the state’s history through exhibits on agriculture, livestock, science, art and culture. Plus, there’s the Texas Auto Show and football at the Cotton Bowl.

The first fair in Dallas—an early precursor to the State Fair—was in 1859 (more about it later). This first fair—a county fair—was  followed by a smattering of fairs. In 1862 the Confederacy chartered or approved a state fair and there were a few fairs during reconstruction in the 1860s and  later in the 1870s.

By 1886 the desire for a major fair in Dallas was so high that the following year, two rival business groups held competing State Fairs in Dallas with overlapping dates. Neither fair met expenses—although one fair claimed 100,000 attendees despite the town’s population of about 38,000. However, fairs were good for the town’s business.

One of these 1887 fairs also had tremendous impact on the culture of Dallas. 

Mrs. Sidney Smith, wife of the fair’s director was in charge of the Ladies Departmentand boldly decided to include an art display. This was the very first exhibition of art in Dallas (and quite possibly in the state of Texas!)

The first art show consisted of paintings by a local artist—JR Onderdonck—and his students. Now understand that in those days affluent ladies had an art teacher who offered art lessons at your home and painted a bit on your canvas during every lesson until eventually you had a completed painting.

The art show was well received and the next year,1888, paintings were acquired from New York—an amazing accomplishment because few New York artists had much interest in sending their canvases to Texas. The prevailing attitude was “Texans won’t buy paintings!”

This small beginning established a tradition of art exhibits at the fair and Texans not only wanted to look, they wanted to buy. For a number of years in the 1920’s there were more art purchases at the State Fair than at the National Academy Show in New York!

Exposure to art was still new to many Texans and one young visitor was reported to have exclaimed to his friends, “Hey, these are hand painted!”

Thanks to the State Fair, an arts community grew and prospered. Paintings were displayed in a special room of the library and ultimately a city art museum was created. Beau Arts balls were held. At one ball, the head of the University of Tulsa arts program attended as a Hopi Indian dancercomplete with a live snake. That might qualify as Dallas’ first performance art.

By 1890, Dallas was the largest city in Texas. Horse racing was a popular event at the fair and the largest money maker.  Attractions included cattle sales, balloon ascensions, farm machine displays, baking and other contests for ladies, even jousting tournaments.

In 1903 state laws banning gambling killed racing, and the loss of revenue forced fair management to sell the Fair Park site to the city—with agreement that the fair would continue on the site.

In the early 1900s, auto racing and stunt flying joined the list of attractions. And by 1905, attendance had jumped to 300,000. It reached a million in 1916.  In 1918, toward the end of World War One, the fair was cancelled and the fair grounds became a temporary army camp.

The 1920s brought the arrival of New York shows to a new Spanish Baroque style Music Hall where the first performance was Sigmund Romberg’s the Student Prince. The decade of the 20s ended with the beginning of the Texas-OU football rivalry in a new 46,000 seat stadium which replaced the race track and became known as the Cotton Bowl.

In a major event in 1936, one hundred years after the eighteen-minute Battle of San Jacinto successfully ended the Texas Revolution, Dallas won the opportunity to host the Texas Centennial Celebration.

The Texas Centennial drew six million people over six months to enjoy the exhibits and beautiful art deco buildings which are today’s architectural treasures and make Fair Park a national historic landmark.

You’d probably never guess that the 1946 exhibit that drew long lines of folks at the fair was  Borden Milk’s brand symbol—Elsie the Cow!

1951 saw the debut of Big Tex—a 52 foot tall second-hand Santa Claus figure redesigned as a cowboy.  The decibel level went up in the 50’s when Elvis Presley performed at a Cotton Bowl concert. I’ll bet the excited screams of teenaged girls could be heard all across the city.

The 1960s began a decade of pro football in the Cotton Bowl.

In the 1970s the Cotton Bowl hosted the World Music Festival with lots of big name talent.

Friends of Fair Park was established in the 80s, The Texas Star, a 212 foot high ferris wheel was installed and an 18-million dollar bond offering was approved in support of the fairgrounds.

The African American Museum opened in the decade of the 90s and the first round of the World Soccer cup was played in the Cotton Bowl.

The 2000s have been eventful. Fears of the COVID virus caused cancellation of the fair in 2020.  Big Tex burned, was repaired, and returned in 2021 to once again call out, “Howdy Folks,” to visitors.

That ends our whirlwind tour of The Texas State Fair’s history…Let’s turn attention to the tiny log cabin settlement on the Trinity River that started it all in 1859 and how the fair came about.

I did a tremendous amount of research on early Dallas for my new historical novel, Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper 1856-1861. Let me tell you a bit about the book because I’m going to use it to share with you what Dallas was like in that time period and a bit about the first fair—the one that started it all.

Gone to Dallas is an historical novel with a Texas twang. Let’s start with the first sentence in the book . . .“Sara’s husband was a disappointment in life, but she had to admit he was a handsome corpse.”

Foremost, the novel is the story of Sara, a young woman who travels from Tennessee to Texas in a wagon train in 1856. Through a twist of fate, she arrives in Dallas as a widow determined to open a general store in the tiny log cabin village.

It’s a tale of migration, betrayal, death and determination— a  page-turning, inspiring fictional story rooted in fascinating, true historical events and featuring a strong female protagonist.  Reviews indicate that readers—regardless of where they are from—enjoy the combination of fiction and historical fact. The former CEO of the Alamo says “Sara’s story is compelling…a recommended read.” The Director of the Stockyards Museum in Fort Worth says, “Sara was fascinating—a strong and enterprising young woman. She had the grit and moxie that Texas women are known for. A good fictional read with real historical events thrown in—an interesting twist.” A Canadian reader says, I was hooked at the very first sentence!”

That gives you a quick introduction to the book which is available on Amazon. . . .let’s look inside for an historically accurate description of the village that birthed the State Fair.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a settler bringing your wagon into Dallas in 1856, after months of travel  from Tennessee. . .

Sara could sense the excitement of the group of settlers who led their wagons down the Preston Road and into Dallas the next morning. But as they got closer, it was obvious from the muttering Sara could hear that their jubilation had turned to dismay. Dallas was not what the travelers had expected. Sara looked at the dusty, potholed trails forming a square around a squat, two-story brick building set in a scattering of trees. Maybe a courthouse? The structures on the square were mostly low, rough log cabins hunkered down in the brown earth. There are more vacant lots than buildings. Some of the buildings had business signs, others appeared to be homes. A two-story log hotel with stables, a couple of two-story brick buildings, and a two-story log boardinghouse—according to the sign swinging in the wind— rose above the simpler cabins and were the dominant structures. There were numerous log cabins and sheds randomly scattered away from the square. A network of dusty, winding foot paths connected them to each other and to the square. Hens and a couple of ragged roosters pecked at the dry ground, and two hogs were rooting at the edge of someone’s small garden plot. Clothes hung haphazardly on a rickety looking clothesline. There were a couple of horses tied in front of the courthouse and only half a dozen people in sight on porches or on the streets of the square. A lone wagon sat in front of one of the cabins. A mongrel dog was asleep in the shade it cast. Sara could hear distressed conversation from the wagons around her. Hearing the ruckus, a few people began to come out of the scattered structures.

Soon a tall, black-haired, deeply-tanned man in a suit and derby hat came into the street and shouted, “Welcome to Dallas! Please come forward so you can hear me and I can greet you.” Sara’s first impression was that he had the look and sound of someone in authority. Wonder who he is?

Sara and the other travelers gathered around him as he shook hands and welcomed them. “I’m Alexander Cockrell and I offer the land here.”

Ah, the man in charge.

The Johnson twins stepped out of the group. Horace shouted, “This ain’t Dallas. The Peters Colony man promised Dallas was a real town.”

“Dallas is a real town, young man. We are the county seat. We’ve got a courthouse, a church, some schools, a hotel. Almost 450 people.” He gestured toward the square. “There’s a general store, a sawmill, a weekly newspaper. I’ve even built a new wooden toll bridge across the Trinity River.” Cockrell smiled. “Settlers here have great prospects.”

Horace frowned. “Don’t look like it.”

“On the contrary, Dallas is growing. A large group of two hundred settlers has come from France, Switzerland, and Belgium to establish a colony on the limestone cliff just across the river.” He pointed to a bluff in the near distance. “They believe there is no better opportunity in Texas than that offered by Dallas.”

John Henry looked at Sara, wiggled his eyebrows, and grinned. “Sure sounds like a land promoter. This is his one chance to make a sale before folks move on down the road.”

The Dallas of 1856 doesn’t sound too impressive, does it? Yet a mere three years later the town put on a successful fair attracting 2000 people

Here is a version of the first fair mixing lots of facts woven into a fictional framework:

Sara was not sure where the idea came from, but talk turned to having a Dallas County fair. A planning committee was formed. When Ira Webster approached Sara about joining the committee, she thought of Sarah Cockrell’s behind-the-scenes philosophy. Sara suggested Daniel could represent the store.

Daniel was pleased but hesitant. “I’ve never been on a committee. I wouldn’t be sure what to do.”

“Daniel, you’re smart and you’ve made good suggestions and solved problems here at the store. If you like, we can discuss ideas for the fair before the first meeting.”

After the first committee meeting, Daniel bounced back into the store full of enthusiasm. He was hardly in the door before reporting. “The Cockrell representative immediately volunteered use of empty land on the eastern edge of town for the fairgrounds, you know, at the intersection of Commerce Street and the Preston Road. There’s also space there for a campground for those coming from outside of town. The sawmill manager agreed to donate sawdust to cover as much of the fairgrounds as possible to keep down the mud or dust, whichever it might be. The committee also voted to collect money from local merchants for canvas cloth, and Ira Webster agreed the saddle shop would make a tent for exhibits.”

“So it was a good meeting?” Sara could guess his answer, based on his obvious excitement.

“Yep. We already decided on the categories for competition. We’ll have a livestock competition with prizes for the biggest hog, prize bull, and strongest ox. Ladies can enter their best pies, cakes, and biscuits in baking competitions. We set up a subcommittee to choose judges from around the county for each competition.

“We’ll meet again in a few days to agree on a list of exhibits and activities. Can we talk about some ideas before then?”

“We can.”

As the county-fair planning meetings continued, Daniel came back with frequent reports. The committee agreed that exhibits for ladies would include needlework, carpets, quilts, and shawls. Plows and tools would be exhibited for the men. One exhibit table would hold the most unusual insects that Ellie’s class had collected and Mr. Reverchon had mounted.

The list of activities kept growing. There would be music, a demonstration from the dance club established by Edouard Charles Beaulieu, and a Maypole. Gerard Fave had agreed to try to make a wooden merry-go-round for the children, who would also be offered pony rides. The big event on the first day would be a potluck picnic supper featuring a roast bison cooked by the T-Lazy-R Ranch cow chasers. Supper would be followed by demonstrations of roping and horsemanship featuring the ranch’s Mexican vaqueros and cow chasers Jellie and Zollie. A jousting tournament would end the riding demonstrations.

Benjamin asked Sara to order two flagpoles, one large US flag, and a Texas flag of equal size, all paid for by the cotton brokerage. Adolph Gouhenant offered to make a large “Dallas County Fair” banner. With Sarah’s permission, Daniel agreed the store would pay for two large poles to support the banner. Not to be outdone, Virgil West volunteered to provide the prize ribbons.

It was to be a four-day event. Spring dates were set, with alternate rain dates agreed upon.


Two days before the county fair opened, wagons full of families began to arrive. Others came on horseback, a few on mules. The camp area filled up and, by the first day of the fair, had spilled over to the very edge of town.

On opening day, Dallas woke to warm weather and a cloudless sky. At the appointed time, the Dallas mayor and five district commissioners stood by as district clerk Edward Browder cut the entrance ribbon. The politicians were almost trampled by the excited crowd.

Who would have guessed that the county fair the small log cabin village of Dallas created, would grow into the fabulous and successful State Fair of Texas?

Trading with the Cherokee

Beginning as early as the 1830s, settlers coming into Texas from Illinois, Missouri, and the southern states most likely traveled along what was known as “The Trail of Tears.” The Trail of Tears was made up of over 5000 miles of land and water trails taken by native American tribes during the US government’s “Indian Removal” project. This massive undertaking starting with The Removal Act of 1830, forced the relocation of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole (among others) to a newly-declared Indian Territory just west of the Arkansas border in what is now Oklahoma. During this removal process, it is estimated that as many as 100,000 native Americans were relocated and that some 15,000 died along the trail, thus the name—“The Trail of Tears” or as the Cherokee called it, “the trail where they died.”

In my new historical novel, Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper, 1856-1861, my main character—Sara Darnell— and her new husband join a wagon train traveling across Arkansas along “The Trail of Tears” to Fort Smith, located on the Arkansas/Texas border, and then southwest into Indian Territory, and down the Texas Road to the Red River. This route carries them through Indian territory and across land belonging to several of the Civilized Tribes—who lived much like the settlers would live in Texas. Small farms lined the road and many tribal members supplemented their livelihood by selling supplies to the travelers. I want to share a brief excerpt from Gone to Dallas to give you a taste of an experience travelers might have had on the Texas Road to the Red River.

To set the stage for this scene, let’s read a paragraph from earlier in the book:  At Fort Smith, Arkansas, Lieutenant John Thomas Hill told them, Youll certainly see Choctaws and Chickasaws on your trip. Youll also touch the edge of the Cherokee Nation as you leave Fort Smith. Young Cherokee bucks will follow you for a while . . . Theyll show up in costume asking to trade. Seems like its a game to them. Thats fine, but they are notorious livestock thieves. They lurk along the Texas Road, all the way to the Red River, stealing horses. Best to guard your horses and milk cows.”


Before setting out from Tennessee, Morgan and Sara knew that the trail to Texas would take them through Indian Territory. A merchant selling them supplies had said, “Once you’re in Indian Territory, chances are you’ll be visited by Indians, especially the Cherokee, who want to trade. Best to have somethin’ to trade.” Lieutenant Hill had echoed this when they met him at Fort Smith. Sure enough, they were startled one morning when the wagon line ahead of them came to a sudden stop. Young Daniel Pollard came running down the line. “Dozens of Indians ahead, Pa says to stay calm. Most likely want to trade, like we heard.”

Sara felt her heart pounding in her chest. Dozens of Indians? She forced herself to take a few deep breaths and unclench her fists. Morgan saw her fear. “It’s okay, honey. You heard what Daniel said, they’ll just want to trade . . . like the couple with the berries.”

“Somehow this feels different. I guess because there are so many.”

In a few moments, they heard Captain Pollard call for the wagons to circle. After the wagons pulled into place, the men stood by their wagons. “Stay calm and no brandishing of weapons,” Pollard called out. Most of the women disappeared into their wagons. Sara stood by Morgan.

“Get in the wagon, honey, where you’ll be safe.”

“No, I’m not about to miss this.”

Everything went quiet as the Indians approached. Sara could hear the soft thud of their unshod horses’ hooves as they rode closer and closer to the circled wagons. A light wind swirled the dust around the horses’ feet as they came forward. The only other sound was a murder of crows cawing in the trees. Out of the corner of her eye, Sara saw Captain Pollard step outside the circle to face the approaching Indians. One of the Indians rode forward to engage Pollard. He dismounted, and Sara heard him say, “Trade,” as he gestured toward the wagons and pointed back to the waiting Indians.

Pollard nodded and said, “Yes, trade.” Sara exhaled without realizing she had been holding her breath.

As the remaining Indians started toward the wagons, Pollard and the Indian walked into the circle. The Indian wore a blue US Army coat with no buttons over a bare chest partially covered with what Sara thought might be a breastplate. Made of rows of small, tubular bones strung together horizontally, the garment extended from his shoulder blades almost to his waist. His legs were clad in deerskin pants with decorative beadwork along the outer side seam. Ornate beadwork also covered his moccasins. He wore three feathers in his long, braided hair, which Sara thought looked greased. His skin was the color of oak, and his silver earrings dangled at least four inches and swung as he looked around the circle. He turned and motioned the rest of the Indians forward. A dozen or more scattered to the various wagons.

A short Indian, dressed in a fringed buckskin shirt and breeches, approached Morgan at the front of the wagon. Hearing a noise, Sara looked back to see another Indian rummaging through things in the back of their wagon. She turned and ran to the rear of the wagon to face a big man with braids down to the middle of his chest. He was wearing a torn frock coat, derby hat, and loincloth. He had a different but not unpleasant smell. Cinnamon . . . He smells like cinnamon. Embarrassed by his partial nakedness, Sara was speechless for a moment.

Meanwhile the Indian had pulled a hand mirror out of an open box. He waved it at Sara, then held a large, cloth sack of what looked like blueberries out to her. “Trade?”

Sara’s momma had given her the mirror for her sixteenth birthday. Sara shook her head vigorously and reached for the mirror. “No, something else.”

He frowned. “Trade!” he said more forcefully, holding the mirror out of her reach. Tucking the mirror under one arm, he took a berry out of the bag, ate it, and pushed the sack at Sara, indicating she should taste.

Ignoring the berries, Sara looked for something else to barter with. Holding up one of Morgan’s shirts, she offered, “Trade?”

The Indian shook his head and began looking at himself in the mirror.

Reaching into a small box which had been tucked into a back corner, Sara pulled out a large, pleated paper fan. She unfolded it, revealing colorful painted flowers. She fluttered it back and forth, generating a bit of breeze. Then she held it in front of her face, peering over the top. She definitely had his attention. Folding it back up, she dangled it in front of him. “Trade?”

“Trade,” he agreed, setting the mirror down. He then handed the sack of berries to Sara. He turned, opened the fan, and walked away fanning himself. Sara tasted the berries. Mmm, sweet. Well have cobbler tonight.

Sara returned to the front of the wagon just as Morgan had concluded his trade. “A package of tobacco for these deerskin moccasins. I think they’ll fit you, honey.”

Morgan was right. Soft and colorful, the beaded moccasins were a perfect fit. Sara was touched that Morgan had bartered for something for her instead of for himself. He can be so thoughtful. Sara hooked her arm around his waist and looked up at him, “Thank you.”

A few days later, a second visit by a group of Indians started much the same but ended differently. Trading was underway when old man Thornton, the grandpa of the Thornton family, flipped his false teeth out of his mouth and into his hand. As Sara watched, the young brave, who had been offering him a buffalo bone necklace as his barter item, took one look at the teeth, shrieked, and ran for his horse. Eager to expand the joke, old man Thornton then began to hold the teeth, clicking them open and closed as he walked among the Indians. It only took a few moments for this to cause minor hysteria among the Indians, who mounted their ponies and dashed away in a cloud of dust. At the end of the day, an older Indian  appeared, asking to see the “didanawidgi.” Sara was in the group that gathered to hear his conversation with Captain Pollard. It took a while for Pollard to explain that old man Thornton was not a medicine man and the false teeth were not magic, just an invention of white men for those who had lost their teeth. Old man Thornton made the rounds of all the wagons that night reliving the incident and announcing that it was the high point of his life.

And that ends a brief reading from Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper 1856-1861 by Laurie Moore-Moore.  Gone to Dallas is available as both an ebook and paperback on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ingram Spark, Smashwords. and Kobo.

This has been the Texas Brave and Strong podcast. It’s the best little podcast in Texas. Ya’ll come back!

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