From the Annals of the Highways – In 1844, the Congress of the Republic of Texas authorized a commission to oversee the construction of the Central National Road. The CNR was planned to run from the Elm Fork of the Trinity River to Kiomatia Crossing on the Red River in far northeast Texas. It was intended to become part of a larger international highway ultimately connecting San Antonio to St. Louis. The Congress provided that the CNR was to be at least 30 feet wide with no tree stumps taller than 12 inches from the ground. Bridges were to be at least 15 feet wide and built of good substantial materials. The project was to be paid for with public land grants to contractors building the road. The rate was to be 160 acres of land for every mile constructed.
The commissioners chose George Stell of Paris, Texas, as surveyor for the project. Surveying work began in April 1844. Stell and his assistant traveled northeast, measuring and marking the exact route, which passed through the present counties of Dallas, Rockwall, Collin, Hunt, Fannin, Lamar and Red River. The route largely utilized existing prairies and natural stream crossings – avoiding densely wooded areas and river crossing requiring bridges. It is unclear if construction was ever completed. The CNR appears to have been short-lived and was replaced by the Preston Road and other early routes.
From the Annals of the Red River – In 1759, Spanish soldiers under the command of Diego Ortiz Parilla fought a losing battle near a fortified Taovaya village on the Red River. Ortiz Parilla was leading an expedition to punish the Indians responsible for the embarrassing destruction of Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission in March 1759. The Spaniards faced a combined force of Comanches, Yaceales, and Tawakonis who outsmarted the Spaniard. Ortiz Parilla did not know exactly how close he was to Indian village. When his forces were charged from woods by sixty or seventy warriors who quickly withdrew, he ordered a pursuit not realizing that the purpose of the attack was to lead the Spaniards into a well-laid trap. Pursuing their attackers, the troop found itself sinking in a sandbank at the edge of the Red River, before the Indian fortifications. As darkness fell, Ortiz Parilla led an orderly withdrawal from his difficult position. However, he was forced to leave a pair of cannons behind on the river sandbank where the Spaniards had found themselves pinned down. And more critically lost nineteen men killed, fourteen wounded, and nineteen by desertion. The humiliating defeat led to his replacement as commandant of San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio by Felipe de Rábago y Terán. The Spaniards held onto the fort near present-day San Saba for another decade but failed to make any significant inroads into north central Texas for almost 50 years.
Painting of the destruction of the San Saba Mission.
From the Annals of Diplomacy – In 1838, the United States and the Republic of Texas signed the Convention of Limits setting out the method for formalizing the disputed boundaries of the fledgling republic. Both parties to the agreement were to appoint surveyors who were to determine a boundary from a point on the Sabine River to the Red River which would form the northeastern limit of Texas. The agreement had the effect of establishing the Red River as the northern boundary and the U.S. recognized Texas claims to disputed territory along the Red River (then named Red River County which comprises the present day Bowie, Red River, Franklin, Titus, Morris, and Cass counties).
From the Annals of Broken Promises – In 1819 the Adams-Onís Treaty was signed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams for the United States and Luís de Onís for Spain. The treaty fixed the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase and had the effect of renouncing U.S. claims to Texas. The newly fixed boundary began at the mouth of the Sabine River and ran along its south and west bank to the thirty-second parallel and thence directly north to the Río Roxo (Red River). The boundary then followed the course of the Río Roxo westward to the 100th meridian and then due north to the Arkansas River. From there the boundary followed the southern bank of the Arkansas to its source near the 42nd parallel and then following the 42nd to the “South Sea” (Pacific Ocean). Spain delayed ratification of the treaty and in the interval Mexico declared its independence. The newly formed country refused to accede to the terms of the treaty and never recognized the negotiated boundary.
From the Annals of the Red River – in 1759, a Spanish troop led by Diego Ortiz Parrilla was defeated by a group of Native Americans at a fortified Taovaya (Wichita) village near Spanish Fort. Parrilla’s expedition was intended to punish the Norteños (in this case the Tawakonis, Tonkawas, and Wichitas) for their destruction of Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission in1758. Parrilla’s force consisted of 400 troops from the provinces of northeastern Mexico and the Texas presidios and 176 mission Indians and Apaches. The need for retribution was reinforced by continuing attacks. In December 1758, a Comanche band accompanied by members of eleven other groups surprised a group of Apaches near the presidio and killed twenty-one. In March a native force reportedly made up of the same tribes responsible for the mission attack massacred nineteen men guarding the presidio’s horse herd, leaving only one survivor.
On October 7, the troop was attacked by sixty or seventy warriors who led the Spaniards into a well-laid trap. In pursuit, the troop was led to a sandbank at the edge of the Red River, before the fortified Taovaya village. The Spaniards attempted to withdraw to regroup but found the road cut off by mounted Indians firing muskets. The Spaniards were trapped in the sand with horses sinking up to their knees. The resulting 4 hour battle went badly for the force. Facing a superior force of Comanches, Yaceales, and Tawakonis, and Taovayas, the Spaniards were attacked from the fort and the field. The troop eventually unlimbered two cannons but they did not affect the course of the engagement. The Apaches, Mission Indians and a number of Spaniards deserted. As darkness fell, Ortiz Parrilla managed an orderly withdrawal, leaving the cannons on the field but with losses of nineteen men killed, fourteen wounded, and nineteen by desertion.
From the Annals of the Border Wars – In 1931, the “Red River Bridge War” reached a new level of confrontation when Gov. Ross Sterling ordered a detachment of Texas Rangers to prevent use of a newly constructed free bridge over the Red River. The bridge which had been built by Texas and Oklahoma connected Denison and Durant, Oklahoma. The problem arose when the Red River Bridge Company, which operating a toll bridge running next to the new bridge, filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking an injunction preventing the Texas Highway Commission from opening the bridge. The RRBC claimed breach of an agreement by the THC to purchase the toll bridge and damages for its unexpired contract as a condition for opening the new bridge. The court granted a temporary injunction Sterling had barricades erected preventing access to the bridge from the Texas side. Oklahoma Governor William (Alfalfa Bill) Murray claimed that Oklahoma’s “half” of the bridge ran lengthwise north and south across the Red River, that Oklahoma held title to both sides of the river from the Louisiana Purchase treaty of 1803, and that the state of Oklahoma was not named in the injunction. On July 16, Oklahoma highway crews crossed the bridge and took down the Texas barricades. Sterling responded by ordering The Texas Rangers to rebuild the barricades and protect Texas Highway Department employees charged with enforcing the injunction. In response, Murray ordered Oklahoma highway crews to tear up the northern approaches to the still-operating toll bridge closing traffic over the river. The Texas Legislature resolved the controversy by passing a bill granting the RRBC permission to sue the state in order to recover its damages. This allowed the injunction to be dissolved and the free bridge was opened to traffic, but not before some additional grandstanding by Murray who had declared martial law on both sides of the bridge. The controversy ended with no shots fired and no injuries.