Trammel's Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North

Trammel's Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North

Trammel's Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North

Trammel's Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North


Trammel's Trace tells the story of a borderlands smuggler and an important passageway into early Texas.

Trammel's Trace, named for Nicholas Trammell, was the first route from the United States into the northern boundaries of Spanish Texas. From the Great Bend of the Red River it intersected with El Camino Real de los Tejas in Nacogdoches. By the early nineteenth century, Trammel's Trace was largely a smuggler's trail that delivered horses and contraband into the region. It was a microcosm of the migration, lawlessness, and conflict that defined the period.

By the 1820s, as Mexico gained independence from Spain, smuggling declined as Anglo immigration became the primary use of the trail. Familiar names such as Sam Houston, David Crockett, and James Bowie joined throngs of immigrants making passage along Trammel's Trace. Indeed, Nicholas Trammell opened trading posts on the Red River and near Nacogdoches, hoping to claim a piece of Austin's new colony. Austin denied Trammell's entry, however, fearing his poor reputation would usher in a new wave of smuggling and lawlessness. By 1826, Trammell was pushed out of Texas altogether and retreated back to Arkansas Even so, as author Gary L. Pinkerton concludes, Trammell was "more opportunist than outlaw and made the most of disorder."


“Trammel’s Trace, what is that?” I asked my father some ten years ago. Although I had grown up in East Texas, I did not remember ever hearing about Trammel’s Trace. The families of both my parents were from the Mt. Enterprise area, and we still owned land near there. I don’t remember how Trammel’s Trace came up, but I clearly remember his answer.

“You know that old road rut across the pasture in front of the farm house? That was part of Trammel’s Trace.”

“You mean the one where we used to play hide and seek with the cousins, and build forts, and rake out trails in the leaves?” I asked, knowing full well which rut he was talking about.


“So what is Trammel’s Trace?” I asked again. All he knew was that it was an old road into Texas and some guy used it to smuggle horses. So I did what anyone would do with their curiosities these days … I went to Google.

There wasn’t much available, but the Handbook of Texas Online told me enough to set the hook on the bait my father dangled. It was indeed a very old road from the Red River to Nacogdoches that crossed right through our family land. It was over two hundred years old just since Anglo use, and who knows how long the trail had been used by Caddo and other tribes. I learned it was named for a horse smuggler named Nicholas Trammell.

With apologies to my seventh-grade Texas history teacher at Forest Park Junior High in Longview … I didn’t know! Just think what a star student I could have been in Ladye Bird Taylor’s history class if I had been able to bring pictures of a road used by smugglers, freebooters, and Texas heros. History classes had never managed to gain my full attention, but when I realized that Sam Houston, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie . . .

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