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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn E. Cook

Texas: Myths, Legends, and the Real Deal

Part 15, Settlers, Struggles, and Squabbles

Partial 1845 map of Bowie County, Texas -- Pecan Point and New Boston located near the

drawing of the covered wagon.

Before 1800, the northeast corner of what became Texas was home to a just few groups of Caddoan tribes, occasional French or Spanish explorer, and a few loner hunters. A favored place to camp or to cross the Red River was at a particular loop in the river’s course — there were many — that the French called Pointe aux Peconques.

But things were about to change. During the summer of 1811, a dozen or so bandits, possibly eluding Arkansas territory lawmen, established their own encampment on the southern side of the river. Probably, it wasn’t the most congenial of communities. Sometime after, no one knows exactly when, the bandits departed for parts unknown. But others came after, generally traders, hunters, and more outlaws. By around 1814, a few brave folks from the United States, those who actually intended to settle, began to venture across the river. Many came through at Pecan Point. The majority stayed only briefly and moved on.

Written history records the first pioneers to establish themselves at the Point were George and Alex Wetmore. They were savvy fellows, saw the financial opportunity, and started a trading post. As is often the case with business, George and Alex were soon faced with competition from a fellow named William Mabritt, who opened a trading post on the north side of the river. Perhaps these entrepreneurs worried at first, but their fears were unfounded as enough people came along to keep the posts in the black. Two years onward, the miles around Pecan Point boasted three more traders and twelve pioneers, a few, perhaps, with families. Such an explosion of population!

Another known arrival at the time was one Reverend William Stevenson, a Methodist circuit rider. He hailed from Missouri and was a friend of Stephen F. Austin. The same as the fellows who perceived pioneers’ need for supplies, the Reverend perceived their need for spiritual nourishment, as well. He began delivering regular sermons at the Point, the first Protestant preaching in Texas. What did he preach about? Considering the era, he probably railed against such sins as lying, swearing, drunkenness, and fighting and warning of the consequences — hellfire and damnation, then offered redemption through Jesus and the Almighty God. I hope he quoted pertinent verses, Romans 3:23-24, John 3:16, and a few others, and that some of his listeners were fully convicted. Sadly, the Reverend left no written sermons. Maybe, he spoke without preparation, but only as the Spirit led.

After the Texas War for Independence, the freshly-established government divided the Republic into counties. Red River County was drawn to be about 75 miles from east to west, including Pecan Point and the empty distance to the Louisiana border. That size didn’t last. Four years later, revisions were made and Red River County was split, creating Bowie County on the east, from the initial midpoint to the Louisiana border. It was named for the famous James Bowie, one of the many who perished while defending the Alamo.

During the Mexican ownership of the territory, a few determined settlers had made their crossing of the Red River at Pecan Point and traveled south, where they had begun a community they called Boston — not for the town in Massachusetts, as you might think, but for W. J. Boston, another enterprising fellow who had set up a store in the community. Apparently, he was much admired. The little village was well situated, being about 25 miles from the border with Louisiana to the east and anywhere from 7 to 10 to 15 miles from the Red River to the north, depending on the constantly shifting course of the river.

With the new designation of Bowie County, Boston was declared the county seat in 1841. Even so, the town grew slowly, although it gained a Post Office in 1846. Mail came on horseback from Arkansas, by then a state. You can be certain it took weeks for letters to arrive from friends or relatives back east.

By 1850, folks of Boston had developed a town square surrounded by shops and a two-story, brick courthouse. The area was a flourishing farm district and several prosperous plantations were on the nearby river. At the start of the Civil War, Boston had a population of around 400 and was a very busy place, having two churches, three private schools, several mills and gins, and a newspaper.

Of course, nothing ever remains as is. In 1876, railroad tracks were built, bypassing Boston four miles to the north. How did people deal with that? There must have been quite a squabble among the locals. In the end, the solution was to separate. Some stayed in the original location, while others up and moved the four miles to be near the railroad. Those folks named their community New Boston. Then, for whatever reason, the state government in Austin decided to relocate the Bowie County seat 22 miles east to the up-and-coming town of Texarkana, a change that further reduced the population in original Boston. Adding to the confusion, folks for miles around didn’t like the county seat change. An election was held and citizens voted to reclaim the county seat from Texarkana and put it at a location between the two Bostons. And that rather unhappily-formed community in the middle was dubbed — Boston! Thereafter, the first Boston was referred to as Old Boston.

Time passed and having three Bostons within four miles of each other proved to be a bad idea. With the railroad at its doorstep, New Boston had the advantage. It became a shipping point for the railroad, grew in size, and eventually was chosen for county seat by the Austin government, a designation it has kept to the present. Just plain Boston, in the middle, was swallowed by New Boston. Old Boston continued, but as a shadow of its former self.

Today, New Boston is a thriving, small town with a population of 4600. It never developed into a quaint, charming, picturesque antique capital. Not to worry. In East Texas, there are places such as Jefferson and Gladewater for those things. But New Boston is home to a state prison, and the Red River Army Depot, providing work for many. Others drive partway to Texarkana and are employed at the Lone Star Ammunition Plant. The rest of the town’s industrial base is created by various small businesses and farms. Four miles to the south, Old Boston still exists as a bump in the road, having a population of less than 100.

As one resident described: {New Boston} is a cute little town 25 minutes outside of Texarkana. Country roads and mom and pop stores pretty much sums it up! The commute is worth being away from the city, and you definitely get your peace and quiet!

Courthouse built in 1891, burned by an arsonist in 1989, never caught

New Boston Visitor Center

What's left of Old Boston --

Why Stop? A Guide to Texas Roadside Historical Markers, Betty Dooley Awbrey and Stuart

Awbrey, taylor Trade Publishing, Lanham, Maryland, 2013.

Texas State Historical Association,

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