THE VAN DORN TRAILS
J. W. WILLIAMS
Recently a small party, including the writer, motored some
six miles to the south of Wichita Falls, along the Jacksboro
pavement. We stopped the car at a little roadside park near
the point where State Highway 66 crosses the south line of
Wichita County. It was a beautiful afternoon in mid-September;
a clear sun lay to the west and a few scattered clouds floated
in the sky.
We turned to look back at the city of Wichita Falls, a picture
that the 1940 census takers had only recently reduced to statis-
tical tables. The town had acquired a sky-line of which it felt
justly proud, very much as a young boy would take pride in
his first coat of whiskers. A large flour mill stood out in the
foreground; twelve-story buildings climaxed the business district.
A large high school, and a junior college building that was
almost an artist's dream, added distinction to the residential
The picture in front of us served to emphasize the changes
that eight decades had wrought in northwest Texas history.
At almost the very spot where the car was parked the story
that led to the first permanent imprint of Anglo-Americans on
the soil of the Wichita Falls area began just eighty-two years ago.
Two hundred, or more, blue-coated cavalrymen rode fine, well-
trained horses over that same hilltop' in the fall of 1858. This
army detachment consisted of four companies of the old Second
Cavalry, led by the somewhat daring Brevet Major Earl Van
Dorn.2 The regimental headquarters from which these soldiers
'Deed Records, Archer County, Texas, Vol. A, 202, 203. The plat of the
survey of the north line of Archer County, dated 1881, is recorded on these
pages. This plat shows two old trails running in the direction of what we
shall later call the Van Dorn Crossing. One of them extended toward the
Van Dorn Crossing on the Big Wichita River and is identified by records
later in this paper.
Personal conversations with H. W. Portwood of Seymour, Texas, and
R. S. Hilburn of Antelope, Texas, identify these trails as connecting with
the Van Dorn Crossing in Clay County. Both men traveled on them in the
2(a) Price, George F., Across the Continent with the Fifth Cavalry.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146052/. Accessed July 13, 2014.