Heritage, Summer 2003 Page: 9
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The first cultural groups to enter Texas, also hunters and
gatherers, used these well-worn animal trails, eventually
developing other routes connecting trading points and landmarks
they considered either strategic or sacred.
After Spain claimed the Southwest, a trace known as the
Camino Real-the King's Highway-cut across Texas from
the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on the
southwest. For years, this roadway-actually a series of routes
that amounted to Texas' first transportation corridorremained
the gateway to Texas and Mexico.
"How to describe the Camino Real?" historian Jesus F De
la Teja wrote in a late-20th century study of the historic
route. "First, it might almost be considered a living thing:
ever changing its humors, taking on new roles and responsibilities,
responding to the needs of a developing frontier
province.... Second, the caminos were the arteries that kept
Other routes developed to tie into this Spanish colonial
road, a happenstance version of what engineers today would
The Plains Indians had a great trail that thrust like a lance
from the watershed of the Arkansas River through West Texas
and across the Rio Grande into Mexico. Every year in the fall,
in the full of what became known as the Comanche Moon,
the Indians rode south to claim stock, slaves, and scalps.
With the advent of Anglo colonization in Texas, Stephen
F. Austin set forth some road maintenance requirements in
the regulations governing his settlement between the Brazos
and the Colorado, but for the most part he and his Old 300
used existing trails and the old Spanish roads.
In early 1836, the Mexican army, gathered by General
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to put down a Texan revolt,
traveled into the runaway province via one leg of the Camino
Real, the road from what is now Eagle Pass to San Antonio.
After Texas achieved its independence, Sam Houston's
biggest concern during his first term as president of the infant
republic was gaining recognition from the United States and
discouraging Mexico from any further attempt at regaining
territorial control. He had little time to think about improving
transportation in Texas and even less money to accomplish
Texas' next president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had a much
grander vision of Texas than his predecessor. Lamar, a wordsmith
who had made a pretty good hand as a cavalry commander
during the Battle of San Jacinto, saw the Republic of
Texas as stretching all the way to the Pacific. He knew that
transportation, and the trade it would foster, was critical to
the young nation.
Shortly after Austin became the republic's capital, the log
cabin village on the Colorado River acquired what passed for
a mass transit system-a stage coach line. The firm of StarkeBurgess
carried passengers and freight between Austin and
Houston, making three trips a week. The journey took three
days if the rivers were not up and cost 25 cents a mile.
During his two-year term, Lamar readily signed legislation
providing for a road extending north from the new
seat of government-the president preferred the word
"empire"-to what is now Dallas. Early in 1844, the republic's
lawmakers approved a plan for a Central National
Road that would run from the bank of the Trinity River to
the south bank of the Red River, where it would connect
with the road that could be taken all the way to St. Louis,
Missouri. Like most of Lamar's schemes, the road-primarily
a 30-foot-wide clearing with wooden bridges over
creeks-was not hugely successful. But that had more to do
with hostile Indians, a lack of money in the republic's
treasury, and other factors than it did with Lamar or his
successors in the presidency.
A more successful, if short-lived, transportation corridor
to span Texas was the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail.
This 2,700-mile stage coach road began in St. Louis, entered
Texas across the Red River north of Denison, and moved
diagonally across the state to El Paso for an eventual connection
to San Diego. The Civil War cut short the route's
Above: King's Highway marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, courtesy of Louise Harris of the 01'
Shavono Chapter, Texas Daughters of the American Revolution; opposite: Mirabeau Lamar understood the importance of a
state transportation system. Image from Texas State Archives collection.
HER I TAGE g SUMMER 2003
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2003, periodical, Summer 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45377/m1/9/: accessed May 27, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.