Crockett Man is Texas "Forty-Niner"
By W.S. Adair, in Dallas Semi-Weekly News, October 21, 1924.
Submitted by: Drew Beeson
N.B. Barbee of Crockett, father of N.B. Barbee of Dallas, has been a resident of Houston county since 1849. "I was born in Tennessee in 1837, which makes me 87 years old," said Mr. Barbee. "My father, Dr. James E. Barbee, moved to Texas in 1841. He settled in Shelby county, where he figured as one of the Regulators in 1843. He went to the Mexican War as a physician and surgeon in 1846; the men in the home company agreeing to pay him each $3 a month to look after their health. This was in addition to his regular pay as an army surgeon. I was at school at Wesleyan College at San Augustine when Texas was annexed, and I well remember the ceremonies of pulling down the Lone Star flag that floated over the main building and of replacing it with the Stars and Stripes.
"There was next to no money in circulation in Texas in those days. A cow and calf were legal tender for $10, and it was in cows and calves that father was paid for his professional services. In the course of a few years he accumulated quite a herd of longhorn cattle, slightly mixed with better stock from the States. In 1847 there came a long dry spell, during which grass became so scarce in Shelby county that it was necessary to move the cattle. We rounded up our herd and drove them to Houston County. Finding abundant grass in the vicinity of Hall's Bluff on the Trinity River, we bought a quantity of Liverpool salt from the steamer Governor Pease, there anchored, salted the cattle and left them. The next spring we moved the family to Houston County in ox wagons. A round-up of our cattle showed that they were all there. Occasionally buyers came along and picked out some of the choice steers, for which we were glad to get $8 or $10 a head, but it was long before there was any market for stock cattle.
"Even in the days of the Republic the planters of the old Southern States, fearful of the outcome of the antislavery agitation, began to bring their negroes to Texas and to open plantations in East and Southeast Texas, and just before and during the Civil War other planters hurried their negroes to Texas to keep the Yankees from getting them. That accounts for the presence of so many negroes in East Texas today. The tools and farm implements in use in Texas in slavery times were made on the plantation. Some of the cotton produced was shipped on steamers on the Trinity River, but perhaps the bulk of it was hauled on wagons to Houston. Often the river was so low for months at a time that boats could not run. At such times, planters who had piled their cotton on the banks of the river got tired of waiting for a rain and proceeded to wagon it to Houston. Six yoke of oxen could haul a wagon with ten bales of cotton on it, and at that rate it did not take long to get a hundred bales to market. Teamsters were often many weeks on a trip to Houston, for they usually did not return till they got a home load. In the meantime they hauled from Houston to other points as far away as Waco and San Antonio. Uncle Jeff, my mother's negro teamster, would often be absent several months, but he always got back with the money which he faithfully turned over to her. He used to ride a pony and drive his oxen. He hauled eight or ten bales of cotton at a load and got $10 a bale for it. Shreveport and Jefferson were also steamboat points in those days, but the people in the country from Houston county south and west preferred Houston as a market. When we moved to Houston County there was one house at Crockett that was built of logs and used as a general store.
"In early days the pork and bacon problem was easily solved in East Texas. The woods of the river bottoms were full of mast, and a specie of semiwild hog flourished. Those swine were razorbacks, but a great many of them weighed 200 pounds each. And there was no more exciting sport to be found than the hunting down of these same razorbacks. The dogs which were used in chasing them, seemed to get more thrills out of a hunt than did the men. They would bring the hogs to bay and hold them till the men shot them; and in case the quarry broke and scattered, it was their business to reassemble them in a bunch for another shooting, and so on till only the brood sows and pigs and young hogs were left. Many kinds of game abounded. Deer grazed in the open spaces and bears and panthers. Wolves howled at night around the court house square in Crockett and turkeys woke you up with their gobbling every morning. Wild pigeons, which flew in clouds dense enough to hide the sun, had a roost six miles northwest of Crockett. Elisha Clapp, the greatest Indian fighter of the Southwest, who must have come to Texas in early 30s, lived ten miles southwest of Crockett, and died and was buried there during the Civil War. He was the terror of all Indians who raided that part of the country, for, riding at a gallop he could unerringly follow the faintest Indian trail. He often pursued raiding savages as far as the Tehuacana Hills. His companion, almost as noted an Indian fighter as he, was Houston Beeson. (Note: this should have been Harston Beeson) Beeson, who died soon after the close of the Civil Was, was buried near his home, three miles south of Crockett. Both of these pioneers have descendants scattered over the State.
"The early settlers of East Texas were the best people in the world, and undesirable characters did not sojourn very long with them. When such a character appeared, Elisha Clapp or Houston Beeson (Harston Beeson), after consulting with others, would take him aside and pleasantly tell him that he had made a mistake in settling in the community, and that it would be better for all concerned if he left during the next night. There is no record that anyone thus warned failed to take the hint. Disputes, quarrels and feuds amont the people were generally nipped in the bud. When it began to appear that serious trouble was brewing Elisha Clapp or Houston Beeson (Harston Beeson) acting as spokesman for the better element of the people, would appear as peacemaker. They would find out what the disagreement was about, announce who was right and who wrong, and tell the disputants to get together, and in conclusion, make them shake hands. In all their public acts these two old men seemed to be the most disinterested persons in the world. All they did would bear the closest scrutiny both at the time and afterward, for they were always right. Such men were in dispensable in rough frontier life.
"I went to the Civil War as a soldier in Company E, Gould's Battalion, Walker's Division. I was in the fighting at Mansfield, La.; Jenkins' Ferry and Pleasant Hill. It was the plan of the Federals in the Louisiana campaign for the army of General Banks and the army of Gen. Steele, which were coming from different directions, to unite for Mansfield, there defeat our forces and then to burn a way through Texas to the rio Grande and the Gulf like that burned by General Sherman on his march to the sea, and to send Texas cattle to feed the Federal armies. But they burned nothing in Texas, nor did they get behind a Texas steer. In fact, they did not so much as get a peep into the promised land. Our forces prevented them from uniting their armies a t Mansfield and there defeated the army of Gen. Banks. When Gen. Banks retreated from Mansfield, Gen. Steele also sounded a retreat. One division of our men followed Gen. Banks and the other pursued Gen. Steele. I was in the latter division. Gen. Steele retreated to a point near Pine Bluff, where he took up such a strong position that we did not deem it wise to attack him. We had accomplished the purpose for which Texas had mustered the last man.
"By 1855 Crockett had developed into a typical Southern county seat town with the best class of Southern people for inhabitants. But after the war, in common with the towns of the South generally, it was for a long time at a standstill. The coming of the railroad some years after the war changed the transportation system, doing away with wagons as freighters and putting the teamsters out of business, but without immediately increasing land values or bringing about better times in Houston County. Even to this good day we have no market for cattle and hogs. I said awhile ago that when we came to Texas a cow and calf were legal tender for $10. An intelligent farmer told me the other day that the beef cows of Houston County could be bought for about nine dollars a head. Fat steers are of course worth a little more than that. The same farmer said that the best offer he could get for some fat hogs he had on hand was four and a half cents on foot, but that the man making the offer seemed to be joking, since he had not come for the hogs."
Mr. Barbee was a member of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth sessions of the Texas Legislature.