History of Texarkana

As legend has it, it was a day in 1542 when Hernando DeSoto ordered a mutinous follower hanged from an oak tree near an artesian spring in the Territory of the Grand Caddoes. Little did he know that less than a half-hour march to the South was the site of a city which, 400 years later, would boast 60,000 in population, would lie squarely in two states, would be named for three states, would be the focal point of four, and would be the crossroads of the entire Southwest.

Even before the coming of the white man, the territory around what is now Texarkana was traversed by the Great Southwest Trail which, for hundreds of years, had been the main trunk line of travel between the Indian villages of the Mississippi Valley and of the West and Southwest. On the lands around Texarkana, the Caddo Indians, peaceful and sedentary, tilled their rich fields of maize, beans, pumpkins and melons and maintained six villages on the banks of the Red River.

Congenial relations with other tribes and with white men were rules of the Grand Caddoes. For example, they were hosts to the worn survivors of the ill-fated LaSalle Expedition in 1687 and, in 1691, greeted with friendship the military party under the Spanish general, Teran. By 1719, the French had infiltrated the Territory and set up a fort and trading post. Thus, in ensuing years of that century, the Caddoes migrated slowly westward. Yet still today, reminders of the Caddoes’ occupation and culture can be found within a 30 mile radius of Texarkana.

As early as 1840, rudiments of a permanent settlement in the old Caddo Territory began to take form and, shortly thereafter, the stamp of official approval was awarded in the form of a post office. Location of this institution was at Lost Prairie, some 15 miles east of the present site of Texarkana.

Railroads were quick to see the possibilities of this vast new territory and, in the late 1850’s, the builders of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad were pushing their railhead steadily across Arkansas. By 1874, they had crossed Red River and were at the Texas state line. Between February 16 and March 19, 1874, trains ran between the Texas state boundary and Red River, where passengers and freight were ferried across to Fulton, to continue by rail to their destinations. The Red River Bridge was opened on March 20, 1874, and from that date, trains have run directly from Texarkana to St. Louis.

Keen rivalry was the vogue among railroad builders in the 1870’s. Among the pioneer railroads was the Texas and Pacific which stretched its steel ribbons across the vastness of the State of Texas to the Arkansas line. It was only logical that the point at which two railroads converged would be ideal for a city. Consequently, the Texas and Pacific Railroad sold the first town lots on December 8, 1873. The first lot, bought by a J.W. Davis, is the present-day location of Hotel McCartney, directly opposite Union Station.

Although many have contended for the honor, it is not known officially who gave Texarkana its name. One popular version credits a Colonel Gus Knobel who, surveying the Iron Mountain Railroad right-of-way from Little Rock to this section, came to the state line, marked the name “TEX-ARK-ANA” on a board and nailed it to a tree with the statement, “This is the name of a town which is to be built here.” It was believed at the time that the Louisiana boundary was just a few miles to the south (actually it is thirty miles), and Colonel Knobel, in selecting the city’s name, derived it from TEXas, ARKansas, and LouisiANA.

New counties are always created from other lands lying within the same state. Most have interesting origins. But it is doubtful that any can meet that of Miller County, probably the only county in the United States which, once created was “abolished” and made a part of a “more patriotic” county. Years later Miller County was re-established. In 1820, in honor of James Miller, a New Hampshire native who was Arkansas’ first governor, Miller County was formed with a large degree of uncertainty as to the location of the line dividing the county and the Mexican boundary. Consequently, settlers felt that Arkansas levied and collected taxes on land which eventually might be held by Mexico. Moreover, many who resented the oppression of Texans by the Mexicans were openly declaring allegiance to the Texans. This led to general unrest, and after the Texas Republic was created, it grew worse. So, in 1838, Governor James Conway proposed that the “easiest and most effective remedy is the abolition of Miller County to an area which is more patriotic.” From that year until 1874, it was a part of Lafayette County. Its re-establishment sprung only from the sale of town lots in Texarkana in 1873. Efforts of the young town to be incorporated were not realized until October 17, 1880, nearly seven years after Texarkana, Texas (June 12, 1874) was formed. December 8, 1873, is generally recognized by both cities as the date of organization.

Ask any school boy who Jim Bowie was and he will tell you he invented the Bowie Knife, a lethal weapon whose prototype has been copied, in varying forms. Not many, however, will identify Bowie as the Texas hero for whom Bowie County, which was formed in 1840 and in which lays the western half of Texarkana, is named. Bowie made his first knife at what is now Washington, Arkansas. In Texarkana today, there is a large sculpture of James Bowie gripping a rifle and Bowie knife which stands as a memorial to the vision and spirit that conceived and nurtured this great city.