Where Is Newton County's "Beef Trail" and What Makes It Important?
By Jonnie Miller
The Beef Trail or Beef Road, which replaced the earlier "Zavala Road" and is now marked by an Official State Marker located in Northern Newton County off Hwy 87, 8.25 miles north of Burkeville near the old town of Mayflower south of Scrappin' Valley. It was supposedly surveyed by John R. Bevil in 1823 and runs from Orcoquisac, or Liberty, Texas to a junction with the La Bahia Road (Lower Road)*. Running northeast through Zavala, Jasper and Newton County, it forked near the site of the historical marker and formed three routes.
The northern route to Natchitoches crossed the Sabine at Bevil's Ferry (later Hadden's Ferry); the middle fork, to Alexandria, crossed at Burr's Ferry or Hickman's Ferry, and the southern branch, to Opelousas, crossed at New Columbia near Belgrade. The name came from the fact that the road was used for driving cattle from Texas into Louisiana. The cattle were corralled at night in "beef pens", located at points along the trails, including Weeks Chapel and Toledo.
Roads such as this played an important part during the struggle for freedom against the Mexicans in 1836. After the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, couriers brought word that Santa Anna was coming to drive all the Texans across the Sabine River. This was the famous Runaway Scrape. Many settlers took to the trails and beat a fast march with their hooves causing much dust to rise. For a short time the runaways traveled the beef trails out of Texas but then another set of messages came via the trails with the good news that Sam Houston had defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto.
During the Civil War, the Beef Road was an important supply artery to the Confederate states, until the Federal army gained control of the Mississippi River in July of 1863. This halted the eastern cattle drives. The Sabine River crossings were fortified against attack, as the roads would be a necessity for an invading force, but the expected invasion never came. Railroad expansion into Kansas in the later 1860's diverted the cattle drives to the North and led to the decline of Beef Road as a major cattle trade route.
*La Bahia Road was originally an east-west Indian trial in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas and eventually to Washington-on-the-Brazos and Goliad.