Stephen F. Austin State University

East Texas impressed English visitor in 1849 (December 2017)

East Texas impressed English visitor in 1849

By Van Craddock

Dr. Edward Smith's 1849 trek through East Texas was pretty enjoyable, except for his encounter with a phantom "grizzly bear."

Smith (1819-1874) was a British physician and dietitian hired by a group of London businessmen wanting to establish an English manufacturing colony in East Texas. The good doctor arrived in Shreveport, La., on May 21, 1849, anxious to inspect the Piney Woods and report his findings to the Universal Emigration and Colonization Company of London.

Smith took plenty of notes during his three-week visit to our little neck of the woods. In 1850 he published his findings in a book titled Account of a Journey through North-Eastern Texas.

The area made a pretty good first impression on Smith. "Perhaps no country offers so many advantages to manufacturers as Texas," he wrote. "There the great staple articles, cotton, wool, silk and flax, grow in perfection."

Smith and his English friend, lawyer John Barrow, took a riverboat from Shreveport to Jefferson to begin their Texas adventure. "We arrived at Jefferson in the middle of May, and found that ours was the twenty-first arrival during that season," Smith wrote. "This port bids fair to seriously injure Shreveeport (sic), but the cost for transit from Jefferson induces many to take their produce sixty miles further" to the Louisiana city.

The two Englishmen bought a couple of "poor and jaded horses" and on May 25 began their westward travel, crossing Cass, Titus, Hopkins, Lamar, Fannin, Grayson, Collins and Dallas counties. Then, on June 9, the men left the village of Dallas and slowly traversed Kaufman, Van Zandt, Smith, Upshur and Harrison counties.

Texas had only been a state in the Union for three years when Smith made his visit to the United States. The doctor had heard about Texans and was prepared for the worst. However, he wrote in his journal:

"We traveled alone by day and night and never received incivility or injury … The inhabitants behaved very kindly to us, and on several occasions (we) would not be charged for our board and lodging." East Texans, Smith said, "are exceedingly desirous to receive new settlers, knowing that the resources of their country will thus become developed."

Smith was impressed with the "boundless resources of the country and the enviable prosperity of the people," noting it gave Texans "the habit of using exaggerated expressions of feeling."

Smith figured out quickly in June that "the dry summer season is far longer than the rainy winter season." But he was impressed with the large number of lakes and creeks as well as the "many wells dug by the settlers on our route."

The doctor noted that "at Mr. Earp's, 20 miles west of Marshall, the well is 16 feet deep in clay and white sand." James Earp's 1849 village came to be known as Earpville. The little town boasted a stage stop, post office, a Methodist church and several business houses.

Earpville eventually was absorbed by the new settlement of Longview in the early 1870s. Gregg County was created in 1873 with Longview becoming the government seat.

Oh yes, the grizzly bear.

While traveling in southern Lamar County, Smith and Barrow encountered a large "critter" in a pine thicket that they took to be a grizzly bear. Smith's panicked horse threw the doctor into a creek in its effort to get away from the animal.

The two men drew their pistols, nervously waiting for the grizzly's approach and, as Smith said, "having thoughts of far-away home and family."

Fortunately the "grizzly" turned out to be a large hog, which the Englishmen successfully shooed away.

After Smith's journal was published, the Universal Emigration and Colonization Company shipped 200 British subjects to Texas. They wound up bypassing Northeast Texas and settled on the Brazos River.

The company's "Colony of Kent" didn't fare very well because of severe weather and hostile Native Americans. By 1851, Kent was abandoned and the project became only a memory.

Not long after Smith's return from the United States, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

At his death in 1874, Smith was considered England's leading authority on dietetics and nutrition.