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Chapter 1: Arriving

Dallas, Texas in the late 1870's was an infant on its way to becoming the behemoth we know today. Having started as a shallow ford on the Trinity River 50 years prior, the tiny city had sprung to life with the arrival of the railroad in 1872, connecting north Texas with the shipping terminals at Galveston. Before the railroad arrived, all agricultural commodities grown in the area had to be loaded onto wagons and driven to the steamboat port at Jefferson, 160 miles to the southeast on the Red River. Electricity lit Main Street each evening by 1885, replacing the gas lamps that had been installed in 1874. The newly constructed six-story "skyscraper" known as the North Texas Building stood at the 900 block of Main St. With the city stretching east and northeast from the banks of the Trinity, the mostly dirt streets quickly gave way to the fertile hinterland of blackland prairie soil that had become one of the most agriculturally prosperous regions of the westward expanding United States over the past 30 year. With an initial economy driven primarily by the support and marketing of agricultural goods, cotton was emerging as the dominant crop in the region. However, it was wheat that had built the basis of the agriculturally centered economy since the mid-1800's. In fact, before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Dallas area was supplying much of Texas and a large portion of northern Mexico with flour. Note 1

It was to this prospering region that William Marion Paxton moved his family sometime between the summer's of 1878 and 1879. This move to Texas was more

William Marion and Annie Malissa

then a mere re-location, but a migration, which would only have been motivated by something significant. A "push" westward perhaps due to debt or trouble with neighbors or family? Maybe a "pull" towards a new life and possibilities? Lack of definitive documentation has ultimately kept this factor a secret. However, William's move at this time of his life feels like a pull rather than a push. Note 2

William was born in 1845 in Cumberland, Maryland. Raised on farm in a rocky valley in the central Appalachians, he joined the Union Army a few days after turning 19 in August, 1864. He served in Co. D of the 1st Maryland Cavalry Battalion for the duration of the Civil War. Turning 25 at the time of the 1870 census, and having started a family, William's occupation is listed as "huckster." Pushing past what feels like something out of the circus, huckster as an occupation in this era represented a small merchant or peddler of goods. William had shown a bit of agitation or restlessness by moving his family briefly to Springfield, West Virginia around 1875, where their son Wheeler William was born in February, 1877. But something hadn't stuck. William appears to have been ready for something bigger.

Maybe it was might have been escape...maybe a desire to own land?

Westward migration was mostly motivated by opportunity and a fresh start. The eastern land got tired after year-after-year of the same crop. Tax debt to those that did own land led to tenancy and loss of property and economic independence. Once farmers started transitioning to "cash crops", as opposed to subsistence farming, the production of surplus products allowed them to reach beyond survival and strive for economic prosperity and freedom. However, there was still very little cash changing hands for most yeoman farmers. Seed and initial supplies were purchased on credit. Maybe the end result after harvest allowed for a modest profit and a little extra cash. Sometimes there was no profit, and you carried your debt to the next year...and so on. If you caught a few drought years or a hail storm, or maybe just a drop in prices, it was over. If cash flow led to an inability to fund your tax debt, you lost the land. Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, your safety net from this unfortunate circumstance was to move your family to the next state or territory and try again. Note 3

Dallas County in 1878 was not a frontier, agriculturally dominant and rural, but not a frontier. There was no free land to be had here. It does appear that land is exactly what William was after initially. The Dallas Times Herald indicates that on March 14, 1882, "William and wife sold to L.R. Paxton 6 1/3 acres of land located in the R. Moore survey, 3 miles east from the courthouse, for $800."

Map 1 - City of Dallas in 1900

Note the "R. Moore" survey outlined in red and White Rock Creek running north to south as a jagged orange line just right of center. It is hard for modern eyes to even consider this area of Old East Dallas being farmland, only 3 miles from the bustle of downtown.

Map retrieved from the Library of Congress online. "Sam Street's map of Dallas County, Texas."

L.R. Paxton in this transaction is William's brother Lawrence, who was twelve years his junior, and had joined them in Dallas Co. sometime after 1878. This land therefore had to have been purchased by William at some point before 1882; maybe right after they arrived...perhaps a bit later. William's family was growing, and 6 1/3 acres is not much land if farming is your main vocation. The 1880 census, which showed William present in Dallas Co. along with his wife, as well as 12-year-old daughter Elvah, 10-year-old daughter Emma, 8-year-old daughter Iozola, 6-year-old son Merritt, 3-year-old Wheeler and 9-month old son Blaine, indicates there were many mouths to feed.

Despite the brief period of land ownership in the early part of the decade, it is likely that William rented land and grew cotton or wheat, probably changing locations year-to-year and moving slowly east or north throughout the decade as the city itself grew towards White Rock Creek and beyond, eating fertile farmland and pushing the farmer slowly outward and causing land prices and rent to increase.

After William's decision to move west, he was joined in Dallas by a younger brother (mentioned above, Lawrence), and eventually another brother and an uncle a few years later. Alice Leonard Vinson included in her genealogy book on the Paxton family, Our Family Tree, a letter from her mother, writing of her own migration west as a 7-year-old in 1886:

"When I was about seven years old, my father (Arlington Andrew Paxton) decided to move to Texas. Two of my uncles (William and Lawrence) had written such glowing accounts about the good land and other advantages to be found in Texas. I well remember that the train ride took several days and was made uncomfortable by the constant locomotive smoke drifting into the open windows of the trailing passenger cars. We finally reached Dallas, where we were met by Uncle Will."

She goes on to include a few details of life in the Dallas area:

"At the edge of Dallas on the road to Greenville, my father rented a forty-acre farm with a small house on it. My father had several Negroes working for him. I'll never forget how we suffered from malaria because of the un-drained lowlands of the Trinity River. A person who did not have the chills and fever was he exception." Note 4

A few facts emerge from this narrative: William was the first Paxton to make the migration trip west from the Appalachians and acted as influencer to his younger brothers, who both followed him several years after his initial trek. The Arlington Paxton family traveled to Dallas by train, which likely mirrored the mode of travel that William's family had utilized eight years earlier. Finally, Arlington rented a farm somewhere near the "road to Greenville," but also close to the Trinity River. In the late 1800's, the main channel of the Trinity River formed the western boundary of the Dallas City Limits proper, then headed in a general south-southeasterly direction. Anything known as the "road to Greenville" would not have been close to the course of this branch of the river. The East Branch of the Trinity River runs through the far eastern sections of Dallas Co., and would cross what would have been the "road to Greenville" somewhere in northeastern Dallas Co. or southeastern Collin Co. Tough to get an exact location of this property since Arlington only rented the farm. The brothers could have tried to keep close to one another, or perhaps found it difficult. Nonetheless, it does provide a brief window into the potential localities of the Paxton's in their Dallas Co. days.

Map 2 - The Trinity River thru Dallas -1888 created by the author. The statement "road to Greenville" caused me significant pause, and crowded my thoughts for several days My initial assumption fell on the path of the modern day Texas Hwy. 66, which took over from the old Bankhead Highway thru Garland, Rowlett and Rockwall. I wanted this to be the "road to Greenville" of the early Paxton's because I grew up about a mile west of the East Fork of the Trinity, now hidden underneath the pent up waters of Lake Ray Hubbard, in Rowlett. However, I kept being pulled to a relatively famous road through north Dallas known as Greenville Ave. Initially called the "Richardson Pike", this road would have gone straight north to McKinney, then east to Greenville. I'm leaning towards the Greenville Ave. solution.

In a State of many stories and histories, notably dominated by the inescapable influence of the Indian Territory and the forced settlement of the "civilized" tribes in eastern Oklahoma; as well as the Land Run settlements of what was to become Oklahoma Territory in the west, Greer County holds a very unique place in Oklahoma history. Enveloped by the North and Prairie Dog Town Fork's of the Red River, the land of Greer County was claimed by two competing governments for much of the 1800's. First, Texas, who's words of the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 between Spain and the United States dictated their stance. This document established the boundary between the two countries as the "main channel of the Red River." The Treaty itself claimed reliance on a second-hand map called the Melish Map, which identified the North Fork of the river to be the dominant channel. Spain's 1819 claim on this property eventually became Mexico's, and then of course the Republic of Texas, and so on. The United States however claimed that the southern Prairie Dog Town Fork was the main channel. At stake was over 1,000,000 acres of prairie land that was well watered and easily cultivated. Acting upon an 1852 expedition to explore the upper reaches of the Red and Canadian Rivers conducted by Capt. Randolph B. Marcy, in which he agreed that the North Fork was indeed the true dominant channel, Texas took matters into its own hands by establishing the area as Greer County in 1860; opening it for settlement No real presence of settlers was noted until the 1880's, as the Civil War had halted all western movement past the 98th meridian, and hostilities with Native Americans continued well into the 1870's. Note 5

Mangum was established as the county seat in 1882 as Texas, again taking a cue from the U.S. government after an 1879 act of Congress created the Northern Judicial District of Texas...which INCLUDED Greer County. Note 6 As a result of Texas' aggressive stance in the region, most of the initial settlers and pioneers to Greer County arrived from Texas, establishing a unique culture amongst what would become the rest of Oklahoma. Understand, the Indian Territory, once white settlers were allowed to infiltrate the tribal lands as a sort of punishment to the Indian nations for their support of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was settled mostly from the Old South: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and eastern Texas. The land run openings of western and central Oklahoma were always initiated FROM THE NORTH, thus ensuring a more Midwestern cultural influence from Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Map 3 - Indian Territory -1889

Note Greer County sitting in the far southwestern corner of the future state of Oklahoma. In a region literally settled from several directions, east, southeast and north, Greer County was opened for settlement as early as 1860 and mostly initially influenced from north Texas.

Accessed from Oklahoma Historical Society online "research center".

Seeing settlers actually start taking hold of the region in earnest, the U.S. Army sent a detachment of troops from Ft. Sill in 1885 with the intention of ordering the settlers and cattlemen off the land and out of the area. There was however no enforcement of this order after the initial assertion. Then, despite the U.S. government exerting little evidence of their claim, they created a joint-commission with the State of Texas to "look into" the Red River boundary situation in 1886, with an ultimate goal of coming to an amicable decision (meaning we win, Texas losses). In typical fashion, NO agreement was made, and the stalemate continued. Note 6

It was in this border debate time-frame, that William Marion decided another move would provide his family with a better opportunity than had transpired in Dallas. Land was becoming expensive as the city continued to expand as an agricultural marketing and shipping hub, drawing more merchants and farmers and stoking the demand side of the economy. Greer County, Texas offered somewhat of a paradox in 1888. "Governed" by Texas, but claimed by the United States as a part of Indian Territory. "Open" for settlement, but not as a part of the Homestead Act; therefore land would have to be purchased. However, it was lightly settled and mostly a land of numerous cattle ranges. These circumstances were a result of Texas' assertive claim to the region because unlike any other state or territory, she had retained control of all her public domain when admitted to the Union in 1845. Texas therefore controlled how and who could settle where. When opening the county for settlement, the state had designated half the township sections to fund the public school system, and the other half to fund future debt. Note 7 However, this WAS still a frontier. NO electric lights illuminating Main St., NO road network at all, NO built environment outside of a very adolescent county seat.

So...rising price of living in Dallas County kept you a renter for the past few years? You want some land of your own? Ok. Greer County, Texas was available.

Wheeler William Paxton, my great-grandfather, gives a verbal narrative of the trip to Greer County in an interview he gave on November 10, 1937 as a part of the WPA sponsored "Indian-Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma."

"In December of 1888, my parents loaded bedding, clothing and cooking utensils into covered wagons, drawn by pretty good horse teams and with us boys driving some milk cows along and started for Greer County where they hoped to secure land and make a permanent home as it was thought that Greer County would belong to Texas when the lawsuit between the Federal Government and Texas were settled and the people would not again be ordered out, as they had been in 1885. The weather was very cold and camping out on the prairie in the winter time was a hard task. There was little wood except along creeks or in the sink-holes along the way of the wagon track road between Doan's Crossing on the Red River and Mangum, which was the only town on the way."

Wheeler does not detail the path of travel of the party, only to indicate that they crossed the Red River at "Doan's Crossing." Inferring the most likely path taken, a combination of the Trinity River north of Ft. Worth and the general direction of the tracks of the Ft. Worth and Denver City railroad towards Vernon, Texas, where Doan's was located, they would have covered about 230 miles; taking them about two-and-a-half weeks.

My great-grandmother, Iona Goar, was also interviewed by the WPA in similar fashion to Wheeler on October 25, 1887, and adds a little more flavor to what the trip was like:

"My parents moved our family from Palo Pinto County, Texas to Old Greer County in September, 1887. We crossed Red River at Doan's Crossing following the trail left by the few wagons and cowboys who went to Quanah, Texas, for the big cow outfits located further over in Old Greer County. We had a covered wagon, some bedding, clothing, food and cooking utensils. Not the aluminum kind which I now use on my oil stove or gas range but there were a long handled frying pan, a skillet and lid also some black iron baking pans to be used at such time as we might be able to haul a cook stove from Quanah. We brought some dishes and other treasured articles from our home in Texas but not a great many as hauling space and weight had to be taken into consideration when moving a family over so many miles in a wagon with no working roads and the condition of the quicksand in the two mile wide Red River Valley had to be taken by guess."

Iona's family made the trip a year earlier than the Paxton's along what appears to have been the Western Cattle Trail, and eventually settled in what became Eldorado, Oklahoma, southwest of Mangum. Her account dives a little more into the material possessions that made the trip with the family; a story repeated time-and-time again by many other immigrants making their way onto new land and another shot at opportunity.

Both Wheeler and Iona mention “Doan’s Crossing” as their portal into Greer Co. Started by Jonathan Doan in 1878 as a trading post of last resort for the cowboys heading north along the Western Trail between Bandera, Texas and Dodge City, Kansas, it would become the focal point of Greer Co. immigration in the 1880’s and early 1890’s.

Adobe structure of Doan's Store - 2022 (photo by the author)

An adobe structure replaced the original dirt roofed “soddy” in the early 1880’s. The settlement eventually boasted a hotel, a saloon and a school before quickly becoming obsolete by 1895 as the era of the trail driving cowboy faded with rails and fences penetrating the west. Look for a fictionalized, but adequately historical version of Doan’s Crossing in episode 6 of the Taylor Sheridan Yellowstone spin-off 1883. Note 8

Wheeler concludes his narrative of their trip after they had reached Greer County:

We stayed on Elm River a few nights and eventually settled on a claim nine miles north and thirteen miles west of Mangum along Deer Creek, on the southeastern quarter of Section 9, Township 6, Range 24W; paying Jim Brashear $14 for his squatters rights. There had been a dugout and six acres of sod broken out.”

Map 4 - The land of Greer County between the rivers

Wheeler uses the term “squatter’s rights” to define the $14 transaction with Mr. Brashear. Given the border dispute ongoing, this transaction might have carried a little weight with the State of Texas, but was not a valid act in the eyes of the United States, and thus could have led to some consternation in William’s mind. Note 9

As a new year ticked off the calendar, William Marion Paxton, age 43, owned isn’t necessarily the right word, “controlled” 154 acres of virgin prairie, 6 acres of broken sod, a dugout and a segment of meandering creek. I hope my great-great grandfather felt absolute exhilaration as he stared across the horizon of his 160 acres. A new start again for a man that had attempted a new beginning now three times in the last ten years. Anxiety, fear, apprehension…he must have felt these too. Let’s not forget however, this man was a veteran of the Civil War, leaving home at the age of 19. Experiencing significant action between August and October, 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley, he was certainly under fire, and having been a cavalryman, engaged in close combat with saber and pistol. Maybe nothing frightened him. The closest town was 22 miles to the southeast towards “civilization." There was a cluster of a half-dozen neighbors huddled around Deer Creek, but the little settlement was thrust into the wilderness like the tallest leaf on a growing tree; distantly attached to its source of life, far from the base of its origin, but yet living still and free from obstructions of the crowded middle, no struggle for sunlight and space.

Notes Detail

Note 1 - this paragraph was largely influenced by the very well produced online publication "Big B in Big D: A History of Business in Dallas Co." by David F. Perryman and sponsored by the Dallas Historical Society. Viewed at on 3/30/2023. For further reading on early Dallas Co., see the Handbook of Texas online entry written by Lisa C. Maxwell as well as pg. 7 of "Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century" by Darwin Payne.

Note 2 - the idea of "push" and "pull" factors in migration patterns was introduced to me by reading an excerpt of the book Cotton, Cattle, Railroads and the Age of Oil, pages 296-305, published online at and accessed 2/27/2023. The theory itself was originally put forth by Margaret Jarman Hagood and Louis J. Ducoff in 1946.

Note 3 - this paragraph developed organically as I was writing based upon an understanding of my Dad’s family history as they traversed the South between 1650 - 1860. However, the specific plight of the land tenant evolved after the Civil War and was discussed in detail within the "Very OK podcast" sponsored by the Oklahoma Historical Society, episode 6 titled "Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?". This episode is about Oklahoma during the Great Depression, but does a solid job of introducing the plight of the Oklahoma farmer throughout the State's history.

Note 4 - see pg. 75, Our Family Tree: The Ancestors and Descendants of the Oklahoma branch of the Paxton Family by Alice Vinson Leonard, self-published in 1979. Alice's father settled land in southwestern Oklahoma that eventually became the town of Vinson.

Note 5 - this statement evolved from my reading of John Graves' book Goodbye to a River, published in 1960. Graves' travel memoir about his trip down the Brazos River in a canoe after the Korean War is my favorite book about Texas.

Note 6 - this very basic discussion of the Greer County border dispute was developed after reading "Greer County" by Emma Estill-Harbour, Ph.D. in Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 12, No. 2 from June, 1934, as well as the "Old Greer County" entry of the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, ", accessed 4/7/2023.

Note 7 - for a very detailed education of Texas' decisions and actions over the land in Greer County, read "Land Speculation and the Case of Greer County, Texas" by Jon T. Kilipen, appearing in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July, 2005. Also see pages 69-70 of Cow Country by Edward Everett Dale, published in 1942. An under-appreciated scholar of Oklahoma history, Dale wrote extensively of the pioneer history of western Oklahoma while a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma. Any alumnus of OU would likely remember taking history at Dale Hall.

Note 8 - insights into the very historically significant Doan’s Crossing gleaned from the “Doan’s Crossing” entry at the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture at, accessed 4/7/2023. I also enjoyed the article "Caprock Chronicles" by Len Ainsworth appearing in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on May 27, 2017, available online at

Note 9 - the term “squatter’s rights” is an elusive phrase. It does not show up in any of the reading I was doing to prepare for this chapter. It does have a modern connotation in regards to abandoned dwellings in a city environment. Edward Everett Dale mentions the term on pages 73-75 of his book Cow Country, indicating that “the first occupant of a range was given the right to its use”.

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Ann Etheredge
Ann Etheredge
Apr 19, 2023

Wonderful & informative. Thanks for doing this. We are enjoying the "ride". Very proud of you!


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