Historical Marker text
Laid out about 1828 by Delaware Indians, "The Double File Trail" got its name because two horsemen could ride it side by side. The Delawares carved this trace migrating ahead of expanding white settlements. They moved from what they called "the Redlands" in East Texas to Mexico near present Nuevo Laredo. Of the 200 to 250 families reported in East Texas in the 1820s, only about 150 remained after the move. Early sites in Williamson County were settled where this trail crossed waterways. Texas Rangers and the Santa Fe Expedition also traveled the track. (1978)
HUNTER'S FRONTIER TIKES March, 1929 230 FRONTIER TIMES
The Old "Double File" Trail
By W. K. Makemson, deceased, and republished from files of The Georgetown, Texas, Sun by Request.
When I was a small boy the old "Double File Trail" was a household term in this part of the country and its exact location was as well-known as the Georgetown and Round Rock "Tap" is now to the people of this vicinity, and settlers were then designated as living above or below the "Double File" crossing.
I first learned of the origin of the old "Trail" from Jem Shaw, a Deleware Indian, who, in the summer or fall of 1853 or 1854, in company with five or six of his people, while on their way from somewhere in northeast Texas to Mexico, camped on Chandler's Branch near our home just east of, and across the branch from where Mr. Wm. M. Stinnett is now living. Shaw's horses were very much jaded and one of his Indians was sick and he remained here three of four days to recuperate his horses and doctor his sick Indian. I was at their camp frequently and I heard Shaw say the "Double File Trail" was made by some of his tribe of people, who in an early day, perhaps 1828 or 1829 left the "Redlands," as he called it, in East Texas and moved to Mexico, where they were then living, and for many years thereafter they continued to travel it in passing to and from Mexico. He said this "Trail" extended from the place where the Delewares originally settled, somewhere in East Texas, to some point in the Rio Grande, perhaps Laredo, but as to that point, I am not sure. I know that he said the "Trail" crossed the Brazos River at the Falls; Little River below the "Three Forks" and Colorado at or near the place where Webberville was afterward located. He also said it passed about a mile east of where he was then camped.
Jem Shaw was prominent in his tribe, and was a man of considerable intelligence, spoke English very plainly, and was of a much more communicative disposition than the average Indian.
He was always a true friend to Texas and her people and was recognized by old settlers as a faithful, trustworthy scout and guide, and I believe the history he gave me of this old "trail" was true.
It was called the "Double File Trail" because in traveling they rode in two files or by twos, hence made two trails or paths. In the summer of 1838 Dr. Thomas J. Kenney built his fort in the valley on the south bank of Brushy Creek at a point then known as the "Cove," and that fall occupied it with his family. I have a letter from Dr. Kenney's oldest daughter, Mrs. Mary Jane Lei, of El Paso, Texas, in which she says: "In the fall after the fort was finished, father moved his family, consisting of mother, myself and sister Clarisa, from Bastrop to the fort which was in the valley on the south bank of Brushy Creek at the crossing of the old "Double File Trail." I was then 12 years old and we lived at the fort until the spring of 1844 when father and his two companions, Castleberry and Courtney, were killed by the Indians at Bone Hollow on the waters of the Salado, about five or six miles north of where Corn Hill is now situated." Mrs. Lee is the widow of John Lee, who was a brother of the Hon. Joseph Lee, who it is said was the first lawyer to locate at Austin after that place was established, and continued to practice his profession there for many years.
There is no fact in the history of this section of the country better established than that Kenney's Fort was situated on the south bank of Brushy Creek and about 250 yards below the point where the Katy railroad bridge crosses the creek, and where the public road now crosses a short distance below this bridge is where the old "Trail" crossed.
During the summer and winter of 1846 Capt.
Shapley Ross, father of the late ex-Gov. Sul Ross was stationed with his company of Rangers on the San Gabriel I have a letter from John C. Compton, who was a member of that company, and in describing the location of their camp, says: "The station was on the south side of the San Gabriel about 3 or 4 miles below the Junction, and just below the crossing of the old "Double File Trail" crossing which was a few steps below where Towns constructed his mill dam." He also says that while at that station two of the rangers, Perry Neal and Tom Roberts, died and that they were buried in a live oak grove just south of the camp. These graves are now in Mr. A. C. Beaver's field.
Col. W. C. Dalrymple, a year or so before his death, told me that the "Don' le File Trail" crossed the Gabriel about 75 yards below the Town's Mill darn, and that in the fall of 1846 he settled on the north side of the Gabriel and that Capt. Ross' rangers helped him "raise" his to the cabin which was near this "Trail" which he said crossed the Brazos River at the Falls, Little River between the three forks and Bryant's Station, crossing Possum Creek where the Dick Robbins place is now situated and passed through the "gap," crossing Brushy Creek near the place where Kenneny established his stockade or fort. He also said that General McLeod's camp for the rendezvous of the Santa Fe Expedition, was in the bottoms on the opposite side of Brushy Creek, from where the residence of the late Capt. Nelson Merrelle is now situated and that when that expedition took up their line of march for Santa Fe, they intersected this "Double File Trail" between Brushy Creek and Chandler's Branch and followed it to the Little River Crossing. That when they reached the Gabriel they camped there the first night after leaving Brushy Creek and finding their wagons too heavily loaded, they threw one or two wagon loads of lead into a hole of water just below the crossing.
George W. Kendall, in his history of the Santa Fe Expedition, says he, in company with President Mirabeau B. Lamar and one or two others, left Austin on the morning of June 20, 1842, for Gen. McLeod's camp, which was situated.
on the south side of Brushy Creek near a large spring and that the next morning after breakfast President Lamar addressed the troops and then they started on their ill-fated march, reaching the Gabriel that night where they camped, and the next morning after leaving camp, and while on the march, Major Bird, a member of the expedition pointed out a place in a branch not far from the foot of a hill where the year before with 30 or 40 rangers, he had a fight with three or four times that number of Indians. Continuing Kendall's account he says they camped that night on O'Possum Creek and the next night on Deep Creek—evidently mistaken for Donnohoe's Creek—and the next night at Little River where they remained in camp several days on account of Gen. McLeod being sick; that when he recovered and they took up their line of march they changed their course to the left.
Major Bird's Indian fight was in the branch not far from the point of the hill upon which Elias Queen's residence, of Bird's Indian fight together with the line of march described by Kendall, corroborates Col. Dalrymple's description of the general course and crossing of the old "Double File Trail."
My father came to Texas in the fall of 1847 (Nov. 25th) and for a year or so lived on Brushy Creek near what was then known as the "Watkins Crossing."
John Graham, the great uncle of our fellow townsman, D. L. Graham, was then living In Kenney's Fort. On the north side of the creek near this old crossing was a mile race track. Going north again from this point the old "Trail" turned somewhat west, passing near and to the left of where the old Freeman Smalley graveyard was established in 1851. It continued on in that direction over the hill, now in Merrill's field, past where Frank Smalley settled, to the valley on the south side of Chandler's Branch, passing the place afterward settled by "Bony" Ferguson, now owned by M. Jester. At this point it turned up the branch and passing the widow Chandlers afterward where Thomas Thaxton lived for many years, it crossed the branch and then turning somewhat more to the east it passed the upper or west end of the "Mesquite Flat" near where the east line of Henry Tisdale's field is at this time; near there it ascended the high point where some live oak trees are standing; passing ease of Wm. Palm's house, it ran in a few steps to the east of where J. J. Johnson's old two-story stone dwelling house is now situated. There it again turned to the east and crossed Mankin's branch, not far from where the late Richard Sanson settled, now known as the LaRue place; from there it ran into an almost direct line to the Gabriel, crossing the creek about 75 or 80 yards below the Towns mill dam. This "Trail" has now, with few exceptions, faded from the memory of man, yet it can be identified at many places along the line here indicated by marks still on the ground, but like all things else terrestrial it has become almost obliterated by the mutations of time.
Soon after Dr. Kenney occupied his fort, perhaps the next year, 1839, Capt. N. M. Merrille settled on the north side of Chandler's branch about opposite Mrs. John Palm's present residence.
Joseph Barnhart made a settlement about the same time at the place now owned by Capt. Wm. Palm and Capt. Ladd settled across the branch over near Brushy creek, and Davis Chandler, soon after this, settled the Watkin's place, below the mouth of Chandler's branch, then called Ladd's creek. In going to and returning from Austin it is very probable the settler's made a road up Brushy Creek, crossing near or at the same place the Hutto and Round Rock road now crosses the creek. This point is a short distance above the place of rendezvous of the Santa Fe Expedition, and while the troops were encamped there (1842) it is equally probable that whatever supplies they obtained from Austin were drawn over this road. Then while Capt. Ross was stationed at the crossing on the Gabriel (1846) it is probable that whatever • commissary and quartermaster stores that were issued by the government to this company were hauled over this road to the point where it intersects the old "Double File Trail" on the north side of Brushy Creek and from there traveled to the station. This, I think, in all probability accounts for the road that has been so often mistaken by some people for the "Old Double File Trail."
THE DOUBLE FILE TRAIL in Williamson County - narrative
by Clara S. Scarbrough May 8, 1978
The Double File Trail, laid out about 1828 or 1829 by Delaware Indians, joins "The Redlands; as Delaware called their one time East Texas home, with a section of Mexico near the Rio Grande in the area of present Nuevo Laredo. (1)
Some of the Delaware tribe, who gradually migrated westward as the Anglo movement west from the American colonies made expedient, had moved west of the Sabine River about 1820. In the early 1600s, they occupied New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware; about 1770 they moved to Indiana, and in 1789 some went to Missouri and later to Arkansas. From there they drifted into Texas, living in the general area of present Nacogdoches. Jean Louis Berlandier cited figures of Stephen F. Austin, David G. Burnet and others estimating that from 200 to 250 families of Delaware occupied the section of East Texas the Indians called "The Redlands" during the decade of the 1820s, but by 1830, Berlandier states that only 150 families remained there. (2) Those who left established the Double File Trail as they sought new living space south of the Rio Grande. Some of the tribes remained in East Texas and periodically they used the trail to visit their relations in Mexico, or those to the south returned to their former home in Texas via that route. (3)
The route chosen by Delaware joined good river and creek crossings in Williamson County--crossings which had been used by buffalo for fording the streams--and followed in a general way the smoother contours of the land a few miles east of the rugged Balcones Escarpment. Within a few years, after the trail was cleared, it was utilized by the Texans, including surveying parties, explorers, the earliest settlers to what would become Williamson County, the Texas Rangers, and military expeditions. (4)
More specifically, the Double File Trail crossed the Colorado River (in present Travis County) near Webberville, east of Waterloo/Austin; entered Williamson County south of Kenney Fort and crossed Brushy Creek where Kenney Fort was established a decade later.
This crossing was 250 yards below the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad bridge near the Fort and also not far from Palm Valley Church, east of Round Rock. As the Trail approached Palm Valley, it turned west and passed just west of the Freeman Smalley graveyard, which is about .7 mile north of State Highway 79 and a few hundred feet south of a gravel road which leads east from FM Road 1460. It continued over the hill in Merrell's field past Frank Smalley's house south of Chandler Branch, went by the Bony Ferguson (later J. M. Jester) place and up Chandler Branch past the widow Chandler's home (later Thomas Thaxton), crossed Chandler Branch and turned east, passing by the west end of Mesquite Flat near the east line of Henry Tisdale's field. Near there, it climbed to a high point near a clump of live oaks, passing east of the Joseph Barnhart place (later owned by William and Henry Palm, John Caldwell, and in 1978 is fine, restored home of John Nash). It continued northward and east to near the two-story home of J. J. Johnson (near County Road 100), turning east to cross Mankin's Branch near the Richard Sansom (later LaRue) place, and on to the San Gabriel River, where it crossed the stream 75 or 80 yards below where Towns Mill Dam was later built. It crossed a small branch near the Elias Queen residence on Queen Hill, east of present Weir, forded Opossum Creek on the Dick Robbins place east of Walburg, and continued in an easterly direction, bearing a little to the north, across Donahoe Creek, and into present Bell County. It then headed for Bryant's Station on Little River (between Davilla and Buckholts), crossed Little River between Bryant's Station and Three Forks (just below the Forks). The Trail crossed the Brazos River at Sarahville de Viesca (later the town of Milam), near the Falls and present Marlin. (5)**
Jim (sometimes Jem) Shaw, a Delaware who served as scout and interpreter to the Texas Army in the 1840s and 1850s, said that those of his tribe who made the trail rode in two files as they moved from East Texas to Mexico so that two horsemen could ride along it side by side, or wagons could use the double trail for the wagon wheels. (6) (see Map)
In addition to serving the Delaware tribe as a highway across Texas, the Double File Trail figured in a number of significant historical events of Williamson County.
In 1838, pioneer Doctor Thomas Kenney built a fort on Brushy Creek where the Double File Trail intersected it. Kenney Fort was a way-station for Texas Rangers, explorers, surveyors, and pioneers who occasionally passed through this fen-sparsely settled section of central Texas. In 1841, the Santa Fe Expedition assembled across the Creek from Kenney Fort, joined the Double File Trail before reaching Chandler Branch, and continued on that Trail through Williamson County. Its campsite on the first night of the trip was at Double File Trail on San Gabriel River, for which Kendall, Loomis, and others have provided a considerable description. The awkwardly-managed Expedition camped at the Trail crossing on Opossum Creek the second night and are believed to have camped on Donahoe Creek their third night.?
Texas Rangers of the early years often rode the Double File Trail and the confrontation ending the Archives War took place at the Kenney Fort-Double File Crossing site late in 1842.8 Quartermaster and commissary supply wagons traveled the Trail in the 1840s. In 1846, Captain Shapley Prince Ross and his Rangers were stationed at the Double File Trail crossing on San Gabriel River during the fall and winter. About the same time, Col. W. C. Dalrymple raised his log home on the northeast bank of the River near the Trail and) within a few years, Elias A. Queen and Calvin Weir settled their homesteads nearby. (9)
As Williamson County became more populated and roads were built, the Double File Trail was used less and less, but it continued to be useful at times, and in sections, through cattle drive days.
The Trail was said to have been easily recognized, if not in continuous use, until the coming of the twentieth century. Early county historian W. K. Makemson, whose interviews with Jim Shaw and knowledge of the early days of the county have provided us much information about the Trail, wrote in 1923 that "this 'Trail' has now, with few exceptions, faded from the memory of man, yet it can be identified at many places . . . by marks still on the ground: (11)
Probably the best-known section of the Double File Trail in Williamson County after the Civil War was at its San Gabriel River crossing. Here in 1870, James "Jim" Francis Towns, then age 20, built a flour mill called Excelsior Mill on the east bank along with Towns Mill Dam. He and his brother, Robert W. Towns, and their sons, all mechanics, and engineers, operated a thriving business, soon adding a gin nearby, other businesses elsewhere in the county and also at Salado. A community sprang up, known as Townsville. Lucy Weir ran a general store and in 1895, James F. Towns was appointed postmaster of the new Post Office. The projection and building of a railroad nearby from 1890 to 1904 eventually led to the transfer of the store and post office to the new town of Weir created by the railroad, by 1903. The mill, gin, and a blacksmith shop continued to operate at the Double File Crossing site for a number of years, however, a short distance west of Weir. (11)
In this same area, just above Towns Mill Dam, the large San Gabriel River spread into a lake.
The new railroad also crossed the River at this point and officials decided the lake would make a good resort development. So Katy Lake was widely advertised by the railroad, which offered boat docks, boats, campgrounds, picnic sites, a dance pavilion "and the finest scenery anywhere on the railroad between St. Louis and Georgetown." The place opened in 1904 and operated until 1913 when a flood carried away all the facilities.12 This last place actively in use along the Double File Trail was out of business, "obliterated by the mutations of time," as Makemson described it. (13)
** County map with the route of the Double File Trail indicated is enclosed. FOOTNOTES
1. William K. Makemson in Williamson County Sun, April 27, 1923; Scarbrough, 73.
2. Berlandier, 113, 125.
3. Makemson in aline ibid.
4. Scarbrough, 73-75.
5. Makemson in Sun, „ibid.
7. Scarbrough, 83-85, 97-101; Kendall, 84-85, 89-91; Loomis, 25.
8. Scarbrough, 73, 101-03.
9. Makemson, Historical Sketch of Williamson County, 10
10. Makemson in Sun, ibid.
11. Scarbrough, 234, 333-34, 459-60.
12. Scarbrough, 334.
13. Makemson in Sun, ibid.
Williamson County Sun, April 27, 1923.
Clara Stearns Scarbrough. Land of Good Water. Sun Publ., Georgetown, 1973.
Jean Louis Berlandier. The Indians of Texas in 1830. Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1969.
W. K. Makemson, Historical Sketch of Williamson County. Sun Print,
Georgetown, Texas, 1904.