The Early Red River Settlements
— The Pioneers and Their Mode of Life

Taken from Loose Leaves of the History of Lamar County
Article appeared in The Paris News on Sunday, June 19, 1921

(This story was taken from an old copy of the Paris Press).

In pursuance of our design of doing what is in our power to perpetuate the events of early Texas history, we give a sketch of one of the most hardy and resolute of our pioneers, Capt. John Hart. The reader is under obligation to Hon. George W. Wright of Lamar, for the facts plainly set forth in the following narrative, and will be lead to realize that “truth is stranger than fiction.” However romantic the incidents detailed may appear at this day of ease and plenty in this populous portion of Texas, yet are they nevertheless “true in substance and in fact” as within the recollection of a number of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Red River county.

The sons mentioned in the sketch possessed in a remarkable degree the indomitable will and energy of Capt. John. Intimately associated with Martin D. Hart, under the most trying circumstances we cannot but express on ever suitable occasion on our regret that he should have been brutally murdered on account of his adherence to the cause of the Union. He was a man of ability and of much promise. The other son, Hon. Hardin Hart, is Judge of this District and speaks for himself. There are other descendants highly respected in the communities where they reside.

We hope that we shall be favored by the Wrights and other friends with other sketches of other old settlers. Soon the men who know matters of interest will have passed from life, and we esteem it a duty to put in enduring form their recollection of men and events.


Among the sturdy yeomen upon the Miami in the Buckeye State, upwards of half century age, was that incorruptible old pioneer, Capt. John Hart. Having engaged too extensively in business as a trader, and becoming pressed in 1822, he gave all that he had to satisfy his creditors and determined to seek his fortune in the South. So he bade his neighbors goodby and left home with his gun and his dog.

Shortly after he is heard of reconnoitering in Arkansas. There after a time, he managed to get him a pony or two and one hundred dollars in money, with which he purchased ammunition as he had determined to make a hunt for peltry, and he had learned that deer were plentiful on the confines of Arkansas. As he had a fine quantity of ammunition, men were willing to engage to hunt on the shares or by the month; so he raised his company and started for the purpose of hunting game.

On leaving Fort Smith the force consisted of nine white men and one Creek Indian. They soon found game in abundance, and settled down to hunting. They could kill ten deer each day, or, at least, that was a day's work—even killed as high as twenty some days. So everything seemed prosperous and all were stimulated to energy in the hunt. They had hunted out the ground that they started upon and had to move camp about 50 miles to Washita River—a river that empties into Red River. There they found an abundance of game; so they packed up and moved camp to a bluff on the margin of the river, to settle down for the winter. They had been there about a month when the wild Indians came across their tracks—made an attack on Hart's camp, killed two men while they killed about fifteen or twenty Indians. This enraged the Indians so they determined to destroy Hart's outlay. They recruited their forces from the various tribes that were near and came in force upon the camp; but John Hart was a man that did not give way to such a thing as that, he determined to “fight it out on that line,” so they had frequent skirmishes in which the Indians always came out worsted with considerable loss. By this time the men became dissatisfied and made a motion to leave; as the Indians were still threatening. Hart reasoned with the men and told them that all they had was there, and to stay and do the best that we can. The Indians had captured all their horses, so he said that they were now on a level with the Indians, and could stay without making much noise, as they had nothing but the dog and he, the dog, had a lesson of as much prudence as they, and would not bark at anything, consequently that they could stay all winter, if need be. But he could not prevail with the men.

They hated to leave Hart but they could see nothing short of certain death there; so the white men assisted at the instance of Hart, to hide or cast away all the stock in trade that was on hand. They found a cave in a high bluff, near the Washita, in which they stored away all the peltry, bear skins and ammunition, goods, etc., with the understanding that they return and help to move the stores so soon as they could go to the settlement and return. Off they went and were never heard of since. Left Capt. Hart, the Creek Indian and the faithful dog to close out with the Indians. Hart and his Creek would fight, and the dog too, but at last the Indians pressed so hard they succeeded in killing the Creek. That left Hart and the dog alone, but nothing daunted, he still fought whenever pressed; but at last the Indians fought so hard that he was compelled to leave. But in the last rush at him the Indians succeeded in separating Hart from his dog. The Indians chased him for about fifty miles—he killing one now and then when they pressed him too hard; but finally they gave up the chase and Capt. Hart was once more left there to rest and recruit his stores of provisions. His only companion was gone and he had no doubt but was killed by the Indians. So he was now all alone, indeed, not even a dog. Hart rested a few days and then killed a buffalo to get meat which he dried on a fire till dry; that he could pack upon is back enough to last him some twenty or thirty days. Thus equipped he started back to camp, keeping a look out for Indians, for he was all alone, and had not even the assistance of a faithful dog. He was very cautious about approaching his old camp for fear of being still waylaid. So when he arrived in a few miles of his camp he was exceedingly watchful, all depended upon care; so he did not approach the camp until late in the night, then with great care. As he was moving in the dark he could not hear anything, but all at once something sprang upon him and commenced whining, for it was his faithful dog, who had to hug and kiss him, and I can imagine that feeling was mutual; he felt relieved, for now he had a friend to help in time of trouble; he felt his dog and found that he had been wounded and almost starved to death; he took off his pack of provisions and fed the dog, but the dog would stop eating two or three times to hug its master. Such is the fidelity of a faithful dog. They laid down without fire that night—Hart and his dog slept together as friends as they were.

The next morning he sought the camp, found all safe—say 68 packs of deer skins, about 50 bear skins, several beaver and otter skins, all worth money, and some 10 cases of honey and 14 cases of bear's oil, that constituted his stock in trade, and his broad axe, foot-adz, augers, chisels, drawing knives, chopping axe and all safe and in good condition. So John Hart and his dog had to stay there and do the best that they could for about four months, during which he felled the largest cotton-wood tree to be found in the whole bottom, about five feet in diameter, blocked off the top to a face of about four feet, hacked into the timber and would build fires on the log for the space of 60 feet long, by hewing and chopping he succeeded in securing a boat that was able to carry all that as well as the dog. John Hart's boat was 60 feet in length and 3½ feet clear in the hold. He had built his boat in the bottom where the overflow would rise it out 10 feet deep. Hart made his fastenings to secure his boat, prepare covering to keep out the rain water—covered it with bear skins, and when the spring rains came the Washita began to rise—soon over-flowed the bottom so that Hart could get his boat, and land in one hundred yards of the place of deposit. He had prepared everything loaded his boat and stepped aboard with his dog and set out for New Orleans, and at the same time bid farewell to the wild Indians, he floated down the Washita River to Red River to the settlements, which was about 500 miles by way of the river. All safe and sound with about $1,000.00 worth of property, Jonesboro was the highest settlement at that time. He stopped there 11 days or so, and passed on down the river wishing and expecting at the same time to meet with a chance to ship his booty in some safe boat of some kind, but when he arrived at Pecan Point he was told that he would have to pass on down the river for several hundred miles farther. So after resting himself and his dog, he cut cable and floated down the river, until he met a chance to ship them to New Orleans, where he found a ready market at remunerative prices for all his hunt. So now he and his dog were free once more to pursue their way home after a lapse of nearly three years.

The next I saw of John Hart was in the fall of 1832, at Jonesboro; he selected a place of business and erected a house and as soon as time would allow he was at his point with a fine keel boat of about 60 tons capacity, well loaded with merchandise suitable to the trade of the country, where he did a successful business until 1836. War was raging between the Mexicans and the colonists of Texas. Then it was that John Hart left all to the care of his son Hardin Hart, I suppose about 19 or 20 years old, to manage and take care of until he returned. So he immediately raised a company and proceeded to the seat of war, where he did his duty, and he had taken with him in the army, his youngest son with him in the army, whose name was Martin D. Hart, just 14 years old; and I will say that Capt. Hart never favored that youth more than any other of his company; and that Martin made a good soldier and at the end of the service was honorably discharged.

When Capt. John Hart returned home from the war, he was still desirous of adventure, so he went up Red River to a point near the mouth of the False Washita and made his settlement preparatory to entering into the location of lands, as he could see that there was the finest body for good land that the world had ever seen. A contention for a particular location of river lands between him and one C. Colville for the right of location, they could not or did not settle the matter, but went to court in Fannin County. The court was held at a place called Warren, on the Red River bank, a beautiful site, and while contending for his right to the location at the court house, Colville shot Capt. John Hart in the back and he died from the wound. He regretted that he had been shot this cowardly way by a man who would not face him—this is life in a new country; in the midst of life we are in death.

Thus passed away a man of ordinary worth. He was one of nature's noblemen—a large full black eye that could see all that was in sight, a fine judge of faces and with all an honest man. Much lamented by his friends. This ended the career of Capt. John Hart.

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