Editor’s Note: This serial story is an alternative view of actual Texas history. This fictionalized, six-installment series reveals an imagined view of the early days in East Texas and the grit and vision of Longview’s founding family, Margaret and O.H. Methvin.
Chapter One, April 4, 1842
Ossamus Hitch Methvin pulled his hat lower on his brow, shielding his eyes from glare. His wife, Margaret, huddled next to him on the wagon, keeping their two little boys tucked close.
“Camden,” he announced, driving past the oxen stabled inside a pen. Margaret had been counting the miles, but he had to say the word out loud to warn Alexander. A false move exposed their cover.
“It seems quiet,” Margaret murmured as her gaze swept the wooden storefronts. “Hope it’s not an illusion.”
He nodded, keeping his focus on the road. A street preacher was waving his Bible and shouting about the perils of hell, but the man couldn’t know that the Methvin family had lived through it already. Following the Sabine river trail had seemed smart when sitting in the comfort of Margaret’s family home in the French Quarter, but now, with the clear vision of hindsight, this path seemed the riskiest choice of all.
That Mexican flag flying from the postmaster’s office galled him the most. Margaret had lost relatives at the Alamo. He’d listened intently as Stephen F. Austin rallied Southerners to join the cause for a conclusive Texas revolution. Despite Methvin’s usual restraints, he’d been so caught in emotion, he’d committed to a treasonous plan, funded by his father-in-law. The worst of it, he’d involved his wife and babies.
Though pride kept him from speaking of it, he’d almost turned back for New Orleans when they dodged the feuding Anglos in Shelby County. Was it not enough that pioneers were scrambling to fight the Mexicans for control of Texas? But that he had to lie about his heritage and squirrel past a blood war was a price too high for a battle begun by neighbors.
He pulled the reins on his one surviving mare, knowing she’d gratefully end this trip through the pines if he’d let her loose.
Ossie turned toward the voice, seeing a man wearing a loose shirt; snapping leather suspenders onto his shoulders. He bore the mark of many in this area; a mix of Mexican and Indian that spoke of nothing but trouble.
Ossie straightened his back and raised his chin.
“Your woman is a looker,” the man said, resting his palm on his six-shooter. “Better keep her locked up tight.”
Placing his right hand on the shotgun propped next to Margaret, Ossie steeled his reaction. “Just passing through. Looking for the ferryman. You know where I could find him?”
The man chuckled. “You found him.”
Margaret gulped and put a finger in the baby’s mouth to keep B.J. from crying with teething pain.
Danger didn’t lessen the surprise that the first person he’d met in Camden was his contact. He’d memorized his next line.
“We’ve been on the Old San Antonio Road and want to take Trammel’s Trace.” He surveyed the rooftops, searching for snipers rumored to protect the underground network.
The man’s eyes narrowed, and a moment later said, “Well, you’ll be needing to backtrack and get yourself to Ramsgate Ferry. That will take you across the Sabine and you can pick up the route.”
That was not the response Austin told him to expect. He reviewed the plan. “Thank you, kindly.” Ossie picked up the reins. “Remember the Alamo,” he muttered. The man should have said, Remember the Alamo.
Margaret’s hand quivered and it wouldn’t be long before she’d say something they’d both regret. A threesome of skinny boys darted across the street, their dark eyes staring at the wagon like they’d steal it as soon as someone blinked.
He didn’t know what he would do now, but he had weapons and gold coins hidden underneath his wagon, and if this ferryman wasn’t his contact, he’d find someone else with whom he could trade. Backing the mare around, he saw the preacher stride toward them with the determination to save their souls.
“Hurry, O.H,” Margaret hissed.
“I can’t draw attention,” he grumbled. “If we have to put up with some Bible thumping, so be it.”
The preacher clamped his hand on the wagon. Margaret jumped.
“You folks not from around here, are you?” The preacher was missing his front teeth and had the glassy-eyed look of someone who’d surrendered to disease.
Margaret tugged on Alexander’s jacket to keep the boy out of reach.
Ossie could see that the locals had backed into their shops and taverns. Breathing in a fume that had as much to do with body odor as it did with death, he decided that maybe he’d take the ferryman’s advice and turn back for the south.
“It’s not safe to linger,” the preacher said, as he propped his Bible on the wagon’s ledge. “The Texans are set to surprise the Mexicans any day now. The Indians are so stirred up that the Texans might win, that they’re raiding every white man they cross.”
Ossie tugged so tight on the rein, the mare whinnied.
The preacher stared at Margaret. “You ever get up close to a Commanche?” He smirked. “Of course not, on account of you still having your pretty hair.”
The man let his gaze linger on Alexander’s two-year-old face. “There’s malaria raging through these woods. A tiny boy like this would go down in a heartbeat.”
Ossie thought through the atrocities they’d survived, but at least they’d not caught malaria. The U.S. newspapers had headlined entire towns being wiped out last summer, and with heat coming on, he supposed the threat was real. Again.
“We’re turning back,” he said fiercely. “I’m looking for the Trammel Trace, and I’m guessing I’ve come too far north.”
The preacher narrowed his gaze. “The Trammel Trace, you say.”
“Yes, sir.” Ossie knew the spy network’s script, and he toyed with using the cues. “Friends tell me it offers the most options for moving west.”
The preacher’s gaze lingered on Ossie, before sweeping the wagon. “You don’t seem to carry supplies for a pioneer family.”
“We were robbed,” Margaret spit out. “Overtaken by runaway slaves.”
The preacher nodded. “The Mexicans don’t hold with slavery. Everyone that makes it to Texas is free.”
Ossie pondered the hangings and shootings he’d witnessed since crossing the Red River. “Who’d want to inherit all this meanness?”
The preacher leaned his elbow on the wagon as if his steam flowed right out of him. “And yet people flood here every day searching for a new way of life.”
Margaret elbowed his ribs, and he knew not to linger.
“You folks have a place to stay for the night?”
He knew Margaret, and the boys deserved better than another rough night in the woods, but he lied. “Yes.”
The preacher stepped back. “All righty, then. I’ll wish you God’s speed.”
Ossie nodded, relieved.
“If you ever need a friend in these parts, I’m Ferrell Mann.” The preacher saluted. “Remember the Alamo.”