Pioneers Journey In The Early Days

Taken from Loose Leaves of the History of Lamar County
Article appeared in The Paris News on Sunday, June 12, 1921

Among all the pioneers of Lamar county, whether living or sleeping in our silent cities of the dead, there is no one whose memory Paris will delight more to honor and perpetuate than that of George W. Wright. The mere recital of the events which marked his career as a frontiersman are romantic and interesting to the point of positive fascination. His father was Claiborne Wright, who previous to the 5th day of March, 1816, lived just above the mouth of the Clear Fork of the Cumberland river in Smith county, Tennessee.
When Claiborne Wright heard the "call of the wild" he was the head of a family consisting of himself, wife, four sons, two daughters and a slave girl. During the long winter nights of 1815-16 little else was thought or talked of in this quiet mountain home back in the old Volunteer State other than the romantic adventures incident to a proposed voyage into the Western wilderness.

On the 5th day of March, 1816, as above stated, Claiborne Wright gathered his family and such of his belongings as he could get into his splendid new light draught river boat, the Pioneer. His cargo also included an ample, if indeed I may not say an abundant, supply of provisions. Final farewells waved to hosts of his neighbors who gathered for miles around, the Pioneer pointed her adventurous prow toward midstream and moved out as gracefully as a swan. There was a strong commingling of the stouts of courage and bravado with the tender sobbings testifying eloquently to the snapping of ties both of friendship and congenial association. The bend was soon rounded and the last frantic arm and waving handkerchief faded from view. A feeling of inexpressible sadness and loneliness with dark foreboding settled down upon the little company so snugly tucked away in the bosom of the dauntless Pioneer. But young hearts are elastic. The fascinating musings and dreams of the previous long winter evenings were now on the eve of being realized.

A detailed recital of the incidents pertaining to the voyage of the Pioneer as its adventurous prow vexed the waters along wild uncharted and infrequented shores would prove too long for recital now and here. Down the Cumberland to the Ohio, then down it to the Mississippi, then with the great Father of the Waters to the mouth of the Red River; thence up it to whatever point fancy might dictate or Providence seemingly lead. These were the simple orders not written but born in the brain, and executed by the strong right hand of Claiborne Wright, the father of George W. Wright, mention of whom is made at the beginning of this story.

The Pioneer reconnoitered around the great bluff where Memphis now stands, but it was only an Indian village then—not a single white man was to be seen. At this time, however, so Claiborne Wright learned, two trading boats made regular trips up and down the great river but at just what intervals was not learned. Trading posts or stations along the river were served by these, and the simple commerce of the times was practically confined to a mere system of barter or exchange of commodities.

At Natchitoches on Red river, the Wrights were agreeably surprised to meet some former friends and acquaintances who tried to induce them to stop, telling them that it was a physical impossibility for them to pilot even so small a boat as the Pioneer through the famous Red River raft. With an Indian pilot, whose services were secured at this point, the further journey was undertaken and accomplished, but at great expense of time and effort and much suffering. For when the Pioneer finally moved out safely into the open upper Red river every member of the boat crew except Claiborne Wright, was sick. The slow and toilsome sojourn amid millions of mosquitoes and countless alligators for the preceding three months had been a severe trial and was entirely too much for the less vigorous members of the crew. The Indian pilot was a member of the Pascagoula tribes and only professed to have passed through the raft in hip canoe previous to this undertaking, but he was faithful and brought the difficult expedition to a successful termination.

During the three months spent in passing through the great Red river raft, land—actual terra firma—had only been seen three times. All the balance was a weary waste of wild, weird and luxurious vegetation, sluggish waters, climbing vines and sleeping alligators. A more desolate or forbidding environment can scarcely be imagined. None, certainly but the most determined and courageous hearts could have withstood its forbidding frown by day and terrorizing dangers by night. Truly, a crucible was upon the torch, and out of this trying experience this little cargo of human freight came out from among the mazes of the great raft, full grown, heroic pioneers and dared any devil who hindered.

This little company was destined to further peril before they had fully recovered from the effects of their recent bitter experience. After bidding farewell to their Indian pilot for whom they had formed a strong attachment, they headed again for the great wild west. Every heart was bounding with hope and buoyant with gratitude for their recent deliverance. On the third day thereafter, while passing a village inhabited by the Cooshatta Indians, the Pioneer suddenly became the center of the wild and warlike attack; robbery, however, was solely their purpose, and finding himself helpless, and anxious to save the lives of his family, Claiborne Wright submitted with the best possible fortitude to the plundering of his boat. Several hundred dollars worth of goods of various kinds were taken, but his family was spared and this was so gratifying to him that he bore it and was even thankful that he had that which pleased the pilferers.

Nearly four months had elapsed since a white face, other than those on board, had been seen. Near the river on what then was know as Long's Prairie three families of hardy pioneers were living, John Berry and Morris were the heads of two of them, the other has been lost amid the vicissitudes of time. No other whites were encountered until at a crossing on the river known as Dooley's Ferry. Here was a considerable settlement of the Delaware Indians, and among them lived a single white man by the name of Bob Music, who was a trader. From Dooley's Ferry, Claiborne Wright continued up the Red river, a distance of three hundred miles where he encountered a little settlement made by Col. William Mabbit and the Wilman families. These early settlers had established some sort of friendly relations with the neighboring Indians in that vicinity and were operating a trading station—carrying on a system of barter with them. Travel worn and also feeling that he had practically gone as far as prudence and safety would permit, the Pioneer cast anchor and her remaining cargo was removed to an improvised hut which had hastily been built as a temporary home.

In less than three weeks a leak suddenly appeared in the hull of the Pioneer, and in spite of all efforts to save her, the gallant river horse laid down to rest in the sandy bed of old Red river never to rise again.


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