The Great Spanish Road and the Texas Road

The Great Spanish Road and the Texas Road pass through Marshall County, Oklahoma. Many early American trade routes incorporated Native American trails and used rivers and streams as well as overland routes.

In the 17th century, the trails originally used by the Spanish explorers followed Native American trading routes of over 1,500 years old. The Spaniards “modernized” a huge network of Native American trails and roads from South America to Louisiana to California and north through Indian Territory during their colonial reign in the Americas.

The Great Spanish Road

The Great Spanish Road begins in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and ends in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Spaniards constructed many famous roads in the Americas. I do not want to confuse the Great Spanish Road with the El Camino Real de los Tejas which is probably the best-known colonial Spanish road in Texas or the Santa Fe Trail which terminated in Missouri with the Spanish Road.

The Great Spanish Road resulted from the arduous efforts of the Spanish explorers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It is the first-known recorded road of present day Oklahoma. Information about this important road is scarce but much of it is included in more than 1,400 pages of the case of the United States against Texas to determine if Greer County, Texas, was in Texas or the U.S. I managed to ferret out a couple of interesting stories. (1)

The Great Spanish Road crossed into Oklahoma where the town of Erick lies today on the north fork of the Red River. The road forded over that fork two times and then ran alongside of the Red River south to the Washita River. At this leg of the Great Spanish Road, it passes through Marshall County. (2)

Before 1821, Spanish law prevented trade with the U.S. and the Spaniards could imprison Americans who traded with citizens of the Spanish frontier regions.

A Missouri trader named William Bucknell ran into a unit of Mexican soldiers on the southern plains in 1821. The soldiers relayed the news that Mexico had won independence from Spain and that Mexican citizens in Santa Fe would be happy to trade with the U.S. Bucknell bought three wagons, loaded them with necessities, and traveled to Santa Fe where he earned a high profit from selling out his small store of goods. The authors of this story do not inform us exactly where these soldiers met up with Bucknell in the vastness of the southern plains. (3)

Mexican traders constructed a stretch of the Great Spanish Road in 1839 that lies near Hugo, Oklahoma, today, and there it crosses with a trail through Texas from Chihuahua, Mexico. (2)

Ruins and bones discovered near and all along the Great Spanish Road included skeletons still wearing Spanish armor, ancient weapons and swords buried to their hilts, adobe and stone structures, ox yokes and more. (4)

In 1896, 90-plus-year-old Simon N. Cockrell testified in the trial of Texas vs. U.S. case that would decide who owned Greer County, Texas. (5) Men named Colville, Coffee, and French of Fort Smith had hired Cockrell to supply game for the men stationed at that fort. When Cockrell left for service in Sam Houston’s army in Texas to build an outpost in 1834, he described the Great Spanish Road as a deeply rutted trail that crossed the Red River near what is now Tillman County, Oklahoma. (1)

Cockrell may have been talking about the William Colville Randolph who was the father of Jessie Elizabeth Randolph Moore. In 1837, Colonel Holland Coffee built a trading post near Preston, TX, and Coffee Creek was named for him. It is safe to assume that Col. Coffee knew the Great Spanish Road and the Shawnee Trail well.

I could not find a map of the Great Spanish Road or royalty free map of Spanish Louisiana, but you can follow this link to see where the Spaniards explored in much of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and more:

The Texas Road

The roots of the Texas Road go back to Native Americans first, then the Spanish explorers, fur trappers, traders, pioneers, the country of Texas, and finally the U.S. Military. The people of its era also called it the Texas Trail, the Shawnee Trail, the Sedalia Trail, and the Kansas Trail. In Indian Territory, people called it the Texas Road. In Texas, people called it Preston Road. A survey from 1843 puts its trail head at Preston Point on the Red River and follows it to an intersection on Cedar Springs Road near downtown Dallas. (6)

Some maps show that the Shawnee Trail broke off from the Chisholm Trail in Waco, Texas, and continued north on the route above, but others show that is goes as far south as San Antonio. The Shawnee Trail broke into branches north of Ft. Gibson in Oklahoma and they terminated in Sedalia, Kansas City, St. Joseph, Independence, and St. Louis, Missouri.

At the time of its Spanish inception, what became the Texas Road provided routes to their missions and presidios. Presidios can be defined as jails or fortifications which literally meant locations under Spanish control. The Shawnee Trail, as the Texas Road was known shortly before the Civil War, crossed the Red River at Rock Bluff near Preston. It later became the route that the MKT Railroad closely followed.

Oklahoma was Indian Territory until 1907. Cattle drovers first used the Shawnee Trail in the 1840s. The part of the Shawnee Trail that crossed over into Oklahoma at Rock Bluff must have caused immense excitement in Marshall County after the Civil War when Texas was overrun with a surplus of longhorn cattle and especially in 1866 when drovers pushed almost a quarter of a million longhorns north to the railheads.

I did not find evidence as to why the Shawnee Trail later became known as the Texas Road at this time. If you remember the golden days of television when westerns were “the” genre of evening entertainment and American families made a nightly event of watching action-packed, wild, wild west dramas with TV dinners on TV trays, well then, you will remember the stories of the cattle drovers in shootouts with farmers, the cattle herds that could not access water, and the vigilante land owners blocking cattle drovers from entering Indian Territory.

Many historical truths belied those western TV episodes. The ticks that caused Texas Fever infected no longhorn cattle herds. But in 1853, those ticks fell off of the longhorn cattle as they were driven over the Texas Road through Indian Territory and infected other species of cattle with the disease. The Texas fever epidemic led Missouri and Kansas farmers and ranchers to force legislation that resulted in laws that banned diseased cattle from entering into or traveling through their states.

I believe that we can change the meaning of “Indian Givers” that meant the opposite of “give” in the 19th and 20th centuries. Even our U.S. interstate system follows Native American trails. “Indian Givers” gave the North and South American Continents numerous gifts. One of their greatest gifts to Americans became our highways and byways. (7)

(1) Grant Foreman. “Early Trails Through Oklahoma,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3, no. 2 (Summer 1925): 100 Accessed August 9, 2017.

(2) Lynn Brown, "Great Spanish Road," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, (accessed August 10, 2017).

(3) Charles Goins, Danny Goble, “Important Early Routes and Trails.” Historical Atlas of Oklahoma 4th Edition, 2006. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. p. 78.

(4) Steve Wilson, “Oklahoma Treasures and Treasure Tales.”
1976. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. p. 89



(7) Handbook of Texas Online, Wayne Gard, "Shawnee Trail," accessed August 10, 2017,


Shawnee Trail: Please visit the map link to see the trails.

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