HISTORY - AS TIME GOES BY
Wood County History Homepage
AS TIME GOES BY
Wood County History
By LOU MALLORY —
Chairperson, Wood County Historical Commission
Wood County former site of fort
By Jack Alexander
A French fort in Wood County? Where? When and how come? All of these questions are familiar when researching in the area of searching for documentary support of the old fort.
Somehow this historical event and site disappeared right out of Wood County’s sight. Ask anyone on the street about this and the answer will likely be “I’ve never heard of one.”
People living within a short radius of the site declare they had heard of an “Indian camp”, but find no significant value to the area.
Several years ago it was mentioned to me by Clovis “Peavine” Pinion of Sulphur Springs, that some of his family had lived around Black Oak and they were aware there had been a fort there. I remembered the conversation, but put it aside, thinking it would be of interest to the Hopkins County Historical Society, but not realizing it was on the very county boundary, inside Wood County.
Subsequently, a letter was forwarded to me by the county clerk that had been received from one Advis F. Ball in San Antonio, inquiring as to the exact location of Fort LeDout in Wood County, Texas. I immediately set out to locate the site and to determine if the site near Black Oak might be the fort in question.
Some county historians were familiar with the name Le Dout and have long questioned the site of an arsenal cache near Hainesville on Mill Race Creek that might be the site of a French trading post of this name. Relics found had been identified as being of French origin, following a discovery by Frank Haines who built a house at the site.
William (Bill) Tuck, chairman of the Hopkins County Historical Commission and his wife June, along with others from Sulphur Springs, met with me and made the trek to the site. It was then determined to be in Wood County, but they have not lost interest in the fort, since it is located along the Caddo Trace which meanders back and forth across both Hopkins and Wood counties.
It was then discovered that the site had been an item of renewed interest in a Wood County site in Texas History of forts and trading posts. It was also determined that it was included on the “Autumn Trails” from Winnsboro in 1966.
Research by Gerald V. Post shows the fort had been determined by Post as Fort LeDout. In a short time, however, interest in the fort waned.
Curious as to what researchers knew about the old fort and the source of their information, I discovered that the supposed founder, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, was nowhere listed of notability but that his name frequently emerged.
According to the Handbook of Texas, St. Denis was born in 1676, on the signeury (an estate) of Beauport, near Quebec City in the French province of Quebec. He sailed with Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville (later the governor of Lousiana) to assist in the exploration of the lower Mississippi.
In 1713, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, then governor of Louisiana, in an attempt to create overland trade routes with the Spaniards, entrusted St. Denis to build the trade with the Caddo Indians along trails from Natchitoches, northwest to Shreveport and Nacogdoches. This route was also known as the Caddo Traces, eventually veering across the present county line of Hopkins and Wood Counties.
Whether or not the Indians had established some trade at the point now recognized as Fort LeDout can only be left to the imagination of future historians. Some may already believe it was built by the French.
Early settlers traveled into the northern part of Wood and Hopkins counties from Jefferson enroute to their new homes with some going beyond to points in the area of Greenville and Caddo Mills, Texas.
A bit of family lore is referenced in the Gilbreath history, “Our Kin.” It states that the wagon train in which the family traveled in 1848 came by way of Jefferson westerly and had spent their first night in Van Zandt County in an area created out of Henderson County, before Wood County, at a French fort.
An early Texas map of railroads and stage routes shows a route passing through Pittsburg, then circling just north of “Winnsborough” along Big Cypress Creek. The route then dropped south of the present Hopkins-Wood county line, into the proximity of present State Hwy 515 that followed closely along the old dirt roads of early eras.
Mrs. Mattie Goldsmith (nee Gilbreath), 97, in a recent interview reconfirmed and declared that her grandfather traveled this route to Jefferson and that a “mile sign read 72 miles to Jefferson.”
William Gilbreath (1846-1883) drove a freight wagon along this trail for his living. Provisions were brought back to the fort where the neighbors did their trading.
On one occasion, Gilbreath was away when his father-in-law died, and he returned after the burial.
It is said that the trip took a week. Gilbreath was later killed along the way by the Darnell boys.
Folklore in the Hopkins County genealogical book, Pioneers to Hopkins County, Texas, mentions the fort and that the rocks of the fort were later moved from the fort site and used in the building of the Pickton School at Pickton, Texas.
What is more surprising than there having been a French fort at this site is that this is the site of a volcano eruption eons ago and massive boulders were formations of lava.
Whatever may have happened among the Indians, the Spaniards, the French and Anglo colonists may forever remain a mystery, but one thing is sure, something there and we think we know what it was. It was Fort LeDout.