Texarkana, at the heart of Texas’ reputation

Photo University of North Texas

At the beginning of the 18th century francophone explorers and traders from France and Canada interpreted the word “Texas” from the vocabulary of the Native American Caddo Nation to mean “Friendship”. Caddo is a French abbreviation of the word Cadodaquious that is the original name of indigenous people who lived in northeastern Texas.

In 1930, the State of Texas officially adopted “Friendship” as its motto to promote the Texans’ spirit of brotherhood. The Francophonie was the first linguistic group of nations to grasp the spirituality of the word Texas. In New Spain around 1689, “Tejas” referred to a confederacy of indigenous tribes and its territory in association with a “Gran Quivira” (a legendary city of fabulous wealth sought after by the Spanish conquistadors).

Fort Breton

In 1719, Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis, superior officer at Natchitoches, asked Bénard de La Harpe to set up a trading post among the confederated Caddo people for the purpose of establishing trade relations with them. The post was named Fort Breton. It was located near the present-day city of Texarkana. The fort did serve as a base for several well known expeditions in the region, including the exploration of the Red River by Durivage and Mustel, the search for trading partners in the Great Plains by La Harpe, the trip of André Fabry de la Bruyère in 1742 and that of Montreal’s Pierre A. Mallet in 1750. Two of the children of resident merchant Alexis Grappé, François and Marie, were born in Fort Breton where Jean-Baptiste Brevel was an interpreter for several years. Fort Breton was abandoned when Colonial Louisiana was sold to the United States by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1803.

The genesis of today’s gun show

Firearms Fair at Gilbert, Texas, circa 1750 (artwork by Charles Shaw)

While the Spanish authorities had prohibited the trade of firearms with the Native Americans, the French did not impose such a ban. In fact, the native people of Texas were asking for rifles to facilitate hunting. Consequently, firearms fairs were organized across the territory. Beyond their fulfilling the need of hunters, rifles were also popular because they could be exchanged for horses. The French connection to firearms (guns) in Texas and throughout the American Midway is generally unknown.

On the shores of Roseborough Lake in northeastern Texas, archaeological excavations carried out by the University of North Texas during the 20th century unveiled a large number of French-made hunting rifles. The same was true at the Gilbert site near Dallas, and at the Post Oak savannah near Houston further south involving the University of Texas. The simple fact that the Francophonie of the 1700s has significantly reached the entire eastern part of Texas is a testament to its magnitude and richness.