Monday, July 13, 2020


I've lived in Texas most of my life, but a few generations back, my folks moved here from the Carolinas. I don’t have a wealth of information as to why they came, but I’ll share with you what I do know later on in the blog. Bottom line, I can’t say I blame them for coming, there is a lot in Texas to like.
At present, I’ll show you my current location on Lake Travis in Austin. I’m sitting on my back porch – with three dogs – as we watch deer ambling around about twelve feet in front of us.

It’s hot, but the grass I can see is green (thanks to the golf course people) and there are birds singing. I can’t hear all of the birds because I have a Swamp Cooler running full blast about three feet to my right. The reason for the swamp cooler is due to the 89-degree temp that feels like 94 with the heat index. Unfortunately, this isn’t the hottest part of the day.
Nevertheless – there is an appeal to Texas.

Wide-open plains, thick pine forests, pounding surf of the Gulf, even the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert makes an appearance in the Big Bend Country. And of course – there’s the BBQ, the tacos, the Tex-Mex – not to mention the cowboys. So, Texas has its appeal.
This fall - if these were normal days – on the eve of the first full day of classes at the University of Texas, thousands of excited freshmen would gather in front of the tower for ‘Gone to Texas’, a huge celebration of their official start as a Longhorn and all things Texas. But that phrase ‘Gone to Texas’ isn’t new, it has a long and colorful history. 
If you’re familiar with Clint Eastwood’s movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, then you might not be surprised to learn it was based on a novel with the title GONE TO TEXAS. Nevertheless, the theme and texture of that movie defines the term that came to mean more than the sum of its words.

In the early 1800’s, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and the Carolinas were jumping-off places for immigrants. I know mine migrated to the Carolinas from England, Ireland, France, and Scotland – yes, I’m a Gaelic mutt. From those regions, beginning in the early 1800’s someone was always leaving their settlement and going west to Texas. When their absence was noted, it was always said they’d ‘gone to Texas’. This expression became so common place it was abbreviated to GTT.
I was born to middle-aged parents, who were, themselves, born to middle-aged parents – so the scope of memory in my immediate family was vast. Pioneer days and Civil War memories were fairly fresh in their minds. Thus, those things became more real to me. The concept of ‘Gone to Texas’ was one I was familiar with. One of my grandparents explained it to me, not as an amusing historical anecdote, but as something that was part of our family history. Unfortunately, I am in the minority. Other than the UT grads I know well, most people I know have never heard the term – and that’s a shame.  
One of the first references I could find of ‘Gone to Texas’ was in 1825 when Missouri was seeking to fill vacancies in their state legislature. The article states that one of the openings was due to a Colonel Palmer who had taken French leave and gone to Texas. French leave was the same as AWOL or absent without leave.  
In 1830, a Texan named Dewees wrote to a friend in New York. It would amuse you very much could you hear the manner in which people in this new country address each other. It is nothing uncommon for us to inquire of a man why he ran away from the States to come to Texas. Strangely enough, few persons feel insulted by such a question. They generally answer for some crime or other which they have committed; if they deny having committed any crime, and say they did not run away, they are generally looked upon rather suspiciously.”
The phrase rose to popularity in the 1840’s, around the time the big land grant companies were offering 640 acres of land to heads of households and half that to single men. This was done to attract immigrant families to Texas. In my family, as in many others, the old tale is that they left their home and scrawled ‘GTT’ in chalk over the cabin door and on the fence post. 

One phase of my family’s immigration occurred after the panic of 1819, they were running from debt and ruin when the sawmill where they worked in the Appalachian Hills of North Carolina went out of business. They lost their livelihood and their land. Fortunately, they brought along a lot of hill country wisdom and Granny Witch magic when they fled the highlands to come to the lowlands of deep East Texas. The second wave of Clarks, Dickersons, Whites and Boulwares who left South Carolina for Texas did so to escape the devastation of loss of their farms after the Civil War. To them, Texas seemed like a mythical paradise with its draw of cheap or free land, plenty of room to stretch out, and an opportunity to start over.   Like my folks, many of the immigrants who headed west were pioneers searching for a new start. This ideal was true in the case of men who later became important in Texas history such as William Barret Travis (I live in Travis County) and Davy Crockett. They saw Texas as a land of opportunity. Sadly, they gave their lives at the Alamo. 

Alas, there was another type of GTT-ers – those who were in trouble with the law, like James Bowie, and others who were outright criminals. Texas appealed to them because of its lack of an extradition treaty with the US. They’d ‘Gone to Texas’ to get away from their past or escape the long arm of the law.
The vast expanse of Texas provided many with the opportunity to leave mistakes behind or to migrate to a new place where they could continue their nefarious activities unmolested. I spent my childhood in the Redlands of Texas, a band of land adjacent to the Louisiana border that includes Shelby, San Augustine, and the northern reaches of Sabine County. In the olden days, this stretch of river bottom was known as NO MAN’S LAND. The place was a haven for outlaws and pirates, most notably Jean Lafitte. Of course, rumors of lost treasure abound, just as it does where I live now in Central Texas.
Here in the Hill Country, reminders of days gone by are everywhere and they draw me like a magnet. Not far from my house is LONGHORN CAVERNS, a place where outlaws hid out from the law and there’s DEAD MAN’S HOLE a few miles from me in Marble Falls where they threw many to their deaths who dared be Union sympathizers in the days leading up to and even past the Civil War. 
In time, sadly enough, GTT came to mean the same as at outs with the law. In 1884 Thomas Hughes observed, “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, ‘G.T.T.’ as you’d say, ‘gone to the devil,’ or ‘gone to the dogs.’ Many folks would add those letters behind the name of every rascal who skipped town, like someone would add Sr. or Jr. or the III behind a name.
In my mind, however, I think I’ll stick to the more romantic concept. I chose to celebrate this ideal of leaving one life behind to begin another by creating the Wild West series about seven men who left Tennessee after the Civil War and headed west to Texas. For two stories with a GTT theme, check out KING’S FANCY and RENO’S JOURNEY. These aren’t your run of the mill historical westerns. One is a mail-order bride story and the other is a time-travel.
Stay safe and thanks for reading.
Sable Hunter, GTT – ha!

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