Marker honors historic expedition

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, September 28, 2013

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At times Friday morning, words about Bridgeport’s past were often drowned out by sounds of its present.

That didn’t stop the official unveiling of the city’s eighth and newest historical marker for the Santa Fe Expedition.

Official Unveilling

OFFICIAL UNVEILING – Former Bridgeport Mayor Don Majka (left), and County Judge Bill McElhaney perform the unveiling honors for the city’s newest historical marker Friday morning. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

With rock haulers rumbling by just a few feet away on U.S. 380, a group of community members paused to reflect on an event in 1841 which would later lead to the town’s beginning.

In the summer of that year, Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar sent a party of 321 men from Austin to Santa Fe, which was then a part of Mexico claimed by the Republic of Texas. The route brought them into North Central Texas where they found it difficult to penetrate the dense undergrowth of the Western Cross Timbers. The party crossed the Trinity River and passed near the site of the marker on July 26, 1841. Before they reached Santa Fe, the men were captured and marched to Mexico City where most were released by the following April.

STORYTELLER – Bridgeport Historical Society member Dr. Robert Marlett prepares to speak about the history of the Santa Fe Expedition’s pass through Wise County. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

One member of the party, Colonel William Hudson Hunt, returned to Texas and became a surveyor. He recalled the ranching potential in the Bridgeport area and returned to create his ranch, called Cactus Hill, which now lies under the waters of Lake Bridgeport. Hunt became a community leader, and in 1859, he and others requested the Butterfield Overland Mail Stages be routed to Decatur and then to Jacksboro before continuing west to San Francisco. The Trinity River crossing that resulted from the rerouting of the Butterfield Stage would result in the creation of the town of Bridgeport in 1860.

The original unveiling was planned for the 172nd anniversary of the expedition’s passing through the area which would later become Bridgeport, but inclement weather postponed the ceremony on July 26.

But like those pioneers who overcame their own obstacles to continue on their path, local historians who worked to secure the marker made sure Friday’s ceremony would take place to honor those who not only made the trip but also documented their experiences and preserved the history for future generations.

Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Marlett credited H. Bailey Carroll who published a book about the Santa Fe Expedition in 1951. Marlett said Carroll examined recollections from those who made a trip including a diary from the trip. Information for the historical marker was also gained from Carroll’s original map of the expedition, owned by the late Robert Isham of Decatur.

The ceremony also included songs such as “Texas, Our Texas” and “This Land is Your Land” performed by the Heartstrings, presentation of colors by the Wise County Veterans Group, Bridgeport Historical Society President Ken Sprecher, County Judge Bill McElhaney, Wise County Historical Commission Chair Kerry Clower, City Administrator Brandon Emmons and former Mayor Don Majka.

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