Sketch of Col. Cooke’s Military Road expedition from Red River to Austin

Texas General Land Office
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6 min readApr 16, 2018


From the earliest foot paths to modern highways, people have traversed Texas to make connections. Historic maps provide a glimpse into these journeys. Through the cartographic resources of the Texas General Land Office and the personal collection of Frank and Carol Holcomb of Houston, Connecting Texas: 300 Years of Trails, Rails, and Roads invites you to learn about how Texas and Texans have connected over the last 300 years. The exhibit runs at the Witte Museum in San Antonio through September 2018.

The map detailing Cooke’s route is in two sheets, with the southern portion shown on the left and the northern portion on the right for ease of viewing. Click the following links to see the map in much greater detail. H.L. Upshur, [Sketch of Col. Cooke’s Military Road expedition from Red River to Austin], n.d., Map #166 and Map #82146, Map #82272 [digital composite], Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In 1840, Colonel William Gordon Cooke and the First Regiment of infantry were tasked under an 1839 law with establishing a road connecting Austin and Fort Inglish (present-day Bonham).[1] The military road was conceived to provide much-needed frontier protection for the new capital and the surrounding area north to the Red River. [2]

Cooke’s route, represented by a dashed black line, proceeded from Austin. The route continued north to Waco Village on the Brazos River, then on to the future site of the Cedar Springs post on the Trinity River (present-day Dallas). Aside from a brief supply run east along the Chihuahua Trail toward the Bois d’Arc River, it continued north-by-northwest. The route terminated near Coffee’s Station in present-day Grayson County, where Cooke founded Ft. Johnson. [3]Other markings may suggest proposed alternate routes for roads. On the left side of the bottom sheet, a faint inscription reads “Route recommended by Engineer.” More prominently, a red dashed line deviates from Cooke’s path at the Brazos River and proceeds north-by-northeast to Beale’s Ferry on the Red River.

The expedition began in Austin and was plagued by mishaps as it continued north to Kinney’s Fort.

Cooke’s expedition overcame nearly disastrous conditions to reach its destination. [4] Its commencement in September 1840 was delayed by several days while Cooke waited for extra pack mules which never arrived. A herd of cattle, the expedition’s primary food source, was improperly guarded and escaped, at which point Cooke left orders for them to be retrieved as quickly as possible and brought to join the rest of the expedition in Waco Village on the Brazos River.

Chambers Creek was dry upon the expedition’s arrival, which led to tragedy.

The initial setbacks continued to prove injurious to the expedition at large. Without the necessary number of pack mules, Cooke’s men moved slowly, sometimes only covering six to eight miles in a day towards the Trinity River. Dry conditions caused them to camp several times without water, so several men left the main trail to find a source at which to resupply. Unwisely leaving their firearms behind, the group was ambushed by a band of Native Americans — likely Comanche — who killed five of them. The rest of the men camped at a dry Chambers Creek, where a storm caused their cattle to stampede. They were unable to recover the herd and were left with minimal supplies. For a brief time, they were able to augment these supplies by hunting buffalo, but the herds thinned out the further north the expedition moved. By the time they finally reached the Trinity River in October, they had resorted to eating their horses, mules, and dogs.[5]

Cooke’s route in north Texas overlapped with the previously established Chihuahua trade route.

Lieutenant Colonel Adam Clendennin was left at the Trinity to take charge of the sick men in the expedition, while Cooke pressed on to the western portion of the Chihuahua Trail. This trail was the result of an expedition undertaken in 1839–40 by Mexican traders looking for a shorter trade route with the United States. It led to “Camp Englishes” on the Bois d’Arc River, where Cooke was finally able to resupply as well as send a company back to the Trinity River with fresh provisions. He then moved onto the Red River and established Fort Johnson a few miles southwest of Coffee’s Station. This was an ideal spot because the newly established fort would be able to trade with Coffee’s Station and not be subject to the lack of supplies that had plagued Cooke from the beginning of the expedition.

[left] Previously Fort Viesca, the site was renamed for Ben Milam in 1835. [right] The Cross Timbers provided a natural barrier between Native American hunting grounds but were also a formidable obstacle to settlers attempting to reach West Texas.

Several notable sites are included on the map. Kinney’s Fort (also known as Kenney’s Fort or Kenney Fort) was established in 1839 to provide some defense from Native American raids on settlers in the area. It was located on Brushy Creek, sixteen miles north of Austin.[6] Renamed from Fort Viesca in honor of Benjamin Milam, one of the heroes of the Siege of Bexar, Fort Milam is located on the west bank of the Brazos, close to the center of the map’s southern portion. Along the northwestern portion of the map is a notation for the Cross Timbers, which is surrounded by what appears to be crude drawings of trees. The Cross Timbers stretch from present-day Cooke to Hill counties and served as a natural division between the hunting grounds of the Plains and East Texas Indians.[7] With the information from Captain Cooke’s manuscript map, an official map was created of the journey. The official map is believed to be currently housed at the University of Texas.

The section of road from Austin to Waco Village is almost exactly the path of present-day I-35.

Cooke’s Military Road expedition was initially more problematic than successful. When he returned to Austin in 1841, he found the Texas government both unwilling and unable to continue the support of a large military presence, as well as being too cash-poor to build and maintain a real road. The resulting trail continued to be used, however, most commonly as an emigrant road and eventually as the route of the Shawnee Cattle Trail. The military road continues to connect Texans even in the present day — its route between Austin and Waco is followed almost exactly by Interstate 35.

The GLO holds a photocopy of the map created from Col. Cooke’s manuscript. The original is believed to be housed at the University of Texas.

[1] Handbook of Texas Online, Steven A. Brownrigg, “Cooke, William Gordon,” accessed July 13, 2017,

Handbook of Texas Online, Morris L. Britton, “Military Road,” accessed August 11, 2017,

[2] For a more in-depth examination of this map, and several others, consult: Marshall, Ellen. Some Phases of the Establishment and Development of Roads in Texas, 1716–1845. Master’s Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1934. Austin. 83–86.

[3] Nance, After San Jacinto, 95–99.

[4] G. K. (Gouverneur Kemble) Warren, 1830–1882. “Memoir to accompany the map of the territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean: giving a brief account of each of the exploring …” HathiTrust, 39. Accessed February 23, 2018.

[5] Nance, After San Jacinto, 96.

[6] Handbook of Texas Online, Clara Stearns Scarbrough, “Kenney’s Fort,” accessed March 14, 2018,

[7] Handbook of Texas Online, “Cross Timbers,” accessed March 16, 2018,



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