Trammell, Nicholas (1780–1856)

By: Jack Jackson

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: January 16, 2019

Nicholas Trammell, pioneer, was born in 1780 in a Tennessee settlement on Duck River, the son of Nicholas and Frances (Maulding) Trammell. His father, one of the founders of Nashborough (Nashville), was killed by Cherokees in 1784. For his heroic defense of Davidson County, the elder Trammell's widow and young son were awarded 640 acres of land. Trammell grew to manhood under the guidance of his kinsmen, who were noted trackers, traders, salt makers, and surveyors. Like other participants in the Anglo surge westward they moved frequently, and by 1808 they were living in Arkansas, where Trammell acted as a French and Indian interpreter for the courts. He entered a land claim on the White River crossing of the Southwest Trail, which led to St. Louis, Missouri. With this as his base of operations he roamed widely and by 1811 had opened the Southwest Trail as far as the Ouachita River. Neighbors from the White River settlement soon moved there and became involved in the manufacture of salt. Trammell, perhaps following Indian trails, continued to the Red River and onward to Nacogdoches, Texas, along a route that became known as Trammel's Trace. Shanties and corrals were built along the road, no doubt to take advantage of the unstable conditions in the Neutral Ground and exploit the horse trade in Spanish Texas. Trammell took a break from this profitable business during the War of 1812 to serve in the frontier regiment of B. F. McFarland and to perform scouting duties for other units. As the decade closed, villages sprang up along the Red River at Jonesborough and Pecan Point. When troops from Fort Smith, Arkansas, attempted to evict the settlers in 1819, Trammell cut a trail whereby they could reach desirable points in Texas by way of Trammel's Trace. Soon thereafter he moved his family to the vicinity of Nacogdoches, one of the first Anglos to do so from the upper Red River district.

Although not listed on any of the Mexican census reports for Texas, Trammell was very active around Nacogdoches, as established by the archives kept there. During the early 1820s he was in scrapes over racing debts, was a witness to violence along the road, and was accused of slave and horse theft. In 1825 he bought land on the Trinity River from empresario Haden Edwards and operated a ferry at the crossing of the Old San Antonio Road. This sale was protested by Ignacio Sartuche, who claimed to have been previously awarded the tract by the Mexican government. Alcalde Samuel Norris sent the militia to evict Trammell in October 1826, and Trammell fled to Pecan Point with other "bad men," thus sparking the difficulty known as the Fredonian Rebellion. Apparently, Trammell returned to Hempstead County, Arkansas, where many of his kinsmen lived, and resumed the life of trader and tavern keeper. His mysterious comings and goings gave rise to many legends. He was commissioned to cut several roads east of the Red River, but none except Trammel's Trace bears his name. In 1843, after the death of his first wife, known only as Sarah, he married Mary Sadberry. Upon the outbreak of the Mexican War, Washington, Arkansas, was made the rendezvous point for state volunteers. Once ten companies had been mustered, they were led southward by "old Nick Trammell, notorious highwayman and slave smuggler." The Guadalupe River valley Trammell passed through must have appealed to him, because after the war he led several members of his family back to Texas. "Old Nick" died in Gonzales County in 1856, leaving six children by his first wife, two by his second, and numerous grandchildren scattered across the frontier.

James and Mary Dawson, Trammel Trace Collection, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack Jackson, “Trammell, Nicholas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
January 16, 2019