Monterey was mean, rowdy, loved a good race

By Bob Bowman
Special to the Journal

In the 1840s, Monterey was one of the meanest, rowdiest towns in the Republic of Texas. Hidden away in the cypress bottomlands of the Neutral Ground, it had no church, no school and no laws.

But it had plenty of whiskey, lots of fights and a regular flow of fugitives from justice.

Today, what's left of Monterey is a quiet fishing village on Monterey Lake and Jim's Bayou on the Texas-Louisiana border.

The community may have been settled by the Spanish as far back as the 1770s. During the early 1800s, as a part of the Neutral Ground, a lawless land between Texas and Louisiana, Monterey became a haven for murderers, robbers and other criminals. It was the last stop on the Old Spanish Trail from Washington, D.C. to Old Mexico.

A post office was established as Point Monterey in 1847 and by 1851 Norphlet Gupton was the postmaster. Gupton also ran a saloon in a two-story building near a boat landing that served steamboats moving up and down the waterways from Caddo Lake.

Another merchant, Billy Browning, operated a general store, a small sawmill, a grist mill, a cotton gin and a large cotton warehouse in the 1870s.

At the time Monterey was in Cass County, but later found itself in Marion County when it was carved from Cass County in 1860.

A Masonic lodge was organized at Monterey in 1848. The town's post office was discontinued in 1867, but was reestablished in 1878 as Old Monterey with S.B. Williams as the postmaster. He served until 1880 when it was discontinued for good.

Historians universally paint Monterey as a lawless settlement with little law and order. The town's principal pastimes were drinking, horse racing, gambling, cock fights, and brawls with bloody fists.

In the summer of 1847, as John Lester and a man known only as Collins, an employee of Rube Harrrison, were involved in a cock fight, they got into an argument which concluded when Lester shot and killed Collins.\par }{\plain Later, Lester met Harrison as he disembarked from a steamboat, and told him he had killed his employee. Furious, Harrison threatened to kill Lester.

As they continued the argument, they walked toward Lester's blacksmith shop, where both seized some blacksmith tools and starting swinging at each other with a pair of tongs and a sledgehammer. The blows were fatal to both men. leaving three men dead in twenty-four hours.

In another case, Bob Hunt, who ran a saloon, kicked an unruly drunk named Mabern out of his business with the help of clerk Dan McCann. Mabern waited outside until Hunt and McCann walked outside and started slashing at McCann with a knife until Hunt killed him with a pistol.

Hunt fled into nearby Arkansas. Some twenty-five years later, he came back to Monterey and was immediately arrested by Deputy Sheriff Will Rand. Hunt admitted, "Well, I've been expecting this for twenty-five years." Rand nodded in agreement, "Yep, I've heard all my life that I was born on the day Mabern was killed, and I'm twenty-five today."

Monterey also had a well-known racetrack where men raced their fastest horses and gambled on the outcomes. Shaped in a circle, the track had a tower in the center where the owners could watch their horses perform with a clear view.

In one race, Bill Rieves, a gambler and heavy drinker, wagered everything he owned on a certain horse and warned his jockey he would kill him if he lost the contest. As the race began, the drunken Rieves took his place in the tower and screamed at his jockey.\par }{\plain Rieves' horse finished a half-length ahead of the other horses, but as he crossed the finish line, he staggered and leaned against a support post of the tower, shaking Rieves from his perch. He fell and broke his neck.

With the arrival of the 1880s, Monterey's isolation from other towns began to hurt its growth. By 1884 the town had only thirty residents. But the town's biggest blow came when the steamboats that had given Monterey much of economic support were unable to travel into Caddo Lake and Jim's Bayou.

In the 1960s Monterey was identified on government survey maps and had a number of scattered dwellings beside the bayou and lake.

In 1983, the town had disappeared from most maps, but had a sizable number of fishing camps and recreational homes at the end of Gesthsame Road, a black-topped county road leading from Texas Highway 49 to the community.

(Bob Bowman is the author of more than 35 books about East Texas. He lives in Lufkin and can be reached at www.bob-bowman.com )

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