Elijah Earle’s Grave

Elijah Earle:  The Journey to Texas

Elijah Earle, patriarch of the Earle family in Cherokee County, was born in South Carolina on February 1, 1804.  According to family history, he was the grandson of a veteran of the American Revolution, William Earl(es), and his wife, Elizabeth.  Property records indicate that the William Earles family, which included at least six sons and three daughters, was fairly comfortably established on several hundred acres of farm and orchard land and affluent enough to hold slaves or indentured servants.

Elijah’s father, Bennet(t), appears to have been a restless westward migrator whose tracks can be followed from Rutherford County, North Carolina in 1797, to Lincoln County, North Carolina by 1800, South Carolina by 1804, then back in North Carolina at the time of the 1810 census, with a wife, four sons and five or six daughters.  By 1815, he apparently was in Tennessee, and by the time of the 1830 census, he was living in Jackson County, Alabama with only two sons at home, no wife and no daughters in the household.  Nothing is known about Bennett’s wife, who evidently was dead by the time of the 1830 census.  By the time his sons, Elijah and Drury, moved to Cherokee County, Texas in the 1840’s, Bennett himself had disappeared from the records with only a hint that he might have returned to Tennessee where other members of his family lived.

Elijah, either traveling with his father or following much the same migration pattern, had moved from his birthplace in South Caroline, quite possibly to Tennessee (although no record of this presently exists) and then on to Jackson County, Alabama by 1829.  He was married to Maxcey Blanchet (Blansett) who, according to census records, was born in Kentucky.  The exact dates of her birth and death are not known, although her birth year can be fairly well established as c.1811 from the listing of her age as 39 on the 1850 census in Cherokee County.  Early church records, land records, and census reports show that the Blanchet family had settled in Alabama by the mid-1820’s.  Very little else is known about them.

Elijah Earle was a middle-aged man with a wife and six children, a farm on the “Old” Tennessee River and apparently some assets, when he decided to move to East Texas in the 1840’s.  It is not clear what led to his decision to make such a move.  G.T.T. (Gone To Texas) was certainly the spirit of the times as first the Republic of Texas and then impending statehood made it an attractive place for settlers seeking a better life.  As viewed today, the land which Elijah and Maxcey left in Alabama seems to be a good farm land although the controlled “New” Tennessee River may be more placid than it was in the earlier days when it often brought devastating floods.  There is no evidence that the family was suffering serious financial distress or having trouble with the law, two common factors mitigating for migration during the period.

Traditional family stories provide slight clues.  One account, based on oral tradition handed down to descendants of James C. Earle, who was about 17 years of age when the family migrated, ahs it that:  “The Earles had hoped to find a tribe of friendly Cherokees they had known in Alabama, but the Cherokees had been banished from the Republic of Texas in 1839.”  A story from the oral tradition of Elijah’s “Texas” family reported that the Indians in Alabama and those in East Texas were in communication with each other to the extent that information was passed back and forth so that the Indians with whom Elijah came in contact in Alabama described to him the excellent land that was to be had in East Texas.  According to a story passed on by Rufe Earle, a Texas-born son, to his grandson, Elijah was very upset by the Federal government’s handling of the Indian situation in the Southeastern states which resulted finally in the resettlement of the Indians of Alabama to reservations in Oklahoma.  According to this story, Elijah was of the Wesleyan tradition and dissented from the more popular notion that the Indians should be removed from their traditional lands.  While further documentation of this is underway, it is certainly an interesting sidelight in that such an opinion would have been unpopular within the milieu of the day.  It is within the realm of possibility that the socio-political climate contributed to Elijah’s decision to migrate further west.  While all of these factors may have impinged on their decision, the evidence indicates that the Earles were moving in a generally westward direction almost every generation and one has the impression that Elijah and Maxcey saw the move to Texas as an opportunity to improve their lot.

According to traditional family history, Elijah and Maxcey Earle came to Texas by riverboat (or, in one account, by slab-boat), landing at Keechi or near Shreveport.  They then traveled overland to East Texas with their possessions loaded on an ox-cart.  There is no documented record of their route between Jackson County, Alabama and the head of navigation on the Red River in Louisiana, although all family stories agree, they came “…by way of New Orleans.”

A study of the traditional routes for journeys westward would suggest that they followed a river route used by many of the pioneer families.  Elijah’s land lay on the Old Tennessee River in Alabama.  Although this river was difficult to travel at that point because of the shoals, it was navigable with great care and routinely used for travel and transport.  The slab-boat was a shallow-draft flatboat usually constructed of timber that could be broken up and sold for lumber, in great demand at the end of the one-way downstream journey.  Such boats, more truly rafts, were common on the Tennessee and other major river at the time of the Earle journey west.

The river route that seems most probable would have taken the family downstream on the Tennessee to its juncture with the Ohio River near Paducah, down the Ohio to the Mississippi, then down the Mississippi to New Orleans, downstream all the way and within sight of the banks most of the time.  Such an approach allowed bank-camping to relieve the bleak, crowded conditions on the boat and also provided opportunities for hunting and foraging to replenish food supplies.  The journey upstream on the Red River from New Orleans to Shreveport could have been made by steamboat or riverboat, both of which operated on the Red River at the time.   The lack of any mention in traditional family stories of long overland jouneys or sea travel of any kind would suggest the river route described over other possible routes.

Some support for this route is also supplied through family history recalled by the Starkey families of Jacksonville that one of their ancestors, Elijah Starkey, drowned in the Tennessee River “…on his way to Texas…” around 1849.  The Benge family also remembers a near tragedy for one of George C. Benge’s daughters when, “Enroute to Texas (c. 1850), Catherine, called Katie, fell into the Mississippi River, but was rescued by some of her brothers.”  According to census records, Drury Earle’s first five children were born in Alabama prior to 1846, with the seventh being Texas-born in 1849.  His sixth child, however, a son named Elisha, was born in Missouri in 1847.  It is possible that Elisha may have been born enroute to Texas at some point where the Mississippi River bounds Missouri.

While the time of their arrival in Texas is generally considered to be the spring of 1846, there is some evidence that the Earles may have been in Texas prior to statehood.  Elijah’s name, spelled phonetically as Eli J. Earle, is included in a list of individuals who paid their $1.00 Republic of Texas poll tax.  His brother, Drury, who evidently moved around the country a great deal, received a 3rd class land grant, indicating that he was in Texas between 1837 and 1840.  According to one family historical account, the Elijah Earles “…all walked into Texas in March, 1846.”  They met old friends in Rusk County who tried to persuade them to settle there, “…but Elijah was hopeful of locating a tribe of Cherokee Indians he had known in Alabama and had high regard for their good judgment.  When he arrived in the Cherokee Nation territory, he learned his Indian friends no longer were here…”  Certainly the Earles were among the first settlers in Cherokee County, arriving before the formation of the County, itself.  The 1908 newspaper obituary for Elijah’s oldest son, James Cartney Earle, headlined, “Another Pioneer Passes Away,” refers to his arrival, as a youth of 17 with his father,  “…at a time (when) Larissa was the only town in Cherokee County…the county being yet in a wild and unsettled condition.”