History of El Camino Real de los Tejas

The El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

The El Camino Real is one of the most ancient roads in American history. Also called "The King's Highway," and "San Antonio Trace," the road travels east to west from Natchitoches, Louisiana to Mexico City. Its path crosses directly through downtown Many in Sabine Parish, also traveling through Milam in Sabine County, San Augustine and Nacogdoches to Crockett, Texas. These communities make up the Caddo Region, one of four regions of the trail.

Designated as a National Historic Trail in 2004, El Camino Real de los Tejas (Hwy 6 in Louisiana and Hwy 21 in Texas) has its easternmost beginning in Natchitoches, Louisiana and runs from piney woods through rolling hills to the arid lands of Old Mexico.

The El Camino Real's roots may well go back more than a thousand years ago, to a time when hundreds and hundreds of buffalo created trails as they moved south of the Great Plains each fall, a number of them turning east at the Trinity River in Texas and following their ancient migration route into Louisiana, through what later became Toledo Bend Country, on to the Red River.

Native American travel
Native Americans of the Adai Indian Nation roamed the virgin forests of Sabine country, still centuries before the white man came, following the trails beaten out by the bisons' feet. Using the trails, the Adai Indians eventually established a sophisticated trade network from Texas to Louisiana.

Spanish Exploration
Spanish explorers are said to have traveled this same trail in the early sixteenth century, more than a half-century before the first English set foot in America and more than 75 years before the first English colony was established in the land that was to become the United States of America.

St. Denis and the French
The El Camino Real was likely first opened in the early part of the eighteenth century, at the hands of a gallant French explorer, Louis Juchereau St. Denis. In 1714, St. Denis established a French frontier outpost among the Natchitoches Indians, giving birth to the settlement of Natchitoches, just 30 miles east of present-day Many.

Shortly after coming to Natchitoches, St. Denis and his crew set out on horseback over the El Camino Real, which by this time had become a well-paved path. It has been said that the Indians probably directed St. Denis to the path.

St. Denis' mission through his travels was to open trade relations between the French frontier at Natchitoches and the Spanish frontier on the Rio Grande. This was a particularly ambitious aim considering the extreme hostility between the great empires of France and Spain. St. Denis' mission took him westward, traveling right through Sabine country and on into Tejas (the Spanish spelling of Texas), across the Rio Grand, and finally into Mexico.

The Spaniards and the French that marked the trail were followed by such men as Moses Austin and his son Stephen Fuller Austin (The Father of Texas), Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and early missionaries of multiple faiths. An abundance of historic cities await the modern day traveler on the Crossroads stretch of El Camino Real.

Following the Louisiana Purchase, this land became neutral territory, or Land. The area had no law enforcement. It became home to many well-known outlaws.