Preston Road – The Very Early Years

While you’re stuck in Preston Road traffic trying to stay calm and “drive friendly,” let’s take one of our journey’s back in time and look at the history of this grand old road.

Preston Road, State Highway 289, the Golden Corridor or whatever name you choose, this former cattle trail has quite a story to tell. If the old road could talk, it could tell of traffic jams as early as 150 years ago when immigrants streaming south in covered wagons “locked horns” with herds of cattle being driven north to market.

First, why is the road we know today as Preston, located where it is? It’s there primarily because of a ridge which enters Texas at the Red River and continues southward almost to Austin. In this part of North Texas, Preston Ridge forms a divide between the watersheds of the East Fork and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. When settlers first came here, they found a dim trail atop the divide. The trail had been trampled out by buffalo and Indians as they traveled north and south along this high, dry route.

Later, immigrants and trail bosses praised this route as their horses, wagons and cattle had to make only shallow creek crossings between the Trinity River ford at the village called Dallas and the crossing at the Red River.

Today, when you’re near the intersection of Preston Road and Frisco’s Main Street, glance to the east and you will see the ridge of higher ground which crosses Farm Road 720 near the Brinkman Ranch entrance. That ridge was Preston Trail’s original path before the road was straightened to follow property lines.

In 1838, just two years after Texas gained its independence, the Republic appropriated money for a north-south road from the Brazos River near Waco to the Red River. Their hope was to open this part of Texas to immigration and to trade. By 1840, soldiers had surveyed the route and built small forts along the trail to protect travelers and settlers. And, in 1841, the road was officially opened, making it the oldest north-south road in North Central Texas.

At the Red River, Preston Trail joined the Shawnee Trail (some called it the Texas road) which went north as far as Chicago with branches to Kansas City and St. Louis. The part from Dallas to the Red River eventually became known as Preston Road, named for Colonel William G. Preston who had built a fort where the trail crossed the Red River.

An act by the Republic of Texas in 1841 caused traffic to pick up on Preston Trail. To encourage immigration, the Republic signed large amounts of land to immigration agents, one of which was W. S. Peters of Louisville, Kentucky. Mr. Peters then established the Peters Colony for which, many years later, our neighboring city, The Colony, was named. His grant covered some eighteen North Texas counties, including the western half of Collin County.

Land was free to settlers, 640 acres to a married couple or 320 to a single settler. This promise of free land triggered a stream of immigrants who soon came rattling down the Preston Trail in their prairie schooners.

But this was still Indian country. Raids and massacres were recorded in this area as late as 1844, some on today ‘s Preston Road. To help make the area safer for settlers, a treaty with the Indians was signed in 1843 at Bird’s Fort in Tarrant County. The treaty further encouraged Preston Trail traffic. The book, “A History of Collin County, Texas,” tells us that in the spring of 1845 more than a thousand immigrant wagons crossed Red River going south on Preston Trail. Likewise, cattle drives increased. It is estimated that about 250,000 head of cattle moved up Preston Trail in the spring and summer of 1866.

Although problems with Indians had abated in this part of Texas, the Shawnee Trail was still plagued by problems in northern Oklahoma as late as the early 1870s.

The book, “Plano, Texas, the Early Years,” tells of a cattle drive that originated in the Plano-Lebanon area being attacked by Indians near the Oklahoma-Kansas line in 1868. Nearly 4,000 head of cattle were being driven by about forty local men. The trail boss was Tobe Clark of the Preston Road Clarks.

The attack came at sundown as the heard was being bedded down for the night. The Indians spared the men but killed about forty fat steers, took the spare horses, leaving one per trail hand, and stampeded the remaining cattle.

Such experiences caused some to quit sending their cattle up Preston and the Shawnee Trail. One local cattleman began trading his steers for land here rather than risk losing them. A steer, worth ten dollars in St. Louis brought three acres of land here. At $3.33 per acre, that’s less than the cost of one square foot of Preston Road property today!

No story of Preston Road is complete without the story of Lebanon – once a thriving village, now a part of Frisco.

Hold that thought while you’re still stuck in traffic, and we will tell about Lebanon as we conclude the Preston Road tale in the next issue of Frisco STYLE Magazine.

See you in July.