The First Millionaireby
first likely millionaire wasnít from Dallas
or Houston. He came from East
Texas--and he didnít make his money from oil. |
Frost Thorn, an early
storekeeper from Nacogdoches,
had a worth of more than a million dollars after Texas
won its independence from Mexico
While the records of Thornís birthplace are sketchy, he lived
most of his life in Nacogdoches
and died there in 1851. Nacogdoches
was only a frontier outpost and Thorn operated a general store in the downtown
area, but his fortune was composed largely of real estate spread over Texas
from the Sabine River
to the Rio Grande.
A biographer wrote in 1934, ďThorn had property in
every present-day Texas county and his property was not in small pieces...anything
less than a league in those days was almost too small to speak of.Ē
Thorn might have been called a land shark, but looking back at his career, he
was a remarkable visionary who knew that Texas would someday be peopled by men
and women with a passion for owning land.
was on the El Camino
Real--the major travel artery between Texas and
the U.S.--Thornís store became a place where he traded for horses, whiskey, saddles,
guns and anything else needed by the restless adventurers. Realizing the opportunities,
Thorn helped them fill out the necessary papers allowing him to trade for their
His old store ledger, which recorded most of his transactions during
the early l830s, indicated he had customers in a radius of probably 100 miles
Nacogdoches was on the frontier,
itís easy to understand why Thornís biggest selling items were whiskey, gunpowder
and lead--with whiskey the most demanded commodity. It sold by the bit--12.5 cents
a drink or two bits (25 cents) for a pint. Customers who bought a pint were required
to make a 25-cent deposit until the bottle was refunded.
Thorn also did
a good business with local Indians. He bought deer skins for 16 cents a pound
and beef hides for a dime a pound. He then turned the hides over to his tannery
to produce leather goods, paying his tannery workers $4.50 a week.
was not only Texasí first likely millionaire, but
was probably the stateís first banker, too. He advanced money to his customers
and charged them interest. And it wasnít uncommon for some customers to issue
a written order to an Indian or laborer, who would get their money from Thorn.
The date that Sam Houston arrived in Texas
is also recorded in Thornís ledger. The first thing Sam bought was a drink of
whiskey at Thornís store. Thorn and his wife had two children, a daughter Mary
and a son, Thorn, Jr. Mary married New York financier W.T. Garner.
children of Texasí first millionaire died tragically.
The two families--Mr. and Mrs. Garner and Mr. and Mrs. Frost, Jr.--were lost when
their yacht was shipwrecked in an Atlantic Ocean storm.
Bob Bowman's East Texas
June 13, 2010 Column
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers