addresses in the 19th century was not nearly as complicated as it
Many a family arrived in early Texas after having done nothing any
more burdensome by way of preparation than loading their wagon and
painting the letters "G.T.T." on their cabin door. That stood for
"Gone To Texas." As a forwarding address it lacked any meaningful
specificity, which was to the suiting of many Texas-bound folks.
Of course, fleeing miscreants and felons didn't even bother with
a G.T.T. "change of address" notice.
Texas being a sovereign nation from 1836 to 1845, emigrants did
not have to worry about passports, visas, work permits, or walls
if they came from the U.S. There might have been a tad of paperwork
associated with coming to Texas from Europe, but nothing compared
to modern times.
Given that the hardest part of traveling to Texas was the journey
itself, just about anyone who took a notion to could become a Texan.
of Texas enjoyed diversity even before it was called diversity.
Still, not everyone was welcomed with opened arms.
for instance, a vetting tradition had developed that generally proved
effective when it came to new arrivals. When newcomers showed up,
a delegation of their neighbors would drop by for a chat. But they
did not arrive with a basket of hot teacakes and a "Welcome to the
Neighborhood" card. What they did show up with was an intent to
assess the newcomer and then reach a decision as to whether he,
she or they were welcome to stay.
If the decision was favorable, all was well. But if the ad hoc screening
committee did not feel the recent arrivals met community standards
of honesty, decency and piety, they were asked not too politely
to move on.
So, when Josuah Wilson McCown and his family reached Washington
County in 1837, a group of folks duly paid the head of the household
a call. A native of Kentucky, as a 16-year-old McCown had moved
to Tennessee in 1820. Nine years later, he left the Volunteer State
for New Orleans. A yellow fever outbreak motivated him to return
to Tennessee, where he farmed until he decided to take his wife
and seven children to the newly formed Republic
of Texas. His brother came with them.
After visiting a while, the Washington
County screening committee concluded that the McCowns would
make a fine addition to the community and, in the Texas speak of
the day, told him, "You'll do."
When McCown realized that his new neighbors had presumed to pass
judgment on the prospect of he and his family's ongoing residency,
he replied, "Do or not do, I've come to stay."
And stay he did. At first, McCown supported his family (with the
help of his wife Martha and older children) in farming a 40-acre
tract three miles west of Washington-on-the-Brazos.
After doing that for a while, he became a teamster, hauling freight
County and Houston.
McCown had become acquainted with and then friends with the man
for whom the Harris
County town had been named-Sam
Houston. In 1842, during the second presidency of the hero of
Jacinto, the republic's capital was moved from Houston
President Houston hired McCown to move the young nation's records
to the new seat of government.
Later, McCown relocated to Houston
where he ran a hotel for a time.
practice of asking travelers or new arrivals their business prior
to community acceptance was not unique to Washington
Longtime Baptist Standard editor J.B. Cranfill, whose family had
come to Texas in 1850, later related an anecdote about his uncle
John. The family moved around quite a bit before finally finding
a county to their suiting. On their way to what would prove their
final stop, a nosy fellow tried unsuccessfully to question Cranfill's
"What air you goin'?" the man asked John Cranfill.
"We're headed for Parker
County," he said.
"What air you from?"
"We're from everywhere else but here and are trying to get away
from here just as fast as we can," John Cranfill replied.
to "Do or not do" McCown, not only did he stay in Texas, he stayed
a long time. Eventually settling for good on a farm in Hill
County, he lived on until Dec. 29, 1896. Whoever wrote the 93-year-old's
obituary observed that he was one of the state's most respected
and well-known pioneers. Clearly, he had been a man who would do,
even if he hadn't cared whether other people thought he would or