Bradley Prairie

The relatively open area that encompasses Burke and vicinity was originally called Bradley Prairie. It was named for an early settler and Indian trader named Tom Bradley. In 1875 Robert Wyres, an early settler in San Augustine and Angelina Counties wrote a short account of his early days in Texas and mentioned Bradley Prairie.

The Bradley Trading Post

Wyres said that in 1835 a man named Tom Bradley from San Augustine hauled a stock of goods and groceries and cattle to live and trade among the Indians on the Neches River in what later became Angelina County.The area where he founded this trading post came to be known as Bradley Prairie.

In his narrative Wyres mentioned four tribes in Angelina County: Muscogee, Coushatta, Biloxi, Alabamas, and Shawnee. All were "disposed to be unfriendly", but the Shawnees were the strongest.

The Shawnee were located at what is now called Shawnee Prairie in southeast Angelina County and had migrated from the Kentucky and Ohio area. They were the tribe that Daniel Boone battled when the opened Kentucky to white settlement.

The first four tribes lived along the Neches River. They had migrated from Mississippi and Alabama, some as early as 1800 or before, when white settlement encroached in that area. At least some of the Alabama settled on what later came to be called Alabama Creek, which is located in Trinity County and flows into the Neches River southwest of Burke.The Alabama and Coushatta eventually merged and now have a reservation near Livingston.

Harry Popher Murders Hughes Bradley

Tom Bradley had a clerk named Hughes Bradley, whom he left charge while he went to McIntosh on the Red River for supplies. While Tom Bradley was away Hughes angered an Indian named Harry Pofer, the son of Chief Pofer, by refusing to sell him whiskey. The Indian later returned to the trading post to find Bradley asleep on the countertop in the locked log building. The angry Profer dug out some chinking from between the logs and shot Hughes with a large caliber gun and ran away.

About a week later two settlers came by to trade and saw that the penned cattle, especially the calves, were suffering from thirst and hunger and that a large number of buzzards were nearby. They couldn't get into the cabin because the door was barred from the inside, but they found the opening that Profer had made and saw Hughes dead on the counter.

They freed the cattle and rode to San Augustine to get help. Wyres said the "whites were few and scattered and were in mortal dread of the indians," and they came back about about 25 strong. They broke into the cabin, and Wyres described a sight and stench he would never forget. They collected Bradley's remains in blankets and buried him.

They found some locals who told them Pofer had done the deed, and they formed a posse to search for him. The posse couldn't find him, but on the third day Chef Pofer came to them and said his son was a "woman" for killing a pale face and running and that he was a man and would die in his son's place. Six men were detailed to execute Chief Pofer.

Writer and historian Bob Bowman reports a ghost story about Chief Popher which parallels the Bradley killing at Bradley Prairie:

Another Angelina County ghost haunts the banks of Popher Creek. The story goes that an old Indian chief named Popher had a son who killed a white man in an argument and was scheduled to be hanged. Popher went to the white men and pleaded, "I am an old man, and my son is still young with his life still before him. Please let me take my son's place." The old chief was hung along the creek which bears his name.

The Bradley murder story does not say where Popher was apprehended, but the posse was out for three days before they located him or his father. From the Popher Creek story it seems that they must have finally apprehended him him in the lower part of the county near Popher Creek, which rises northwest of Zavalla and flows into Sam Rayburn Reservoir (it formerly flowed into the now-covered Angelina River).

There was at one time a community on the Angelina River named Popher, presumably on Popher Creek, the Texas Forestry Museum lists a sawmill operating in the 1890s at a place named Popher "near Huntington." Whether the two Pophers are the same place is unknown.

Not much is known about Bradley Prairie before the founding of Burke, but it seems to have had an official existence prior to that time. Franklin Weeks quotes former Angelina County Judge and local historian Howard Walker as saying that there was a Bradley Prairie post office for perhaps a year. The list of Angelina County post offices lists a "Bradley" in existence from August, 1881 to August 1882 with J. M. Futch as postmaster. After it was discontinued, the Bradley mail service was sent to Homer. That seems to fit Walker's description, although the list does not say where Bradley was located.

The Farmers Arrive

A few farm families arrived in the Burke area prior to the Civil War, but the majority arrived after the War as the post-War poverty and turmoil in the Deep South led many residents, especially of Alabama and Mississippi, to pull up stakes and move. Among these settlers were the McCalls, McCartys and Arringtons. The new settlers were mainly small farmers, and they found fertile land at Bradley Prairie. They joined families such as the Fairchilds and Weeks who had already moved to the area before the Civil War. The McCartys purchased land before the War but were unable to occupy it until the War was over. Bradley Prairie was thinly settled from before the Civil War until Burke was founded in 1881, and the social focus of the area was Pine Valley and the Ryan Chapel Methodist Church in northeastern Pine Valley.

The Weeks family settled near Ryan Chapel Church northeast of Pine Valley, joining the Guinns who had settled in the area before the Civil War. The McCartys and Fairchilds originally settled northwest of Ryan Chapel near Jack Creek. The McCalls settled a few miles north of Bradley Prairie near Bradley Creek, a southern branch of Hurricane Creek. Another family with later Burke branches, the Largents, settled farther north near what is now Highway 94. The Fairchilds apparently moved to the southeastern edge of Bradley Prairie in the 1870s.

The common pattern of these first settlements is that they were on the periphery of Bradley Prairie. None settled on Bradley Prairie itself. The likely reason is water. Bradley Prairie is a generally level upland that at its southern and western edges slopes toward the bottomlands of the Neches River. All the settlement areas are more or less on a ridge where creeks and branches carry water from Bradley Prairie and adjacet uplands to the Neches River.

These are the areas where naturally-occurring springs are likely to be found. The first settlers did not have the luxury of dug cisterns or wells and had to have a ready-made source of water for themselves and their livestock. Springs are merely outcroppings of water sands underlying a higher area where rainfall is absorbed into the ground and eventually finds its way to the sand strata. Water that soaked into the flat, open ground of Bradley Prairie eventually re-emerged as springs where the land fell away toward the River. Well-known springs existed about a quarter mile south of Ryan Chapel Church, which is the reason it was located there, and about a half mile north of the Church. A spring fed pond is also said to have existed on the Fairchild property on the southeastern edge of Bradley Prairie.

It is likely that the early settlers farmed the edges of Bradley Prairie and lived where nearby spring water was available. Only later when they had the time to dig cisterns and wells did thy move onto the prairie itselt.

Where Was Bradley Prairie?

The precise location and boundaries of Bradley Priarie are unclear. The Handbook of Texas states:

Burke, in southwestern Angelina County, was founded in 1881-82 at the northernmost point to which the Houston, East and West Texas Railway had then been constructed, on the edge of what was called Bradley Prairie.

Early Burke resident Sam Ryan, the father-in-law of Burke historian Franklin Weeks, is quoted as saying that he was born at Bradley Prairie. We know that he was born near the southeast border of what is now Angelina County Airport near a farm later owned by C. B. Fairchild. In 1880 George Ryan, Sam's father, resided only three dwellings from Jack Fairchild.

R. W. Haltom of the Lufkin Leader wrote in 1888, only 7 years after Burke's founding:

With the advent of the Houston, East and West Texas Railroad, the town of Burke, eight miles west of Lufkin, sprang into existence, some six years ago. Where but a few years since was primeval forest, with naught in sight save the lofty tops of the monarch pines, is now to be seen a commodious schoolhouse...

While this is not necessarily a totally accurate description, but when coupled with the statement that Burke was on the edge of Bradley Prairie, we can surmise that Burke was located near where the forested area begins. To this day the land to the west of Burke is more hilly and contains more trees than the land to the east.

Placing Burke on the western edge of Bradley Priaire, and the southeastern corner of the Airport "at Bradley Prairie", we can surmise that the Angelina County Airport lies at its heart. Most of the aiport land and much of the land to the east and southeast of the Airport was owned by members of the Fairchild family. Much of the airport land itself was owned by Corbett Conner, a Fairchild descendant.

Where Was Tom Bradley's Trading Post?

It is virtually impossible to determine with certainty after 170 years where Tom Bradley's trading post was located. His post was a log cabin that would have long since rotted away. Intensive farming on Bradley Prairie probably also erased any lingering signs of the cabin. All we are left with is speculation.

We can guess that Bradley would have chosen a spot near a spring. Dug wells did not come along until later, and potable water was a necessity. We know that Bradley kept cattle in a corral, and that would have been very difficult without water very near the corral. It would not have been possible to dig an earthen cattle tank as was done in later years, and natural sources of water would have been necessary.

We also know that the Fairchilds were among the first settlers on Bradley Prairie and would naturally have selected the choicest location for a house. It would have been logical to select the same location as Tom Bradley. After only about 35 years the ruins of the old log cabin trading post might have still been visible. We know that the Fairchilds settled on the southeast end of Bradley Prairie south of what is now Angelina County Airport near where C. B. Fairchild later lived.

According to Keith Fairchild, James Monroe Fairchild's home was located south of the corner of the road that runs north and south along the west edge of the airport and that the original house has been rebuilt and still stands. That description fits the house occupied by Cassie Holmes in the 1950s. According to Mr. Fairchild, there was a spring fed pond in the area, and people from all around came there for water.

This is probably the best guess we will ever have for the location of Tom Bradley's trading post.

Sources:

  1. alabama-coushatta.com, "The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas"
  2. Bob Bowman, TexasEscapes.com, "Ghosts in East Texas"
  3. http://tx4.us/cy/angelina.htm, "Angelina County, Texas Post Office Lineage Information Page"
  4. Handbook of Texas Online, "Alabama Creek, Texas"
  5. Handbook of Texas Online, "Popher's Creek"
  6. Handbook of Texas Online, "Popher, Texas"
  7. Handbook of Texas Online, "Shawnee Indians"
  8. Malcom McLean, Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony In Texas, Volume VIII, pages 192-195
  9. M. Lee Murrah, Personal Recollections
  10. Franklin Weeks, Personal Recollections
  11. Keith Fairchild, Personal Recollections