Craddock: Before Longview, there was Earpville

In the 1840s, there was Earpville, a busy little village that eventually became Longview in 1870. It was named for the respected James Earp, a farmer, store owner and postmaster for the area. Earp and his family traveled from Alabama and settled in what today is east-central Longview.

A pioneer East Texan identified only as “J.M.T.” left us a vivid recollection of life in Earpville (pronounced “Arpville” by locals). The article was published in the Longview Cycle newspaper in the mid-1880s. The newspaper’s motto was “In Union There is Strength.” E.W. Moseley was listed as the “editor and proprietor.”

J.M.T. said James Earp was “a sterling, honest and hospitable old pioneer and died just before the late (Civil) war.” Earp (1798-1861) and wife Mary had 11 children.

Earp’s residence was on what today is North Center Street “on the main public road, near ‘Rock Hill.’ A portion of what today is downtown Longview was known as ‘Earp’s Flat Forty Acre Field.’ ”

Among other earlier settlers of Earpville were “old uncle Billy Thomas, Silas Grame, Thomas McNutt, Thomas Harris, John Magrill, Sam Magrill, James Crier, Robert Wilson, Thomas Hudson, old man Harmon, the Greers, Tates and Smarts,” J.M.T. wrote.

Hospitable

The settlers, “primitive in their habits,” were “hospitable in their natures. On Saturday they would gather at old man Earp’s store, nearly everyone carrying his old-fashioned rifle, and pass the day shooting at a target, either for a gallon of whisky or for quarters of a beef butchered and ready for the most skilled marksman in the contest,” noted the long-ago writer.

“Generally the utmost good will prevailed on these occasions, unless some of them drank too much liquor and terminated their dispute with a fight.”

The writer also recalled the frequent sight of ox-wagon caravans traveling to the “nearest market of Jefferson and Shreveport.” At night “a train of probably 100 wagons drawn from four to six yoke of oxen each would stop to camp.”

J.M.T. also remembered “cowboys driving immense herds of cattle to Shreveport for shipment on boats to New Orleans. Often these herds numbered from 1,000 to 4,000 head of cattle, and on some days at least a dozen of them would pass at but short intervals apart” (through Earpville).

On occasion “a stampede would take place and the woods would be full of cattle wild with fright, while the air would ring with the curses of cowboys trying to round them up … ”

Operating Earpville’s wagon shop was “Old man Methvin, father of the late Ossamus Methvin.” The latter purchased Earp’s residence after his death “and donated most of the land, upon which Longview is built, to the railroad authorities as an inducement for them to establish a depot and town thereon,” J.M.T. noted.

New name

“In 1870 the (railroad) reached ‘old man Earp’s Forty Acre Field.’ That site took the name of Longview and three hundred houses were erected in a few days time,” the author said.

“Today a fine little city of several hundred inhabitants stands there as the result of every progress and development. Earpville with its old inhabitants is dead and forgotten,” J.M.T. wrote in the mid-1880s.

“Old faces die out and new ones take their places. The forests gradually melt before the settlement of civilization, industry invades the wilderness and farms spring up on all sides establishing new comforts and more convenience for the increased population.

“The olden, early time begins to fade…Towns spring up along the lines of railway and grow with marvelous rapidity.”

And if you can solve the mystery of the identity of “J.M.T.”, please let me know.

— Van “V.D.C.” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net

Today's Bible verse

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

— Deuteronomy 6:4-5

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