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Craddock: East Texas has its own lost colony: Macon

It isn’t as well known as, say, Virginia’s lost colony of Roanoke Island, but East Texas has its own “lost colony.”

Macon was the settlement’s name, and it sat on the shores of what today is Caddo Lake State Park, not far from Karnack in northern Harrison County.

We learned about Roanoke Island in American history class. Sir Walter Raleigh had sent colonists to the New World, but in 1590 they all disappeared, never to be seen again. All that was found was one word — “Croatoan” — carved onto the fort’s gate post. Researchers say the word may have been a combination of two words meaning “talk town” or “council town.”

We don’t know very much about East Texas’ Macon, either. What we do know is that some time in 1836 — probably just after Texas had won its independence from Mexico — a group of Georgians arrived in East Texas to start new lives.

Gone to Texas

This wasn’t uncommon at that time, of course. In the early 1800s, Texas was THE place to be. It was touted as a land of unbelievable opportunities. Throughout the Old South, families packed their belongings, carved “GTT” (Gone to Texas) on a nearby tree and headed west.

However, these particular Georgia adventurers weren’t quite ready to give up all ties to their lives back home. So when they relocated to the pineywoods and Caddo Lake, they decided to name their little settlement Macon, after their former home in Georgia.

The new arrivals built their homes and planted crops. But not long after they’d settled in East Texas, something very strange began to happen. One by one, the residents of Macon started to die. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas.

Even today we’re not quite certain what killed off the Georgians. Yellow fever? Native Americans? Bandits? The East Texas humidity? Some believe it was bad water in a nearby creek (which the settlers had named Macon Creek) that did them in.

Another mystery

At any rate, the death rate in little Macon was astronomical. Pretty soon, the only thing that was growing in Macon was the cemetery.

So the Georgians decided to pick up once again and leave for … where? And that’s the mystery. We don’t seem to have any trace of the settlers after they left Macon. They simply vanished without a trace. And because of that, today Macon is know as East Texas’ “lost colony.”

Ironically, a second nearby settlement that postdated Macon suffered a similar fate, although we do know what happened to its residents. It was Port Caddo, another Caddo Lake community founded in 1838. Port Caddo came to be a thriving port, designated by the Texas Congress as the republic’s official port of entry for all of Northeast Texas. Thousands of bales of cotton passed through Port Caddo, which also sat on one of the Republic of Texas’ first mail routes.

But after Cypress was opened to navigation to Jefferson, Port Caddo quickly declined. Residents there simply moved to nearby Karnack, to Jefferson, to Marshall.

However, what happened to the residents of old Macon? As with Roanoke almost 250 years prior to Macon, we just don’t know.

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

Today's Bible verse

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

—Matthew 6:22-23

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