Nacogdoches is the best little storehouse in Texas. You will find more authentic, colorful history here than anywhere else in the State.
The people who put down roots among the hills and trees of East Texas have lived under nine different flags, probably a continental record. Nacogdoches is the oldest town in the Lone Star State, and its current residents pronounce it Nack a doe cheese, but you’ll never be able to say it like they do.
The first settler, according to legend, was the lucky twin son of a Native American Caddo Chief who, faced with drought as Texans are today, sent one son east and the other west. The blond one, Nacogdoches, walked for three days and settled here with his followers. They thrived with 250,000 people at its height and created an advanced, mound building culture.
When the French and then Spanish explorers arrived, the Caddos greeted them with, “Taychas!” This meant friend, but the Spanish thought that they were introducing themselves and that Taychas was their tribal name. Over time this word, again according to legend, evolved into Texas.
The first permanent structure erected by an outsider went up in 1779 at the direction of Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, a colorful trader/smuggler who led another group of displaced persons, the Adaesanos, here. He laid out a town, built a stone fort, and named the place after the fair-haired twin of legend.
The third flag over Nacogdoches was the Magee-Gutierrez, the first attempt at a Republic in 1812. A child born that year was only thirty-three when Texas officially joined the United States. In the meantime, a veritable revolving door of leadership planted seven different flags. One of the more interesting belonged to the hot-headed Fredonians.
The first oil well in Texas, Spindletop, circa 1887, was drilled here, but oil was never a major industry (the first produced only ten barrels per day) as were tobacco and cotton when Southern planters were lured west by cheap land.
One of the more interesting local attractions is The Sterne-Hoya House which dates from 1830, making it the oldest building in Texas on its original site. Adolphus Sterne, a German Jew who became a player in the Fredonian Rebellion, put down roots, amassed wealth, and fathered seven children. Sam Houston, for mostly practical reasons, was baptized a Catholic in Sterne’s parlor. Joseph von der Hoya, who had nine offspring, bought the house in 1869. His granddaughters deeded it to the city in 1958.
Probably the best season to visit Nacogdoches is spring, mid March through April, when the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden bursts forth with camellias and azaleas.
One of the best things about coming here is that people really do take the time to stop and talk, like the lady at the Sterne-Hoya house who told me about her grandson’s cochlea implant that enabled a twelve-year-old to hear for the first time. Earl Herrera, a native son, whom I met on his street, regaled me with stories about circus elephants and miraculous springs then gave me his business card and encouraged me to keep in touch. There were many others.
I plan to take Ruth with me to Nacogdoches soon. She’s practicing how to say it in preparation.