Sam Houston’s Acknowledgment of Terrapin Neck in Shelby County

June 27, 2017 - When the next issue of “We the People of Shelby County” appears on July 1 (, readers will find a very informative article written by Marleta Childs about Paul’s Store. While very few people know that Sam Houston viewed Terrapin Neck as a troublesome village in Shelby County, several local historians at least know that, after 1870, this “troublesome village” became known as the more familiar community of Paul’s Store. Marleta’s article is rich with information about Paul’s Store and the Paul family, with one statement capturing my immediate attention. That is, “Around 1840, Sam Houston reportedly said, ‘I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out.’"

That interesting statement was easily checked, since multiple history books and articles use that exact quote. One was the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, which is extremely careful with the accuracy of its reporting. So, since quotes from Sam Houston about Shelby County are somewhat rare, let’s examine closely why he referenced these three particular locations: Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck.

Shelby County was founded in 1836 as a part of the Republic of Texas, although its location was defined earlier under a different name (Mexico’s  District of Tenehaw). There is no doubt that, in 1840, Houston had been aware of Shelby County for a few years and had visited, more than likely, the community now known as Shelbyville (more on this later). Not only was Shelby County within the Republic, it was near San Augustine, where Houston set up shop for a time and gave more than passing attention to the  Regulator/Moderator War in a troublesome area along the Sabine River: No Man’s Land.

Although the quote includes a reference to Tenaha, we know, however,  that our present town of Tenaha was not in existence until after 1885. This is a possible reason that this quote starts with some doubt: Sam Houston “reportedly said….”  It seems possible to me that, over the years since Houston made this statement in 1840, the reference to Tenaha triggered a bit of doubt for those historians passing down the quote, so the word, reportedly, gave them enough “wiggle room” to continue to keep the quote alive. Actually, I do believe the quote was worded accurately, and here is why: Sam Houston’s use of the word Tenaha (or Tenehaw—the spelling didn’t matter in those days) was a reference to the Mexican village of Tenehaw, a substantial village soon to be renamed Nashville for a short time and then Shelbyville as the Republic began to emerge. In most local history references to the Regulator/Moderator War, the village of Shelbyville had a prominent role but seemed, strangely, to be omitted from the quote. But again, in my opinion, Houston did refer to Shelbyville but by its earlier Mexican name of Tenaha (Tenehaw).

The village of Terrapin Neck in the quote is much easier to explain. It obviously was in a “hotbed” area of skirmishes that continued to irritate Houston and, as Marleta Childs explains so completely, the village of Terrapin Neck was to become the village of Paul’s Store by about 1870. This is where a post office was established in 1886, surrounded by not only the store owned by the Paul family but by a grist mill, saw mill, cotton gin, and blacksmith shop. The village declined very rapidly, with the post office closing in 1906. 

The existence of Paul’s Store is reflected still in its cemeteries and churches: Wimberly, Permenter, and Cassell Cemeteries; and New Union Baptist, Raw Hide Baptist, and White Elephant Christian Churches. Moreover, the memories of descendants of some of the families who lived there linger (the Paul, Booth, McClelland, Hooper, Permenter, Strickland, Wimberly and other families).  And the knowledge of Paul’s School, Ballard School, and White Elephant School is still passed down by descendants of the students who attended as well as the recorded history of our Shelby County public schools. Such history may become personal and meaningful when such details are known, and even an indirect reference to Paul’s Store by Sam Houston (through its earlier label of Terrapin Neck) brings life to our local history. 

So thanks to Marleta Childs, contributing writer, for bringing that quote to our attention. Our area seems a bit more important because of Sam Houston’s acknowledgment.