By 1839 Anglos hoping to claim land along the Red River of northeast Texas found most of it taken. So they looked farther to the west or south. At least five families settled in what is now Hunt County, including Godfrey Smith, John Nail, Peter Barrow, Miller Green or Greenberry Miller, and Isaac Banta.
Within the next five years other families moved in from Missouri. All of these men were refugees from the law. However, that was fairly common of emigrants from the United States who either escaped from the law, debt collectors, or angry wives. The Missourians wanted everyone to believe they were regular farmers who grew wheat and sorghum. They also traded poultry, cattle or horses, which they had previously stolen.
The Shawnees and the first group of Anglos in the area negotiated a trading license through the Republic of Texas Indian Agent at an earlier date. Led by Loud Ray (Rhea), four of the Missouri group raided a camp of Shawnee hunters and traders near present day Scatter Branch. The Anglos killed two Native Americans, caught and stabbed a young Indian boy, stole twelve horses, a few rifles, chickens and valuable beaver pelts. As a result the Shawnee turned to the first five settlers for help.
Those men turned to Colonel James Bourland and President Mirabeau B. Lamar who refused to assist, both being staunch racists and believers that the “only good Indian was a dead Indian.”
So the good men of Hunt County appointed a judge and jury, heard testimony from the Shawnee witnesses, and convicted Ray and his men in absentia.
About the same time, John Nail and his son returned from Jefferson with a load of goods to sell to neighbors. Arriving home late at night, the Nails stopped the wagon next to the door intending to unload when the sun arose. But the next morning they found only the wagon, relieved of all the goods Nail hoped to sell.
An open prairie beside the South Sulphur River called Smith’s Prairie served as a common meeting place. Settlers throughout the area gathered again to determine the sources of trouble. Some had seen Loud Ray and his men with various items lifted from Nail’s wagon. Since the nearest law enforcement was in Bonham, over thirty miles away, the group decided to take the law in their own hands for a second time. A posse formed to find, arrest, and return the criminals was successful.
Ray and all his men were captured, some as far away as Shreveport. Loud Ray testified as state’s witness. The Shawnees objected that they were ignored. The jury heard two cases, one dealing with the three Native Americans killed and the other over the thief of Nail’s goods. Only the four men, including Ray, were tried for murder but the entire gang was tried for robbery.
The first four were sentenced to hang. The thieves were to leave Texas within ten days after they put a noose over the head of each killer. The hanging was held on Ray’s Prairie, named for the leader of the ruthless Missouri emigrants.
NOTE: the word emigrant is used when someone moves from one country to another. Since Texas was an independent nation at the time, anyone from the United States was an emigrant.