Gourdneck is real, and has a lively history

BY Bob Bowman
Special to the Journal

Finding Gourdneck is no easy matter. Even with well-intentioned directions, you can easily find yourself wandering through a maze of county roads near the Texas-Louisiana border in Shelby and Panola counties.

But Gourdneck is a real place despite the odd-sounding name.

It is a small, forgotten community located near Toledo Bend Reservoir in far southeastern Panola County.

Named for a gourd-like shape of land formed by the meandering of the Sabine River, the community was started in the 1830s and provided an important stop for travelers immigrating into East Texas from Louisiana.

Geographically, Gourdneck was bordered on the north by the river (now the upper reaches of Toledo Bend Reservoir), on the east by DeSoto Parish, Louisiana; and on the south by present-day Shelby County.

The closest town to Gourdneck is Joaquin--and that's where most people start when they want to visit the community. Travelers usually drive down a county road known as Connell's Ferry Road, take a fork in the road and find themselves at a site where a ferry once operated on the Sabine.

Gourdneck was once on a major traveling route between Carthage, the county seat of Panola County, and Logansport, Louisiana.

Connell's Ferry was founded by W.J. Connell, who in 1869 was authorized by Panola County to operate a ferry on the Sabine River at the crossing known as Buffalo Bend. Connell was charged a $5 license fee and a bond for $1,000. Later, as the ferry's business increased, Connell's fee was raised to $25 and his bond was upped to $1,500.

Travelers who used the ferry were charged 75 cents for a six-horse wagon, 50 cents for a four-horse wagon, 30 cents for a two-horse wagon, and 25 cents for a one-horse carriage. Footmen were charged smaller fees.

Because of its strategic location, Gourdneck was the setting for many of the events in the bloody Regulator-Moderator War of the 1840s. Both factions made use of the ferry, and gunfire was a common occurrence when the opposing parties clashed.

Moderators Bill and Bailey McFadden, for example, often crossed the river and passed through Gourdneck on their way to Shelby County.

Regulator Watt Moorman lived in Gourdneck and is possibly buried in the Regulator Burial Ground located near the area.

After Republic of Texas President Sam Houston sent an armed militia of soldiers into East Texas to end the feud between the Regulators and Moderators in August of 1844, Moorman found himself without allies.

He divorced his wife, Helen Daggett Moorman in 1845 and was virtually banished from Shelby County. He soon migrated to the area around Gourdneck, sitting on a bluff of the Sabine River.

At Logansport, Moorman became associated with a woman of bad character known as Mrs. Wiseman, who carried on a running feud with Dr. Robert Burns, a respectable physician in Logansport, and his wife Mary.

Mrs. Wiseman even went as far as accusing Dr. Burns of raping her and filed charges against him in Shelby County. A grand jury indicted Dr. Burns, and even though he lived in Louisiana, he surrendered to Shelby County authorities and asked for a quick trial on charges that he had attacked Mrs. Wiseman one night in April of 1849.

Dr. Burns produced two witnesses who said he was sleeping in his own house at Logansport during the night of the alleged attack. He was quickly acquitted.

Mrs. Wiseman, supported by Moorman, was infuriated by the decision. A few months later, she approached Dr. Burns and his wife at the Logansport ferry and was prepared to shoot the couple.

Dr. Burns, however, raised a shotgun and struck Mrs. Wiseman on the side of the head with the stock of the shotgun. Moorman, who had been an idle spectator to the incident, shouted at Burns: Nothing saved you but your wife being with you.

Several days later, Moorman and Mrs. Wiseman's seventeen-year-old son, tried to ambush Dr. Burns while he rode a horse on a road near the river. Moorman fired at Burns, but his shot only struck the physician's walking stick, lacerating his hand.

Moorman and Mrs. Wiseman made several other efforts to kill Dr. Burns, but each failed.

One morning, as he stood at the window of his home, Dr. Burns saw Moorman and two accomplices cross on the ferry into Logansport. He grabbed his shotgun, hid behind a building, and shot Moorman twice. Moorman, who had escaped death dozens of times, was now a corpse.

Dr. Burns surrendered himself to the local sheriff, was indicted by a grand jury, and was found not guilty in his trial.

Moorman was buried in Panola County, not far from Gourdneck, in a small graveyard where nine other Regulators were buried.

Today, Gourdneck is a quiet, peaceful community with a few scattered homes, old barns, abandoned buildings and fishing camps. The community had about sixty-two residents in 1970, but did not appear on any maps in 2007.

Connell's Ferry, which gave Gourdneck a reason for existing, was discontinued decades ago after a bridge was built across the Sabine River at Logansport.

(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 30 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bobb@consolidated.com