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Columbus, Texas

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Consider the Lily:
The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas

by Bill Stein

(Copyright, Nesbitt Memorial Library and Bill Stein)

Part 4 : 1846-1852

The addition of Texas to the United States had one quick effect on the residents of Colorado County: a number of them signed up to fight in the war with Mexico which shortly followed Texas' statehood. The Colorado County company was raised in Columbus, and was mustered into the U. S. Army on June 7, 1846. Captained by Caleb Claiborne Herbert, it included such notable county residents as Leander Beeson, James Berry, Samuel Crabtree, Oliver B. Crenshaw, Andrew Crier, Angus McNeill, George and William Washington Montgomery, and Asa, Stapleton, and Thomas L. Townsend. One member of the company, Augustin W. J. D. Austin, was killed in action at Monterrey on September 21, 1846. Another, Joseph L. Walker, died, presumably of disease, on July 16, 1846, before the company reached Mexico.1

The more immediate and profound effect of statehood on Colorado County came at the instance of the newly created state legislature. In April 1846, the legislature took up some long-delayed business of the now-defunct congress of the republic. On January 29, 1842, the congress had defined a county, to be named La Baca, out of territory that was then a part of Colorado, Fayette, Gonzales, Victoria, and Jackson Counties. La Baca County, however, was like Ward County and several other counties in that it was not accorded its own representative in congress, and, for that reason, like those counties, it was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court in 1842. In La Baca County's case, the supreme court decision came only six days after it was created; so, obviously, it never developed as a separate government entity. Equally obviously, with the admittance of Texas to the United States and the concomitant adoption of a new constitution, the legislature was not restrained by the laws that had forced the dissolution of both La Baca and Ward Counties. On April 6, 1846, they created a new county, which they named La Vaca, that closely followed the shape of the aborted La Baca County. Three days earlier, they had created Wharton County, which was similar but not identical to Ward County. Each of the new counties, fairly enough, was required to assume a portion of the debts of Colorado County, and of the other counties from which it was created. The new counties cost Colorado County perhaps half its territory. The community of Hidesville, most of the prosperous settlement along the Navidad, and the huge plantation of Washington Green Lee Foley, were henceforth to be in La Vaca County. Egypt and its area, with its prosperous old plantations of the Mercers, Heards, Sutherlands, Menefees, John C. Clark, and Alexander Jackson, and the comparatively new plantations belonging to John D. Newell and Gideon G. Williams, were given over to Wharton County.2

With the county thus reduced in size, the commissioners court met on May 4, 1846 to reorganize the voting precincts. The next time they met, on August 24, 1846, they resolved a dispute between William T. Townsend and William A. Naill over which of them had been elected assessor and collector by setting a second election for September 3. At their third meeting after being taken into the United States, the commissioners took up a long delayed project, the construction of a courthouse. On October 14, 1846, they appointed Asa Townsend, William T. Townsend, and William Bluford Dewees to look into the possibility of securing subscriptions to build a courthouse. On January 30, 1847, the three-man committee returned with their report, and with a proposal, submitted by N. H. Fisher, to build a small, two-story, wooden courthouse for $950 within six months. Fisher's proposed building was to contain the courtroom and an office for the district clerk on the first floor, and two jury rooms and an office for the county clerk on the second floor. The commissioners court immediately approved Fisher's proposal, appropriated $950 for the construction, appointed another three-man committee, this one composed of Isam Tooke, Robert Robson, and Kidder Walker, to supervise and inspect the construction as it proceeded and to provide Fisher with funds as needed, and required of Fisher that he post a bond of $1900. Fisher apparently completed the building within the specified six months. Though no report of its completion has been found, on July 12, 1847, Fisher again appeared in front of the commissioners, this time asking for another $65.50 to cover extra work he had done on the courthouse. The commissioners gave him the money, almost certainly signalling that he had completed his labors, and that therefore, for the first time, the county owned a courthouse. Evidently, the completed building was somewhat different from the one that Fisher had proposed. The courtroom, it seems, had been put on the second floor, and the offices which eventually devolved to the county and district clerks on the ground floor.3

Unlike Ward County before it, when Wharton County was created, it did not include the plantations of either James S. Montgomery or the now-deceased Benjamin Franklin Stockton. Those plantations, together with the plantations of four of their near neighbors, all of which were on the east side of the river stretching from the county line halfway to Columbus, were the residences of more than one-third of the 527 slaves in the county in 1846. Montgomery, with his family and numerous slaves, had lived on his plantation of more than 2000 acres since February 1836. He had acquired it in a complicated deal on the day after Christmas of 1835. The original owner, Clement Clinton Dyer, had sold it to William Stafford on February 19, 1825. Stafford, through his son Adam, had sold it to Stockton, who then lived in Mississippi, on March 30, 1835. Since Stockton did not live in Texas, he was prohibited from owning the land, so Stafford and Stockton had to employ a legal manuever, completing the deal by stipulating that the land was being conveyed to the alcalde of San Felipe. After the revolution and the creation of a new government, Montgomery went to court to get all the resulting clouds to his title removed. The proceedings were little more than a formality, and on April 23, 1841, he took final title. In 1846, Montgomery, with 58 slaves, held the dubious distinction of being the owner of more of his fellow human beings than any other person in the county.4

His near neighbors in 1846, however, were not far behind. To his south, Richard H. Foote owned a plantation of 2262 acres with 25 slaves. To Montgomery's north were, in order, large plantations belonging to Stockton's estate, which owned 22 slaves, John Matthews, who owned 21, Angus McNeill, who owned 33, and Claiborne Herbert, the captain of the Mexican War company, who owned 30. Matthews had operated his plantation nearly as long as Montgomery, acquiring it, the entire league that had been granted to James Nelson, from Nelson on June 3, 1837. Like Montgomery, McNeill had acquired and held onto his plantation only after a series of annoying legal squabbles. The land had originally been granted to James J. Ross. He had conveyed it to his son, James Talbot Ross, but left no assets to feed or pay expenses for three of his four surviving minor children. Jesse Burnam, who had taken the children in, sued to invalidate the deed that conveyed the land to the younger Ross, and won the right to sell the land at auction. McNeill first secured a deed from the younger Ross, then again bought the land, a full league, at Burnam's auction. McNeill, however, was under legal attack by William Jefferson Jones. Attempting, evidently, to "hide" the land from the court, on June 7, 1845, he sold it to Trowbridge Ward, who immediately conveyed half of it to McNeill's wife, Rebecca Jane. Undeterred, on October 10, 1845, the district court in Austin County ordered that the land, plus 30 slaves, be sold at auction. On November 4, 1845, Herbert, who had been McNeill's partner in the cotton grown on the plantation, bought both the land and the slaves for $1000. A month later, he conveyed it all back to a trust that had been set up for the benefit of Rebecca McNeill. Herbert had begun piecing together what would become his own enormous plantation in February 1845, when he purchased 1172 acres from James McNair. Two years later, he purchased more than 1000 more acres nearby and downriver, and, in 1848, added a substantial amount of land upriver.5

These six large plantations were rimmed to the north by two farms of less than 200 acres each, one belonging to James Dickson, who owned eleven slaves, the other to Etheldred W. Perry, who owned five, and to the south by that of George Washington Thatcher, who had 840 acres and ten slaves. Thatcher, like his father-in-law, Montgomery, had to go to court to secure final title to his plantation. On June 23, 1837, David Bright had agreed to convey the land to him. Unhappily, Bright died before he could do so. In entirely friendly proceedings initiated by Thatcher in April 1840, Bright's daughter Sarah, and his son-in-law, William Demetrius Lacey, acknowledged that the land ought to be Thatcher's. The title was not finally conveyed, however, until May 31, 1841.6

Another, but decidedly smaller, cluster of plantations and slaveowners had developed just south of Columbus, on the west side of the river, in the vicinity of the site of Beeson's Crossing. There, John F. Miller had an 820-acre plantation and fifteen slaves, John Pinchback 680 acres and eight slaves, William Alley 640 acres and thirteen slaves, and, much further downriver, James E. Silvey, 1111 acres and seven slaves. Miller had come to America in the mid-1820s, and had neither notified his family of his location or of his continued existence until 1840. He had acquired his plantation in two deals: the first on June 11, 1842, when he purchased land along the river that included the small lake that shortly after would become known as Miller's Lake; and the second on February 11, 1846, when he patented 320 acres in the name of William Alley, from whom, evidently, he had purchased the certificate, to the southwest of and adjacent to his first tract. Alley's plantation was on land he had inherited from his brother, Rawson, and Pinchback's on land purchased from Miller. Upriver from Columbus, within the bend then known as Walnut Bend, William Fitzgerald owned a plantation of 450 acres, which, in 1846, he operated with the help of eleven slaves. Most curiously, another of the largest slaveholders, Charles B. Stewart, owned 20 slaves but no land or other taxable property in the county. Another, Thomas Ware, had a plantation of 1107 acres in the north part of the county which he presumably had operated since he acquired it on May 19, 1840. In 1846, he had 17 slaves. To his north was a 600-acre plantation, which had been purchased by Briggs W. Hopson on March 8, 1840. In 1846, it was operated by Hopson's widow, Elizabeth Y. Hopson, and staffed by thirteen slaves.7

Ware's and Hopson's plantations were nestled amidst the growing number of smaller farms that were owned and operated by Germans, and isolated from them not only linguistically, but because they were two of the very few in the area that used slave labor. Whether for philosopical or economic reasons, the Germans who were settling in the area in increasing numbers, by and large did not own slaves. In 1846, for example, of the seventy slaveholders in Colorado County, only one was German. That man, Charles Kessler, did not live among the other Germans, and owned only two slaves.8

Despite the verdict in his favor that he had secured in district court in 1841, four years later Friedrich Adolph Zimmerscheidt still had not taken title to his league. On November 22, 1845 he hired yet another attorney, Kidder Walker, to get the title. Walker quickly succeeded. Zimmerscheidt finally got title to the land on which he had been living for a decade on February 10, 1846. The same day, Elizabeth Pieper, after a similarly long struggle, secured a patent for slightly more than 3000 acres in the name of her deceased husband, Caspar Simon. Her earliest attempts had been blocked by the land office because, at first, she had not paid the proper fees, then because part of the league she requested overlapped that which Zimmerscheidt was seeking. Apparently to assure herself that the land she requested was vacant and to avoid hiring another surveyor to extend the already platted boundaries of the survey, she simply allowed Zimmerscheidt to have the disputed area and settled for less than a full league.9

Though Zimmerscheidt must certainly have been relieved to finally secure title to his league, the fact that he had done so meant that he was compelled to honor several bonds to convey some of the property to others. Three such bonds that stemmed from his attempt to patent the land six or seven years earlier, which he apparently felt had been secured from him by sharpers, led him into more legal troubles. The first involved John G. Welchmeyer, to whom Zimmerscheidt had promised to convey 500 acres in return for securing his patent. Though Welchmeyer had not lived long enough to fulfill his part of the bargain, he had found time to sell half the land to Charles Kessler, and he and Kessler had persuaded Zimmerscheidt, whose inability to speak English was only one of his limitations in such matters, to sign a bond in which he promised to convey the 250 acres directly to Kessler as soon as he secured his patent. In addition, Zimmerscheidt had promised to convey another 250 acres to Kessler, for which Kessler was to pay him $750: $350 immediately, and $400 when the title was made. On February 22, 1843, Zimmerscheidt sued to have the first bond with Kessler annulled, claiming that he had mistakenly left out of it the precise stipulation that the bond was to be invalid if Welchmeyer failed to secure his patent. On September 4, a jury agreed with him, ruling the bond invalid. Kessler objected, and on the same day, the court overruled its verdict. Zimmerscheidt came back to court a year later, amending his petition to state that he had signed the bond on the basis of a fraudulent synopsis of it provided to him by Kessler, the man who stood to benefit the most from it. Kessler claimed that Welchmeyer, who spoke both fluent English and German, had explained the bond to Zimmerscheidt and that there was no fraud involved. Further, he said, he had paid Welchmeyer $250 for the land. But, on September 5, 1844, Zimmerscheidt won again.10

Zimmerscheidt evidently had forgotten about another bond to make title he had made several years earlier, but the man to whom he had made it, John Hennings, had not. On August 28, 1839, Hennings had secured Zimmerscheidt's promise to convey 250 acres to him after he took title to his league, or to pay him $4000 if he failed to do so. Zimmerscheidt did neither, and on September 16, 1846, Hennings filed suit. Zimmerscheidt responded by charging that Hennings had been present when he made his contract with Welchmeyer, and had conspired with Welchmeyer to defraud him. Neither man, he claimed, had explained to him the terms of the bond, which was in English and thus indecipherable to him; and therefore he did not understand that by signing the bond he was acknowledging that he had received the consideration the bond required from Hennings, $750, which had been neither offered nor conveyed. On October 19, 1849, after considerable legal manuevering, the court dismissed Hennings' suit. The following day, they overruled his motion to set aside their judgment.11

Both Kessler and Hennings appealed their cases to the state supreme court. Kessler's case was heard in December 1846; Hennings' in December 1849. Both men won reversals. In 1848, Kessler filed suit against Zimmerscheidt to get him to honor his second bond. Zimmerscheidt responded by taking up his case against Kessler to invalidate the first bond for the third time. This time, however, he lost. The judgment came down against him on October 29, 1850, and he was compelled to convey 250 acres to Kessler. The following year, the court heard Kessler's suit against Zimmerscheidt. On November 3, 1851, they awarded Kessler the additional 250 acres he sought and stipulated that he must pay Zimmerscheidt $74, which was the value in United States currency that they set on the 400 Texas dollars he owed. Three days later, Zimmerscheidt took another defeat. Hennings had reopened his suit, and on November 6, he too was awarded 250 acres of Zimmerscheidt's land.12

Even as the Piepers and Zimmerscheidt were overcoming their various legal problems, they were selling small farms to fellow German-speaking immigrants. Pieper sold farms to Balthasar Meismer and Henry Jansson in 1845, to Christopher Muller in 1846, to Adolph Rohde in 1847, and to Ernst König in 1848. Also in 1848, he and his wife Elizabeth set up their son-in-law, Anton Neuendorff, with a farm in the Caspar Simon Survey, and sold another to Francis Henneke. Zimmerscheidt sold land to Georg Brune in 1844, and to Henry Herder and Jürgen Stallman in 1847. In 1848, the Zimmerscheidts, like the Piepers, provided their son-in-law, Johann Leyendecker, with a farm. The same year, Johann Frederick Oetkin, Louis August Brune, John G. Fehrenkamp, Henry Buescher, John D. Vogelsang, and Adam and John Braden all acquired farms in the Zimmerscheidt Survey. The German settlement grew remarkably rapidly. By 1850, more than one-third of the county's free white residents had been born in Germany.13

Despite the population increase among the Germans, the move to establish Hermann University made little progress. The trustees did manage to secure the league of land that had been accorded the school by its charter, appointing Ottfried Hans Freiherr [John O.] Meusebach on September 10, 1845 to locate the league in Gillespie County, and taking title to it on February 8, 1849. Further developments, however, were arrested, at least in part because of disputes regarding its location and a lack of willingness to support it by the large number of local German Catholics. On April 11, 1846, the state legislature passed two amendments to the university's charter. The first allowed the board of trustees to locate the school anywhere they wished; the second removed the suggestion that the theological faculty be Protestant. While the trustees struggled to develop their ambitious university, the Colorado County Germans established a lesser school for their children. That school was in place by the summer of 1844.14

Another important installation in the German settlement arose out of the purchase of a 102 acre tract on the east side of the James Cummins Upper Hacienda Survey by William Frels on March 25, 1843. Two years later, when a road was laid out from Columbus to Brenham, it went through the eastern edge of the Frels tract. By the summer of 1846, Frels had established a store on the west side of the new road. Frels' store was the first of a cluster of buildings along and near the road. On August 31, 1847, the Cummins Creek post office, of which Frels had been postmaster since it had been established in 1842, went out of existence. Three weeks later, on September 22, 1847, Frels was named the postmaster of the new post office in the area, which was almost certainly located inside his store. The new post office was named Frelsburg, a name which was soon applied to the entire German settlement around it. Frels, however, did not remain a storekeeper for long. It seems that by 1850, he had conveyed his store to Friedrich Jürgens. On January 24, that year, he sold Jürgens the fifteen acres on which both the store and Jürgens' house rested. Soon afterward, he conveyed tracts of 2.56 and 1.54 acres across the road from Jürgens’ Store to Gerhard Heinsohn and Carl Friedrich Sophus Jordt, and two tracts comprising a total of 6.4 acres, one on each side of the road, to Melchior Kross. Jordt constructed on his tract a store, to which, by the end of 1852, the post office had been moved.15

About four years earlier, the local Catholics had built their second church, this one near the newly installed road. In the three years of its existence, the German Catholic parish, by then renamed St. Peter, had succeeded to such a degree that a priest, who signed his name in the Latin tradition of the church as Joannes Adamus Jacobs, was assigned to it. Jacobs' first activity, a marriage and seven baptisms, came on April 5, 1847. Two months later, the parish had a tract of 62.5 acres south of Frels' store surveyed. In 1848, they purchased the land and, one must assume, shortly afterward built their new church on it. The parish soon embraced another patron saint, and has ever afterward been known as Sts. Peter and Paul.16

Though the roadways had improved to a sufficient degree to allow them to better get their crops to market, the county's farmers and plantation owners had a real and abiding interest in the navigation of the Colorado River. By 1846, the Colorado Navigation Company had made no real progress toward removing the obstruction of wood and other debris near the mouth of the river that was known as the raft; however, two events revived the spirits of the company's backers. On May 11, 1846, the legislature chartered the Colorado and Wilson Creek Rail Road Company, which was authorized to construct a railroad that connected the navigable part of the Colorado River above the raft with the navigable part of Wilson Creek, which ran into Trespalacios Creek and thence into the bay. The railroad's backers, John Duncan and Charles L. Bolton, the latter of whom had just moved into Texas, expected to profit by making it easier to transfer goods from the head of the raft to the coast. However, their railroad apparently never built any track, and went out of existence five years after its charter was passed.17

A few months before the railroad was incorporated, a steamboat, the Kate Ward, captained by William J. Ward, had been launched on the river. The Kate Ward was certainly the most substantial vessel yet to operate on the river. She tested her limits in early 1846, going upriver and arriving at Austin, to great acclaim and excitement, on March 8. The promise of her early days, however, was, like those of the railroad, not to be fulfilled. She was too large for the unpredictable river. She was never destined to return to Austin. Little more than a month after her journey to the capital city, she ran aground near Columbus, where she had to wait until the river rose. That spring, she made at least one trip between La Grange and the raft, but, with the river in a shallow stage, she lay idle throughout the summer. By winter, her owners, still in debt from her construction, had determined to try to abandon the Colorado by escaping around or over the raft at a high stage of the river. In the spring of 1847, the Kate Ward made another trip upriver. Though she could not proceed as far as La Grange, she evidently took on cargo and returned it to the raft. In late June 1847, the Colorado rose, and her crew attempted to take the steamboat into the Gulf of Mexico. She failed, however, and was forced to remain in inactivity above the raft.18

Late in 1847, with the Kate Ward still trapped on the Colorado, the city of Victoria gave her further incentive to depart the unpredictable river, offering to pay as much as $1000 to transfer her to the Guadalupe River, and to guarantee that she would do no worse than break even in her business endeavors on the Guadalupe in her first year. Shortly afterward, with the river at a high stage, she finally escaped around the raft. Her route, over what normally was dry land, prompted some to speculate that the best way to open the river to traffic would be to dig a canal around the raft, along the route taken by the Kate Ward. In March 1849, a committee of five men, James S. Montgomery, Eli Mercer, John Duncan, Albert Clinton Horton, and John Rugeley, inspected the raft with the possibility of a canal in mind. Their report, however, was not encouraging. They reiterated that the best way to open the river was to remove the raft, noting that because debris continued to collect, the head of the raft constantly moved upriver, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future, it would block the head of the proposed canal. They estimated that the raft could be removed for $30,000, and called for the six river counties, Matagorda, Wharton, Colorado, Fayette, Bastrop, and Travis, to begin raising money.19

The counties responded by calling meetings. The citizens of Bastrop County met on March 31; those of Travis on April 2; and those of Matagorda on April 3. All three pledged to send delegates to a convention of the six counties in La Grange on May 7. The citizens of Colorado County met on April 17, with Montgomery as their chairman. He and Asa Townsend were appointed to begin taking subscriptions, and Claiborne Herbert, Armstead Carter, and William Fields were appointed as delegates to the La Grange convention. After the adjournment of the meeting, Montgomery and Townsend secured "several thousand dollars" in subscriptions.20

The La Grange convention, however, was a debacle. No delegates from either Matagorda or Wharton Counties, and only two of the three Colorado County delegates, showed up. Those who were there waited until May 8 to convene in hopes that every river county would be represented, then called another convention, this one in Columbus, on June 25. Before adjourning, the convention's chairman, Thomas Jones Hardeman, called for each of the six counties to appoint two commissioners to inspect the raft and draft a report, to be read at the next convention.21

On June 4, three of the commissioners so-appointed, Townsend, William M. Baylor, and Frederick W. Grassmeyer, met at the raft to undertake their inspection. Joseph Tinkler, the sitting Colorado County surveyor, was also present. Together, the four men went to the raft and, proceeding upriver, began to map it. Unhappily, that afternoon, the river began to rise. As night set in, the four men, reluctant to camp near the rising water, went to Horton's nearby ranch to sleep. The next morning, the area was so inundated, and the water was running so fast, they could not get back to the river, even in a canoe. That afternoon, after deciding to abandon the survey, they wrote their report, which, though they were hardly qualified to give an opinion, rosily predicted that the raft could be easily removed. That evening, another surveyor, William Prissic, who had been sent to join the expedition by Rugeley, arrived. He persuaded the commissioners to remain at the ranch while he sent for his boat, which, he assured them, could negotiate the rapid waters, provided they wait for them to rise a bit higher. On June 7, Townsend, tired of waiting, returned to Colorado County. The same day, Tinkler and Prissic took the boat to the bottom of the raft and rowed down the river to its mouth, mapping it as they went. At Matagorda, they reported to Grassmeyer and Baylor, who had gone there to meet them. That night, the two Travis County commissioners, Thomas William Ward and John C. Duval, arrived. On June 8, the now-enlarged expedition returned to Horton's ranch. Since Prissic's boat could accommodate only four men, he, Tinkler, Duval, and Grassmeyer returned to the raft in it on the ninth. Taking advantage of the high water, they followed the route the Kate Ward had used to escape from the river in 1848, but found it too to be precarious because of accumulated debris. The next day they completed their survey of the raft.22

The commissioners' lengthy report, which strongly recommended removing the raft rather than digging a canal, was read at the convention in Columbus on June 25. Another committee reported that the canal would be much more expensive to dig than some believed, because, they said, the ground was so hard that the conventional method of digging a canal (making a smaller-than-necessary trench, then letting the flowing water complete the excavation) would not work. Both reports reiterated that the head of the canal, if it were dug along the Kate Ward's escape route, would soon be clogged by debris. The convention continued through June 27. Each river county was called upon to appoint two men to collect subscriptions. Three counties, Colorado, Wharton, and Matagorda, had already done so. Though the citizens of Colorado County had pledged just $3200, each of the other two counties had already collected more than $6000 worth. On the third and final day of the convention, Grassmeyer and Armstead Carter were hired to begin removing the raft. Within weeks, they were at work.23

As the advocates of navigation worked to achieve their goals, with only intermittent success, so too did the advocates of religion. Methodists had been accumulating in Texas even when it was a part of Mexico and citizens were required to be Catholic. Just when the first Methodist avowed his religion in the Colorado County area is open to question. Two Methodist ministers, Henderson D. Palmer and John Wesley DeVilbiss, were assigned to Egypt, then a part of Colorado County, in 1843. They arrived in the county, apparently on Friday, February 3, just in time to encounter the river at flood stage. The intrepid ministers, determined to cross the flooded river and preach in Columbus the following Sunday, went to the home of Leander Beeson some two miles downriver from their destination, acquired a number of logs from him, and constructed a raft. DeVilbiss thought the craft entirely seaworthy, but Palmer was not so sure. Before he could be persuaded to embark on it, word arrived that a man named Williams had been drowned that morning while attempting to cross the river. The two ministers decided not to proceed on their raft, and instead occupied themselves building a coffin for the unfortunate Mr. Williams. They buried him on Sunday, and preached to a few people on the east side of the river, prevented by nature from keeping their appointment in Columbus.24

DeVilbiss and Palmer abandoned any idea of going to Columbus, and on February 6 they went to their base, Egypt, which they could reach without crossing the river. For the next year, the newly-arrived ministers traveled their circuit, visiting the settlers and preaching in what are now Colorado, Lavaca, Jackson, Wharton, and Matagorda Counties, and helping conduct a camp meeting at nearby Spanish Camp. They were replaced by two more ministers the following year. In 1845, their replacements got some help from the first Methodist minister assigned to Columbus, Robert Guthrie. That April, DeVilbiss, bound for Egypt from Gonzales, stopped in Columbus and gave a sermon to what he describes as "a good congregation," which was collected especially for the occasion.25

Meanwhile, another man who fancied himself a Methodist minister, John D. Thomas, was trying to establish himself independently among the Germans in the north part of the county. In February 1844, his wife, Malinda, purchased three tracts of land totalling 108 acres on Andrews Creek (now called Boggy Creek), very near the county line. The Thomases moved onto the land and did not leave until 1853, by which time they had allocated four of their 108 acres to the Methodist church. In 1849, the area's Protestants constructed a church, presumably on the land the Thomases provided. That church was most likely used by whatever few Methodists Thomas could muster, and by the remnants of the small congregation that had been started by Louis Cachand Ervendberg and that, after his departure, was attended to by another non-demoninational Protestant minister, a man named Fibiger.26

Before the end of the decade, the Methodists had built another church in the county. That church was the first in Columbus. In March 1847, the Columbus Methodist congregation numbered 27 members, one of whom was a slave. On December 14 of the following year, their pastor, John C. Kolbe, engineered the purchase of a lot on Front Street, facing the river and some four blocks south of the courthouse, on which to build a church. However, at the annual session of the Texas Conference held January 3, 1849 at La Grange, "on account of pecuniary embarrassment," Kolbe was not given an appointment. However, he apparently remained in Columbus, for eight months later, on August 14, 1849, when the local Methodists bought the lot next to the lot on which they intended to build their church, Kolbe was named as one of the church's trustees. He was reappointed to serve as the Columbus minister in 1850. By that summer, the church had been built. Soon, it would come to be known informally as the Yell Chapel, named such by local wags in honor of Kolbe's replacement in Columbus, Mordecai Yell.27

The move toward religion also manifested itself in the formation of perhaps the earliest secular society of Colorado County citizens, the Rechabite Division No. 55 of the Sons of Temperance in Columbus, which was formed July 16, 1849. In ceremonies on their first anniversary, they celebrated their effectiveness in transforming the city. Two women, Mary Townsend and Louisa Cunningham Ijams, made speeches as they presented, in turn, a banner and a Bible to the division. Townsend claimed that whereas a year earlier there had been "a house to retail spirituous liquors on every corner, and daily scenes of bloodshed and blasphemy," a year of coexistence with the Sons of Temperance had drinkers slinking off to dark, secluded corners to imbibe. Within months, the division would be shaken by the death of one of their members in, presumably, a non-alcohol related murder. On November 24, 1850, Samuel Crabtree, was stabbed to death on a Columbus street by a man named William P. Gray. Nothing is known of Gray's motive. Gray, it seems, was quickly arrested and sentenced to a term in the state penitentiary for a crime he had committed in Galveston. In February or March 1851, he escaped from a boat on which he was being transported from one jail to another, but was, apparently, soon recaptured. He appeared in court in Columbus on November 3, 1851, whereupon the judge ordered that he complete his sentence in the penitentiary before being tried for the murder of Crabtree.28

The effectiveness of the Sons of Temperance does not seem to have been diminished by either the death of Crabtree or by another "scene of bloodshed," within the walls of their own meeting hall on the second floor of the Methodist church, some three years later. John C. Griffey, a young Columbus attorney, had been suspended from the division for a violation of their constitution. Upon the expiration of his suspension, another member, David H. Rhine, recommended that Griffey be expelled because he had continued his aberrant behavior. On the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the division, Friday, July 30, 1853, Griffey confronted Rhine in the meeting hall, called him an "impertinent puppy," and struck him twice with his cane, knocking him down. After Rhine seized the cane and struck Griffey across the forehead with it, another man stepped in and wrested the cane away from Rhine. With Rhine's attention thus diverted, Griffey rushed him with a Bowie knife, inflicting two deep wounds. Rhine was laid on a cot, where he lingered throughout the weekend. He died on Monday, August 2. Griffey fled the scene, and, so far as is known, was never again seen in Columbus. The murder of one of their members by another over intra-division politics did little to dissuade the division from its commitment to its goals and methods. On August 20, less than a month after the murder, they met to elect delegates to the upcoming state temperance convention in Austin. The election was deferred until October 27. On that day, seven men, Charles William Tait, Basil Gaither Ijams, Lyman W. Alexander, Don Fernando Payne, James J. Loomis, John C. Kolbe, and George Gatewood, the last three of whom were ministers, were elected to go to Austin.29

On August 5, 1854, little more than five years after it was established, the Columbus division of the Sons of Temperance voted itself out of existence, and resolved to transfer all its assets and liabilities to the Columbus chapter of another temperance organization, the Lone Star Circle of the Order of Social Circles No. 2 of Texas, which had been chartered on July 4, 1854. In addition to the meeting hall on the second floor of the Methodist Church, the Social Circle, which uniquely included women among its members and directors, received a bakery across the street from the courthouse that had been owned by, and presumably operated by, the Sons of Temperance since 1851. In the intervening years, another fraternal lodge, the Free and Accepted Masons, had established a chapter in Columbus. That chapter, known as the Caledonia Lodge #68, first purchased property in Columbus on September 21, 1853.30

Another class of men, the land speculators, including men like Robert Robson, William Jefferson Jones, and Robert Hardin Tobin, spent the era no less fervently committed to their goals than the ministers, nor indeed, even than the Sons of Temperance. Some of the deals they made were staggeringly complicated. Jones arrived too late to secure a land grant on the river. Nonetheless, through a series of maneuvers, and without expending a great deal of money, he ended up with a large part of the league of land that had been granted to John Byrne in 1831. Jones originally purchased the land, three-fourths of the league (more than 3300 acres), at a sheriff's sale for a total of $4.83 on March 2, 1846. Byrne himself had been assessed the taxes, then declared delinquent, and, in accordance with the law, he was given one year to redeem the property. He failed to do so and, on March 17, 1847, Jones was given title.31

Neither Jones nor the tax collecter apparently knew that some ten years earlier, Byrne had conveyed the land to Sumner Bacon, and that Bacon, on February 18, 1837, had sold it to Alexander C. and Thomas J. Henderson. The Hendersons had apparently held the land for the intervening decade, but never developed or settled on it. They would shortly make their interest known. On June 1, 1849, Jones worked out a deal with the Hendersons, purchasing their interest in the land. Something, however, apparently went awry, for the Hendersons sued. Six months later, on January 24, 1850, the United States District Court in Galveston declared that Byrne had forfeited the land by abandoning the country "during the struggle for the Independence of Texas, for the purpose of evading a participation in it," and that therefore the chain of sales by which the Hendersons had acquired it was invalid. Jones, who had purchased the certificate for one league and one labor that had been issued to Patrick O. Daugherty on September 1, 1848 for $400, immediately moved to use it to acquire the land. The land office granted him one-half league in Daugherty's name within the original Byrne Survey on August 20, 1850.32

Jones' problems with the land, however, were not over. He turned a quick profit on it, selling 800 acres of it to Charles Y. Hutchinson on November 13, 1851 for $8000. Hutchinson made the down payment, $1000, then prepared to fence his new land. He was immediately disappointed and outraged to discover that he had gotten a mistaken impression of just which land he had purchased---an impression, he later claimed, that Jones had encouraged. Hutchinson, who was scheduled to pay the remaining $7000 in three equal installments over the next three years, made no more payments, preferring instead to spend his money on clearing the land, adding on to the house, and building fences, cribs, and other structures. At some point, he rented the property to Joseph H. Guy, who in turn rented it to William H. Moore. Moore was living on the place, and growing corn there, when, on March 20, 1855, more than a year after Hutchinson's final payment had been due, Jones sued to evict him and to recover from him a suitable rent. Hutchinson quickly made another $1000 payment, then answered the suit with thinly-veiled charges that Jones had swindled him. His defense was not good enough for the court, which on April 7, 1856, awarded Jones both the land with its improvements and $300 rent, to be paid to him by Hutchinson. Jones, however, was not satisfied. On December 8, 1856, he appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court, which, on March 27, 1858, upheld the lower court's decision. By that time, Moore had died and Guy had moved to another state.33

Meanwhile, William B. Dewees, who had mostly failed in his own land speculations, was attempting to capitalize on his experiences as an early settler. By October 7, 1852, when they entered into a contract that specified how the profits were to be distributed, he and Emanetta Cara Kimball had written a book about his early life. One must guess what Kimball's role in the endeavor was. Probably, she induced the older man into proceeding with the project after hearing something of his adventures. When the book was published under the title Letters from an Early Settler of Texas, evidently in 1852, Dewees' adventures had been cast into epistolary form, again probably at Kimball's instigation. The "letters" were said to have been sent by Dewees to a friend in Kentucky named Cara Cardelle. Though the publisher steadfastly maintained otherwise, the friend and her name, as well as the dates which were assigned to the "letters," evidently were pure fiction. However, Dewees seems to have worked closely with Kimball on the contents of the "letters," for most of the information they contain is corroborated by other sources. The book is the first known literary effort by any citizen of Colorado County.34

Others made their livings by more conventional means. In 1850, there were six schools in the county, each staffed by a single teacher, with an average enrollment of 28. Five physicians had established practices in the county. Among them were two Germans, Hermann Nagel and Eduard Friedrich Becker, who found their patients among their countrymen. Many other Germans listed unusual occupations. The only druggist, the only tailor, the only gunsmith, and the only cabinetmaker in the county were Germans, as were the only two carpenters, the only two barrel makers, the only three shoemakers, and the only three tobacconists. Ten of the twelve blacksmiths, and the only two saddlers, one of them Friedrich Gustav Schultz, also were German. Two men, Etheldred W. Perry and Charles Kessler, ran sawmills. Both relied on horses to power their mills. The county had two mail carriers, one a thirteen-year-old German boy named Herman Mehrens and the other, curiously, a nineteen-year-old girl named Emily S. Morrison. There were also four attorneys: John H. Robson, George Washington Smith, William Jefferson Jones, and Robert Jones Rivers. Rivers, the oldest and the wealthiest of the pack, also had the most colorful background. Some years earlier, in what is now Hickman, Kentucky, Rivers' brother, Thomas, had been killed by a man named Ferguson. Rivers arrived in town shortly after the murder, went to the house where Ferguson was detained, broke in through a window, chased the fleeing Ferguson through the streets, shot him to the ground, then walked up to him and killed him with a second shot. Naturally fearing arrest and prosecution, he fled the area, eventually turning up in Texas and studying law. By 1850, he had risen to prominence in his profession, and was widely known and respected around the state. That year he ran for a seat in the state legislature, but was defeated by the incumbent, William E. Crump of Austin County.35

Elsewhere in the county in 1850, early ranchers were quite successfully exploring the possibilities of the cattle business. Though the typical cattle owner's main economic interest lay elsewhere, there were already men in the county like Abraham Alley, Leander Beeson, Ferdinand Draub, Ira Albert Harris, and John Suggs, whose primary agricultural income came from their herds. Their profitability was impaired primarily by the limited access they had to the markets of highly-populated areas, but also by a disastrous fire which, in November 1850, destroyed the grasses on much of the pasture land in the county and left their herds to weather the subsequent bitterly-cold winter, severely undernourished.36

Other people raised horses, hogs, or chickens. Several, including Robert Robson and Leon de Serin, raised sheep. De Serin, who had an aristocratic family background in France, was probably the single greatest champion of sheep-raising in the county. He had arrived in Texas on February 20, 1842, only to discover that the law then in force made persons eligible for land grants only if they arrived prior to January 1, 1842. Nonetheless, the day after they arrived, he and some of his fellow passengers drafted a letter to Sam Houston asking that they be granted special dispensations. Houston refused. De Serin spent the next few years struggling to support himself and his wife and daughter, fending off illness, and contemplating returning to France. In 1846, he moved to Colorado County and began raising sheep. By December 29, 1847, he was prosperous enough to buy some land, 320 acres on Harvey's Creek west of Columbus. He started with 32 sheep, shearing them twice a year. He controlled predatory wolves and dogs by putting out bait laced with strychnine for them. As he prospered, he purchased six high-quality sheep to interbreed with his flock and improve the quality of his wool. By 1852, he had increased his holdings to 350 sheep, despite the fact that in the preceding three years he had sold 200 head. In February that year, in a not-altogether-clear series of events, de Serin bought another 233 acres about ten miles west of Columbus, then sold both his tracts of land in the county for $2200 and moved onto a tract that he rented from William J. Jones. There, near a small creek, de Serin's sixteen-year-old daughter, Mary, tended his sheep. Her many suitors began referring to the creek as Mary's Branch, a name which it has retained. However, all was not idyllic. As a result of his move, de Serin quickly found himself involved in some of Jones' legal troubles. On December 8, 1852, Peter McGreal sued to evict him on grounds that he, rather than Jones, owned the land. The case was transferred to Fayette County, where, in 1856, Jones won, then appealed to the state supreme court, where, on October 28, 1872, nearly twenty years after the case was filed, Jones won again. Nonetheless, one must imagine that long before Jones' victories, de Serin had found a more stable environment for his endeavors. He is not known to have lived in the county after 1852. What became of his sheep, each of which he had named and for which he kept meticulous birth and death records, is unknown.37

De Serin's eccentric sheep-raising, and others' eccentric cattle-raising, were sideshows to the county's economic base, farming. There were two distinct types of farmers in the county: those who used slaves and those who did not. Most of the German farmers in the north part of the county did not, and their failure to do so isolated them further from their English speaking neighbors. The largest slaveholder in the north part of the county, Thomas Ware, had in 1849 sold his plantation to William Frels and purchased another, smaller one, to the north of Claiborne Herbert's on the east side of the Colorado River. Mike Muckleroy, who had been established on more than 1000 acres to the north of Ware's plantation since 1842, and Elizabeth Y. Hopson, were left as the only substantial cotton producers who used slave labor in the German settlement. In 1850, Muckleroy produced thirty bales of cotton with the help of four slaves, and Hopson fifty bales with thirteen slaves.38

By virtue of his purchase from Ware, Frels became by far the wealthiest and most productive of the German farmers. His holdings, which encompassed 250 improved acres, produced 3200 bushels of corn and 45 bales of cotton and contained 100 cows, 60 sheep, and 50 swine. Four other Germans, Peter Pieper, Fredrich Adolph Zimmerscheidt, Bernard Schneider, and Elizabeth Beimer, like Frels, each owned more than 1000 acres. Generally though, they had improved only about twenty of their acres and owned far fewer animals than Frels. Between them, they produced 1050 bushels of corn and 17 bales of cotton. The county's other Germans operated much smaller farms. Only about half of them owned any land at all; the others, it must be presumed, rented. The smaller German land owners typically owned about 100 acres, only a dozen of which had been improved, produced about 140 bushels of corn, and owned about a dozen swine. About two-thirds of them produced cotton, averaging about two bales apiece. About one-third of them owned cattle, their herds averaging 18 head. About half of the German farmers who did not own land grew corn and about half grew cotton; about half owned swine and about one-fifth owned cattle. Tobacco was by far the most common side crop for the Germans, with about one-fourth of them producing it. The largest producer of tobacco was John Gerngross, who produced 800 pounds of it though he owned only 30 acres. The next largest grower, Zimmerscheidt, who owned 2200 acres, produced 400 pounds of tobacco. No one who grew tobacco produced less than 100 pounds; on average, the Germans who grew tobacco produced 261 pounds.39

The primary cash crop in the county, however, was cotton, and most of the cotton was grown on the plantations of men who owned slaves. In the years following the annexation of Texas by the United States, many of the old plantations had grown markedly, and a number of new plantations had been established. In 1850, federal census takers enumerated 2259 people in the county, of whom 723, or 28%, were slaves. James S. Montgomery, John Matthews, Angus McNeill, George W. Thatcher, and the estate of Benjamin F. Stockton had all added considerably to their slave holdings, while those of Claiborne Herbert and Richard H. Foote had remained stable. Each produced at least 100 bales of cotton in 1850. On the west side of the river, Charles William Tait and Lawrence Augustin Washington had begun building plantations. Tait, the son of a very wealthy Alabama plantation owner, had come to Texas in 1844 following of an unfortunate altercation with a man who intended to marry his sister. At the climax of a struggle involving sticks and a knife, Tait drew his pistol and shot the man. The man, whose name was W. W. Rives, died soon after. By 1847, Tait had settled in Colorado County. On February 3 of that year, he bought nearly 2000 acres of land on the west side of the river a few miles south of Columbus from James E. Silvey. By the end of 1850, he had amassed 38 slaves. Washington, with 25 slaves, arrived in the county in 1850. He, or rather his wife, Martha, made formal purchase of their first land in the county, a tract south of Tait's plantation, on January 1, 1851. North of Tait's, John F. Miller's, William Alley's, and John Pinchback's plantations had continued to operate, with Pinchback tripling the size of his slave population. Across the river, Hugh Wilson had been operating a plantation of more than 500 acres with twelve to fifteen slaves since 1845, and George C. Hatch one of 150 acres with seven or eight slaves since 1847. To their north, Zachariah Payne, in 1850, produced fifty bales of cotton on a 750-acre plantation with nine slaves. Upriver from Columbus at Walnut Bend, William Fitzgerald had nearly doubled the size of his slave population, and, in 1850, produced forty bales of cotton. In the far western part of the county, on the Navidad River, Caleb Joiner and Thomas J. Henderson had established plantations of more than 500 acres each, with 1850 slave populations of 14 and 16 and cotton production of 25 and 20 bales, respectively. Their neighbors included Oliver B. Crenshaw, who grew fifteen bales of cotton on his small plantation; and Samuel Berry, John Tooke, John Duff Brown, and Henry Terrell, the last of whom owned more sheep than any other person in the county. The most unusual of the large cotton growers was Armstead Carter, who produced 100 bales on his plantation across the river from Columbus though he owned no slaves.40

Naturally enough, with so much of their wealth invested in them, slave owners spent a good bit of their time worrying about the attitudes and efforts of their slaves, and employed all manner of ways to control them. Pinchback, whose reputation for evil among his slaves was enhanced by a physical affliction that caused him to twitch involuntarily, apparently believed in swift and certain punishment. He selected mates for each of his slaves, seemingly in an effort to produce healthy, strong, marketable children, but otherwise discouraged the development of any community or family ties among them. Tait's administration was considerably more benign. He drafted a list of rules to follow when dealing with slaves. Though his rules were by their very nature demeaning, they resolutely made the case that gentler treatment brought better results. Among his rules were "Never require of a negro what is unreasonable," and, "Always attempt to govern by reason in the first instance, and resort to force only when reason fails." To be sure, slaves were expected to work, and to be content though they derived little or no benefit from their work. And, on both Pinchback's and Tait's plantations, and no doubt on others, female slaves were subjected to the sexual attentions of overseers and/or other employees, and perhaps of owners.41

To track down runaways, Pinchback, at least, kept a pack of dogs. To assist the slave owners in finding escaped slaves, and to limit intercourse between slaves on neighboring plantations, on April 4, 1845, the commissioners court had created five patrols, captained by Isam Tooke, Hardy King, Harrison Gregg, Phillip Melor, and Elijah Mercer. Each patrol had been assigned an area, ordered to patrol it at least once a week, and directed to give slaves caught away from their plantations who could not produce a pass from either their owner or some other person who was authorized to issue one, a maximum of 39 lashes.42

The distinction between the German farmers and their slaveholding neighbors became abundantly clear in November 1850, when the county was given an opportunity to vote on the bill introduced by Senator James Alfred Pearce of Maryland. The bill, which set the western boundaries of the state of Texas, was opposed by slavery extremists. The Germans at Frelsburg voted universally in favor of it and the few large slaveholders to the south of Columbus voted universally against it. Though Columbus went nearly two-to-one against the bill, the German vote allowed the proposition to pass in the county by a slim, five-vote margin. The election was a harbinger of things to come.43

By 1850, most of the county's farmers had established relationships with markets in Houston, to which they took their crops by road. The Colorado River above Columbus had proven to be navigable only part of the year, generally from autumn to spring, and a move to construct a plank road from the interior settlements to Palacios or Matagorda was being considered. Though the fever to make the river navigable had diminished, its promise as the least expensive transportation option was still compelling. Excitement was raised again by the efforts of three men, Samuel G. Powell, Charles M. Coen, and Samuel Douglass, to make a profit by operating a steamboat on the river. That boat, named the Colorado and designed to carry 1000 bales of cotton, was 120 feet long, with a beam of 22 feet, and included a hold four feet deep, an elaborate upper cabin, and two engines. She was built, apparently in a northern state to specifications supplied by her owners, in 1849 and 1850. Shortly after her arrival at Matagorda in December 1850, cold weather froze water in the Colorado's machinery, slightly damaging it. That, and the low stage of the river, delayed her attempt to cross the raft.44

The arrival of the steamboat Colorado caused considerably more excitement than the revival of an earlier scheme to enhance navigation on the river, the formation of a company to remove the raft. That company, the third Colorado Navigation Company, was chartered by the state legislature on September 5, 1850. Its prime mover, Thomas J. Hardeman, and some of its future directors, as a formally organized board of commissioners, had already made an effort to clean out the raft and had begun collecting subscriptions for the new company even before it was chartered. Like its two failed predecessors, the company was given authority to remove the raft and thereafter to charge tolls for traffic on the river, this time until they had collected the full amount they had expended on clearing the river, plus ten percent interest per year. The new company had the advantage of a United States government report, submitted April 16, 1850, which described the obstructions in the river in detail. The raft was composed of eleven separate obstructions spread out along seven miles of the river, beginning eleven miles from the coast. Between the head of the raft and Bastrop, there were fifty-four additional small clusters of debris, between Bastrop and Austin, three major clusters of fallen trees and three places obstructed by boulders, and, between La Grange and Austin, numerous overhanging trees past which steamboats could not easily proceed. In addition, there were nine shoals on the river, eight of which could be easily improved. The ninth, that at Columbus, would require more serious excavation.45

The stockholders of the new Colorado Navigation Company conducted their first meeting, in Columbus, on October 28, 1850, and elected a board of commissioners and a board of directors. The directors, among them Charles William Tait and Eli Mercer, met on the 29th and resolved to call on subscribers to pay half of the amounts they had pledged; empowered a director, John Duncan, to hire or purchase a steamboat to be used in removing the raft and the river's other obstructions; and empowered the president, Hardeman, to buy eight slaves for the company. The company met again, in December in Matagorda, and made arrangements to return the Kate Ward to the Colorado. After she had gotten around the raft in 1848, she had been hired by the city of Victoria to remove obstructions in the Guadalupe River, completing her assigned task before June 1850. The company met for the third time in Matagorda in March 1851, and voted on what was perhaps the key question before them, whether or not to try to remove the raft or to dig a canal around it. The latter idea, which had been strongly backed by some of its members, was rejected. The company shortly sent the Kate Ward, with its twelve hands and apparently twenty to thirty hired slave laborers, to begin removing the raft, naturally enough, from the downriver side. By May 1851, their finances were failing. They had already called for subscribers to pay half of the amounts they had pledged; now they issued a call for half of the remaining half.46

Meanwhile, the steamboat Colorado was experiencing a difficult first year on the river. In January 1851, the river rose and she attempted to cross the raft, only to be trapped within it when the river fell overnight. She lay there just a few days, however, before the river rose again, and she completed her trip over the raft. She made Columbus for the first time in late February, and left there on March 1. She headed upriver to La Grange, arriving there to cheers from a crowd along the river bank on March 21. She had passed a flatboat loaded with 200 bales of cotton headed downriver, probably on the preceding day. Some distance north of La Grange, at Rabb's Shoals, she halted. Luck was again with her, however, as on March 30, a heavy rain fell and the river rose enough to allow her to proceed. She made it as far as Austin, again, as at La Grange, arriving to a throng of cheering citizens. Though the river was at a very high stage, she met similar difficulties on her return trip. Burdened with a cargo of cotton, she ran aground between Bastrop and Austin and was detained three days. Her ascent had been slowed by a lack of dry wood for her boilers, and her captain, Douglass, had secured promises at Bastrop and La Grange that on her return trip wood would be provided. The citizens of Bastrop kept their promise, and gave Douglass $100 in cash besides, but those at La Grange did not, and Douglass had to dispatch her crew to the banks once again to chop down trees. Taking advantage of the high stage of the river, she quickly returned from the coast with goods, unloading some of them, presumably, at each of the cities along the river. She went as high as Bastrop, taking on 400 bales of cotton and 35,000 feet of lumber. In early May, she ran aground just downriver from the site of Burnam's Crossing and was laid up for more than a week. Freed by a rise, she proceeded to the coast. Her third trip, however, was halted by a summer drought which went uninterrupted until September, and during which the river diminished to its lowest point in a decade. She made it nearly to La Grange, but could proceed no further. She was stranded three or four miles downriver from La Grange from August, at least, until December, when a small rise allowed her to make it to La Grange.47

Douglass took advantage of the time to assist in local efforts to clear the river. On September 5 and 6, 1851, he supervised a group of volunteers from La Grange who cleared a channel through Rabb's Shoals. Perhaps a week later he went to Columbus, where he assisted another group of citizen volunteers in removing rocks from the shoals on the river north of town.48

Meanwhile, the Colorado Navigation Company had been at work on the raft. They had begun the second year of their existence by electing commissioners and directors at a meeting in Columbus on September 8, 1851. Perhaps reflecting their satisfaction with the company's progress, the president, Hardeman, and all six of the original directors were reelected. A week earlier, with the river at a very low stage, four of the directors had met at Matagorda and gone to the raft to see what had been done. In two and a half months, the Kate Ward, her crew, and other workers, including slaves, had removed, apparently, more than half the raft, and had proceeded to within eight miles of the head of the raft, about four miles of which was unobstructed water. The inspecting directors also noted that the U. S. government survey, which stated that the raft was seven miles long, was misleading because it had been taken when the river was unusually high, and urged the company to immediately raise more money so that the work could proceed while the river was low. The company responded by calling in the remaining amounts that had been pledged.49

In early 1852, proponents of the navigation of the Colorado River attempted, but failed, to secure an appropriation of $37,000 from the State of Texas to clean out the river. The Colorado Navigation Company, meanwhile, had abandoned work on the river, sending the Kate Ward into the bay in hopes of raising money by having her help load and unload ships. The problems of the steamboat Colorado, and those of the navigation company, had caused a severe diminution of interest in the river and a concomitant rise in the number of proponents of railroads. On June 2, 1852, a former champion of navigation, the Texas Monument, which was published in La Grange, switched its advocacy, with the strong remarks: "The Colorado won't do, dear reader; it won't do at all: it may be broad enough to navigate, but it aint quite deep enough, except when it overflows, and then it is rather too deep for comfort, or safety.---Besides, when it is up, before a boat can run up, it runs down again. Then, when navigating it, one never knows whether he is ten feet, or one foot, or one inch, from a sand bar, or a snag; whether he is sailing in the current, or over a corn field." And, in July, when the Colorado Navigation Company renewed its efforts to clean out the river, the paper commented, "We wish them the success their enterprise deserves, but we fear their efforts and expenditures, though they might be successful for a time, would hardly prove permanently beneficial to the river or country."50

The steamboat Colorado had lain idle at La Grange until March 4, 1852, when the river finally rose enough for her to leave. It had begun raining heavily in Fayette County on March 3 and continued to rain for four or five days. The river, which had been a trickle for months, suddenly swelled to past flood stage. Small buildings, fences, bales of cotton, cattle, and horses were swept away. The regular, once-a-decade flood had come a year early. The flood waters and the almost-constant rain left the roads impassibly muddy, and diverted commerce to the suddenly mobile steamboat. In less than a month, the Colorado made at least two trips between La Grange and the head of the raft. On March 26, 1852, she left the raft a third time. The falling water, and the consequently exposed debris that had been carried into the river by the flood, slowed her trip. So too did a rumor that she had taken advantage of the flood to escape over the raft and abandon her efforts to navigate the river, which deterred people from leaving wood for her on the river's banks. She made La Grange, with several passengers and a cargo of sugar and molasses, on April 10, but could not proceed past Rabb's Shoals, where the flood had formed a new sandbar. She returned to her moor in La Grange to await another rise in the river. That rise came a month later, and she proceeded downriver to wait out another summer.51

Apparently, her captain, Douglass, decided not to wait with her. He left Texas, taking with him the proceeds of her latest voyage, $1706, or so claimed her two other owners, Coen and Powell, in the lawsuit they filed in Fayette County on May 25, 1852. Douglass was no doubt prompted to abandon the venture because of the persistent financial losses the Colorado had endured in her trips along the river. The trip that had yielded the $1706 with which he had absconded, for instance, had cost the partners $4000. Soon enough, the parties had settled the suit out of court. Probably, Coen and Powell agreed to accept Douglass' share of the boat in return for their shares of the $1706. In any case, Coen and Powell remained partners, and, by early 1853, the Colorado was again plying the river, hauling cargo. However, on February 28, 1853, about halfway between La Grange and Columbus, an underwater obstruction breached her hull and she sank in three feet of water. Fortunately, her cargo, chiefly sugar and molasses, as well as her engines and other machinery, were saved. The following month, Coen and Powell announced that they intended to build a new boat, not quite as elaborate as the old one, out of the salvageable parts of the Colorado.52

Meanwhile, those who would open the Colorado to navigation were working to secure an appropriation from the federal government. In September 1852, they succeeded in persuading congress to appropriate $20,000 to make the river navigable. The appropriation provided not just funding, but renewed enthusiasm, for the project. However, there were legal obstacles to clear. The following May, a government representative contacted the largely-dormant Colorado Navigation Company and asked them to relinquish their right to charge tolls on the river after it was cleared, stating that the government would not begin work until they did. He also approached them about purchasing the Kate Ward, which the company then owned. By the end of the summer, the government had purchased the Kate Ward, thoroughly overhauled and repaired her, and set some twenty to thirty men to work with her on the river. However, the work stopped after a few days. Shortly afterward, they changed their approach to opening the river, abandoning the idea of removing the raft in favor of what was now regarded as the less expensive option, digging a canal around it.53

While the government was beginning work on the river, two men were financing the construction of a sternwheeler in Bastrop, a new side-wheeler was being built from the remains of the Colorado at the place where it had sunk, and flatboats continued to haul cargo along the river. Within the next few months, the two steamers would be launched. In March 1854, the one that was built at Bastrop, newly christened the Water Moccasin, was floated downriver to Matagorda to have her machinery fitted. In April, apparently, the new Colorado, which was built from the old, also was floated to Matagorda to be fitted with machinery, though, quite sensibly, she was first loaded with cotton. The flatboats, however, encountered unusual difficulty on the unpredictable river. Two flatboats loaded at Bastrop ran aground before they reached Columbus. Two loaded at La Grange made it to the coast. They were perhaps the first two boats to travel through the federal government's canal, which opened in March 1854. The canal, little more than four miles long, flowed back into the river just south of what had been left of the raft by the Colorado Navigation Company's efforts. It diverged from the river about one and a half miles north of the raft. Its first spring, cotton passed through the canal with decided regularity. Whether for that reason or for some other, many of the plantation owners along the lower Colorado who had grown sugar in years past began planting cotton.54

On February 3, 1854, the state legislature had passed an act to encourage the building of steamboats by offering to grant 320 acres of land to those who did. Some five months later, residents of La Grange began organizing a company to build a boat. One can assume that the La Grange company did not succeed, for no land was ever granted to it. However, the law did lead to the construction of one boat which is believed to have been used on the Colorado River, the Betty Powell. Built by that intrepid backer of navigation, Samuel G. Powell, the Betty Powell was presumably launched shortly before February 7, 1855, when her owner received certificates for the land he was entitled to by virtue of having built her. Her time on the Colorado was apparently quite short. By 1857, she was plying the waters between the Trinity River and Galveston. On May 17, 1859, en route to Galveston with a load of cotton, she caught fire and was destroyed.55

Shortly after opening the canal, the federal government offered to sell the Kate Ward for $4000, and to use the proceeds of the sale to do further work on the river. No one accepted the offer until August 1854, when a group of Lavaca County merchants purchased her with the intention of renovating her and operating her on the bay. Their investment, like that of the owner of the Betty Powell, was destined to be a poor one. In September, a hurricane hit the Texas coast, catching the Kate Ward in the bay. She was wrecked, and her captain, William J. Ward, and ten of her crew were killed.56

Continue with Part 5