SONS OF DEWITT
© 1997-2000, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Life in the DeWitt Colony-Index
The Commercial and Agricultural Advantages of
From Massachusetts 1836, Dr. Joseph E. Fields, Survivor of the Goliad Massacre, in Three Years in Texas
Texas, in my opinion, is too good a country to be thrown away by those who have a just and lawful right to its soil, and neglect its other means of wealth and comfort. This consideration will justify resistance to a lawless invader. To assist those who wish to understand something of the value of what Mexico has attempted to seize, and Texians are endeavoring to defend and preserve, I propose to offer some remarks upon the agricultural, commercial and other advantages of that region, as far as my means of information will enable me. The soil may, for convenience, be considered under three divisions. The first comprises all the country east of the Trinity river. Second-that between Trinity and Guadaloupe. The third, all the region west of the Guadaloupe to the Nueces, which is the western boundary.
The general face of the country bordering on the coast is flat; but a comparatively small proportion of it is wet and swampy. But as you recede northward from the Gulf toward the mountains, beyond the distance of about seventy miles, the land becomes rolling, but not broken. In from two to three hundred miles there are mountains, not lofty, naked of trees, but covered with grass. Between the mountains it is said there are fertile and pleasant valleys, through which the purest of waters flow. A very large portion of the better land, east of Trinity river, is a mixed soil, composed mostly of red clay, from which circumstance it is called The Red Lands. The hilly or uplands resemble the uplands of the southern States in soil, which is gravelly, and in timber, a great part of which is Southern pine. The prairies of this section are generally low, and wetter than those of the west. They are rich, but require more labor to make them profitable. By much the largest portion of the soil, within the limits of my second division, is stiff black clay, with more or less sand, as it is high or low. Immediately upon the borders of the largest rivers, as the Brazos and Colorado, and the smaller ones in their vicinity, that part of the land covered with small trees, called wild peach and red cane is generally known by the appellation of peach and cane land; the soil is spongy, of a gray color, and probably equal in fertility to any in the known world. Toward the coast, below the distance of seventy miles, the intermediate timbered bottoms between the peach and cane land, and the prairies between the rivers, is for the most part lower than the adjacent lands, and is covered mainly with a species of elm, and hence called elm bottoms. This sort of land in the wet season is too wet to be tilled without ditching; but when properly prepared for cultivation is not less productive than any of the stiffer soils. The heaviest and most abundant timber, especially on the river Brazos, is live oak, but there are other species of oak which are very valuable for timber. The land between the water-courses is prairie, except here and there insulated patches of wood called islands. In the up country, the intermediate prairies have more timber, and the soil has in it more of sand. That which contains the most is covered with a species of oak called post-oak. This kind of oak abounds in the up lands, in the western part of Texas, and is nearly as durable as live oak, growing not large, but straight and free, to the height of between twelve and twenty feet, and is excellent for fencing stuff. The red cedar is very common in the stiffer upland soils-particularly between the Brazos and Colorado rivers; also, in the low country on the borders of Cana creek, between Bernard and Colorado rivers. Ash is another timber that grows plentifully on this creek. The Southern pine is found in extensive forests high up on the Colorado, and of a superior quality.
The width of the bottom-timbered lands is, on all the rivers, proportioned to the largeness of the stream. That portion of the country of which I make a third division, viz: between the Guadaloupe and Nueces rivers, the latter of which has heretofore been considered the boundary between Texas and Tamaulipas, is very different, in the general, from what I have already described, as to its appearance and natural productions, but is scarcely inferior, for purposes of culture, to any in whatever quarter. Within thirty miles of the bay of Aransas, which forms the southern coast of this section of country, the prairies are, in all respects, like those of the east. But afterward, in going north, the land is found covered with open post-oak, in the midst of which grass grows thick and luxuriant. The soil is black sand, and so loose and spongy as to make it impossible, in a wet time, for a horse to travel, except on a beaten path. The river bottoms contain a good deal of clay, but yield nevertheless, a copious harvest to the cultivator. The timber with few exceptions is percon, which bears a fruit not unlike the shagbark walnut, the difference being only in a thinner shell, and more of the eatable substance. There is, in this part of Texas, a peculiar kind of grass and of small timber, called muskeg, always found growing together. The grain of this wood is very fine and compact, so that, like live oak, it is specifically heavier than water, and makes excellent fuel. The grass is very fine and of short growth, seldom exceeding six inches, and is said to be best when it looks worst, that is in winter, when it is nearly equal to oats. Good water privileges in Texas are not very numerous within from five to six feet of water. Matagorda Bay, the entrance into which is called Passo Cabello,--depth of water the same with Galveston, having two ports of entry, one at Matagorda, at the mouth of the Colorado, the other Cox's point, at the mouth of the Lavacca. The fourth is Aransas Bay, into which is the pass of Copano. Here are from five to ten feet of water; but the entrance is difficult to strangers.
There are no very populous large towns in Texas; but there are some considerable flourishing villages, among which the following are worthy of notice. Nacogdoches is one hundred miles west of Nacitoches, on Red River. Harrisburgh is on Galveston Bay, burnt by Santa Anna. Velasco is at the mouth of the Brazos; Brazoria is twenty miles up the river, and Columbia is ten miles still farther up. Fifty miles higher on the same river, is San Felippe de Austin-burnt. Forty miles above this stands Washington, a name dear to all the world. On the Colorado is Matagorda at its mouth, and Mina two hundred miles higher up. Texana is on the Navidad, near its confluence with Lavacca. Thirty miles up the Guadaloupe is Victoria, and fifty miles higher is Gonzales. Twenty-five miles west of Victoria is La Bahia, on the river San Antonio, and eighty miles above, near its source, is the town of San Antonio, memorable as the theatre of several bloody conflicts between the Mexicans and their rivals. The towns above named much might be said in way of commendation, as relates to the country in which they are planted, particularly of San Antonio and of Mina on the Colorado. These towns are handsomely located, are healthy, and the adjoining country highly picturesque and beautiful.
As in most other parts of the globe, the lower grounds in Texas, near the west, especially the thickly timbered, are less healthy than situations in the upland country or the interior. This remark does not apply to the coast itself, which is open to the healthful influence of the trade winds, that almost perpetually blow from the south and east. In considerable districts of the country, particularly on the river San Antonio, disease is scarcely known; but in other places where sickness occasionally prevails, the complaints are ordinarily of a bilious character. Those most prevalent, the last of summer and in autumn, are remittent and intermittent fevers. In the winter, pneumonia typhoides, or bastard pleurisy, is most common. Asthma and all consumptive diseases of the lungs, so frequent and so fatal in the Northern States, are there never to be met with. In the spring the bowels seem to be most obnoxious to disease, assuming the form of diarrhoea, or bloody flux. Of the chronic diseases, which are the sequel of those of a more active kind, the most troublesome are enlargement of the spleen and hemorrhoids. Another, considerably frequent, though not epidemic malady, is purulent opthalmia. Those most healthy are, generally speaking, persons least careful not to expose themselves to the air, whether by day or by night. It is a common remark in Texas, that there seems to be something peculiar to that country, to create a more than ordinary appetite for food. This consists of articles no wise different from those in common use in New England. Beef and pork, which are raised in the easiest manner and greatest abundance, make up a large part of what is consumed in the ordinary mode of living among all classes.
The agricultural productions, which have hitherto engrossed the chief attention of settlers, are those most common at the south, particularly cotton, the staple of which is considered preferable for its length and fineness, to any grown in the United States. The average crop to an acre is one bale of five hundred lbs., often sold for $50, and not unfrequently the crop amounts to one bale and a half. One active and industrious man can, if not called off by other business, cultivate ten acres and needs no help but in picking. The hire for picking is $0.75 per hundred, only when the planter hires his own negro servants, to whom he pays $1. Little has as yet been done in Texas at producing the sugar cane, but it is the opinion of gentlemen who have been familiar with the business in Louisiana, that it may be prosecuted to much greater profit in the former than it is in the latter place, the soil being at least as favorable, and the atmosphere less humid, and therefore less likely to injure the crop by early frosts.
Bread stuffs have hitherto been limited to Indian corn, that kind of it which grows at the south; and the crop, though not larger than is raised in the Western States, may be repeated each season, and so double the amount. It is planted for the first crop in February or first of March, and for the second the first of July, with seed from the preceding crop. All this is done with less labor of the hoe than is bestowed in New England on a single crop. Among culinary vegetables the sweet potato stands preeminent. A lady, as I was dining one day at her house, and admiring her potatoes for their great size, said that those were not large, but that they had had one, a short time before, so large that she was induced to call together her whole numerous family to dine upon it. They all made a hearty meal of that alone, and leit enough to feed the pigs. Oats, peas and beans do no discredit to the soil, when compared with things before mentioned. Of the animal products of the country, such as attract the attention of the farmer, are cattle, horses, mules and hogs. These are spread over the country, swarming like locusts, too numerous for calculation, and are raised with less care and perplexity to the owner than chickens are at the North. Hogs may emphatically be said to live on the fat of the land, as every species of oak and many other trees yield them a large supply of fruit of the richest kind.
At what rate of increase cattle multiply in the region of which I have been speaking, is shown by a statement upon the subject made me by a lady-Mrs. Wightman-who owned a cow, from which sprang, in five years, twenty-three in number. The mineralogist, not less than the man of business, also, finds in Texas subject matter of investigation and curious research. It is known that on the Colorado river iron exists in all its native combinations. On the same river are lead mines and coal beds, to appearance inexhaustible and of unquestionable excellence. There are mineral springs in various parts of the country which contain iron impregnated, in greater or less proportion, with neutral salts, and have already effected some remarkable cures on persons diseased, coming from other countries. Springs giving out Epsom salts, as if impregnated to saturation with that substance, have been discovered in the near vicinity of the last named river. Rich gold mines, it is understood ' have been pointed out in the mountains by Indians to certain traders; but their place is at present unknown. Possibly it may be expected that this slight sketch will not end without a word dropped for the gratification of sportsmen: should any of this class have an inclination toward the forests of Texas, they will there find the buffalo, the deer, the bear, the mustang or wild horse, the wolf, several species of the cat kind, as the leopard-cat, and some others. There is the Mexican hog, a most furious untamable animal, dangerous to encounter, unless your weapon be sharp and sure. A beast of prey, resembling the tiger of Africa, infests some portions of the unsettled country, as appears from the following anecdote.
A Mrs. More, at whose house I was residing, told me of a young lady who after having made her a visit, set out on horse-back early in the afternoon to return home, a distance of five or six miles. In the midst of a forest through which the road lay, she heard a cry resembling that of the human voice. Listening and hearing it repeated, until she was satisfied that some person was near, she answered it, and the call was repeated two or three times, until the animal came in sight, when she put her horse to his greatest speed, and was pursued by her collocutor, who soon overtook her, mounted behind, and began lacerating and tearing her neck and shoulders, and did not desist until she rode into the yard at home, and a gun was fired, which broke his hold and brought him to the ground.
The tribes of feathered population in Texas are not few and their attractions among persons who love a dish of good wild fowl, are not feeble. We have the wild goose, the brant, the wild turkey, a great variety of ducks, the prairie hen, the curlew, the sand-hill crane, all which are abundant and most delicious for the table. A rare bird, but of no value to the gunner or the epicure, is the pelican. Other species, smaller and more common, it is scarcely worth our time to enumerate.
Life in the DeWitt
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 1997-2000, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved