Robertson County
Texas

 

 

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County Coordinator is Jane Keppler.

County Co-Coordinator is Jean Huot Smoorenburg


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P O R T   S U L L I V A N ,   T E X A S :   G H O S T   T O W N


 

By John Martin Brockman
1968 Texas A&M University Master's Thesis

These electronic pages may not be reproduced in any format by other organizations or individuals. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material must obtain the written consent of John Martin Brockman.

Volunteer Jo Ella Snider Parker beautifully typed this chapter for online display.

Even though the Port Sullivan community was across the Brazos River from Robertson County in Milam County, large numbers of its residents were originally from and ended up in Robertson County.  As a result, any information that can be found relating to Port Sullivan and its residents will be placed online at the Robertson County site.  This will (hopefully) include an unpublished manuscript once held by Mrs. Helen Peel of Hearne as well as a handwritten journal written by Bremond's John Coleman Roberts.  If you have information about Port Sullivan that you'd like to share, please contact Jane Keppler.

CHAPTER I

Sullivan's Bluff

A bluff, known as Sullivan’s Bluff[1] by early settlers, overlooks the Brazos River in Milam County Texas, two miles above the mouth of Little River.  Looking eastward from this bluff, one can see the fertile flood plain of the Brazos Valley.  The bottom lands of the Little River Valley lie two miles or so to the south and west.  Sullivan’s Bluff, as surveys show, is almost twenty-five feet above the Brazos River.[2]  From the bluff, to the north and west, the land increases in elevation, and the area becomes immune from floods. 

Across the Brazos River from the bluff, in Robertson County, the land is very fertile, but it is also much lower in altitude and is subject to being flooded by the river for several miles to the east of Sullivan’s Bluff.[3]  Farmers living in this area found it necessary to build their homes on stilts to be out of the reach of a flooding Brazos River.  Owners of land adjacent to the river found it necessary to live either several miles east of their land or to live just across the river on Sullivan’s Bluff. 

Little River presented a similar problem to the owners of land along its banks.  The flood plain of Little River extends some distance on both sides of the river’s normal channel.[4]  Near its junction with the Brazos River the area subject to flooding by Little River extends almost all of the two miles distance to Sullivan’s Bluff, causing land owners in the area to have to live on or very near the bluff.  Nature provided Sullivan’s Bluff with a potential for a more than normal concentration of population. 

Opposite Sullivan’s Bluff a ledge of limestone creates a shoal in the Brazos.  Large limestone and sandstone boulders clutter the river bed for almost a mile below the shoal.  This combination of boulders and shoal constituted a serious obstruction to water transportation.[5]  The shoal, on-the-other hand, was a boom to land transportation.  The limestone ledge made it easy to ford the river at that point.[6]  Sullivan’s Bluff, through the aid of nature, became the head of navigation of the Brazos and a crossing point for land transportation.  This rise of land along the Brazos River in Milam County in time became a townsite.  Nature provided the bluff with the potential for the location of a town, and persons desiring to cultivate the rich bottom lands would make it a reality. 

The early Indians around Sullivan’s Bluff did not cultivate cotton; their canoes were not hindered by the shoal; and rivers were not a great barrier to their form of land transportation.  The Indians, however, were a barrier to those who would be affected by the geography of Sullivan’s Bluff. 

In the eighteenth century Indians of the Tonkawa tribes occupied the land near the junction of the Brazos and Little Rivers,[7] and up the Brazos about eighty miles from the bluff lived the Wacos and Tahuacanos.[8]  The first Europeans to settle the area near the bluff came as missionaries to the Indians. 

Spain was the first European country to claim the area under consideration in this paper.  Her claim was over two hundred years old before a very temporary settlement was made near Sullivan’s Bluff.  Partly, as a measure of strengthening their claim to the region; and, partly, as an effort to Christianize the Tonkawa Indians, the Spaniards established three missions and a presidio on the San Gabriel, a tributary of Little River.  This settlement began in 1746, but it lasted only until 1755.[9]  The missions were located about thirty miles from Sullivan’s Bluff.  The Spaniards, however, did not take advantage of the geography of the bluff. 

It was almost seven decades after the Spaniards left the area before other people of European stock became interested in the lands along the Brazos and Little Rivers.  Stephen F. Austin, an Anglo-American, in August of 1821, concluded arrangements to establish a colony in Texas.  At first he was interested in the Colorado River and its navigability.  He gained permission to explore this river and to sound it.[10]  Later in 1821, the first settlers to enter his colony came to Texas on the Lively from New OrleansAustin had left instructions for them to land at the mouth of the Colorado, and to take soundings along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico as they came.  Austin considered water transportation a very important factor in choosing a site for his colony.  The travelers on the Lively followed their instructions about sounding along the coast as they came, but they mistook the Brazos for the Colorado and landed at its mouth.[11] 

Because the Constitution of Mexico forbid settlement of foreigners within ten leagues of the coast or within twenty leagues of an international boundary, the first permanent settlements were made in the interior of the country, about thirty miles inland.[12]  The ideal location was one that fronted on running water.  Surveyors were instructed to limit the length of river frontage in any one tract to one-fourth of the depth of the survey, and both banks of a river or stream were not to be included in one survey if avoidable.[13]  This system of limiting river frontage gave more settlers a chance for a tract of land along a major stream.  However, despite this procedure, the banks of the Brazos filled up very quickly.  By 1824, the fourth year of settlement in Austin’s colony, the east bank of the Brazos had been surveyed and granted as high up as present Brazos County,[14] and settlement had extended to a point about eighty miles below Sullivan’s Bluff. 

By 1824, advance parties of locators had already been up as far as the bluff looking over the country.  One party had penetrated up the Brazos to the junction of Little River as early as 1822.  This party described the Brazos as being a large navigable stream up to that point.  Bear and wild cattle were reported in the bottom lands to the east of the Brazos.  The explorers sighted wild horses and more wild cattle on the prairies.  The buffalo seen were estimated at one thousand per day as the explorers approached the mouth of Little River.  The land nearby was described as being rich and fertile.  Timber in the form of white oaks and cedar was found along the banks of Little River.[15]  The area near Sullivan’s Bluff was reported on favorably for settlement as early as 1822. 

As the area of settlement moved farther up the Brazos, the pioneers came into contact with the Indians of the upper Brazos, resulting in increasing difficulties between the two civilizations.  Stephen F. Austin, in 1824, sent agents to Waco Village, the principal settlement of the Wacos, near present day Waco Waco Village was about one hundred and sixty miles above Austin’s highest settlements; and Sullivan’s Bluff was at this time midway between the Anglo-American and Indian settlement.  The party sent by Austin made contact with the Wacos and was able to arrange a treaty with them.  The Wacos, however, were not the only Indians on the upper Brazos.  The Tahuacanos still made occasional raids upon the settlements along the lower Brazos,[16] and Austin developed another plan for protecting his colony from the raids of the Indians. 

In the early part of 1825, Austin petitioned the Governor of Coahuila for permission to start another colony above his original colony.[17]  The new colony was to be a buffer zone for the lower colony, much like Georgia had been designed as a buffer zone for South Carolina.  The boundary of Austin’s first colony crossed the Brazos twenty miles below Sullivan’s Bluff.  The second colony, or Upper Colony as Austin called it, would start at the boundary of his first colony and continue up the Brazos several hundred miles.  The Upper Colony included Sullivan’s Bluff.  Austin suggested that settlers for the new colony could be obtained from the twenty league zone along the border with the United States in East Texas.  Squatters in the prohibited area did not have title to the land they lived on, nor did they have adequate protection from the frontier elements.  These rough characters from the old Neutral Ground would provide a good buffer against the Tahucanos,[18] similar in some respects to those taken from debtors’ prisons and sent to Georgia.[19]  The Mexican officials, however had other plans for the land above Austin’s first colony. 

The Texas Association of Davidson County, Tennessee, in March 1822, had made application to the government of Mexico for a land grant and for permission to start a colony in Texas.  Two years later the Association sent agents to Mexico to obtain a grant.  One of their agents, Robert Leftwich, received a grant on April 15, 1825[20] which included the area Austin had in mind for his buffer colony.  Sullivan’s Bluff lay within the Leftwich Grant. 

The grant to the Tennessee company, made in the name of Robert Leftwich, actually delayed the settlement of the land above Austin’s colony.  Little was done by the company during the first five years of its six year contract.  Much time was lost due to administrative changes in the company.  Leftwich transferred his grant to the Nashville Company.  The Tennessee parties did not like the idea of the grant being in Leftwich’s name, nor did they like the expense account turned in on his return from Mexico.  The Nashville Company soon replaced Leftwich with Hosea H. League.[21]  This transfer, however, did not lead to the settlement of the colony. 

All the Nashville Company did during the first five years of its contract, according to Austin, was to encourage speculation in the land through the sale of land script.  This, Austin said, was frowned upon by the Mexican government, and it led the Government to a change in its immigration policy.[22]  A new law passed on April 6, 1830, prohibited immigration into those Mexican states from foreign countries adjoining Mexican territory.  Persons from the United States were, therefore, barred from settling in Texas.  The new law also suspended colonial contracts if less than one hundred families had been settled by April, 1830.[23]  About the time the Law of April 6, 1830, was passed, the Nashville Company had started to take definite steps toward fulfilling the obligation of its contract to settle 800 families. 

Another change in the administration of the Nashville Company soon placed Sterling C. Robertson in the top position.  Late in 1830, Robertson led a group of families to explore the land that had been designated for the colony and to stake out claims.  They were stopped at Nacogdoches, Texas, because of the Law of April 6, 1830,[24] and were not allowed to settle in their colony.  Over five years had passed since Austin had first sought to establish a buffer zone for his colonists, and it now seemed that the settlement of the upper Brazos would be delayed much longer; so late in 1830, Austin took additional steps to settle the Upper Colony. 

At first, Austin tried to persuade the Government to return the grant to Robertson and to give Robertson additional time to fulfill the terms of the contract.  Austin was not successful in this attempt.  To the State officials, the Law of April 6, 1830, was very clear in respect to Robertson and the grant to the Nashville Company.  Robertson was an American; he could not settle in Texas.  The contract with the Nashville Company was void.  The government of Mexico had received other offers to colonize the Upper Colony from nations not excluded by the new immigration laws.  English and French companies were interested in the land above Austin’s first colony.  These companies, Austin believed, would do even less than the Tennessee company to settle the buffer zone.  Austin, therefore moved to keep the land above his colony from being transferred to the European Companies.[25] 

In February 1831, a month before the original contract with Leftwich was to expire, the Upper Colony was granted to Austin and his secretary, Samuel May Williams.[26]  Six years had passed since February 5, 1825, the day Austin had petitioned the Governor of Coahuila for permission to settle the Upper Colony.[27]  February 1831, found Sullivan’s Bluff still unoccupied.  Barriers to settlement continued to exist.  Under the new turn of events, only Europeans or Mexicans could settle in the upper Colony now controlled by Austin and Williams.  By 1835, very few grants had been made by Austin and Williams in the Upper Colony, and these grants were to Mexicans, most of whom later sold their claim to Anglo-Americans.[28]  Unless changes were made in the immigration laws, the area near Sullivan’s Bluff would be settled very slowly.  There were not many Europeans or Mexicans interested in the Upper Colony, and Americans were prohibited by law from settling in Texas. 

After a wait of nearly five years, the Mexican government on December 7, 1835, agreed to repeal the Law of April 6, 1830.[29]  Anglo-Americans were again permitted to settle in Texas Austin would now have no difficulty in finding settlers to move into the buffer zone.  Robertson, in the meantime, dissatisfied with the manner by which the contract with the Nashville Company had been broken, had not been idle the past four years.  After convincing the Government that he had introduced one hundred families into the Upper Colony before the Law of April 6, 1830, Robertson succeeded in getting the contract with the Nashville Company renewed.[30]  On May 22, 1834, the contract was returned to Robertson’s group; nine years had passed since the contract had first been let to Leftwich.  Still no one lived on Sullivan’s Bluff. 

The change in the immigration laws and the restoration of the Nashville Company’s rights stimulated settlement in the area around Sullivan’s Bluff.  Robertson, through his agent, William H. Steel, began granting land to settlers in the Upper Colony, now called Robertson Colony.  Nine grants were made in present day Milam County in the latter part of 1834; the next year some fifty-one more grants were made.[31]  A grant dated July 2, 1835, began by saying, “I, Citizen Guillermo (William) H. Steel commissioner appointed by the Supreme Government of this State for the distribution and giving possession of lands and issuing title to the new colonists in the colonization enterprise of the Nashville Company,” and ended up granting some land to Edwin Caruthers.[32]  By this grant, Caruthers owned Sullivan’s Bluff for a few months. 

The area around the bluff was beginning to become settled by 1835.  Only two years before it was said that no more than five white persons lived anywhere in that general area.[33]  The newcomers from the United States settled along the Brazos and Little rivers.[34]  Tracts with river frontage were still preferred.  The original surveys made along the streams only had water frontage equal to one-fourth of their depth.[35]  Even with this limitation, the lands along the banks of rivers were patented rapidly. 

With the influx of settlers several towns were formed in Robertson County.  Robertson laid out Sarahville de Viesca at the “Falls of the Brazos” in 1834.[36]  This site, some forty miles above Sullivan’s Bluff, was to be the land office for the colony.  Another town was formed in the southern part of the colony, about four miles below Sullivan’s Bluff.  This town, Nashville, was situated on a bluff overlooking the fertile land of the Brazos Valley.  In this respect Nashville was like Sullivan’s Bluff, but there were differences as well.  The Brazos at Nashville is made wider by the waters of Little River which join the Brazos two miles upstream.  The river, however, is not made shallow by a shoal at Nashville.  No boulders are in the Brazos between Nashville and Sullivan’s Bluff to interfere with river navigation.  Springs nearby are said to have influenced the location of Nashville.[37]  The proper conditions were not present in 1834, to transform Sullivan’s Bluff into a town.  Events in the latter part of 1835, and the aftermath of these events were to delay this transformation fifteen years. 

As the year 1835 drew to a close, the separation of Texas from Mexico was underway.  One last change regarding the ownership of the Upper Colony or Robertson Colony took place before any shots were fired between Mexicans and Texans.  Austin persuaded the Congress of Texas and Coahuila to restore the contract he held jointly with Williams.[38]  This change was announced in the Texas Republican on June 20, 1835.[39]  The report of the change, however, did not stop Robertson from issuing grants; the last grant was recorded on November 10, 1835.[40]  It was the revolution rather than the action of the Government that stopped the issuance of patents in the so-called Robertson Colony.[41]  Other events soon overshadowed any further action taken by Mexico in respect to the colony.  On October 2, 1835, the opening skirmish of the Texas Revolution between Mexicans and Texans took place.[42]  No one knew what the future might hold.  In these confusing times a certain young man came to the Robertson Colony or Upper Colony. 

Augustus W. Sillaven[43] came to Texas sometime in October 1835,[44] probably after the first skirmish between Texans and Mexicans.  He did not receive a land grant in 1835, but he did acquire title to a plot of real estate late in 1835.  On December 12, 1835, Sillaven received title to one-fourth league of land from Edwin Caruthers.[45]  The eastern part of this quarter league of land along the Brazos became known as Sillaven’s or Sullivan’s Bluff. 

Little is known about Sillaven before his arrival in Texas, or even after his arrival.  He was about 29 years old at the time he came.[46]  Sillaven, according to some sources, took part in the siege of Bexar in December 1835.[47]  The muster rolls at the General Land Office of Texas do not list any Sillaven or Sullivan in the Army in San Antonio at that time.  His purchase of Sullivan’s Bluff from Caruthers took place within a week of the action in San Antonio.  In fact, after his purchase of land in 1835, he name does not appear on any other records until February 2, 1837.  He may have left the area until the times became more settled.  The last part of 1835 and early part of 1836 saw trouble not only develop between Texans and Mexicans, but also between the Texans and the nearby Indians. 

In 1835, as the frontier moved northward and westward, the Indians became more concerned, and they took advantage of the revolutionary disturbances to increase the frequency of their raids on the Anglo-American settlements.  A settler en route to Nashville in 1835 was killed near the rise of land known as Sugar Loaf Mountain, which is visible from Sullivan’s Bluff.[48]  Nashville, itself, was the target of several raids in 1835.[49]  Settlers north of Nashville began to move south to safer areas.  Early in 1836, following the defeat of the Texas Army at the Alamo in San Antonio, Nashville was temporarily abandoned until after the Texan victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.[50]  The victory removed, for the time being, the threat of an invading army, but the Indians continued to cause trouble for the settlers near Sullivan’s Bluff for a few more years. 

The news of the attack on Fort Parker in May 1836, brought about another retreat by settlers along the upper Brazos near Sarahville de Viesca at the Falls, who moved down the Brazos past Sullivan’s Bluff, to Nashville.[51]  Settlers remained at Nashville or below until the fall of 1836, when they again attempted to return to their lands farther up the Brazos.[52]  This attempt was futile as families living above the mouth of Little River were again forced to return to Nashville.[53]  In 1837, surveyors were sent out to measure more land for settlers.  Indians, realizing that settlers would follow the surveyors, renewed hostilities with great vigor.[54]  Something would have to be done about the Indians before the area would be safe for settlement. 

In April 1838, a petition was sent to the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas from the “citizens of the county of Milam a part of your Northern Frontier inhabitants.”  The petitioners said that they were “almost daily visited and harassed by a Savage foe, who seeks and avails himself of every opportunity to embrue his hands in the blood of the White Man.”[55]  The petitioners went on the say, 

"Our old men have been killed and Scalped under our immediate inspection.  Many of our young men have alike fallen Victims to the Tomahawk and Scalping Knife.  Our innocent children with the Mothers have alike been captured and driven off like so many brutes, and after having been subjected to all the Cruelties which a Savage foe are capable of inflecting, have been doomed to Slavery."[56]

The petitioners wanted the Congress either to call out militia or to create a “Corps of Mounted Volunteers” for their protection.  Several of those signing the petition lived around Nashville.  A. W. Sillaven added his signature to the petition also.[57] 

Sillaven was again in the neighborhood of his bluff in 1837.  He purchased an additional tract of land on February 2, 1837, which consisted of 1,107 acres situated in the fork of the Brazos and Little rivers,[58] on the west and north banks, respectively, and about one mile from Sullivan’s Bluff.  In the early part of 1838, Sillaven worked with the county surveyor as a marker or blazer.[59]  On June 28, 1838, Silliven was elected sheriff of Milam County.  No other person was listed as holding that office until February 1841.[60]  Sillaven was well known by the few settlers in the area in the late 1830’s. 

The continued raids of the Indians slowed the settlement of Milam County.  As late as 1839, only twenty-five families were reported living in the county.[61]  Although Milam County extended a hundred miles or so up the Brazos River, Nashville, near the southern boundary of the county, was the most densely populated area to the north.[62]  Once the Indian problem was settled in the 1840’s, settlement pushed well to the north of Nashville. 

The petition from the people of Milam County to Congress in 1838 may have influenced that body in 1839-1840, to authorize the President to accept the services of three companies of volunteers in Milam and Bastrop counties.[63]  After a few more years, the Indians were ready to make peace treaties.  The Indian tribes living along the upper Brazos, by the 1840’s included, in addition to the Wacos and Tahuacans, such tribes as the Delawares, Caddos and others.  A preliminary treaty was reached with these various treibes on March 31, 1843.  It was agreed to stop hostilities until a formal treaty could be made later that year.[64]  In June 1843, a party of Delaware Indians came down the Brazos, past Sullivan’s Bluff, to Nashville to trade a large quantity of peltries.  They seemed to be content with hunting game and they showed no sign of renewing hostilities.[65]  It looked as if calmer times were coming to Milam County.  Later in the summer, however, a group of about sixty Indians, including some Wacos, visited a settlement on Little River, and while there became somewhat insolent and showed signs of hostility.  A short time later a few well armed men arrived at the settlement and the Indians left quietly in small groups.[66]  Later in the year, on September 29, 1843, a formal treaty was signed,[67] but it did not stop informal hostilities. 

A band of four Indians reportedly stole some horses in 1844, below the present town of Cameron, about twenty miles from Sullivan’s Bluff.[68]  Obviously, some other Indians had not heard about the treaty or were not abiding by it.  Yet, another treaty was negotiated in 1844.  While this treaty was being negotiated a few Indians, or perhaps some white men, made an attack on a settlement on the Brazos about twenty-five miles above Nashville.  A Negro was killed and scalped, and twenty-five horses were stolen.[69]  Despite this incident, a new treaty was signed in October 1844.  This treaty said in part, “The Tomahawk shall be buried.”[70]  Indians were still blamed for incidents in the area near Sullivan’s Bluff in 1845, and some Wacos were blamed for the death of a Robertson County man in the early part of 1845.[71]  After the latter incident, life became less dangerous in the area of the bluff, and settlers came more readily to the area. 

When the conclusion of peace treaties with the Indians in 1844-1845, immigrants began pouring into the area above Nashville.[72]  The frontier line now moved steadily westward.  In 1849, a chain of western forts was established by the Federal government along a north-south line about one hundred miles from the junction of the Brazos and Little rivers,[73] and Sillaven and his neighbors thereafter could feel more secure in their lives and property. 

In 1846, the Legislature of the State of Texas decided that Nashville was too far south in Milam County to be the county seat.  Only seven years before Nashville had been described as the extreme northern populated area of the county.[74]  The Legislature appointed a commission of seven members to locate a site for the permanent county seat.  Augustus W. Sillaven was one of the commissioners.[75]  Sillaven by this service gained experience in choosing sites for towns.  His bluff was too close to Nashville and the southern and eastern boundaries of the county to warrant much consideration.  The site for the county seat was selected along Little River about twenty miles west of Sullivan’s Bluff.  Cameron, the name of the new town, was said to have been surveyed by Sillaven and three other men late in 1846.[76]  Another man, George B. Erath, an early Texas Ranger and member of the State Legislature, claims he surveyed the town site.  He does not mention anyone helping him.[77]  The town grew fast.  In 1849, it was described as having about forty houses.  Farms were in operation all around the town.  New settlers from northeastern Texas were coming to the area to live.[78]  Before long settlers were forming towns west of Cameron. 

On the edge of the Edwards Plateau, the town of Georgetown was founded in August 1848.[79]  This town, on the banks of the San Gabriel, a tributary of Little River, was more than fifty miles west of Sullivan’s Bluff.  North of Georgetown, the town of Belton was founded late in 1850.  The sale of lots began in August 1850.[80]  This town, too, was located on a tributary of Little River.  Fairfield, not far from the present towns of Grosbeck and Mexia, was formed in 1849.  On the banks of the Brazos, eighty miles above Sullivan’s Bluff the town of Waco was laid out in 1849.[81]  In the summer of 1849, about fifty wagons of immigrants crossed the Brazos at Waco enroute to the lands along the San Gabriel, Brushy and Leona, all west of Sullivan’s Bluff.[82]  The frontier was moving west.  No frontier town developed on Sullivan’s Bluff.  A different type of town was to develop here. 

As the threat of frontier violence gradually subsided, farmers became more concerned with things other than just self-protection.  Farmers could now raise more than a subsistence living, and could increase their production, creating a surplus to be sold to enable them to purchase various items that they could not make themselves.  The main problem facing the farmer now was transportation.  It might cost him more to haul his crops to market than they were worth.  Supplies might be priced out of the reach of most people by the time transportation costs were added.  How could these costs be reduced?  Travel by water was one of the first forms of transportation to be considered with the idea of reducing costs.  The market places for the area around Sullivan’s Bluff and for the towns north and west of the bluff were Galveston and Houston.  The Brazos River flowed in the general direction of these markets from this area in Texas.  The river might be the solution to the farmers’ transportation problem. 

The waters of the Brazos had served the planters along the lower Brazos for many years.  At first water transportation had been limited to the tidewater area of the river.  Sail power was not very effective against the stronger river currents.  Competition developed between various spots along the river in regard to the limits of tidewater navigation.  The Texas Republican advertised the sale of lots in the town of Orozimbo on Novemer 8, 1834.  Orozimbo was described as being at the head of tide navigation of the Brazos.[83]  This assertion was challenged by some other property interests along the Brazos.  On February 14, 1835, lots in the town of Montezuma were advertised for sale.  According to this advertisement, Montezuma was ’the real head of Tide Navigation.”[84]  Neither town became an important port.  Other forms of water transportation were introduced on the Brazos that paid little attention to the limits of tidal navigation. 

The powerful paddle wheels of the steamboat could push the steamboats up rivers against the currents.  The first steamboat actually plied on the Brazos before the tidewater fight between Orozimbo and Montezuma took place.  Henry Austin, a cousin of Stephan F. Austin, brought the steamboat Ariel from the Rio Grande in 1830.[85]  Other such craft were plying the Brazos within a few years.  The Cayuga arrived on the Brazos in 1836.[86]  Before long these craft were venturing farther and farther up the river.  How far could a steamboat travel up the Brazos? 

In a report on Texas in 1835, the Mexican Government indicated the Brazos was navigable by steamships some 250 or 300 miles above its mouth.[87]  The estimate placed steamboat navigation within fifty miles of Sullivan’s Bluff, but this was just a guess.  Washington, a town about eighty miles below Sullivan’s Bluff on the Brazos, was founded in the early 1830’s,[88] and the citizens of the town soon became concerned with improving their communications with the coast.  A meeting was held at Washington in 1836 to discuss river improvements, and money was raised to purchase a steamboat.[89]  The town was described in a letter written in 1837 as being “beautifully situated on the right bank of the Brazos river opposite the mouth of the Navasota and is evidently at the head of navigation, there being a series of obstacles in the river beginning a few miles above the Town.”[90]  At the time the above statement was written no steamboat had reached Washington; and it was not known, therefore, if steamboats could actually go that far up the river, or if the obstacles a few miles above Washington would stop steamboats.  The letter blamed the disturbed situation of the country, rather than obstacles in the river for the failure of any steamboat, up to that time, to reach Washington.[91]  Calmer times did bring the steamboats to Washington and above. 

As calm returned to the area in the 1840’s, steamboats ventured farther up the Brazos.  The steamer Mustang was reported to be running a regular packet between Washington and Galveston in March 1843.[92]  The Mustang did not stop at Washington or Hildalgo Falls, the obstacle just above Washington.  The Morning Star on June 1, 1843, reported the Mustang had ascended the Brazos above Washington probably reaching Tenoxtitlan, about fifteen or twenty miles downstream from Sullivan’s Bluff.  The Mustang did not stop at Tenoxtitlan.  Two weeks later the paper reported: 

"The Steamer Mustang lately ascended the Brazos to the shoals fifteen or twenty miles above Nashville. - The river was falling rapidly, and Capt. Moore did not consider it prudent to ascend the great falls as he intended.  The trip upwards to Nashville was made in 22 hours, and no shoals or other obstructions were found in the river.  The trip down from Nashville to Washington was made in two hours and three quarters."[93] 

On this trip the Mustang undoubtedly made it up the river as far as Sullivan’s Bluff, just four miles above Nashville or fifteen to twenty miles above Tenoxtitlan.  From the newspaper article, it seems that the boat actually crossed the shoal and boulders at the bluff, if it did go fifteen or twenty miles above Nashville as reported.  Boulders clutter the Brazos at Curley’s Shoal fifteen miles above Nashville and again at Cannon Ball Shoal twenty miles above Nashville.  One of these two barriers may have stopped Captain Moore and the Mustang after crossing the shoal at Sullivan’s Bluff.  The two upper shoals, at a later date, were not considered by the United States Corps of Engineers surveyors to be so much a barrier to river navigation as was the shoal at Sullivan’s Bluff.  The shoal at Sullivan’s Bluff was considered the greatest barrier to river navigation between Richmond, eighty-nine miles above the river’s mouth, and Waco, eighty-seven miles above Sullivan’s Bluff.[94]  The Morning Star may have meant to say the Mustang traveled fifteen or twenty miles above Tenoxtitlan rather than Nashville.  This would have meant the Mustang stopped at Sullivan’s Bluff instead of crossing it.  No other report has been found by the author, of a steamboat crossing the shoals at Sullivan’s Bluff going upstream, although, as will be shown later, one steamboat built at Waco crossed the shoal going downstream. 

The Mustang established that Washington was not the limit of steam boat navigation on the Brazos in 1843.  At this time the population around Sullivan’s Bluff was still very small.  The treaties discussed earlier were yet to be signed; Texas was still a Republic.  Settlement, at this time, was not very much north or west of Sullivan’s Bluff.  The demand for cheaper and better transportation was not strong enough in the early 1840’s to induce the steamboats on the Brazos to travel much higher than Washington.  The changes previously discussed brought an increase in the demand for better transportation.  This demand plus some other factors led to the transformation of Sullivan’s Bluff to Port Sullivan. 

The citations on the following pages follow the style of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly

[1]  Also spelled Sillaven’s Bluff.
[2]  Soil Survey of Milam County Texas, 8.
[3]  Brazos River and Tributaries, Oyster Creek, and Jones Creek, Tex., U. S. Congress. House Document No. 535, 81st Cong. 2nd Sess., Plate 1-A.  See also appendix, Map No. 1.
[4]  Ibid.
[5]  United States Congress, Report of the Secretary of War Being Part of the Messages and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the First Session of the Fifty-fourth Congress.  House Document No. 2, Part 3, p. 1835.
[6]  Galveston Weekly News, July 7, 1857.
[7]  Herbert Eugene Bolton, Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century, Map Insert.
[8]  Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, 95.  Hereafter cited as Barker, Life of Austin.
[9]  Lelia M. Batte, History of Milam County Texas, 8.  Hereafter cited as Batte, Milam County.
[10]  Barker, Life of Austin, 31.
[11]  Ibid., 38-39.
[12]  Ibid., 120.
[13]  Ibid., 139.
[14]  Ibid., 116.
[15]  Letters from an Early Settler in Texas, quoted in Katherine Bradford Henderson, “The Early History of Milam County,” Masters’ thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1924, p. 60.  Hereafter cited as Henderson, “Milam County.”
[16]  Barker, Life of Austin, 124-125.
[17]  Ibid.
[18]  Ibid.
[19]  Thomas A. Bailey, The American Pageant, 20.
[20]  Batte, Milam County, 12.
[21]  Richard Denny Parker, Historical Recollections of Robertson County, 7.  Hereafter cited as Parker, Robertson County.
[22]  Stephen F. Austin to M. B. Lamar, Columbia, December 5, 1836, in Eugene C. Barker (ed.), The Austin Papers, III, 466.  Hereafter cited as Barker (ed.), Austin Papers.
[23]  Parker, Robertson County, 7.
[24]  Stephen F. Austin to M. B. Lamar, Columbia, December 5, 1836, in Baker (ed.), Austin Papers, III, 466.
[25]  Ibid., 468.
[26]  Ibid., 468.
[27]  Barker, Life of Austin, 124-125.
[28]  Batte, Milam County, 15.
[29]  Barker, Life of Austin, 373.
[30]  Ibid ., 312.
[31]  Mrs. John T. Martin and Mrs. Louis C. Hill (eds.), Milam County, Texas Records, I, 48-50.  Hereafter cited as Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County.
[32]  Caruthers Survey Abstracts, Milam County Abstract Co.
[33]  Henderson, “Milam County,” 50.
[34]  Margaret Eleanor Lengert, “The History of Milam County,” Masters’ thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1949, p. 72.  Hereafter cited as Lengert, “Milam County.”
[35]  Map of Milam County, Milam County Abstract Co.
[36]  Batte, Milam County, 18.
[37]  Henderson, “Milam County,” 63.
[38]  Ibid., 48.
[39]  Texas Republican (Brazoria), June 20, 1835.
[40]  Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, I.
[41]  Barker, Life of Austin, 317.
[42]  Ibid., 415.
[43]  The United States Census Returns, 1850, Schedule No. 1, shows his name as Augustin W. Sillaven; in Batte, Milam County, 12 his name is spelled A. W. Sullivan; in George W. Tyler, The History of Bell County, 9, Gus Sullivan; in Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, I, 7, Augustus W. Sillaven; in Ibid., II, 75, A. W. Sillivan; in Tax Rolls Milam County, 1854, Texas State Archives, A. W. Sillaven; and in Caruthers Survey Abstracts, Milam County Abstract Co., A. W Sulliven.
[44]  Grant to Augustine W. Sillaven, March 8, 1841, General Land Office, Austin.  In qualifying as a resident to Texas prior to the Declaration of Independence, March 2, 1836, a requirement of this type grant from the Republic of Texas, Sillaven said he was a resident of Texas starting in October 1835.
[45]  Burned Record, Milam County Abstract Co.
[46]  The United States Census Returns, 1850, Schedule No. 1, shows Augustin W. Sillaven as being 44 years old.
[47]  Batte, Milam County, Henderson, “Milam County,” 82.
[48]  Ibid., 20.
[49]  Lengert, “Milam County,” 46.
[50]  Batte, Milam County, 32.
[51]  Henderson, “Milam County,” 86.
[52]  Lengert, “Milam County,” 47.
[53]  Batte, Milam County, 37.
[54]  Ibid., 40 -41.
[55]  Quoted in Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, I, 8.
[56]  Ibid., 8-9.
[57]  Ibid.
[58]  Burned Record, Milam County Abstract Co.
[59]  Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, II, 75-94.
[60]  Ibid., I, 7.
[61]  Lengert, “Milam County,” 78.
[62]  Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, I, 10-11.
[63]  Anna Muckleroy 6, “The Indian Policy of the Republic of Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVI (October, 1922), pp. 132-133.  Hereafter cited as Muckleroy, “Indian Policy,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly. See also H. P. N. Gammel (ed.), Laws of Texas, II, 78.
[64]  Muckleroy, “Indian Policy,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVI (January, 1923), p. 188.
[65]  Morning Star (Houston), July 11, 1843.
[66]  Ibid., September 19, 1843.
[67]  Muckleroy, “Indian Policy,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVI (January, 1923, p. 188.
[68]  George W. Tyler, The History of Bell County, 79.  Hereafter cited as Tyler, Bell County.
[69]  Morning Star, February 8, 1844.
[70]  Muckleroy, “Indian Policy,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVI (January, 1923), pp. 193-194; H. P. N. Gammel (ed.), Laws of Texas, II, 1191-1196.
[71]  Morning Star, February 8, 1845.
[72]  Tyler, Bell County, 79.
[73]  Ernest Wallace, Texas in Turmoil, 14.
[74]  Martin and Hill (eds.), Milam County, 49-49.
[75]  Batte, Milam County, 48-49.
[76]  History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Milam, Williamson, Bastrop, Travis, Lee and Burleson Counties, 256-257.  Hereafter cited as History of Texas, Biography of Milam County.
[77]  Lucy A. Erath (ed.), “Memoirs of Major George Bernard Erath,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVII (October, 1923), 145.
[78]  Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register (Houston), March 1, 1849.
[79]  Walter Prescott Webb and H. Bailey Carroll (eds.), The Handbook of Texas, I, 682.  Hereafter cited as Webb and Carroll (eds.), Handbook of Texas.
[80]  Ibid., I, 144.
[81]  Tyler, Bell County, 81.
[82]  Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register, July 26, 1849.
[83]  Texas Republican, November 8, 1834.
[84]  Ibid., February 14, 1835.
[85]  Bernice Lockhart, “Navigating Texas Rivers (1821-1900),“ Masters’ thesis, St. Marys University, San Antonio, 1949, p. 11.  Hereafter cited as Lockhart, “Navigating Texas Rivers.”
[86]  Ibid., 14.
[87]  Juan N. Almonte, “Statistical Report on Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXVIII (January, 1925), p. 204.
[88]  Webb and Carroll (eds.), Handbook of Texas, II, 865.
[89]  Lockhart, “Navigating Texas Rivers,” 35.
[90]  Asa Hoxey, President of the Washington Company, to the Commissioners appointed by Congress to Locate the Seat of Government, November 15, 1837, quoted in Earnest William Winkler, “The Seat of Government of Texas,” Quarterly of Texas Historical Association, X, 196.
[91]  Ibid.
[92]  Morning Star, March 25, 1843.
[93]  Ibid., June 15, 1843.
[94]  United States Congress, Report of the Secretary of War Being Part of the Messages and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the First Session of the Fifty-fourth Congress. House Document No. 2., Part 3, p. 1835.

 

 

 

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