by John L. Baldwin
The Land and Its Early Inhabitants
Geography and Topography
Walker County is located in southeast Texas timber country, which is a western extension of the Atlantic Gulf Coast Plain. The rolling terrain of the county is characteristic of the region. The land is hilly in some places, but there are also stretches of prarie with the altitude varying to 200 to 250 feet above sea level. There is an average annual rainfall of about 44 inches, with the temperature averages of 50 in January and 83 in July, and a mean annual temperature of 67.
The county is well drained by the Trinity River in the north east and the San Jacinto River in the southern portion, and by the many creeks and streams which empty into the rivers. There are 4 main creeks emptying into the Trinity. These are Bedias Creek which forms the northwestern boundary of the county; Nelson Creek; Harmon Creek; and Caroline Creek, in the southern part. Other lesser creeks which join the San Jacinto River are Mill, West Sandy, East Sandy, and Robinson Creek. In addition there are many similar streams located throughout the county.
The soils found in the county vary from the sands and clays of the piney woods to the rich alluvia deposits in the lower areas. Different types of soils are found in many small areas, and often several types may be found on just one farm. Walker County soils are generally low in fertility, as a result of low mineral content, lack of organic matter, and thinness of top soil. There is a deficiency of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, as well as other elements. Clays found in the county consist of Fuller's earth, found in the Riverside area in the northeastern portion of the county; bentonite, found north of Huntsville and also near Dodge; ceramics, found on the banks of the Trinity River 5 miles east of Riverside; brick clay, found 2 miles north of New Waverly in the southern portion of the county; and volcanic ash north of Huntsville.
The principal types of trees found in the county include loblolly and short-leaf pine, several varieties of oaks, sweet gums, sycamores, elm and cedar. The county today has approximately 318,900 acres of forest land and in earlier days had much more. The "Big Thicket" of Texas used to extend into the eastern edge of the county. The following description of the area as it existed in 1856 gives a clear picture of this portion of the country.
In 1856 there was in Texas a rare region known as the "Big Thicket", which was composed of portions of Walker, Polk and Montgomery Counties. It was rightly named, for on every side the bushes and trees close around you almost as a solid wall.
On the hills grew immense white, red, Spanish, black and water oaks, sweet gums, black gum, hollys, hickories, and small trees such as iron wood, white and prickly ash, large and small leaf elms, sasafras and dogwoods. Large magnolias and bay trees grew on the streams. the underbrush consisted mostly of sweet bay, youpon, myrtle and a smaller bush which bore delicious berries which resembled huckleberries, but were much smaller and more palatable. Everywhere over hill and dale were vines of different kinds, wild grapes, yellow jasmine, smilax and rattan. There was a still smaller growth of ferns, partridge berry, moses and innumerable small flowers. In the creek bottoms grew sycamore and wild peach trees and quantities of cane. (McKinney)
Animal life in early Walker was abundant, as could well be supposed from the extensive forest areas present. There were countless varieties of birds and small animals. and many deer, bears, panthers, bob-cats, wolves, wild turkeys and other wildlife. Walker County was a veritable paradise for hunters, and hunting was one of the major sources of recreation in the county. (L.B.Baldwin's uncle Simon and Bill Sterne, early Walker County settlers, now deceased, have often related to him tales of their hunting experiences in this area).
Deer were especially plentiful in the county. Herds containing as many as 40 were reported seen by some of the early day settlers, in the vicinity of the site of the old town of Cincinnati on the Trinity River. Even today that area is in abundant supply, and is a very popular spot with deer hunters each season. A salt lick, located in Huntsville in the early days, at the present site of Greene's Sinclair Service Station , was also a place often frequented by deer. When some of the Huntsville citizens decided they would like to have deer meat for dinner, it was usually very easy to go down to the salt lick and shoot one. (McKinney)
Another interesting story is told of the wild life in the county. Large numbers of passenger pigeons used to migrate through this area, occasionally in such great masses as to resemble dark clouds. At night so many of them would sometimes roost in the threes that the limbs would break from their weight. At such times they provided easy targets for hunters
Indian Inhabitants Of Walker County
One of the early tribes inhabiting this region had the name of Cenis. Their lands covered a fairly large area, mostly that portion laying between the Trinity River, or the Trinidad, as it was called then, and the San Jacinto River, in present day Walker, San Jacinto and Montgomery countiies. Most of their villages were located along the Trinity, which the Indians called Arcokisa. One of their main villages was located near the site upon which was later established the Walker County river port of Carolina (Yoakum)
A description of the homes built by this tribe is very interesting. Their cabins are fine, 40 or 50 foot high, of the shape of bee hives. Trees are planted in the ground, and united above the branches which are covered with grass. the beds are arranged around the cabin, 3 or 4 feet from the ground. The fire is in the middle, each cabin holding two families.
The Cenis Indians were distinguished for their hospitality and gentleness of disposition. they raised a great deal of corn, by which they were enabled to sustain a large population. the Cenis were also great traders, and obtained largely from the Comanches who in turn had gotten them from Spaniards - horses, money, silver spoons, spurs and clothing.
This tribe was first discovered in 1686 by the French. The Cenis continued to live in the area for approximately 100 years but their nation was finally destroyed in about 1780, in a great battle on the banks of the Trinity with other tribes which had come into the area after being pushed westward from the Mississippi by American expansion.
Another tribe to be found within the area now comprising Walker County was Bedai. They lived in the northwestern portion of the county, near the present Bedais Creek, which is named for them. Their principal village was located at the point where the creek empties into the Trinity River. The Bedai Indians were a rather backward people in comparison to many of the other tribes. They lived in thatched huts and made very little effort at cultivating the land, depending almost entirely on game and fish for their existence. Their members were kept thin by pestilence and frequent raids by other tribes. (Strickland) Within the past year , two skeletons were uncovered on the ranch of R. E. Samuel of Huntsville. Experts of the University of Texas who examined the skeletons believed them to be those of the Bedai Indians. It was thought that an Indian burial ground might possibly have been in that area, but as yet, no other remains have been discovered. (R.E.Samuel)
The Comanche Indians also played a part in the history of Walker County. they were a nomadic and essentially war-like people, and moved from place to place looking for game and weaker tribes upon which they could prey. They frequently raided the villages of the Bedai Indians and also the early Spanish settlement of Bucareli. (Bolton)
The Comanches were allies of the Cenis and carried on a great deal of trade with them and with other tribes in the vicinity. Huntsville served as a trading post between these western Comanche tribes and Indians of the western portion of the state. The Bedai in the Alabama-Coushatta, the Neches, the Nacodogches, and other tribes bought their pottery, pelts, pine knots, bear grease, bear and antelope robes, mustang ponies and other goods brought by the Comanches. The Lipans, the Tonkawas and other various tribes from the plains. (J.L.Clark, Huntsville, Texas)
Another tribe of Indians had a village located about 2 miles south of Huntsville, on the old Sterne property. Many pieces of pottery and arrowhead can be found in the area even today. Stories have it that this was a Cherokee village but there is no evidence to substantiate it.
Spanish and French Exploration
There are of course, differences of opinion over the exact route of many of the early explorers in Texas, but there is much evidence to support the belief that the land which came to be Walker County played a large part in both the Spanish and French exploration of Texas.
The expedition of the Spaniard Hernando de Soto, after his death, entered northeast Texas about 1542 under the leaadership of of Louis de Moscoso. According to Dr. Rex Strickland, this expedition penetrated to east central Texas as far as what is now Walker County. The main body of the party camped to the north of the Trinity River in the southern portion of the present county of Houston, but the expedition scouts, who had been in the advance of the main body, crossed to the other side of the river and captured 3 or 4 of the Indians living in that area. These captives are believed to have been Bedais.
Moscoso later sent 10 men across the river on swift horses with instructions to travel as far as they could in 8 or 9 days to see if they could find provisions with which too re-supply the exposition. This they did and came upon some poor Indidans who withdrew into wretched huts as they approached. A few of them were taken captive, but no one could speak their language, so the Spaniards could not get desired information about the surrounding territory. No supplies could be gathered from this village as the Indians had few posessions. Discouraged at their findings, Moscoso and his men returned to the Mississippi from whence they had come.
The Spaniards, Gil Ybarbo, established in 1774 the settlement of Bucareli on th eTrinity River. Some historians place this site on the land now covered by R. E. Samuel Ranch in Walker County, while the Bolton sttes that it was further north, near the Robbin's Ferry crossing point on the Trinity. In either case, this would place it in the Walkear County area, as the county when first organized reached to Robbin's Ferry. The settlement was within 2 leagues of the main village of the Bedai Indians, which was located near the mouth of the Bedais.
Bucareli was made up of families who were first exiled from their homes at Los Adaes by the Spanish Governor Ripperda. One purpose for it's establishment was as an outposst for th eprotection of Spanish territory from the French.
This settlement thrived during its first year or two of existance, and finally grew to a settlement of approximately 400 people. In 1777 Ybarbo reported that there were 50 houses, the total population of this community being 347; of these 125 were men, 87 women, 128 children, and five slaves. There were also many Bedai Indians living in the neighborhood.
The land was found to be fertile, and good crops were produced. the Indians were very friendly and aided the settlers in their labors. It seemed from all indications that a successful and permanent settlement had been established, but such hopes were short-lived. Comanche Indian tribes learned of the prosperity of the town and began to raid it, killing many of the residents and destroying much property. The friiendly Bedai, although willing to assist the Spaniards fighting the enemy, were no match for the fierce Comanche.
Finally Ybarbo and his people felt that they could not hold out against the raiders andy longer, and in 1779 the Spaniards abandoned the settlement and moved to the Nacogaodches [sic].
Another Spaniard, Alonzo de Leon, who was sent out with a military eexpedition to look for survivors of the La Salle paarty, laid out the La Balua Road in 1689, which crossed through the Walker County area.
The French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Aalle, is believed by E. W. Cole to have pased through the Walker County region, traversing the entire length of the county from the southwestern to the tho northeastern corner. Cole claims to have traced, on foot, the route of this expedition, and to have found every landmark mentioned in the diary of Henri Joutel, historian of the LaSalle's expedition. Cole was aided in his efforts in tracing the route through Walker County citizens who were familiar with the terrain.
According to Cole, la Salle crossed what is now Walker County boundary from Montgomery County to a point a short distance from where the town of Shiro is now located. He went in a northeasterly direction and crossed the San Jacinto River on a great circular bend in the upper west branch of the river. From there he continued northeast, going through the area where Crawford's Lake is now to be found. He crosses White Rock Creek and then came to Nelson Creek at a flat rock crossing a short distance above the mouth of Town Creek. From there he went to Eyser's Bluff, then passed into Trinity County. He was murdered 14 days later at a site in Cherokee County. La Salle's Walker County route is shown.
This work written and researched by John W. Baldwin in 1954.
copyright 2000 - 2003 Charlotte Sandel Beck