Liberty County History

An occasional gathering place for articles, documents, photographs, records and other ephemera dealing with the history of Liberty County, Texas.


Kevin Ladd is director of the Wallisville Heritage Park at Wallisville, Chambers County, TX and lives in Hardin, TX. He is chairman of the Liberty County Historical Commission and writes for "Texas Illustrated," a monthly publication of the Liberty Gazette newspaper, which is devoted to local history and folklore.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Journey to Liberty County (May 1857)

Tuesday, May 26, 1857


To resume my travels, I left Crockett on Monday the 4th [of May], and traveled east toward Sumpter. The roads for five miles were fine, and the lands adjoining presented a fertile appearance, when I entered the piney woods and with the exception of a mile or two of creek bottom and prairie, continued in the piney woods until I reached Sumpter and then, though in town, I was still surrounded on all sides by piney woods. The distance from Crockett to Sumpter is I think thirty-one miles. There are but few farms on the road and most of them small, the buildings occupied beingof the poorest kind.

Sumpter is improving, I should judge, quite rapidly, a number of new buildings having been built in thelast few months, while others are in some course of erection. The public square is yet without aCourthouse, the old log one situated at one corner, being still used. At McAlpin's hotel I fared sumptuously until the evening of the 5th, when I left for Moscow situated in the northern portion of Polk county. The road for near the whole distance, twelve or fifteen miles, ran through the everlasting pineywoods over a rough and broken country, and the recent rains had made the ever-bad-enough roads execrable,and it was with difficulty that I made my way at all. Moscow appears to be a flourishing business place and having large bodies of rich black and creek bottomlands in its neighborhood, its prospects are fair fora large increase in size and business. There are already four or five stores, two hotels, a good school and numerous private dwellings, besides the usual number of mechanic shops.


Leaving Moscow on the evening of the 7th, I traveled a few miles east on the road towards Woodville, thecounty seat of Tyler county. On the 8th made little progress towards Woodville, having to wander around the piney woods hills, in the neighborhood of Peach-tree Village, in search of gold or its representative; but precious little did I find I assure you. On the 9th, after a drive of eighteen miles, over as broken and hilly country as I have ever seen in Texas, all covered with a large thick growth of yellow long leaf pine, I arrived at Woodville, a town very pleasantly situated, with numbers of large Magnolia trees scattered throughout it. A newcourthouse is soon to be built, to take the place of the old barn-looking building now used. There are some half dozen stores, two hotels, an academy, andthe usual number of Lawyers and Doctors offices. Woodville, taking it all in all, is a very pleasant,flourishing, business place.


I left Woodville on the 11th for Livingston, a distance of about 35 miles. The road for a few miles, although over a rough, broken piney woods country, was very good and 'Dave' made very good speed, but these few miles being passed I entered upon the new road recently established between Woodville and Livingston and which had been made barely wide enough to admit the passage of a buggy and with little regard to the height of the stumps or character of the ground passed over, which made travelling at a speed of over four miles per hour extremely difficult, while a good lookout had to be kept from being upset or the buggy broken by the tall stumps, even at this rate of speed.

At Big Sandy Creek I came upon an encampment of Alabama Indians, some twenty or thirty in number. Their wigwams were composed of a few plank set on end around a frame of poles, while a roof was formed of pine bark taken from the trees in strips four or five feet long and two or three feet wide. A frame poles and cane covered with bearskins compose their beds. They cultivate barely land enough to raise cornsufficient for bread, hunting being relied upon formeat and the wherewithal to procure crops the fewarticles needed by them for clothing, tobacco, whisky, &c. Deer and bear are their principal game, the skins of which are sold at the stores for a low price generally.

Settlers along the road are few and far between, and an Indian and a Negro are the only humans I saw during my drive of about 30 miles. Livingston, the county seat of Polk county, presents rather a dull, unthrifty appearance. The courthouse is a fine looking building, and when this is said, near all is said that be to the credit of the place. The country surrounding the town is generally of a poor broken character, uninviting to the planter, consequently very few of the kind of settlers neededto build up such a kind of town are to be found in theneighborhood. My stay at Livingston was short, leaving on the morning after my arrival at night. Liberty being the next point I intended visiting, Itook a course down the river, visiting a place called Drew's Landing where there is a store and Saw mill. Quite a number of Coushatta Indians were camped nearhere and a portion of the trade at the store wasderived from them, skins being the principal articleof traffic.


Smithfield, a few miles below on the West side of the [Trinity] river, I did not visit, all ours subscribers being prepaying ones, but learned that aflourishing business was being transacted there by Colonel [Hamilton] Washington, and others in the way of trade with the Indians and surrounding inhabitants. Cold Springs lies some 35 miles east from Huntsville and nine west from the Trinity at the crossing at Swartout. There are four or five stores, blacksmiths, tinners and other mechanics shops, a neat handsome church edifice, a number of tasty private residences, &c. to be found here. The country surrounding, although very hilly and broken, is quite fertile and a number of large planters are to be found in the neighborhood of the town. The place takes its name from a number of cold springs which issue from the hill sides within the town.

Swartout, 9 miles distant on the east bank of the Trinity, is the shipping point for the cotton of thissection of country. There are but few scattering houses here, most of which present a ratherweather-beaten, dilapidated appearance. An idea was once entertained by a number of persons who investedin the speculation that a town of much businessimportance could be built here. But theunreliableness of navigation on the Trinity, plus anumber of other factors, prevented its consummation.

Liberty County I have seen but little of and cangive your readers but little information thereto; judging however from what land I have seen in cultivation, and the appearance of much of the timbered land bordering upon the roads traveled, there is a large quantity of fertile lands to be found in the county, and being situated favorably as to market,very desirable. The town of Liberty is improving rapidly and presents a flourishing business appearance. A large share of the cotton from Houston, Trinity, Tyler and many other northern counties now finds its way here,instead of to Houston as formerly, and the wagonsbringing it, return loaded with supplies of all kindsfor the country. The distance from Liberty to Crockett is, I think, 110 miles, fifteen miles less than to Houston and the road, with a little repairingand straightening would be equal to if not better than the one from Crockett to Houston. The citizens of Liberty cannot select a better time than the present to make a vigorous effort to draw tothemselves a still larger trade from the uppercounties, repairing her roads, opening new ones, andby a general display of liberality in all their acts. The merchants, most of whom I have visited, have fullstocks, which they appear to be selling very low andat very liberal terms.

Visiting the [Liberty] Gazette office, I found Mr.[Henry Clay] Shea up to his elbows in work. He complains of hard times, which I believe is theuniversal complaint among newspaper publishers in thecountry. The [Steamboat] 'Betty Powell' is as regular as clockwork in her trips, and Messrs. Powell and Ruthven, her enterprising owners, have the credit, generally, of having wrought the change that has come over this appearance of things at Liberty within the last few months. May they reap their rewards!.


Note: L. K. P. was a frequent correspondent to the Galveston News and regularly submitted travelogue letters such as this. His description of Southeast Texas and East Texas during 1857 is quite fascinating.


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