Looking for Fords on the Colorado

Quite the little group of volunteer history buffs gathered on the south banks of Lady Bird Lake at 9 a.m. The party of nine included a retired judge, an archeologist, an archivist and — to his total delight — a young newcomer to Austin. One lives in La Grange, another in Pearland, but most of us hail from Austin.

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Austin History Brain Bank: Mike Miller, Bob Ward, Phoebe Allen, Greg Walker, Bob Perkins, Doug Stienstra, Richard Denney and Lanny Ottosen. Other buffs who contributed to pre-hike digital chat: Kim McKnight, Steven Gonzales, Bobby Cervantes, Kevin Anderson and Ted Eubanks.

We all share in common an interest in Austin history. The informal group first gathered digitally a few weeks ago when Judge Bob Perkins asked about the locations of Colorado River crossings for the Chisholm Trail, which shuttled cattle in the thousands from Texas to Kansas in the late 19th century.

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On the south bank at Tinnin Ford.

A flood of data — records, photos, maps, overlaid maps — where shared in long email threads. Finally, we decided to find the most likely sites for at least Tinnin Ford, while keeping an eye on the other mapped crossings — Shoal Creek, Congress Avenue, Longhorn Dam, Stones Ford, Comanche Ferry and Montopolis Ferry.

I should take a second to point out that this blog post represents only the barest sketch of the process of nailing down these locations. We’ll return to this material in a few weeks with more rigorous fact checking.

We met at the international hostel right where Tinnin Ford Road dead-ends into Lakeshore Boulevard. After merrily checking maps and sharing references, we headed out the finger of land that leads toward Snake Island. To our right was a former gravel pit. Aerial shots told us that a large mining operation once stood here.

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Comparing notes on the north bank.

Here, at an ancient cypress, we found what we believed to be the southern entry for Tinnin Ford. One could look across the lake at an angle to see where it would have picked up on Robert Martinez Street Jr. north of the river.

But why were these crossings sometimes called “fords” and at other times “ferries”? “Seasonal changes in the river’s level,” correctly chimed in Austin History Center chief archivist Mike Miller.

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A fortuitous sign.

We then headed to the other side of the river, across the Longhorn Dam, which bears a historical marker about the trail. After examining several possible low spots on the bank, we settled near another old cypress and guessed this was the other end of the ford.

We still had questions: Was Stones Ford different from Tinnin Ford? Where were the downstream crossings? Below the current Longhorn Dam and Montopolis Bridge, which connect banks that are too high?

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One of our party on the limestone flats at the remains of Chambers Mill Dam, just below Longhorn Dam on the Colorado River.

A few of us headed downstream to the site of the abandoned Chambers Mill Dam, located on a vast limestone ledge just below the Longhorn Dam. We easily could imagine a low-water crossing here, except that the banks above the flats were too high. A little farther downstream?

Mysteries to be solved later …

NOTE: Tinnin Ford was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

 

Austin: One Ask, One Tell

So during the Wonders & Worries Unmasked banquet last night at the JW Marriott, we tried something new.

Let’s call it: Austin: One Ask, One Tell.

We asked a few people to participate in this Periscope experiment and finally found a willing guest. As you’ll see, we ask one question, then invite the guest to tell us about the purpose of the social event.

If we get a good series of answers to one question about Austin current affairs, we’ll splice them into yet another digital product.

http://www.periscope.tv/w/1LyGBzoMrOzGN

Let me know what you think about this new feature.

Wonders
Angela Broussard and Bruno Lepore at Wonders & Worries Unmasked

Best Texas rivers: San Saba River

SAN SABA — This is Tommy Lee Jones country. It’s also, in a sense, “No Country for Old Men” country.

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Courtesy of LandofTexas.com.

Not that the desolation of Cormac McCarthy‘s West Texas border novel echoes the soft, well-watered hills and vales of San Saba County. But Llewellyn Moss, played with unnerving reserve by Josh Brolin in the award-winning movie by the Coen Brothers, is from San Saba. And Jones, who grew up in this comparatively isolated country 90 miles northwest of Austin, constantly reminded Brolin that he is from San Saba, almost as a challenge to the younger actor’s authenticity.

Jones’ ranch is just five miles east of town. Strangers are not welcome, and he’s one actor I’d not want to irritate. A sign on the ranch gate barks “Go Away,” but one can spot Jones’ famed polo grounds across a gentle, red-grassy rise. Funny thing, all his biographies say the ranch is “outside San Antonio.” In fact, it’s two hours from Austin; three from San Antonio.

People in San Saba respect Jones’ fierce sense of privacy, and say so. The whole town — plus folks from Lameta, Brady, Goldthwaite and other nearby spots — turned out for Christmas in the Square on Saturday. In fact, the bleachers were full two hoursbefore the 15-minute parade through the courthouse square commenced.

While Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted hordes of children, performers in a living nativity scene sang carols. (There appeared to be no creche crisis on this county property.) Across the street, solo singers braved karaoke carols, including a Spanish-language version of “Jingle Bell Rock” (21 percent of the county’s 6,000 residents are Hispanic.)

San Saba is the “Pecan Capital of the World,” as almost everyone, including Harold Yates from the Chamber of Commerce, reminded me. “Not because we grow the most pecans, but because the mother tree for commercial orchards is here.” Nolan Ryanowns an orchard in the county.

“Sure it’s the pecan capital,” said a visitor from Lometa who declined to be identified. “It’s also the meth capital of the world.”

Yates, who is thinking of running for sheriff, agreed there was a meth problem, but that most of it was imported, not labbed in the county, the last in Texas to pave its roads (a situation that led to the the rise of the San Saba Mob, which ran the county until Texas Rangers were able to oust them). Yates took my request to fix a speeding ticket with good cheer.

We resisted the temptation to buy Jacalyn Morley-Webb‘s tassled purses from her business, “Itz a Girlz ThAng,” but couldn’t turn down Mary Huron‘s Hot Sauce, which sat alongside jars of Huron’s Mild Sauce. (Sad mild world.)

We also scored some samples of Bill’s Season All, a marinade that Edward Ragsdale said would “make your steak so tender you can cut it with a fork.” The late Bill Eden used to cook up in a small pan the seasoning in the back of the G&R Grocery store on the courthouse square “until he needed a really big pan,” the stuff got so popular. Ragsdale smiled devilishly when he said: “Bill’d be turning over in his grave if he knew how much we sold these days.”

Every other business in San Saba has to do with pecans. Tourism has not risen to the Fredericksburg level, but there’s a capacious, terraced Mill Pond Park, a preserved swivel bridge and “the oldest working jail in Texas.” Down the way is Colorado Bend State Park and, up the San Saba River, Fort McKavett State Park, a miraculously preserved compound from the late 19th-century Indian Wars, and the purported ruins of the San Saba Presidio, which look to be mostly 20th-century rather than 18th-century construction (including — ick — Portland cement, see photo).

The San Saba valley is pretty, clement and blessed with fluent springs. The river, which rises at Fort McKavett, quickly takes on a good surge, and one can see why the Spanish missionaries chose it for a mission, since the land quickly turns less hospitable to the west and south. (Did you ever wonder why San Antonio is where it is?) Unfortunately for the Franciscans and the Spanish soldiers, it was too deep into Lipan Apache and Comanche country, and the place was abandoned well before 1800.

A note about the trip up: We tarried at the Hill Country Wildlife Museum in Llano, a display of more than 700 trophies from Houston hunter Charles K. Campbell. It’s a shocking place, full of walrus, bear, Cape buffalo, etc.

The kind but weary docent said the nonprofit that runs the place, so situated on Llano’s square to attract the annual migration of deer hunters, is hanging on by thread. If you are at all interested in novelty tourist destinations, plunk down the $3.

For more photos from the San Saba River Tracing, shared with college bud Joe Starr, look for the Monday morning blog.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Texas Independence Day Dinner

Yes, we know it’s a few days early this year, but the Bullock Texas State History Museum has our permission to stage Texas Independence Day Dinner whenever it so desires.

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Carlos González Gutiérrez and Mark Madrid at the Texas Independence Day Dinner

It’s a pretty grand affair. The rotunda and inner lobby of the museum echo the formality of the actual State Capitol. Dressy yet relaxed, guests mingled easily before the meal and program. I spent the most chat time with author Stephen Harrigan — who is writing a new history of Texas for UT Press — and his wife Sue Ellen Harrigan.

Perhaps because former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was one of two honorees, the crowd trended Republican. It included Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus, who introduced the gracious awardee. At Table 14, I sat between the parties who accompanied State Rep. Paul Workman and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. There was scant talk about the upcoming primary and much more instead about Texas, its shared history and our personal stories.

The other winner of the History-Making Texan Award was newsman Bob Schieffer, who appears to have made no enemies in the world. He was introduced by his former assistant, Kaylee Hartung, once with the Longhorn Network and now appearing on ESPN.

Nearby sat the party of Mexican Consul Carlos González Gutiérrez, a group that included Mark Madrid, president and CEO of the newly energized Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I must admit I flinched at some of the awkward historical references to Mexico from the dais early in the evening, but everyone at the consul’s table continued to smile. That’s why they call them diplomats.

 

 

Best Texas rivers: San Bernard River

This old report comes with a novel structure. To see other posted and reposted Texas River Tracings, go to this point along the way.

Travel: Highlights of our latest River Tracing, this time along the San Bernard, the middle sibling between the Brazos and Colorado rivers, which rises near hilly New Ulm and empties — or doesn’t, depending on your story — directly into the Gulf of Mexico near the oceanside village of Sargent Beach:

House of Guys: Like good little Hobbits, Joe and I began our journey from Houston with a hearty breakfast. We hiked across Montrose and River Oaks to the House of Pies, which, in the 1970s, was the hottest after-club spot for the gay community. Some of those guys are still there.

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Photo courtesy of the Ranches at Cat Springs. (We are still trying to retrieve Joe’s records.)

Map stores: Hoping for some topographical maps of the San Bernard, we stopped by the Key Maps Inc. store (1411 W. Alabama St.), only to be directed to a Hodges Mason Maps (5704 Val Verde St.), tucked away on a dead end near the Galleria. Gold mine! We purchased USGS maps of the San Bernard at 1:100 scale, which practically shows the dust spots on parked cars.

Wallis: For the first time in our lives, Joe and I took Westheimer Road all the way to its end, which eventually leads to this Czech farming town, where we gawked at the pristinely restored Guardian Angel Church.

Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge: Larry Sebesta and the whole staff of this lesser-known refuge treated us like visiting royalty (Larry’s daughter, Courtney, works alongside us at the Statesman). We spent hours on the back roads of this restored coastal prairie. Saw armies of sandhill cranes, a bobbing burrowing owl, every kind of field sparrow, duck and lark, but no prairie chickens — which number fewer than 500 wild and captive-bred.

New Ulm headwaters: After nosing around Eagle Lake, we checked into the Columbus Inn, then zipped up to this tiny burg on a hill, which, at dusk, revealed a tree line (no actual water) where the San Barnard rises.

Schoebel’s: Like many small-town, family-style restaurants, this one comes with an oversized buffet, but we tried more contained dishes, like my sausage-and-kraut German plate. Excellent service, filling eats and reasonable prices in Columbus.

More Bernards: We zig-zagged across the San Bernard watershed today, which begins to pool not too far north of Interstate 10.

We saw the Middle Bernard River, the Little Bernard River, the town of Bernardo and the community of El Bernardo (near Sweeney), the Bernard Grocery and East Bernard.

The river grew stronger as we headed downstream through hardwood breaks to blackland cotton fields.

East Columbia: Since seventh grade, I had wanted to visit the original site of Columbia, one of the first capitals of Texas. We go through West Columbia several times a year on the way to the beach, but its eastern sibling was flooded in the 19th century and now perches on a bank above the Brazos River in well-kept remnants — a log cabin, some lovely mansions, several historical markers — and a vision of early Texas.

Sweeney: Ate at the Dairy Mart, listening to the locals drawl on about the gossip in this town, which has avoided the Greater Houston sprawl so far. Why can’t chains get the lettuce and onions right on hamburgers, like these mom-and-pop joints?

River’s End: After crossing the San Bernard for the last time — and at its widest — we journeyed down a spit of land, past some back-river communities, to a spot where the river meets the Intracoastal Canal. We could not see the actual mouth, but heard the ocean and could have sent a bottle rocket over it. Newspapers had reported that the mouth was silted up, but the fishermen at the canal said that was not so.

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge: An even smaller operation than APC-NRW, this marshy preserve is home to thousands of migrating waterfowl, which one can see during auto tours or on foot. Hearing of alligators, we stayed in the car.

Sargent Beach: I had no idea this community was so extensive. We had doubled back around south to walk to the San Barnard mouth, but hit some rutted roads, so we hiked about four miles along the beach — encountering a small herd of cattle along the way — till we met some surf-fishers who had caught some enormous redfish. They said the San Bernard mouth was way, way off and, anyway, a recent storm had carved a cut in the island, which, at high tide, would keep us from the actual site. Ah well.

Cruising El Campo: We ended the second day of our trip in this curiously bustling town. We were actually looking for a bar, but didn’t know the address, so we drove around with my laptop open until we found a wi-fi signal — we gotta do this more often — located the address, then discovered it’s now a Mexican food restaurant. Which turned out fine: Family place with melt-on-your-lips enchiladas. Then back to Houston along U.S. 59.

Another river traced.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Refusing to Forget: Violence on the Border

He’s a slice from my story on the “Life and Death on the Border” exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

In 1910, Antonio Rodríguez, a 20-year-old Mexican, was accused of killing Effie Greer Henderson at her ranch home near Rocksprings, close to the jagged southern slopes of the Edwards Plateau. A posse took him to the Rocksprings jail, but two days after the killing, a mob yanked him from his cell and burned him alive at the stake.

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A border crossing in the 1910s.

His extrajudicial execution — one of many documented during the political violence along the border from 1910 to 1920 — caused an international diplomatic incident. Riots raged in Mexico City and along the Texas-Mexico border, just as Mexico was tilting toward a revolution that would send up to 1 million war refugees northward.

In the U.S., federal and state authorities responded by militarizing the border and, in the process, encouraged widespread vigilantism, upsetting the isolated communities of Tejanos and Anglos in the region.

Nevertheless, when Brown University professor Monica Muñoz Martinez and her team of historians with the Refusing to Forget project proposed placing a Texas historical marker in Rocksprings — through the state’s “Undertold” marker program — the application received resistance.

Communities, especially smaller ones, rarely seek to commemorate the darkest chapters in their histories.

“The reality is that there were thousands of acts of state-sanctioned racial violence in Texas,” Muñoz Martinez says. “In the case of mob violence, specifically, Texans also have a gruesome reputation.”

Such extreme violence against African-Americans was carefully documented as early as 1919. The NAACP has detailed 335 Texas lynching deaths by then. More recently, scholars have added to the list almost 250 lynchings of ethnic Mexicans in Texas from 1850 to 1930.

A good number of those took place between 1910 and 1920, the most harrowing part of “Life and Death on the Border,” an exhibition at the Bullock Texas History Museum that runs through April 3.

“We tried to avoid focusing on victimization,” says John Morán González, a University of Texas professor of English and lead organizer of the show. “But the impact of this event upon South Texas cannot be overestimated. As a result of the last armed insurrection of Tejanos against state authorities and the disproportionate collective punishment of the Tejano community by the Texas Rangers and vigilante posses, the racial polarization between Anglo and Tejano was cemented for decades to come.” …

The Return of the Wren Cottage Feast

Like our Spice Boys and Triple Cone of Silence series of dinner parties — along with the Winter Beach Reading Week and Summer Mountain Reading Week — the Wren Cottage Feast is among the most cherished Keller-Barnes social traditions.

10422541_10156515936760316_4312695641822562041_nAs with all traditions, they go in an out of fashion. For instance, the seasonal Reading Weeks, as big social events, have gone on long-term hiatus.

We are delighted to report the return, however, after many months, of the narrowly focused Wren Cottage Feasts, which include six carefully matched guests and usually six meal courses with matching drinks. It’s just the right number for five or so hours of entertaining conversation.

Our guests of honor last night were Forrest Hooper and William “Bill” Lavallee, the couple hitched for 59 years before their official wedding last year. Adding to the glee were four dear friends, Randy and Suzie Harriman, and Jamie and Albert Cantara.

The menu consisted of salmon tostadas, lentil salad, carrot-ginger soup, leg of lamb, artichoke-and-grape-tomato gratin and chocolate soufflé. Most of the beverages came from Goldeneye Wines, and its crowning pinot noir from Mendocino’s Anderson Valley.

This is one tradition we plan to revive more regularly.

Art on the Edge at the Blanton Museum

It’s a wonderful place for art. And for socializing.

Art-wise, the Blanton Museum of Art offers a little bit of everything for everyone. And its leaders constantly re-invent it.

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Elizabeth Aubrey and Jamie Chioco at Art on the Edge at the Blanton Museum.

Socially, the soaring aquamarine lobby has long hosted stylish openings and cocktail parties. The biennial black-tie museum gala grew so large, the sit-down dinner moved across the street to the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

The Blanton’s more casual Art on the Edge, however, stayed put and was turned into an annual benefit. Although too many people clustered near the entryway, bar stations were set up everywhere except, naturally, in the art galleries.

blanton2Once past the main mob, circulation proved easier and more rewarding. I met up with museum director Simone Wicha, who talked about the changes and additions expected in the coming year. I luxuriated in a long chat with Kathy Blackwell (Austin Way) and Steve Scheibal (Dell Medical School). Also caught up a bit with Rachel Koper (Women & Their Work), Bryan Azar (Ilios Lighting Design) and his wife Juliana. Also spent time with the founders of the new 78704 Gallery, which opened with a show by Bob “Daddy-O” Wade.

A few arts types dressed up for the event, as did some top socials, but the crowd, as is so often the case in Austin, was just as varied as one can imagine. Always a good thing.

 

Best Texas rivers: Lavaca River

More Texas River Tracing, this one starting on the Navidad and ending on the Lavaca, August 2006. See posts and reposts here.

Now we know how it felt, in a small way, for explorers who misread incomplete maps.

This morning, on the third day of our Navidad river tracing, Joe and I retraced our steps through Point Comfort (a town with a difference of 200-residents on its population signs), past chemical and plastics plants, past snow-dappled cotton fields (“gotta get that cotton out before it rains,” one young woman told me), past Lolita to the confluence of what turns out to be the Lavaca and Navidad rivers, 10 miles or so above Lavaca Bay.

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Kreische Brewery Monument State Park. Photo courtesy of AustinExplorer.com.

There it was plain as day, but not marked clearly on our maps. So, in fact, the mouth of the phantom Navidad that we tried to spy from Point Comfort the day before is, instead, the disgorging of the Navidad/Lavaca river system. Later, we crisscrossed the Lavaca between this point and Hallettsville so many times, we can now say that we know both rivers in the sibling system.

Along the way, we dallied in the ghost town of Morales, formerly an outlaw nest, and witnessed a coyote chasing a doe (“our first mammal-on-mammal predation,” Joe pointed out.)

We also visited the Kreische Brewery Monument State Park, located high on a bluff above La Grange. Here lie the remains of Texans who fought as part of the Dawson Party in the 1840s (after Mexican troops retook San Antonio) and ill-fated members (the monument calls them “martyrs”) of the Meir Expedition, which aimed at capturing a Mexican city, but instead landed the Texans facing firing squads.

The brewery is a charismatic stone building, mostly in Roman-like ruins and half underground, yet the Kreische house, perched on a hill above the brewery, still looks in good condition.

We also stopped at every historical marker from the coast to the Hill Country, purchased a decaf at Latte on the Square, examined the superbly renovated Fayette County Courthouse and ate creamy chicken enchiladas at La Marina, housed in the former glory spot at the now-sad Cottonwood Inn.

All in all, a rewarding river tracing.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on this blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Best Texas rivers: Navidad River

We continue to repost Texas River Tracing posts, this one from August 2006.

See links to posts and reposts of other tracings here.

We hit the Navidad just west of Schulenburg. After tripping down the bank — no kidding — we found only shallow pools of water pocking the sandy riverbed. Giant swallowtails drfited overhead among the burr oaks.

Tomorrow, we will follow the river down to Lake Texana and, later, Lavaca Bay, during our second official River Tracing.

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Courtesy of RepublicRanches.com.

Earlier, we tried to pry our way into the Arnim and Lane dry goods store and opera house in Flatonia. If you’ve never seen it, this corner building is a perfectly preserved historic shop, and not preserved by curators or antiquarians, but rather by the owner, who had worked there for almost a century. Alas, he died three years ago, and the place is locked up. Just pray nobody tries to empty it out to modernize.

In Schulenburg, we ate at the hearty Oakridge — sweetish sauerbraten for me, plate-sized chicken fried steak for Joe — excellent, but way, way too much for one meal.

Then we partook of the only entertainment in town — the single movie showing at the Comfort Theatre, sculpted inside the four-story Von Minden Hotel. Luckily, it was “Talledega Nights,” just right for the NASCAR-loving audience. They completely bought into Will Farrell’s Ricky Bobby character, and groaned when his arch-enemy, an existentialist Frenchman, kissed his husband.

But the movie is so delightfully subversive, they cheered and laughed when, later, Ricky kissed the Frenchman. Once again, culture wins.

Schulenburg at dawn. Broad streets. Quaint old houses. A town of 2,600 where whites, blacks, Latinos and South Asians easily share public spaces, and where the town has inched from its railroad core, to old U.S. 90 to Interstate 10.

We broke our fast at Frank’s, a diner since 1934, where German or Czech sausage replaces patties with eggs and killer biscuits.

We then toured some “painted churches,” unable to break our way into St. John’s, but easily accessing the church in Praha with the ornate paintings from a wandering artist during the 19th century.

So down to Halletsville through supremely tidy pasturelands, then back through county roads to the Navidad, the reason for our River Tracing. We finally met up with a real stream at Vienna. (Earlier contacts with the the Navidad and its rain-fed tributaries, as we traced the river from its source to its mouth, turned up only shallow pools of water.

We returned to the river several times via backroads, hiking down to its sandy, shallow bed as it fell from the gentle hills and oak forests of Central Texas to the green-green expanses of the Gulf Coastal Plain.

At Lake Texana — created mostly by the Navidad — we visited alligators, herons, egrets, bunnies and ever-present deer, which seemed smaller than the usual whitetails.

The dam that impounds the Navidad provided us with a view of what we belive was a bald eagle, then we tried to edge close to the mouth of the river at Lavaca Bay. The river widens here, almost to mock its meager origins just up the road.

We then tried to spy the mouth from Point Comfort, home to three enormous plastics and aluminum plants. (Don’t even want to consider how much pollution they generate.)

Across the bay in Port Lavaca, We ate at Gordon’s — a seafood mainstay since 1964 — which retains a sort of roadside glamour in decline. The rest of PC bustles, whether from the commercial and recreational fishing, the businesses along Texas 35, or simply catering to the workers at the plants across the water. Still, much of its historic core is in decay, looking like most older Gulf towns — weatherbeaten, rescued, then beaten back again by nature.

Then we headed down the bay to Indianola, a place of lasting romance. Here was the biggest port on the Texas gulf, the location of La Salle’s fort, the port of entry for thousands of Germans, Czechs and Austrians. Gone, all gone, wiped away in successive hurricanes, with only a few stilted bay houses of very recent vintage — and one bold statue — in their place.

A visit here as a chlld made a lasting impression about the relationship between hurricanes, climate and geography. Later I contemplated the relationships at our summer retreat, Surfside, which was destroyed by Carla. Surfside itself had replaced Velasco, previously the capital of Texas. It, too, was obliterated by a hurricane.

And we haven’t even brought up Galveston in 1900 or why the Spanish found no significant permanent Indian settlements on the coast, or why they learned not to raise any themselves.

The message: DON’T BUILD ON THE TEXAS GULF COAST. When will people ever learn?

Now we know how it felt, in a small way, for explorers who misread incomplete maps.

This morning, on the third day of our Navidad river tracing, Joe and I retraced our steps through Point Comfort (a town with a difference of 200-residents on its population signs), past chemical and plastics plants, past snow-dappled cotton fields (“gotta get that cotton out before it rains,” one young woman told me), past Lolita to the confluence of what turns out to be the Lavaca and Navidad rivers, 10 miles or so above Lavaca Bay.

There it was plain as day, but not marked clearly on our maps. So, in fact, the mouth of the phantom Navidad that we tried to spy from Point Comfort the day before is, instead, the disgorging of the Navidad/Lavaca river system. Later, we crisscrossed the Lavaca between this point and Hallettsville so many times, we can now say that we know both rivers in the sibling system.

Along the way, we dallied in the ghost town of Morales, formerly an outlaw nest, and witnessed a coyote chasing a doe (“our first mammal-on-mammal predation,” Joe pointed out.)

We also visited the Kreische Brewery Monument State Park, located high on a bluff above La Grange. Here lie the remains of Texans who fought as part of the Dawson Party in the 1840s (after Mexican troops retook San Antonio) and ill-fated members (the monument calls them “martyrs”) of the Meir Expedition, which aimed at capturing a Mexican city, but instead landed the Texans facing firing squads.

The brewery is a charismatic stone building, mostly in Roman-like ruins and half underground, yet the Kreische house, perched on a hill above the brewery, still looks in good condition.

We also stopped at every historical marker from the coast to the Hill Country, purchased a decaf at Latte on the Square, examined the superbly renovated Fayette County Courthouse and ate creamy chicken enchiladas at La Marina, housed in the former glory spot at the now-sad Cottonwood Inn.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on this blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.