rhe Colorado River Raft
NE Of the greatest difficulties faced by Texas settlers along
the Colorado River during the years 1836 to 1871 was
the transporting of supplies from the ports of Galveston,
Indianola, and New Orleans to the settlements at Columbus, La
Grange, Bastrop, and Austin. There was likewise the same dif-
ficulty in getting the agricultural products, such as cotton, corn,
and oats, from the farms along the river to the ports.
There were no good roads. Carts drawn by oxen bogged down
to the axles in rainy weather. The first railroad did not reach
Austin until 1871. Hence, it is natural that the merchants and
farmers along the river were anxious to improve it for navigation
Politics also entered the picture. During the early years after
1839, there was a continuous campaign to change the capital from
Austin to some city to the south or east. Houston was the main
contender. The issue was not definitely settled until the election
of 1872. Austin newspapers during the period reminded the
local citizens that improved navigation on the Colorado would
aid Austin's chances of retaining the seat of government.
Inaccessibility limited the growth of Austin to such an extent
that the 1850 Census listed the population at only 629. F. L.
Olmstead in 1854 described Austin as the "pleasantest place we
had seen in Texas," but he wrote that the figure of 3,000 set by
the merchants as the population in that year seemed exaggerated
to him. The 186o Census credited Austin with a population of
There were two major obstacles to easy navigation of the Colo-
rado. The first related to the depth of the water. There were
some shoals, and the water was lower at some times of the year
than at others. This was not the main problem, however, because
some steamboats were then constructed to draw only one and a
1The Seventh Census of the United States, i85o, (Washington, 1853), 504; Fred-
erick Law Olmstead, A Journey Through Texas (New York, 1857), 111; Population
of the United States in i86o (Washington, 1864), 486.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 52, July 1948 - April, 1949. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101121/. Accessed December 13, 2013.