The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002

Book Reviews

Frontier River: Exploration and Settlement of the Colorado River. By Dorcus
Baumgartner, William C. Foster, and Jack Jackson. (Austin: Lower Colorado
River Authority, 1997. Pp. viii+13o. Illustrations, introduction, bibliography.
$10o.oo, paper.)
Tales of Texas history begin in the sixteenth century and weave their way
through European adventurers, tenuous Spanish settlements, intruding
American filibusters, and valiant Anglo rebels. In their work Frontier River:
Exploration and Settlement of the Colorado River, Dorcus Baumgartner, William
Foster, and Jack Jackson examine the role of the Colorado River throughout
the centuries, providing valuable insights into the nature of life along Texas's
largest waterway. Based primarily on firsthand accounts, including the previous-
ly unpublished journal of one of La Salle's trusted commanders, Henri Joutel,
the book details the growth of Texas from a desolate frontier into a popular
destination for travelers and entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
Beginning with the earliest entradas of the sixteenth century, the first five
chapters examine the Spanish period in general, emphasizing the role of the
Colorado when possible. Much like Foster's Spanish Expeditzons into Texas,
1689-1768 (UT Press, 1995), the authors compare various contemporary
diaries to current overhead maps and on-site inspections, pinpointing where La
Salle's men murdered their leader, as well as the migratory patterns for numer-
ous native groups. Unfortunately there is little new information presented on
the growth of Spanish Texas, and the relationship between the early French
and Spanish settlers in Texas and the Colorado River amounts to little more
than acceptable river crossings or fertile hunting ground. While there are sever-
al interesting descriptions of Texas Indian groups in the Lower Colorado River
Basin, as well as a chronology of cartographic development throughout the sev-
enteenth and eighteenth centuries, the book's real value lies in its description
of nineteenth-century settlement attempts.
Using the Colorado Country Chronicles, the papers of Mirabeau B. Lamar, and
numerous other memoirs both published and unpublished, the narrative
depicts the influx of Anglo-Americans during the Mexican period, and the
demographic changes along the river that resulted. Chapters Six and Seven
describe the different types of settlers along the Colorado as the population
grew, and both contain several anecdotal stories about familiar towns and
places along the river. The years after 1836 are treated likewise, with the devel-
opment of roads, sawmills, and the growth of new towns along the river like
Burnet and La Grange described primarily through firsthand accounts.
The final chapter, "Taming the River," brings readers to the 185os and the
U.S. government's failed attempts to dredge the river's mouth at Matagorda
Bay. Here the authors note that the arrival of the railroad and the cattle dri-
ves of the nineteenth century relegated the centuries-long dream of convert-
ing the Colorado into a thoroughfare for commercial activity to mere specula-
tion. Unfortunately, there is little in the chapter by way of a conclusion, other
than a brief mention of the river's continuing habit of affecting life along its
banks. Nevertheless, Jackson's illustrations, as always, are detailed and add to

2001

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed October 22, 2014.