Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986

Houston today likes to compare itself
with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles,
and before the current recession it had almost
grown beyond comparing itself with
Dallas, as it did a generation ago with
New Orleans. But a century ago Houston
and Galveston were the rivals, a competition
only exacerbated by discussion of improving
the navigation of Buffalo Bayou.
Edward King, traveling throughout the
South in 1874 for Scribners Monthly, remarked
that Houston was "the ambitious
rival of Galveston, and because nature
has endowed [Houston] streets with unusual
capacity of muddiness, Galveston
calls its inhabitants 'mud turtles.' A free
exchange of satiric compliments between
the two . . . cities," King admitted, "is of
frequent occurrence."
Thoroughly upbeat about the entire
South and perhaps the most exuberant
post-Reconstruction southern booster,
King was particularly rhapsodic about
Houston's climate and resultant flora. "My
first visit to Houston was in winter," he
wrote. "It was late at night when, after a
long ride from the frontier of the Indian
territory, where snow is still on the
ground, I 'dropt into that magic land.'
Stepping from the train, I walked beneath
skies which seemed Italian. The
stillness, the warmth, the delicious
dreaminess, the delicate languor were
most intoxicating. A faint breeze, with a
hint of perfume in it, came through the
lattice of my window at the hotel. The
magnolias sent their welcome; the roses,
the dense beds of fragrant blossoms, exhaled
their greeting. Roses bloom all
winter, and in the early spring and May
the gardens are filled with them."
"The bayou which leads from Houston
to Galveston, and is one of the main
commercial highways between the two
cities, is overhung by lofty and graceful
magnolias; and in the season of their
blossoming, one may sail for miles along
the channel with the heavy, passionate
fragrance of the queen flower drifting
about him."
"Houston is set down upon prairie
land; but there are some notable nooks
and bluffs along the bayou, whose channel
barely admits the passage of the great
white steamer which plies to and from
the coast. This bayou Houston hopes one
day to widen and dredge all the way to

Galveston; but its prettiness and romance
will then be gone." Those who have
taken the tour boat through the ship
channel can certainly agree, for despite
the awesome commercial and industrial
activity one sees along the route, the
"prettiness and romance" are gone, at
least in the daytime. At night the profusion
of lights on the refineries has a kind
of eerie, technological beauty of its own.
Mr. King appreciated the "frankness
and cordiality" of the people of Houston,
which was "refreshing to one coming
from the more precise and cautious
East ..." And King noted another
Houston characteristic that is as true today
as a century ago. "The Texan of the
south is, if possible, possessed of more
State pride than his brother of northern
Texas: he is never tired declaiming of the
beauties of the climate, and is extremely
sensitive to criticism. Above all, do not
tell the Texas maiden that her land is not
the fairest. . . . There is a touch of defiance
in the loving manner with which
they linger over the praise of Texas . . .
they show the same content with their
own section as is found in France, and a
leaning toward incredulity if one speaks
of landscapes more perfect or of flowers
more rare than those of the 'Lone Star
State'!" But after all, does any other state
have bluebonnets?

1000 Block of Main Street, circa 1920, courtesy
Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston
Public Library.

The passage of time also seemed to
tame the countryside, for by the 1870s,
we no longer read of alligators, panthers,
or buffaloes. The wide open spaces appeared
less wild and more promising for
settlement. One of the best accounts was
that of Colonel Nathaniel Alston Taylor,
who in a book subtitled Two Thousand
Miles in Texas on Horseback recounted his
experiences trotting along where now
the Southwest Freeway trails westward:
"Much of the way there was not road, and
my path was much like that of a ship over
the trackless sea."
"About four miles from Houston the
last vestige of human habitation disappears,
and I ride upon a prairie which to
the westward appears boundless. It is
dead of winter, but it smiles with a green
luxuriance upon which ten, nay, fifty
thousand cattle are feeding, and some are
basking in the sunshine, chewing the cud
with a lazy air of contentment. To the
right and left, ten miles apart, are dark
lines of forest, which mark the sleepy
course of Buffalo Bayou on the one hand,
and Bray's Bayou on the other. This prairie
is as smooth as a billiard table, with
scarcely perceptible inclination to either
bayou. The soil is jet black and evidently
very strong and rich .... Numerous

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed April 18, 2015.