Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000 Page: 3
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Consider the Lily:
The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas
by Bill Stein
By 1870, the impact of nearly fifty years of constant and ever-expanding human
activity had taken a toll on the flora and fauna of Colorado County. The grasses and other
vegetation that had been on the prairies, so deeply rooted that they were virtually invulner-
able to the plows the early settlers used, had started to lose their grip on the land. Whereas
the earliest settlers had had to plant their crops in the alluvial lands around the rivers and
creeks, the steel plow, developed by John Deere in the 1840s and 1850s, freed them to
cultivate the prairies. The prairie grasses also withered under the onslaught of larger and
larger herds of grazing cattle. So did the once-constantly-running springs and creeks, which
began to dry up, perhaps because numerous wells tapped into and reduced the water table;
perhaps as the result of the loss of the earlier grasses, which retained moisture better than
those which replaced them; perhaps because of the incessant trodding of generations of
cattle over the plowed ground, which kicked soil into the streams, making them wider, shal-
lower, and slower, thereby subjecting them to more rapid evaporation. The prairies were
beginning to be consumed by an ever-increasing number of trees, as people began extin-
guishing the intermittent and destructive wildfires that once prevented their proliferation, and
setting instead, spot-fires that consumed only particular portions of their fields and pastures.
The additional forest might have led to an increase in the number of bears in the county, a
fair number of which once roamed the woody areas along the watercourses, had they not
been hunted, with the assistance of teams of dogs, to the point that they had become decid-
edly rare. Hunters had also begun to take a toll on the extensive local population of beaver,
deer, and red wolves, the last of which were regarded as strictly a nuisance.
1 Sadly, there is very little documentary information on the county's changing biota. Stephen
F. Austin noted, in August 1823, that the place on the Colorado River he had in mind for the capital of
his colony, which seems to have been very near where Columbus was eventually located, was "very
well watered with the best of springs" (see Eugene Campbell Barker, ed., The Austin Papers, 3 vols.
(vols. 1 and 2, Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1924 and vol. 3, Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1926) vol. 1, p. 690). An unknown traveller through Texas in 1837 noted that he found "in
the vicinity of Columbus ... a number of large springs which issued from the banks of the river" (see
Andrew Forest Muir, ed., Texas in 1837 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958), p. 81). William
Bluford Dewees described the county, and indeed most of this part of the state, as largely prairie
"interspersed with beautiful groves," and broken only by narrow forests along the river, creeks, and
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000, periodical, January 2000; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151408/m1/3/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.