Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000 Page: 4
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
The weather, of course, had not changed. Severe conditions only rarely visited
the county in the early 1870s. The worst spell of weather occurred in January 1872, when
sleet, snow, and ice remained on the ground for several days. There was another very heavy
sleet on January 12, 1877, though it was of much shorter duration. The September 1875
hurricane that devastated the port city of Indianola did minor damage to many businesses in
downtown Columbus. The river flooded in October 1870, though to a much lesser degree
than it had in 1869. There was a slight flood in early October 1873, and in July 1876, the river
rose high enough to stop ferry traffic at Columbus but did not flood the town.2
In the preceding decade, the population had grown, though seemingly only slightly.
In 1870, the federal census takers counted 8326 people in Colorado County. Just over half
(4258, or 51%) of the inhabitants of the county were male. Of the total, 3701, or 44%, were
described as black. The remaining 56% were said to be white. As might be expected, five
years after the slaves were emancipated, the bulk of the wealth in the county was held by
the whites. White heads of household reportedly owned, on average, $1689 worth of real
estate and $642 in other property. For black heads of household, the figures were $14 and
$15, a vast disparity. The richest black man in the county, Harry Taylor, a Columbus black-
smith, had amassed $3500 worth of property. There were 149 white persons who were
worth as much or more. No other black person was even as rich as the average white
person. Most black heads of household (84%) had no assets to speak of. Blacks who had
money often found it difficult to buy land, for white land owners generally found it more
profitable to rent. Only 31 blacks owned real estate; 643 whites did. Most blacks apparently
sustained themselves by agreeing to cultivate, as free men, a portion of the large plantations
they previously had cultivated as slaves. A matching pair of contracts from 1870 stipulate
that the landowner is to provide the land and all necessary farm animals and implements and
receive half of the farm's proceeds; and that the tenants are to cultivate the crops, take care
of the animals and equipment, keep the fences in good shape, and avoid fighting and deadly
weapons in return for the other half. In addition, the contracts provide that the tenant's final
compensation would be reduced by two dollars for every day of work they missed. A surviv-
other streams (see Dewees, Letters from an Early Settler of Texas (Louisville: Morton & Griswold,
1852. Reprint. Waco: Texian Press, 1968), pp. 37, 130-131). Though farmers certainly burned fields in
the early days of settlement (see, for example, Dewees, Letters from an Early Settler of Texas, p. 37),
by 1871 at least one newspaper was campaigning against the practice (see Houston Daily Union,
February 4, 1871). Charles William Tait, who used dogs to hunt bears in 1848 and found them plentiful,
complained that they had already become rare in 1854 (see "Letters of Charles William Tait, 1848-
1864," Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, May 1996, pp. 96, 106).
2 Colorado Citizen, February 1, 1872, September 23, 1875, July 6, 1876, January 18, 1877;
Robert Henry Harrison, "The Epidemic of 1873, in Columbus, Texas," Nesbitt Memorial Library
Journal, vol. 2, no. 3, September 1992, pp. 137-138.
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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/m1/4/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed October 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.