Scholars Speak: Waterway Crossings with Stories to Tell

This post is part of our blog series “Scholars Speak,” which features writing from our 2023 cohort of Preservation Scholars. Click the link to learn more about this donor-funded program that aims to increase the diversity of voices in the Texas historical narrative by placing students from underrepresented cultural and ethnic backgrounds in paid, 10-week long summer internship positions at the Texas Historical Commission.

Scholars Speak: Waterway Crossings with Stories to Tell

by Christine Sánchez, 2023 Preservation Scholar

Throughout the state of Texas runs more than 190,000 miles of rivers and other waterways that have been utilized by communities in several ways. (Im)migration of people and the ability to move supplies more swiftly were why river crossings and ferry landings were frequently used as distribution and travel routes. Although it was popular and heavily used for years, the modernization of the state and its transportation infrastructure led to the fall and neglect of the ferries and crossings, which were often incorporated somewhat with the paths that we currently take today. My tasks within my internship working on the State Waterway Archeology Mapping Project (SWAMP) focus on finding forgotten crossings, ferries, and ports, and through the application of ESRI ArcGIS, I place the approximate locations of where these sites might be so that they may be protected from future construction and developmental projects.

I started off my mapping journey with ease, finding several well-known ferries and crossings from the start, as they would appear multiple times on several maps throughout history. As I continued, the task of finding other sites became increasingly more difficult since they were not documented as frequently (or drawn in well by the cartographer) in comparison to others. One river crossing that comes to mind when I think about how puzzling or cryptic the information of sites can be was called Bastrop Crossing, also known as Mina Crossing. Where the Colorado River runs through the city of Bastrop, there was thought to be a crossing. I searched through the several maps I’d been given access to that dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries and found nothing that indicated that there was a crossing in the area. I became determined and started to dig for more information, and eventually I learned the significance of this crossing; in July of 1841, while Sam Houston was crossing the ford like he had done several times before, the river came up and overturned his carriage, and he was carried by the current. After his ordeal, he spent five days in Bastrop to recuperate.

I didn’t know why at first, but when I discovered this story – despite my troubles finding the crossing – I was pleasantly surprised to have found this event. As I thought about it more, I found that the relation of the story to this ford was crucial for not just the site, but to Bastrop and Texas’ history overall. Texas is such a large state, and though it is a small crossing that was not documented as much in comparison to other well-known crossings and ferries, it has its own stories, more than just this one, that may be found archeologically in the area someday with the help of this project. Since I currently plan to be in the field of Texas archeology, this crossing gives me hope that I can find more stories for sites like this through the multidisciplinary nature of historical archeology.