Oran Milo Roberts.

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walnut and many other fruit-bearing trees on the up-lands.

The same may be said of the vines. Smith county, in the
center of the black-jack belt, may be truly said to be a natural
vineyard ; grape vines, mostly of the large post-oak or sand-
hill species, grow all over it ; which plainly indicates what
experiment has demonstrated, its capacity to produce fine
vineyards of cultivated grapes. The muscadine, so common
in the moist regions of the extreme eastern part of the state,
point to its fitness for the scuppernong, which is itself a mus-
dadine, originating in the low, moist country upon the coast of
North Carolina.

In the moist regions of the east the trees are large with long,
slender twigs, and few thorns. In the dry region of the far
west, in the same latitude, thorns or stubbed limbs cover all
the trees. That plainly indicates that the fine grasses of the
west would be smothered out by the dense, and rapid growth
of trees in the east; and that sugar and cotton would not
grow in the far west (except on farms irrigated). For this
purpose, then, addressing myself first to the comparison of the
various sections or belts heretofore pointed 6ut, it may be
asked what makes a tree, a grape vine, a plant of corn or
cotton,stock of wheat, or a blade of grass grow?

You see an acorn planted in the soil. It has the oak-tree
in embryo in it. The roots shoot down and the stem upwards.
The stem forms into a body with branches, covered with foli-
age. There it stands after fifty years growth, in the same
place, having Increased by accumulated matter, to many tons
weight. The acorn did not weigh one-half an ounce. Near
it stftnde an ash, a sugar-maple, a pine, a sweet-gum, a wal-
nut, and a cherry tree, that have all grown and increased in
the same way, in the same character of soil, and under the
same circumstances. (There is an acre of ground in Smith
county, whore there are three times as many different sorts
of trees, as those here mentioned, now standing.)

The earth does not seem to have been diminished in bulk



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COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS. 53



Philosophy of the growth of trees.



in the formation of this great increase of vegetable matter,
The qualities of these trees, that have thus e^rown together,
are each different from the other, in almost every respect.
Yet they have not had the power of locomotion, to travel off
and select their respectively peculiar qualities. They have
gotten them where they stand. They exist as the inhabitants
of two natural regions, — their roots in the earth, and their
body, branches, and foliage in the air. The ingredients of
the earth, and of the air then, by their co-operation, have given
them the increase of weight, and furnished them so great a
variety of materials in the same locality. They will not grow
without the air, or without the earth. The truth is, that both
the earth and the air, not only furnish materials from their
own intrinsic ingredients, but also act as agents in collecting,
preparing and transmitting other materials to act in aid of
themselves, in producing these trees. This proposition may
be illustrated by supposing a similar cluster of these trees to
be growing in the different belts of country as described in the
previous chapter. On the Gulf prairie the sweet-gum and
the pine might flourish to some extent, but most of the others,
unless under very favorable circumstances, would hardly sur-
vive the excessive change from the moisture of winter and
spring, to the dryness of summer and fall. On the magnolia
belt, in the long-leaf pine region, they would all flourish to-
gether in magnificence, growing tall and large. On the black-
jack belt they would grow well, but with diminished size and
height, and with heavier tops and more branches. On the
black, limy belt the sweet-gum and pine would disappear for
the want of moisture ; also the ash and sugar tree, except in
the bottoms. On the plains, above the cross- timbers and
mountains, the oak, if of a species as hardy as the live-oak,
might grow as a scrubby tree in favorable localities ; all the
others would, as a general thing, not survive the heat and
dryness. On the staked plain none of them now do grow at
all. In all of these localities, soils with sufficient materials of
fertility exist to produce them, and the air itself (in its
mere mixture of oxygen and. nitrogen), is exactly, the same in
each locality. In the production of fruits as the apple and
the grape, or of fruit-bearing plants, as cotton, corn, and wheat,



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54 COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTo.

Philosophy of the growth of fruit.

equal variations would appear, though not in parallel order;
for in the pine region the apple trees, though large, would
not bear much good fruit, and so of the grape ; com would
be light, and cotton long-jointed, and wheat would generally
fail from rust, or other causes, notwithstanding it is the best
region in Texas to produce mere growth of the wood, or
stalks. In the black-jack region the fruits would be better,
though the wood growth would not be so large. In the black,
limy belt the fruits would rather improve in amount, in propor-
tion to the diminution in the growth of wood, and the wheat
largely in quantity and weight of grain. In the dry plains
above, the difficulty seems rather to be in producing the wood
to bear the fruits, than in any want of adaptation to fruit-
bearing in them, when sufficiently produced and sustained.
For on the irrigated lands of the Rio Grande near El Paso,
(32 deg. N. L.,) these fruits are not only abundant, but of the
very finest quality, especially the grapes. Indeed, the ten-
dency to fruit-bearing seems to increase in proportion as the
wood-producing tendency diminishes, until it reaches a point
where there is not enough wood produced to bear the fruit.
In the same sections these differences, both in wood-pro-
ducing and in fruit-bearing, are dependent upon the differ-
ence in the soil, in its composition alone, other things being
equal. In the long-leaf pine region, the spots of black, limy
soil produce more grain than the hammock lands of coarse,
sandy loam adjoining them. The sandy or mixed soils of the
cross-timbers produce a variety of scrubby trees, while the
adjoining black, limy soil of the prairie is bare^of trees gener-
ally. The iron-ore hills of the black-jack t)elt produce a vig-
orous growth of hickory, red-oak and black-jack, whereas, the
adjoining "sand flat" ridges may produce only the blue-jack,
or very dwarfish post-oak, and the next ridge of coarser, stiffer,
sandy soil may be covered mostly with short-leaf pine. A
difference in production is also attributable to the compact-
ness or looseness of a soil alone, irrespective of its ingredients.
A rock may be composed of lime, clay, sand and other in-
gredients, in such combination as to readily make a fine soil,
if crushed and pulverized, and nothing but a scanty moss will
cover its surface ; whereas, its loose debris at its base may



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COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS. 55



Philosophy of vegetation.



bring a rich growth of wood. So the fertile, stiff, red or black
lands will produce but poorly, unless broken up before the
increasing heat of summer has rendered them too hard to be
pulverized* deeply. That is not so necessary on the sandy
loam of*the black-jack belt, because it is usually found in a
state of natural pulverization. On the other extreme, how-
ever, vegetation cannot spring forth upon a loose, drift-
ing sandy plain, like the desert of Sahara, any more
than it can upon the loose, wind-beaten sand near the beach
of the gulf. It is too loose, as the rock is too hard, to pro-
duce vegetation. In the case of the rQck the particles are
fixed to their places, and do not permit a circulation of air,
water or heat sufficiently to generate a chemical process,
ivhich is necessary to furnish food to the roots of plants.
Whereas, in th« excessively loose sand, too much heat may
be admitted, or the sands may not be sufficiently fixed to en-
able the roots to hold their position.

The warmth of spring brings forth vegetation in rapid
haste, to clothe earth in radiant verdure. Declining summer,
in sultry heat, makes it pause and rest for a new start in
early fall. The chill winds of autumn disrobe it of its faded
beauty, and frosty winter holds it stationary in its iron grasp.
These changes are all the result of the degrees of heat in one
locality, — first stimulating by gradual approaches, next de-
pressing by excess, again stimulating by moderation, and
lastly locking up by its absence. Heat itself, like moisture
and soil, is subject to numerous variations in its effects, de-
pendent upon its combination with other things. The heat
that scorches the brown plains of the far- west, invigorates
the deep-green forests of south-eastern Texas ; and the cold,
that rots the grass on the wet gulf prairie in winter, leaves un-
harmed the nutrition of the grass, on the dry prairies of the
north-west, though there more intense. Corn will not grow
on a deep bed of pure lime or ashes, though excellent ma-
nure when scattered, because chemical action requires more
than one substance in manufacturing food (br plants. Sub-
soils, as well as soils, produce great differences in the same
locality, for the reason that their mineral ingredients are
brought to the surface by the evaporation that is usually tak-



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56 COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS.

Bottom lands of Texas.



ing place. Hence, a good clay or lime substratum seldom
fails to make rich soils, and to aid in keeping them so. The
effect of electric action is readily perceived in the freshness of
plants after a thunder shower in summer. The asparagus
springs out of its bed in the night, an inch or two, succulent
and colorless, the light of the sun during the day turns it
green, and gives it toughnecs and solidity. Hence, our cloud-
less prairies produce the horn-like musquite wood that will
hardly decay with time, and, when dry, bums almost without
smoke. They produce also the Bois D'Arc and the live-oak,
both of which are extremly solid and durable timbers.
Bottom Lands of Texas.
Throughout the Mississippi valley, and particularly west of
the river, there is a great disparity between the amount of
water which flows down the streams in different seasons of
the year, and in different years. In summer and fall the
amount is usually small, in comparison with that of win-
ter and spring. Hence, our streams, both large and small,
are provided with two beds, or aqueducts, for carrying off* the
water, one embraced within the other. One of them is a
small channel, only sufficiently broad and deep to contain and
carry off" the water that flows, ordinarily, down the stream.
The other is a level space, from twenty to two hundred times
broader than the channel, and through which the generally
crooked channel meanders. This broad space, called the
bottom, serves the place of a bed of the river or creek during
the overflows of spring and winter. It is, however, not needed
for that purpose but a few days or weeks, perhaps at several
times, during the winter and spring, and seldom ever in the
summer and fall. The Mississippi and some of its tributaries
usually overflow their bottoms in the early part of summer.
This is produced by the melting of the snow at their heads.
None of our rivers in Texas, except the Rio Grande, and per-
haps the Pecos, are subject to so late an overflow from this
permanent cause, as their heads do not reach a region where
the snow lies on the ground longer than a few days, or weeks,
at une time. These bottoms also act as a reservoir to hold
much of the water of the overflow, which sinks into and fills
the earth, also, the lakes, ponds, and low places in the bottom,



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COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS. 57

Bottom lands of Texas.

remaining there after the great body of the overflow has gone
down; and gradually finds its way into the channel, as
the water in the channel falls, thereby aiding the navigation
of the stream long after the overflow of the river. This bot-
tom being covered with water only a short time, a dense, heavy
forest of trees usually flourishes upon it, which protects the
surface from the rays of the sun, and protracts the duration ol
a humid atmosphere. But for this forest, this quality of the
bottom, as being the occasional bed of the stream, would be
manifest to all. ^

Thus, when there is an overflow of the stream in the win-
ter, or spring, there is a guaranty of moisture to sustain sum-
mer crops in the bottom, from a local source, in addition to
the moisture supplied from rains during the year, and from
the general moisture drifting in the air.

The substance of these bottoms is formed by the deposits
of decayed leaves and drift-wood, combined with the earthy
materials of the muddy current that covers them, when the
streams are swollen by overflows. They contain no regular
strata of earth near the surface. The difference that is ob-
servable in digging downwards, and the difference that is to be
found in the surface soil in different localities on the bottom
of the same stream, are attributable to the different materials
that come down, and are deposited in, the successive over-
flows. Thus it is that the surface soil, and substrata of
earth in the region of country towards and above the heads
of a stream, give character to its bottom in its whole course.
And where several branches of a river derive their source from
regions of different sorts of earth, — that is, one abounding in
sand, one in clay, another in lime, or the like, — the bottom
on the river below the confluence of these tributaries will ex-
hibit deposits from each, either in combination, or separately.
In this way masses of fertilizing materials are thrown together
and constitute the deep and varied soils of our alluvial bottoms.
To appreciate fully the amount of fertilizing material, min-
eral as well as vegetable, it is necessary to consider that all
of our bottoms, periodically, if not annually, are overflowed ;
that all of the waters of the overflow, (apart from the coarser
particles, which make them turbid) hold in solution a large



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58 COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS.

Bottom lands of Texas.



amount of fertilizing matter, as lime, gypsum, marls and the
like, which sinks with the water to a considerable depth in the
bottom land, and, when the water is at rest, is deposited and
incorporated with the other mass of made-land, thereby, with
each successive overflow, adding to, and disseminating into
the mass of alluvion, new, enriching materials that descend
in solution with the water from the fertile tributaries of the
stream. (Some idea of this may be obtained from observing
the whitish deposit upon tKe sides and bottom of a glass
tumbler in which the clear Colorado River-water has been
standing for a single night.)

It is in this way that the red marl plains, scattered above
the lower "cross-timbers," are annually pouring their enriched
red floods upon the bottoms of Red River, and of the
Brazos. In this way the vast gypsum field, with an area equal
to three or four hundred miles square, lying upon the head
waters of the Pecos, Colorado, Brazos and Red River, sends
down those streams its bitter waters, freighted with a fertiliz-
ing material, that makes their bottoms teem with an exuber-
ant fertility, equal to that of the Nile. In this way, also, the
broad lime belt, stretching clear across the state from the Rio
Grande to Red River, spreads its richness upon the bot-
toms of all of our rivers that rise in, or pass through, it. These
occasional overflows are necessary to sustain thj fertility of
the bottom lands, when they are cultivated. The smaller and
the more shallow the streams are, the greater is the necessity
for the overflow.

In a larg^, deep river, such as the Mississippi, or the lower
part of the Red'River, which- has been levied, and. thereby a
portion of its bottom redeemed from overflow, the great
weight of the water in the channel, and of the back water
that lies or runs, in the rear of the redeemed space, causes the
river-water to percolate the whole interior mass of the bottom,
below the dry surface of the farms. This percolation to a
great extent, supplies the place of an overflow, and prevents
the usual effects of a drouth. Upon our creek and small river
bottoms, the influence of this percolation is quite limited, and,
therefore,, as to them, an occasional overflow is more neces-
sary to keep up their original fertility.



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COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS. $9

Bottom lands of Texas.



Our tillable bottom lands, that can be reclaimed from over-
flow, are made in two very different ways, and are differently
located in the bottom — one lateral, or on the margin of the
bottom, and the other central, along the ordinary chan-
nel of the stream. A knowledge of this process may aid in
their successful reclamation.

There are from time to time, that is, once in about every
seven, ten, or twenty years, extraordinary overflows, when, as
it may be supposed, all of the tributaries of a stream are
swollen at the same time, which heaves out of the channel
immense masses of earthy matter, and deposits it mostly upon
the borders of the stream that runs in the channel, and carry-
ing the rest out, widens by elevating the general surface of
the bottom. This process, aided by occasional cut-offs in the
bends of the crooked channel, and the formation of lateral
channels, or water-ways, (commonly called "sloos") causes a
portion of the bottom, generally upon the margins of the
channel of the stream, to be more elevated than the rest, and
not subject to the ordinary annual overflows of the stream.
Upon these marginal tracts, thus elevated, our river farms are
situated, particularly on the larger and more rapid streams,
such as the Brazos, the Colorado and Gaudaloupe. Unless
protected by levies or break-waters, or water-races at the
edge of the bottom of the strip, they must necessarily b^e
overflowed periodically.

The other mode, by which elevations are made in the bot-
toms, is very different. Let the stream or channel of a creek
or river bear off and run to one side of its bottom for some
distance, and another smaller stream, dashing down from the
neighboring hills, enter the opposite side of the botom ; the
smaller stream, particularly if it should be what is called a;
dry creek, or branch, will wander through the bottom, and
very soon lose its channel entirely, and spread the sediment
of its overflows all over the adjacent region of the level bot-
tom ; and its turbid waters, not being readily drifted off by
the current of the larger stream, gradually makes a deposit,
that elevates a tract of land on the outer edge of the bottoms,
which is not subject to the ordinary overflows of the larger
stream. When this tract of lateral elevation is brought into



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60 COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS.

Bottom lands of Texas.

cultivation, it is only necessary to make a sufficient channel,
or water-way for the smaller stream, so as to convey its
waters into some lower portion of the bottom. The sluggish
streams of eastern and middle Texas have much more of such
lateral elevations, than the swift running streams of the west,
as may be seen on the Sabine, Trinity, Neches and other
streams. For the more rapid the current of a stream is, the
more elevated bottom it will form contiguous to the channel,
and the less lateral elevation, because its pressing current
sweeps down all lateral accumulations, and invariably causes
the out-edges of the bottom to be lower than that part which
is near the channel. This may be aptly verified by reference
to the two rivers, the Sabine and the Gaudaloupe. The latter,
the Gaudaloupe, leaves the edge of the mountains at an ele-
vation of about 600 feet, and pitches down to the gulf in the
distance of less than two hundred miles. The former, the
Sabine, rises near the east fork of the Trinity in Collin county,
at an elevation of nearly 600 feet, and creeps in a serpentine
track, through a distance of at least fourhundred miles before
reaching the gulf. The same rules hold equally good when
applied to creeks and bayous, as to rivers.

Now the great problem to be solved, is, how can these fer-
tile bottoms be rescued from the devastations of these over-
flows ? It cannot be done by levies on the banks of the channel,
for the simple reason that the channel cannot hold and carry
off all the water of the overflows. If it could, there would
never have been a bottom tract formed. In this, as in all
other works of human improvement. Nature points the way.
Let any bottom be examined, and where there are the most,
the deepest, broadest, and longest water-ways, (or sloos), cut
out by force of the water, there is the most redeemed high
land in the bottom. In the effort to carry out the plan here
suggested, it must be predicated upon the impossibility of
redeeming the whole bottom ; and that leads to a calculation
in every given case, as to how much space of the bottom must
be given to the water, and by what means shall the water of
the overflow be made to run in that abandoned space, with
such speed, and in such volume, as not to intrude on that
part of the bottom sought to be reclaimed for cultivation.



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COMPARISON OF THE DIFFERENT BELTS. 6i

Bottom lands of Texas.

This is simple, and practical, and will be carried out to the un-
provement of many of our streams, both large and small, when
we shall have learned and practiced uppn the great advan-
tages of co-operative effort, by which broad water-races will
be made for ten miles, nearly straight in our creeks, and for
fifty miles in our rivers, so that the waters of the overflow will
rush down them with the velocity and force of a mill-race.
There is, and of course can be, no relief by that or any other
precaution against those periodic overflows, when the whole
bottom is submerged to the depth of eight or ten feet, as was
the case with the Red River in 1849, and with the Colorado
River only a few years since. Our rivers in eastern and mid-
dle Texas, not having their sources so high up as those of
Red River and the Colorado, where such deluging rain-storms
are accidentally, and only occasionally, drifted, are not subject
to such extreme inundations.

Classification and Generalization.

Some years ago an effort was made in the "Texas Alma-
nac," to give a description of Texas, by publishing a descrip-
tion of the qualities, productions, &c., of each county separ-
ately. A great deal of information was thus collected. Its
utility, however, depended too much upon mere recollection.

By the classification and generalization adopted in this and
the preceding chapters, a knowledge of the qualities and pro-
ductions of any locality may more readily be acquired, and
more certainly retained in the memory. By this system, for
instance, if the question be asked, what sort of a country is it
in Jasper county, in Live-Oak county, in Harris county, in
Collin county in Comanche county, or in El Paso county, it
will only be necessary to look at the map of Texas and find
its locality, in reference to the different belts, and the climate,
dependent upon its physical geography, to answer the ques-
tion.

So if it be asked, what is the character of the bottom-lands
of the Sabine, of the Trinity, of the Colorado, of the Gauda-
loupe or Neucces rivers, the question is easily answered, from
their length in the gulf plain, and from the fall of their water
per mile in their respective course in it.



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CHAPTER V.



Natural Sources of Wealth.



Natural sources of wealth in Texas in its minerals and timbers ; and trees, shrubs,
plants and flowers, as objects of utility and ornament

Coal and coal oil. A vein of lignite from the Sabine River to the Rio Grande
and coal in different places.

Copper in northern Texas. Gold and silver — the tradition concerning them, &c.
Iron abounding in the east and found in the west. Rocks for. buildings,
fences, and other purposes, found in almost every region.

Gypsum, clay, marl and sand.

Pertility of soil largely dependent on character of the sub-soils, — interesting ex-
ceptions in parts of eastern Texas and the reason therefor.

Wood and fencing. Post-oak — the great fencing timber of the prairies, &;c.


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Online LibraryOran Milo RobertsA description of Texas, its advantages and resources: with some account of ... → online text (page 5 of 12)