Long Distance Trading by Indigenous Peoples of Texas and Beyond
Public Talk: Dan Worrall, Author of A Prehistory of Houston and Southeast Texas: Landscape and Culture
Nov. 16, 2021
Houston geologist, historian, musician, and author Dan Worrall will speak about the long distance trade routes among the ancient people through Texas and beyond.
The talk, titled “The Late Archaic Lower Brazos Culture and the Nature of Long Distance Exchange Networks,” is sponsored by the Houston Archeological Society.
Worrall will speak at the monthly (in person and virtual) meeting of the society on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7:00 p.m. He will bring a collection of artifacts from a site in west Fort Bend County for show and tell.
According to Worrall, people of the Late Archaic Lower Brazos Culture (4,000-2,000 years ago) lived along the lower parts of the Brazos and Colorado Rivers extending to the coast. Their territory was approximately equivalent to that of the Coco/Karankawa of the early Historic Period (500 years ago).
The meeting takes place at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road in Houston, starting at 6:30 p.m. The program begins at 7.
Here is more information about the talk.
The meeting will be offered virtually via Zoom and YouTube Livestream. The YouTube Livestream link is https://youtu.be/xfCvhInhBp4.
Buffalo Bayou, River of Life: The Show Goes On
Sale of Buffalo Bayou Art and Photography Continues through Nov. 28
Flatland Gallery, Café Brasil, 1709 Westheimer, Houston
Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
And By Appointment. Contact Us.
Watch This Short film: Photographer and Author Geoff Winningham Describes His Discovery of Buffalo Bayou
Nov. 16, 2021
So a lot of interesting people showed up for the public opening on Saturday, Nov.13, met friends old and new, and had a good time.
They didn’t buy everything. We still have fabulous photography, plans, maps and postcards, old and new, for sale. The photographs include work by Geoff Winningham, Jim Olive, George O. Jackson, Alfred Comey, Henry Stark, and unknown 19th century photographers.
In addition, and still available for purchase, are enchanting artworks by Janice Freeman and by Houston school children. The latter participated in a photography and art project developed by Winningham that focused on the city and the bayou. The project resulted in the 2017 publication of the book In the Eyes of Our Children: Houston, An American City. The book is offered for free to anyone who buys a print.
All of the work in the show is about Buffalo Bayou. Here is a link to the catalogue.
Though the main show is in Flatland Gallery adjacent to Café Brasil, there are large photographs and prints on view and for sale in the café itself, which is at 2604 Dunlavy at Westheimer.
The amazing show was researched, curated, and printed by Geoff Winningham, renowned photographer and professor at Rice University, who is the author of many photography books, including Along Forgotten River, about Buffalo Bayou.
Here is more information about the show and sale.
Celebrate Buffalo Bayou: River of Life
Great Deals on Rare Historic and Contemporary Photos and Art Inspired by Buffalo Bayou
A Benefit Exhibition and Sale
Performance of original music by Max Winningham, 5:30 pm
Flatland Gallery, Café Brasil, 1709 Westheimer, Houston
On View Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 pm, through Nov. 28
Nov. 2, 2021
Renowned Houston photographer Geoff Winningham has curated an unusual exhibition of rarely seen modern and historic photographs of Buffalo Bayou. The show, titled “Buffalo Bayou: River of Life,” also includes artwork and prints.
Winningham, whose widely-acclaimed book Along Forgotten River documented Buffalo Bayou over twenty years ago, has researched and reproduced historic etchings and photographs of the bayou, many created before 1900.
Watch This Short film: Photographer and Author Geoff Winningham Describes His Discovery of Buffalo Bayou
Digging Deep into Archives
Winningham, who holds the Lynette S. Autrey Chair in the Humanities at Rice University, dug deep into the archives of Harvard University, the University of Houston, and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center for the show. He discovered historical photographs, artwork, and artifacts relating to Buffalo Bayou going back to 1836.
The majority of these early photographs are by anonymous photographers, but a few, dated 1895-96, were taken by Henry Stark, a celebrated and published photographer of the time. Others, which Winningham located in the Loeb Library at Harvard, were taken by Alfred C. Comey, who was hired in 1912 to do a study of the landscape of the city and advise officials on the planning of future parks.
Most Never Exhibited Before
There are 138 pieces for sale in the exhibition, including 32 historic photographs and prints, some 50 original landscape photographs by Winningham, as well as photographs of the bayou by Jim Olive and George O. Jackson. Most of the photos have never been exhibited before.
The work on sale also includes art by Janice Freeman and photographs and prints by Houston school children. The latter participated in a photography and art project created by Winningham in 2010 that focused on the city and the bayou. The project resulted in the 2017 publication of the book In the Eyes of Our Children: Houston, An American City.
The public reception for the opening of the exhibition is Saturday, Nov. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the gallery attached to Cafe Brasil, 1709 Westheimer in Houston.
At 5:30 p.m. during the reception Max Winningham will perform his original work, “River of Life,” a string bass composition inspired by Buffalo Bayou.
The Geology and Evolution of Buffalo Bayou: Talk at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14
Geologist, naturalist, and river guide Tom Helm will share his extensive knowledge of the evolution of Buffalo Bayou in a public lecture Sunday, Nov. 14, starting at 1 p.m. in the gallery.
Helm will provide a general overview of southeast Texas geology and how the various components of structure, salt movement, stratigraphy, and geologic history have resulted in the landscape observable today in the outcrops visible along Buffalo Bayou.
Historic Settlement on Buffalo Bayou: Talk at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14
Then at 2:30 p.m. Kirk Farris, founder of Art and Environmental Architecture, will speak about his work preserving and reviving a historic section of Buffalo Bayou east of downtown Houston. This historic neighborhood at the east edge of downtown includes the McKee Street Bridge, James Bute Park and Frost Town, also known as Germantown, an early settlement on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou just east of its confluence with White Oak Bayou.
Exhibition and Sale Continues through Nov. 28
The exhibition remains open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m., from Nov. 13 through Nov. 28, for further viewing and sales.
RSVP for the opening reception, Saturday, Nov. 13, 5 to 7 p.m.
Can’t come? DONATE!
Honoring a Longtime Conservationist
Sierra Club Recognizes Save Buffalo Bayou Founding President
Awards Dinner Saturday, Oct. 16, in Austin
Oct. 13, 2021
For over fifty years Frank C. Smith Jr. has been active in river conservation efforts, among other work on behalf of the environment and public lands, as well as good design. He began working with Terry Hershey in 1966 to stop the Corps of Engineers from stripping and straightening Buffalo Bayou and covering it in concrete—as they have done to White Oak and Brays bayous, not to mention the many small creeks and streams that have received the same treatment from the Harris County Flood Control District.
Smith also worked to protect Armand Bayou and Memorial Park, among many other conservation projects. He was the leader of a group of people who founded Save Buffalo Bayou in 2014 to stop the Flood Control District from stripping, bulldozing, and rerouting Buffalo Bayou flowing past Memorial Park, one of the last forested stretches of the bayou accessible to the public.
The Edens award is one of several to be officially presented at a fundraising dinner in Austin Saturday, Oct. 16, at 6 p.m. Tickets to the event are still available both for in-person and virtual attendance.
Evelyn Edens was a Fort Worth area environmentalist who worked with others to create Save the Brazos as well as the annual Texas Meeting on the Outdoors. She served on the executive committee of the Lone Star Chapter. The award honors river conservation efforts of individuals and groups.
Other awards to be presented include:
Legislative Champion Award to Rep. Erin Zwiener and Sen. Sarah Eckhardt
Special Service Award to Danielle Belleny
Environmental Justice Award to Renee Roberson
Hal Suter Environmental Alliance Award to Delia Iris Gonzalez (CEER, Houston)
Hermann Rudenberg Award to Errol Summerlin (CAPE—The Coastal Alliance to Protect our Environment)
Chapter Service Award to Wendel Withrow (Dallas Sierra Club)
Ken Kramer Living Waters Award to Rachel Sanborn (San Marcos River Foundation)
Indigenous People on Buffalo Bayou and Beyond
“The Atakapa-Ishak are not extinct”
Oct. 11, 2021
Updated Oct. 13, 2021
Thousands of years before land speculators like the Allen Brothers arrived in 1836 or slave traders Jim Bowie and Jean Lafitte set up shop on Galveston Island around 1817 or even the Spanish conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on the island in 1528, there were people living around Buffalo Bayou and the prairies, forests, rivers, and bays of the Texas Gulf Coast.
At least 13,500 years ago, predecessors of the Akokisa people were living in what is now coastal Texas. At the time the coast, along with major rivers flowing across it, extended a hundred miles further out, land and channels now covered by water. Sea level then was hundreds of feet lower.
But inland, Buffalo Bayou and other rivers and streams were flowing along the same winding, forested paths that now carry their waters to the gulf (unless they’ve been stripped and channelized). Incised into the landscape by the drainage of the sea at the end of the last glaciation period some 20,000 years ago (no glaciers in Texas), “basically these rivers and creeks are where they were in the late Pleistocene (some 12,000-20,000 years ago),” said geologist/author Dan Worrall at a recent talk on the lifeways of the Akokisa at the Houston Botanic Garden.
We know this in part because Early Paleoindian Native American artifacts have been found along the banks, showing that the streams were there at least 13,000 years ago, he said.
Living Well on the Land
The Akokisa were a branch of the Atakapa-Ishak, who lived (and still live) along the upper coast of southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana. The Atakapa spoke a unique language that was distinct from the Karankawa, for example, the people who lived further down the coast. Like the Karankawa, the Atakapa were divided into different groups, communities organized in large part around the different river basins.
Around 1700, the native people of southeast Texas were thought to number some 4,000-5,000. But by 1800 the Atakapa population in Texas had suffered a catastrophic collapse, largely due to disease brought by Europeans. Spanish missionaries tried to teach them agriculture, despite the fact that the native people were healthy and thriving, doing just fine hunting and gathering a rich, varied diet, and lightly managing the prairies and forests with controlled burning. (In fact recent research shows that Native Americans were healthier before the introduction of agriculture.)
“They lived on the land very well,” said Worrall.
Worrall’s big new book, A Prehistory of Houston and Southeast Texas: Landscape and Culture, documents in extensive technical detail the evolution of the landscape and the people who lived here long before European settlement.
The Akokisa and their predecessors ate seasonally and locally, of course: oysters and clams, alligators, turtles, and fish, seabird eggs, wild grapes and berries, persimmons, pecans and acorns, the tuberous roots of cattails, arrowheads, and greenbriar, among many other flowers and plants, edible and medicinal. They left behind vast middens of shells and fish bones. As well as bison kill sites along creeks and bayous.
In the fall and winter they moved inland to hunt bison and deer on their traditional hunting grounds on the Katy Prairie at the headwaters of Buffalo Bayou in what is now northwest Harris County. The bison migrated seasonally during the winter from the interior Texas plains, moving through the tallgrass prairie on their way south to the coast to graze on the lush salt grass (except during dry periods, points out Worrall).
Buffalo Bayou, along with other bayous and streams, was surrounded then by vast riparian and flatland forests, particularly extensive north of the bayou. European settlers in the nineteenth century cut down much of the timber to create cropland on the fertile floodplains. Beyond the forest to the south of the bayou was tallgrass prairie. Further to the west there was prairie and savannah dotted with oak trees.
Early Fall on That Bend in the Bayou
Time is Passing
Oct. 8, 2021
We’d just had a big storm, a hurricane actually, named Nicholas. Its big winds tore up the trees and ripped out power lines, leaving tottering poles and a hundred thousand people without electricity up and down the Gulf Coast, including in Houston.
It also brought in our loyal photographer, native Texan Jim Olive, who blew in from the dry California desert, where the daytime temperatures had been well over 100 degrees. The plan was to take our fall shot of that Bend in the River, the same location on Buffalo Bayou that we’d been photographing throughout the seasons for seven years now.
We met at sunrise at the east entrance to the Picnic Loop south of Memorial Drive, where the massive $70 million land bridges are still under construction. The park gates, usually open, were closed, apparently due to possible falling limbs and tree damage from the storm. But helmeted cyclists were shoving their slim bikes through the gates anyway and hikers were slipping through.
Big Jim recently had had major surgery and had spent quite a bit of time laid up. The prospect of walking through the morning heat to our spot was daunting. But he soldiered down the curving drive and into the woods.
A Changing Scene
The popular path into the bayou woods was still blocked by the Memorial Park Conservancy with wire fencing and branches. But the much-used dirt path through the woods itself seemed changed. There had been a big storm after all, and there was debris—leaves and tree limbs—blocking the narrow trail, which usually was kept clear by anonymous volunteers. It was difficult to tell how much of the debris blockage had been caused by the winds and how much might have been placed there by park employees.
The bayou banks were remarkably green and lush. The sediment-laden water was flowing fairly high and fast, around 800 cubic feet per second. We stood patiently on the high bank, listening to the sounds of the woods and water. The sun rose over the tall trees, big oaks and pines. The assistant wandered off, as usual. Jim got his beautiful shots, miraculously without tumbling over the steep, high bank and into the fast-flowing stream. But then, once out of the woods, he opted to rest, wait by the paved loop, and watch the cyclists whiz past. Years ago Jim also used to bike regularly, every morning two or three times a week, around this loop, as well as around the trails in Buffalo Bayou Park, then shaded with overhanging trees. Afterwards he and his physically fit friends would swim a mile or so in the nearby Masterson YWCA pool that used to be on Waugh near the bayou.
The assistant hurried to fetch the car, hoping the gates were now open. They were not. So, anxious about Jim, she jogged back along the road and splashed through the soggy grass field towards some park employees with an electric cart inspecting the trees. Cyclists circling around the loop kept an eye on Jim, who was out in the sun.
The assistant approached the conservancy staffers, waving her arms and calling out for help transporting the photographer back to the car. The answer was no. Only park employees allowed in the electric cart. But they did offer to unlock the gate so that the assistant could take the time to hurry back, get the car, drive it into the park, and pick up Jim.
Well, we were grateful for that, at least. Jim, who has donated numerous photographs to the Memorial Park Conservancy, survived. (He also happens to be a trained emergency medical technician.) The assistant was steamed. We continued on for our traditional breakfast taco at Sunrise Taquitos down the road.
We’ve asked the Conservancy, a private foundation which runs the public park on behalf of the City, for its rules and guidance on medical and other emergencies in the park. We’ll update our report when we hear back.
Houston Too Flat, Soil Too Impenetrable?
Flood Control Planning Director Claims Natural Flood Management Can’t Be Done Here
Advocates Call BS
So Is Flood Control District Working in Our Best Interests?
Sept. 29, 2021
The virtual workshop was all about nature-based flood management (trees, vegetation, greenspace, prairies, wetlands, native gardens), about the value of protecting and restoring floodplains and natural areas, why this green approach costs less, is more effective, resilient and flexible, reduces the long-term risk of catastrophic failure, and adds economic value to communities, not to mention health and environmental benefits.
There were related topics: stopping stormwater where it falls, buying out properties in floodplains, not building in floodways, elevating homes, and how protecting floodplains and green areas reduces the cost of flood insurance, among other things.
But then came the long-time planning director of Harris County Flood Control who all but laughed at the idea of nature-based flood management. Harris County is covered in “impermeable clay soils,” he said.
It’s a common refrain from naysayers, including the leaders of Flood Control, who claim prairies, rain gardens and green infrastructure can’t work here because the land is basically as flat and impenetrable as concrete. Local landscape architects, hydrologists, environmentalists, and others have encountered this obstinacy for years. “Nonsense” and “bs” are typical off-the-record responses.
The obvious conclusion, if you follow the logic of Flood Control: we have to keep doing costly engineering projects, hand out more lucrative contracts, bulldoze and dredge and deepen and widen our streams. And then hand out more contracts to do it all over again. Because that’s what Flood Control does: projects and contracts.
Never mind how bulldozing, dredging, etc. compacts the soil and makes it less absorbent, killing all the healthy, useful organisms in the banks and bed, and increases flooding and erosion. (See also here.) It’s more lucrative (for somebody) to keep tearing down and developing the forests and prairies, though ultimately it costs the taxpayers more. Fill our flowing streams as fast as possible, flood our neighborhoods upstream and downstream – because, according to Flood Control, the natural landscape is no different from concrete and rooftops anyway.
But It’s Not True
But is it true? No.
In fact, most of the soil in Harris County is moderately highly absorbent to very highly absorbent. Furthermore, plant roots help facilitate the infiltration of rain where the soil is less absorbent, especially if we let the grass grow higher and plant native plants.
At a recent education program for local officials sponsored by Texas A&M, Ataul Hannan, director of planning for Flood Control, showed a photo of downtown Houston during the infamous 1935 flood. He said that the Katy Prairie, which once extended from the edge of the Spring Creek forest northwest of the city south to beyond forested Clear Creek in the southeast, was undeveloped at the time. (Apparently meaning that it wasn’t covered in houses, shopping centers, and roads because the prairie then was already ranch and farmland.)
Said Hannan: If the prairie was all that great at slowing or storing stormwater back in 1935, why did downtown Houston flood?
And the correct answer, as determined by the Texas State legislature in 1937, is that a narrow, badly designed bridge blocked the flow of stormwater from Buffalo and White Oak bayous and caused it to back up and flood downtown Houston in 1935. (See our report here.)
Nevertheless, the state legislature in 1937 authorized the establishment of the Harris County Flood Control District to aid the US Army Corps of Engineers in stripping the forests, straightening the meanders, and covering our once-beautiful major streams in concrete. (Never mind that the enabling legislation also charged Flood Control with the “conservation of forests.”)
It was a disastrous policy that has only increased flooding, damaged our water quality, destroyed our natural environment, and created the need for costly, continuing maintenance. (See Brays Bayou, a joint channelization project which began in the mid-1950’s and now, after more than seventy years of increasing flooding and hundreds of millions of public dollars, they are almost done.)
Please donate to Save Buffalo Bayou. Our work needs your support. We don’t usually ask but we should have been asking. We are very much in need of individual contributions. No gift is too small! All donations are tax-deductible.
Let’s Return Native Plants to Houston!
Podcast Interview with Katy Emde, Local Native Plant Expert
Sept. 28, 2021
In this episode Niven Saleh of Houston and Nature looks at Houston through the lens of a native plant enthusiast. Katy Emde is an expert member of the Native Plant Society of Texas and an advisory board member of Save Buffalo Bayou. She explains in the podcast why native plants are great but sometimes hard to find, what she does to source the best seeds and why you should be inspired to give native plants a try.
In the 53-minute episode, Saleh and Emde provide numerous resources including guides and gardens, and places to buy native plants. They discuss plants that work best in Houston, the difference between native and non-native plants, places and apps, books and websites for learning about and identifying plants.
Cutting and Scraping, Pounding Sheet Pile: Update on Bank Work at Bayou Bend
And a Word About the Bank “Stabilization” Plans in Memorial Park
Aug. 26, 2021
We’ve been meaning to update you on the “restoration” work on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou below the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. (Although perhaps more significant are the still-developing plans for the banks in Memorial Park. See below.)
The bank below Bayou Bend is a section of the bayou upstream of the Shepherd Bridge at the end of Westcott Street. Now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it’s the former home of philanthropist and art collector Ima Hogg, who also donated the 15.5 acres that are now the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north bank opposite the gardens.
The Bayou Bend bank project involves cutting trees, stripping, grading, and pounding sheet pile and concrete into the bank. It was designed by the engineering firm Stantec, which has also been hired to develop the controversial bank scraping and “stabilization” project in a little-known forested section of Memorial Park west of Loop 610 called the Old Archery Range.
While parts of the bank at Bayou Bend now undergoing repairs previously have been reinforced with riprap, the natural bank along Memorial Park further upstream is perhaps the last publicly-accessible stretch where one can observe layers of our geologic history and witness the dynamic natural functioning of the living river, which is increasingly being smothered by concrete, metal, and bulldozers.
Losing Land Versus Signing It Away
The Memorial Park project is being proposed because the park is “losing land,” according to Shellye Arnold, chief executive officer of the Memorial Park Conservancy. But ironically, the plan proposed so far would slice through meanders, reroute the bayou, and cut off public access to public land, effectively signing over public property to private owners, including commercial interests. Note that this park project is sponsored in part by the Uptown Development Authority (TIRZ 16), an unelected board of mostly large, local property owners and developers which diverts for its own interests property taxes (public money) that would otherwise go into the city’s general fund.
Asked recently how people would have access to the public land that would be cut off by rerouting the bayou, Randy Odinet, vice president for of capital projects with the Memorial Park Conservancy, responded, “That’s a good question.” But he also pointed out that the analysis and plans for the Old Archery Range were still in development, delayed in part by heavy rains. We’ll have more of an update on that soon.
Here are some photos of the work at Bayou Bend.
Another Big Tree Falls After Bank “Repairs”
Flood Control Recently Spent $10 Million, Scraped Healthy Bank for No Reason
Aug. 26, 2021
Almost a year ago we told you about the Harris County Flood Control District scraping and bulldozing healthy, green banks of the bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park near downtown Houston.
At the time we predicted that trees would likely fall due to the loss of supporting vegetation.
And now a big elm has fallen on the bank scraped by the district.
It’s not the first tree to go as a result of the district’s work on the banks of the park since 2010. Numerous trees have collapsed in the stretch from Shepherd Drive to Sabine. There’s also the trees deliberately cut in the park by contractors working for Flood Control. Watch this slideshow of the evolution of the park showing the numerous trees removed by the district in the last decade.
The bulldozing of the bank last year was part of a $9.7 million “repair” project that narrowed the channel, lined it with concrete riprap, and basically turned our scenic river into an ugly drainage ditch.
A Waste of Federal Funds and Natural Resources
The nearly $10 million in federal funds were supposed to be used to “reshape and protect eroded streambanks.” But these areas, particularly upstream of Waugh, were not eroded. The bank shape was fine. The bayou, according to its natural plan, had planted tall goldenrod and horseweed, young willows and cottonwoods along its banks.
The Flood Control District cut it all down and left bare dirt. It wasn’t a “repair” project. It was a landscaping project.
Now, almost a year later, here’s what some of those multi-million dollar banks look like. So will they keep scraping the banks after the bayou plants them again with the deep-rooted wild stuff that’s needed to hold the banks together?