A Ghost of Texas Past

The site of James Briton Bailey’s land grant, known today as Bailey’s Prairie. (Click for larger image)

Twelve years after “Brit” Bailey succumbed to cholera on the hot, humid coastal plain of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, events had taken a turn. Texas had become a Republic, and word of the opportunities to be had there was spreading, particularly among the Germans.

In November 1845, German scientist Ferdinand von Roemer debarked in Galveston. Sent to Texas by the Berlin Academy of Sciences, he had been charged with the task of evaluating mineral assets on the Fisher-Miller land grant west of San Antonio. In the process of meeting his obligation, Roemer not only established himself as the father of Texas geology, through his association with John Meusebach he became an important player in the opening of the Fisher-Miller grant to settlement.

Meusebach himself had been appointed in April 1845 as the second Commissioner General of the Adelsverein (also known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas).  It was Meusebach who founded the first settlement on the outskirts of the Fisher-Miller grant, naming it Fredericksburg in honor of Adelsverein member Prince Frederick of Prussia.

The grant was located in Comanche territory, where previous conflicts had exacerbated German nervousness about moving into the neighborhood. Because the grant required completion of a land survey by the fall of 1847, a treaty between the Germans and the Penateka Comanche was imperative. Under Meusebach’s guidance, the treaty was signed, and three million acres of land were opened to settlement.

John Meusebach’s granddaughters, Mrs. Irene Marschall King and Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith, brought the original Meusebach-Comanche treaty document from Europe in 1970, and presented it to the Texas State Library in 1972.  Now on public display, it’s reputed to be the only treaty between white settlers and Native Americans that never was broken.

“Gathering, Lasting Friendship, 1847-1997” commemorates the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty. The sculpture was dedicated as a part of Fredericksburg’s 150th anniversary celebration.

One of Meusebach’s notebooks also is on display at the Texas State Library. Despite the elaborate script and the fact that it’s written in German, two phrases stand out. One involves beer, and the other, in English, proclaims, “Texas Forever.”

By the time Meusebach began treaty negotiations, Roemer had made his own way from Houston to Fredericksburg. Along the way, he studied not only the geography of the land and such wonderful geological oddities as Enchanted Rock, he also catalogued a wide variety of flora and fauna. Many of his observations are memorialized in the scientific names of Texas wildflowers, such as cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana), sensitive briar (Mimosa roemeriana), and two-leafed senna (Senna roemeriana)

An equally close observer of people and cultures, Roemer’s accounts of the Penateka Comanche are lively and interesting. After his return to Germany, the 1849 publication of his somewhat ponderously titled book, Texas: 1845 to 1847 (With Particular Reference to German Immigration and the Physical Appearance of the Country, Described Through Personal Observation) opened a marvelous world to its readers.

Characterizing the three Comanche chiefs involved in treaty negotiations with Meusebach as “serene and dignified,” Roemer goes on to portray Old Owl as a “political chief” and Santa Anna as a “war chief.” Then, he describes the chief known as Buffalo Hump.

[He was] the pure unadulterated picture of a North American Indian, who, unlike the rest of his tribe, scorned every form of European dress. His body naked, a buffalo robe around his loins, brass rings on his arms, a string of beads around his neck, and with his long, coarse black hair hanging down, he sat there with the serious facial expression of the North American Indian which seems to be apathetic to the European.
He attracted our special attention because he had distinguished himself through great daring and bravery in expeditions against the Texas frontier which he had engaged in times past.

Although equally interested in the early Texas settlers who surrounded him, Roemer found many of them less impressive. His notes indicate the presence in Texas of “the most degraded riff-raff — adventurers, gamblers, swindlers and murderers — the scum not only of the United States but of all nations.” On the other hand, as if to atone somewhat for the harshness of his judgment, he was willing to allow that, “the present morals and respect for the laws of the land are as a general rule not any lower [in Texas] than in the adjoining Southwestern States.”

Twenty-five years before Roemer’s grand tour, Stephen F. Austin seems to have recognized the presence in Texas of the same “degraded riff-raff,” and the need to cull them if his own colony of three hundred families was to flourish. Because his grant of land came from Mexico, loyalty to the Mexican government and adherence to the Roman Catholic faith were assumed. “Good character” was a little more slippery. Still, it was required.

With a few exceptions, empresarios such as Austin advertised for settlers, their broadsides and posters making clear which qualities would meet the terms of their contracts with the Mexican government.

Unfortunately, Austin was forced to deal almost immediately with a man who had preceeded him into Texas, and who failed to meet nearly every requirement for settlers in the colony — James Briton Bailey.

At first glance, Bailey would appear to be the perfect settler. Born in North Carolina in 1779, of Irish stock and a distinguished lineage that may have included Scotland’s Robert Bruce, he moved first to Kentucky, where he served in the state legislature. When his first wife, Edith, died and left him with six children, he married her sister and had five more. He fought in the War of 1812, and apparently had some success in business.

After deciding to opt for life in Texas, Bailey, his wife and six children, and a half-dozen adult slaves traveled first to New Orleans, where they booked passage to Galveston. Some accounts have Bailey and his entourage traveling directly to the Brazos River. Others suggest he left the family in Anahuac, traveled to the Brazos, selected his land, returned for his family, and began building a new life on land he claimed he had purchased from Spain.

James Briton Bailey, Respectable Citizen

At that point, events took yet another turn. Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, and the same land which Bailey had purchased or claimed in 1818 was given by Mexico to Stephen F. Austin. Austin considered Bailey a squatter, and tried to evict him from his colony. Eventually, he sent a letter demanding that Bailey vacate the land within sixty days. Bailey ignored the letter.

A determined Austin traveled to meet Bailey personally, and found himself facing a man with a rifle. Words were exchanged, leading Austin to raise reports about Bailey’s time in Kentucky, which included a conviction of forgery and a brief stint in prison. In his chapter on Bailey, Don Blevins reports Brit’s reply: “T’aint [forgery] I’m ashamed of. It’s the term I served in the Kentucky legislature which sits heavy on my conscience.”

Whatever Austin thought about that, or any further conversations with the cantakerous old settler, Bailey’s claim to his land near the  Brazos finally was recognized on July 7, 1824. A newly respectable member of the Old Three Hundred, he went back to raising crops and cattle, serving in the militia and being the general hell-raiser that by nature he was.

Brit Bailey, Hell-Raiser Extraordinaire

Larger than life characters always give rise to tall tales, but there’s no question Bailey was a hard drinker. On one occasion, intoxication led him to set fire to every structure on his property. Only the main house survived.

He was a willing fighter as well, often joining fights in the town of Brazoria purely for the pleasure of it.  If no fight was taking place, he’d create his own. Encountering one of the Austin boys on the streets of Brazoria, he said, “Prepare to fight,” and fight they did. Eventually, Bailey said, “That”ll do,” and rode on.

A classic Bailey tale has two versions — one involving another Austin son, the other focused on a visiting parson. In both, Bailey uses his rifle to encourage the other man to strip naked and “dance.”  Both men did his bidding, before taking advantage of his drunkenness to grab his rifle and turn the tables, demanding a dance from Old Man Bailey himself. Which version is true? Probably both.

In the end, it was cholera rather than hard-living or hard-drinking that killed Brit Bailey, though he had time before his death to make a few requests.

He wished to be buried standing up, making it impossible for anyone to look down on him or say, “There lies old Brit Bailey.” He asked that his rifle, powder horn, and lead bullets accompany him to the grave, as well as a jug of whiskey. Most of all, he wished to be buried facing west. As he put it, he’d been going west all his life, and saw no good reason to change direction.

A portion of James Briton Bailey’s Last Will & Testament, showing his request that he be “intered erect with my face fronting the west.” (Click for larger version)

His family acceded to most of his wishes. His casket was lowered, feet first, into an eight-foot, vertical grave. His rifle, powder horn and bullets were buried with him. At the last minute, the jug of moonshine he wanted to have placed at his feet couldn’t be found. Some said his wife refused to include it, while others claimed the gravediggers made off with it. Whatever the truth about the whiskey, Brit Bailey was home at last, standing guard under the same huge oak where some of his own children lay buried.

Today, the oak is gone, taken by a storm, and no one remembers the precise location of Bailey’s grave. “Between Angleton and West Columbia, south of Highway 35, down by the flag pond” is as close as most need or care to know.

For others,  it hardly matters, since they firmly believe it’s easier to be found by Brit Bailey than it is to find his grave.

When I first saw the light, I thought little of it. Autumn had settled in, and the night was cool and dry, perfect for roaming the countryside. The light bobbed slightly, like a hand-carried lantern. Campers, I thought. Teenagers, maybe. Or hunters.  And then it was behind me, out of sight and out of mind as I drove on toward Angleton.

Years later, on the same stretch of road, a different light bobbed about. Larger, seemingly closer and tinged with yellow, it resembled a small, rising moon as it snagged in the hedge rose and vines. Strange moon, I thought, then slowed to look more closely. That can’t be the moon. It’s due south.  Easing off onto the shoulder, I watched the light grow larger. Was it increasing in size, or coming closer? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care to find out. I pulled back onto the highway, glancing over my shoulder for another look. It was gone. 

Many years later, during a foggy trip through Brazoria County, a friend’s remark about foxfire reminded me of the lights. “You’ll never guess what I saw out here,” I said. As I recounted the stories, she began to laugh. “That was Brit!” “Brit?” I said. “Brit who?” “Brit Bailey. This is Bailey’s Prairie, and they say Old Man Bailey’s out here roaming around, looking for the bottle of hootch they were supposed to put in his grave.”

Whether Brit’s roaming or whether he’s not, the stories do abound. When John and Ann Thomas bought the Bailey homestead, they swore they saw his ghost floating through the house. Reports of the light on the prairie have been consistent for decades, chronicled in such books as Catherine Munson Foster’s Ghosts Along the Brazos, and innumerable personal accounts. Even the Texas state historical marker for Bailey’s Prairie makes mention of his ghost — an acknowledgement, if not an endorsement, of the continuing strange saga of Brit Bailey.

Today, Brazoria County has changed. Kayaks ply the Brazos, not paddle wheel steamers. Stephen F. Austin no longer lies buried in Gulf Prairie Cemetery, but in the city which bears his name. Chemical plants have supplanted sugar cane, and Saturday night dances require no compulsion.

Still, if much has changed, much remains. Lifting fog still slides along the hidden creeks and sloughs.  Kettling hawks rise above the clouds as graves settle ever more deeply into the earth, burying anew the names of settlers long since passed.

Throughout the prairie, Roemer’s flowers spread and bloom. Even during the day, if the slant of light is right, you may see mats and tangles of sensitive briar closing their leaves for no apparent cause, their slight and tremulous movement seeming to mark a mysterious passage across the land.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below. For a previous post about Brit Bailey, please see “When the Book Becomes the Story.”

83 thoughts on “A Ghost of Texas Past

    1. One thing I decided while researching this, Kayti, is that there truly is a difference between “spooky” and “scary.” Some of the tales I read in Catherine Munson’s book, and a few of the tales I was told at the area museums I visited were spooky as could be. But given what I’ve learned about Bailey, I’m pretty sure he means no one any harm. He’s just one of those who likes to amuse himself by creating a little havoc.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Linda

    1. You’re welcome, Mikels Skele. I just had a look at your self-description on your blog, and laughed. It sounds as though you and Brit would have gotten along famously.

      Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to leave a comment. You’re always welcome here.

      Linda

    1. It is interesting, Ruth. I’m not knowledgeable enough to make such an assertion myself, but I found that information in so many, quite disparate, sources that it seems plausible.

      I think it’s worth noting that it wasn’t a governmental body negotiating the treaty. The process was complicated and in some ways difficult, but there’s no question enlightened self-interest played a role in keeping to the treaty’s terms.

      So much to learn, so little time!

      Linda

    1. That’s an interesting article accompanying the photo, too. I took note of this:

      “In August 1824 a new congress passed an immigration law that vested the administration of public land in the states, with certain restrictions, and authorized them to make laws for settlement.”

      It reminded me that, in 1824, Austin used Brit Bailey’s homestead as a meeting place for the settlers to gather and take the required oath of loyalty to Mexico.

      One of the most interesting sources I’ve found was given to me at the museum in West Columbia. It’s titled, “The Old Plantations and Their Owners of Brazoria County, Texas.” Privately printed in 1926, it’s by a fellow named Abner J. Strobel.

      He was a man of firm opinions, and he had this to say about Austin’s re-burial.

      “From the first day of January 1822, the feeble dawn of American Civilization on the Brazos, he had been identified with every movement for the public good. He had toiled in sunshine and in storm for the prosperity of his colony. He had but reached manhood’s meridian when death intervened and called him…

      He was buried at the home of his sister, Mrs. James F. Perry, in the cemetery at Peach Point [plantation], Brazoria County. His remains were taken up a few years ago and reinterred at Austin at the State Cemetery. His remains, however, should have remained in Brazoria County, where he labored so long.”

      Thanks for the link, Steve.

      Linda

    2. In the process of exploring the site which contained the information on the wild irises I linked below, I discovered I’d falled into the site of a Brazoria County historian and genealogist. You might enjoy the photos and information from his own post on the Gulf Prairie cemetery.

    1. For all his hell-raising, Bailey was a serious contributor to the well-being of the colony. He became a Lieutenant in the militia, and later was promoted to Captain by Governor Viesca, and he ended up running at least six hundred head of cattle on his place.

      Here’s a detail I love. He built the first house in the area, and painted it red. Nothing about him was shy and retiring!

      Linda

  1. Hair raised on the back of my neck by those ghostly tales! Whatever the character, or lack thereof, of those early settlers, I am in awe of their willingness to venture into the unknown. I can’t imagine myself signing up for something similar. Very interesting to read about the Meusebach Comanche Treaty.

    1. Certainly many of those who chose to put up the “Gone to Texas” sign and hit the trail were running “from” as much as they were running “toward.” Bailey was an adventure-seeker, no doubt about that. But he had other, equally compelling reasons to move on down the road, including that forgery conviction — which seems to have been somehow related to the establishment of the national banking system, although I haven’t quite figured that out.

      On the other hand, the desire to improve one’s lot always is a good motivator, and there were plenty of folks who’d heard wonderful things about Texas — including the Germans. Of course, when they got here, reality didn’t always accord so well with what they’d imagined, but at that point, heading back was impossible, so there was even more motivation to make a good of the new situation.

      I lived for a time in a German-Czech area of Texas, and knew a woman whose parents arrived as part of the German immigration. The came by ship to a port called Indianola, which was destroyed by two hurricanes in the late 1800s. After she was born, they walked across the coastal prairie with an ox-cart, to Victoria. My gosh, don’t I wish I could talk to her again!

      Linda

    1. That’s it, exactly, Hippie. While the official religion of Austin’s colony was Catholicism, there were plenty of Protestants around. Sunday schools were held in homes, and there were traveling ministers who presided over funerals. Some suggest it was a teetotaling parson who convinced Brit Bailey’s wife to pull the whiskey from his grave.

      Weddings were more complicated, since only a priest could formalize vows. Not to put too fine a point on it, there weren’t any priests who wanted to leave places like San Antonio to roam around the wilds of places like Austin’s colony. How that problem was solved could be a post in itself.

      There was one Irish Catholic priest named Michael Muldoon who was a sort of ecclesiastical Brit Bailey — at least in temperament. He was good friends with Austin, and in fact was involved in springing Austin from a Mexican prison. Not only that, he spirited William Wharton (for whom our Wharton County is named) out of prison in Mexico by garbing him as a Catholic priest.

      As the story goes, Muldoon sneaked the robes into Wharton’s jail cell, got him dressed, and then said, “Mr. Wharton, if you are accosted, simply extend your right hand with the first two fingers elevated and say, ‘Pax Vobiscum’. Remember you are a Catholic priest until you reach Texas.”

      Wharton walked out and headed north. Before long, he was back in the Republic of Texas.

      This isn’t a very good photo, but it does show the memorial to Father Muldoon, south of LaGrange on Highway 77. LaGrange also is the home of the highly esteemed Chicken Ranch. It’s surely pure coincidence that Fr. Muldoon died in 1842, and the Chicken Ranch opened in 1844.

      Linda

      1. Could it be some of the stories have conveniently grown in stature and amazement over the years? Texas, as we know, thinks of itself as a big place. I’ve seen it happen in other places. :-)

        1. Some surely have. The ghost tales, for example. But there are plenty of primary source materials for much of this, including journals, diaries and official reports.

  2. Your mention of the town of Brazoria coincides with my showing this morning of a Texas wildflower in the genus Brazoria.

    As for the town, the Handbook of Texas notes that “[John] Austin chose the name ‘for the single reason that I know of none like it in the world.'” He derived the unique name for a town from the Brazos River that it was on, so it’s natural to ask why Spaniards would have named a river Arms, which is what brazos means in Spanish. The full name of the river was Brazos de Dios, or ‘arms of God,’ which takes the question back one degree further. Apparently there are several conflicting explanations for that name, and even evidence that it was applied originally to the Colorado River. Readers who’d like to hear the competing hypotheses can check the third paragraph of the article at:

    http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rnb07

    1. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why “Brazoria truncata” is called rattlesnake flower. I was a little chagrined to discover, via the USDA map, that it isn’t present (or at least reported) in Brazoria County. That hardly seems fair.

      One other botanical note, which you may already know. I found multiple references to Bailey’s burial under the oak by the “flag pond.” Eventually, thanks to Flag Pond, Tennessee, I figured out the “flags” aren’t national symbols, but wild iris. Lo and behold, the flag pond still shows up on Google maps, in the middle of the Bar X Ranch subdivision, south of TX35 and only slightly east of Nash Prairie. I found these this spring, before I knew they were flags. I foresee another road trip.

      Those are interesting details about the naming of both the Brazos and Brazoria. And as soon as you mentioned arms, I remembered the phrase, “un abrazo”. I’m sure I first heard that from Lisa Brunetti (zeebra).

      Of the explanations offered for Brazos de Dios, I’m voting for the ship that followed the muddy streak in the Gulf back to the mouth of the river. It’s certainly plausible. When conditions are right (settled weather, then heavy rain inland after drought or dry weather), the contrast between the Gulf and river waters can be remarkable, and it’s easy to see river flow well offshore.

      Linda

      1. That’s a nice picture of the wild iris kind of flag. (I did know about the word flag, and I’d looked it up to see if there’s any connection to the more familiar kind of flag: there isn’t.) I remember seeing some in the Big Thicket the one time I was there, in around 2001.

        I can see how your nautical experience would lead you to favor the explanation that you do for the naming of the Brazos. And yes, there’s the Spanish word abrazo, which is a cognate of the embrace that English borrowed from French; brazo itself corresponds to English brace.

        Too bad there’s no reported botanical Brazoria in Brazoria County. I’m grateful for having gotten to see both of the species that grow in central Texas, which are the only two in the genus.

    1. Thanks, Jim. One of the historians I’ve enjoyed reading — a barber in Council Grove, Kansas — has this to say about history and its stories.

      “A historian is nothing more than a great jigsaw puzzle enthusiast. What I mean by that is every person in our community is given a puzzle piece. Some people lose theirs, others give theirs away or collect more, some move away and take their piece with them, and some die and are buried with their puzzle piece so that no one can have it.

      The historian is the one who tries to get as many puzzle pieces from as many people [as possible] and then fit the ones together that he can, always striving to see what the bigger picture is. No matter how much time and research is spent, the historian will never complete the picture; there will always be missing pieces that leave it to the imagination to fill in the voids.”

      That seems to put it pretty well. One thing leads to another, as they say, and it’s all a lot of fun.

      Linda

  3. Linda:

    I enjoyed the whole history, but specially the last two paragraphs that were just about as close as you can get to a poem about nature.

    “Texas had become a Republic, and word of the opportunities to be had there was spreading, particularly among the Germans.”

    This is the first time I’ve read about the German presence during the early days of Texas. Great post for history buffs and literary followers.

    Keep them coming!

    Omar.-

    1. Omar, the German presence here still is strong.

      That means Oktoberfest, of course, and a lot of German names. But it also means Lutheran churches offering services in German, German holiday traditions and restaurants with names like “Oma’s Haus.” Some of it’s kitsch, just as it is for the Czechs, Poles, and Italians who settled here. But there’s a real pride in the heritage, and a strong sense of having been an important part of building a state.

      You might enjoy having a look at this site maintained by the German Texan Heritage Society.

      Sometimes we can get tricked into thinking “history” has to do only with people. But all of those people lived in a physical world, and the land around them shaped their experiences. That’s one reason I ended the piece as I did. I think Old Man Bailey loved the land, and I like to imagine him out and about, enjoying what it has to offer.

      Linda

      1. Linda,

        Thank you for the link. When I lived in Costa Rica, I met several persons from Germany and tried to speak a few German words. It’s a very difficult language to speak due to its guttural pronunciation. I prefer English.

        Recently I read a biography on LBJ, and there were several stories of events held in Texas with German communities. It was a very nice narration of German communities with a strong bond with their mother country.

        Your blog post reminded me of this German tradition.

        Every day we learn new interesting things.

        Regards,

        Omar.-.

  4. I recall reading (or hearing) once that when Texas had a referendum to determine what the official language of the new republic would be, English prevailed but the margin of victory was very narrow. The runner-up was not Spanish, but German.

    I don’t know if that is true or not, but the German roots of much of old Texas history is probably not widely known. It’s also interesting that some of the best barbecue in Texas (the best, some insist) comes from a place named Kruez Market, now owned by the Schmidt family.

    1. Bill, I don’t know about that language business, but it makes perfect sense to me that German would be the runner-up. There’s still a lot of German spoken in the state, including around a few dinner tables.

      As for barbecue — oh, do I have a treat for you! Have a listen to Clover and Rachel Carroll sing out the virtues of the quintessential Texas dish, from their “Texas Routes” CD. I tried to embed a player, but I’m not sure you can do it in the comments. That’s ok – the link works now.

      If you listen quick, you’ll hear them include Kruez Market in the list. Lockhart, Texas, and a fine place it is.

      Bar-Be-Que

  5. Neat bit of history. I am just thinking about how our country was founded on thousands of individual stories just like this one, and like Ezra Meeker, etc.

    If only we could peek under the lid of history and see all those untold stories, most are probably undocumented. Each person, each settler had their own particular portion of history that made up the sum of the whole. Now that would be a research project I could sink my teeth into. You also, I bet.

    1. Homestead Ramblings, that’s exactly the point I was making to Jim, up above, using the example of the jigsaw puzzle.Everyone starts out with a piece of the puzzle, but the trick is to get them all to bring their pieces to the table. Only then does the big picture start to emerge.

      Of course, it can work the other way, too. If people begin hiding their pieces, throwing them away, or refusing to come to the table where the puzzle’s being assembled, it’s a little hard to figure out what the picture might be.

      In a sense, the kind of project you propose is exactly what James Creighton did with his “Narrative History of Brazoria County,” and what so many historians have done with their little piece of the world. But my goodness – Creighton’s book is roughly 500 pages!
      When I think about the number of sources I used for this post, I can only imagine what his job was like. And yet, it’s down in those detail-filled trenches where the most interesting tidbits are found. That’s true even for our own stories, and probably part of the reason genealogy’s so popular.

      But, yes. It is the sort of thing that I’d be pleased to do even more of. My problem is I tend to flit around a bit — there’s just so much of interest.

      Linda

  6. Well, I never made it to Fredericksburg, but now you’ve whetted my desire to go. What a fascinating story you’ve told, Linda! I just find it amazing that anybody could set up parameters on the kind of person who would be allowed into a settler’s area. That sort of restriction wouldn’t fly today, would it?!

    So Mr. Bailey was laid to rest vertically? Hmm, words fail me. I wonder if anybody ever considered cremation? Takes up lots less room.

    The fog in that photo really lends itself to the proliferation of ghost stories. And a character like Mr. Bailey seems like a good candidate for a ghost!

    Thanks for an interesting, well-told tale.

    1. I don’t know, Debbie. Anyone who’s come up against a really militant homeowners’ association or tried to get an elderly relative into assisted living probably has dealt with restrictions more profound than anything Austin could imagine. And you know, when I look at that list of desirable qualities, I’d certainly be willing to sign on.

      Of course, that list was as much for Mexican consumption as for the settlers. Brit Bailey wasn’t exactly a perfect match, but he got in. And there were plenty of Protestant prayers being said by nominal Catholics. My guess is the most important requirement was a willingness to work hard, and the second might have been the presence of a family.

      Something else just occurred to me. Since Austin was limited to three hundred families, he had the luxury of chosing the best. No participation trophies in Austin’s Colony!

      The area around Brazoria can be pretty spooky even without the history and the tales. There are lots of huge oaks covered with Spanish moss, plenty of fog and strange noises all around. Most people think they’re hearing owls and coyotes, but who knows?

      Linda

  7. Laughed at the last entry on Austin’s good qualities: no real-estate speculators. If ever there was a bane in the west…

    Also, I always love a good ghost story. I would have been right there with you, Linda– moving on when the light approached. :) Curt

    1. Curt, there was one of those speculators on my mother’s side. Actually, he was less a speculator than a flim-flam man. He did his damage over in Louisiana, enticing Iowa farmers to leave their six-foot loam and come down to where the farming was really good. Uh-huh.

      I was working on this post while I was reading yours about Area 51. Truth to tell, a good ghost and a few ETs have a lot in common. Their ancestors include the headless horseman, Bloody Mary and those ghost riders in the sky. They’re all attraction/avoidance conflicts writ large – with a little shiver, just to make them more interesting.

      Linda

  8. You’ve seen the ghost! We used to talk about it in high school and college, but never saw it…..probably bailey recognized a soul worth talkin’ to?

    There is some reason to be proud of that treaty. Our land grant family talked of living in peace and respect with local tribes – not the migrating ones, though. Some stories about those frights.

    Had to laugh about the riff raff – so true – during the runaway scrape one woman ancestor (Anderson) wrote about the wagons of “fancy women” and the worrisome men that were hanging around instead of being honorable and going to fight.
    Love your stories!

    1. Well, Phil, at the very least I’ve seen the light that some people have told me was the ghost of Old Man Bailey. In the face of such experiences, I usually think of Hamlet’s words: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I do wonder what Brit thinks of his flag pond being the centerpiece of a ritzy subdivision. At least the Bar X folks seem to have a taste for history. It’s wonderful that they’ve included this narrative on their site.

      Your mention of fancy women reminds me of Sarah Bowman. If you haven’t read Don Blevins’ book, “A Priest, A Prostitute, and Other Early Texans,” I think you’d enjoy it. It’s an easy read, but a great introduction to some people I’d certainly never heard of, including the “Wild Man of the Navidad.”

      Now that I know where the flag pond is, we ought to combine a trip down there with a pass by Froberg’s one day. Day, not night.

      Linda

      1. So many old family cemeteries have disappeared. Developers won’t tell. There was a small old early homestead one in the middle of the subdivision next to our last one( formerly a ranch…we had cows over the fence for a long time). And during our ride, I’ll tell you some stories about the buried children who apparently were scared and unhappy with the neighborhood….day trip for sure….how far is Marfa?

  9. Well, it’s a grand story, isn’t it? I love the bit about Brit wanting to be buried standing up–and is it possible I’ve read that here in some previous context? No, wait, I think it was another blog, some other fellow who wanted an improper burial, for much the same reason. I don’t think I can trace it, but perhaps it will come to me in the middle of the night, who knows!

    (Now, speaking of Texas and its ghosts, you may be amused to know that one of the commenters over my way on the issue of Liszt, Kyle Gann, now a professor at Bard, was born in Dallas.)

    1. I don’t know if this is what you saw, Susan, but believe me, the thought of including the story of this fellow who was buried astride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle certainly crossed my mind.

      I decided against it, of course, despite its obvious relevance to the “quirky burials” thread, but it did cross my mind to wonder if Billy Standley ever had heard of Brit Bailey.

      Oh, our Texans are everywhere. I did once hear it said that, for every Texan who leaves, a new Texan arrives. Balance of nature, or something like that. It does amuse me to think that you might be suggesting that the ghost of Kyle Gann is lurking around the Dallas Conservatory or some such!

      Linda

      1. Oh, that’s a good one, too! I am pretty sure now that I read of another insistent on being buried standing up on David Nice’s blog–there was a statue of him in a church. But it’s quite possible I dreamt it. Funny how people think about such things, isn’t it?

  10. Linda, you are a marvel at exploring the quirky by-ways of USA history! I just loved Brit Bailey who reminded me in a lower-key way of my own father – a hell-raising Hebridean Scot of Irish, Welsh and English ancestry through his father’s side – whisky lover, great public servant, notorious poacher and very scary parent…stories abound of my late Dad and his at times outrageous behaviour. I should have collected them years ago…

    And of course, the ghost story. Right up my street. Can’t recall – did I ever send you a copy of the book exploring my own paranormal experiences? There’s a ghost story in there. Never did believe in ghosts – until I saw one for myself..

    1. Anne, it makes me smile to think how well the phrase “wisps from the dazzling darkness” describes the fog in Brit Bailey’s territory. When you first posted about the book on your blog, I mentioned that I was interested, but was going to put off reading it until after I wrote about my own “unusual experience.” Now I’ve done that, and although the post took more of a historical turn, I think It helps to explain why Brit might be out there roaming.

      Isn’t it strange how often life truly is “lived forward, understood backwards”? I had my own experience of regret while writing this post. Years ago, I visited the Fisher Ranch outside Kerrville, Texas. It was a beautiful place, and the owners, Felix Fisher and his wife, Ella Real Fisher, were absolutely delightful.

      Now, I understand. That ranch was part of the original Fisher-Miller grant, and I was in the presence of living Texas history. I knew none of this history at the time. Ella and I chatted about my grandmother, also named Ella, and Felix tipped his hat and smiled. We drank sweet tea, and toured the property, and I heard tales of the Tejas Vaqueros trail rides that took place there. What I wouldn’t give to go back now, and visit with them again.

      But they’re gone, and all I can do is drive Felix Fisher Road. I wonder how many more missed opportunities I’ve had, without even realizing it? We need to pay attention!

      Linda

      1. My maternal great-grandmother Eleanor died in 1943. I (the first great-grandchild) was born 1944, August. This was in North Carolina.

        1. You should ask Bill about “Eleanor”. I’ll bet he’s given the same name to either a chicken or a goat, given his propensity for naming his critters after singers and songs. You know: “Eleanor Rigby.”

  11. This story and bit of history should be in every single school in Texas. I’m telling you, write the book! You have so many Texas stories that are alive with history that even if you just use those, you’ve got it. Nailed. And if you don’t do the book, at least market pieces like this to newspapers (do they still have those in your area? We have something that calls itself that, but it’s really not…) SOMEWHERE! It is simply too good, too well written, too intriguing, too fact-filled to not get beyond the blog. Even though you have tons of involved readers.

    I will consider stepping down from my soapbox now.

    1. One thing I’m sure of, Jeanie — that Texas schoolkids at least have the chance to know about all of this. Whether they make use of the opportunity’s an open question, but that’s always been true. At any rate, the last I knew, Texas history still was in the schools, and of course much of this gets passed on just in the course of conversation and family story-telling around the table.

      Love that you “considered” stepping down from your soapbox. That’s funny. I think you ought to turn that soapbox into one of your wonderful projects. Can’t you just imagine a fancy, ephemera-decorated soapbox? I can.

      As for The Book, all I can do right now is offer this, from Mary Oliver:

      “There are things you can’t reach. But
      you can reach out to them, and all day long.

      The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

      And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

      The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
      out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
      from the unreachable top of the tree.

      I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.”

      Linda

  12. Linda, I have driven around the Flag Pond a number of times… Lots of luck looking for the remains of an old oak around there. If there is one thing the Bar X has plenty of it’s large old oaks and whitetail deer.

    And take a good map…Those streets down there, without landmarks, can confuse you in a hurry. As Dan’l Boone once (reportedly) said… I have never been lost, but I was mighty confused trying to leave the Bar X a number of times…

    While you are there check out the old sugar works remains…You might want to check out The History Of The Bar X.

    1. Gary, I was told precisely the same thing by one of the women at the Museum in West Columbia. She said she never, ever goes into the Bar X unless her husband’s driving. She said she spent two hours trying to get out of that place one afternoon.

      I saw some photos of the sugar work remnants on the Bar X site. And I was surprised at the number of big, rusted “bowls” sitting around the area, like in front of the replica of the old Capitol in West Columbia and in a couple of yards in East Columbia. Neat that they were part of the cane processing, too.

      That’s a great history you linked. It’s in my files now, for a few more reads. There’s entirely too much to absorb in one — or even a half-dozen — sittings.

      Linda

      1. What I found so interesting in the History was all of the maps of the different iterations of the plantation over the years. That and the fact that the Brit Bailey homestead wasn’t in the Jas B Bailey grant across the road…

  13. Linda,
    “Degraded riff-raff” I’ll use that one soon. I should hang a copy of the “rules and regulations” for settlers in my kitchen. Great story and fun to read. What characters!

    1. Those old-timers had a way with words, didn’t they, Bella? I can imagine that list of regs turned into a really cool needlework piece – maybe a sampler, in the old style.

      As for the rules themselves, H clearly would make the cut solely on the basis of not being an idler. But you might want to reconsider that bit about real-estate speculators. There might be a useful one roaming around.

      Glad you enjoyed the tale!

      Linda

  14. I often wonder how land ownership was settled centuries ago, when communication was slow and the broad territory was sparsely populated. Multiple claims must have been frequent, and surely led to violence. And, of course, there was always the degraded riff-raff.

    These ghost stories intrigue me, as well. Someday, when I’m unimaginably wealthy, I’m going to spend a good deal of my time traveling around, investigating haunted houses and fields. I’d like to meet Brit Bailey. I just hope he can wait that long.

    I love that image of the hawks rising above the clouds, and the graves settling more deeply into the earth. Your writing makes me forget I’m reading.

    1. Little by little, I’m learning more about claims and settlement, Charles. One of the most interesting instances of mass claims was the Cherokee Strip land run in Oklahoma. The first couple of paragraphs and the link they contain are pretty interesting.

      My impression is that conflicts that were part of the so-called range wars were more common than actual land disputes, but I’m not broadly enough read to know for sure. What is true is that, even using physical chains, the surveyors were amazingly accurate, and communication was dependable, if slow.

      I think you and Brit would get along just fine. I’ve never been particularly interested in ghosts, but I’m told there are several roaming houses in Galveston and other areas of Brazoria County. You might have a few in your neighborhood, too….

      I’m glad to know you like those images. It can be tempting to see the world as stationary, if not stagnant, but it certainly isn’t. Growth and decay, flight and rest are part of all our rhythms.

      Linda

  15. Now that’s really some story telling, Linda, and as already mentioned, it’s a wonderful piece of writing. Those two images of Bailey are such a contrast that it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. I love that list of requirements for settlers.

    1. Those two images are interesting for another reason, Andrew. One’s a photo, and one’s a drawing — which leaves room for all the interpretive powers available to an artist. Where we often see that today is in political cartooning. The photos of famous people are readily available, and it makes it pretty easy to see how the cartoonist emphasizes one feature or the other to make a point.

      It’s a great list, isn’t it? It makes the Mexican concerns fairly obvious (no military, government people, land speculators, but Catholic faith) and yet it’s just as contemporary as can be. What did tickle me was “no profane swearers.” I suppose that means not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Ordinary swearing? OK!

      Linda

  16. Linda, I think you have the best “handle” on Texas history that I’ve read thus far. You make it all so interesting and with a bit of imagination one can be in the midst of all those places of ghosts past.

    Baily for sure must have been a hell raiser and formidable to his counterparts. He loved his booze and perhaps being one or two sheets in the wind made him very bold and functional.

    Texas really did have its share of German immigrants and my grandfather was a latter one coming to the Riesel area where there were many Germans. I grew up just outside that small mostly German town. Now days there are people of a wide assortment of heritages but back in my day almost everyone was of German decent.

    This is a great write-up as usual.

    ~yvonne

    1. Yvonne, I went over to the “Handbook of Texas Online” and read about Riesel. This single sentence made me smile: “The town paper, the Riesel Breeze, was founded in 1896 and later was renamed the Riesel Rustler.” I suspect there’s some history behind that change, and probably a few good stories, too.

      One thing about Bailey seems clear. However much he enjoyed whiskey and fighting, he was capable, hard-working and courageous. I suppose a taste for fighting made him the good militia member that he was — he fought at Velasco and the Battle of Jones Creek. It’s too bad he didn’t live long enough to see Texas win her independence. He would have liked that, too.

      I’m so glad you enjoy my little “Texas pieces.” There’s been so much written about Brit Bailey, but much of it focuses on the “ghostly” aspects of it all. His life history’s fully as interesting, and I think tells us a good bit about how much room there was on the frontier for true eccentrics. I suspect Brit would find us unacceptably sheep-like and boring.

      Linda

      1. Gee Linda, you provided me with info about the Riesel paper that I did not know. That little paper is still being printed on a weekly basis. I’m not sure how it has survived all these years. Riesel is one of the few original and mostly German towns that has no real beauty. No big or beautiful homes. Nothing of interest. I’ve always wondered why.

        I’m sure you’re correct about Bailey. I have a cat I named Bailey but he is a sweetheart and not a s scrapper. He is a cat that comes with a history though- part of it I know and the rest I can only imagine..

        1. That’s the way it is with cats, Yvonne. Even when we think we know all of their history, there’s a good bit we can only imagine.

          In like manner, even when we think a town is bland and uninteresting, there’s always something lying about, waiting to be discovered. I once knew a farmer down by Lavaca Bay who turned up a Spanish anchor while he was plowing. Don’t you know that caused a stir? It wasn’t all that many years later that archaeologists found La Salle’s ship, the Belle, in Matagorda Bay. There are great stories, everywhere.

          1. Interesting. Not meaning to keep you going here, I’ll add this one last idea. Maybe you could do a post about the finds in some of the places that you kmow about. I had no idea that La Salle’s ship was found. We have a street in my town named LaSalle.

    1. Claudia! Great to see you.

      It’s a fact — some things in life are better imagined than thrown up on YouTube. Even a selfie might be a little more than I want to deal with.

      I went through all of my books, and I couldn’t find anything more than “North Carolina” either. I did find his father’s name — Kenneth Bailey — but no location. It may be that he wasn’t born in a town but on a farm, and nothing more was entered. In any event, I’m surely glad he finally made it to Texas and left so many interesting tales in his wake!

      Linda

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Elaine. For all the jokes people make about Texas, it’s got wonderful people and a fascinating history. It’s been fun learning about it and sharing some of it.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  17. This is the type of story that makes reading and learning about history fun. It’s so much different from those days in school, memorizing names and dates.

    Texas sure sounds like a rowdy place in the early years, full of quirky, eccentric characters, as well as the solid citizens.

    Charleston had it’s share of them, too, but I think TX has us beat! lol

    1. Gué, there’s no question I’ve learned more history since I began blogging than I ever did in school. The only thing I’ve been absolutely sure of (apart from American history) is the Battle of Hastings. How that stuck for decades, I haven’t a clue.

      The strange thing is, I remember more names and dates now, as I’m learning them in the context of wonderful stories. History teachers, heads up!

      I think the whole frontier was a little rowdy, back in the day. The stories from Kansas and Oklahoma certainly are interesting, and Missouri, too. Even in Iowa, there were some strange happenings and some quirky folks – a few of them in my family!

      One thing that really interests me is why so many early Texans seem to have come from North Carolina, and relatively few from South Carolina. It could be that my perceptions are “off”, just because I haven’t read about them. But it seems those North Carolinians were always on the move.

      Linda

        1. Love it! especially the line in the article that quoted the bumper sticker — “Texas Started Here.” Most Texans I know feel pretty kindly toward Tennessee. We’re going to have to get SC more publicity.

  18. Next to Gabriel Garcia Marques, your opening line is one of the best I’ve ever read! kudos!! Found your blog through your comment on Call of the Siren. I’ve lived in Texas often – my best years in the early 70s when politics were …. well, fun.

    1. That’s an awfully kind comment, Janet, but I suspect the only real connection is the mention of cholera! Still, thank you very much.

      I got to Texas for the first time in 1972. Fun barely describes it. The roll call of the names still resonates: Barbara Jordan, Sissy Farenthold, Molly Ivins (although she didn’t really kick it up a notch until the late ’70s and ’80s, as I recall.) And I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys let loose with “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven…” Good times.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. You’re always welcome, although there’s no telling what will be going on here. This or that catches my curiosity, and off I go.

      Linda

      1. And Sarah Weddington. Also. I went to the first women’s convention in a hundred years at the Rice Hotel in Houston. Funny story. I signed up for a workshop on “Sexual Freedom” and while I was a young married, I was all for sexual freedom. Turned out to be a group of gay women. Well. Surprise Surprise!! But we had a great time together and ya know what, they were just women too. Great experience. And of course all the heavy-weights were there.

        So the first time I saw Willie Nelson was in Austin. And then a few years later, worked on Honeysuckle Rose and at the end of a bar scene where I was one of the many women ogling him, I walked outside and Willie kissed me. No doubt I was flirting from wherever I was on the floor. My young friend Jessica loves the story and says I should get a button saying I Got Kissed By Willie Nelson! I could probably make several….

        Yep. Good times….

  19. Loved this post. Thanks for writing about your ghost encounter. My mother loved Texas history. As a teenager I didn’t share her enthusiasm until I moved to West Columbia and became a master naturalist and started to make the connection between the land and the people.

    Tomorrow evening we will be out on the Nash Prairie, hoping to see fireflies and maybe a ghost are two. Not Brit but maybe the dogs that supposedly have been seen near the place where Santana Anna was chained just down the road from the Nash. So many good stories. Susan

    1. I hope you saw your fireflies, Susan. I had hoped to find a way to come along, but now that the heat has arrived, I tend to work early and late, and 6-7 p.m. is prime working time. I may make a run out to Nash this weekend. I noticed your mention that the rattlesnake master is blooming, and I’d love to see that.

      I got a copy of the little booklet about all the plantations, too, so now I have a sense of where Santa Anna was held. And I found this page about the Orozimbo Oak. So interesting!

      Land and people — so hard for so many people to understand, these days. But it’s so important, and so interesting. Thanks for adding to my store of knowledge!

      Linda

    1. I think the world is like your garden, nikkipolani. I could look and look, and just when I thought I’d seen everything worth noticing, there would be something new, and off I’d go again!

      And aren’t the oddities fun? I picked some fresh tomatoes last week. There were so many varieties, and so many tomatoes, I decided to pick the strange ones. It was like a tomato Rorschach test all week long, as I sliced them up and laughed at what I saw in their shapes.

      Linda

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