Vanished from Victoria: Old river crossings

Dec. 31, 2011 at 6:31 a.m.

We cannot but have a great deal of admiration for the earliest explorers and settlers who traveled across our great state.

Spanish records contain accounts of soldiers who lost their lives attempting to cross rivers.

Many died of exposure during the winter months, struggling to get across flooded rivers, creek, and streams.

Spanish entrada records reveal that crude boats or rafts were made on the riverbanks. At times, simple bridges were constructed. These proved to be less than temporary.

Often times soldiers would swim across with a rope clamped in their teeth or looped around their waists. If you were very patient, you could sit and wait until high water subsided, or else you could travel far enough north to skirt around the flooding.

Priests were a permanent fixture on these entradas. River crossings were usually preceded by a priest saying Mass.

Crossing rivers was scary.

Often a successful crossing was followed by another Mass. "Whew! We made it!"

As land in the Coastal Bend approaches the bay, the terrain gets really flat, flood waters spread out and move much more slowly. You may recall that the Guadalupe River was several miles wide at Cuero during the 1998 flood.

Thousands of years ago large animals were the first to make use of these crossings - no swimming required. Native Americans learned from the wildlife and, in turn, led Spanish explorers to these spots. We know that Capt. Alonzo De Leon crossed the Guadalupe River somewhere in the vicinity of the Moody Street Bridge in 1690.

We read in the survey notes of Ed Linn (brother of Juan) that, in Riverside Park, there was a ford and watering hole at the tip of Grover's Bend.

More recently, Dr. Peter Riesz tells of the annual "bird count" at year's end. Crouched in the brush on Grover's Bend, he watched deer wade across at the old ford. Below the rose garden in Riverside Park and about 300 yards south of the boat ramp was one of two "Governor's Passes" across the Guadalupe. There was a natural ford where Mission Creek empties into the Guadalupe River.

Large flat stones across the river bed there were erroneously thought to have been put there by Spaniards. Geologists tell us that there are immeasurable shelves of rocks buried beneath the surface of our land. Water erodes the land down to these ledges.

Two historic fords are associated with the third location of the Presidio La Bahia, six miles above Victoria, and the Mission Espiritu Santo, two miles farther upstream.

The Mission Creek ford was noted on the 1780 Puellas map as Vado del Presidio Viejo.

Another natural rock crossing occurs where the old Camino Real crosses Willow Creek on the Cliburn property on U.S. Highway 77 North.

Huge boulders sticking out of the prairie here were markers for Spanish travelers, we are told by Victor Marion Rose, who wrote the first history of Victoria County in 1883. These boulders are impressive to behold, not only because of their size - one has a circumference of 53 feet - but also because you don't see a lot of boulders in Victoria County.

In 1727, Gen. Pedro Rivera mentioned the Tio Benitez ford, about four miles south of Cuero. This was once part of Victoria County.

One wonders who Tio Benitez was, and what he was doing out in the middle of nowhere prior to 1727.

Road maps, or better yet, Google Earth, reveal a stretch of the Guadalupe River which closely resembles a duck's head, which looks toward Cuero.

Bob Shook applied the reference to the duck, and he is right on target. Look for yourself.

On the northeast side of Victoria County one can actually drive across one of the old vados.

North of Inez, off Farm-to-Market Road 444 and the J2 Ranch Road is Bischoff Road. This divides the old Bischoff Cemetery and crosses Arenosa Creek at that point. There is a small concrete bridge to accommodate traffic.

The list of old vados/fords is lengthy. The 1780 Puellas map documents 20 vados from the bay to the headwaters of the Guadalupe River in the Hill Country. This map is a fine piece of work, and we have the late Jack Jackson to thank for our copy.

Few people, except historians, mention old river crossings or fords. In the Hill Country near the headwaters of the north and south forks of the Guadalupe River you will encounter numerous "low water crossings" today. Native Americans have known about all of these and all the old fords for centuries.

And I daresay some of the "old timers" in these parts can point out a few more.

Vanished from Victoria is contributed by Victoria Preservation Inc.



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