“To the eye Milam County presented the appearance of a vast stretch of undulating country, threaded at intervals by clear streams of running water and divided almost equally between the timberland and prairie. All kinds of game such as buffalo, deer, antelope, bear, wild hogs, and turkeys were there in abundance, while the climate was ideally perfect. It was the hunters’ home, the pioneers’ paradise, and the poet’s dream of breathing beauty."(1)
Such were the words of W. W. Oxsheer in his story of his life to the author of the Lone Star State. The inhabitants, he states, were a little rude at times but possessed such qualities as honesty, bravery, generosity, steadfastness in purpose and friendship, as well as being very hospitable.
In this section it is the purpose of the writer to present Milam County as it appeared to the explorer, early Spanish settlers or to early Spanish travelers, and to give a somewhat extended account of the natural resources which attracted settlers from the North and East. Obviously the development of schools in a new country must await the coming of settlers interested in establishing permanent homes. And the coming of settlers depends in turn upon the potential wealth nature has deposited in a given area.
Milam County is located in the east-central part of Texas. Its boundary line is irregular and its shape is almost rectangular. Its longest sides, which are almost parallel, are from 30 to 35 miles in length and extend in a northeast-northwest direction. On the short northeast side it is bordered by the Brazos River and on the west by a northwest-southwest line and two shorter lines of different bearings. A line drawn diagonally across the county connecting its corners farthest apart would measure about 50 miles. Its land area is 1,122 square miles, about the size of the state of Rhode Island. Its present population (1938) is about 37,915.
The elevation of the county varies from 300 to 500 feet above sea level. The general slope is to the southeast while the highest points are along the western and northern borders where the elevations are a little more than 500 feet above sea level, notably at Buckholts, Davilla, Lilac, and Thorndale, and at the extreme southwest corner of the county.
The elevation at Cameron is about 400 feet and at Fort Sullivan nearly 300 feet above sea level. The elevation on Little River where it enters the county in the Northwest corner is about 400 feet and where it joins the Brazos River in the East the elevation is about 275 feet. The lowest elevation in the county, about 250 feet, is a point where the Brazos River leaves the county at the southeast corner.
The surface of Milam County is predominatly rolling or gently rolling, though small areas of rough land and some good-sized areas of flat land occur. The bleak-prairie region comprises about two-fifths of the entire county. It begins in the northeast corner about 3 miles west of the Brazos River and extends in an irregular southwesterly direction, just south of Thorndale on the western border.
This region is a rolling prairie and is separated by numerous shallow valleys. The uncultivated portions contain scrubby scattered growths of small mesquite trees and thorny shrubs.
The remainder of the county is in the east Texas timber belt. This is a gently rolling region and in its uncleared area covered with rather heavy forest growths, mainly of oak trees. Along the Brazos, Little, and San Gabriel Rivers there are broad flat river bottoms, also some rather wide strips of creek bottom lands in various places. These lands in their virgin state or covered with heavy growths of elm, hackberry, ash, pecan, and other trees.
In the southeastern part of the county are a few small, rounded, stony hills extending from a point near the county line south of Rockdale in a northeasterly direction. These hills form a semi-circle, passing near Milano and thence just north of Gause. The most prominent of these is Sugar Loaf Mountain, located a few miles north of Gause.
From the higher hills and promontories there are noteworthy views of the surrounding valleys. Unique among these is the ever delightful view from Sugar Loaf Mountains.
In the northeastern part of the country, just west of the Brazos River, are some very interesting ravines. These ravines are typical, in clear coloring and general characteristics, of the canyons in the west and southwest portions of the United States. There are other ravines of lesser magnitude along Elm Creek in the vicinity of Waco Crossing.
Milam County lies within the coastal plain and is in the humid region. The soils are composed of 32 varieties and range from a black waxy to a sand loam. The former is found in the black prairie region and is a part of the belt of black land country extending from the Red River southwestward nearly to the Rio Grande. The color of this soil is black as the name indicates; and the most important productive of these black prairie lands are known as Houston Soils. These soils are suited to the production of cotton, corn, forage crops, small grains, alfalfa, and sweetclover; however, cotton is grown almost exclusively. This region is underlain by a calcerone deposit and the soils have been formed from calcerous clays and marls. The area of this black land covers about two-fifths of the county.
The remaining three-fifths of the county contains what are known as noncalcerous soils. These are light in color and are more or less sandy, and are found in the east Texas timber belt, extending over a large part of Texas east of Milam County. There are many kinds of sandy loam and they are adapted to various kinds of crops. The Milam fine sandy loam is especially suited in the growth of vegetables, fruits, berries, and grapes, and, in a lesser degree, to cotton, corn, and grain crops. The Wilson soils are better suited to cotton and grain crops, as are also the Bell and Trinity Clays. Nearly all of them produce both kinds of crops if properly managed. In fact, only a very small percentage of the land in the county is entirely unsuited to farming.
Occasional overflows cover the Little River bottoms. This is especially true of the extensive area known as the Trinity clay soil. This soil occurs chiefly in the northern part of the county in long, narrow strips of bottom land, varying in width from one-fourth of a mile to as much as one mile. The largest areas lie along Walker, Pond and Little Pond Creeks, and somewhat smaller areas are found along Elm, South Elm, and Alligator Creeks in the southwestern part of the county.
Alluvial soils cover all along the north banks of Little River. The recent-alluvial soils belong to the two general groups: (1) Those soils consisting of very recently deposited alluvium, occupying the present flood plains along from streams and from overflows, receiving from time to time additional accumulations of sediments from overflow waters; and (2) Old-alluvial soils which lie on high stream terraces and remnants of very old stream deposits which lie on some of the highest uplands as a thin veneer spread over the older formations. The recent-alluvial soils of the present flood plains comprise dark calcerous soils composed of sediments washed partly from limy uplands.
The older alliuvial soils of the terraces and old stream deposits which lie above present overflow and resultant sedimentations consist of sandy and clayey deposits which are of sufficient age to have developed characteristics resembling those of the soils on the older formations. These soils comprise dark calcerous and non-calcerous soils, underlain by calcerous clays which lie over limy beds of gravel. The parent material of these sandy soils has probably been washed from areas of sandy soils lying near the headwaters of Little River. The old stream terraces range from a few feet to 150 feet above the bordering flood plains of streams. Some isolated remnants are far from any present stream way. Such ancient terrace remnants occur on the high divides, the highest of which is between Cameron and Buckholts and in the vicinity of the Friendship school. In such places the soils are underlain by beds of gravel resting on marl.The gravel consists largely of chert which has washed from formations further west.
PHOTO - Scene in Milam County
These alluvial soils furnish Milam County with an almost inexhaustible supply of fine gravel. At a depth of between 5 and 50 feet below the surface there are beds of sanded and rounded small gravel of chert, quartzite, and quarts, and in places some rounded limestone gravel and shells in association with the other gravel. The gravel ranges from fine to small, but in some soils it is as large as 2 or 3 inches in diameter. Some layers of the gravel 2 or 3 feet thick are cemented into a concrete of conglomerate. On some slopes the gravel beds lie near the surface and crops out in spots. In some places gravel beds constitute as much as 60 to 80 per cent of the soil.
Statistical figures over a period of ten years show an average rainfall of 36 inches. The rainy season sets in during the late winter with the heaviest rainfall during the months of March, April, and May. The drought period occurs during the months of July, August, and Sept-ember and sometimes causes great damage to the crops if the preceding winter months have not been sufficiently rainy to enable the soils to store adequate moisture.
Milam County has a mild and healthful climate. The summers are long and sometimes quite hot, but the cool southerly breezes afford a distinct relief. The winters are short and mild, with, however, occasional freezing temperatures. These cold spells, called northers, come suddenly and are accompanied by heavy north winds and sometimes cold rains. They last only a few days. The lowest temperature occurs during the month of January and February.
During the summer months there are occasional hail-storms which damage the crops to some extent. Heavy windstorms are very infrequent. On an average the first killing frost occurs on November 16, and the last on March 13. This gives an average frost-free season of 248 days.
Oil sands constitute a considerable area in the vicinity of Minerva. Designated as “Minerva Green Sand Markers” these sands extend in a southwesterly direction to Rockdale. Oil is found at a depth of from 100 to 1100 feet. Oil is also found at Tracy at a shallow depth of from 120 to 320 feet, but this oil is not commercialized.Tracy and Rockdale are about equidistant from Minerva but Tracy lies in a northerly direction from Minerva and just due north from Rockdale.
Lignite coal beds are found near Rockdale and south and east of the city. These are extensive in nature.
The watershed of Milam County occurs at Rockdale. The upheaving of the earth’s surface at this point forces the tributaries of Little River to flow in an opposite direction from that of the mother stream. This is caused by a geological fault which occurs in the northwest section along Little River. At Buckholts there has been considerable shifting of buildings due to this faulting of the earth’s surface. It is not known whether this fault has any connection with the immense Balcones Fault which crosses Little River just west of the county.
Milam County is notably rich in its varied flora and fauna, embracing, as it does, many Mexican varieties. Wild flowers are numerous and begin to bloom quite early in the Spring. Among the first to appear are the Texas Bluebonnet, Indian ‘paint brush’, several pecies of the family ceryopsis and calyopsis. Other varieties include the primrose, windflower, anemones, phlex, daisy, aster, Queen Anne’s lace, white thistle, and grass flower. To-wards the end of the summer the lovely standing cypress is seen frequently in wooded areas and in early fall the colorful goldenrod. This latter variety is found in patches in scattered areas and many people like to drive to these places to enjoy their beauty. This is also particularly true of the Texas bluebonnet and dog-wood blossoms.
In the river valleys there are groves of trees consisting principally of pecan, cypress, cottonwood, and several species of oak. In the timber country the common varieties are elm, blackjack, walnut, hickory nut, mulberry, bois d’arc, eucalyptus, juniper and low growths of mesquite. Willow trees and Dogwood line the springs and among the shrubs are button willow, chaparral, sea cane, accaccia, bird of paradise, persimmons, sumac, coral berry, yucca, huisache and youpon; also seven varieties of sensitive plants.
Wild dewberries and blackberries are plentiful all over the county. In many places these grow by the roadside along the fences. Wild huckleberries are also found in some places.
The most common variety of animals include the coyote or prairie wolf, the grey wolf, jack rabbit, several species of fox, cottontail rabbit, raccoon, o’possum, wildcat, and armadillo. A few skunks and minks are found in the swampy lands.
The mocking-bird is the principal song bird and it and the lark-sparrow are common in the county. The scissor-tailed fly catcher, Texas bird of paradise, is common on the prairies and in the lightly wooded districts. The screech-owl, woodpecker and ground cuckoo are found mostly in the southwest. Among other varieties are the cardinal, dove, bob white, wren, blue jay, robin, black-bird, crow, humming-bird, killdee, pigeon, Mexican canary, quail, and a few orioles.
The most common varieties of fish are catfish, buffalo, bass, carp, gasper goule, and bream and white perch.
The snake family includes the green or chicken snake, the garter snake, and the venomous rattler, copperhead, moccasin, and spreading adder.
All in all, the territory now designated as Milam County offered the prospective settlers all of the indocuments a home steader might desire. Rich soil for farming, good timber for the building of homes, fish and game in abundance for food, a mild and healthful climate during nearly all seasons of the year, regular rainfalls and an ample water supply, and a navigable stream, the Brazos. It is not strange, therefore, that settlers early sought these lands in which to make their homes.
CHAPTER I – FOOTNOTES
(1) Oxsheer, W. W. “Life of W. W. Oxsheer” The Lone Star State (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co. 1893)
We must say a special thank you to George Keeton of Buchanan Dam, Texas, for typing the above thesis for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.
Created on 20 Dec 2003 and last revised on 30 Jan 2004