Monday, February 25, 2013


A riverboat port in Northeast Texas?  Strange as it sounds, Jefferson, on Big Cypress Bayou, was an important port in the 1870’s. Jefferson is one of my family’s favorite places to sightsee. We visit antique shops and the candy store (for yummy fudge), drive along the lovely streets, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Many of the 19th century homes are now bed and breakfast inns, and the Excelsior Hotel still accepts guests. We’ve even been known to go fishing in Lake Caddo. (Not me - I read a book while my husband fishes.)

During the late 1840s efforts were made to clear Big Cypress Creek for navigation. As the westernmost outpost for navigation on the Red River, Jefferson quickly developed into an important riverport. The first steamboat, the Llama, reached Jefferson in late 1843 or early 1844. Within a few years steamboats were regularly making the trip from Shreveport and New Orleans, transporting cotton and other produce downstream and returning with supplies and manufactured goods, including materials and furnishings for many of the early homes. By the late 1840s Jefferson had emerged as the leading commercial and distribution center of Northeast Texas and the state's leading inland port.

Among the persistent legends that have grown up around the town was the belief that Jeffersonians had shunned the railroads. While much of the city's wealth during the antebellum and early postbellum years derived from the river trade, city leaders recognized early the importance of rail transportation and made efforts to build a railroad linking the town with Shreveport and Marshall. Construction of a line began in 1860, but only forty-five miles of road was completed by the outbreak of the Civil War. During the Civil War a meat cannery was established there, as were factories for boots and shoes.

Jefferson was an up-and-coming city after the Civil War. In 1867 Jefferson became the first town in Texas to use natural gas for artificial lighting purposes, and ice was first manufactured on a commercial scale there in 1868. By 1870, Jefferson was the sixth largest city in Texas. In the late 1860s more than 75,000 bales of cotton were being shipped annually. By 1870 only Galveston surpassed Jefferson in volume of commerce.

Loading cotton bales
The town reached its peak in 1872, but in 1873 two events occurred that eventually spelled the end of Jefferson's importance. The first was the destruction of the Red River Raft. The Great River Raft or Red River Raft began in prehistoric times as the river ate away at the river’s bank, causing trees at the river’s edge to collapse into the river. Timber and driftwood formed solid bridges that stretched across the river. In some places the raft was reported to be twenty-five feet deep. Some areas were solid enough to serve as land bridges that could support a man on horseback, although I can’t imagine a poor horse having to cross. With slow-moving flow of water, the silt carried by the river sank, damming the bayous along the river.

Breaking up the raft

Imagine a 165-mile log jam. In November of 1873 nitroglycerin charges were used to remove the last portion of the raft, which had previously made the upper section of the river unnavigable. The demolition of the raft reopened the main course of the river, but significantly lowered the water level of the surrounding lakes and streams making the trip to Jefferson by boat difficult.

Even more important to Jefferson's decline was the completion of the Texas and Pacific Railway from Texarkana to Marshall, which bypassed Jefferson. Death to any city!  Although another line of the Texas and Pacific reached Jefferson the following year, the development of rail commerce and the rise of Marshall, Dallas, and other important rail cities brought an end to Jefferson's golden age as a commercial and shipping center. Though efforts were made in later years to raise the water level on the Big Cypress, the railroads soon displaced the riverboats, and with them Jefferson.

For my latest release, BLUEBONNET BRIDE, I placed a fictional town called Pearsonville a few miles from Jefferson that shared in the riverboat shipping trade. The heroine’s late husband bullied his way to control Pearsonville. Fortunately for Rosalyn, my heroine, she severed all ties with the area only a month before the area’s decline.

Here’s the blurb for BLUEBONNET BRIDE, Men of Stone Mountain book three:

He’s a by-the-book Texas sheriff; she’s on the run from a murder conviction...

When a tornado provides Rosalyn with the opportunity to escape the gallows, she collects her daughter Lucy and flees. They travel far enough West that Rosalyn believes she’s gone to the ends of the earth. She hopes she and Lucy will be safe in this remote North Texas town where she embarks on a new life as a dressmaker. If only she could avoid contact with people, especially the handsome sheriff who pops up every time she turns around. She fears either she or her chatterbox daughter may slip and reveal too much.

Joel Stone has been content with his life, even if it’s not the one he’d dreamed. His younger brothers are married and living nearby, his aunts have moved to Radford Springs, and he is respected for the efficient job he does as sheriff. When he meets the new widow in town, his instant attraction staggers him. She appears uninterested, but he is determined to win her hand in marriage. 

But life doesn’t turn out the way either Rosalyn or Joel plan. They overcome temporary obstacles, but what of the secret she protects? Can he save her from the gallows?

BLUEBONNET BRIDE is available at Smashwords in e-book:
And in print or e-book from Amazon at:

Thanks for stopping by!


Ellen O'Connell said...

Great photos, Caroline, and interesting info. How early a town in Texas has gas lighting particularly caught my eye.

As to the Great River Raft - unintended consequences. Nothing's changed there, has it?

Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks for telling us about this city. Do you think if one or the other (either the Great River Raft or rail service) had happened at more suitable times, that Jefferson would still be the dominant city in the area? I'm always fascinated by how or why a city turns into a ghost town or at least a village of little consequence. So many lost their luster--but other Old West centers of commerce started out dominant and gained in importance.

I'm looking forward to reading Bluebonnet Bride! Haven't had much reading time available lately, so it will be a real treat.

Meg said...

Interesting about North Texas -- us "nawtheners" always think of Texas as dry, desert-like, full of cattle. LOL. Guess not!! How interesting about the River Raft. :-)