Finger Lecture Series presents Beneath Houston Streets: Upper Buffalo Bayou and the San Felipe Trail in the 19th Century
Today’s Greater Houston is a vast urban place, stretching some 50 miles from Katy on its west to Baytown on its east. In the mid-19th century, however, Houston was a small town – a dot in a vast frontier. Written histories of Houston largely confine themselves to the area within the city limits of the day. This leaves nearly forgotten the history of large rural areas that later fell beneath the city’s late 20th century urban sprawl.
One such area is that of upper Buffalo Bayou, extending from downtown Houston to Katy. In this area, European settlement began at Piney Point in 1824, over a decade before Houston was founded. Ox wagons full of cotton traveled across a seemingly endless tallgrass prairie from the Brazos River east to Harrisburg along the San Felipe Trail, built in 1830.
Also here, Texian families fled eastward during the Runaway Scrape of 1836, immigrant German settlers trekked westward to new farms along the north bank of the bayou in the 1840s, and newly freed African American families walked east toward Houston from Brazos plantations after Emancipation. Near present-day Shepherd Drive, Reconstruction-era cowboys assembled herds of longhorns and headed north along a southeastern branch of the Chisholm Trail. Little physical evidence remains today of this former frontier world.