Bastrop County Freedom Colonies

Bastrop County Museum

The Bastrop County Museum has a wonderful exhibit on a series of previously unrecognized Freedom Colonies in Bastrop County.  This exhibit has now been moved to the Elgin Depot Museum and will be there until February.  People interested in Texas History should most definitely plan to visit this exhibit.

On June 17th, 1865 (Juneteenth)  General Granger landed on the coast of Texas and declared all peoples previously enslaved were now free.  As soon as word filtered through the state, African Americans began creating new towns and communities.  Historically they came to be called Freedom Colonies.

Thad Sitton did yeoman work in the early 2000’s tunneling through the written archives for records of the Colonies. But he only had access to written records.

Andrea Roberts, a professor at A&M, is currently collecting information about the more elusive oral and community histories of Freedom Colonies.

A third local historical effort in currently being conducted in Bastrop.   

Oral History of Jane Bell

The WPA in the 1930’s collected as many slave narratives as possible.  The stories are amazing and sad, a tribute to people’s ability to survive and maintain their family and their culture and their community under the worst possible conditions.  Many of the former slaves stayed on the same plantation and continued to work for wages, many went to the cities looking for new opportunities, many went searching for their children, and many banded together and purchased land to farm in a community of their own.  Those last are the Freedom Colonies.

Map of Freedom Colonies in Bastrop County

Carol Kysar, an archivist with the Bastrop County Historical Society, also happens to be a member of the Sayersville Historical Association. Sayersville is a rural community in Bastrop County and the association, composed of a grand total of six people, documents its rural lifestyle and history. Each year the association publishes a bulletin or paper. 

Kysar had come across a few materials about the Freedom Colonies in the Bastrop County Historical Society’s (BCHS) archive and she proposed doing a bulletin on the Freedom Colonies. She conducted some more research and became fascinated with this lost history.

One day at the BCHS museum, Kysar met a visitor named Doris Williams and began talking to her about the Freedom Colonies. Ms. Williams knew some people who had more information and said she’d help. As they were talking, Dock Jackson walked in and joined the conversation. Mr. Jackson is a former Bastrop city council member and he said he would help too. 

Kysar scheduled a meeting, and she, Doris and Dock each invited people to come. Twelve people attended. They began meeting every Thursday and at the end, there were 42 people at the weekly meetings. Kysar says it all happened by word of mouth.

Diane Mills heard about the project and approached Carol. Ms. Mills is the granddaughter of Dr. T.C. Franklin, historian and educator who was at one time the superintendent of the African-American schools in the county. Dr. Franklin kept detailed records of everything and Ms. Mills has given his papers to BCHS. 

Texas Freedom Colonies Project

Dr. Andrea Roberts at TAMU leads the Texas Freedom Colonies Project. Kysar said Dr. Roberts contacted them recently about doing a joint project in the future, no details yet. Her website is

Kysar said they are writing an article for Wikipedia on the Bastrop County Freedom Colonies.  The exhibit has now moved to the Elgin Depot Museum and will be there through February. Hopefully, it will bring in even more people who will add to the story.

More info is on their Facebook page at – Museum and Visitor Center Bastrop County Historical Society.

People’s History in Texas started a project about a decade ago to document the St. John’s colony.   We have footage of the trail ride that follows the route from Bastrop to St. John’s Colony.  There is a stunning sense of the history and tradition in this annual gathering.

We would like eventually to make it available and time permitting will put it up on the website to contribute to this new community effort to remember and preserve the history.

Shiner Beer Documentary 1975

The Last of the Little Breweries, a documentary on Shiner Beer, is an absolutely wonderful piece of history. It was produced in 1975 by Frank Binney. Please take some time and watch it. It is only 20 minutes long. It is well worth the time.

The documentary tells the story of Kosmos Spoetzl and his journey through Egypt, Canada, and San Francisco to land in Shiner, Texas. The German and Czech community liked their beer and wanted it brewed in the traditional Bavarian way.

Binney uses the classic documentary style of illustrating how the beer was actually produced–kind of an Industry on Parade–which I have always found fascinating.

Also fascinating is that tidbit of information that Spoetzl’s daughter was the first woman to run a brewery in the United States.

In the Seventies, Budweiser and Miller began the merger wars in the beer industry that eliminated all the small brewers. Then the regional brewers disappeared. By 1990, there were only 10 independent brewers left and Bud and Miller were producing 67% of all the beer in the United States. It was so boring that people began brewing their own and the craft beer market emerged, although craft beer still accounts for less than 15% of the market.

Well…. I fudged….I should say that the beer merger movement had eliminated all the local small regional beer companies –except for Shiner. That story of how Shiner stayed independent is a fascinating one. To be told later.

Shiner is now owned by the Gambrinus Company, based in San Antonio. Gambrinus only produces Shiner Beer and Trumer Beer. Trumer is a pilsner beer and the brewery is based in Berkeley and has a sister brewery in Salzburg, Austria.

Pecan Shellers Strike

Steven Harrigan’s New Book on Texas

Steven Harrigan published an excerpt from his new and highly anticipated book, Big Wonderful Thing, in the Literary Hub

In it, he tells a story about the Pecan Shellers Strike in 1938, and mentions Emma Tenayuca, and Latane Lambert.  He tells the story quickly and well.  

PHIT’s new publication

Further material on the Pecan Shellers Strike can be found inPeople’s History in Texas newly republished booklet Talkin’ Union: Texas Women Workers.   There is a chapter on the Pecan Shellers Strike by yours truly.  We cover the same ground.  You can buy it on Amazon and if you do, please write a review.

Max Krochmal’s Book on Texas Progressives

Even further material can be found in Max Krocmal’s Blue Texas.  Max, who did a stint as a PHIT board member, has produced, by far, the most extensive narrative of San Antonio politics and the story of the Pecan Shellers.

Women in the Texas labor force

Here is a link to PHIT’s 1977 documentary which includes the oral history of the Pecan Shellers. There are 4 parts. Talkin’ Union

Happy reading!

Jesse Billingsley Texas Hero and Pet Lover

Jesse Billingsley

Meditations at the Museum

PHIT’s new project is to visit small Texas museums and tell stories of peculiar and little known episodes in Texas History.  It is modeled somewhat on the Mysteries of the Museum, but we don’t want to get sued, so we changed the name to Meditations at the Museum.

The Bastrop County Museum is a lovely museum and has an exhibit of the Freedom Colonies of Bastrop County, which PHIT will profile in a later post. PHIT, however, noticed a two-foot limestone cemetery marker celebrating Jesse Billingsley, a local Texas Revolutionary hero.  The stone was originally positioned in the front yard of Billingsley’s house in McDade and the placard said that he requested that his horse by buried on one side and his parrot on the other.

Billingsley McDade Headstone

In 1930, however, by order of the State of Texas, he was disinterred and reburied in the State Cemetery.  His horse and his parrot were not re-buried by his side.

Billingsley was one of the earliest settlers of Bastrop County, and joined the fight for independence, ultimately becoming the captain of Col. Edward Burleson’s First Regiment.  Billingsley was a friend of Davy Crockett and is generally credited as the first Texas to utter the battle cry “Remember the Alamo.”  The First Regiment fought with great distinction in the battle of San Jacinto.  On that day, April 21, 1836, Billingsley was wounded in the left hand by cannon fire, which crippled the hand for life.

Billingsley subsequently represented Bastrop County in the First and Second Republic of Texas Congress and the Fifth and Eighth legislatures of the State of Texas.  In 1861, he sacrificed his public career by taking a stand against secession from the Union.  He was also an advocate for the literacy of slaves.

In 1874, Captain Billingsley stepped forward to insist that the name of a black soldier, Maxlin “Mack” Smith be inscribed on the San Jacinto honor role after his name had been omitted from the bronze plaque listing those who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto.

In 1929, the state of Texas, in preparation for the Texas Centennial, began disinterring important Texans and reburying them in the State Cemetery.  Billingsley was re-buried, but, sadly, his horse and his parrot were left behind in McDade.  

We at PHIT believe that Billingsley has been done an injustice and that he is probably lonely in the State Cemetery.  He is surrounded by pro-secessionists and racists, people who threw him out of the Texas Legislature just because he was a loyal citizen of the United States of American.  And he has to endure this for eternity without the comfort of his beloved animals.

PHIT thinks a petition is in order.

PHIT also thinks that that sad saga of the 70 men and women dug up and reburied in the Texas Cemetery is worthy of a story.

Barton Creek

Barton Creek
Ed Crowell
Photos by Alberto Martinez

Who doesn’t love Barton Springs?  Home of the ice cold swimming hole.  Home of philosopher’s rock.  Home of the hippest place in town.

Turns out so many people want to be associated with Barton Springs that many, way too many, want to live on Barton Creek.  And they want pavement and they want their manicured lawns and they want their privacy  They don’t want anyone trespassing on their little piece of a hallowed creek.

Others think Barton Springs and Barton Creek are a natural and environmental treasure to be saved and protected and enjoyed.

Story of a battle?  You bet!  A non-stop epic.

This endless battle to save the purity of Barton Springs has been waged since I arrived in 1972 and will probably still be going on when they scatter my ashes at an undisclosed location on Barton Creek Watershed.  

In researching the Rag for the book Celebrating the Rag, I found an article in a 1970 RAG alerting the community to some planned apartments above the Springs.  The writer mentioned that if folks weren’t careful and if they didn’t regulate that kind of development, it could hurt the Springs.

Austinites have been trying to slow down development ever since. Austinites have been swimming and agitating and protesting and winning elections and agitating some more and protesting about protecting Barton Creek and protecting the watershed and maintaining the purity of a Austin, if not Texan, if not national, icon. 

The newest and latest and gorgeously beautiful book about this icon  is Barton Creek written by Ed Crowell and peppered with delicious photographs by Alberto Martinez.  In a series of essays, the book travels along the entire 40 mile twisty Barton Creek stream and talks with the people who live on the banks of Barton Creek, and in that pleasant process details the history of this storied Creek and very specifically outlines the environmental history of the area and the nasty impacts of development.

Barton Springs Begins Here

It starts at the end and ends at the beginning.  Of the creek that is.  The headwaters begin at Ralph Breed’s Ranch.  Right next door to the headwaters is the Pure Luck Goat Farm.

Crowell interviews elderly ranchers who treasure the land and simply will not sell it to developers.  These natural stewards want to keep the land intact and pure for their kids and for kid’s kids.

He talks with the current resident of Philosopher’s Ranch, the rustic getaway for J. Frank Dobie, that has been turned into a writer’s getaway.

And he begins the story with the tale of a young man who walked the entire 40 miles of the creek a couple of decades ago

The people he didn’t talk to were the developers and the owners of the pricey McMansions who try to horde this treasure all to themselves.  I mean,who wants to hear their sordid story.  Seriously, who would want to hear their history—destroying paradise for a couple of bucks.  Not People’s History in Texas, that’s for sure.

Buy this book. The photos are great. The stories are great. And you might learn a little people’s history along the way.

Socialist Ghost Town

Once this was Kristenbad

Wrapped around the de Cordova bend in the Brazos River, just south of Granbury, Texas, lies the small gated community of Pecan Plantation.  Once upon a time, that site was originally the home of Kristenbad, which was often labeled as a Socialist Utopia.

Established in 1928 by John Christensen, a Danish-American, it was envisioned as a sort of cooperative self-help colony.  The definition of just what the colony was to be called has been debated by many Texas historians. Some have called it communism, some socialism, some a utopian community.

In the late 1920s, Christensen bought about 200 acres from the Burleson family.  This is the famous Burleson line of Texas history fame and the specific Burleson, Albert Sydney, that he bought it from was the Postmaster General of the United States during the Woodrow Wilson administration.  That particular Burleson introduced segregation into the Postal Service and was responsible for the censorship and suppression of left newspapers and periodicals during WWI.  What Albert Burleson thought about his land being used in such a way is unknown at the moment.  Perhaps an archival dig is in the offing by PHIT.  

Kirstenbad money

There were perhaps 200 people who participated in the enterprise.  These were families who lived together, worked together, and helped each other out.  They didn’t call it socialism, but it is hard to find a better word.  Christenson himself was attracted by the living arrangements of Scandinavian agricultural communities who relied upon and supported each other. He tried to create a similar arrangement in Texas.  It worked for a while.

Kirstenbad money

The Kristenbad community had a community sawmill, a chair factory and a charcoal factory.  The businesses were set up using community resources and were to be used by the community.  The Kristenbad community provided a non-profit store, a stock purchase plan and a marketing cooperative. The community created its own monetary system, based on non-precious metal tokens that only circulated within Kristenstad.  It was just small change—a nickel, dime, quarter and half-dollar—and just used in the local stores.  But it wasn’t socialism, say many commentators, because people owned their own land.

During the 1930’s, Christenson proposed that the unemployed homeless in Fort Worth be given land in Kristenbad which would be paid out over time.  He proposed that charities help.  This structure is similar to lots of intentional cooperative, collective, utopian, socialist communities.  

In the 1930s New Deal, a series of 10 Texas subsistence communities, created by the federal government were basically run as cooperative communities for a while.  Certain things were owned in common. Kristenbad was a precursor of the subsistence communities.   You can view three documentaries on the New Deal subsistence communities on the PHIT website.

Kristen bad was a limited cooperative.  Newspapers called it utopia.  In the great Depression, of course, it was far from a Utopia.  Prices fell. The chair factory burned.  A drought hit.  A hard winter.  And, honestly, folk,  that is usually about all it takes to kill a Utopia or a cooperative that is just starting out.

In 1938, the community defaulted on a note and the property was returned to the Burleson heirs.

A dam on the de Cordova Bend was proposed in 1964 and finished in 1969.

At the present time,  Kristenbad is the site of Pecan Plantation, a gated community wrapped around the Brazos River.  Pecan trees, do indeed populate the area just outside the community.  Still a bit of a utopia.  Free pecans for all.

Talkin’ Union: Texas Women Workers

More than four decades ago, an enterprising group of young independent historians produced a path-breaking book and documentary, Talkin’ Union. It featured one of the first scholarly accounts of the great San Antonio pecan sheller strike of 1938, amplifying the powerful but overlooked voice of lifelong organizer Alberta Zepeda Snid. It uncovered interracial unions among Black, white, and Mexicana women garment workers in Dallas, of all places, as well as their union sisters along the border—long before anyone had heard of maquiladoras. The rare oral history interviews and pioneering scholarly essays in this book have clearly withstood the test of time and will now bring the power of people’s history to a new generation of activists!


NJP Publishing is proud to announce that Talkin’ Union:Texas Women Workers is now available for purchase at Edited by Richard Croxdale and Melissa Hield with a preface by Glenn Scott, Talkin’ Unionis the third book published by NJP Publishing as part of a 2019 series featuring women’s work, memoir, poetry and history. Talkin’ Union tells the groundbreaking story of Texas women pecan shellers and seamstresses who organized for economic and social equality in the ’30s. Researchers with People’s History in Texas relied on first-hand oral histories and extensive archival research to bring this history to life. The Pecan Shellers Strike is now acknowledged as an historic mass movement, the largest mass strike in Texas, and the foundation for Hispanic organizing for a generation.  The Texas garment workers who organized in the ’30s with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union have never received the attention they deserve.  Essays from 1979 about African American women and Chicanas in the Texas workforce capture the beginning of a sea change in women’s workforce participation that would soon transform women’s lives, family dynamics, and the U.S. economy. The material was available for limited distribution as a booklet in 1979, but has been published by NJP Publishing with a 2019 introduction to make this history available through online platforms.Talkin’ Union:Texas Women Workers can be purchased at and will be available soon through Amazon, Ingram, and Barnes and Noble.   

General Patrick Cleburne and ConfederateEmancipation

Random Meditations at Random Museums


picture of general patrick cleburne
General Patrick Cleburne

PHIT’s new project is to visit small Texas museums and tell stories of peculiar and little known episodes in Texas History.  It is modeled somewhat on the Mysteries of the Museum, but we don’t want to get sued, so we changed the name to Meditations at the Museum.

The Johnson County Historical Museum is located in Cleburne, in the County Courthouse.  The Johnson County Courthouse is truly one of the finest courthouse reconstructions around.  Beautiful marble rises four stories around a central court.  Faces of creatures can be seen peering through the marble.  You have to see it to believe it.

The Museum is on the second floor and is nicely arranged although clearly it is a volunteer and an underfunded affair.   While circling the exhibits, PHIT found a note in a cabinet devoted to General Patrick Cleburne, a confederate general who is the town’s namesake.

Cleburne was born in Ireland, and he fought in the British Army before migrating to Arkansas.  He signed up to fight on the Confederate side in the Civil War, and proved to be a brilliant tactician. He was known as the Stonewall of the West.  After the war, a group of his soldiers settled in Johnson County, Texas, and pressed to have the county seat named after their commander.

road side of cleburne's proposal to arm slaves

In the exhibit dedicated to the town’s namesake, there was a small quote from Cleburne.  In late 1863, Cleburne advocated a unique policy to win the war.  “Free the slaves and arm them.”

DUH!  That is some serious thinking outside the box. The logic was inexorable.  Free the slaves and what’s the point of fighting.  Of course, it goes without saying that the proposal was rejected and Cleburne was ordered to not talk about it.  He was killed in Battle of Franklin later in 1864.

HIs proposal gave me great mirth the rest of the day.  Talk about cognitive dissonance.  What did he think he was fighting for?

But it turns out the proposal wasn’t so off the wall.  It was actually quite well thought out and sophisticated, clearly the product of a brilliant tactician. Cleburne basically prefigured in 1863 the ultimate Reconstruction adaptation to the victory by the North. 

In late 1863, the South was clearly losing the war.  The generals knew that they didn’t have the manpower.  They had drafted every white male Southerner of fighting age.  No one was left.  Except male slaves.  The only route to victory was to arm them. Offer them their freedom. And put them on the front lines.

It was an existential moment for the South, or at least it was to those who bothered to think about the implications.

By freeing slaves and keeping the North at bay, the South would get to keep their institutions.  If they won the war, then they didn’t have to submit to the North.  They were worried that Abe Lincoln really would give all the land, all the plantations, to the former slaves.  

By 1863, those who bothered to think about it understood that the slaves were gone.  Slavery was done.  But if the South wanted to be in control of their own destiny, the south should free the slaves.  Freedom didn’t mean they got the right to vote.  Freedom didn’t mean that African-Americans had the right to control their lives.   

Cleburne was Irish.  He knew that the Irish were free, but the English still controlled everything.  He understand that you can be free and not free at the same time.

Debate about Confederate Emancipation raged for rest of the war.  Until the end,  actual slaveowners said “No Way!”  Cleburne’s gambit might have worked in 1863, but, by the end, when Confederate Emancipation was actually enacted in early 1865, the south worried, with good reason, that blacks would turn the guns on the slave owners.

“They day they give us guns, that the day the war ends,”  said one slave in Georgia.

front cover of book on confederate emancipation by bruce levine

Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves by Bruce Levine is an excellent book that details this existential crisis in the South.  As one of the Southern generals said during the discussion of Cleburne’s proposition,  “If we arm the slaves, and they fight well, then everything we have said about the capacity of the Negro for the last 60 years is wrong.”  Basically, he was admitting that if this gambit proved successful, his whole concept of how the world worked was wrong.  Talk about an existential moment!

On another note, one major gripe about the Cleburne museum is that the Populist Party had its origin in Cleburne.  During a major convention held in the town, the Alliance split into two factions, one of them political—they issued the Cleburne Demands in 1886.  It was this platform that led to the creation of the Populist Party. There is not one word of mention of this major historical event.

Freedom Colonies

There was a wonderful story in Austin American Statesman on Sunday about a Bastrop County Historical Museum project to document the freedom colonies in the Bastrop area. The Bastrop County Historical Museum is looking for oral history and documents and artifacts.

Ten of the Bastrop County freedom colonies have been already been recorded by Andrea Roberts, Texas A&M professor of urban planning, who is collecting statewide information on freedom colonies. 

The Andrea Roberts site can be found at this site 

This is a new effort and hopefully it will spur more local activity such as the effort in Bastrop to identify and preserve this legacies.

Freedom colonies were the communities created by freed slaves after the the June 19th declaration of emancipation.  Freed African-Americans purchased land and created new communities.  Most of them were located on the edges of counties in order to get as far away as possible from the oversight of County Police.

Freedom Colonies by Thad Sitton

Thad Sitton has written a wonderful book on this piece of Texas history.  Freedom Colonies was published in 2005 and collected as much information as was available at the time.  This new effort should add to the identification and preservation of that history.

PHIT, inspired by the book, began a documentary project on St. John Colony, located in Caldwell County. Every Juneteenth, a Trail Ride is conducted to replicate the original caravan from Bastrop to St. John Colony (originally known as Winn’s Colony)  to commemorate the hurried trek to their new community.  It is an impressive sight as the Buffalo Soldiers ride their horses along the rural roads.  A great and inclusive feast is held at the community building when they arrive.  We were unable to finish the project, but still have the video clips and interviews.

Travis County is listed in Freedom Colonies as having 5 settlements. Clarksville, Kincheonville, Littig, Masontown, and Burdett’s Prairie(which is now known as Montopolis).

A Texas Tale of the Three Duval Brothers

Texas Capitol circa 1870

In both Texas and Florida, the Duval name is scattered through  place names and history.

Duval County in South Texas is named after Burr Duval.  Duval County in East Florida is named after his father, William Pope Duval.  There is a bit of controversy about the origin of the naming of Duval Road in Austin.

Burr Duval, in 1835, heard about the Revolution in Texas.  He gathered a group together and headed down to Texas.  It didn’t end well. He died in the Goliad massacre.  

His brother John Crittendon Duval accompanied him, but was spared at Goliad.  Later in life, he wrote “Early Times in Texas” which included the story of Goliad, which was an eyewitness account.  J. Frank Dobie, in 1939, when he was dredging through Texas lore and making a career of retelling those stories, crowned John C. Duval the first Texan writer. 

Barton Springs 1860

Thomas Howard Duval, the third Duval,  followed his brothers to Texas only after Texas achieved independence.  He was appointed a Federal Judge in the 1850’s and took his pledge to defend the country seriously and opposed secession.  He stayed in Austin and was part of a group of Union, i.e., United States, supporters.  The vote in Austin to secede was close and the Unionists were strong but definitely a minority.  The group of patriots included Governor Pease(of Pease Park, since we are doing place names in this post).  Occasionally, the secessionists would get riled up and the Unionists would have to head to the woods south of Barton Springs and hide out and hang out—kind of like the hippies on the 70’s.

It is a ongoing project of PHIT to collect the names of the Union supporters in Austin and create an educational webpage to honor the Austin opponents of secession.

Duval Road was originally a road that went from Austin to Duval, Texas.  Duval, Texas was a small settlement north of what was then Austin.  It would have been in what is now the Austin city limits, probably just south of McNeil.  Supposedly, there was some quarrying going on.  George Duval ran a general store in the 1880’s.  The entire town burned down around 1900.  Supposedly, residents still find molten glass occasionally.  A Statesman article says that Duval road was named after the storekeeper Duval.

J. Frank Dobie, however, says that Duval Road  is named after Burr Duval, the brother who died at Goliad.  I hate to contradict the icon who presides over Barton Springs, but I prefer to think of Duval Street as being named after Burr’s brother, Thomas Howard Duval, who supported the Union in the Civil War.

The Dad of these three Duval brothers was the devil incarnate. He was part of the genocide of non-white peoples in Florida, and largely instigated the Second Seminole War (Andrew Jackson precipitated the first).  Duval was appointed governor of the Florida territories in 1822.  At the time,  the two settled towns were St. Augustine and Pensacola.  He thought too much time was spent traversing between the two, so he chose a spot, equidistant between the two, to found a Capitol City.   That spot just happened to be Tallahassee.  Unfortunately, it was occupied by a Creek named Enemathla.  And Enemathla had developed gorgeous vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, cotton fields, and stands of sugar cane.  It is just entirely possible that the presence of a well-developed agriculture was why Tallahassee was chosen to be the Capitol.  In the Treaty of Moultrie Creek,  this beautiful land was traded for, according to Duval, even more beautiful land in Oklahoma.  Enemathla and his people didn’t agree, and the Second Seminole War ensued.  Duval ended up owning a fair amount of Tallahassee, but his sons moved on to Texas about the same time that the Third Seminole War was raging.  I am not sure why they didn’t fight in Florida, but perhaps they didn’t like alligators.  

There is a Duval Road in Tallahassee.  And Jacksonville is located in Duval County.  

Please remind our Florida friends that it is a different Duval.

So that is the story of the Three Duval Brothers and their Dad.  The next time you run into one of the 150 people a day arrive in Austin, and they want to know about place names, remind them of People’s History in Texas.