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CHAPTER ONE

THE LAND





Note The Old Courthouse Peeking Over The Fence On The Right Side

To a traveler journeying from Harrisburg to San Felipe or Washington on the Brazos, in the early or mid 1800's, the two foot high native prairie grass rippled in a light wind and looked like waves on a vast lake or sea. The few breaks in this sea were clumps of trees that appeared to be islands. As the traveler approached the six mile wide Brazos river bottom, one outstanding break in the sea became a landmark. It was, what appeared to be, a large island composed of pine trees and bushes. The travelers called that one, "Pine Island".

As we can now make that trip in a couple of hours, a short lesson in travel of the 1800's seems to be in order. Such a journey was described by Dr John Lockhart who left Alabama in the fall of 1839 for Texas to resettle his family at Washington on the Brazos. The family came from Alabama to New Orleans and on to Galveston on the steamship Columbia. From there they traveled by a small steamer up the San Jacinto river to Buffalo bayou and on up the bayou to Houston. Just that part of the trip up the bayou from the San Jacinto battle field to Houston took approximately twelve hours.

In February, after a short stay in Houston, they and their household goods were finally loaded into ox wagons to travel the last fifty miles (about ten days) to their new home. That last part of the journey averaged five miles per day, The sameness of the mile after mile of endless prairie was only broken by the unbelievable amount of game along the way.

Flocks of ducks and geese were so abundant they could not be counted. Deer numbered in the thousands with as many as 100 to 150 in one herd. Wild turkeys and large covies of quail were everywhere. There were even large herds of wild horses and the fifty mile wide prairie was covered with wild flowers. There were very few houses scattered on the prairie until they neared the Brazos river. Dr. Lockhart and his family finally arrived in Washington on the Brazos on the fourth of March in 1840.

The land, as you approach Waller County from the east, begins the slow change from the flat coastal lowlands to the rolling planes that slowly grow until 100 miles to the west they become the beautiful central Texas hill country. Pine Island has just the hint of hills and shallow valleys formed over the centuries by the spring fed creeks of the area.

The land, far back into pre-history, was shared and used mainly by the Tonkawa and sometime the Karankawa Indians. They hunted and lived in the area for hundreds, maybe thousands of years before the first white men appeared. The near by river bottom was full of small game and the prairies abounded with all types of foul, deer, antelope and buffalo.

The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was apparently the first white man to come through Pine Island area of Texas. In 1528, after his ship wrecked on Galveston Island (which he named "Misfortune Island"), he became a trader among the indians. He worked the southern part of east Texas for about six years, trading with the indian tribes, before he made the overland journey back to Mexico.

Spain took no further interest in Texas for nearly one hundred and fifty years when the first few spanish settlements started appearing north of the Rio Grande around 1660. But, even then the Pine Island area missed the invasion of outsiders for another hundred and fifty years. The Spanish began operating missions in the San Antonio area and in east Texas at Nacogdoches. Although the "Old San Antonio Road" between the two areas crossed the Brazos river, their route was further north near the current Bryan-College Station area.

Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle attempted to found a french settlement called Fort St. Louis in 1665. It was located possibly on Garcitas Creek. It was located a considerable distance inland from Matagorda Bay, presumably to fool the Spanish into thinking they had left. La Salle made a number of exploratory trips through southeast Texas and some of the maps show a route that appears to go through the Pine Island area. There is a statue of la Salle in Navasota, Texas showing his presence in that part of Texas. la Salle was killed on the last trip and Fort Saint Louis was wiped out by indians Other than a few more exploration trips by the Spanish explorers like Coronado, Moscoso and Onate,

After Mexico won it's independence from Spain in 1821, it still lacked interest in Texas and decided to let colonists from the United States settle the far away wilderness of their new land. The first permanent outsiders did not arrive and settle in the Pine Island area until the early 1820's when Spain broke a 300 year old tradition of not allowing foreigners to live within it's boundaries. By then Spain was grasping at straws for a way to help control the Comanche Indians. The Comanches were regularly raiding San Antonio and making life in Spanish Texas very difficult.

At the same time Moses Austin, a victim of the first United States depression, lost his money in a Saint Louis bank failure. Moses went to Mexico and secured a grant to colonize Texas as a means to recoup his losses. After returning home in 1821 Moses died and his son Stephen F. Austin was recognized by Spain as the heir to the contract with the Spanish Government. Stephen F. Austin brought the first foreign group of colonists, called "The Old Three Hundred", to Texas and settled them in the area between the Brazos and Colorado rivers.

The first official ownership of land in the community of Pine Island was created by the Mexican land grants to Mexican citizens and Austin's colonists. Jose Justo Liendo could be called the father of Pine Island. He had received a grant of five leagues of land from the Mexican government including the land south of Spring creek and between a line running due south from Hempstead on the west to the Waller, Harris county line on the east.

The northwestern corner of Pine Island extends into what was the eastern edge of Charles Donoho's two leagues on the east side of Fish Pond Creek (Clear creek).

After Texas gained it's freedom from Mexico, Pine Island became part of Austin County. Austin County included the land on both sides of the Brazos River when it was first organized. However, it was a long trip to the Austin County courthouse in Bellville from the farms and towns on the East side of the river. And, when the river was in flood stage the trip was almost impossible.

On May 1, 1873 the Texas Legislature passed an act that took all of Austin County, on the east side of the Brazos river and created Waller County. It was named for Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

The application for the Prairie View Post Office stated that it was located at Prairie View Switch on the Houston highway, four miles west of Waller, six miles east of Hempstead, Sixteen miles north of Sunnyside and thirty miles south of Plantersville in Grimes County.

The approximately ten square mile area making up the Pine Island community was very roughly defined as the section of land from the farms just north of the "Old Houston Highway" (Hwy. 290) on the north to those on the south side of Betka Road. The "Brookshire Highway" (Farm Road 359) was the western boundary and the farms on the east side of Cochran Road were the eastern boundary.

The City of Prairie View, including the university and the area nearby, annexed the northern edge of Pine Island to a line parallel with and about three tenths of a mile south of the Old Houston Highway.

The balance of the old Pine Island community was then incorporated as the city of Pine Island in 1984, with Ted W. Wren serving the first two terms as mayor and Melba Sue Cook as the City Secretary. Ray A. Garrett, was elected in 1988.

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