Barker Dam and the San Felipe Trail

While in Houston earlier this year I went to inspect the new flood controls at Barker Dam, the very ones that were almost overwhelmed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. A vast amount of concrete has been used to reinforce the defences against Houston being overwhelmed by flooding after days of continuous rain. We pray that it holds the next next time.

What I had not realised is that the dam lies at a very historic point, where the old San Felipe Trail crossed the Buffalo Bayou, enabling transfer of cotton from the plantations further south to the port of Harrisburg, inland from Galveston. Harrisburg burned down during the 1836 Texas Revolution, to be replaced by the new port of Houston. So Houston had its origins in the cotton trade.

In 1831 a travellers’ inn was established by Joel and Elizabeth Wheaton at this important ford across the Buffalo Bayou, very close to the point where these modern flood defences lie. Wheaton’s inn operated until the 1870s, when a new railroad replaced the old trail.

In the 1840s many refugess fleeing war in Eastern Europe made their way across the Atlantic, through Galveston and Houston and then westward along the San Felipe Trail (via this crossing point) to surrounding areas and the Texas Hill Country, where many settlements were founded.

After the civil war ended in 1865, the slaves of the Texas plantations were declared free, and many of the freed men made their way eastward along the San Felipe Trail to a new life in the Houston area. Indeed there is a Freedmenstown area in Houston.

That’s a lot of history for one inauspicious location between Barker Dam and Texas Highway 6!

Fishing below Barker Dam

I spend some time watching the fishers in the rush of water where the outlet from Barker Dam merges into Buffalo Bayou to continue its journey to the sea.

The Great Blue Heron just stands in the water, motionless, waiting for what seems to be a rare opportunity.

The snowy egret stands on a rock or respectfully by the bank, away from the Great Blue. The technique is the same, waiting for an opportunity with intent concentration.

Finally, the cormorant swims in the water below the rush. From time to time he dives into the turmoil, swimming toward the current, often emerging with a fish in his beak.

There’s no doubt which is the most successful technique. A throng of around 10 cormorants is harvesting most of the fish. Heron and egret get the occasional consolation.