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Letter: Those recurring South Texas droughts
We are still in spring and farmers and ranchers are anxiously speculating on whether or not we may face another drought. South Texas has a geographical problem in that we live on the outer edge of the Great Chihuahua Desert of Mexico. Depending upon rain or lack of rain, this desert either recedes or expands.
There is a story in my family history dating back to the 1860s. One of my eight great-great-grandfathers, Christian Henniger, owned a large cotton farm which straddled the Austin and Fayette county lines near the little town of Shelby, Texas. Much cotton was produced in the Austin, Fayette, and Washington County area, nearly all of it going to feed England’s textile industry.
When the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, the Texas coast was blockaded by the U.S. Navy and shipping cotton from the Gulf Coast became very risky. The safer option was to haul cotton bales by oxen or mule teams to Matamoros, Mexico. The cotton was sold to Mexican merchants who in turn sold cotton to British merchants and England’s textiles kept on being produced.
Christian Henniger was about 48 years old when the war began, and Confederate Army Conscription agents felt he was better suited to be a teamster than a soldier so he was hauling cotton bales to Mexico during the war. Sometime during the early 1860s, a severe drought had dried up nearly all creeks and rivers in South Texas. During one trip through the Brush Country south of San Antonio, it seemed for a while that men and mules would die of thirst.
Fortunately, a scout riding miles ahead found a muddy water hole in a dried-up riverbed. The train pushed on, but before anybody could drink, they had to run off the javelinas and buzzards that were basking in the water. The cotton did reach Matamoros and critical medical supplies and foodstuffs came back home.
This expanding and receding of the Great Chihuahua Desert has been going on for a long time and is not likely to change anytime soon.
EMMETT J. STORK
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