Finger Lecture

Beneath Houston Streets:
Upper Buffalo Bayou and the San Felipe Trail in the Nineteenth Century
by Dan Michael Worrall

The Heritage Society Tea Room
Free for members, $5 for non-members

Today’s Greater Houston is a vast urban place, stretching some fifty miles from Katy on its west to Baytown on its east. In the mid-nineteenth 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 twentieth 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.

Dan Michael Worrall has been a member of the Harris County Historical Commission since 2014, working on a project to bring historical markers to significant sites in western Harris County. He is also a director of the Morse-Bragg Cemetery Association, and worked to save and protect that mid-nineteenth century graveyard near Post Oak Boulevard from development. He recently appeared in the Texas Foundation for the Arts’ documentary of Post Oak Boulevard. Dan is one of a fifth generation of his family to live in the Houston area, and his ancestors could be found at several locations along the San Felipe Trail. He is a retired exploration geologist with a BA from Rice University, and a PhD in geology from the University of Texas at Austin.