Historic Springs of Ellis County
Researched by Jean Caddel
Imagine moving half way across the continent with a small band of setters ,or perhaps only a few members of your family, into unsettled territory. Your closest neighbor might be forty to fifty miles away. With no modern conveniences, fast food, nor grocery store on the corner, closer than forty miles, not even a water tap, just what do you think the early settlers must have looked for first? My guess is water, and with it came food - fish and game, then wood for cooking, keeping warm and building crude cabins, barns and pens.
It is likely that this is the very thing that attracted so many early settlers to Ellis County. In the early 1840's, the pure balmy air, free from all malarial influences, the numerous springs of clear, limpid water; the delightful scenes that met the vision on every side; the broad areas of deep and fertile soil must have brought cries such as, "Here is the ideal place for homes and businesses, possessing all the attributes and natural facilities adequate to the development of all that is desirable."
The largest springs in Texas are located along the Balcones fault zone which runs much further south and includes San Marcos, Austin, and on up through our area into Dallas. The ground water passes through the limestone cavities, constantly dissolving away the rock, causing the water passage to shift from side to side and downward. The plant and animal life around streams and pools is perhaps a better indicator of whether the water is derived from springs or surface runoff. If pools or streams are fed by surface runoff, they will periodically dry up. If they are fed by springs, the supply of water will be more constant. Here you will find plants, fish, frogs, crawfish, and animals such as raccoons, which feed on them , also need a steady water supply.
Springs may be classified as artesian or gravity springs. Artesian springs issue under pressure, generally through some fissure or other opening in the confining bed which overlies the aquifer. Such are the large springs in the Balcones fault zone.
The flow may diminish or even cease during the very hot season of the summer; however, there are many in Ellis County which are known to have never gone dry in over one hundred fifty years.
W. R. Howe came as early as 1843, and settled near Chambers Creek on the Thomas I. Smith league. There were a number of other settlers there including Thomas I. Smith, Dr. Young and Archibald Greathouse. About 1846, General E. H. Tarrant settled at Tarrant's Springs on Mill Creek (which runs south from Forreston), and built a mill on that creek.
Soon after the Howe family came, in February of 1844, Sutherland Mayfield brought his family and settled some seven miles below where Waxahachie now stands at some fine springs on a league of land on Waxahachie Creek. The place was later owned by Capt. John Reagor, and the springs are now known as Reagor Springs.
About 1848, Archibald Greathouse moved farther up Chambers to one of its the tributaries (now known as Greathouse Creek). He and his wife soon divorced and he sold his land to P. C. Sims. Coming with him were relatives, Nicholas P. Sims, who built a mill on Greathouse Creek and J. M. Brack and his wife (a sister of N. P. Sims). Judge Brack built his first house just north of where the last Greathouse Baptist Church was located beside the Cemetery and close to a spring called Machett Spring. Many descendants of the Brack family now often call it Brack Springs. Brack slaves put into cultivation the land where Greathouse Cemetery now stands.
N. P. Sims soon moved further south on Chambers Creek, just west of the old Bethel Church. In 1852, he gave ten acres of land to the Bethel Methodist Church, which was first established four miles west of the present Church at High Springs. A cemetery was just up the hill from the spring. Many of the first burials there were later reinterred in the new Bethel Cemetery or other cemeteries, leaving only a few graves in the grove of trees near the old High Springs.
Along this same line and a bit further north is the Mammoth Spring, which was on the cross road and watering places for the Old Dallas-Waco-Fort Graham routes. The Singleton Grave Yard is located below this spring on a small lake which it feeds. It is seven miles south of Midlothian on the Lone Star Camp of the Salvation Army.
A short distance north of this location is Mountain Peak, where a spring still flows west of the present church and cemetery.
As you follow the same line north, you come to the well known Hawkins Spring, located on a branch of the headwaters of Waxahachie Creek. It gushes forth from a cavern at the foot of a white rock hill, all covered with trees and shrubbery. The Peters Colony, including William Hawkins, settled here in 1848. During that summer, log cabins were built from logs hauled from Dallas County cedar brakes. The spring supplied all water for the colony. Recently the site has been cleared with the cooperation of Midlothian Community leaders and members of the Midlothian Middle School Community Service Problem Solvers Group. The spring now bears a Texas Historical Marker and is accessible to the public. The project required careful planning in order to protect the natural beauty while still providing public access and a viewing area of Hawkins Spring.
It appears that all of these springs from High to Hawkins were on the Dallas -Waco road, and the cattle trail between Waxahachie, and Fort Graham, which connected the Shawnee or Sedalia Trail with the Chisholm Trail farther to the west. Remember Cattle Trails were not 60' or 80' right of ways as we see today.
In 1848, Nathaniel Lynn Douglas, of Scotch descent, moved his family and their belongings in two ox-wagons to Texas, where he had been offered 640 acres to act as land agent. He paid $16 to G. W. Sublett for the headright out of the A. J. Porter survey on Brushy Creek. In the spring of 1849, they moved into their log cabin near a spring of fine water. Douglas' wife was Mary Goodloe, daughter of Henry and Rebecca Wright Goodloe. This was the beginning of Brushy Creek Community.
In the fall of 1847, E. W. Rogers moved his family from his location near Smith's Station to what is now Waxahachie - and was the town's first settler. He built a log cabin behind what is now the Rogers Hotel. A nice spring behind the Rogers Hotel furnished water for the hotel for many years.
Sutherland Mayfield's son, Robert, described the animals of the area as, "Deer, antelope, buffalo, wild horses, bears, panthers, wolves, Mexican Hogs, wild turkeys - in the greatest abundance. The deer were in great herds and were of the white-tailed species."
"The buffalo was the great wonder of the prairies. They came and went like a mighty torrent, covering the prairies as far as the eye could reach . They always traveled against the wind, even though sleet and snow were being driven by it. ....[and] moved by line front and file in depth, making parallel paths as they passed along. One of their haunts was the Lower Mustang Creek country, where they watered in the strong running branches on the land owned by W. H. Getzendaner and the Boren branch."
"Perch, trout and other fish were very plentiful in the creek, and also in some of the branches, especially those down the creek about the Getzendaner plantation."
Peter Apperson crossed into Texas at Coffee's Bend on the Red River January 1, 1845 - On December 8, they arrived at a small village on the Trinity River called Dallas. They looked over land where the Texas State Fair is now located , but decided it was not suitable for farming and went further south some thirty miles where they found land with a nice spring of water on the south side of Waxahachie Creek. There they settled.
Perhaps one of the best known springs in Ellis County is at Rockett. In 1861, Colonel W. H. Parsons met there with a group of men to organize the 12th Regiment Texas Cavalry - about twelve hundred men. The community of Rockett still exists northeast of Waxahachie near the well known as Rockett Springs.
Soon after the Civil War, a Capt. Cade came from Georgia to Ellis County and lived for years in the community of Nash. One of these springs is still visible along the side of the road. Another spring is located on Little Onion Creek northwest of Nash. The land owner took us to the spring that still flows into the Onion Creek. We were told that it furnished all of the water for the paving of the road that went along beside the property.
Ten creeks cross Ellis County from west to east, emptying into the Trinity River. These, along with the many tributaries at the head of these creeks, surely must harbor many more springs of which I am not aware. The ones mentioned here are the better known springs and the ones I have personally visited.
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