The Trinity River Archives / by Scot McFarlane

    During my return from a research trip to UT's Briscoe Center last week, I made a list of all of the archives in which I found sources for my dissertation on the Trinity River.  I thought the list would come out to around 30 different archives, but the actual list came out to 37 locations.  At some places I only gathered one or two documents whereas at archives like SMU's DeGolyer Library or the Texas State Archives I have collected hundred of images.  The list of archives does not include all of the sites I visited, for example I went to the National Archives in D.C. two years ago to study the Freedmen's Bureau records, but have since found all of these sources on familysearch, which is far superior to microfilm.  Recognizing the number of archives I have visited has made me realize that I need to start writing soon.  Funding permitting, I will take one more research trip this summer.  There are one or two new sites I need to visit and several archives that I need to return to because the time period for this project has expanded since I began my research. Also, I need to return to spend more time at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston because on my last visit I had not realized how terrible the traffic is in the Galveston/Houston area and ended up only have about two hours there before I had to leave to catch my flight home!  People talk about the expense of global history, but even this river history, within a single albeit, large state, can be quite costly.  Funding from individual libraries has been helpful, however research funding not tied to a particular library such as the East Texas Historical Association's Otto Lock grant has allowed me to visit so many of these smaller unfunded sites.  

    Other than my project's scope, another major change has been the quantity of materials that have been digitized.  There are likely several collections that I visited in person which have since been digitized.  The single best resource has been the Portal To Texas History-that site is the reason my computer's mouse had to be replaced and I am still not finished reviewing all of their sources, especially their newspaper collections.  These online resources have saved me money and allowed me to research more efficiently.  I know some people really enjoy being in the archives all day, but I would much rather spend a limited two-three hour period of time doing research each day, which is exactly what all these online resources have made possible.  

    How did I decide to visit all of these archives?  The finding aid's and Texas' TARO (Texas Archival Resources Online) have been useful, but a word of caution to other Texas researchers that a significant portion of holdings are not on TARO even if the archive is listed in TARO, and can only be found on internal catalogs--hence the reason to always make contact with the archivists who will point you in the right direction as long as your project is not hopelessly broad.  I have been mining the footnotes of all the relevant secondary sources.  One such example is the WPA slave narratives.  I thought I had searched through all of these interviews at the outset of my research.  Only when I found several WPA quotes in other history books about the Trinity did I realize I was missing something.  It turns out that the majority of the interviews from Texas are listed as "supplement" and you will not find them if you download the main set of interviews from Library of Congress/Gutenberg.  Maybe you already knew this, but no one told me, and my project would have been much poorer had I not made this discovery.  

    The reason I visited the manuscript collection at Cornell was because of a citation found in Mike Campbell's An Empire for Slavery.  Buried within a much larger collection relating to a Cornell Professor are a series of letters written by Otis Wheeler and his daughter Lizzie.  How Campbell knew to look through this collection I have no idea.  Wheeler owned a plantation along the Trinity and he describes life along the Trinity, how floods could destroy crops or how fish and river bottom hogs provided food for the plantation.  Wheeler had moved to Texas from Lincoln, Massachusetts where his mother still lived.  He often wrote about his distaste for the abolitionist sentiments in New England, but he spoke fondly of his old friend Summer Bemis.  In 1860 Wheeler wrote his mother, that Bemis, whom he had not seen in twenty years, should come visit, however "if he is an abolitionist any other country would suit him better than this."  Wheeler learned in short order about the rise of abolition in the United States.  One of my good friends from Concord Massachusetts (the town adjacent to Lincoln) is a direct descendant of Summer Bemis so I guess it's a small world in the past and the present.  

 

List of Archives used:  

Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

The Perry-Castañeda Library, The University of Texas at Austin

Texas State Library and Archives, Austin, TX

Sam Houston Regional Library Texas State Archives, Liberty, TX

Houston County Historical Commission, Crockett, TX

East Texas Research Center, Stephen F. Austin College, Nacogdoches, TX

The History Center, Diboll, TX

Palestine Public Library, Palestine, TX

DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

Dallas History & Archives Division, Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX

Special Collections at University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Portal to Texas History, the Internets!/ UNT

Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX

The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX

Texas Baptist Historical Collection, Waco, TX

Trinity County Historical Commission, Groveton, TX

Walker County Historical Commission, Huntsville, TX

Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX

Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library, Houston, TX

Polk County Historical Commission, Livingston, TX

San Jacinto County Historical Commission, Coldspring, TX

Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library, San Jacinto Museum of History, La Porte, TX

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY 

Leon County Genealogical Society, Centerville, TX

Texas Prison Museum, Huntsville, TX

Thomason Room Special Collections, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX

Archives of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, Livingston, TX

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The National Archives at Fort Worth, National Archives, Fort Worth, TX

Environmental Research Library, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Austin, TX

General Land Office Archives, Austin, TX

Trinity River Authority Archives, Arlington, TX

Trinity River Authority Lake Livingston Archives, Livingston, TX

Crockett Public Library, Crockett, TX

 

And a few photos from past trips:

 High water Trinity in summer 2015

High water Trinity in summer 2015

 Visit to Joppa in January 2016

Visit to Joppa in January 2016

 Trinity River Steamboat model at Sam Houston Regional Library in Liberty

Trinity River Steamboat model at Sam Houston Regional Library in Liberty

 Semi-petrified wood?  Trinity River at low water.

Semi-petrified wood?  Trinity River at low water.

 Summer 2017 at National Wildlife Refuge near Sam Houston Regional Library on the Trinity

Summer 2017 at National Wildlife Refuge near Sam Houston Regional Library on the Trinity

 Enthusiastic audience at Livingston Public Library for my presentation on Trinity River History, summer 2017. 

Enthusiastic audience at Livingston Public Library for my presentation on Trinity River History, summer 2017. 

 Summer 2017 at Rosenwald School in Coldspring, site of another Trinity River presentation.

Summer 2017 at Rosenwald School in Coldspring, site of another Trinity River presentation.

 The gorges during my fall 2017 visit to Cornell. 

The gorges during my fall 2017 visit to Cornell. 

 And just for fun, a picture of a cabbage that I purchased for three dollars on my drive back from the Cornell Archives, as you can see the cabbage is pretty much the same size as Alsea!

And just for fun, a picture of a cabbage that I purchased for three dollars on my drive back from the Cornell Archives, as you can see the cabbage is pretty much the same size as Alsea!