The pathways to Navasota embody much of our local history, and provide a great way to tell our wonderful story. Whether you are new to Navasota or have grown up here, you might find that understanding these paths will make travel through the area much more meaningful. There are at least six different important paths that have woven this rich fabric of our heritage.
1) Native American Pathways For eons the Native Americans hunted buffalo along their hunting routes that crisscrossed through Grimes County. The early settlers called the two most obvious trails the Upper and Lower Coushatti Traces. They more or less made the path for highways 105 and 90 through Grimes County. Some of the settlers must have observed Coushatta Indians as they passed through on their annual hunts. The Upper Coushatti trace seemed to temporarily join the larger and longer La Bahia Road here in Grimes County. As the bluffs over the Navasota and Brazos Rivers made natural traps for buffalo harvesting, there is no doubt that other tribes found their way here as well. Tonkawa, Comanche, Caddo, Deadoses, (Bedias, and Anadarko), Kickapoo, Karankawa, Delaware, Tawakoni, Waco, Paouites and others were some tribes that were known to camp or travel nearby, and would have used the trail as well.
2) Spanish and French Explorers Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle brought his desperate party through this area right before a tragic meltdown of class warfare that left him and five of other Frenchmen dead. Soon the Spanish were seeking to nip the French intrusion at the bud, and a small army carved a path through the wilderness, shaking down the natives and looking for the French invaders, and passed through Navasota in the search. The road they used from the abandoned French fort on Matagorda Bay became known as the Bay Road, La Camina Bahia, which is marked as such near downtown Navasota. It later became a popular path, as it connected Nacogdoches in East Texas with San Antonio, the largest town in Tejas at the time. Numerous missions were established in east Texas, and the road was a major artery in Texas from 1687 on.
3) The Austin Colony Trails and Waterways The early settlers knew little of the history of the road, and in fact had other names for it. “Labadie,” and “Contraband Road” and other corruptions of La Bahia muddied the history of this important road during the pre-Republic days, when Jim Bowie used the road to smuggle slaves into Louisiana. Stephen F. Austin was very familiar with his colony, and in fact had carved out a league with his name on it in Grimes County, just south of the La Bahia Road on the southern route of the Coushatti Trace, just a few miles east of Navasota. He is supposed to have hanged seven white men for stealing mules from some Mexicans, near the present townsite of Navasota, in an effort to prevent an all-out race war in his fledgling colony. He never married or settled down, and died fairly young in service to Texas, and the land here was never settled by him. Stephen F. Austin had presented a map of his proposed colony to the Spanish, and had named it “Austiana,” and in the past Grimes County has advertised itself as the “Gateway to Austiana,” and a Navasota subdivision is called Austiana Hills.
Just as important as the roads, the Brazos River was the true lifeline to this region for thirty years. Mail was delivered by steamboat all along the Brazos, and on a tributary of the Brazos, the Navasota River, during the Republic years. Steamboats brought everything necessary to outfit Washington on the Brazos, where the Texas Constitutional Convention was held, Independence from Mexico was declared and a frontier capital was established for the new Republic. Great Indian chiefs and foreign dignitaries came there to visit Sam Houston, then President of Texas. Planters were able to send the cotton and other produce grown in the Brazos Valley south to Galveston by steamboat, and later the steam vessels brought Texans up the river to do business with the Texas Rangers and the Texas Government that stayed there.
4) Civil War Roads and Railroad Eventually the railroads came, in 1854, and the only inland railroad in Texas during the Civil War went to Navasota, making it a major wartime purchasing, warehousing and shipping center. Guns, shoes, clothes and other military needs were manufactured locally and sent east via the La Bahia Road, known then as the Opelousas Road.
5) The Cattle Drives Although the Chisholm Trail has captured the imagination of Western history buffs, the Bahia Road actually served as a cattle trail to move Texas longhorns to market for a longer period of time, and to a much more important destination. There was always a buyer in Shreveport and New Orleans for Texas livestock, and Texas horses and cattle were driven to Louisiana, along the Bahia, then known as the “Opelousas Road,” to the largest population center in the South, and later to supply the Confederate States with essential beef and fresh mounts.
6) Blues Valley Any study of Music is pointless without a study of the Blues, and any study of the Blues will have to focus sooner or later on the Brazos and Navasota River valleys, the epicenter of the Texas cotton industry, and where 90% of Texas Blues musicians were born and bred. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Texas Alexander, Albert Collins, Mance Lipscomb, Pee wee Creighton, L. C. Robinson, Big Mama Thornton, and many more traveled the paths and learned the songs along these rivers and their flood plains, and knew the roads to Navasota. The legendary Moore Brothers Prison Farm was nestled where the two rivers met, and the songs about them have been recorded by a half dozen recording artists.
Obviously it was the very heroes of Texas who used these pathways, and this ancient network of paths led many here and produced a strong culture of pioneers who made Texas what it is. Navasota has more than its share of real life stars in history and music. Here is a partial list of Texas “Who’s Who,” who followed the roads to Navasota. The * (asterisk) means this baker’s dozen of folks are truly legends, famous all over the world, and underlining means they were actually a resident of Grimes or an adjacent county. Some names are self explanatory…
*Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle
Alonso de Leon- he led the largest manhunt in Texas history in search of La Salle.
Maria Agreda aka the “Blue Nun”- Sixteenth Century nun in Spain, who set off intense Spanish evangelical efforts to Texas Indians, after unusual visions and claims of teleportation to Texas where she preached to many Southwestern Indians in their own tongues, and converted large groups of Jumano Indians she found camped along a “large river with red sediments…” Later the Jumanos told of finding the bluebonnets for the first time where her blue robe had dragged the ground…!!! (Sounds like the Brazos and Navasota to me!) Even the Inquisitionists could not crack her story… and she became a 20 year confidant of King Philip.
*Jim and Rezin Bowie
*Stephen F. Austin
Thomas Rusk- Republic of Texas Sec of State.
*Jesse Chisholm- Southwestern Indian guide, trader and interpreter, blazed trail known by his name.
Z. N. Morrell- Earliest Baptist preacher, held services at Washington on the Brazos in 1830’s. Early Texas author.
W. P. Zuber- Grimes resident, received first- hand account of the Alamo “Line in the Sand” story from Moses Rose, fresh from the siege, fought at San Jacinto, wrote important Texas histories. Shaped the Alamo Myth.
Jared Groce- Grimes resident, Considered the “Father of Texas Agriculture,” first planter to establish himself in Texas, very influential during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836.
George Childress- The Thomas Jefferson of Texas. Young , well-schooled patriot, sent across the Brazos during the Convention to help ailing Jared Groce write the Declaration of Independence from Mexico at Groce’s home in Grimes County.
*Sara Dodson- Grimes Resident, The Betsy Ross of Texas, young wife of a Captain in the Texas Army, she fabricated the first red, white and blue, Lone Star flag, which hung at the “Independence Hall” during the Constitutional Convention, 1836.
Martin Ruter- Early Texas Methodist evangelist andpreacher. Ruterville was named after him.
Jeff Milton- Grimes County cowboy, Famous Western lawman, Texas Ranger, who faced down John Wesley Hardin several times while Police Chief of El Paso, Texas… Subject of “A Good Man With a Gun.”
*Adelaide Prince aka Lena Rubenstein, was born in Millican and grew up in and around Navasota, before becoming a popular stage actress and silent screen star.
*Frank Hamer- One of the most famous lawmen of all time, Texas Ranger, appointed by Texas Governor to serve as Marshal of Navasota as his first assignment, in 1908. Most famous for killing Bonnie and Clyde.
*Mance Lipscomb- Grimes resident, Blues guitar master, recorded half a dozen albums, lived to old age, became mentor to Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal.
*Blind Willie Johnson- Considered the progenitor of the slide guitar, he played for nickels on the streets of Navasota, right in front of Tex’s Music on Washington Ave.. Mance Lipscomb would tune his guitar for him.
*Texas Alexander- Grimes resident, one of the first major Blues vocalists, influential older cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins, played with the Mississippi Sheiks, recorded numerous 78’s in New York and San Antonio, 1920’s.
*Lightnin’ Hopkins- A passive rival of Mance Lipscomb, he played in the Brazos bottom juke joints and learned and recorded the “Tom Moore blues.”
*Alvin Ailey- Grimes resident arguably one of the most influencial dancers in the country, who established the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York City.
L. C. Williams- Brazos County resident (Millican), Blues drummer, played with Lightnin’ Hopkins, called “Lightnin’ Jr” made numerous recordings for Gold Star.
*Joe Tex- Grimes resident, 1970’s Soul recording artist, considered to be most important Texas Soul Singer, moved to Navasota at the apex of his career, became popular local resident, recorded a song where he mentions Navasota.
Jerry Jericho- Brazos County resident (Millican, just across the Brazos River ), 50’s and 60’s country singer, toured with Hank Williams, Johnny Bush.
Hollywood Actors: America’s Top Texas TV Hero, Chuck Norris, star of Walker, Texas Ranger, lives with his family at Lone Wolf Ranch, on the outskirts of Navasota. Child actress Jenny James Busse was raised in Navasota and graduated from Navasota High. She was in several movies, including Places in the Heart with Sally Field and Danny Glover. A segment of Matt Houston , starring Lee Horsley was shot in Navasota.