A story older than Texas itself. One that has been told and retold countless times in English, Spanish, French, Comanche and Caddo. A story told in those languages at the very spot seen above over two dozen centuries. The fight over water. You don't realize how valuable water can be until you don't have it or someone else wants yours. Water. The good stuff.
|Jim Flood, Bill Holston, Scott Hudson at White Rock Spring June 9, 2012|
|Scott Hudson and Dr Tim Dalbey taking field notes at an ancient Indian site|
|Illegal sump box and pump hose at the spring|
A big hats off and thank you to the city attorney's office and especially the Trinity Watershed Management office who put a halt to some of this in short order. I think that there are a couple special people working in the offices there that worked quickly to resolve the illegal pumping. I'm afraid though that this is just the first inning of a nine inning game to protect the spring. With rumors of a well that might be dug up the terrace, coupled with past poor land stewardship by the business, the threat to the spring is just beginning. Read on and I'll get to that.
The spring itself is part of what geologists call a perched aquifer. The spring sits on a slope overlooking the Great Trinity Forest. Above the springs is a sandy gravel some 30 feet or more thick. Water percolates through this strata with ease. Where the sand and gravel contact an impervious layer of bedrock water flows horizontally till it reaches the spring site.
The water in the spring is crystal clear. Home to minnows, crawfish and the random turtle, the spring serves as a year round water supply for local wildlife.
The provenance showing title ownership of the land here can counted using the fingers of one human hand. 500 years back. John Beeman in the 1840s was the first pioneer to patent and own this land. His oldest daughter Margaret Beeman inherited this property along with her husband John Neely Bryan, founder of Dallas. Here they built a home near the spring and raised a family. Margaret Beeman eventually sold the land to Edward Case Pemberton in the 1880s. Edward Case Pemberton operated a dairy farm at this location and also ran a small store just down the road. He was murdered at his store in 1914. The land was inherited by his seven sons. Today the spring portion of the property is owned by the City of Dallas. Now part of a larger parcel of land known as the Great Trinity Forest at some point in the future this site will be integral into telling the history of Dallas. North Texas is often overshadowed in Texas lore by the great Spanish Missions of San Antonio or Indian battles of the west. This spring site holds a place among those missions, battlefields and unique land features. It's a history that is largely unwritten and waiting to be discovered.
The spring is a special place. I wish more people could visit, learn about the rich history behind it and drink straight from the source. It's a cold sweet water even on a hot day. Within minutes at the spring site, everyone who visits realizes that it should be left in a natural state. No fancy concrete trails, picnic tables or landscaping would make it better. Just leave it be. Seems simple enough.
President Sam Houston and His Treaty Party
Sam Houston's last term as President were filled with heavyweight issues. His highlighted concerns were Indian relations, war on the horizon with Mexico and Texas annexation into the United States.
He had lived with the Cherokee people for years as a young man, had a fondness for the tribes and wanted them treated fairly as their lands were taken over by civilization despite their depredations against the settlers in Texas. For months Houston sent messages to his Indian friends proclaiming he would hold a Grand Council of the Tribes at Fort Bird(presently in the Mid Cities area) during the full moon of August 1843. Similar to what we might consider a general assembly meeting of the United Nations. Houston sent Indian Commissioner Joseph C. Eldridge out months in advance of the date to bring the Comanches and others to the treaty council.It was in August 1843 when Sam Houston and an expedition of about 30 men departed Crockett in East Texas, and began their trek to the Three Forks of the Trinity to negotiate with the chiefs of the Indian tribes. Their route was well documented traveling roughly on the same route into Dallas that US Highway 175 takes today. This route was an ancient Pre-Columbian trail used by Indians for many centuries as an important trade route between the Piney Woods of East Texas, the Plains and Indians living north of the Red River. Scyene and Preston Roads share similar distinctions in Dallas as ancient Indian trails that later became major roads.
Jump to 2012
|Bill Holston with a mouthful of spring water|
|Scott, Tim and Billy Ray talking about something -this- big|
|Tim and Scott measuring the Bur Oak|
|Walnut Tree at the spring with a spike driven in it noting the highwater mark of the 1908 flood|
A water sample was also taken for independent analysis to establish not only the water quality but also to serve as a baseline for the future. I have drank freely from the spring numerous times and I hope to continue to do so. It's 55ish degrees year round and tastes sweet.
Part of our trip was exploring the known and unknown Native American sites between White Rock Spring and the future Texas Horse Park. On the terraces above the spring evidence of ancient man once littered the ground. These areas were reduced by Depression era gravel mining in the 1930s. Still, some pockets of untouched Indian camps and arrowhead making sites exist today. We took a brief walk following the old terrace contours to the south while Dr Dalbey an archeologist took heavy field notes on what he saw.
Wandering to the Horse Park
|Untouched prairie in the powerline right of way between the spring complex and the Horse Park|
I guess to grasp what we saw at the Horse Park, it needs to be divided up into three categories. First, the ancient Indian terraces, camps and remains that are visible on the ground. Second, the historic structures of the old farmsteads and buildings dating back from the turn of the last century. Finally, the contemporary structures and the issues surrounding them.
The Ancient Native American Sites And Fossils
|Dr Dalbey holding a piece of worked chert|
I cannot underscore the dismay we all felt when Dr Dalbey said that some of the terraces, the ones with the most artifacts were destroyed recently by bulldozing and grading by the previous tenant. Now buried under many feet of building debris and slaughterhouse refuse, the Native American site listed as a possible candidate for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is gone forever. To untangle that mess of discarded animal fat, bones and just trash might not be worth the effort. Would it shock you to learn that the same business responsible for that is the same one sucking water from the spring?
The Discovery Channel even produced a television show on the mammoths found in this part of Texas called Prehistoric Dallas.
Discovery Channel Prehistoric Dallas
The show discusses in some detail how the mammoths ended up in these sandy gravels and soils. At the time they wandered over Dallas, the area was a flat river plain. The salts and minerals probably attracted these cousins of modern day elephants. Whether through quick sand, predators or drowning they died by the dozens between Lake June and Loop 12. Mixed in are bones of now extinct ancient antelope, camels, bears and large cat species that preyed on all of them. Many of the finest examples of mammoth skeletons now found in museums worldwide came out of the area in and around the Texas Horse Park.
The Historic Era 1800s-1950s
|Wallace Jenkins era maintenance shed and work bays|
The old farm that once sat here was known in the communities of Pleasant Grove and Elam as the Kirby Farm. Some of it might still be here dating back to the Civil War Era. It's hard to look at some of the old cabin foundations and wooden structures to place an age on how long ago it might have been built. Some are much older than others. The more substantial buildings were built post 1938 when a man named Wallace Jenkins owned the property. Mr Jenkins built some really nice structures on the property, including a set of dams for a creek, maintenance buildings, a cattle loading dock and ranch headquarters.
|Ranch building possibly a residental home for a caretaker or a ranch office|
The Jenkins structures have for better or worse stood the test of time. Were it not for all the recent lack of maintenance they might have been salvaged into part of the Horse Park.
Contemporary Structures--if you can call them that
|Panorama of some buildings at the 811 property (click to make larger)|
Hard to get a grip on what has probably been going on there recently. The standing Jenkins Farm structures of decades ago in some cases have been refitted to serve other purposes while "newer" structures stand in their own new footprint. The newer construction does not feature a single structure, piece of plumbing or electrical work that looks up to code. Not one. I wonder how this was allowed to happen. It sits on city owned property and the previous tenant rented the land. The mess left behind is just epic in destruction.
Understand this was used a commercial animal slaughter facility. In the local Dallas media in 2012 another animal processing facility came under scrutiny for a discharge of animal blood into a tributary of the Trinity River in Oak Cliff. The mess here at 811 Pemberton Hill Road is many times larger. Pits with animal remains, a large area in the trees covered with what looks like layer after layer of rendered animal fat. Since all this now sits on city owned property the taxpayer will fund the cleanup. Bulldozing is a tricky matter too, since scraping the site of debris will take many of the ancient Native American artifacts with it. Tricky.
While the blight of the Horse Park was disturbing we were more interested in the condition of a formal well on the property. Probably over a century old the well was once pumped by a windmill, the metal frame of which still stands over the well today. The concern here is that the well could allow contamination into the aquifer and poison the groundwater.
|Well shack pumphouse|
The haphazard shed here serves as the well house. First glance you see a gallon sized bottle of Clorox bleach on the ground which is never a good sign. Absent is the pump that pulled water from the well. The well itself is open to the elements without a screen or door covering the top.
PVC piping leads down the well, I would guess some 15-20 feet to the water. Cockroaches line the interior of the well and bugs of all kinds lay on the surface of the water. Other than the unsanitary conditions, the open well serves as a hazard if someone like a child were to fall in.
|A look inside the cockroach lined well at the Horse Park site.|
The concrete work for the foundations seen to the east of the well are all substandard. Thin veneers of concrete that I was told served as the slaughterhouse floor. Plumbing is largely absent and I have no idea where or how animal remains were disposed.
I post this not as a "look what we found". If that were the case I would have done that a couple years ago when I saw the carcasses and trash. The concern here is that the same outfit that did all this has now moved just north of the Big Spring and is setting up what appears to be similar operations with a large animal herd directly uphill to the northeast in the 1100 block of Pemberton Hill Road. With no pasture, no water source and little shade I wonder how someone can hold dozens and dozens of animals on property like that through the hottest part of the summer.
When you leave a mess behind like this it seems hard to offer someone a second chance to clean up their act. You lose the right, forfeit the right, to the benefit of the doubt.
Down The Terrace
The further you get away from 811 Pemberton Hill, the Horse Park property begins to revert back to nature. The over grazed pastures lead down into Post Oak Savannah breaks of trees and scenes similar to that of East Central Texas. A small sliver of this Post Oak ecosystem fingers through SE Dallas County and along the sand terraces of Pleasant Grove and Scyene. Unique only to this part of Dallas.
|Bill and Tim walking down a cedar break canopied ranch road in the Great Trinity Forest|
|Spring fed lake with clear water in the Great Trinity Forest|
Sam Houston once said "There are no strangers in this world, just friends we've never met." I think that's a good way to leave it for now.