|Honey Springs Branch, Historic Joppa Freedman's Community, Dallas, Texas|
The big rambling farmhouses that once commanded the views of this place were the focal points of now long gone pioneer family homesteads. Far ranging in scope and size, the Miller and Overton farms dominated this part of Texas for the latter half of the 19th Century. Reliable water was always a draw for early Texas settlers and the creeks and springs that dominate much of Oak Cliff and South Dallas served as a focal point.
Honey Springs was one such place, a complex story of water that is an interwoven yarn with the history of Texas itself. An underdeveloped ethos runs through this place that has allowed for small pockets of the once heralded Honey Springs to remain in a natural state.
|Green Heron at the mouth of Honey Springs Branch and Wetland Cell G in the Chain of Wetlands, Great Trinity Forest|
Be forewarned that the point blank, hard playing, hard living lives of the people here never vanished. The rough and tumble range fights with Texas Rangers and Indians over this very land might be trumped by the contemporary violence that is still seen today.
The foggy and complex human history of this place tends to cloud what is one of the best looking little creeks in Dallas. The hickory, walnut and pecan grow tall in here beyond the backbrush of the formal riverbottom.
The confusion of where the historic flow of the spring was once sourced stumped the best of them.
Author Gunnar Brune wrote an encyclopedic account of natural springs and seeps in Texas based first on work done in the 1970s and later published in a stand alone guide that commands a king's ransom on Amazon. The couple thousand dollars for your own copy might be worth the expense if one were interested in tracking down some of the more obscure springs of the Lone Star State.
The book misses the mark when it comes to Honey Springs. It lists the source of Honey Springs as a spot near the Lisbon Cemetery in the former pioneer settlement that goes by the same name near Mentor and Gracey streets, a stone's throw from the VA Hospital.
Fair enough. It's a hard place to find. The deep history of this place goes back many generations but no one ever saw fit to put pen-to-paper writing it for posterity. Much of the happenings here were taken to the graves of the witnesses to it. The seemingly mundane hauling, plowing, fixing and mending of things left the place a century ago and now most likely will never have another voice to tell what went on here.
The real location of Honey Springs cuts through the community of Joppa (pronounced Joppie by locals) who claim the left bank of the Trinity as their own. The tinge of old campfire smoke still permeates this place. With the onset of autumn many residents use wood to heat food and stay warm.
|A vacant lot in the Freedman's Community of Joppa under a half moon lit time exposure at night. November 2013|
|Springs of Texas notation on the Battle Axe found at Honey Springs|
The oldest historic artifact that can be linked to Europeans in this area was a metal battle axe consistent with Spanish exploration in Texas. The provenance of the axe was never linked to any expedition. The notation of the find is listed in Gunnar Brune's book as seen above in the passage.
The De Soto expedition was the first group of Europeans to explore this part of Texas in the 16th century. Led by Luis de Moscoso de Alvarado, the Native Americans the Spanish encountered here in North Texas spoke Caddoan and were called Canohatino by the French trappers pushing north along the Red River in the 17th century. It is believed this group eventually absorbed into the greater Confederacy of Caddo speaking groups (Yojuane, Kichai, Tawakoni, Taovayas, Iscani and Wichita). This Caddo group is what lived in North Texas through the late 18th century.
|Wood Ducks in Honey Springs Branch|
The Native Americans to this area were always quick to show visitors the spring here in what is now South Dallas, a place known for good reliable water and large numbers of hollowed out trees with honey bearing beehives.
|Honey Springs on a circa 1920 map|
Bees are still attracted to Honey Springs Branch. Here at the mouth of where Honey Springs Branch flows into Wetland Cell G, the Corps of Engineers has planted American Lotus also known as Water Chinquapin.
American Lotus was a mainstay of Indians in the Americas and it is basically found east and south of the Rockies plus California. While the root, shoots, flowers and young seeds are edible, it was the root the Indians counted on to get them through the winter. The popularity of the Nelumbo lutea no doubt has also led to its many common names: Yellow Water Lotus, Yellow Lotus, Alligator Buttons, Duck Acorns, Water Chinquapin, Yonkapin, Yockernut and Pondnut. Many of them refers to the plant’s round, dark brown, half-inch seeds. Even its name is about the seed. Nelumbo is Ceylonese and means “sacred bean.” Lutea is Latin for yellow.
|Bees at the mouth of Honey Springs gathering the pollen from an American Lotus|
|Acorn size seeds inside the seed pods of a Water Chinquapin at the mouth of Honey Springs|
The deep water of the Chain of Wetlands, keeps nearly all wading birds from feeding in the cells themselves. Forced to the margins one of the only places they can stalk prey is the shallow mouth of Honey Springs Branch and Cell G. Here at the mouth with a prominent beaver lodge, birds like the Green Heron can fish with relative ease.
|Green Heron perched on a beaver lodge at the mouth of Honey Springs Branch|
Although secretive and skulking while creeping slowly through its wetland habitat, the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is actually one of North America’s most recognizable wetland birds. Difficult to approach, these Green Heron photos were taken early in the evening approaching with the sun in the eyes of the bird and utilizing the streambed of Honey Springs as concealment. Crawling on hands and knees through the muck helped get low for the depth of field afforded by the unique stand of lotus in this spot.
|American Wigeon male|
|Members of the Trinity River Rod and Gun Club with Dallas Police Department at Little Lemmon Lake during the filming of the movie Bonnie and Clyde|
|Wood Ducks in Honey Springs|
|William Brown Miller|
North Carolina native William Overton came to settle this land in 1844 and was one of the first pioneers to settle the west bank of the Trinity River. Originally, he was granted the land along Turtle Creek in the area around present day Uptown. He left Texas for a time during the '49 California gold rush and upon return to Dallas swapped a family member his Turtle Creek land for that around Honey Springs.
Willam Brown Miller was one of the original pioneers to settle this part of Dallas County. Born in Madison County Kentucky in 1807 Miller was the second of seven children born to John and Mary (Brown) Miller, native of Kentucky. In 1834 he began a dry goods business in Alabama. It failed in 1836, he moved to Tennessee to farm for ten years. In 1847 he moved to Dallas County, purchasing 562 acres and building a home on the Van Cleave Survey.
|American Wigeon male|
|19th Century ferry crossing on the Trinity River|
|American Wigeon female|
|Incorporation document for Honey Springs Ferry Company|
|Grave of Albert Conner, founder of the Honey Springs Cemetery|
After the Civil War, Miller's Ferry was a vital crossing point. Tying together Dallas, Hutchins, Corsicana and Galveston. Lying east of the Austin Road, Miller's Ferry was an important shipping road to reach the coast, East Texas lumber and coal seams near Corsicana. It was a cash cow of an operation and was the lifeline of the Dallas economy until the railroads reached Dallas in the 1870s. An important crossing such as this needed the best men to run it. With high unemployment after the war and relative stagnation of the economy, William Miller could have chosen one of a thousand capable men to oversee his ferry operation. The man Miller handpicked was Henry Critz Hines. Really it was more of a business agreement among men who viewed each other as equals. As a result, Hines became one of the first African American entrepreneurs after the Civil War. Not just in Dallas or Texas or even in the South. In the whole of the United States. In addition, you will find very few freed slaves who so soon after the war were able to make a living from a customer base that was largely anglo. Henry Critz Hines also founded Joppa, one of the best preserved, if not the best preserved Freedmen's communities left in the United States.
|At Honey Springs Cemetery. The child in the t-shirt with the yellow number 6 and his taller brother in the SMU shirt are both Hines descendants.|
|Honey Springs Cemetery|
The Honey Springs Cemetery sits on Bulova Street on the old Overton farm. It's a quiet place buffered by high privet brush on 3 sides with a grove of Post Oaks running southeast to northwest towards the railroad tracks. The current cemetery was once a parceled lot of the Coming Home Cemetery aka Homecoming Cemetery and Honey Springs Cemetery. Seems that reading through some of the plots here that the cemetery while African American in nature divided itself into where one resided. Honey Springs for those in Joppa and Homecoming Cemetery for those living on the north side of the river.
Personal sacrifice went into the lives buried in this hallowed ground. Like those first freedmen who settled here, Joppa's cornerstones remain as they were founded. A pride in family and community. The broad brush strokes painted by many outsiders to South Dallas lump the bad with the good. Many of the residents down here have carved themselves out a place in the world to call home. A quiet but proud neighborhood, cut off from most of the metropolis that surrounds it.
|Red Shouldered Hawk perched at Wetland Cell G, looking for a meal, treeline of Joppa in the distance, Honey Springs|
That quiet life for many in Joppa allows the wildlife just beyond the treelines to slowly rebound. As the leaves of autumn begin to fall and the first patchy frosts nip at the edges of the woods many of the winged predators down here stalk their prey.
This common forest-dwelling hawk is often seen soaring and calling loudly and repeatedly. It may be the most vocal of American hawks, but since a Blue Jay can imitate a Red-shouldered Hawk remarkably well, care must be used when identifying this bird by voice alone.
|Red Shouldered Hawk carefully stalking a meal|
Here after a brief evening storm a very wet Red Shouldered Hawk carefully walks the edges of Wetland Cell G tip-toeing through the short grass in a very deliberate manner playing a careful game of catch.
|Who has who. A Red Shouldered Hawk's attempt at catching a crayfish has the bird being caught by large crustacean claws|
Red-shouldered Hawks eat mostly small varmits, lizards, snakes, and amphibians. They can be found hunting from perches below the Great Trinity Forest canopy or at the edge of a pond, sitting silently until they sight their prey below. Then they descend swiftly, gliding and snatching a vole or chipmunk off the forest floor. They also eat toads, snakes, and as seen here crayfish.
Crayfish, most likely sent into the grass after the heavy rains just minutes before were taken down by a dozen by the hawk that evening. One after the other, carefully stalked and eaten. A learned trait by the hawk no doubt. A rare treat to see such a thing.