Cabin served as a storage shed
What’s in a name? Apparently for Fort Bend County it’s more fiction than fact.
The structure that the county’s name was derived from wasn’t a fort at all, but rather an over-glorified storage shed. It was a two-room dog run cabin built in haste and used to store goods of early settlers who were lost.
“The ‘fort’ was built by members of Stephen F. Austin’s first set of colonists to Texas and a few others they met along the way,” said Chris Godbold, chief curator of collections for the Fort Bend History Association. “Austin created two traveling parties to settle in Texas. One of the parties traveled over land and the other went by boat, the Lively, from New Orleans. Eventually the Lively landed at the mouth of the Brazos and unloaded all of the settlers and their provisions, expecting to meet up with Stephen F. Austin. However, he wasn’t there, as they had actually agreed to meet at the Colorado River.”
It is not known for certain how they ended up on the Brazos rather than the Colorado, though navigational error is a good probability. According to Paul N. Spellman in his book “Old 300 Gone to Texas,” The Lively’s captain, Ebenezer Cannon of Massachusetts, was described as “in the neighborhood of 50 years old, about 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, quite fleshy, weighing about 160, of a florid complexion, fond of his toddy, and quite on the lethargic order.”
The 30-ton schooner Lively sailed from New Orleans on Nov. 23, 1821, with 27 passengers and crew. They endured a hellish six-week trip before disembarking and unloading at the mouth of the Brazos. Little is known about what happened to the Lively after it left the settlers on Jan. 3, 1822, but four months later it sank off Galveston Island during its second voyage out of New Orleans.
As for the colonists, they planned to meet up with Austin upriver and find their land allocations.
“After waiting for him awhile attempts were made to go upriver to search for Austin,” Godbold said. “Not finding him, they eventually chose to find a place to settle anyway. They chose a place where there was a break in the timber near a big bend and a creek running into the river. Here, on the west side of the river, they built a log cabin where the settlers could store their supplies and take shelter should Indians attack. It was called a fort though it really wasn’t one. Those settlers who chose to remain established their homesteads near the fort and the area became known as the Fort Settlement. The fort was referred to as the Fort in the Bend, or Fort Bend for short. Later, this area became Richmond.”
In his book, Spellman gives just brief mention to the fort.
“But in the spring of 1822, William Little supervised the construction of a large cabin for future shelter and storage of the provisions that needed now to be brought up from the mouth of the Brazos. After 12 days of building the large structure – ‘the fort’ as it came to be called was a typical ‘dog run’ cabin with two large rooms separated by a breezeway – (William S.) Lewis and about a dozen of the party headed back down the river on board (David) Fitzgerald’s larger pirogue and the smaller yawl,” he wrote. (A pirogue and yawl are small boats.)
It was during these trips to bring up building materials and other provisions from the coast that the colonists encountered some Indians. One could speak broken Spanish and through him they learned they were on the “Brazos de Dios” River, and not the Colorado. Although contact was eventually made with Austin, the colonists opted to stay by their fort on the Brazos and made their homes there. Eventually joining them there was a woman they had encountered on their journey who would become known as the “mother of Texas,” Jane Long.
According to an entry on Wikipedia, the closest the fort came to any military action was during the Texas Revolution in 1836.
“The Fort Bend crossing was briefly defended in April 1836 by a rear guard detachment led by Wiley Martin. After Martin was maneuvered out of the position Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna transported a portion of his Mexican Army across the Brazos at the crossing. After Santa Anna’s defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto the site was used briefly by the Texas Army. Troops under Thomas Jefferson Green, who were in pursuit of retreating Mexican forces led by Gen. Vicente Filisola, halted for a short time in mid-May 1836 at Fort Bend.”
The crossing the Wikipedia entry refers to was Thompson’s Ferry, a short distance upriver from the fort.
What became of the original fort is anyone’s guess.
“I don’t know how long the fort stood or exactly what happened to it or even where its exact location was,” Godbold said. “It was on Jane Long’s league of land as it is sometimes called the Fort League but beyond that the location isn’t clear. It is possible that because the name of the street is Fort that the fort was at the end of that street. I am not sure of the origins of that street name. Wherever the location was, that ground was eaten by the river a long time ago. Attempts have been made to find some sign of it with limited or no success.”
Godbold said there was a reproduction of the fort in Richmond’s Decker Heritage Park back in the 1970s and ’80s, but, like the original, was short-lived and eventually demolished. All that remains to commemorate the fort that gave its name to the county that was established in 1837 are a few stories and a historical marker.
“There is a 1936 historical marker for Fort Bend placed in a park on the west side of the river between the sets of lanes for Alt-90,” Godbold said.