“Bitter Waters Round the Bend”… Tales from 1966, pre-Toledo Bend Lake

Following is an article from The Shreveport Times, dated Sun, Jul 3, 1966, and written by Norman Richardson.

Bitter Waters    the_times_sun__jul_3__1966_1
Moses Speights Morris is a proud man whose family tree roots reach deep into the red clay of Sabine County.

His father, who is buried just up the road, worked the land, fought in the Confederacy, and built a big farmhouse that still stands today.

His grandfather received a land grant from the Mexican Republic around Sabinetown, fought for it in the Texas Revolution and he, too, is buried in it

But as much as he loves the land, as linked to it as he is, Morris must leave his 222 acres.

He has known no other home in his 81 years and vows he will stay until the waters come.

And they will come.

mosesSometime before 1968, the muddy waters of the Sabine River will slip from their banks to create the mammoth Toledo Bend Reservoir which will swallow tip Morris’ land and be two feet ever his porch.

“I’m not liking it at all, not a doggone bit,” Morris says bitterly of the Toledo Rend project.

He is the last holdout among the landowners in the Milam, Texas area.

On the Louisiana side of the twisting Sabine, an almost forgotten historic site near Many is on its death bed. It will die slowly as it gives way to progress and surrenders to the turbid waters.

The Sabine Breastworks, most extensive and best preserved military breastworks on the river, will simply cease to exist this year.

It is a project marked with mixed emotions ranging from tears and heartbreak to joy, excitement and downright stubbornness by the people living here.

All have stories to tell, all have reasons for wanting to go or stay.

The same story holds true a few miles deeper into East Texas and the Sam Rayburn Reservoir project.

“I think it’s one of the most outrageous things ever was.” Morris says, slapping his leg in disgust. “Penalizes all of us upstream to satisfy the thirst of those downstream.  I’m gonna stay here til the waters come. They think i ain’t . . but I am, I don’t pay ’em no mind.”

lanetownThe sometimes hard blows of this thing called progress have already been felt in the little community of Concord. As little as six years ago, over 100 citizens here went about their own way of life, working their rich fields, hauling pulp-wood and ritually placing fresh flowers on the graves in a little cemetery established even before Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Life in Concord was built around the old Missionary Baptist Church, fondly called “God’s Home in the Wilderness.”  Now, there is no life here. no townsite, and it is somewhat of an eerie feel-ing to look out over the waters of Rayburn Reservoir and realize that somewhere underneath tons of water lies the historic old community.

Near Pineland, a finger of the reservoir reaches inward to almost surround a new state park where a few old homes once stood.  Less than 300 yards offshore at the bottom of the water lies the old community of I.anetown.  A little further an, the site of the Gum Flat community is also lost forever.

The old communities are gone, but in their places will spring hundreds of new homes around both lakes. new boat camps, new stores and lodges and fishing camps, and there are even a few ghost towns, and a retirement mecca for the elderly.

mcgownThe lakes have enhanced land values over a wide radius and it has been estimated by the Corps of Engineers that annual benefits of over $4.5 million will result from the Rayburn Reservoir be-cause of flood control, the conservation of water for various municipal and industrial purposes and the generation of hydroelectric power.

Those who have moved away from the gso projects were a proud, rural, hard working people for the most part, and many still hold only bitterness even if they reluctantly admit the benefits to be derived from both.

And some. like one elderly woman, were glad to move in order to be closer to a doctor and hospitals. An old farmer near the Toledo Bend area said the “only way I’ll get out is to float out.”

A 66-year-old man said, “I ain’t wanting to move.  This is my home.”

W. W. Cavendar, Sabine County and district clerk. moved out of the home he and his wife had occupied singe 1945 and which has been in his wife’s family for 75 years. They built a newer home 12 miles away.

“It’s okay to build a dam.  It’s good for the area and the county … but they shouldn’t pin all the hardships on the landowner.” Cavendar said.

From Mrs, Cavendar: ‘It’s pretty hard to leave the old family home.  I.was born aind raised here.  It is pretty bard.”

Situations are different and opinions vary all along the Sabine and Rayburn projects.

“The lake builders want lo take all of my land,” Morris said. “That includes the old house and that’s the worst part of all.”  The house ie 94 years old and the land “is the very best. I can make a crop off it anytime.”

Morris says he has been offered $180 per acre, but is holding out for $300, but then counters with, “They can’t pay me enough money to satisfy me… I can’t be satisfied anywhere else.”

He said he has been served condemnation papers on his land, which means, according to a spokesman in the Hemphill, Texas headquarters of the Toledo Rend project, that the case has now reached the court stage.

“Of cuurse.” he added, “the case can be settled out of court anytime.”

The normal process or land acquisition involves an appraisal by an independent contract fee appraiser. On the basis of this an attempt is made to acquire the property. If this eventually fails, the case is presented to a court to decide the outcome.

The areas to be flooded by the two lakes are sparsely settled and wooded. There are no major improvements on land to go under water, but there are a lot of old homes. small churches and stores, roads… and a lot of memories.

But the majority feeling is probably best summed up by 80-year-old Lee Felts whose farm home where be has lived since 1911 is less than 15 feet from the planned shoreline of Toledo Bend:

“You know… sometimes a fellow does things he does not like to do.”.


28 thoughts on ““Bitter Waters Round the Bend”… Tales from 1966, pre-Toledo Bend Lake”

  1. Love these stories. History is forever a struggle between the forces of progress and the generations old investestments of life, love and labor.

    1. This generation and generations to come will all experience similar hardships. Much land and homes are being taken from owners for pennies on the dollar in the name of progress to this day and the practice will continue- sadly.

  2. Very interesting article…my great grandparents were lucky in that all of their land remained above water. They owned the land that is now Lowes Creek Park and we still have all of my grandfathers land just beyond the park. I remember being at my grandparents when they were building the lake in the summer and coming back in the fall to water everywhere.

  3. This makes me sad. I don’t blame the local people for not wanting the LAke. Hurts my
    Heart go know so many people lost childhood homes. Just an awful thing. Wonder what our area looked like in those days. Wish we had pictures.

    1. It’s even sadder that the government still does this today. Just last year, Fort Polk used eminent domain to force many families in Vernon Parish off of their land. My grandmother had to leave her home that my grandfather had built with his own hands, and the land she lived on had belonged to my great grandfather.

  4. As a child I lived in Sabine Town on the Texas side, actually on the bluff of the river. My great Aunt Sarah and Uncle Levi Cromwell had to leave their place. The lake covered our swimming hole on Lowe’s Creek, and the sulfur springs. This was a sad time for a five year old.

  5. I grew up in the community of McElroy about two mikes south of Pineland. Our bottom land was taken, excepting about 20 acres of which all but one acre was under easement. To add insult to injury the government offered us pennies on the dollar. Daddy and others in the community banded together and sued, won, and got a bit more of which the lawyers probably got most. Still, that land is no longer in our family, the easement land is just about worthless and I have yet to see water on the land they took.

  6. My father use to talk about the lost city’s in Toledo Bend, and old grave yards that is covered with the lake. Some scuba divers has witnessed many of these homes and graves, along with other family history that will never be recovered. Thank you for shareing this clipping, it keeps history alive.

  7. My family’s homestead was taken by Toledo Bend. I never got to see it which is probably a blessing. I still wonder and think about it. Wish I could have seen it just once.

  8. As a young man I was friends with Dewey Cox Jr. His father Dewey Cox Sr. was born and raised in East Hamilton. In early 70s he would drive us around to different places and point out where homesites lay underwater. We would also visit folks he knew growing up. Some on the most down to earth people you could ever meet. We were always offered a bowl of peas and cornbread or something to drink like a big glass of tea. Sure miss Teddybear Cox he was a great tour guide for that region on Toledeo Bend Reservoir.

  9. My dad was born in Sabine River bottom in 1896, my dad had no formal education but had amassed about 4500 acres of land by 1966 when my parents lost 700 acres of it, they got 60$ acre for some and the last was 80$ acre, land outside the reservoir was selling for 160$ acre and up, my dad was so mad about it he sold off all his shoreline as quick as he could, it was one of the first populated places on the lake, the Driftwood area south of Zwolle, my parents sold over 100 families out of the lake , he could not turn anyone away asking for a home site, I know of two families that he gave an acre to that didn’t get enough money out of their home to relocate , enjoyed other stories , brought back the memories of the early Toledo Bend

    1. David, I remember going to the old cemetery where our grandparents are buried. This was the first time I ever heard my dad talk about his parents. There was speculation the cemetery would be flooded and I think your dad and mine got together in case the graves had to be moved. Thank the Good Lord they didn’t. This article is so interesting.

  10. This was a very interesting read to me. My husband and I just purchased a home south part of zwolle and was told about the flooding of homes and towns near the area. I try to read everything I find about the area to learn more about what happened. Of course this took place before we were born and we knew no one in toledo bend. Thanks for the read.

  11. Great article that brought back many a memory. My ancestral home is located on the Geneva to Sexton Road (the old Minton house) about a mile from Highway 87 between Milam and Shelbyville. Although the water never reached us, it impacted a whole lot of folks that we knew. As a young boy growing up in and around the Sabine river, the damn took away all our favourite fishing spots and the excitement of jumping off the Pendleton Bridge or swinging out over the river and dropping from the rope we had hung up in a large tree. But the one thing that damn can never take away is all the memories of so many great experiences and wonderful times.

  12. Seems like an alternative could have been to move the home to another location. I wonder if anyone tried that approach.

  13. My Great Grandfather had a compound just below the dam.
    He was a Murry and came from Boston.
    Family moved down river closer to Burkeville.
    On the other side of my family ” Childers” we lost some land to Sam Rayburn.
    Not sure what benefit we actually got from the dams.

  14. The McGown (Gaines) house where the Pendleton ferry was located, now Pendleton Harbor was taken down to be restored, but evidently the money ran out. The land was condemned and sold for around $90 per acre. At least that’s how I remember it.

  15. I’d love to know which long forgotten politicians (local and higher) and their corporate allies directly benefited from this project. These projects always seem to be sold in the name of progress but the reality is far different (and often ugly). You’d think in a country that prides itself on individual property rights and a healthy fear of oppressive government, these sort of actions would be a thing of the past, but an earlier poster points out that it is more common today (pardon the pun, but the big fish still eat the smaller ones…).–Excellent story..thank you for sharing it!

  16. I love reading about the history of places like this and how the old folk thought about things, makes me feel like a part of it all, like I had some memories there too, I think it’s so sad how the government does people for the sake of the almighty dollar, not caring about the people and the hard work they’ve put in for their homes and livelihoods, the government with all the politicians have no compassion for the down to earth hearts and souls of great people…this was a great read, thank you for sharing this article, I feel like it brought me back in time.

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