CANEY CREEK (WHARTON COUNTY)
CANEY CREEK (Wharton County). Caney Creek, originally named Canebrake Creek after the dense cane growth that banked its sides until white settlement of the area, rises one mile south of Matthews in Colorado County, within the maze of irrigation canals, dead-water sloughs, and old stream channels of the flat prairie near the Colorado-Wharton county line in northern Wharton County (at 29°26' N, 96°18' W). It runs southeast through rich coastal plains for 155 miles to its mouth on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, in a recreational homesite 5½ miles southeast of Sargent, Matagorda County (at 28°46' N, 95°39' W). Several thousand years ago the current Caney Creek channel served as the channel of the Colorado River. The changing course of the Colorado intercepts that of the Caney Creek channel a mile west of Glen Flora (at 29°21' N, 96°13' W). They travel together for a mile before separating (at 29°20' N, 96°12' W). Since the early 1900s Caney Creek, which has the wide meanders that characterize an old stream, passes several towns and communities as an intermittent streambed until it enters Matagorda County, where it takes on water from several sloughs and drainage areas to become a flowing stream. Most of the area surrounding the stream is used for the production of rice and other grains as well as cotton and improved pasture for cattle. The rich alluvial lands surrounding Caney Creek, described in the field notes of early surveyor and Old Three Hundred settler Elias R. Wightman and elsewhere, made it a focal point for settlement in the 1820s (see ANGLO-AMERICAN COLONIZATION). Before breaking the land for planting, the colonists would burn off the canebrake, a native bamboo, to enrich the soil. The creek was sometimes navigable for some distance upstream. Sugar production in the area was so successful that stately homes began to line the creek's banks, and part of its course became known as plantation row. In 1825 Robert Harris Williams established what was reportedly one of the first three cotton gins in colonial Texas on the creek's banks. During the Civil War, Confederate commander John Bankhead Magruder had the mouth fortified as part of a strategy to stop the federal advance north along the coast toward Galveston. In January and February 1864, federal gunboats bombarded the area, which was reportedly defended by 4,000 to 6,000 Confederate troops. No ground combat occurred, and by March Magruder had shifted the troops elsewhere. A Texas Historical Commission marker at the site commemorates the defense. A 1975 archeological survey including the Caney Creek area noted the ruins of a sugar mill and sawmill on the creek's banks, and the sunken remains of a paddle wheeler. The study recommended that the creekside remains of James Boyd Hawkins's nineteenth-century plantation house be considered for renovation. It also noted the presence, dwindling at that time because of ongoing subdivision and development of the preferred creekside land, of a rich cultural complex of descendents of both slaves and plantation owners still living along lower Caney Creek.
Gayle Jeannine Fritz, Matagorda Bay Area, Texas (Research Report 45, Texas Archeological Survey of the University of Texas at Austin, 1975). Matagorda County Historical Commission, Historic Matagorda County (3 vols., Houston: Armstrong, 1986). Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.