Routes to Market before the Construction of the Bridge
Before the construction of the Lower Elgin Road bridge, the farmers’ options for getting their crops to market and for obtaining provisions were very limited. The options changed over time and included transport by raft on the Colorado River (1842 through 1854), crossing the Colorado River at Nash’s Ferry to go to Bastrop (1854 through 1888), and after the construction of the bridge, crossing Wilbarger Creek at the bridge and taking the crops to Elgin.
The Colorado River Route
Before John Nash built his ferry business in 1854, the route to market for cotton crops was not very efficient. Cotton became a cash crop in Bastrop County around 1841; during this period, another cash commodity was Bastrop loblolly pine timber. Both products, however, were difficult to get to market. An interesting article by Mike Cox described an innovative solution for both: rafts were built from the pine timbers, then the cotton was floated down the Colorado River on these rafts to Matagorda. At Matagorda, the rafts were dismantled, and both the cotton and the pine were sold (Texas Escapes). Although this process could get both commodities to market, because of the meandering route of the Colorado River, it is a journey of approximately 300 miles.
In addition to the distance, Cox cites another issue encountered on the Colorado River route to Matagorda: “A mass of submerged and floating timber, washed downstream over the decades, [that] had choked off the river for up to 25 miles upstream.” When this mass of timber was reached on the river journey, the cargo had to be offloaded to wagons to eventually get to Matagorda. Despite the efforts of the Republic of Texas government to break up this mass, the efforts were unsuccessful (Texas Escapes).
Still another complication of the Colorado River route to market is the timing of the journey to the Texas Gulf Coast area. Hurricane season on the Gulf Coast lasts from June 1 to December 1, with the most active period being roughly late August through mid-September. Cotton harvest occurs in the summer to fall; consequently, the long journeys of the farmers to the Gulf Coast on barges loaded with their entire annual cotton crop occurred near the peak of hurricane season. It was a risky undertaking, but it was the only option available to farmers to get their crops to market.
The Nash’s Ferry Route
After John Nash built his ferry near what is currently FM 969 at the Colorado River, farmers could cross the Colorado River by ferry to get their crops to Bastrop. This was an important development for farmers in general, but especially for the farmers who lived in the Utley, Cedar Valley, and Union Hill communities. Because there was no bridge crossing for the Colorado River, Nash’s Ferry provided the best means for transportation. Its placement on the river also enabled the transport of “great wagontrains of cotton from the plantations to Mexico and the Coast” (Texas Historical Records Survey, 1941). Speaking about the Nash’s Ferry crossing in pre-Civil War days, the wife of James H. Wilbarger spoke about the process of getting the wagons across the river at the ferry: “I can hear now those slaves goading those oxen wagons up the steep banks of the Colorado River (at) Nash’s crossing” (Texas Historical Records Survey, 1941). From Mrs. Wilbarger’s recollection, we know that although the ferry made crossing the river possible, it was by no means easy.