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Searching for historic Port Sullivan

Searching for historic Port Sullivan

The town of Port Sullivan was one of the best known Texas steamboat ports on the Brazos river but it had some activity around 1835 when it was called Sillaven’s bluff. Port Sullivan was a new village with two hundred inhabitants, four stores, two blacksmith shops, three carpenter’s shops, a circular sawmill, and two or three warehouses for goods brought in by steamboat. Founded in the 1840’s, the little town had one lawyer (only one to many), several doctors, and weekly mail delivery. The town even had its own co-ed college in the 1860’s and several churches. The town sat on a high bluff above the often flooded low lands that were excellent farmland. Port Sullivan was there during the Civil War and several of the men in the town served in Hoods Texas brigade. Many lost their lives. Life flowed to rural Texas like blood through the railroads. Where a town had a railroad they thrived and where the railroad missed the town it often gradually died. This was the fate of Port Sullivan where the rail came close but missed the town and then after the Civil War there was reconstruction which was the fateful blow and it killed the town. “Reconstruction” was the name given that seemed to license a flood of unscrupulous thieves from the North to steal or destroy as they pleased.

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The grave of one of the two men that built Port Sullivan

The town is located around 8 miles west of Hearne on the west side of the Brazos river. We began our search when another detecting club decided to hold a hunt there. It could be called a burned out site by some as it has been hunted for twenty years, but there are still relics and coins to be found. They lie in thickets of mesquite and prickly pear cactus amid rattlesnakes and copperhead snakes. Only an old bricked well and very scattered bricks may be found today of the once thriving community. As we walked through knee high wild flowers and cactus it was hard to see where the old town had ever been. We met another couple at the old graveyard and they spoke of the area as having a lot of a Civil War action and they said that the soldiers were all over the area.

As we drove our new motorhome over the Brazos river we looked for the small road that led to the site and found what we thought was the road. We turned down the small road and the motorhome seemed to fill the road and as we drove down a small hill we could see that the road was blocked by low overhanging trees. We slowly backed the RV back up the hill and hoped that no one would drive up behind us. We were discouraged as we tried to locate a way in and finally turned around and headed back into Hearne. My dear wife said “park here a minute and let me ask someone”. Thank goodness for a smart wife! After a bit she came back with a piece of paper in her hand. The man told her that there was another road into the site and it made a big loop and came out the road that we tried to drive in.

Back again, and this time we got lucky. We took a small road just past a sign that said “river road” and met some ranchers down the road and asked them how to get in. As luck would have it the man that I spoke with was the owner of the property a nice man named Mr. Smith. He told us that we could just drop $2 a person/a day into the honor box and drive right in. The road (if it could be called a road) looked like an obstacle course for four wheelers and our motorhome swayed from side to side as we slowly made our way to the river bank. Finally we arrived and walked down to be met with one of the most beautiful scenes that I had ever seen. The river, which is generally extremely muddy, was down and rocks showed everywhere and rapids flowed through them. Now I know why the riverboats could not get above this point. A couple of miles down there was an attempt to build locks on the river to make it navigable to Waco and the concrete pillars can still be seen from the Brazos river bridge.

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The folks began arriving for the hunt and many of them were familiar faces that we had seen at some of the Open club hunts in the past. Keith Wills had organized this hunt and everyone was anxious to go and gathered at first light of dawn on Saturday morning. We rode with Keith because the ride would take us on a wild ride up and down steep ravines and through Mesquite thickets and our RV was not up to this. Branches scraped the truck as we kept driving far down the road. Finally we pulled up and spread out with great expectation to find our treasures. Keith had told me that years back folks would hunt like this and each one come back with 7 or 8 seated coins. The only coins that were found were of the seated type and the oldest was 1850.

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I suppose that I expected old chimneys and clear foundations of the old buildings but that was not the case. We simply wandered into thickets, knee high in Texas wild flowers and impossible to look for snakes. We found ourselves ducking under the low trees and sweeping the ground where the flowers and weeds were not so thick. Cactus was evident everywhere! My wife Paulette started off the finds with the remarkable find of a Memorial penny! We found nothing at our first attempt so we moved and repeated the process. Plunge into the thicket, duck the trees, and walk around the creeks and ravines while mentally my mind kept telling me (you are not looking for snakes). I was more concerned for my wife who only wore rubber boots and had to dodge the ever-present prickly pear. Keith Wills found the first coin and it was a nice seated quarter 1877. Before long we heard that there were two rattlesnakes discovered and the next morning as we walked down to a dark ravine I looked down where my next footstep would take me and there lay a copperhead snake that the other fellow had just walked right over. The snake struck at my coil but those durable Fisher coils turned out pretty good for whacking at snakes too.

Before long there was reports of finds. Coins at first, and they were all seated liberty. Then we hit a better spot. There was a lovely 1850 “O” seated dime and proved to be one of the better finds.

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We all spread around and it was becoming extremely hot. Texas in May and it was 90 degrees and near 100 percent humidity. I saw that Keith had found a tree and there was some shade so I figured that it would be cooler to hunt around that at least. I walked through the high grass to the tree and the ground was clear of grass and easier to hunt. In only a few swings I got a signal that was small, iron mixed with a pulltab sound (CZ20). I dug down around 5 or 6 inches and pulled out what looked to me to be a small iron fragment. I did not have my glasses and so I handed it to Keith who had a magnifying glass. The next words were music to my ears…. “It’s a shield! Thirteen stars” It turned out to be a Civil War hatpin we think and a good find.

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Now it was my wife’s time to find something and in only a minute she walked over to me with a white lead buck n’ ball. Other musket balls and buck n’ balls were found too. As we came back at the end of the day nearly everyone had some finds and there were some interesting iron finds too. To top off a wonderful day Keith drove to town and came back with over two dozen meals of Bar-b-que from ribs, sausage, and sliced brisket with all the trimmings. What a nice fellow!

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As we sat on the high bluff and ate our wonderful supper we gazed down the lazy Brazos river and listened to the trickles of the water as the current broke over the rocks. Laughter of the small children made me think how this place must have looked for thousands of years as the Indian children played on the rocks and led a happy life before the first white man landed on this New World. This would have been near the center of the great Comanche nation. The old San Antonio road was south of this as the early settlers went from fort to fort across the country and hoped to make it safely to their destination. Stories of great wealth and natural resources were wild in places like New York and steamboats brought many immigrants to live in a hot, and hostile country full of rocks and cactus.

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The next morning we were up before first light and grabbed our gear and headed down to meet the group and head out for the morning hunt. There was a nice find brought in yesterday evening and it was a Texas star button that looked good and we all wanted our share of buttons. We all had our expectations high as we hunted a different part of the large river site. We had walked far around the back and it looked as though no one had ever seen this place before. The steep banks on the creek had palmetto palms flowering and maidenhair fern growing naturally. At the top of the rise there was a huge old tree and it occurred to me that it was most certainly here in the Civil War and would have offered shade in this hostile land. Sure enough I swung my coil at the base of the tree and got a good signal. I dug it out of the red soil and it appeared to be a piece of a pewter cup. At that time my wife walked around the other side of the huge tree with an iron dinnerplate! That was a shock to me as I had never known that they used iron for plates. We left the tree after a good search and it indeed was an old campsite as it was loaded with iron. Before long we were marching into the mesquite thicket again and now and then we ran into old homemade bricks. I couldn’t figure why they had been scattered so wide over the large property. Keith had found an Eagle button and we were charged up again and looking harder for our finds. I found an impacted white Civil War bullet and we ran into others as we worked the area closer. There was lots of iron in the site too. So much iron was found all over the site that it staggers the mind wondering how it all got there and how it all got broken up. The wife found a piece of an old A&S; lock and then pulled a 30 caliber rimfire cartridge. Later we found that only two feet from her dig was one of the best finds of the hunt. So close but so far! There was a pile of square nails and iron and when one fellow dug down through the pile of iron he found at the bottom of the trash nothing less than a beautiful Texas Star button. Not exactly a burned out site after all but not an easy one either.

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Other finds showed up at the table including another button of unknown type and musket balls too. One fellow found a high detail 1855 seated half-dollar. We all had great fun and a good adventure the type of which is not to be found in a movie theater or on your TV screen. The best of it all was the great group of hunters and we all had a time that we will not soon forget. Thanks again to Keith Wills.

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A Confederate Texas button
 

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Republic of Texas Dragoons 1837
 

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Some of the hunters that braved the snakes, prickly pear cactus, and poison ivy to hunt in the oppressive 90 degree heat and humidity were:

Sam Jones, Jack Halder, Ray Jones, Wayne Lays, Harlan Barton, Terry Smith, V.G. Rollins, Leslie Hamilton, Martin Hamilton, Jackie Hughes, Carol O’Brian, Brian Zur, Connie Perryman, Joe Taylor, Keith Smith and yours truly and wife.

There were many other finds such as heel plates, musketballs, buck n’ balls, a plate name off a coffin, and several coins that were not included in the pictures.
 

joy

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