When you arrive at the Live Oak Circle C Ranch, you are in the presence of some of the roughest history in Texas. As you are relaxing after a day of hunting, consider what life must have been like out here more than a hundred years ago. Just a half mile north is the nearly extinct settlement of Morales, and a mile south is its most famous landmark, the Morales Store. What tales those streets and structures could tell.
Much of it started in 1828, Jonathan Vess settled the very ground you are on after moving from Virginia, to North Carolina, and then to Alabama before ending up in Texas. Six of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300” settled here, and the region soon became known as the Alabama settlements based on where most of these Americans had come from.
Four years later, enterprising folks gathered at the head of navigation on the Navidad River and established the town of Santa Anna to celebrate the Federalist hero who had recently come to power in Mexico. Three years later, when this caudillo—Spanish for warlord—revealed that he was not as liberty-minded as the Texians had supposed, the locals changed the name of their settlement to Texana.
When the Texas Revolution and Santa Anna’s army arrived on their doorsteps in 1836, people in these parts abandoned their homes and lands and ran away toward safety and the US border in what became known as “the runaway scrape.” Mexican troops under General José Urrea moved through the area as they drove deeper into Tejas and then retreated through the area after the Battle of San Jacinto. They left most of the isolated cabins along their route in ashes, and the livestock slaughtered.
During the days of the Republic of Texas that followed, the settlers resumed the task of breaking this wilderness into productive farms and ranches. They started by organizing Jackson County, named after President Andrew Jackson, with Texana as the seat of government. A garrison of Texas troops camped nearby. The land between the Lavaca and Navidad rivers seemed to be promising and fertile, and game abounded. Marsh millet, salt grass, and cordgrass thrived closer to the coast but stands of oaks and great belts of mesquite covered much of the prairie. These hardy Texans, some returning to their abandoned places to rebuild while others were newcomers, kept their hands on the plow, their boots in the stirrups, and their eyes on the horizon during those early days.
It was around then that Frank Morales arrived and set up shop as a blacksmith a half mile north from the main gate of the present-day Live Oak Circle C Ranch. Soon, a few homes and other businesses sprang up to form the community of Morales. The little hamlet grew into an important gathering place to buy supplies, attend worship, and visit with neighbors. The Morales store, a mile south of the Circle C, became a local landmark. Meanwhile a weekly steamboat carried passengers and products between Texana and Indianola on Matagorda Bay. Still, the population remained small in this rural county. While the American Civil War raged, the cattle on this isolated range increased dramatically. Battle-hardened men returned to Morales and Texana and became cowboys, trailing these beeves toward a payday in Kansas.
Trouble also arrived. The Lavaca and Navidad river bottoms were famous haunts of men on the run from the law. Cattle rustling and vigilante justice swept the region, and the town of Morales developed a bloody reputation into the 1870s. The town had such notoriety that travelers avoided it if they could while journeying overland between the coast and the interior.
When the railroad pushed through the area, it steered well clear of Morales. It also skipped Texana, and instead a new town, Edna, sprang up and became the new county seat. Both bypassed towns declined rapidly as people flocked to the tracks to conduct their business. Eventually Morales became remembered in name only, while Texana disappeared under the waters of a new reservoir on the Navidad River. The whole face of the region changed.
What remains are the stories.
Now, take your place in that rough-and-tumble tale as you prowl the woods, fields, and brush of this rugged place. Was that rustle in the tall grass a trophy animal, or the memory of a time long ago when rustlers, Comanches, and outlaws roamed this place? Is that the smell of a campfire wafting past your nose, or an olfactory echo of the cabins burned by Mexican soldados? If you let your imagination windmill, there is more to this place than meets the eye.
Now, take your turn in the story. Make some legends and lore of your own, and remember your time on the Live Oak Circle C Ranch as your own Texas adventure.