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Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

Flood of ‘33 – 1833 That Is
Edited By Gary E. McKee

John and Mary Rabb were members of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300” colonists who were the first legal settlers of Texas. John chose land north of La Grange along the Colorado River near his brother William, and William’s son, Andrew. The area where they arrived in 1822-1833, Mary later described as: “no house there then, nore nothing but a wilderness, not even a tree cut down to mark that place.”
They “met two gentleman” (probably, Strap Buckner and William Powell), who led them to meet up with John’s brother, William, and they proceeded to build a home. The Indian “problem” caused them to move downstream to Egypt (near Wharton) for a while before returning to Rabb’s Prairie. Mary wrote her memories for her children, which later were published as Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’s. This is an extract from her book that documents flooding in the area around future La Grange. I have added punctuation and interpreted her phonetic spelling.
“We built the mill in 1831, moved up in 32, then in 33 that high overflow come. I could see the water coming up. We stayed in the house until the water was over the floor. Me and some of the little ones had to be carried to the wagon, as the water was over a foot and a half deep in the yard. Then we had to hurry to get out to the hills [the rise that Schubert Road runs along in Rabb’s Prairie.] Then your Pa and a Frenchman by the name of Batiste hurried back to try to save our goods, our beds, and clothing. They got to the house and pulled things up in a cedar tree that was in the yard, not rite in front of the house [but] to one side. [The] cedar tree is [now] cut down. But when I go fishing, I visit that old stump and the place where the house use to be. After your pa and Batiste got the goods put up, they tried to go to your Uncle Andrew’s house which was about a half mile above on the river. They had to swim nearly all the way. Sometimes clinging to limbs and twigs of the tops of bushes your Pa got to the house but Batiste took the cramp and could not swim. He caught a cedar limb and pulled up on the tree and stayed all night. Your Pa made a hole in the roof of the house and went down on the upper floor there he found a cloak and a churn of cream that had been set up out of the water, so he had cream to drink and a cloak to cover him; but poor Batiste was in the cedar tree a swinging back and forth as the water would swell and heave against the tree every once and a while; your Pa would call to Batiste through the night to know if he was yet alive and if he still felt able to hold on to the tree, he would answer [he was] might[y] cold. As soon as daylight come your Uncle Andrew went to work to make a canoe, he worked hard all day to trying to get it done, so he could go and see what had become of your Pa and Batiste. Just before sundown we saw a vessel coming into Rabb’s Prairie, then going to towards the house. It was Mr. Castleman, he lived where Mr. Manton lives now, he went to the house and got your Pa and then went to the tree and got Batiste and brought them out of to the hills where we was; then we was all safe out of the overflow. When the water got down low enough Pa went back to the house and got our clothing and bed and everything out of the cedar tree and brought them out to the hill bluff [Indian Hill/Thomas’ Bluff] on the river. There your Pa wanted to settle.”
This was the first documentation of the Colorado River floods, the first of many. Later, another flood destroyed the structure of Rabb’s gristmill. The millstones survived and are on display in the Founders’ Park on the square in La Grange.
Rabb, Mary Crownover. Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’s; Texian Press, Waco, Texas; 1962

Mary Crownover Rabb
– From “John Rabb” by
Victor C. Wegenhoft; Fayette
County, Texas Heritage, Vol. II