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Frederick Law Olmsted Describes Texas
Digital History ID 3676


Annotation: Nineteenth-century America’s most famous landscape architect, best known for designing New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was also a journalist. In 1852, The New York Times commissioned him to tour the southern states, including Texas.

Document: The Home of an East Texas Cattleman

…It was a log cabin, of one room, fourteen feet by fourteen, with another small room in a “lean-to” of boards on the windward side. There was no window, but there were three doors, and openings between the logs in all quarters…. A strong fire was roaring in the great chimney at the end of the room, and we all clustered closely around it, “the woman” alone passing through our semicircle, as she prepared the “pone” and “fry,” and coffee for supper…. Any man, who had been brought up in Texas, he said, could live as well as he wanted to, without working more than one month a year. For about a month in the year he had to work hard, driving his cattle into the pen, and roping and marking the calves…. During the rest of the year he hadn’t anything to do…. When he felt like it he got on to a horse and rode around, and looked after his cattle; but that wasn’t work, he said—‘twas only play…. The room was, as I said, fourteen feet square, with battens of split boards tacked on between the broader openings of the logs. Above, it was open to the rafters, and in many places the sky could be seen between the shingles of the roof…. A canopy-bed filled one quarter of the room; a cradle, four chairs seated with untanned deer-hide, a table, a skillet or bake-kettle, a frying pan, and a rifle laid across two wooden pegs on the chimney, with a string of patches, powder-horn, pouch, and hunting-knife, completed the furniture of the house. …

The Home of an East Texas Planter

…[He] had, he told us, an income, from the labor of his slaves, of some $4,000. His residence was one of the largest houses we had seen in Texas. It had a second story, two wings, and a long gallery. Its windows had been once glazed, but now, out of eighty panes that originally filled the lower windows, thirty only remained unbroken. Not a door in the house had been ever furnished with a latch or even a string.… On our supepr-table was nothing else than the eternal fry, pone and coffee. Butter, of dreadful odor, was here added by exception. What flour they never used. It was “too much trouble”…. This gentleman had thirty or forty negroes, and two legitimate sons. One was an idle young man. The other was already, at eight years old, a swearing, tobacco-chewing young bully and ruffian. We heard him whipping the puppy behind the house, and swearing between the blows, his father and mother being at hand. His tone was an evident imitation of his father’s mode of dealing with his slaves. “I’ve got an account to settle with you; I’ve let you go about long enough; I’ll teach you who’s your master; there, go now, God damn you, but I havn’t got through with you yet.”

The Germans of New Braunfels

The cabins were very simple and cheap habitations, but there were many little conveniences about them, and a care to secure comfort in small ways evident, that was very agreeable to notice. So, also, the greater variety of the crops which had been grown upon their allotments, and the more clean, and complete tillage they had received contrasted favorably with the patches of corn-stubble, overgrown with crabgrass, which are usually the only gardens to be seen adjoining the cabins of the poor whites and slaves….. …it caused us a sensation to see a number of parallelograms of COTTON—FREE-LABOR COTTON. These were not often of more than an acre in extent. Most of them looked as if they had been judiciously cultivated, and had yielded a fine crop, differing, however, from that we had noticed on the plantations the day before…the picking had been entirely completed, and that with care and exactness, so that none of the cotton, which the labor of cultivation had produced, had been left to waste…. He [a butcher Olmsted had encountered] knew but one German who had brought a slave; they did not think well of slavery; they thought it better that all men should be free…. Instead of loose boarded or hewn log walls, with crevices stuffed with rags or daubed with mortar, which we have been accustomed to seeing during the last month…there was…a long room, extending across the whole front of the cottage, the walls pink, with stenciled panels, and scroll ornaments in crimson, and with neatly-framed and glazed pretty lithographic prints hanging on all sides; a long, thick, dark oak table with rounded ends, oak benches at its sides; chiseled oak chairs; a sofa, covered with cheap pink calico, with a small vine pattern, a stove in the corner; a little mahogany cupboard in another corner, with pitcher and glasses upon it….

Source: A Journey Through Texas, 1860

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