Saturday, October 11, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 12

Bishop Doggett Awed by Beauty of San Marcos River,  October 1877

Generations of Epworth Leaguers, MYF’ers, Sunday School classes, and other youth groups have enjoyed recreational excursions to the magnificent Texas rivers that come cascading down from the Edwards Plateau.  Take your pick—San Pedro Springs, the Comal River, the Sabinal, Frio, Guadalupe, or the Blanco---these clear, cool waters have provided gathering places for humans since prehistory.  John Rabb, prominent Methodist layman, lived at Barton Springs until his death.  

When Bishop David Seth Doggett came to Texas to hold annual conference 1876-77, he took time for an excursion on the San Marcos River.  Doggett was an aristocratic Virginian, college president, editor, and bishop.  His first espiscopal visit to Texas was to Springfield in 1868.  That conference was famous for the miserable conditions.  It was held in a poorly heated building that lacked window panes on the north side.  Doggett and the conference members shivered miserably.

The 1877 visit was much more pleasant.  Doggett was so impressed with the beauty of the river that he wrote a letter to the Richmond Advocate.  That letter is so full of interesting observation that excerpts are reproduced below.

I witnessed at the ford where we crossed, a curious scene, reminding me of the habits of the hippopotamus.  A number of cattle were feeding in the stream above us, wading nearly to their backs, plunging their heads entirely under the water, and gathering the grass which was growing on the bottom.  I was not aware that horned animals ever indulged in this species of grazing.

After angling with moderate luck in one of the bayous, in which, on account of the singular transparency, the fish and the fishermen were perfectly visible to each other, we ascended the river in a skiff, to its fountain-head.  It has no preliminary or tr4ibutary streams.  It bursts immediately from the limestone ledge at the bottom of the ridge, and boils up with immense volume, like a vast cauldron underneath the surface, with a violence which agitates the mass of water, for a considerable distance, and which throw the boat from the unending column.   Its average depth, at the distance specified is fifteen or twenty feet, and its width about fifty yards.  Above the point of emergence is neither chasm or depression.  The earth is level and cultivated up to the mountain out of which it bursts, laterally and perpendicularly.  Its temperature is uniform, winter and summer at about 69° Fahrenheit.  The water has a slightly alkaline taste.  It is as transparent as the atmosphere, and one could apparently read an ordinary newspaper at the bottom.  Every object is perfectly distinct, as in an aquarium. 

The marvel of this wonderful river, however, is not its abrupt origin or its crystal clearness, but the wealth of sub-aquatic vegetation.  Its margin is not only lined with overhanging shrubs and clustering heaps of wild cresses; and its surface in many places, floating with wavy tresses of long and silken grass, springing from its depths and floating in the current off for twenty or thirty feet, but its entire bottom is covered with an almost unbroken tissue of delicately tinted and beautifully variegated vegetation blooming beneath the surface, under whose picturesque foliage the lithe and agile fishes perform their graceful motions; and whose crystal paves  the imaginative Greek would have peopled with laughing water nymphs.  I doubt if any water scene of the same extents abounds with more transcendent beauty.  It is a genuine, original green-house.  It is nature’s own conservatory where her rarest productions are preserved in amaranthine freshness encased in a framework of mystic grandeur, and seen through surfaces of perpetual purity.  Could the San Marcos’ natural museum be reproduced in the Eastern States and in a higher latitude, it would attract the attention of the fashionable world and arouse the enthusiasm of rival artists,.  One must be inexorably obtuse to look . ..this mirror o nature and not be transported with its exquisite imagery. 


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