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When the North Sulphur was a swamp

Mark Haslett

The plan to build Lake Ralph Hall in southern Fannin County is mainly a response to the region's water needs. But there's an environmental aspect with its roots in the area's natural history.

The area around the North Sulphur River was once a swamp - impassable and an impediment to farming.

Audio transcript

Haslett: From KETR News, this is Tomorrow’s Water Today, a weekly look at issues affecting the present and future water resources of Northeast Texas. I’m Mark Haslett. For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the proposal to put a lake in southern Fannin County, just north of Ladonia. Lake Ralph Hall would be a source of municipal water for the cities of the region, including the water-thirsty Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. However, there’s also an environmental argument for the proposed lake. To understand that, it’s necessary to go back a few years. In fact, more than a few years, back to before the area was developed. The proposed Lake Ralph hall would occupy the area around the North Sulphur River. This part of the countryside used to be a swamp of considerable proportions. During the Texas Revolution, Davy Crockett came through Northeast Texas on his way to join the Texian rebels in San Antonio. Crockett wrote his last letter, addressed to his daughter Margaret, from the site of present-day Honey Grove. He then went south, but the swamp of the North Sulphur caused Crockett to take a large detour around the entire area, which was flooded by winter rainfall. Doug Franklin of Ladonia explains.

Franklin: When he left Honey Grove, he could have come and probably saved two or three days’ journey by going directly south, to where Ladonia’s now located, where Commerce is located, on southward. But because of the swamp that was created here - it was a wetlands – when it rained, this meandering North Sulphur Creek here could not contain all the water. So for about seven months out of the year, we had a wetlands here. For many years afterwards, the saying was that many a man went in and fewer came out of that swamp area.

Haslett: Franklin said that the swamp’s dangers included not just snakes and predatory wildlife, but also getting lost in the trackless, dense wetland forest. Later, as towns sprang up in the region, the swamp of the North Sulphur remained wild territory. Franklin says that outlaws sometimes took refuge in the swamp, including the notorious Big Horn Smith. In the decades that followed, despite the infrastructrural modernizations of the early 20th century, the swamp of the North Sulphur continued to be a problem.

Franklin: One of my former school teachers’ wives recalled, told us this story, that when she was a girl, during the wet season, to get to Honey Grove, she remembers riding the train from Ladonia to Paris, getting on another train and going from Paris to Honey Grove. Now it’s a distance of 10 miles as the crow flies here, but – couldn’t get across this wetlands that was down here.

Haslett: The flooding was a nuisance for more reasons than transportation. Cotton producers and other farmers in the area bemoaned the flooding, as it resulted either in the loss of crops or in rich bottom-land soils going to waste because the floods prevented development.

Franklin: In 1928, there was a movement to drain the swamp, so to speak. They were going to dredge a new channel. They had a bond election, it passed.

Haslett: We’ll learn how that project went – and the relevance of that project to the current proposal to build Lake Ralph Hall – next week on Tomorrow’s Water Today. For KETR News, I’m Mark Haslett.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.
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