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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Bluffton Reappears

by Mike Cox

Mike Cox

I rousted my 15-and-a-half-year-old from bed at what must have seemed like the middle of the night—9 a.m.

“Come on, let’s go find the ghost town I told you about that’s resurfaced at Lake Buchanan
.”

“No, I just wanna sleep,” she begged.

“Hey, it’ll be cool,” I said, trying to be hip. “The lake’s lower than it’s been in 25 years. No telling what we might find.”

Finally she gave in.

An hour later, which if you knew Hallie you would understand is fireman-down-the-pole fast, we were on our way to find Old Bluffton, a 1850s-era town in Llano County inundated when Lake Buchanan filled in 1937.

In the mid-‘30s, as workers poured concrete at the dam site and laborers just happy to have a job in hard times used handsaws to denude the landscape in the future lake bed of oaks and cedars, the Lower Colorado River Authority paid to have the occupants of the Bluffton Cemetery exhumed for reburial at a new site well above the future shoreline. The town’s living residents soon followed, settling what for a time they called New Bluffton.

Hoping to get my teenager more invested in this history-oriented adventure, I handed her a “Mission Impossible”-like case file for her study en route. The documents included a map, a satellite image, an email with directions, and a printout of the “Texas Tales” column I wrote on Old Bluffton in 2003.

Though she actually read the piece, I could tell Hallie still lacked full engagement in the expedition.

Then I remembered the quicksand.

“Oh,” I said casually, “We’ve got to be careful. There’s quicksand where we’re going.”

“Quicksand?”

I could see her processing that information, clearly thinking of the various movies and TV shows she’d seen in which someone sinks to their doom in a bottomless pit of the treacherous mix of sand and water.

“Awesome,” she finally said.

Following the directions, we drove along parts of the normally-submerged old road between Llano and Burnet to a point more than 2 miles out into the lake. Then, armed with walking sticks, bottled water and plastic bags for any treasure we might find, we set about exploring the dry lake bed.

At this writing, the normally sprawling lake is only 51 per cent full. On this getting-hotter-by-the-minute July day, a dry south wind whipped up moderate waves that slapped against the shore. Except for all the mineralized, iron-like tree stumps left by the “brush cutters” as they were called, it was like walking on a Gulf beach, complete with a liberal scattering of mussel shells and fish skeletons.

While a few traces of the old town have become visible, most of it is still under water. But we did find one substantial rectangular rock foundation and a scattering of artifacts, including the base of a green Anchor-Hocking Depression glass bowl and a piece of melted lead from an even earlier era.

We hadn’t been doing this freshwater beachcombing for long before my right walking shoe disappeared in the fine granite-mica gravel.

“Well, here’s the quick sand,” I said. “Use your walking stick to check where you’re planning to walk.”

Hallie began stepping more gingerly while poking here and there with her walking stick, now in full buy-in.

What excited me was not the quicksand, but the prospect of finding old fishing lures. By the time we were ready to admit that the sun had more staying power than we did, I had picked up at least $15 worth of lures snagged by normally submerged stumps.

“I can’t wait to tell everybody I was on quicksand,” Hallie gushed. “I’m so glad I came.”

By this time, the temperature had risen well over 100. Our water bottles as low as our energy levels, after about two-and-a-half hours we turned to head back to our SUV.

Suddenly, in mid-stride, my right foot again sank in quicksand. But this time it took in my leg all the way to the knee. I put down my left foot hoping to get enough purchase to extract my sunken foot but it too sank.

As Hallie laughed joyously, I stood in quicksand up to my knees.

“I gotta get a picture of this for Facebook,” she said, a delighted lilt in her voice.

Envisioning circling buzzards, I reluctantly posed for a couple of shots while planning my exit strategy. OK, I thought, how would Tarzan handle a situation like this?

At least I was not sinking any deeper. But in the full grip of the grainy goo, I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to call someone with a chain and four-wheel drive vehicle to extricate me. Hallie, I knew, would find that positively hilarious.

Fortunately, with less effort than I thought it would take, I managed to get un-mucked.

“This is so awesome,” Hallie said, digging in her pocket for her cell phone so she could start texting her friends to report her dad had been mired in quicksand.

Back home, after a long shower and supper, I found a digitized story-poem written by a Bluffton old-timer in 1932, when his home town’s fate was sealed.

“Old Bluffton, Old Bluffton, for thee I sigh,” he wrote. “When the big lake is finished it will be a sight I will love to see…the great big dam with its great white wall, but the memories of Old Bluffton will rise above them all.”

He didn’t mention quicksand.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
July 30, 2009 column

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