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Along Forgotten River: Photographs of Buffalo Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel, 1997—2001, With Accounts of Early Travelers to Texas, 1767—1858
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- Geoff Winningham
For more than five years award-winning photographer Geoff Winningham explored and photographed Buffalo Bayou, the Houston Ship Channel, and the landscape he found along the way. As he hiked and canoed the course of this historic stream, he found pristine stretches of the bayou still untouched by the encroaching city of Houston. He also found areas where the forces of nature and those of the growing city seemed to struggle for supremacy. He revisited sites of historic importance, such as Allen’s Landing, where the city was founded in 1836, and the San Jacinto Battlefield, where Texas won its independence in the same year.
In Along Forgotten River, Winningham has sequenced eighty of his striking, large-format black-and-white photographs, following Buffalo Bayou from its source in the Katy Prairie through the suburbs and into the inner city of Houston. From there, his stunning duotone photographs follow the bayou east to its confluence with the San Jacinto River, where it becomes the Houston Ship Channel, crosses Galveston Bay, and enters the Gulf of Mexico.
As a counterpoint to his photographs, Winningham has edited and sequenced passages from the written accounts of the earliest travelers to this part of Texas. Impelled by dreams or curiosity, an incredibly diverse lot of travelers came along the roads and streams of Texas in the preceding centuries. There were Spanish friars and itinerant preachers, prospective settlers, refugees, adventurers, exiles, and naturalists.
Some travelers came with their families, looking for a place to settle. Mrs. Dilue Harris was one of these who came to Texas in the early 1830s. In her "Reminiscences," she recalled a night on Buffalo Bayou: "We were surrounded by wolves and water. There was a large sycamore tree that stood in the water near us, and it was as white as snow. The buzzards roosted in it. We could hear owls hoot all night. Mother said it was a night of horrors. . . . She said the owls were singing a funeral dirge, and the wolves and buzzards were waiting to bury us. . . ."
In Along Forgotten River, Winningham has selected passages from the writings of these and other early travelers and interwoven them with his remarkable and beautiful photographs. The result is a complex and fascinating interplay of pictures and words, of historical perspective and present-day observation.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a tradition of biracial unionism sprang up among waterfront workers along the Gulf Coast. Galveston’s waterfront workers formed some of Texas’ earliest and strongest labor organizations in an era when the city was a leading seaport and the most important commercial center in Texas.
Foremost among these workers were the white cotton screwmen, whose skill and economic importance in the loading of cotton enabled them to control the labor supply as well as wages and working conditions. As the importance of cotton screwing declined in the 1890s, white and black union leaders, if not all rank-and-file members, began to recognize the advantages of biracial unionism at a time when southern states began to enact Jim Crow laws.
This history of a particular laboring community studies black and white workers’ consciousness and how the conflicts between race and class were worked out in practice, adding to our knowledge of race and the labor movement, the course of biracial unionism in the South, and Texas labor history.