History of League City
History of League City
Native Americans lived for thousands of years in what is now called the Houston Wilderness region, stretching eastward from Lake Livingston to the Trinity River and westward beyond the Brazos. Along the northern border of League City, a midden site on Clear Creek reveals human occupation during the Paleo-Indian period beginning around 9000 to 8000 BC. It is the earliest shell midden discovered and recorded in Southeast Texas. Archaeologists have determined that the site continued to be occupied seasonally until the early sixteenth century.
The last Native American group to use the Clear Creek midden site belonged to the Akokisa (or Orcoquisac) tribe, who ranged from Galveston Bay north to present-day Conroe. They were an Atakapa-speaking people ancestrally related to the Atakapa tribes that dwelled to the east in Louisiana. The name Akokisa is thought to mean “river people.” They were hunters and gatherers who moved seasonally with food supplies. From October to the end of February, these Indians lived on the barrier islands where they spearfished and collected oysters and bird eggs.
During the spring and summer they moved inland to camps along the shores of rivers and creeks where they gathered roots and berries and hunted game with bows and arrows. For shelter, they built structures on accumulated mounds of discarded clamshells, lined with willows and covered with mats and skins. By the early eighteenth century, the Atakapa tribes possessed horses, which enabled more proficient hunting of deer, buffalo and bear to trade with the French residing in East Texas.
However, disease and war with westward-moving Anglo-Americans severely decimated the number of native peoples of southeast Texas. By the early nineteenth century, only scattered camps remained made up of occupants of several different tribes.
The first Anglo to own property comprising League City was Miguel Muldoon, an Irish Catholic priest appointed to serve members of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300”colony. In 1831, Muldoon, a close friend of Austin, purchased eleven leagues of land from the State of Coahuila and Texas. Muldoon disposed of the land before his permanent departure from Texas in 1842. Known by Texas historians as the “Forgotten Man of Texas Independence”, Muldoon’s name continues to survive in the small hamlet of Muldoon, Texas in Fayette County.
The fertile grasslands of north Galveston County began beckoning settlers shortly after the “Old 300” colony settled in Texas. In 1839, John Robert Derrick was issued 640 acres of land on the south side of Clear Lake. Derrick, his wife Elizabeth and their five children were among the first settlers in the Clear Creek community. They were eventually joined by Nancy Bailey Thomas, the widow of Jacob Thomas, one of the “Old 300” settlers, and her eight children.
Other settlers followed. In 1854, a small group of interrelated families traveled overland in wagons from Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, bound for the coastal prairies of North Galveston County. They were pulling up decades old Louisiana roots in order to establish viable cattle ranching operations in a geographical location well suited for such an enterprise. The group was comprised of three families: the Butlers, Cowards and Perkins. Their destination was land along the banks of Clear Creek staked out earlier by relatives Allen and Margaret Perkins Coward. The traveling band, numbering 27 whites and 75 slaves, settled along fresh water streams that ran from the Galveston County prairie into Clear Creek. These streams, originally labeled Coward Bayou, Chigre Bayou and Magnolia Bayou are currently known as Chigger Creek, Coward Creek, and Magnolia Creek.
George Washington Butler
George Willis Butler, his wife Hepsibah Perkins Butler and their children, his widowed mother-in-law Martha Perkins Butler chose the banks of Chigger Creek as their permanent home. The youngest Butler son, George Washington was nine years old at the time of the move to Texas. Accompanying him was a slave companion, Sebron Lyons. Both boys were nine years old and remained close friends throughout their lives. Many years later, with Butler’s help, Lyons became the first African-American in League City to own property.
From young boyhood to early adulthood, Butler’s three sons, Richard, Green and George Washington, worked cattle for their childless uncle, Allen Coward. The young brothers made cattle drives on the Opelousas Trail from Galveston County to New Orleans before the Civil War. When the Chisholm Trail opened the three Butler brothers were among the many cattlemen who drove cattle to Kansas.
The Magnolia Rangers
With the fall of Fort Sumpter in April, 1861, a vast surge of popular patriotism swept across Texas. Shortly after Governor Frank Lubbock issued the call for volunteers, the Perkins Ranch became the focal point in the formation of the Magnolia Rangers, Company D of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Texas Calvary. The regiment, mostly comprised of cattlemen from Galveston, Harris, Brazoria and Chambers Counties was the only regiment from Galveston County.
Among the enlistees were Samuel Perkins, George Washington Butler, John William Derrick and three members of the Coward family. During the spring of 1864, the regiment saw action at the Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, the most decisive battles of the Red River Campaign. Wounded in the shoulder by a miniÃ© ball, George Washington Butler spent the duration of the war recuperating in Louisiana and at his home along the banks of Clear Creek.
Creating League City
Aided by the railroads, the cattle industry thrived in North Galveston County throughout the post-war decades. George Washington Butler in particular became a highly respected and influential stock breeder. Eventually owning 2,000 acres of rich grazing land, Butler specialized in the breeding of Brahman cattle which he imported to New
Orleans and then drove overland to what is now League City. In 1872, Butler purchased a thirty-acre tract of land from Colonel Henry B. Andrews, an investor of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad and owner of the local brickyard. The Butler Ranch and Cattle Station, located on the south side of Clear Creek, quickly became a passenger and mail-pick-up and drop-off point on the railroad. Today, Helen’s Garden, a beautiful League City landmark, occupies a portion of that property.
Butler’s increasing prominence and business success is reflected in a variety of community endeavors. Butler was elected a Galveston County Commissioner, a post he held for the next eight years, and also served as Post Master for the community. During the early 1890’s, Butler convinced the wealthy Galveston financier, John Charles League to purchase land on the east side of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad located in the Muldoon and Stephen F. Austin survey, and plat a town. The original lots measured fifty by one hundred forty feet, sold for $50 per lot.
In 1893, League, with the support of local congressman and close friend, Miles Crowley, renamed the town from the original “Clear Creek” to “League City”. This gesture met considerable derision among local residents living on the west side of the railroad tracks. By 1896, the local post office had become the focal point of a “feud” as the residents of Clear Creek and the new League City competed for the town’s name. For the next six years, depending upon which party held the political upper hand, the local post office building (with G. W. Butler at the helm) moved back and forth across the railroad tracks. The League City advocates eventually won the fight, and Butler’s Ranch, the community of Clear Creek on the west side of the railroad, and J. C. League’s new town merged to become League City.
In creating his township, League kept a keen eye on the future. Although League maintained his residency in Galveston, he remained committed to the growth and prosperity of his new township. He managed the construction and grading of roads within the town as well as those leading to it. League also designated plats for parks, churches and schools. In 1897, League donated land to create League Park as a venue for public gatherings and concerts.
The park featured a bandstand built in the form of a two-story gazebo where, on many occasions, the local town band provided musical accompaniment on the upper level while local women’s clubs sold refreshments below. League’s generosity also provided for a school to be built on the corner of Kansas and Second Streets. Demolished by the hurricane of 1900, the school was quickly rebuilt and became known as the “Little Green School”. St. Mary’s Catholic Church stands on land donated by League to the citizens of League City. Thus, as one of League City’s first developers, J. C. League ensured the citizens of his town would benefit from three primary components of a thriving community: a place to play, to learn and to worship.
The next step involved creating a commercial district. The railroad depot and Straw Hall or Stragglers Hall, which first housed guests, was soon supplemented by mercantile stores and a saloon. Working in cooperation with local businessmen, League and Butler laid the groundwork for a thriving community. Fully aware that a town’s success depended in large part upon the establishment of a bank, Butler struck a deal with the Galveston banking firm, Hutchins and Sealy. If the firm would charter a bank for the new town, Butler would build a first-class building to house it. Under the architectural direction of Andrew Dow, a former employee on the Butler Ranch, construction of the building was completed in 1908.
As the first brick commercial structure in town, the two-story, L-shaped Butler Building not only housed the Citizens State Bank, but a drugstore, a doctor’s office, a real estate and insurance office, and a hardware store. Other enterprises located nearby included a fig plant, the Lawrence Broom Factory, a newspaper, the Schenck family bakery, and the Kilgore Lumber Company.
By 1914, League City was on its way to becoming a dynamic community. With a population now numbering 500, the town was regularly serviced by four railroads: the Galveston, Henderson and Houston, the International-Great Northern, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas and the Galveston-Houston Electric Railroad, known as the “Interurban”. These transportation venues were instrumental in creating a thriving commercial district in League City.
The Butler Oaks
One of the primary historical landmarks in League City are the beautiful oak trees that line a portion of FM 518. These trees commemorate an Acadian tradition brought from Louisiana by the Butler, Coward and Perkins families. During the early 1870s, the Butler family planted live oak trees around the perimeter of the Butler Ranch headquarters from acorns brought from Calcasieu Parish.
With a desire to landscape the streets of the new town in the Louisiana tradition, George Washington Butler partnered with J. C. League in 1907 to ship flat cars of live oak trees to League City. Two of the tree-laden flat cars were reserved for the residents of League City to plant on their property. The planting of the trees was supervised by George Washington Butler and his son, Milby. Another notable collaborator on this project was Sebron Lyons, Butler’s former slave and boyhood friend. Many of these trees still survive. Known as the Butler Oaks, these century-old trees have become the symbol for League City.
Japanese and Italian Immigrants
During the early decades of the twentieth century, agricultural enterprises of all kinds flourished in and around League City. Some residents like George Giessler, raised milk cows. Others grew a variety of truck crops including strawberries, corn, cucumbers, beets, figs, tomatoes, and grapefruit. Much of this produce was grown by a group of Italian families that immigrated to League City from Cercenasco, Italy a small town located in the province of Turin. Over a thirty year period, these Italian families entered America via Ellis Island, New York, sailed to the Port of Galveston, and moved inland to
League City. They possessed names still very familiar to many League City residents: Vaglienti, Ghirardi, Arolfo, Daro, Cucco, Morratto and Bocco. The transplantation of these Piedmontese to North Galveston County produced a strong, cohesive Italian community that continues to maintain a close relationship today.
The lack of food resources in Japan spurred other arrivals to the League City area. In 1903, a small band of Japanese rice farmers, led by the Japanese lawyer and businessman, Seito Saibara, came to Texas in order to establish a lucrative rice farming venture. The purpose involved growing enough rice to sell to Americans while sending the surplus to their land-limited countrymen in Japan. For a while, the fertile soil, abundant water supply and warm Gulf Coast climate ensured the success of this enterprise.
For approximately twenty years, large sections of land north of League City contained a magnificent sea of rice fields that showcased huge stacks of golden straw at harvest time. However by the late 1920’s many of the Japanese rice farmers in the League City- Webster area had fallen victim to hard times. A glut in the rice market after World War I forced many Japanese immigrants to convert their rice fields to truck farming. Some established nurseries in Webster and League City specializing in fig and Satsuma orange groves. Mitsutaro Kobayashi, an original member of the Saibara colony, became the first Issei (first generation) in the region to create a flourishing truck farming enterprise. At the height of his operations, Kobayashi possessed 350 acres of truck crops and 20 acres of Satsuma orange groves.
The final resting place for many members of League City’s early residents is the historical Fairview Cemetery. Located on North Kansas Street in the historic section of League City, this cemetery began burials in 1900 and still continues today. The first burial in Fairview was Charlotte “Lottie” Natho, a nine-year-old girl who died from diphtheria following the 1900 storm. Her marker simply states, “Lottie Natho 1891- 1900”.
A large number of the tombstones in Fairview are dated between 1900 and 1930. Eighteen known Civil War veterans are buried in Fairview Cemetery, half of them Union soldiers and half Confederate. Three of these men, John Henry Kipp, John William Derrick, and John Daniel W. Owens were members of the local unit, the Magnolia Rangers.
Fairview Cemetery also contains the graves of twenty-four known World War I veterans including three young men who died during the war: Leslie Bryan Scott who died of wounds in France, Don W. Greer, a victim of the 1918 influenza epidemic, and George Ghirardi, who was swept overboard and lost at sea. Twenty veterans of World War II are buried in Fairview Cemetery including three members of the Women’s Army Corps.
Bordering the banks of Clear Creek, the cemetery was once an important gathering place for local citizens and a convenient spot for picnics. Memorial Day, referred to as
“Decoration Day” by the local residents, was celebrated every year at the cemetery. A typical Decoration Day ceremony at Fairview was described by the Mainland Messenger on May 26, 1915.
On that occasion, the League City Band provided musical accompaniment as Civil War veteran, T. W. Reeves gave the opening remarks, the crowd sang hymns, listened to recitations of patriotic poems, and then decorated all the veterans’ graves. The ceremony then moved to the water’s edge for final hymns and flowers were scattered on the water. A photography dated May 30, 1911 shows a number of horse-drawn carriages and formally attired ladies, gentlemen and children gathered in the cemetery on Memorial Day.
“A Step Back in Time,” League City News, August 28, 2003, pp. 3-4.
Heather Green Campbell, “Exploring a Hidden Treasure: The Magnolia Creek Cemetery,” Bay Area Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 1 (No. 4, September 2002): 106-112.
Louis Dubose, “Michael Muldoon”, Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.
Alecya Gallaway, “People on the Land”, Houston Atlas of Biodiversity (Houston: Houston Wilderness, 2007), 6-7.
Melodey Mozeley Hauch, “Fairview Cemetery of League City, Texas: Historical Perspective,” Bay Area
Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 6 (No. 2, March 2007): 48-53.
Judy Warco, League City: A History From Its Beginning to 1912 (League City: Quality Printing, 1982).
Judy Warco, League City: A History From 1913 to 1924 (League City: Quality Printing, 1986).
Heather Green Wooten and Melodey Mozeley Hauch, “Fairview Cemetery of League City: Italian Immigrants,” Bay Area Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 7 (No. 1, December 2007): 5-13.
Heather Green Wooten, “Fairview Cemetery of League City: Japanese Immigrants,” Bay Area
Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 6 (No. 3, June 2007): 70-76.
Compiled by Heather Green Wooten, Ph.D.