At three o'clock, p. m., we reached Corpus Christ and drove to the excellent hotel of Mr. Noesler. Here we met Captains Gibbs and Rhett, Dr. Jarvis, and other officers of the United States army, from whom we were gratified with late news from home.
My first inquiry was for the means of reaching New Orleans; and finding there was no steamer running, and no means of reaching there except by taking an open boat through the lagunas to Indianola, a distance of about one hundred and forty miles, or making a land journey around the shore to the same place, I chose the former. I had had quite enough of land journeys for the present; and hearing there was a small boat at the wharf, I lost no time in chartering her to transport me and such others as chose to accompany me. She could stow away four persons beneath a piece of deck over the bow, by crawling in on the hands and feet; but there was not sufficient height to sit up. However, it was a change, and I determined to try it The Captain agreed to leave in the morning.
Several of the party, including Dr. Webb, Major Emory, and Mr. Radziminski, set out in wagons for Indianola, preferring that mode of conveyance. Mr. Henry Jacobs and two of the servants were all that would undertake the boat voyage with me. About noon a light breeze sprung up from the land, when we embarked in our little craft for Saluria, a small port on the Gulf at the entrance to Matagorda Bay, about one hundred and forty miles distant We had not proceeded more than ten or twelve miles, before the wind died away and left us becalmed. Creeping beneath the deck that covered the forward part of the boat, we stretched ourselves on our blankets in a space about three feet wide, where we contrived to get a little sleep.
The morning found us on the opposite side of Corpus Christi Bay, a light breeze wafting us eastward towards Aransas Pass. The navigation here is carried on with boats of light burden through the shallow bays or lagunas, which line the west and north-west shores of the Gulf of Mexico. These bays are exceedingly shallow, sometimes presenting a breadth of ten or fifteen miles, by a hundred or more in length. Yet these broad spaces of water are often not more than three or four feet deep, even in the middle. This depth would admit flat-bottomed vessels of large capacity, were it not for the numerous bars which intersect them, sometimes leaving but a few inches of water; hence, none but flat-bottomed boats can navigate these waters, and even these may be suddenly arrested in their progress, should a norther occur and drive the water out of the bays.
Our course lay through a channel less than twenty yards wide for miles, with bars of sand on both sides but an inch or two above the water. These were covered with myriads of water-fowl, including cranes, swans, herons, ibises, geese, ducks, curlews, plover, sand-pipers, etc. The large cranes and swans stood in lines extending for miles, appearing like a light sandy beach or white cliff; and it was impossible to dispel the delusion, until the vast flock, with a simultaneous scream that could be heard for miles, rose from their resting place.
Occasionally, we would round a point which concealed a bay the surface of which was filled with ducks and geese; these, taking the alarm, would rise in one continuous flock, making a noise like thunder, as they flapped their wings on emerging from the water. Notwithstanding the vast numbers of these birds, I shot but few; for the water was so shallow that we could not get within gun shot of them with our boat. With a light skiff, and a few bushes or a bunch of grass, a gunner would have such sport as no other portion of the world can surpass.
We ran ashore on a beach of shells, knocked up a fire of drift-wood, and got breakfast; after which we entered Aransas Bay, separated from the Gulf by St Joseph's Island. This island is less than two miles wide, and about twenty-five in length. South-west of this, between Aransas Pass and Corpus Christi Inlet, is Mustang Island, already spoken of. Aransas Bay extends about twenty-five miles from north-east to south-west, and is about twelve miles wide. It has a general depth of from eight to twelve feet, but is obstructed by a shoal and range of islands extending across it, over which there is less than three feet of water. Connected with Aransas is Copano Bay, twenty miles in length by three in width. The shores of these bays are extremely low and flat.
We made but little progress to-day, the wind having died away; and finding ourselves fast on a bar, there was no occasion to anchor. So we again turned in, and lay by till morning.
One of the sailors carried me on shore on his back, that I might have a shot or two at the shoals of ducks near by; but as there was no shelter behind which they could be approached, the few that I shot hardly repaid the trouble. We lay here several hours, when at length a light breeze sprung up from the west which wafted us onward, and across Espiritu Santo Bay, about twenty miles in length and ten in width. At its head, it receives the waters of two considerable rivers, the San Antonio and Guadalupe. It is separated from the Gulf by Matagorda Island, about thirty miles in length.
An amusing incident occurred when we were about midway across the bay. We had left Corpus Christi with but a single keg of water, expecting to make our voyage in twenty-four hours. But we had now been out forty-eight hours; and unless a good breeze should favor us, we could not expect to reach our place of destination before the next day. Our water was gone; and there was none to be found on the beach. Seeing a small craft approaching from an opposite direction, we stood for her; and when within two hundred yards, our captain hailed her, and asked if they could spare us any water. The reply was in the affirmative; but when I expected we should pull for her, to my utter surprise, a sailor composedly stepped into the water, and, with a bucket on his arm, walked to the other boat, where he got it filled. The bay was less than three feet deep, although we were many miles from the shore, which was barely visible. Did one not know where he was, he might imagine himself at sea.
At the eastern end of the bay, the water was so shallow that the passengers were carried on the backs of the men to a small island near by, while the captain and sailors jumped into the water, and lifted and pushed the boat over. A little further we came to a "dug out"—that is, a passage cut or dug across a bar, about twenty yards through. Here the men got into the water again; and each of the passengers taking an oar, we managed to force the boat through. The shallowness of the water and the consequent difficulties of navigating these lagoons after a norther, may be judged of, when I state that our little craft drew less than fifteen inches.
After a third night passed in the open boat, we emerged from these shallow waters soon after day-light; and crossing Paso Cavallo, with the town of that name on our right, we landed at 8 o'clock at Decrow's Point. We breakfasted at a hotel, where we learned that the steamer Louisiana, from Indianola for New Orleans, would pass here to-morrow.
Decrow's Point forms the western termination of Matagorda Peninsula, a neck of land about sixty miles in length, and from one to two in width. Within this is Matagorda Bay, another shallow body of water, from six to ten miles wide. Paso Cavallo (Horse Pass) is the entrance to this bay from the Gulf of Mexico, and is always considered safe for vessels drawing from eight to nine feet of water. The principal and most accessible port within Matagorda Bay is Indianola, where steamers drawing eight feet of water enter. Many rivers empty into the bay; the largest of which, the Colorado, rises in the Guadalupe Mountains, and has a course of about eight hundred miles before it reaches the Gulf Among the other streams, are the La Vaca and Navidad rivers. Within this bay is La Vaca, which is reached by small vessels.
A railway is now in the course of construction from Saluria to San Antonio, which will render this the most important port on the Gulf, it being accessible for large vessels, and affording a safe harbor. An extensive commerce is now carried on between Indianola and New Orleans, with steamers of a large class; besides which, vessels run direct to New York and Boston. The number of passengers and the quantity of merchandise coming hither, are evidences of the thriving condition of this portion of the State.