Ghost Town Under Lake Whitney: Towash, Texas

Lake Whitney inundated Towash, Texas. The Anglo traders and soldiers called it Towash Village.

A tribe of Ioni (i-o-n-i) Indians first settled this area in Texas after moving from Louisiana to the east bank of the Brazos River in 1835. By 1850, significant numbers of Anglo settlers had forced the Ioni to move further up river. Anglo pioneers established the former Indian settlement at the Ioni site, which is about 15 miles west of Hillsboro, Texas, in Hill County.

The Mill of Towash

The name Towash reportedly came from an Ioni leader. Two brothers, Simpson Cash and James Harrison Dyer, applied for permission from state officials to construct a dam on the Brazos River at Towash to power a gristmill in 1854.

The Dyers built one of the first mills west of the Mississippi River. Then the Dyers and forty-three other residents of Towash petitioned the Texas Legislature for permission to build the first dam on the Brazos River. A Texas senate committee answered on December 13, 1855:

"The committee on Public Lands to whom was referred the petition of Sunday Citizens of Hill County asking that Legislation permission be granted to S. C. Dyer & J. H. Dyer to construct and build a flouring mill upon the Brazos River in said County and to be permitted to erect a dam across said river for the purpose of facilitating the operating of said machinery; your Committee has considered the matter presented, and has come to the conclusion that if the construction of said machinery and dam is not a public nuisance, or would not become so by producing stagnant water, and hereby causing disease among the people of the neighborhood, nor disturb navigation on said river by the erection of said dam that there is no need to Legislation interposing and therefore report said memorial back to the Senate and ask to be discharged of the subject, believing it to be expedient to grant the prayer of the memorial."

The Dyers cut the trees down along the riverbank the next summer when the river was low. They hauled the trees into the dry riverbed using teams of oxen and placed them side-by-side close together with their root ends buried downstream. They partially cut the tree branches and wove them together. The branches let water through, but not the sand and gravel which formed the dam that operated the mill.

The mill ground wheat and corn into flour and meal. The Dyers mill advertisements brought customers from Mississippi and therefore new settlers. It usually employed over fifty people, operated 24-hours a day, and closed midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday. The meal served as a social center. People had to wait for two or three days to get their wheat and corn ground. The farmers would share news, and musicians would spontaneously fire up their instruments.

The location of the mill on the Brazos River made it a popular spot for young couple’s Sunday afternoon drives. The Dyer brothers added a wool carding-machine in 1860. Women traveled from 100 miles during the early years of the Civil War to have wool carded at Towash for clothing and blankets for Civil War soldiers.

The Businesses of Towash

By 1850, the Ionis were completely gone. A flood destroyed the Dyer’s dam in 1863. It was rebuilt by 1866.

Also in 1866, the first post office opened in Towash and a cotton gin was established. Towash eventually boasted a blacksmith, a church, general stores, wagon yards, and a ferry across the Brazos River. By the 1870s, the nearby town of Whitney was attracting more people than Towash. The Towash post office would close twice.

The Towash post office closed in 1881 and reopened in 1889, but closed permanently in 1891. This town under Lake Whitney began to decline in the 1870s. The 1905-1906 school year recorded 115 students in two schools. A flood destroyed the dam, mill, and cotton gin in 1908.

The residents of Towash built the Towash Baptist Church in 1856. In the 1880s, the new railroad bypassed Towash for Whitney. Church members saved the bell, hand-hewn rostrum, banister, Bible, and church records and built a replica of the church a few miles east when Lake Whitney was approved.

Show Down in Towash

John Wesley Harding frequently visited and wrote letters to his family about Towash. Hardin may hold the record for killing the most men in the shortest period of time.

Hardin’s violence towards others showed up early in his life. He stabbed a boy in the chest with a knife when he was 14 years old over a girl. His first kill was in 1868, and he killed 20 men in ten years. Hardin ruined Christmas day in Towash, Texas, in 1869. Gunfights known as showdowns or walkdowns were not as common as books, movies, and TV shows portrayed them to be.

These gunfights usually occurred among southern men who embraced the ideal of duels gentlemen were known practice in Europe. Hardin and Bradley quarreled over a card hand that Christmas Day. As the conflict escalated between them, the two men agreed to settle the argument in the street. Late that afternoon, they faced each other on a deserted street in Towash. Bradley shot at Hardin and missed his target. Hardin’s bullets hit Bradley in the head and chest and killed him.

Where is Towash, Texas?

Towash, the town under Lake Whitney, is still there. It is located at the mouth of the Towash Creek. Scuba divers say it is about 110-feet under the water.

When Lake Whitney is low, you can see some of the old foundations. The mouth of Towash Creek is on the southeast side of Lake Whitney. Further south, by the Lake Whitney Dam, sits an old concrete grain mill under water. The grain mill is not the location of Towash. The Cell Block Museum houses a picture of the old mill.

The Cell Block Museum is located one block north of the square in downtown Hillsboro, Texas. The Cell Block Museum served as the county jail from 1893 to 1983. A miniature replica of the mill is at the Whitney Area Museum in Whitney, Texas.

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Fishing Report from TPWD (Jul. 17)

FAIR. Water normal stain; 88 degrees; 0.19 feet below pool. Catfish are fair using cut shad in 20-25 feet of water. Striped bass bite is slow on live bait in 30 feet of water on artificial baits while trolling umbrella rigs and Alabama rigs. Crappie are slow on small jigs and minnows in timber in 15-20 feet on the north end of the lake. White bass fishing is slow. Largemouth bass fishing is slow. All boat ramps are now open. Report by Captain Cory Vinson, Guaranteed Guide Service.

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