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HISTORICALLY CY-FAIR – Bellisle: the First European Visitor to the Cypress Area Prairies?

| January 1, 2016

Hunting buffalo kept Bellisle and his captors alive.

Hunting buffalo kept Bellisle and his captors alive.

François Simars de Bellisle was born in France in 1695 and, in the autumn of 1719, was marooned with four companions near Galveston Bay. His companions all starved and died from exposure, yet he survived by being taken as a slave to a group of Atakapan Native Americans, who inhabited the upper reaches of Galveston Bay and the area woodlands and prairie edges along the bayous.

In the summer or fall of 1720, a band of braves took Bellisle two or three days ride west or northwest to a prairie where the braves hunted buffalo. The trip was strenuous since the braves rode horses and made Bellisle walk and carry their baggage. If he was too slow, they would whip him. The whole time he was kept naked and without shoes. He reported he walked two days under these conditions and on the third day reached the prairie, which seemed to him to stretch endlessly in every direction, with numerous buffalo grazing. Bellisle was so impressed with this prairie that he later wrote, “I must not forget the country I saw during this journey…we came across beautiful prairies and I saw similar ones for a distance of forty to fifty-five leagues. This is the most beautiful country in the world. The earth is almost black. Grass grows there to a prodigal height, and in abundance, which is a certain sign that the earth is good.”

The hunting party killed about 15 buffalo with bows and arrows from horseback and ate heartily since they had not eaten the previous two days. On this same hunt, Bellisle’s captors also attack a group of Toyals (Tonkowas). They killed a Toyal warrior and brought him back to camp where Bellisle had been ordered to stay. There they proceeded to butcher and eat the dead warrior, according to Bellisle.

It would seem that the Cypress area left quite an impression on its first European visitor. Almost 100 years later, Stephen F. Austin would select this same land as part of the land grant where he established the colony that gave rise to the Republic of Texas. It would seem that Cypress has always given a favorable impression to those that would visit and later decide to make a home here. Ballisle would find it hard to recognize this prairie 300 years later but I don’t think he would be surprised to see how it developed. After all, in 1720 he commented that “the earth is good.”

To learn more about Texas or Cypress history, visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Hwy., open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The museum buildings are open Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Contact the park at cypresstop@pct3.com or 281-357-5324 to arrange a special tour.

The Cypress Historical Society has more information on the museum buildings, special tours, and on available genealogy and history information. Visit the website cypresshistoricalsociety.com, email the society at cypresshistoricalsociety@att.net or call 281-758-0083.

Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.

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