Tidbits of Shelby County History
A Brief History of Waterman

This week’s article was written by Marcille Hughes. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Waterman is near the Attoyac River fourteen miles southeast of Center in southern Shelby County. It was founded about 1905 as a sawmill town and named for the owner of the Waterman Lumber Company.In 1906 the community received a post office; William M. Waterman was postmaster. A spur of the Santa Fe Railroad was constructed to the town, and by1914 Waterman had a population of 476. Gradually, however, the timber owned by the company began to play out, and Waterman Mill closed abruptly in 1912 or 1913. Mill owners left for Waskom, where a new mill was built. Waterman Mill and all its land was sold to Frost Lumbering Industries in 1920. Most mill people were gone by the end of World War I.

Before any written history, a large flat rock lay in the bed of the Attoyac River, making a perfect crossing for the Caddo Indians as they followed the buffalo trails. These Caddos found rich fertile soil, plenty of wild game and a river for fishing. What more could they need? They made their home there.

Many years later the French came down this same trail looking for trade with the Indians. Then the Spaniards came using this crossing on their way to Los Adaes, their most Northern mission. Smugglers, from the neutral strip, traveled this road also.

Anastacip Bustamonte, a Spaniard, took land and settled on the west bank at the crossing. Later the Anglos came and settled there too.

Many legions are told of this ancient crossing. A battle was fought between outlaws and the Spanish soldiers on the east bank. There was eye-witness to this battle. The legion is told that the Spanish had Jacks (mule) loaded with gold when they were over-taken by outlaws. The soldiers had time to hide the gold before they were all killed. The outlaws searched the area looking down the water well at Bustamonte house, but no gold was found. Bustamonte and his neighbor Jeff Adams buried the dead soldiers. Some dead Jacks lay scattered near the crossing; but some were still there when the first settlers came, and were caught up and used for farming.

Many have searched for the gold to the extent of bringing in explosives for blowing up the big rock, causing it to break in many pieces which gave the crossing the name of the “Rocky Ford.” Another gold hunting group made a major attempt to change the river-run but nothing has been successful. By the early 1900s all the area produced were stories of the soldier’s “Ghost” returning; riding black horses at night looking for their gold. If there ever was any gold, the old river keeps its’ secret.

This area was covered with longleaf pines and giant oaks laden with Spanish mos. A prettier place could not have been found. In the late 1800s the timber barons were skirting the East Texas timber lands….known as the “Big Thicket,” with railroads. A rich timber baron by the name of W.M. Waterman was looking for a location for a mill. As he crossed the Rocky Ford he knew this was the place he would build a town for his mill.

Mr. Waterman had the Texas and Gulf extend a line down the Attoyac to a community on the river we know today, as Grigsby. (The Santa Fe railroad road would later purchase this line). This made the Rocky Ford the “perfect spot” for the largest sawmill west of the Mississippi. With Shelby County’s largest pay roll. The town grew up fast and it was given the name of Waterman. It seemed that over night the sawmill town of Waterman became a “Boom Town? And it grew “Wild and Woolly.”

By 1918 the great virgin forest was cut over, and Mr. Waterman decided it was time to “Cut Out and Get Out” leaving just the sad sound of a silent mill whistle. The railroad was taken up in the mid 30s leaving the few old families with not even the lonesome wail of the train whistle.

(Note: Article found in the The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) 05 Mar 1913

Wanted - Log cutters and drivers, at Waterman, Texas: we pay 50 cents per thousand for cutting; $2.25 per day of ten hours for drivers; god job and plenty of timber; healthful location.

The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) 31 May 1909, Mon

Special to The Times

Waterman, Texas, May 30 - The new band mill, owned by the Waterman Lumber and Supply Company, started up today, sawing its first and all the machinery moved off nicely.

Mr. F.A. Anderson is general manager; Mr. C.E Grable, superintendent of construction; Mr. Elmo, mill foreman, and Mr. Hugh Shanon, sawyer.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) 02 Mar 1911, Thu

Washington, March 2 - The census bureau today announced the population of Waterman, Texas as 476. No figures are given for 1900.)