Our farm lies in a region referred to as East Central Texas Plains. The type of soil here is known as Lufkin fine sandy loam and it resulted from erosion from the tertiary Eocene era, roughly 50 million years ago. If manifests in a rolling topography and is underlain by impervious clay. This combination of soil types renders the region only fair for farming due to the sandy loam’s inability to hold moisture over time and the impenetrable nature of the underlying clay. Once covered with water, the area later gave way, around 10,000 years ago, to vast pine-oak forests of which the Lost Pines are thought to be a remnant. The area was inhabited by morasaurs, mammoths, mastodons, horses, camels, dire wolves and countless other life forms.
The landscape the Tonkawa Indians found when they arrived in this area was indeed extensive forest with only semi-arable land. They were driven to this area from their native lands in Northwestern Oklahoma by the more aggressive Apaches. It is not clear exactly when this migration occurred, but it is known that they and other native tribes have occupied this part of the world for as far back as 2100 years. Back home they had been hunters and gatherers, a lifestyle they continued in this region. But as the herds of large animals and other wildlife began to thin out, they tried their hand at farming meeting with only partial success due to the difficulty they encountered in cultivating the land.
In a difficult chapter of our history, they were relocated by the US government in 1859 to the Wichita Agency in Indian Territory and then again in 1884 to the new Oakland Agency in the Northern Indian Territory where a remnant has managed to survive to this day. However, it is rumored that there are still a fair number of Tonkawa descendants living in the Elgin area, to the north of Abbey Grange.
Although it had long been home to the native tribes, the region wasn’t mapped or written into history until 1691 when Spanish explorers traveled here and recorded area features in their journals. Once the region became known, it became attractive to settlers from around the globe.
By 1832 settlers from America, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Poland, and Czechoslovakia had begun to arrive and clear the woodlands for farms. The Tonkawas were in general friendly and helpful to the newcomers.
The settlers raised mostly vegetables, although later, along with the advent of slave labor, began to plant cotton. This trend was spurred on by the arrival of the railroad that was built through the nearby town of Smithville in 1887 and the establishment of cotton gins, the first of which was built in 1890.
As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, farmers began to turn to other occupations including raising cattle and other livestock, a practice that predominates to this day. Interestingly, many former slaves chose to stay in Bastrop County, setting up housekeeping in Freedom Colonies that may have numbered as many as 40. Many became farmers themselves, utilizing their expertise and experience in the cultivation of the land.
Our own corner of the world was originally part of a land grant given to Samuel Millet who was born in Maine but came to this region in 1827 as a member of Stephen F. Austin’s Second Colony. The grant totaled one league or about 4,428 acres and was located in what are now Bastrop and Fayette Counties. Much later, the land was divided up into small, 10 acre parcels to be sold as ranchettes. Abbey Grange consists of three of those parcels.
While we do not know the whole history of this place, we do know that one former owner was fond of wine and, during prohibition, hid his homebrew down the hand dug well that is still on the property. Another owner was rumored to have buried a large amount of money on the property. Later owners included a professional cowgirl whose beloved roping horse is buried down by the big pond and whose constant canine companion, Boomer, is buried in the backyard.
We purchased the farm from that same professional cowgirl in 2015 and have devoted many hours of work and study toward becoming its deserving stewards. It has turned out to be a highlight in our own family story, and now we feel the time has come to open a new chapter. We extend an invitation to you and your loved ones to join your family histories to that of our own and to that of this beautiful and noble land.