Hidden in Plain Sight: A Springtime Brazos Flood, 1908

The Brazos River at flood stage, 1908
(Click to enlarge)

For residents of early twentieth-century Waco, the Brazos River was a study in contrasts. It provided a reliable source of potable water for myriad daily uses, but its temperamental nature made it prone to violent floods that damaged property and took lives. The Brazos could be both savior and destroyer, a source of community pride – embodied in the suspension bridge built across it in the 1870s that still stands today – and of widespread destruction.

This panoramic view of the Brazos in flood stage was captured on May 24th, 1908. It is actually a series of five individual photos that were printed and pasted together onto a cardboard backing to create the appearance of a single, panoramic photograph. That approach accounts for the somewhat distorted and disjointed nature of the image when viewed as a whole. But owing to the technology available at the time, it is an effective way to capture a stunning view: the Brazos River at a flood stage level of 36 ft. 8 in. – the “highest ever recorded” according to a note written on the print.

Notes on the print also reveal the image was captured by a photographer from The Kodak Place who mounted the steps to the top of the Crow Brothers Tower to capture the scene. The Crow Brothers were long-time Waco launderers who had taken up residence in the former courthouse at 2nd and Franklin Avenue.

The scene captured by our anonymous photographer on May 24th is one of great devastation. The focal point of the photo is the river itself: a shining path stretching the entire length of the scene, it is easy to note how the Brazos has surmounted its banks and intruded into the city itself, especially east Waco along Elm Street. This low-lying region of the city contained a mix of industrial and residential buildings in 1908, much as it does today. Wacoans unlucky enough to find their dwellings on this side of the river repeatedly bore the brunt of the destruction left behind after one of the Brazos’ many floods.

A closer look at the various bridges across the river give some context for just how high the river had risen on this particular date. First up (from left to right in the photo) is the “iron” bridge (today’s Washington Street bridge), built less than a decade prior to the date of this photograph.

Washington street / “iron” bridge

Next is the suspension bridge, a sight familiar to residents of Waco since the 1870s. Although its facade was covered with stucco and “updated” in the 1970s as part of the American bicentennial celebration, its iconic towers and unsupported span are instantly recognizable. Also visible in this photo are ads on the bridge’s downtown side for the Miller-Cross Company and the Sanger Bros. dry goods and clothing store.

The suspension bridge

Finally, this view of two railroad trestles a bit further down the river shows two important links in the city’s commercial viability being seriously threatened by critically high water levels.

Railroad trestles

The photo below – of another Brazos River flood, this one in December 1913 – gives us a closer look at flood waters lapping the bottom of a railroad trestle as dozens of spectators risk being swept away for a chance at a first-hand perspective. Water levels for this flood were nearly identical to those from the 1908 flood pictured in the panorama above.

Spectators line a railroad trestle to view the flooded Brazos River, 1913

While nature’s destructive power is the central player in this panorama, it also bristles with small details about a prosperous Texas town at the dawn of the twentieth century. Scanning the image, we see the names of local businesses on buildings, signs and fences, including:

  • The Morning Star Lunch Room
  • Pippin & Fuston, Horses and Mules
  • T.J. Cunningham
  • Louis Lipshitz (A family name associated with a present-day business located on Elm Avenue)
  • Riverside Livery Stable
  • D. June Machinery Co.
  • Industrial Cotton Oil Co.

Advertisements for Miller High Life beer, Lawrence Barrett and Mild Havana Cigars and the National Biscuit Company (now known as Nabisco) can also be spotted in the image.

Lastly, in the center foreground of the image is a single railcar sitting on a siding. It bears the name “Missouri Kansas and Texas,” the well-known “Katy” railroad with a major presence in Waco for decades.

An M-K-T boxcar on siding

While the obvious occasion of this series of photos was the record-breaking flood, the wealth of detail available to modern viewers helps us construct a better mental image of what Waco looked like on a late spring day during one of its most productive decades. And though the Brazos would continue to flood until engineers built a series of dams decades later, the people of Waco continued to rebuild after each one, proving their tenacity in the face of great difficulty.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this closer look at another of the panoramic treasures from the holdings of The Texas Collection. There are dozens of large format photos in the collection, with more being digitized and added online regularly, so be sure and check out http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu for more great photos.

Images enhanced for online presentation. Digitized from original prints housed in the photographic holdings of The Texas Collection. Visit The Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

“A Long-time Minister of the Gospel and a Great Leader in Our Southern Baptist Convention”: The Selsus E. Tull Collection

Excerpt from formal photograph of Dr. Selsus E. Tull, ca 1900

The newest addition to the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections is a fascinating archival collection long housed in the Moody Memorial Library: the sermons and papers of Dr. Selsus E. Tull, a Baptist minister with more than a half-century of service to Southern churches and an influential member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Tull was born in rural Louisiana in 1878 to a “Confederate soldier who fought in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia under Jackson, Early, and Gordon.”(1) He received an education at Union University and attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a year before striking out to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kosciusko, Mississippi.

Thus began a lifetime of preaching the gospel at Baptist churches across the South. From Mississippi to Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and finally in Florida, Tull pastored churches large and small for the better part of half a century. In addition to shepherding his flocks through crises large and small, Tull became influential in Baptist politics on a national level in two major ways: a revolution in church administration and sponsorship of a written stance against evolution.

The Lord’s Work on a Budget: Tull’s Approach to Church Administration

In his oral memoirs, Tull reveals a frustration felt by many pastors in the early 1900s.

“Well, in those days, in passing the plate at church, you got practically no money; people just gave their incidentals that they had in their pocket. It wasn’t near enough to pay the pastor, even. And so, [FBC Kosciusko secretary] Lockard Brown would get out of his store at the end of the month and go around the square, asking the fellows, ‘Time to pay the preacher now, and you can give me some money for the preacher.’ And that’s the way pastor’s salary was collected.” (2)

Tull mentions that he saw a similar situation at all the churches he pastored in his early years and became determined to do something different. During his pastorship at First Baptist Church of Paducah, Kentucky, Tull hit on the idea of creating a budget for the church. He sat down in his study and “made out a local budget of all the costs it would take to run the church.” He wrote his plan on a chalkboard, assembled his church membership and said,

“Now, brethren, if you’ll adopt this budget, which is a perfect unified budget of denominational and local costs, we’ll not have any more collections in this church. We’ll ask people to subscribe to this budget by an every-member canvass and bring their money to church every Sunday. And at the end of each month, we’ll remit to the denomination on this percentage basis what we owe the denomination and if there’s any deficit anywhere, it’ll fall on those expenses and not on the denominational causes.” (3)

The plan passed with flying colors, and when Tull transferred to a new church in Temple, Texas later that year, his condition for taking the job was that the church adopt a similar setup. The church agreed, and Tull’s new approach began to garner interest from other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Eventually, it made enough noise that the idea of making his approach standard across the convention was brought up for a vote in 1916. It passed a floor vote, and following a review by a hand-picked committee of prominent Baptists, it was released denomination-wide under the title Church Organization and Methods: A Manual for Baptist Churches in 1917.

Title page from “Church Organization and Methods” by S.E. Tull et al., 1917

The “Tull Resolution” of 1926

Tull’s name came back into the spotlight in 1926 when he was tangentially involved in the national debate over evolution as personified by the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. At the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual convention in Memphis that year, members voted to adopt the “Memphis Articles of Faith,” which read, “We believe that man was created in holiness under the law of his maker.” A proposal to add the words “and not by evolution” to this statement was narrowly voted down by the members, but it would be brought up again in a different form at the annual meeting in Houston in 1926.

That year, a statement was introduced that read, “This convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was a special creation of God and rejects every theory, evolution or otherwise, which teaches that man originated or came by way of a lower and animal ancestor.” The statement was accepted by the membership, and Tull suggested it be accepted and endorsed by all “our institutions, from the Foreign Mission Board down,” including seminaries. It subsequently became known as the Tull Resolution and was adopted at the 1926 convention as well.

Excerpt from page one of Tull’s sermon “The Devil in Robes of Light,” first delivered April 29, 1934

The Tull Collection at Baylor University

How Tull’s papers came to Baylor is an interesting story in and of itself. In 1965, Tull gave his oral history to Dr. Robert Baker of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of the Texas Baptist Oral History Consortium (TBOHC) on behalf of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The director of TBOHC, Dr. Thomas Charlton, would later serve as director of the Texas Collection at Baylor University and was an integral part of the oral history community at Baylor for many years.

A promotional flyer for Dr. Tull’s services as a “Baptist Evangelist”

When Tull died in 1973, his daughter, Martha Tull McKnight, signed the agreement to open Tull’s memoirs to the world, and they were included in Baylor’s Texas Baptist Project, a collection of oral histories from Baptist luminaries across the state. This pre-established relationship with Dr. Charlton and Baylor University led Tull’s family to donate his papers – including his hundreds of envelopes filled with his handwritten sermon notes – to the university, where they have been stored as part of the Baptist collection in Moody Library for many years.

Tull’s sermons in original storage box prior to digitization and rehousing in archival storage

A chance conversation between Digitization Projects Group (DPG) staff and Beth Farwell, assistant director for the central libraries, led us to investigate the collection, and it was an easy decision to make the Tull sermons a candidate for digitization. To date, we have digitized more than 400 of his sermons, with some 200 having been fully transcribed into computer-searchable text. The process of placing them online began this summer, and they will be added to the collection on a consistent basis until the entire collection is available online.

To learn more about the Tull Collection, and to get better acquainted with Dr. Tull and his work, visit the collection’s homepage. We hope you’ll find this dedicated servant’s life journey fascinating, and that the output of his ministerial work is enlightening, revelatory and informational.

And do take time to read his oral history for a complete look at his life. Tull’s 94 years were filled with interesting events, and his homespun phrases – including “He lost his molasses jug and made a mess of it” (4) to describe a speaker’s anger – make for an all-around excellent summer read.

Photos from the Selsus Tull Collection. Citations 1-4 from the Oral Memoirs of Selsus Estol Tull courtesy the Baylor University Institute for Oral History.

Hot and Bot-hered: The Joys of Moderating Spam Comments

The Eternal Struggle for Bloggers

One of the unexpected joys of writing this blog is filtering out the spam comments we receive on almost every post. Many are garden variety garbage gathered by spambots and spit back out as “comments.” These get caught by the spam filters and deleted routinely. Others are from people hoping to use the blog as a launchpad for their own interests: “Play my music on your blog!” or “Check out my book on this subject!” That sort of thing.

But there is a truly special kind of spam comment that I call the “almost reads like it was written by a human being – but not quite” comment. We received four such comments in a row (on four different posts) from an IP address based in Germany whose spambots used commenter names related to payday loans. Let’s read them together and laugh, shall we?

Contact One: Short and Sweet

Excellent article! We are linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing. <URL redacted>

Well, that makes this author feel all warm and fuzzy! Too bad this same comment was probably posted to every possible blog post in the United States.

Contact Two: More Effusive Praise

I was extremely pleased to discover this web site. I need to to thank you
for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every
little bit of it and i also have you book marked to check out new things in your web site. <Same URL, redacted>

The ego boost from this “commenter” was marred somewhat by the poor grammar. Then I remembered it was generated by a German spambot, and I cut it some slack.

Contact Three: Attempts at Lingo and Self-Disclosed Amnesia

Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after looking at a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often! <Same URL, redacted again>

Nothing gets a Texan’s attention like the use of a prime piece of regional vernacular, and the lead-off “Howdy!” here sure grabs the eye. But the admission that the writing on this site wasn’t interesting enough for the spambot to remember it fully takes some of the bloom off the rose, so to speak.

Contact Four: The Honeymoon is Definitely Over

Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I genuinely thought you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention. <Same URL, redacted – probably for the last time>

Oh. Oh, my. It seems we’ve done something to upset our semi-sentient German friend. This comment was submitted for the post related to the Browning Letters Project, a post which I thought was uniformly happy and positive, given its focus on love poems. I guess the hive mind behind the commenting spambot has little care for the creative works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

Of Robots and Social Media

Sure, these comments are funny, but what’s the harm? So what if some chunk of code from a Germanic website is blasting our inbox with semi-coherent “responses” to our blog’s output? For the end user, it’s probably not a big deal; if we don’t approve the comment, you’ll never see it. And the Word Press platform (administered by Edublogs) catches all of them, so there’s no real possibility that one will slip out into the general populace to wreak havoc.

The problem is this: these unending automated attacks will only get more sophisticated, and they are not going away. There are plenty of people who would use tactics like this to entice the unwary to click on a link that looks legitimate, enter in their personal information, and find themselves swindled out of the contents of their bank accounts. And while an academic blog related to digital collections may seem like a strange choice for such an attack, it is indicative of the no-holds-barred approach taken by unscrupulous people in their quest for ill-gotten gains.

The unfortunate side effect for archives, libraries and museums (especially small ones) is that these hassles can have a chilling effect on their efforts to use social media to promote their collections to the world. If an institution with little to no Web presence believes these kinds of spam attacks can do real harm to their institution’s computers (to say nothing of its reputation), how many will choose to forgo blogging, Facebook, Twitter and the rest simply out of fear? And ultimately, how many amazing pieces of our cultural heritage will remain unseen online as a result? While we may chuckle about these blatant forgeries, can the time be far off when they become so sophisticated that even major institutions fall prey to their wiles?

A Plea for Human Contact

While these robotic missives may be entertaining (and/or potentially destructive), they are no substitute from well-formed, enlightening, written-by-humans comments. So if you find a post on our blog interesting, informative, enlightening, even enraging, please don’t hesitate to comment. Your voice helps us make this blog – and by extension our digital collections – better every day.