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Eagle Lake and War: Doing One's Duty

Created on: 10/03/12 04:36 PM Views: 1080 Replies: 1
Eagle Lake and War: Doing One's Duty
Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012 04:36 PM

History by Dr. Sandra Thomas, PhD

Eagle Lake’s William Dunovant
Posted Monday, December 17, 2012 07:08 AM

Eagle Lake’s William Dunovant Brought Agricultural and Business Renown

Eagle Lake Headlight

December 10, 2012

Sandra C. Thomas


The evening sky is aglow with red and golden hues of the fiery furnaces at Lakeside. The refinery firemen open the large ovens to toss in more bagasse to keep the fires burning through the night. Carloads of cane stand in the shadows of the tall smokestacks, waiting to be processed.

Behind it all, is a southern man with a Texas vision.


Eagle Lake has had many extraordinary men and women through its history, but few have had the impact of Captain William Dunovant, agricultural and business leader and entrepreneur. Dunovant was a notable citizen and leader in Eagle Lake, Colorado County, and the state of Texas for many years. He was prominent in local and state social, business, and political arenas. Not unlike other business pioneers, Dunovant came to Texas from the Deep South after the Civil War, with a dream to succeed, utilizing the extraordinary natural resources of this newly settled area.


William Dunovant (1845-1902) was born to a distinguished family in Chester, South Carolina, son of A.Q. and Mary Dunovant, and one of nine children. His father was a planter and merchant, an aide to the governor, a member of the state legislature, and the convention that voted for secession. His maternal grandfather was in the state Senate of South Carolina. His uncle, General R.G.M. Dunovant, was a military leader during the Civil War, and served at Ft. Sumter.


Educated in Chester, Dunovant left school at age 15 or 16 to join the South Carolina Infantry as a private. He was bright, with a good early education. He was promoted to Captain, and was in command of Company C at the second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia. Twice wounded, he lost his left arm in battle as a Confederate soldier.


Dunovant’s father had bought a plantation near Eagle Lake before the Civil War. Having lost most everything during the war, the Dunovant family moved to Colorado County, Texas, in 1865. William and his two sisters, Adelia and Margaret remained in Texas after their parents soon returned to South Carolina. Dunovant and sister Adelia never married. Margaret married William E. Calhoun, for whom the town of Calhoun was named. Both sisters were helpful to Dunovant in managing the home and lodging at his estate. Adelia became a leader in the Texas Daughters of the Confederacy, and was active in the Episcopal Church


While Dunovant started out modestly with few resources, he ultimately accumulated some 12,000 acres in the Eagle Lake area. He had plantations of cotton, sugar, and rice, and became a man of influence in Southeast Texas. He had a strong mind and aggressive spirit, pursuing ambitious goals. His fertile lands near the Caney Creek provided excellent alluvial soil for farming cotton and sugarcane. He also had rich farmland at Bonus. He had a modern rice mill, a large cotton gin, and he created the Lakeside Sugar Refinery. He was also President of the Cane Belt Railroad, which went from Sealy to Matagorda.


In his reminiscences of boyhood days with Captain Dunovant, I.B. Sigler of Sealy recalls descriptions of “roving fields of cane, and Dunovant’s thousands of acres of cotton so white in the hazy autumn days of 1894; and memories of the great pecan trees.” He remembered the area as a segment of the old South thirty years after the war, living alongside the new South, and that people realized the fascination of the old plantation, and the “Cap’n” who would sit at the head of the table for the noon meal with the men who worked in the mill and the store. “There was always plenty of ribbon cane syrup, fresh vegetables, and plenty of good food.” Dunovant was described as a ‘blend of an aristocrat and a Democrat.’


Dunovant began Lakeside with a mill, a commissary, a storehouse, a store, and a small office. He would often ride in a buggy or on his horse from town or from his office through his fields. The first sugar processed was not refined, but dried in a hot room and packed in barrels with “Lakeside Plantation, William Dunovant,” stenciled on the tops. It was known as centrifugal sugar. Later, his Lakeside Sugar Refinery was one of the largest in the region with the most elaborate, modern equipment to process and refine sugar.


It was said that the noisy engines which ran the rollers in the old mill could be heard in town. They were actually old steam engines taken from steamboats on the Brazos River. The old mill ground through the night during season except on Sundays.


Captain Dunovant introduced rice farming to the area in 1898.  He owned the Patrick Reels part of the lake. He farmed 40 acres of rice in the area of the Lower Lake, as an experiment, with the lake serving as the irrigation source. In 1901, he built a levee across the lower end of the lake with convict labor leased from the state. It was known as the Dunovant Levee, built to conserve and store water. The prisoners built additional levees and harvested the rice crop. In 1899, Dunovant   installed the first electric pumping station on the lake.


With his introduction of rice farming to the area, Eagle Lake and its nearby prairie became one of the most important and prolific rice farming areas in Texas. Wells, canals, and an irrigation company provided new water sources for rice growing, as farming interests developed. Rice soon replaced cotton as the primary crop in the county.


Dunovant partnered with another successful Eagle Lake businessman, W.T. Eldridge, who assumed the role of manager of several Dunovant enterprises, becoming a business partner in many of them, including farming and the Cane Belt Railroad. Dunovant, known for his temper, became at odds with Eldridge. He threatened Eldridge’s life, resulting in his being shot by Eldridge in self-defense on a train to Houston in August 1902.


Eldridge was also threatened by Dunovant’s brother-in-law, W.E. Calhoun, who, on a train reached for his gun as Eldridge boarded, and was shot by Eldridge, who was acquitted on both accounts.


Dunovant, his two sisters, and W.E. Calhoun were buried at the Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

Eagle Lake is indebted to the vision and leadership of Captain William Dunovant, who developed a rich farming industry in Eagle Lake’s early years. The Confederate Army leader, through his persistence and skills gave prominence to the Town of Eagle Lake.


When you next travel along Lakeside Drive, remember the man who built the town of Lakeside, and the industries which made it prosper. Imagine the tall smokestacks of the large refinery, and its fiery furnaces; the acres of tall green sugar cane; the long, white rows of cotton; the golden heads of rice; the shiny tracks of the Cane Belt Railroad; and the shimmering sun on the waters of Eagle Lake at the turn of the century.  Recall the Sugar Boys’ Ball at the Frazar Opera House, Cicero Howard overseeing the farm workers, and Captain Dunovant riding through the plantations in his horse and buggy, having traveled far the Battle of Bull Run.




Edited 12/17/12 07:09 AM