In 1967, the State of Texas officially designated Salado Creek of Bell County as the first recorded Texas Natural Landmark. This announcement was made by former Texas Atty. Gen. John Ben Shepperd of Odessa, president of the Texas State Historical Survey Committee. This state historical group had launched a new program of designating and preserving "worthy and significant natural landmarks." It seemed fitting that Salado Creek with all of its natural beauty and cultural history was selected as the first recipient of this award. A historical maker proclaiming this honor was dedicated at the Main Street crossing of Salado Creek on May 26, 1968 with then Lt. Governor Preston Smith in attendance.1
Salado Creek rises in two forks around Florence in northwestern Williamson County, unites in southern Bell County, and flows 35 miles northeastward to join the Lampasas River in the area known as Three Forks. At that point, the Salado, the Lampasas, and the Leon Rivers all unite to form Little River; the Little River flows into the Brazos River which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Spanish explorers referred to Salado Creek as the Salt Fork of the Lampasas River. It acquired the name Salado, Spanish for salt, because of the salty taste of the water from the sulfur springs that flowed along its course. As the creek flows east-northeast an area down the creek became known as Sulphur Springs.2
Historically, Salado Creek has been a vital part of the establishment and development of Salado and Central Texas. Salado Creek has been called the lifeblood of the village. There is evidence that the creek, which flows through town year-round, was a camping site for the Indians. The creek that sustained the Indians soon attracted white settlers to the area. In its early days, the creek, with its eight mills within nine miles of each other, was vital to the economic development of the village, and Salado Creek soon became a county industrial center. Even after the mills became silent reminders of bygone days, it was the beauty of the creek that continued to attract settlers to its banks.
A second vital factor that led to the establishment and development of Salado and the surrounding area was a military road. In 1838, a military road where soldiers marched and wagon trains hauled supplies to various forts established to protect the settlers from Indian attacks, extended across the Republic of Texas and crossed Salado Creek at the place where Main Street does today. This road later became an overland stage route and was used as a branch of the Chisholm Trail. From the 1860s to 1885, thousands of cattle were driven along this route to Northern railheads. This crossing became a major hub in the development of Salado.
Even though the Indians have left the area and the cattle drives no longer pass through, Salado Creek has not lost its appeal. It still attracts visitors. A frequently visited spot is the area at which the bronze sculpture of Sirena sits. This half-Indian maiden and half catfish statue has been a treat for visitors and residents alike.
Usually, the creek is peaceful and calm; however, after heavy rainfalls, it can be frisky and destructive. Floods have destroyed three bridges across the creek and six of the eight mills that once lined it banks. It seems that each flood was worse than the previous one, but old-timers say that none compares to the great flood of 1921, when homes, barns, crops in the field, and livestock were washed away and lives were lost.
Even with its occasional destructive nature, Salado Creek remains a favorite gathering place. Families gather for reunions and picnics, and its swimming holes still invite children. Occasionally, when driving by the creek on a Sunday afternoon, one can witness a baptismal service taking place among the water-cress growing around the springs.
By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: October 19, 2018
Footnotes:1Barton, Patricia, Salado Creek and Its Mills, unpublished manuscript.
2Kelsey, Michael W., Nancy Graff Kelsey, Ginny Guinn Parsons, Empresario's Son: E.S.C. Robertson of Salado, Prairie Queen Publication, Belton, Texas, 2017.