According to the smoky old campfire legends that keep cropping up, the priests had some Indians who wouldn't quite convert, and at one point they're going off through the woods and some of the natural native enemies of the Indians started chasing them. As they ran along, they came to this great big river. And the bad Indians were catching up with the good Indians. The good Indians were ready to jump in the river and swim across and the priest stops and says, 'Wait, I can't swim.' So, they were looking at, 'Well, either we're going to cross now or we're going to die.
So the priest decides to put his faith in the Lord, and he jumps into the river, and the river parted. And the priest and the Indians ran across onto dry ground. The river closes up and they jump out of the river on their own side and the good Indians and the priest escaped. But before they escaped, he turns and names the river. And he calls it, 'El Rio de los Brazos de Dios' the river of the arms of God—the Brazos River.
The legend says that he was a considerable rounder (drunk), and that he also had requested of her (his wife) – and it's not in the will—that he be buried with his jug of rum. But, supposedly at the wake, she walks by and gets the rum sitting on the sideboard and throws it out the window. She says, 'By golly, you had enough rum while you were alive. You don't need any more now.' So, supposedly his ghost is still wandering up and down the highway, looking for the rum."
The legend has only grown due to sightings of a white ball of light that has been known to chase vehicles late at night near the town of Bailey's Prairie. "Bailey's Light," is supposedly the lantern that Bailey carries, forever searching for his missing rum. Look for the haunted spot along Hwy 35 between Angleton and West Columbia.
Against expectations, there would not be a flood of explorers following in the footsteps of Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwrecked crew after 1528. However, a few hardy Native Americans and, later Anglo settlers did haunt the waterways and forests near Quintana. One group that frequented the area were the Karankawa Indians—the hosts of Cabeza de Vaca during his time on the Texas coast.
The Karankawas were a nomadic tribe that migrated seasonally between the barrier islands and the mainland; their movements dictated primarily by food and climate. Written accounts describe them as very tall and powerful runners as well as expert swimmers. They wore deerskin breechcloths or nothing at all and they painted and tattooed their bodies. One vividly observed detail was that they smeared their bodies with a mixture of dirt and alligator or shark grease to ward off mosquitoes, giving them undoubtedly quite a distinctive, off-putting odor. And, more ominously, they were said to occasionally practice ceremonial cannibalism.
Between 1528 and 1821 there are numerous stories of encounters between the Karankawas and Spanish missions along the Texas coast. Many of these are colorful stories that leave us guessing about the connection between truth and legend.
The Karankawas’ story, unfortunately, doesn't have a happy ending. There are continuing hostilities between them and the Spanish at mission La Bahía (Matagorda Bay) as well as Mission Rosario and Mission Refugio. At the end of Spanish rule in Texas, the Karankawa population is greatly reduced by diseases and an 1819 confrontation with Jean Lafitte's pirate colony. Even Stephen F. Austin lead forces to tame the Karankawas. Finally, by the late 1850s, the last remnants of the tribe, settled near Rio Grande City, are attacked and wiped out by a Texan force led by Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, effectively rendering their people extinct.
Before much of the concerted Anglo settlement led by Stephen F. Austin in 1821, there were a few "freelancers" who found their way to the Quintana area. James Briton Bailey, born on August 1, 1779, in North Carolina, was one such man. He married Edith Smith, had six children, and after her death married her sister, Dorothy, and had five more children. He lived for a period in Tennessee before moving to Kentucky. He would later fight in the War of 1812. While in Kentucky, he also served in the state legislature, but was caught up in the bank failure and land scandals that came out of the War of 1812. Seeking relief from his legal woes, he moved with his family to the frontier of Texas just west of present-day Angleton, acquiring a land grant from the Spanish government.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the new Mexican government would not recognize his title. Neither did the new colonist leader Stephen F. Austin who ordered him to leave the land now inside his Texas colony. Although Bailey and Austin reportedly disliked one another, Austin eventually recognized Bailey's squatter’s rights. Bailey later become a lieutenant of a company of militia, fought with Austin against the Karankawas, and in 1829 was commissioned a captain. Bailey would also fight in the battles of Jones Creek and Velasco (where he lost a son), skirmishes leading up to the Texas Revolutionary War.
True to his tough, independent, and eccentric nature, Brit had very specific instructions for his burial. He requested in his will that he be buried standing up and facing west. We know this from his will, but legends grow, and some of you may already have heard the legend of Baily's ghost. If not, be sure to read the sidebar for one of our local ghost stories.