eastern half of Texas had become pretty tame by the late 1870s, even
downright civilized, compared with the more sparsely settled border
While ranchers in the southwestern part of the state still worried
about cattle thieves and occasional forays by hostile Indians crossing
the Rio Grande into Texas from Mexico or raiding from their reservations
in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), some residents of Corsicana
organized a fishing club they called the Navarro Fish Association.
A joint stock company, its investors bought and fenced a 40-acre tract
five miles from town and then paid to have what one guest called a
"fish tank" built.
Recently widowed Mrs. C.W. Winkler, a native of Virginia whose late
husband had been an officer in the Confederate Army, visited the man-made
fishing hole in the summer of 1883. To help assuage her grief, she
had started a monthly literary magazine, The Texas Prairie Flower.
An educated feminist ahead of her time, Mrs. Winkler had a good eye
for detail and tended to write about much of what she saw. After visiting
the Navarro County
private resort on the invitation of a friend married to one of the
members, she wrote a story about it for the July issue of her magazine.
The lake, created by a Bermuda grass-covered "levee" (read "dam")
on an often-dry creek had been excavated from 30 to 40 feet deep and
covered 10 acres, she reported.
"From the United States Fish Commission," she wrote, "they procured
fish of different kinds -- trout, perch, black bass and carp, all
of which do well except carp, which latter serves as prey for other
fish if put together."
Wisely, she continued, the club gave the fish four or so years to
grow and reproduce. She did not say when the lake was made, but it
must have been around 1878 or 1879.
Finally, in the fall of 1882, club members began fishing their lake.
"Several boats are kept on hand capable of holding six or eight persons,"
Mrs. Winkler wrote. "A trusty man is kept on the ground all the while
to take care of the place and prevent depredations [trespassing] on
In addition to the small lake, members of the group put up a two-story
frame structure that today would be called a fishing lodge. The downstairs
area featured a long table and benches for group meals. Upstairs had
been furnished with bedsteads and mattresses. Behind the building
stood a kitchen, where, Mrs. Winkler explained, "the fish can be cooked
and coffee made."
While even in the 19th century some women enjoyed fishing, the majority
viewed it as a male pursuit. As the lady publisher pointed out: "The
gentlemen usually go out at night, and when they tire of piscatorial
sport, sleep in the upper apartment [and the] next morning the ladies
carry out baskets of provisions, ice, etc., and remain during the
Who did the cooking went unexplained in her article, but fried catfish
and hush puppies are not gender-specific dishes. No matter who donned
the aprons that day, Mrs. Winkler and the other ladies who visited
the private lake clearly enjoyed themselves. And some of them fished.
"To stand upon the levee of this tank," she rhapsodized, "and watch
the boats freighted with gentlemen and ladies, engaged in the healthful
exercise of rowing and fishing, with their long poles dangling in
the water, listen to the merry laughter borne by the passing breeze,
and watch the calm ripple of the waves, we forget the years which
have stretched between..."
Mrs. Winkler clearly understood what research in the 20th and 21st
centuries would verify: Spending time in nature is good for your body
and your mind. She wrote:
"We [she's using the old editorial "we"] are firmly convinced of the
fact, that as a general thing, the business men of the country allow
themselves too little time for recreation, and we believe these sensible
pleasures occasionally, will refresh and invigorate the mind, rendering
life and its cares more pleasurable."
What became of the man-made fishing hole -- surely one of the first
if not THE first impoundments built for recreational purposes -- has
not been determined, but sooner or later an earthen dam is going to
be overwhelmed by flood waters during a particularly heavy rain. The
words "Navarro Fish Association" typed into Google bring up no mention
of the 1880s organization, but these days, Navarro
County residents and visitors have ample fishing choices.
Since 1921, 603-acre Lake Halbert, operated by the City of
Corsicana, has been
a place to wet a line. Navarro Mills Lake, a much larger impoundment
at 5,070 acres, filled in 1963. Finally, 41,356-acre Richland Chambers
Lake is the third-largest man-made body of water in the state.
With more than 300 miles of shoreline, it is an excellent fishing
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - March
25, 2016 Column