Matt White, a well-respected author and naturalist, as well as an instructor at the Texas A & M campus in Commerce, first took an interest in our county in the year 2003. He has since become a great friend to Mount Vernon and Franklin County, Texas, and has encouraged local leadership to promote the area's natural assets.
At the March 2008 meeting, we enjoyed a program entitled "Natural History Heritage" at the Old Depot Museum. Matt White gave an inspiring lecture on the vanishing prairie and the need to preserve what is left of it in Texas.
Not long ago Matt ran across the recently published journal of Anthony Glass, Indian Agent licensed through the Jefferson Administration, who came through this county in 1808. We now had an historic account of someone traveling through here. (Most of Franklin County lies within the drainage of the Mississippi River which was initially claimed as a part of the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803 and that claim was not released until the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 released the lands south of the Red River to Spain.)
After he had attended one tourism planning session for our community, he said, "You need to market yourselves under the theme Come Experience the Nature of an Earlier Texas; that's what you can offer here. You still have the same vistas that Glass saw in 1808, and you have a great biological diversity with museums featuring natural history holdings."
Matt's books, including Birds of Northeast Texas
and Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait
, are available through the Texas A&M Press http://www.tamu.edu/upress
and, too, at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com
From the dust jacket of Prairie Time
we read the following: "Interwoven tightly within the fabric of this abused and worn-out land are countless stories of the people who wrestled a living here. Many of the stories are forgotten and many more are untold; I feel fortunate that I was allowed to hear some of them." In its prime, the Texas Blackland Prairie cut a swath of twelve million acres across the state from near San Antonio north to the Red River. Perhaps less than one-tenth of one percent of this vast prairie remainssmall patches tucked away here and there, once serving as hay meadows or sprouting from rock too stony to plow. Matt White's connections with both prairie plants and prairie people are evident in the stories of discovery and inspiration he tells as he tracks the ever-dwindling parcels of tallgrass prairie in northeast Texas. In his search, he stumbles upon some unexpected fragments of virgin land, as well as some remarkable tales of both destruction and stewardship. Helping us understand what a prairie is and how to appreciate its beauty and importance, White also increases our awareness of prairies, past and present, so that we might champion their survival in whatever small plots remain.