LEARN ABOUT KPC & OUR WORK
The Katy Prairie is full of great stories. Use the map below to explore KPC's work, values, and how we are positively impacting our region.
- Purple Blocks = Katy Prairie Preserve
- Light Blue Line = Historic Boundary of the Katy Prairie
- Orange Flower Icons = Prairie Builder Schools + Parks sites
- Blue Information Icons = Short video clips that tell our stories
LEARN KATY PRAIRIE HISTORY
The Katy Prairie has been home to bands of Native Americans, hardy pioneers, ranchers, hunters, farmers, and, more recently, suburbanites. The history of the prairie is a spellbinding tale of the connection of people to the land and how that connection has transformed both the landscape and those who live on it.
The Katy Prairie lies in the Texas Coastal Plain and encompasses over a thousand square miles (Wermund, 1994), bound by the Brazos River on the southwest, pine forest on the north, and the city of Houston on the east. Historically, the Katy Prairie has been characterized as a poorly-drained, tallgrass prairie subject to periodic fires and containing a considerable amount of wetland areas.
Archeo-Indians were the first humans to visit the Katy Prairie over 10,000 years ago. More recently Bidais, Karankawa, and occasional Tonkawa Native Americans hunted the prairie, following the bison herds that grazed the area. The standing ponds were frequented by thousands of ducks. Up until the end of the Nineteenth Century, the Katy Prairie remained more or less untouched by Europeans, but feral longhorn cattle and wild mustangs, both European species, started to colonize the prairie prior to the 1820s. Around 1870 the first settlers began to raise corn, potatoes, and cattle on the prairie (Lobpries,1994).
At the turn of the century, rice farmers appeared, creating 30-acre fields harvested by hand. Sportsmen began to take advantage of the hunting opportunities, seeking the indigenous ducks, curlews, and prairie chickens (Gore, 1994). Small-scale agriculture had only a minor impact on the region, and the Katy Prairie remained primarily a prairie ecosystem. In 1914 George Finlay Simmons described the area as still "a coastal prairie region with few farms and ranches; the only timber lies in strips from a quarter-to a half-mile wide along Buffalo and Brays Bayous. The remainder of the country is flat, uncultivated prairie, sprinkled with small ponds and grassy marshes" (Eubanks, 1994).
With the increase in rice farming and a growing population in the 1930's and 1940's came an increase in hunting, bird-watching, and predator control. Ducks remained the most popular species, but hunted species included snipe, cranes, doves, quail, rails, and geese. The presence of ducks and doves increased, directly due to the habitat availability afforded by the flooded rice fields. However, as farming ate up grassland areas, upland species such as the prairie chicken declined drastically (Gore, 1994). Furthermore, the indigenous Red Wolf (Canis rufus) was lost to bounties by the late 1960s, followed shortly by the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), a victim of the imported red fire ant's invasion of the Houston region.
Farming advancements during the 1950's and 1960's boosted rice farming exponentially. It was at this time that the snow goose arrived en mass on the Katy Prairie. Historically the snow goose wintered in the marshes and prairies along the coast. Vast amounts of available, open-water habitat combined with waste rice created by modern farming methods made for exceptionally-conducive wintering grounds, and thousands of geese moved inland to the new habitat (Lobpries, 1994). Migratory birds increasingly depend upon The Katy Prairie as other areas along the Gulf Coast have diminished in size or lost to development.
In the '70s and early '80s, developers began to establish residential projects on the prairie. The City of Houston experienced a huge growth spurt and began spreading to the west and northwest. From 1978 to 1983, 100,000 acres of the Katy Prairie were converted to urban use, primarily residential, with some industrial and retail development. This was coupled with a decline in rice farming, with land use for rice falling 59% in Waller County from 1980-1992 (Henry, 1994).
History to be continued...coming soon!