History of Webster, Texas
The Karankawa Indians
The homeland of the Karankawas extended from the west side of Galveston Bay south westward as far as the vicinity of Corpus Christi Bay. They were poorly-equipped, primitive hunters and gatherers. The significance of the name Karankawa is unknown, although it has been said to mean “dog-lovers.”
In creeks and estuaries, they found alligators, whose grease, they were reputed to smear on themselves to discourage mosquitoes. A variety of animals and plants contributed to Karankawa subsistence. Deer were hunted, as were bison when they appeared near the coast. Bear, peccary, and small mammals were also taken when the opportunity arose. Berries, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods were gathered on the mainland shore.1
With the settlement made by Stephen Austin on the Brazos in 1823 began the decline of the tribe. Conflicts between the settlers and the Indians were frequent.
On the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Railroad-called Websterville when it was first founded in 1879 by James W Webster, who brought a group of English colonists to the site. It was a post office in 1882, but danger of floods and the proximity of the city of Houston made town site development slow.3
The English colonists were brought over on the “San Jacinto” which was called “The Rouncing-Bouncing San Jacinto” because the trip was so rough. Families who were already living along Clear Creek at this time and raising cattle were: The Thompson’s, Whitcomb’s, Thomas’, Grissom’s, and Owens.4
The English colonists established a small settlement called Garden Town located northeast of what is today Bay Area Boulevard and the railroad tracks. By 1882, the town had its first post office under the name of Websterville.
One of the earliest businesses in Garden Town was a dry goods and grocery store owned and run by James (J.W.) Thompson. He was also the postmaster, Justice of the Peace, and Notary Public. About 1892, Thompson moved his home from Garden Town to what is now Webster bringing the post office and dry goods and grocery store with him. He built a large residence for himself and his family with the general store and post office located in the front portion of his home. It was at this time that the name of the town was officially changed to Webster.5
Prior to any schools in Webster, the children had to go by horseback to Friendswood to attend school. Mrs. Allen, daughter of J. W Thompson, established the first school in Webster, located approximately where the present elementary is today.
The first church, a Union Sunday School, was formed about 1892, and the first meetings were held in the school house. Ministers were traveling preachers, going to Webster one Sunday, League City the next, and so forth. The Webster Community Church was formed as a union church in 1894, with 17 charter members, and the first church building was built about 1896.
O. M. Whitcomb built and operated a general merchandise store about 1895 in Webster. It was the only store in the town for many years until a drug store was opened by the Allen family about 1912.
At the corner of what is now Nasa Road 1 and Highway 3, was the home of Mrs. Mattie DeGrummond who worked as the town railroad and telegraph agent. This site was later purchased by a New York couple, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Ervin, who erected a large building and opened an automotive repair and service center. However, the business was not very successful and the property was later purchased by C. U. Allen and became known as Allen’s Store.6
The Rice Industry
Seito Saibara (1861-1939), former president of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and first Christian member of the Japanese Diet (parliament), arrived in the United States in 1901 to study theology, and with the desire to establish a Japanese colony in America. Saibara came to Texas in August 1903 at the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce to advise farmers on the cultivation of rice, which was emerging as a major cash crop. He decided rice farming was the ideal business for a colony, leased this tract of land (which he later purchased), and sent for his family.
The oldest son, Kiyoaki Saibara (1884-1972), brought from Japan 300 pounds of Shinriki seed, a variety superior to native rice; and together, father and son planted a field near the canal (½ mile NE). Their first crops were utilized primarily for distribution as seed in Texas and Louisiana. The Saibara’s built a house (250 yards S), and several families soon moved here from Japan, but the colonization effort failed because of disillusionment and homesickness of the new colonists.
Seito Saibara aided the growth of the Texas rice industry with improved strains of rice and agricultural techniques until his death, and Kiyoaki Saibara continued new development until his retirement in 1964.7
Later Growth & Development
Webster’s population grew from 329 in 1960 to 2,231 by 1970, an increase of 578% according to the United States census. Webster’s dramatic growth may be attributed in part to its close proximity to the Johnson Space Center.
Webster was considered a village until it was incorporated in 1958. According to the United States 1990 census, the population is now 4,641. Today Webster’s industry is comprised mostly of banks, hospitals, shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, and aerospace firms. Webster is recognized as the gateway to the Johnson Space Center and its motto is “Linked to the Future.”9
The Japanese Heritage of Webster
by Tom Wilks
Saibara, Kobayashi, and Kagawa were familiar names in Webster early this century. Today, in this year of Webster’s Centennial, they are still familiar names - and have been for several generations.
Japanese settlement in Webster began in 1903. Seito Saibara came to Texas at the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce to advise farmers on the cultivation of the rice. Seito Saibara - authority on agriculture, President of Doshisha University, lawyer, and member of the Japanese Parliament found Webster to be a natural for rice production. He settled here and sent for his wife, son, parents, and thirty friends who arrived in 1904.
Kiyoaki, Seito’s son, brought with him 300 pounds of shinriki seed rice - a superior variety to local American rice. It yielded 34 barrels per acre as compared to 18 to 20 barrels from American rice. The first crops were primarily used for seed rice, which was distributed in Texas and Louisiana. This was considered to be the real beginning of the Gulf Coast rice industry. The Saibara’s aided the growth of the rice industry with improved rice strains and agricultural techniques. A State of Texas historical marker chronicles the accomplishments and contributions of the Saibara family. It is located on Nasa Road 1 adjacent to HL&P property (where their house once stood).
Mitsutaro Kobayashi came to Webster to join the growing Japanese colony. He settled on a 20 acre tract on the outskirts of Webster and grew satsuma oranges. A severe, early freeze killed his (and others) trees. He later purchased more land and became a successful truck farmer, raising a variety of vegetables. He and his wife, Moto, had eight children.
Yonekichi Kagawa acquired land in Webster and grew rice also. Later, he began truck farming. He went to Japan in 1914 to marry Kich Murakomi, and came back to Webster in 1919. They had twelve children.
The Onishi’s and Watanabe’s were also prominent rice and truck farmers in Webster. Many of their descendants live in the Houston area.
Over the years, the children of these first Japanese families in Webster distinguished themselves by obtaining degrees from Rice University, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Sam Houston College, San Jacinto College, University of Michigan and others. They became chemical and electrical engineers, a horticulturist, nurse, and university professor. Many served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some work at the Johnson Space Center providing technical skills that help make the space program the success that it is. Others served Webster directly on City Council and the Webster Volunteer Fire Department.
In 1957, Kiyoaki Saibara went to Japan to receive the Order of Sacred Treasure for furthering Japanese-American relations. Kiyoaki also became the first Japanese man to become a naturalized American citizen.
Today, the traditions of the first Webster Japanese families are kept alive in the neat, green rows of the Kagawa and Kobayashi farms on the western outskirts of Webster.
- W. W Newcomb, Jr, The Indians of Texas (University of Texas Press, 1961), pp. 30, 59, 60, 66.
- Frederick Webb Hodge, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (Rowman and Littlefield, 1971), p. 657.
- The Texas State Historical Association, The Handbook of Texas-Volume 2 (University of Texas Press, 1952), p. 875.
- Janie Barber Veth, History of Webster (thesis, 1966) p. 2.
- Delores Kenyon, From Arrows to Astronauts (Delores Kenyon, 1976) pp. 15, 16, 17.
- Delores Kenyon, From Arrows to Astronauts (Delores Kenyon, 1976) pp. 17, 18.
- Claude Dooley, Betty Dooley and the Texas Historical Commission, Why Stop? (Gulf Publishing Company, 1985), pp. 521, 522.
- The Texas State Historical Association, The Handbook of Texas-(A Supplement) (The University of Texas Press, 1976), p. 1092.
- City of Webster, General Budget, 1990-1991, Historical Facts, pp. 11, 12.
- Dooley, Claude and Betty and the Texas Historical Commission. Why Stop? Gulf Publishing Company, 1985.
- Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Rowman and Littlefield, 1971.
- Kenyon, Delores. From Arrows to Astronauts. Delores Kenyon, 1976.
- Newcomb, Jr, W W The Indians of Texas. University of Texas Press, 1961.
- The Texas State Historical Association. The Handbook of Texas-Volume 2. University of Texas Press, 1952.
- The Texas State Historical Association. The Handbook of Texas-(A Supplement). University of Texas Press, 1976.
- Webster, City of. - History of Webster (thesis) 1966.