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The Big Thicket Guidebook: Exploring the Backroads and History of Southeast Texas

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Start your
engines and follow the backroads, the historical paths, and the scenic
landscape that were fashioned by geologic Ice Ages and traveled by Big
Thicket explorers as well as contemporary park advocates-all as diverse as
the Big Thicket itself. From Spanish missionaries to Jayhawkers, and from
timber barons to public officials, you will meet some unusual characters who
inhabited an exceptional region. The Big Thicket and its National Preserve
contain plants and animals from deserts and swamps and ecosystems in between,
all together in one amazing Biological Crossroad. The fifteen tours included
with maps will take you through them all. Visitors curious about a legendary
area will find this book an essential companion in their cars. Libraries will
use the book as a reference to locate information on ghost towns, historic
events, and National Preserve features

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Part I. Some East Texas History

ePub

PART I

SOME EAST TEXAS HISTORY

CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

History! The story of people in action! And of byways: old buffalo trails that became Indian traces then Spanish paths which broadened into every sort of road from timber track to superhighway. Come explore the past, the heart, and the fringes of Big Thicket, search for signs of those who dared to challenge it.

Today the rich heritage and scenic beauty of Big Thicket are all but gone due to space age technology. And so this cannot be a guidebook in today’s sense, but a search for the past. It’s like a treasure hunt—the clues are there and if we poke around long enough, down deadend roads, through weed jungles or pine tree farms, chasing the ghosts we know were once there, we do find treasures—delightful niches of fine scenery, lost markers of a bygone time, echoes of warm, lively human beings who were deeply involved in survival and fighting for their personal beliefs.

 

Part II. Some Southeast Texas Towns

ePub

PART II

SOME SOUTHEAST TEXAS TOWNS

CHAPTER 1

BATSON, WILDEST OF ’EM ALL!

One of the mindbogglers of the Big Thicket is to sit in your car at the crossroads of FM 770 and US 105 and try to accept the fact that here, in the heart of downtown Batson—with its high-rise water tower, service station, cafe, grocery, a museum, a church, houses strung along the roads, its unseen back streets hiding a population of 140 souls, its pastoral setting, a village that exudes careworn respectability—was one of the riproaringest roughest boom towns in oil history.

It was a time when the breath of Batson fumed with cheap whisky and rotten-egg gas, its air reverberated with shrieking steam whistles and rumbling machinery during the day, honky tonk music and shrill laughter at night. Oil derricks sprang up like towering pines across the flats of Batson Prairie west of Pine Island Bayou, while false fronts hiding sleazy box buildings lined the rutted wagon trails that crossed here. If you had stopped then at this same spot to watch a bustling town torn apart by oil, you would have been overwhelmed with the boiling dust clouds of dry weather, or buried in the black quagmires of sodden rains as boiler wagons and horses, loaded freighters and oxen, strained through the clutching, grasping living slime.

 

Part III. Roadside History of Southeast Texas

ePub

PART III

ROADSIDE HISTORY OF SOUTHEAST TEXAS

TOUR 1

117 MILES

US 59:
HOUSTON TO LUFKIN

Houston—Humble—Cleveland—Shepherd—Livingston—Moscow—Corrigan—Lufkin

A turn-of-the-century railroad and a modern freeway streak north out of Houston, the former cutting a swath through the western edge of the Big Thicket and the latter reopening the same country to a tidal wave of instant subdivisions, country clubs and pseudo-country living.

Driving north on US 59 can be an exciting experience if you know what to look for. US 59 slices through remnants of the Big Thicket, an experience in itself. It tangles with old Indian trails. It crosses the five geological soil bands that create the biological diversity of the Big Thicket.

Railroads were chartered as early as 1848 to tap the big timber of Big Thicket but several failed because of lack of capital, the Civil War, and Reconstruction politics. With these obstacles removed, on March 11, 1877, the Texas state legislature approved the charter for a railroad from Houston northeast to Texarkana, with two branches to the Sabine River. Paul Bremond, wealthy and dynamic Houston businessman, was its driving force. New York-born, Bremond had come to Texas in the early 1840s. Soon a successful general merchandiser and experienced in transportation, he helped incorporate several other railroads and felt sure that a track into the piney woods would be extremely profitable. Inspired by the railroad show at the 1875 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, he became converted to the narrow gauge concept, bought two engines at the exposition and began building his Houston East & West Texas Railroad with a three-foot wide narrow gauge track.

 

The Authors and their Sources, by Maxine Johnston

ePub

THE AUTHORS AND THEIR SOURCES

Orrin Bonney, a Houston attorney, married and brought his Canadian bride Lorraine to Spring, Texas, where Orrin owned a 100-acre chunk of Big Thicket territory. They were preservationists on a nationwide scale but with extensive involvement in Wyoming and Texas.

The Bonneys were founding members of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Orrin served as the first chair of the Big Thicket Coordinating Committee, consisting of representatives from Texas conservation groups who worked to establish a Big Thicket National Park. The Bonneys wrote Big Thicket articles, produced Big Thicket brochures, and provided slides and script for “Big Thicket—A Vanishing Wilderness,” gave programs, and “toured” national and state individuals and groups.

The Bonneys produced guidebooks for the Wyoming mountains as well as Bonney’s Guide to Jackson’s Hole and Grand Teton National Park (last revision was 1995). Their book about Yellowstone National Park was called Battle Drums and Geysers and juxtaposed historic journals and government reports with 1970 views of Yellowstone.

 

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