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Life in the Big Thicket during the 1880s

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John A. Caplen wrote:


"I have been in the heart of the "Big Thicket" in Polk and Hardin counties, Texas, for ten days. Nothing can be seen except the tangled underbrush and tall trees. In a ride of 150 miles through...there is one continuous dense growth of tall pines, oaks, magnolias and numerous other forest trees. As far as the eye can penetrate, it is the same; the tangled undergrowth and fallen trees block and interpose an almost impassable barrier in the way of any kind of vehicle. In many places we have to get down on our hands and knees to crawl through the thick, dose knitted growth of bay, gall bushes and cane-brakes. Not a human being can be seen for miles. Not a voice is heard except our own; and when we pass a grove of pines, the moaning of the wind makes us feel as if Judgment Day was about to come.

The people who live in the pine woods of Eastern Texas are very primitive in their habits. As this was the first part of Texas that was set-fled by the early pioneers, their descendants form the principal part of the population... You often find grown men and women that have never seen a prairie country, mountain or valley, railroad or steamboat. They grow to manhood and womanhood in the heart of the thick pine woods, and are contented and happy in their log cabins... Their diets would by no means please the stomach of an epicure. Corn-bread, bacon and potatoes, with an occasional treat of venison, give them perfect satisfaction. Nearly all the children born and reared in the pine woods have light hair; it is a rare sight to see a black-haired family.

Very few own their own land. For the last forty years they have been in the habit of settling upon any land fit for cultivation. After finding a good, rich land, the piney woods settler will commence felling and cutting the trees and underbrush away from where he expects to have his field. When all the space he wants is cut down he informs his neighbors that on a certain day he will have a log-rolling. His wife makes preparations for a big dinner, and all his neighbors, for miles around, come and pile up the logs that have been cut, then put the brush in piles and set them on fire. In a few days his field is all cleared and ready for the plow.

After a hard day's ride I stopped at a house near the road for supper and shelter for the night. About fifteen minutes after arrival my host announced supper was ready. I cast my eyes over the anticipated meal. My digestive organs, after the inspection of the supper spread over me, rebelled and contracted. The following is the bill of fare complete: Corn-bread, very fat bacon, and clabber [curdled milk]. As I am not fond of clabber, I did not eat it. My host called his daughter and said: "Emma Jane, bring this man some water." The girl brought me a cup of water. My heart was sick within me to think I could not get a cup of coffee. I had not missed my evening coffee in ten years, and the result was that I suffered with a raging headache all night; and the next day the fat bacon and com-bread that I had partaken of could not or would not settle without the coffee. The next time I come along this way I will fill my pockets with ground coffee."


----- John A. Caplen, "The Sunny South," 1887

Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.

Posted : 16th February 2020 4:59 pm