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BOOM-TOWN TALES BY ALICE CASHEN John Cashen hit town in 1904, the first year of the Batson oil boom. He had sailed the world, starting at his home on the Isle of Man, before he arrived, but this was his stopping place. He went to work on the rigs, made his stake, built a house, and headed back to the Isle of Man to take a bride. John and Alice, the author's mother, had a hectic honeymoon. Their ship docked at New Orleans, on their way back to Batson, but the authorities would not let John off because his eyes looked infected. What really happened was that he had smoked too many wedding cigars in the cramped quarters of the ship and the smoke had irritated his eyes. Anyhow, in spite of a long argument John had to return with the ship to Liverpool, and Alice had to go on alone to set up housekeeping in one of the wildest boom towns in oil history. John signed on a freighter at Liverpool, lumped ship in New York, and showed up broke in Batson a year later. Alice Cashen, the author of these boom-town stories, was born in Batson, into a part of the Big Thicket where the boomers had ripped out a hole in the forest and planted their own kind of trees. She grew up in a world of drill bits, bull wheels, and walking beams, while the Batson field settled down to a quiet life as a minor producer. The pumps are still grunting and wheeZing and rocking 137 138 52. Alice Cashen. back and forth in the field north of town, but the Thicket is closing in and would spill all over it if the people ever looked the other way.-F.E.A. People came and went in and out of the Thicket long before the Civil War, but permanent settlements were few, and roads were even fewer. The best traveling was done on horseback, and there were times when the traveler was compelled to dismount and lead his horse through sloughs and baygalls. One of the more familiar routes was the trail between Texas and Louisiana, which led across Sam's Prairie and Batson Prairie, over which the Guedry family drove cattle to market. One of the better known stories of this period is about a cattle rustler who managed to steal cattle while they were bedded down at night on Sam's Prairie. The drivers set a trap for him and caught BOOM-TOWN TALES him in the act of slaughtering a cow. They made him finish cleaning the carcass but had him leave the hide on. The thief was tied hand and foot, placed in the cow's carcass with his head and feet sticking out and sewed in with buckskin thongs. The owners left him to his fate. What that fate was differs with different story tellers , but imagination can furnish an end for such a thief. The cattlemen and the rice farmers on the edges of the Thicket made only feeble efforts to conquer it, and the Thicket kept out bits of civilization-such as the cook stove, the glass windowpane, and the sewing machine-until a long time after the Civil War. Thus for a time the Thicket maintained its ominous, brooding, powerful barrier against the inroads that were to come sooner or later. The tales and stories of this area, laced together with mossy bayous and Virginia creepers, had the flavor of the wilderness and a streak of western lawlessness. To come later was a new lore unknown anywhere-oill On the southwest edge of the Big Thicket was the small Sour Lake settlement. The Karankawas and the Tejas had discovered this muddy lake formed by sour, acrid springs and had applied the mud successfully to sores on their skins and to granulated eyelids. Jesuit missionaries traveling from San Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California, stopped here on the way, and it may well be that many a Sunday school was held near these springs under the Texas loblollys. When the Mexican government granted Stephen Jackson a league of land early in the 1800's, the springs of this malaria-infested swamp were known throughout the area for their healing properties. By 1845 a cross-breed Indian and Negro had become famous for his mud baths for skin irritations. This Mr. Bazile, the self-styled Doctor Mud, was busily curing a long list of ailments with...

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