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CAMP BIG THICKET: Life in the Pine4 Woods. 1887 BY JOHN A. CAPLEN We don't know much about John Caplen-who he was, where he had come from, or where he was gOing-but the story he wrote for the SUNNY SOUTH (published in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1887) includes details of Big Thicket life that make it interesting on-thespot reporting. Wherever he had come from, he hadn't been traveling a main road. And wherever he was going he passed through the old Buck Hooks farm near Thicket and through Batson Prairie. Buck was living on Batson Prairie on the southwestern edge of the Thicket in 1887, although he left the same year and went back to his farm in the heart of the Thicket. Buck built a board-and-batten salt-box house there in the 1890's, and his son Ben (called "Little" Ben to distinguish him from Uncle Ben) built a fine dog-trot house next to him around 1900. Little Ben's house is still there, sagging a bit, and the old split shingle roof is green with moss and resurrection fern, but the place is still as pretty a picture of old-time East Texas architecture as you can find nowadays.F .E.A. Ihave 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. 107 108 41. Little Ben Hooks' house, near Thicket. In a ride of 150 miles through these two counties, there is one continuous dense growth of tall pines-oaks, magnolias, and numerous other forest trees. As far as the eye can see, 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 42. A cypress horse trough. many places we have to get down on our hands and knees to crawl through the thick, close-knitted growth of baygall bushes and canebrakes. Not a human being can be seen for miles. A dim trail through the thicket is all we have to guide our way; the eyes of our guide are constantly scanning the ground so as to follow the trail. A feeling of awe and desolation comes over me as I look up and around at the big pine trees, white oaks, and magnolias that we pass in pushing our way through the canebrakes. Not a voice is heard except our own; and when we are passing a grove 109 no TALES FROM THE BIG THICKET of pines, the moaning of the wind makes us feel as if the Judgment Day was about to come. After riding twenty miles, following our guide, we came to a clearing in the woods. It was with pleasure that we alighted from our tired horses. The dogs commenced to bark, and presently there emerged from the house our very kind and hospitable friend, Buck Hooks. Buck is a true Texan, and has a nice home on the edge of the prairie. He is the most expert woodsman in this part of the country and knows every spot in the Big Thicket. He can come in and go out at any time, night or day; I believe he knows every tree. His cattle feed on the rich cane abounding everywhere in the Thicket; they become very wild in there, and it requires a trained and expert woodsman to handle them or drive them to the prairie. It often happens that the only way the cattle can be gotten out of the Thicket is to shoot them, take the hide, and leave the carcass to the wolves and bears to have a treat on. My friend Buck has a farm in the heart of the Thicket. A real kind, old-fashioned fellow, by the name of W. F. Smith, lives there with his family, and they all appear to be contented and happy (although he has to ride twelve miles and back through a dim trail in the thicket for a sack of meal, every week) . 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 settled by the early pioneers, their descendants form the principal part of the population. Traveling through the deep piney woods of this part of Texas, you often find grown men and women that have never seen...


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