The Big Thicket of Texas is more than a "preserve" ...it's an "occurance" ... a once - in - a - lifetime experience ... an unexplained phenomenon.
The Big Thicket includes "people" ...their personalities and the lifestyles that are as unique and exciting as butterworts and butterflies...
It includes "places"...such as Honey Island, and Fred and Caneyhead and rememberances of ghost towns such as Old Olive and Bragg.
And, it includes acreage taken in by President Gerald Ford when he signed the legislation creating the nation's first Preserve...The Big Thicket National Preserve.
For centuries man has tried to tame her, but like the black bear and the bobcat who once called it home, she is still the "wildest" wilderness known to man today.
Some have tried to "kill" her with their heavy equipment and modern day technology, but in the same way the common earthworm lives forever, the Big Thicket, too, is immortal.
The question arises from time to time, "who is best qualified to serve as caretaker for the Big Thicket?"
Environmentalists believe the government is the answer.
The individual, or small land owner, thinks otherwise. They say they can best save the land in question from destruction. They quickly point out they have saved the lands thus far and have done such a good job of it that now others want to take it from them.
From 1987 until 1993, Village Creek and Big Sandy Creek were included in legislation that would ncrease the size of the preserve from 84,000 to 100,000. Second District Congressman Charles Wilson had proposed the legislation and found himself locked in heated battle with private landowners along the creek's banks who contended the government was going too far in taking away private property rights.
Property owner rights in Texas cease at the vegetation line. Canoeists, swimmers, fishermen, in short, anyone enjoying the creeks, can use the sandbars and the waters edge.
The Big Thicket Story has been told several times through the eyes of the conservationists.
Called a "biological crossroads of North America," the area has homogeneous mixtures of western flora and fauna, forest lands of southern pine and hardwood, swamps and bogs, sand hills and flood plains. These join together to create a biologist's Garden of Eden.
But while these things have been told often, many stories about the Big Thicket remain unpublicized
Attorney Dwayne Overstreet is a sixth generation member of a Big Thicket pioneer family who whittled a clearing almost in the center of what is best described today as the "bear thicket".
Once when the Kountze News was sponsoring a Dwayne Overstreet look - alike contest to help promote an annual Texas Armadillo Days Celebration, an attorney from Beaumont sent a check for one hundred dollars.
"Give this to the winner," the Beaumont attorney said. "Anyone who has to go through life looking like Dwayne Overstreet needs a lot of sympathy and maybe one hundred dollars will make his burden easier to bear."
On another occasion, Overstreet entered the Kountze News office with two jars of Mayhaw jelly. "Here," he said, "If Archer Fullingim is the king of the mayhaw jelly makers, then Shirley is the queen."
Shirley is his wife.
Overstreet's visit became the subject of that week's column. A few days later a Dallas Morning News columnist called:
"I read about Shirley Overstreet," he said. "I've written several columns about Archer Fullingim and his mayhaw jelly and I was wondering why Overstreet thinks his wife's mayhaw jelly is better than that of Archer?"
Unable to answer the question, the columnist was given Overstreet's telephone number.
He published the attorney's answer in his column. "I believe Shirley's mayhaw jelly is better than Archer's," the barrister said, "because rumor around the thicket is that Archer scratches."
While Overstreet has been busy building a reputation as an "outstanding redneck of the Big Thicket," others join him as colorful thicket characters.
Internationally famous country music artist, George Jones, was born in Saratoga near where the Big Thicket Museum and Park Ranger station is located today.
The Hooks brothers, Bud And Ben, along with Ben Lilley, were known as among the best bear hunters in the thicket. Outlaws used the safety of the Big Thicket's wilds to escape capture.
Stanley Coe, another Kountze attorney, was perhaps one of the more astute historians.
While noted historian Herbert E. Bolton places French explorer Lacily's murder during the seventeenth century in present day Grimes County near Navasota, and E.W. Cole places his death in Cherokee County near Alto, Coe can place Lacily on Village Creek in the Big Thicket on land located between present day Farm Road 418 and Highway 327.
According to Coe, Lacily was a man with a reputation for having splendid knowledge of geography and an expert navigator. Those traits would have prevented him from taking a northeasterly direction in his search for the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Instead, says Coe, Lacily would have traveled northeast only far enough to prevent the low lands and boggy waters from slowing him down.
Lacily crossed the Colorado River and reached the Brazo River, says Coe, then in hand built canoes and on rafts he and his men reached the location where Bolton says he was murdered.
"Murder onVillage creek," another buddy Moore short story available at Kountze Communications, gives the detailed account of Lacily's murder.
Today that murder site is located along what is reported to be one of the best canoe treks in the south.
Canoeists have easy access to Village Creek off Farm Road 418. After pushing the canoe off a sand bar, they travel a distance of approximately 8 1/2 miles over waters that meander through arid sandy land, longleaf pine, oak, hickory, sloughs and baygalls.
The east bank of the creek fronts land donated by Arthur Temple to Nature Conservancy. Except for three pipelines and one railroad track, the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary rests silently with it's beauty, offering serenity and peace to canoeists en route to State Highway 327.
A variety of plant and animal life surrounds the springs which flow from the baygall and swamps. The beautiful red maples, magnolias, muscadine and other grapevines, cypress, orchids and insect-eating plants all survive off the abundance of water. So, too, do wild hogs, alligators, lizards and snakes. The spotting of a black panther is still sometimes reported.
The more rugged outdoorsmen continue their trek from 327 through Silsbee and to the point where Village Creek empties into the Neches River.
The lower Neches River Corridor United, the Upper Neches River Corridor Unit and the Neches Bottom and Jack Gore Baygall Unit are three of the eleven units that form the original 84,500 acre Big Thicket National Preserve.
Boggy habitats along the Neches River produce the world's most evolutionarily advanced plants. Orchids and carnivorous plants grow alongside some of the most primitive ferns and club mosses. All four of the carnivorous plants occurring in Texas may be found here. Pither Plants, bladderworths, butterworts, and the sundew all in their own way lure and trap insects from which they derive needed nutirents.
During the late 60s and early 70s heated arguments centered around the size of the Preserve.
John Dowdy, Second District Congressman at the time, had introduced legislation to create a 38,000 "string of pearls" Park. U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough was championing a 150,000 acre park. Houston Congressman Bob Eckhardt was crying out for saving at least 300,000 acres.
Exit Dowdy, enter Congressman Charles Wilson.
Wilson managed to bring all of the warring factions together into a compromise. The 84,000 acre Preserve was created in 1974.
Recently after a long battle over private property rights, Congress approved legislation that expanded the preserve to 100,000.
The Big Thicket is a community of cultural, historical and religious people whose roots are deep in tradition.
The Big Thicket is geography. A biological crossroads of North America and a genealogical thoroughfare of the western hemisphere.
The Big Thicket is Coe and Overstreet...ghosts...Village Creek and all its tributaries...fourteen units of the nation's forest preserve...and more and more and more...in it's entirety, it is infinity.
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