Silsbee businessman R.E. Jackson had not organized a hunting lease
in 1934, the establishment of today's Big Thicket National Preserve
might not have happened.
While Jackson's role in preserving the unique lands of the Big Thicket
is known and appreciated within the ranks of Texas environmentalists,
his work is not widely known in East
Jackson, who passed away in 1957 before the national preserve was
created, was among the Thicket's earliest advocates. In a 1997 lecture
Pete Gunter, regents professor of philosophy at the University of
North Texas, described Jackson's early role.
An undated document from Southwestern Lumber Company of New Jersey
and Kirby Lumber Company of Houston
said Jackson's Big Thicket lease consisted of 15 tracts of land
totaling more than 6,000 acres in Hardin and Polk counties.
While Jackson's lease formed the basis of a hunting club, it was
primarily a conservationist organization that brought together a
broad array of influential people interested in establishing a Big
Thicket park and preserve, including Governor James V. Allred, lumberman
John Henry Kirby, and W.M. Tucker, head of the Texas Game, Fish
and Oyster Commission. In May of 1936, Jackson called a meeting
at the Beaumont
chamber of commerce office "for the purpose of organizing in the
interests of the Big Thicket." Jackson was unanimously elected as
the president of the East Texas Big Thicket Association.
By the end of 1936, Jackson and his friends had both an organization
and a land base for showing off the Big Thicket's natural wonders.
But it was only the beginning, according to Gunter. "If the Thicket,
with its riches of woods and swamps, orchids and deer, was famous
in Southeast Texas, and perhaps known in the rest of the state,
it was utterly unknown elsewhere," said Gunter.
of the first efforts pushed by Jackson was a scientific study of
the region. While folklore had provided an aura of mystery for the
Thicket, botany, zoology and geography would have to provide the
arguments for its preservation.
As a result of Jackson's work, biologists H.B. Parks and V.L. Cory
produced a 51-page biological survey of the Thicket in 1936 while
staying on Jackson's lease. As a result of their work, the Texas
Academy of Science, meeting in Beaumont
a year later, passed a resolution recommending the creation of a
Big Thicket preserve.
The meeting's attendees were then carried to Silsbee for a speech
by Governor Allred, a field trip, and generous helpings of a Big
Thicket Mulligan Stew with side dishes of amardillo and baked crow.
Over the years, however, Allred's interest in the Big Thicket declined,
probably because the state had little money to spend on the project.
Other roadblocks also conspired to keep the project on the back
burner. But Jackson's enthusiasm continued until his death. While
the work of later conservationists paid off with the establishment
of the Big Thicket National Preserve -- the first of its kind created
in the United States -- Jackson and his allies provided much of
the early leadership for the preserve, as well as the first scientific
analysis of the Thicket.
Today, as a result of his dedication, the Big Thicket is one of
East Texas' leading
Bowman's East Texas
May 25-31, 2003 Column.
Published with permission
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Bob Bowman is a former president of the Association
and author of nearly 30 books on East Texas. )
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