view of an economic development group's plan to change the image of
the piney woods of East Texas
with a new name, perhaps a look at the history of this part of Texas
First, a description:
The Texas Almanac says the piney woods extends into Texas from the
east for 75 to 125 miles. From north to south, it extends from the
Red River to within 25 miles of the Gulf
Coast. The region sprawls over 42 counties and is bigger than
History tells us that the piney woods was one of the earliest areas
of Texas to be settled. An immigrant in the l830s described the region
as "giant stands of pine, looming cathedral-like over the land...we
walked for miles without impediment, awed by the majesty of the forests."
Newcomers were so infatuated with the piney woods that they borrowed
the name for farms, ranches, businesses, streets, churches, schools
and much more.
But not all arrivals were enthralled.
When General George Armstrong Custer marched 3,000 troops from Louisiana
to Austin in 1865 to take
charge of Texas' reconstruction after the Civil War, one of his men,
a man named Browne, wrote in his journal:
"We've seen no good country in Texas...pines
and deer, bugs and snakes inhabit the whole face of this place...it
looks as if it is unhabitated by man, and if even God himself has
Today, however, the piney woods name is so entrenched in Texas
history and folklore that when the state's tourism planners started
identifying regions with names which
would aptly describe them, they selected the piney woods as the one
for East Texas. As a result,
in each of the state's visitor centers, all located at strategic places
where visitors come into Texas, you'll
find a "piney woods" section for brochures, maps, and other information
about East Texas.
Years ago, when I worked for a forest products company, a newly-elected
piney woods legislator summoned me to his Austin office and said he
just learned the worst of news. "I was reading this little brochure
about the Capitol
grounds, and it says, right here on page three, that the grounds have
one of every kind of tree growing in Texas."
"That's nice," I said.
"But it's wrong," he said. "I walked all over the grounds and there
isn't single pine tree on the place."
"Darn, he's right," I thought. "Did Governors Allan Shivers and Price
Daniel, both from the piney woods, shirk their duty?"
"Here's what I want you to do," the legislator commanded. "You talk
to your foresters over there in Lufkin,
round up a dozen or so pine seedlings, and we'll have the governor
plant them with a little ceremony right outside my office."
We did as he asked, and Governor Dolph Briscoe pronounced it as a
progressive and equitable step for Texas.
But the trees didn't pay him much attention. Maybe it was all the
hot air pouring out of the Capitol.
Maybe the soil had been contaminated by the tourists. Maybe it wasn't
Anyway, our trees soon turned a sicky green, then yellow, and finally
brown. In the end, they all perished.
I asked a forester what went wrong. He gave me several reasons, including
the fact that the pines' tap roots, which he said were essential to
their survival, couldn't penetrate the limestone shelf resting a couple
of feet under the Capitol
I have my own opinion.
I think those pine trees just died of homesickness. They knew darned
well Austin wasn't anywhere
close to the piney woods.
> December 11, 2006 Column.
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
Bob Bowman is the author of 40 books on East Texas history and folklore,
and a past president of the East Texas Historical Association