has its annual Watermelon Thump, Cuero
is famous for its Turkey Trot and Poteet
is known for its Strawberry Festival. But not all community festivals
1913, the Houston
County community of Grapeland
– laid out in 1872, incorporated in 1889 and again in 1936 – has
tried at least three different festivals.
While the town’s first attempt to develop an annual celebration
has long since faded from memory, whoever came up with the idea
should have received lasting recognition for original thinking.
Why not use as the centerpiece of the event a well-known if distinctive
mammal common to East Texas?
Doubtless grinning like the toothy animal he had in mind, someone
suggested staging a possum walk. Well, why not, local civic leaders
chorused. Rolling up their figurative sleeves and calling up their
hunting dogs, the people of Grapeland
got to work.
When the big day arrived, more than 5,000 people came to town by
train, Model T and buggies for the first annual Grapeland Possum
The two-day event began with a VIP luncheon at the Smallwood Hotel.
The possum walk followed at 1:30 p.m.
Using chicken wire, walk organizers (possum hunters belonging to
the local Possum Club) had constructed a possum lane down the community’s
main drag. Members had been catching possums for weeks in anticipation
of the walk.
Once the 200 or so marsupials had been corralled at the starting
point, club members “urged” them to begin moving down the fenced
course. Just how they got them going did not get reported.
“Although some of the possums wanted to sulk,” a contemporary account
reprinted in “Crossroads to Progress: Grapeland, the Queen City
of the Sand Flats, 1872-1972” related, “[they] marched through the
principal streets to the strains of popular band airs.”
The account continued, “the possums struck a lively gait, which,
once started, was hard to stop.” Whether the marching possums smiled
for the camera is not known, but a newsreel crew took moving – though
silent – pictures of the procession and many a Kodak shutter snapped
as the critters promenaded past the many onlookers.
After the possums completed their walk, a mile-long parade moved
through town. The Palestine Labor Band headed the procession, which
included school kids, decorated floats, cars and buggies as well
as four companies of Woodmen of the World in their brass-buttoned
The only blemish on an otherwise festive occasion came when the
mules pulling George E. Dorsey’s float spooked and decided to run
away, Dorsey’s float still attached. No one got hurt, but the float
While Houston County’s
possums had their moment of glory during their walk through town,
they might not have cooperated as willingly had they had the mental
faculties to contemplate the much more passive role they soon would
play. Alas, the following day the townspeople and visitors enjoyed
what many considered a piney woods delicacy – possum and sweet ‘taters.
Though billed as the “first annual” Possum Walk, if the event was
repeated, it did not have legs. What did was the Peanut Festival,
first held in 1945 and continuing annually for more than half a
century. In 2007, stealing a page from Luling,
its first annual Watermelon Festival.
term Possum Walk, incidentally, is older than the Grapeland festival,
so maybe it wasn’t a new concept after all. There was a town in
named Possum Walk until local residents wanted a post office. In
1887 they changed the name to Bath, though as late as the 1970s,
some folks still called the place Possum Walk. Possum Walk Cemetery
lies in Trinity County
and a Possum Trot Creek flows in Angelina
No matter the origin of the name, the 1913 Possum Walk in Houston
County inspired a poem that would be considered offensive by
animal rights activists, not to mention being politically incorrect.
Here’s the last verse, the only one suitable for publication these
“You can’t beat them [possums] on potatoes, raised up there in Grapeland
Let’s be thankful were are living, let our troubles be forgotten,
When you’re blue and discontented, think of Grapeland’s possums
© Mike Cox
30, 2008 column