W. T. Block
HARDIN COUNTY'S WILD FAMILY
'boy' is there among us, either youthful or aged, who has not experienced a longing
at some time or another to escape to the forest -- far from the amenities of civilization,
such as table manners and school bells -- to live carefree and survive, Tarzan-like,
from the products of the thickets and streams? In the springtime, the scent of
pine needles or fish frying on an open fire, the fragrance of magnolias or dogwoods
in bloom can afflict the most domesticated of humans, driving him onward to the
great outdoors where the 'predators' of society -- the truant officer, the tax
or bill collector -- are minimal in number or totally extinct.
middle 1880s, Southeast Texas had just such a wild family -- perhaps one might
say true products of nature -- who roamed the woodlands of Jasper and Hardin Counties,
although the problems that afflicted them do not seem so "Tom Sawyer-esque" when
reviewed today. And except for two articles in the Galveston "Daily News," the
story of Elor Richardson and his family is certainly forgotten, but in 1887, the
circumstances about them were well-known to the citizens of the little sawmill
community of Beaumont.
The origin of Elor Richardson is unknown to the writer, although pioneer
families with his surname had operated the Neches River ferry in the Evadale area
about the time of the Texas Richardson. Under the old Texas Repoublic of 1840,
the only post office in that vicinity was named Richardson. However, no one named
Richardson is listed in the Jasper County census of 1850 under the given name
of Elor. What prompted his long forest hermitage is likewise unknown, but it was
reported in one of the newspaper articles of 1887 that the wild family had roamed
the woods "for over twenty years." Hence, in terms of years, Richardson's original
escape to the swamps may have resulted from a desire to avoid conscription into
the Confederate Army.
Before 1886, what public knowledge that there was
of them was limited to some occasional glimpses of the recluses as they scampered
away through the woods like brush goats. But in 1886, Richardson was hauled into
justice court in Kountze on
a charge of vagrancy. The facts, established at his examining trial as well as
published during that year, revealed that:
|". . . He (Richardson)
has never worked at all, nor been engaged in any kind of employment in fifteen
years, nor has any means of support. He has a wife, probably common-law, and several
children who go about in an almost nude state. Their only wearing apparel consists
of old corn sacks, with holes cut in them through which they thrust their heads
|Apparently they were
residing at that time in an abandoned log cabin or similar abode, for the first
Richardson story in the "News" continued its description of their style of living
as follows: ". . They have no furniture - not even a bedstead or a chair - no
dishes, knives or forks, nor cooking utensils. At night, they sleep on old corn
sacks which they pick up around the timber or logging camps."
|"They have never been
accused of dishonesty, and how they live in such a condition is a mystery to all.
They roam the woods in search of wild fruit, and when that is scarce, they subsist
on nuts or upon the bodies of such wild animals as they find dead in the woods.
One of the family died some time ago in the woods, and was not found for several
|Apparently the Richardson
family continued its sylvan exile for another year unmolested, for in July, 1887,
passers-by discovered and captured them in dense woodlands three miles north of
Beaumont, where they were "overcome with sickness and hunger," and brought them
into town. Their destitute and ailing circumstances quickly captured the hearts
of all the churchwomen of Beaumont,
who immediately organized a committee to house, clothe, and feed the family, and
provide them with medical assistance.
But, according to the "Daily News,"
the "old gray heads" of Beaumont were uncertain about the wisdom of the committee's
actions of mercy in attempting to domesticate the wild family from their previous
mode of living, despite the fact that Elor Richardson was indeed a very sick man.
"That man will die," the 'old gray heads' observed, "if you put him in
a house where he is protected from the elements. Treatment of this kind will kill
them. All they need is plenty of rain and sunshine, cold and heat, a hollow log
or a grassy meadow to sleep in . . ."
But the efforts of the church women
to make the Richardson family well, healthy, and comfortable continued despite
the predictions. The "tender hands of the first ladies" of Beaumont kept them
housed, nursed their sores and ailments, provided the skilled treatment of a physician
who cared, diagnosed, and medicated, as well as a minister who preached and prayed,
but all to no avail. Elor Richardson had the best care that was available, but
he died at the end of three months of his "caged" existence.
fate of Richardson's widow and children is unknown to the writer, for a continuing
search of the Galveston "Daily News" microfilm for years afterward revealed no
additional information about them. The editors predicted that they would revert
to the forest at the first opportunity, that being the only life they had ever
known, and that the efforts of the ladies of Beaumont
to "tame" them would be in vain. And who knows? Perhaps the succeeding generation
of picnickers might also have seen the Richardson children scampering through
the branches and underbrush and mistook them for brush goats or wild boars.
W. T. Block, Jr.
September 18, 2006 column
from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, February 5, 1984, p. 11b.