Behind The Piney Veil
For the past few years, I’ve been “Behind the Piney Veil” of Deep East Texas which includes Nacogdoches. The woods here are dense and mysterious. Someone even spotted Bigfoot a few years back.
The trees provide the landscape. As lumber is cut and hewn, sections of history are erased. The land will never be as nature intended when man puts his footprint on it. Groves that grew for decades are lost in hours. Animals scatter for survival.
One distinct southern area of Texas is the land that borders the edge of Louisiana. Driving through Polk and Tyler County is to pass though the underbelly of the southeast- the sacred grove of Texas.
The ‘Big Thicket’ spans 106,305 acres and includes more than five counties and two states. Once you reach the Alabama Coushatta reservation, where Polk borders Tyler County, the history gets intense.
More than 500 “Freedom Colonies” were built by former slaves from 1870 to 1890. Freedmen’s Towns are clustered throughout Jasper, Tyler, and Newton Counties. Jasper and Newton to its east, and Tyler County to the west, are filled with stories not widely shared by local culture.
Some areas are vibrant and alive; others are decaying. The formerly enslaved Africans joined together in small towns which still have a large population in the marshy land along the edge of forests.
Texas tries to tell her story with relics like old churches and cemeteries. Some are brought back to life with funeral rites, family reunions and homecomings. Others fall into decay and eventually merge back into the landscape forever.
Antiques reflect a harder time when the soil was tilled and town was for supplies. America literally began her awakening in the deep south. Entire cultures sprang to life here and are held alive when remnants of yesterday are refurbished instead of demolished. The history is too valuable to lose.
Preserving those relics is sacred business. One of the best gifts we can do for future generations is leave them a sense of the struggles that were championed and overcome by our ancestors. Bringing anything back to life is a labor of love-a farm, an old house, a marriage.
Situated three hours from a major airport puts Deep East Texas in a pocket that isn’t disturbed by the growth that other areas like Dallas and Houston have experienced. Crime is low and churches are plentiful. People with still stop and visit whether you know them or not.
Time moves slowly among the trees. Animals graze and snakes are plentiful. Family rituals often involve meal time. Gathering for a potluck in the family cemetery once a year provides a homecoming for many.
It will take time to absorb the energy and history from the evidence left behind. Multiple generations still live on the same family land that has been held forever. Some sell their land in hopes of a better life and leave their heritage. It is rarely replaced only replicated.
The mystery of this area is not lost on newcomers. Family unity, faith and neighborly love are obvious and plentiful. No one remains a stranger unless she intends to. Respect for privacy is standard. Nothing will replace the time and memories created ‘Behind the Piney Veil’ of Deep East Texas.