INTERVIEWEE: Richard Donovan (RD)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: March 3, 2008
LOCATION: Lufkin, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Cruz Andreas and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2433 and 2434
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the reels. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It is March 3rd, 2008, and we are in Lufkin, Texas. And we have the good opportunity to be visiting with Richard Donovan, who has been active in—in river protection and forest protection and has had a long career in—in—in the forest industry with Temple-Inland, and also as a leading realtor in this part of the state. And with that introduction, I wanted to say thank you for spending time with us today.
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RD: Thank you David.
DT: I thought we might start with listening to you talk about the history of the forest industry, which of course is—is probably the leading major industry in this part of the state. And it’s—it’s had a—a large impact on the environment for this area as well. Can you go back to the nineteenth century perhaps and—and tell us about what the traditional t—timbering operations might have been like?
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RD: Well, the initial timbering industry came—e—entered into Texas in about—began working about 1890, and by 1920, our forests were gone. It was the cut-out, get-out culture that—the forests of the Northeast had been exhausted and they were looking for another supply of timber. And they found the South and Southwest forests to their liking, and they brought their machines and their railroads into Texas. And in about the lifetime of one—one man, about 30 years, about the working lifetime of a man, it was gone, it was over with. And during that period, they extracted all of our virgin timber and left behind a—a devastation. The landscape was devastated as far as I could see in many places. Most often they didn’t cut any trees smaller than twelve inches in diameter. And today that’s a diameter of a tree
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that—that most timber companies are looking for, but they—they ignored those trees. But in the forest where the big steam skidders were used, all those trees were snapped off just like toothpicks. And they began skidding those huge logs that they cut down and bringing them out to the railroad spurs to be loaded on to trains to take them back to the sawmills. So you can imagine it looked like Hiroshima or Nagasaki photographs of—of the time. And it stayed like that until—in many places until the Forest Service—U.S. Forest Service—bought approximately 600,000 acres of land in East Texas and began reforesting those areas, planting them in pine trees. And then timber companies, such as Temple-Inland—it wasn’t Temple-Inland at the time, it was Southern Pine Lumber Company, but the Temples came and began
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purchasing land along the Neches River in the 1890’s. And Mr. Temple had vision to—to see that there was going to be a tomorrow. And he began planning his cutting practices so that they could come back again at a later date and continue to re-harvest an area, called selective management. And that method of harvesting pine trees prevailed until, actually the 1960’s, I suppose. Then we entered into the—into the era of clear-cutting. And clear-cutting is where you go in and, once again, you leave the scorched earth policy behind. And it’s—it was even worse than it was when the timber barons left out, picked up their railroads, and took down their sawmills, and took their money and left. And clear-cutting is—leaves the same situation as that did on the ground. The only difference is, is after a clear-cut, the
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landowners come back and plant their property in row after row, just like it’s a corn field, of loblolly pine trees with intention of harvesting some twenty-twenty-five years later when the diameter of the log is about twelve inches. And that is what you see sweeping across East Texas today. And nothing will live—virtually nothing will live in those pine forests, they’re sterile. To make them even more sterile, the timber companies will, after the pine trees are planted and kind of established, to take care of weed growth so that weeds don’t come in and shade the pine saplings out—or little seedlings out, and starve them of the nutrients and moisture in the ground, they will come back and spray them. Kill all the weeds and all the hardwood sprouts that have sprouted out of the stumps. And they would kill them then—or kill
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the weeds or sprouts. And then after the pine saplings have reached around six feet or eight feet in height, something like that, in all likelihood they will come back with an aerial spray herbicide from a helicopter and they will kill any hardwood sprouts that have re-sprouted the second time. So there’s nothing there for the wildlife to eat, there’s no dens for them to—or cavities for them to den in. So you have no birds or wildlife to speak of that live in a pine plantation. Now hardwoods are a little bit different story. Initially the timber companies did not go after the hardwoods, back—back in the 1800’s. However, when Mr. Temple began his operation, he had a couple of hardwood mills, huge mills. And they logged the Neches pretty severely. And—and everywhere, I’m just speaking primarily to the Neches, but all of East
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Texas was logged for its hardwoods. But then when I came along as a young boy in the 1940’s and 50’s, following the end of World War II, and during World War II, the United States was on a railroad building boon, and so was Mexico. And crossties were very much in demand. So that brought about a phenomenon known as peckerwood sawmills. And East Texas was filled with peckerwood sawmills. Peckerwood sawmill took its name from the fact that much like a peckerwood bird—the woodpecker bird, that when it left a site, all that remained on the ground was a pile of sawdust to let you know that it had been there. And they could move, they were very portable and they could be moved without a lot of—a great deal of trouble. But these peckerwood sawmills went after the hardwoods, and they took just about
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anything that would make a crosstie. So that was the second phase of the war on hardwoods. And then in more recent times, hardwoods have just been seen as a more or less a nuisance. And the Forest Service began poisoning hardwoods back in the—back in the 30’s act—and 40’s and 50’s. And, not only that but private landowners could be subsidized. I—if a landowner wanted to rid his property of those obnoxious hardwoods, the government would subsidize him to do it. Much like when they sent trappers in here to get rid of the wolves and things that were considered pests, the government subsidized that as well. So, the war on hardwoods has been going on for some time. More recently, and it’s kind of a twist to this, that the red cockaded woodpecker—an endangered species of bird—the Forest Service has used that as—as an excuse to eradicate hardwoods out of the
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forests, because it supposedly obstructs the fly-aways of red cockaded woodpeckers. And, to my way of thinking, they do that to the excess. And as always they can exploit that things to their advantage. But that’s kind of an idea of where the timber business is going. When I was a young man growing up, for instance, in this small town of Zavala, a little hamlet, there were five sawmills. And some of them were pretty good sized mills within the, quote, un-quote, city limits of that town. There was a big steam mill that operated there and there were several pine mills that were there. There were no hardwood mills initially. Then as the pine mills were cut out and their timber was gone then they began to bring hardwood mills in to cut crossties. And I—my days go back to the days when they logged the woods with
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mules and horses, and loaded logs and put wood on freight cars to haul it to the mills, rather than loading it on trucks which came little—at a later time. So I—I’ve run the whole gamut of the timber industry lately.
DT: I think you mentioned at one point, that—this was off tape, that—that you’d seen the—the evolution from using mules and oxen all the way to trucks and trains and so on. Can you talk about that—the—the change in technology that you’ve seen?
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RD: Well there has been a tremendous technological change in—in logging. In my earliest days, I remember when trees were cut down with a crosscut saw. Two men, one on either end, pulling the saw back and forth through—through the tree. And as resin built up on the saw, they would take the turpentine bot—the kerosene bottle out of their pocket and flick drops of kerosene onto the blade to lubricate the blade as it traveled back and forth through the saw, to keep the resin build up from getting so—so thick. And then the pulp waters, they cut their product down with little bow saws and hauled it out of the woods on—on trucks. Mules and horses were used to, quote, un-quote, bunch the logs. To bring them out to where the trucks were and haul them out to where it was loaded on freight cars to be hauled to the sawmills.
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Matter of fact, I worked in the general store part of the time I was growing up, and I would have to deliver loads of oats out to the corrals where the mules and horses were temporarily corralled out on the log site. And a 125 pound sack of oats, and I—sometimes I’d have to carry it several hundred feet to—to get it to the—and it was it was in mud, you know, and all that sort of thing. So it was a big event when people went from skidding logs out with horses and mules to the—first start out just farm tractors. That was the first thing they began using was just regular farm tractors to skid the—skid them out with. And then, of course, they began developing this four-wheel drive skidders and—and they get bigger and bigger. And today they just have these big shearers that just walk up to a tree and crunch it down, and
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bring it over, and lay it back, and drive on to another tree, and crunch it down, and well—and just go around the places to be harvested like that, and pile those piled up into logs. And then there’s another (?) boom piece of equipment that picks the logs up and lays it on the big 18 wheeler trucks, huge trucks, they haul them out in tree length logs. Back in the earlier days of horses and mules, of course they cut the logs into lengths, usually twenty foot lengths to haul them out—or—or 16 feet lengths, and—to haul them out of the woods. And—but everything has gotten bigger and better and more powerful. And of course it takes huge roads to accommodate equipment like that. In the earlier years, five years after you logged a tract of land, they were just taking—because after they got into what they call managed forest,
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they were only taking the merchantable timber out. And five years after they had been there, you—it’s almost no trace. The roads had disappeared for the most part, and the stumps had rotted, and the tree tops had certainly rotted. But today they have these big huge roads that they put in and—and when they leave it’s—most often it’s a clear-cut. So yeah, I’ve seen a lot of technological changes take place in the forest.
DT: Maybe another way to look at the timber industry is to—to look at how the—the products have changed. I mean, it seems like for many years—you were talking about dimensional lumber and railroad ties, but in more recent years, from what I understand, there have been things like oriented strand board and MDF, and of course, paper and cardboard. What does that mean to how the timber industry has worked and what the forest looked like?
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RD: Well, it’s a—it’s a fiber product today, more than just a dimensional product. Now of course they still make two by fours, and two by sixes, and two by eights, and one by fours, all that sort of dimensional product. But they also make fiberboard and particleboard and cardboard. And plywood is not nearly the product that it once was, simply because it’s not a fiber board, it’s not a fiber product. And fiber you can utilize much more of the tree and you can use smaller diameter parts of the tree like the limbs and—and the part of the tree that’s not—not suitable for dimensional products. You can engineer the product much better, the tolerances are much more specific, and it just lends itself to utilizing so much more of the forest than—than it once was because used to—much of the forest was wasted. Now hav—much of the
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timber was wasted. Now having said that, and this brings me to a—even an—another toci we’re—topic we’re getting in Lufkin a—a biomass plant that’s going to generate electricity from certain biomass products. And much of that will be timber off fall. But I hearken back to the days of the farmers in the early 20’s and 30’s, where or even before that in East Texas, farmers would come to an area and they would farm it until it was exhausted. They pulled all the nutrients out of the ground before there was commercial fertilizer, and they would move onto another place and farm it until it was exhausted. And then keep—continue moving—we had the dust bowl days, as you recall, from that, out in the West. But I wonder, and I’m not a—a
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biologist or soil scientist or anything like that, but common sense tells me that if you continue to take all of these products off of the land, and you put no humus and no nutrients back into the soil, a generation, two generations from now, what is—what is the forest land going to—going to be like? What’s it—what’s going to be its nutrient content, what’s going to be its composition, what’s going to be the minerals present in there? I don’t know the answer to that, but it makes me wonder.
DT: Well let me ask one other question about—about the forest industry. M—my understanding that—that s—some operators are using prescribed burning. And I’m curious what you think about that approach, and is it—is it a good thing, a bad thing, depends on the situation?
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RD: It very definitely depends on the situation. It’s a mixed bag. You can—it’s—it’s very simple matter to go to the rolling hill country of East Texas, to the east of here. The sand hills in the longleaf country. And you can see what prescribed burning is doing there and the amount of erosion that’s taking place. You burn that—that duff off of the ground, the—the pine straw and leaves that are on the ground, the duff. And you open it up to when rainfall hits, and raindrops hit it and dislodge particles of sand and—and carry them downstream and are silting up the creeks and gullies that—that are there. But having said that, for as long as mankind has been present, for sure, and probably even before that, the longleaf country
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evolved under fire. It was a fire tolerant—and in fact that’s probably the reason the longleaves existed was because they’re more fire tolerant than loblolly and so they were able to surfive—survive under fire. Where I ho—my big problem with—with fires, not in the longleaf country which is—it probably needs to be there, certainly for the benefit of the red cockaded woodpecker, I think. Of course, let me put a caveat there as well, but yo—you destroy so many species when you do that. Dogwoods and all the blooming flowers, and things that are in—in the longleaf country, the native wild azalea that’s here in East Texas, beautiful flower in the spring. But it’s in the loblolly area that I find fire most objectionable, and once again, I have disagreement with the U.S. Forest Service about how they burn in those—in those zones. They’re—they’re burning simply to kill hardwoods is what they’re burning—is
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the reason they’re burning. And hardwoods are the underpinning of wildlife, both birds and animals. So yes, fire is good in certain areas of the forest. Fire is bad, very bad, in other areas of the forest. And it depends on what you call bad. To me bad is to destroy a wildlife habitat. To them, good is to increase plant production. So, it depends on what side of the coin you’re looking at.
DT: You—you just mentioned the Forest Service, and I thought we might take this chance to talk about how the national forests originally got set up in East Texas—I think you mentioned that back in the 30’s about 600,000 acres was—was purchased.
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RD: Roughly, that’s—that’s right and, if you remember, we were in the depths of the depression. And during that time—and the Great Depression it’s called. And there was no work, people were—were hungry. Now there’s one thing good about living in a rural area. People that lived in rural areas survived and did quite well in East Texas, because the woods were full of semi-feral hogs, people could grow gardens and corn crops and—and they survived and hunted and fished. So survival in East Texas as—whereas in different parts of the United States, was not the case. But survival was—was not a big ordeal in East Texas at—at the time, but people were broke. In fact, Temple-Inland, as I recall, sold a huge amount of land just in order to s—to survive, to the U.S. Forest Service. So the Forest Service—and this was all
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cut over land, this was the—the timber barons had come in and stripped of all the merchantable timber, most of the merchantable timber. And so the Forest Service bought these lands, and immediately organized a CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. And the WPA or the PWA, ever how you want to call it, the Public Works Administration. And they began building things like Boykin Springs, a campground east of here, my—one of my favorite spots in East Texas. It has been for many, many people for many, many years. And they began planting trees. They get credit for planting a lot more trees than they planted, but nevertheless they did plant a lot of trees. Put a lot of young men to work and were able to send money back home to their families in order to be able to buy things that they couldn’t raise on the farm. And so the Forest Service accumulated that land. Now, we like to think of it—or
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most the un—unlearned think of that land as being one 600,000 acre block of land. But unfortunately it’s not. It is very fragmented, you have partial—just scattered in many, many areas, and some of them are not even contiguous to the other. Most of them are not contiguous. They are scattered all over this part of East Texas there. And then, to make matters even worse, the Forest Service, in order to log that land, go in and construct huge roads. And then these roads, of course, are open to the public. Now, they put gates across them but people have four wheelers and all that sort of thing, and they circumvent those gates. And they introduce garbage and litter. People haul their trash off and dump them in the National Forest. Fire ants migrate down these open areas and are problems to—to wildlife, particularly the
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young. Even get up in the nests and get the chicks. Of course they intrude into the wildlife areas where they’re trying to raise their young. But probably—maybe the most damaging part of it all is outlaw hunting. Or not even outlaw hunting, just exposing more and more of the wildlife landscape to hunting pressure. And these roads are one of the most in—intrusive things that you can do to a forest, one of the most disruptive things you can do to the forest, just as far as wildlife are concerned. Of course, they’re very good for hauling logs out of the forest, if you’re a—if you’re in the timber mindset. And—and that’s where the U.S. Forest Service—that’s where their focus is, is ra—raising timber. Now, having said that, I will say that the Forest Service is much better today than it was a—a decade ago even. And that they solicit input from the public more. Now, they solicit it, but that doesn’t mean that they
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necessarily implement your suggestions. We—well we do have an impact m—m—maybe ever so slight, but they—they do grant us the—the fact. And—but of course under the Mark Rey administration of—the present administration, Mark—Mr. Mark Reyes, we backslid a good bit. I hope that the next administration comes in has a different attitude toward the national forest. But we’re proud of the national forest, that’s public land, that’s your land, that’s my land, that’s the—the public’s land. And it should not be managed just for the benefit of raising pine trees to be hauled to the sawmill. And most of the public wishes that that were not the case, unfortunately that part of the public does not have the political clout that the timber industry has. And so we—we do not enjoy prominence in their policy making that we would like to have.
DT: Y—you mentioned the—the impact of roads in some of these national forests. I understand that—that under the—the Wilderness Act that was passed in ‘84, that some of these lands that have not been cut by roads were set aside. Do you—do you know much about the—the process of that and what the impact has been?
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RD: I—I do know a little bit about it. Unfortunately, we had a 4,000 acre tract, as I call, in the Sam Houston National Forest—was the only forest that qualified for that protection. And to my understanding it was not protected, so i—if I’m correct about that, we have no land in Texas that qualified for that protection, or if it did qualified it—it was not protected. So they continue to build roads in all the national forests in Texas. It had to be a certain size contiguous block to qualify for that, and we didn’t have anything like that.
DT: I guess one of the other big changes in—in the landscape, at least in recent years, has been the sale of private timberlands not to the Forest Service, but to other timber operators. I believe Champion International paid for Louisiana-Pacific, most recently Temple-Inland had sold literally millions of acres. And I’m curious, first of all, why did those sales occur? And why do you think—what do you think the impact will be from those sales?
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RD: Well, supposedly, according to money managers, the sales were financial. That—they felt like that they could take that land—that money that was invested in that land, and invest it in other things that were a higher yield to them. They would avoid taxes—real estate taxes, so it was just strictly a money decision as I understand. When Arthur Temple managed the—the company, when he was the president of the company, and was building his empire, they had—they operated under a selective cutting management style. They went in and harvested out the trees that could be marketed to that time and left the others growing. But they became a public company then, and the pressure was on to increase the bottom line. And so they gradually began to change to clear-cutting, which is the opimal—optimal
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way to do it. And you use bigger equipment of course, and that results into increased output, you use less manpower to do it. Where it took several men to go in and cut down a tree, and cut off the limbs, and cut it into lengths, and skid it out. One man can go in on one machine and do all of that, you know, by himself. So it was—just strictly economics was the—was the idea for selling that land. Now, your question is to the impact, it’s—it’s really—it hasn’t really manifested itself yet. You know, i—it’s all speculation, but my speculation is it’s going to be, it’s going to have a dreadful impact. For instance, Temple-Inland just sold a million and a half acres of land. And I worked for Temple for twenty—twenty years, and in just general terms, Temple’s objective was to cut timber in order to log their mills. Whereas the people
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that have—or that management trust, the real estate trust, and the insurance companies, and the pension funds, and all those people that have bought this land recently, they’re going to be a lot more worried about maximizing their bottom line rather than just logging their industrial facilities. And so, it’s going to become even more like a farm. They’re going to plant fencerow-to-fencerow, so to speak, although there are no fences. That’s just an East Texas term that I use. They’re going to plant property line to property line; they’re going to deaden the maximum amount of hardwoods. They’re going to do everything that they can to increase the bottom line productivity of that, so they can show a bigger profit. And so that’s going to have a tremendous impact on the amount of hardwoods that are out there. The second
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thing is, is I can envis—envision as time goes by, in fact it’s already happening, that they’re cutting these properties up into ever smaller and smaller tracts. And that will continue, and—and I—I can envision at some point and time that real estate development companies will move in, in the more desirable areas, and even start cutting it up into subdivisions, and lots, and camp houses, and recreation areas. And you’ll have even more fragmentation, and the more fragmentation you have, of course, the more wildlife habitats you destroy. So those are the real impacts that I see of the divesture of these timber companies of their lands.
DT: We talked about the—this sort of working forest. The—those that were owned by Champion International, and of course Temple-Inland, and—and those that had a multiple use like the national forest. I thought the—the last thing we might talk about is—is those lands that were set aside for the Big Thicket National Preserve. Can you tell us much about how the Big Thicket became protected in the—in the 70’s?
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RD: I can remember a—a fair amount about the Big Thicket. It—the Big Thicket started out as a really big and grand idea. The Big Thicket was a—virtually an impenetrable area of East Texas that the early settlers just avoided because it was so dense, and so wet, and so forbidding to try to come in and—and attempt to farm. And that was what they were all after, was places to farm. And so—and to travel, you—it was very difficult to travel through that area, so it was just—people just tried to avoid the Big Thicket. And it was only with agro—later technology allowed people to get in there and to log it and—and—and to utilize it, that it was used. But, as you said, in the 70’s—well, even before that, Ralph Yarborough was the first big champion that I recall, he was Senator Ralph Yarborough—was the first bi—
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champion of the Big Thicket that I recalled. And they were trying to get a rather large Big Thicket area established as a national park. And, of course they were opposed by the timber companies, primarily. But, a—a—a lot of the public at large, not all of the public. But the Big Thicket is a really unique biological and wildlife area, there’s just I—I’m not conversant with all the flora and fauna that’s found in that rather unusual wetland. But it was—they felt like that it should be protected, simply because of all the—the biodiversity that’s there. But Yarborough and them never could—never could get congress to allocate the money to—to buy the land, so it rocked on until Charlie Wilson. Congressman Charlie Wilson of East Texas was kind of encouraged to champion the—the project. And as I recall, the very first thing that they proposed was the string of pearls, and—which was just some little slivers
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of land that came down a couple of the creeks and—and part of the river. And rig—as I recall it was thirty-something thousand acres, that—that—that figure may be totally wrong, I’m not sure. But it was a very small parcel of land. But Charles Wilson began to take more interest in it and—and surprisingly he—he bucked the timber companies, because they still were opposed to it. But Charlie Wilson took it on as a project, and through his guidance, the Big Thicket National Biosphere Preserve was—was established. And they’re adding to it, they just added an additional, I believe, 102,000 acres to it since the first of the year, if I’m not mistaken. So it is just about maxed out, as to what congress had—had allocated and
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set aside for it to be, you know, to be established. Now, of course, there’s work afoot to try to get that expanded and I hope they’re successful at it because it’s worthy of protection. But…
DT: Why don’t we stop for just a moment. In the late 90’s, I think it was in 1998, you learned of proposals to build reservoirs, particularly Rockland—a reservoir on the—the Neches River. And I—I understand that that inspired a lot of interest on your part to see if—if the dam could be stopped and the river could be protected. And—and even more than that, that people would learn to—to understand what was down the river and—and appreciate its long history and its importance to—to East Texas. And in 1999, and again in 2001, you—you took a long canoe trip that was well publicized and—and grew a lot of efforts to protect the river. I was hoping that you could tell, in your own words, how this interest in the river grew for you, from—from your days as a child in East Texas.
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RD: Well, that—that is an interesting phenomenon, David. Actually, Rockland Dam goes back to my infancy, almost. Rockland Dam, I think was first proposed in the 1940’s, and never was built. Dam B was built first. It was a trial dam that was built across the—the Neches, a very small flow-through dam. But there were—you know, we weren’t quite as adept at building dams then as we are now. And I remember my dad taking me to the area of where Rockland Dam was to be built, when I was just a small child. He wanted to go down and they were coring to—to see what kind of, you know, structures were beneath the earth where the—for the foundation for the dam. But, that’s my earliest memories of Rockland. And it has surfaced a couple of times over the years, but not with any strength. But one day,
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and, as you said, in 1998, I picked up The Lufkin Daily News and there was this huge picture on the front page of the paper a—full color, showing the Neches with Fastrill Reservoir up on the northern Neches. Rockland, well—first was lake Palestine above Fastrill—which is already there, it’s another small lake, then Fastrill Reservoir, and then Rockland Reservoir, 125,000 acres of that, and then Dam B on down below that. And it just was such a shock to me because I had grown up on the Neches. I have hunted and fished the Neches all of my life, since I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I grew up on the Neches and its tributaries. Walking the creek banks and letting mosquitoes suck the blood out of my veins, and camping, and fishing, and hunting squirrel and deer and coons and possums. And just every matter of thing
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that you could think of, I hunted as a—as a young—young man. And I saw that—that layout of those dams, and it just stunned me. And I was just like I’d lost a family friend, because the thing said they would probably start construction of Rockland Dam within ten years. And I didn’t know what to do, I mech—you know, it—it really didn’t at that time dawn on me that I could do anything. I’m just one person, and East Texas is not really environmentally aware. And I was a part of that for a long, long time. We—we in East Texas, we—we like to—we like to pummel the Earth, it seems to me like. And if you want just a visual indication of that, just drive up and down our roads and look at the litter and the trash that are along our roads. And I don’t know how we’re going to change that, it’s a—it’s a mindset that we—we need to be proud of where we live, because we live in a beautiful area.
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And—but we’re so close to the forest sometimes we can’t see the trees, or so close to the trees we can’t see the forest maybe. But, anyway I saw that and I—I muddled that over in my mind for—for quite some time. And just perchance I was reading the U.S. Forest Service Forest Management Plan. And it’s a big thick tome of a book about that big and I—I read a lot in it. And all the sudden, I read that there exists the possibility that the Neches River would qualify for a wild and scenic river, under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. And I just couldn’t believe that, and then I—this idea just flashed in my mind. I thought, well, you know, if I were to get out and canoe the river and—and try to get some publicity focused on the river, that the people would recognize what a beautiful treasure that we had there. And that they would just come out of the woodworks and start beating on dish pans and
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things like that, and—and congress would be forced to act and protect the Neches. And I was pretty naïve about it, to tell you the truth. But anyway, I proceeded with that idea. I went and talked to KTRE Television, a local television station, and The Lufkin Daily News, and The Jacksonville Daily Progress, and Palestine Herald, and The Jasper Newsboy. And of those pe—of those companies that I talked to—paper companies and media companies, The Lufkin Daily News, Jacksonville Daily Progress, and KTRE TV expressed an interest in it. So I—we devised a—places that I would meet them and places I would hand off copy to them. I would keep a—a journal—a logbook, and I would hand off notes to them at different places along the river. And they would do stories. And I—I thought—I was—I was pretty excited about that, we were going to get something done. So I pushed off from Highway 175, northwest of Jacksonville, and came all the way down
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to Dam B over a period of twenty-four days. But during those twenty-four days I really encountered some—some—the—the—it was in the fall, it—the river—fall of the year, and the river was extremely low. A lot of logs in the river, treetops, shallow water, so it was a very strenuous trip for a 65 year old man to—to be making. And—and I camped out, of course. Had a little one man tent that I went and bought purposely for the—for the project. And—but I can’t tell you the thi—now I wish every person, man and woman, it’s—at some point in their early life could do that. It would change their whole perspective on the world. I mean, we—you would have a diff—different appreciation for the place in which we live. To see how it works, to see all the inner workings of nature, like, for instance, a—a log that’s rotting on the ground. You see the—the bugs and the worms just crawling into that log and
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gnawing on it, and the fungi that’s growing on it. And it’s slowly decaying and decomposing, and going back into the ground. And maybe at some stage it was a hollow log and maybe some kind of wild animal had his den in there. And—but all of that nature at work—and the termites that are eating that up. And just seeing how critical all of this is to our wellbeing. And when, you know, when that’s destroyed and when it—those functions are gone, what is going to happen to the world? And I saw so much wildlife, just—white-tailed deer were in abundance, otters were—were maybe not abundant, but I saw numerous otter. Beaver, in fact, beater—beaver are, really they’re kind of back in such numbers that they’re causing a problem, in that we don’t have very many huge hardwood trees left in the river bottoms. They were
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cut and hauled away years ago. So what—what few we have, and the beaver are girdling those giants. And they’re just stripping the bark off all the way around them, as high up as they can reach. That’s what they’re eating. And the trees are dying and li—and many of them. So I’m afraid that that blessing is going to be a curse as well. But saw a lot of beaver, coyotes, raccoons, white-tailed deer, as I said. Even in the late fall, there were a lot of birds, particularly shore birds, and wading birds, brilliantly colored wood ducks and mallards, and even saw one merganser hen. But—but the nature that I saw—squirrels just chattering and whistling, and hawks circling overhead, and one eagle—one eagle, white—white headed eagle. Just a magnificent display of wildlife that I experienced on that trip. And at night, the nights were almost unimaginable. You—I would slip in with my
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canoe, pull up on a sandbar or something for a campsite and pitch my tent. And I didn’t make a fire, most often. I just had a little propane burner that I warmed noodles and—and poured hot water over noodles because I wanted to keep the weight as low as I possibly could in that canoe, because of dragging it over those treetops and things. So wildlife would never even know I was there. And coyotes would come up within a few hundred feet of me and just bark and howl and yelp. And I’ve ev—even hear the small whelps, you know, the small pups, barking and yapping, you know, at times. And the owls, I love owls. And the barred owls, and the great horned owls, would—would talk back and forth, you know, and call back and forth. And I—it was just the nights were—were spectacular. And sometimes it would be totally devoid of sound. And I don’t know how to explain that, but there
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would be absolutely no sound whatsoever, and you could just—you could feel the silence. Then other nights the—the little miniature frogs would—would—would be chirping real loud. And the—and there were still some crickets at that time of the year, and they would be chirping. And—and just the whole array of—of sounds at night that you could hear. And one night I remember particularly I camped under a—a big white oak tree and there was a nest of flying squirrels in the tree above my head. And flying squirrels are one of those animal—one of those animals that can see at night. And they—they feed at night, unlike an ordinary squirrel, who can not see at night and feed in the daytime, but they feed at night. And they just rained that acorn litter down on my—debris down on my tent all night long, and
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chirping up above, and that was quite interesting to hear as well. So I—I can’t tell you that it—that that first trip was a rousing success, because the paper did cover it well, and the TV stations did cover it well, but it was no groundswell. And I sat back and waited for it to happen, and—and it didn’t happen. And I was disappointed that it didn’t happen, but I learned—I learned a lesson from it. And so, two years later—and I had talked to the people at Texas Conservation Alliance, and—by that time—and they thought that it was a good event, and so I decided to do it a second time. And we decided to extend it on down below Lake B. A. Steinhagen, or down b—on down to the Beaumont Port at the Golden Triangle area. And a million
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people or so live in that area, and—so if we could make them interested in—and also the Big Thicket is part of their heritage, and the Neches nourishes the Big Thicket. So we thought, well, you know, we can get them interested in it as well, so—maybe get a little bit more public participation. So we decided to extend it on down to the Beaumont/Golden Triangle area. So we—and Gina was going to go with me on this one—my daughter Gina. So she put in with me and we traveled together for—and we made the same contacts with the same media, only we went to Beaumont and contacted the Beaumont Enterprise, and Channel 6 and Channel 4 television stations in that area. And got them interested in it, and they expressed a lot of interest. So Gina and I put off and traveled together for a few days. And Texas Parks and Wildlife—complete surprise, they showed up and met us at the, I believe
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Highway 84, I believe, the hi—I can’t remember exactly what highway, but this girl’s name was Karen Loke. Karen Loke with Texas Parks and Wildlife met us and she traveled with Gina and me for—for two days and one night. We camped out and took a ton of funny—footage, and I don’t know whatever happened to that footage. It went into the archives somewhere I guess. And maybe they used some and I’m just not aware of it, but Karen was a good trooper and she participated with pulling over logs. And I enjoyed her company, and she interviewed us extensively. And then we left her at some other road—down the road. And I can’t tell this without telling about my wife, ya’ll. My wife was such a key, integral part of this whole venture that I—I’ve got to—I’ve got to give her due credit for it because she would
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meet me at the different highway crossings and bring me fresh water, and bring me maybe clean clothes or whatever I needed. You know, I told her the previous time what I would need the next time. And she would wait hours sometime at those road crossings, because it was impossible to plan the speed that you were going to be due to—due to the number of tree fall that you had encountered. And—so she was just such an integral part of this thing that I’ve got to give Bonnie more than half the credit. So, as we travel down—one thing interesting that I saw and I—I never was able to—to validate this. But I passed by a place that was up on a high knoll and I saw these little teepee like things that people raised game—roosters under. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen how the—these game roosters are raised,
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but they have little board teepees. And they will tie a little rooster underneath that little teepee and will feed him, and then they take him off and fight him in cock fights, which is illegal, but nonetheless they do it. Well, I saw quite a number of these little teepees—a little bit larger than ones they use for—for the cocks, but—in this open place. And there were dogs tied underneath those, a number of dogs. Like, I would say maybe two dozen dogs. And I was puzzled about that. But I didn’t stop, I kept going. And so—and they were all kinds of dogs, I couldn’t see any particular breed. But, a little while later, I passed a dead dog floating in the water. And some distance on down the river, I passed another dead dog floating in the water. And then, a short distance on down the river, I passed the third dead dog
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floating in the water. So the only thing that I can surmise, that that was a—those were sparring partners, I would guess for those dogs that were chained back up behind those little teepees. I suspect that those were fighting dogs. And that these were dogs that people would just drive around, and pick up, and take back to that camp and use them as sparring partners for those—for those fighting dogs. But like I say, I never did validate that, but that was something that I surmised. Another thing of interest that I saw on that trip, there’s—I passed numerous dead deer carcasses floating in the water. And both—both—all of the carcass that I saw had been skinned. And a shoulder and a—and maybe a—a hindquarter had been removed, and maybe all the shoulders and hindquarters. But, anyway, these were illegal hunters. Hunting season was still several weeks away yet. So I did see some
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remnants of the old East Texas outlaw hunting culture that’s still present in—in Texas. It was very prevalent when I was a young man. They ran deer twelve months out of the year, 365 days a year with dogs. And they would only stop when it got so hot and dry in the summertime that the deer—that the dogs couldn’t smell the deer tracks on the ground. And then, if we got a little thunder shower or something like that, and you were in the woods, well you heard the—you heard the deer after—the dogs after the deer, running. And you stood and listened to the chase for a while if you—if you wanted to. And I always liked it, I loved it. I loved coon hunting, and fox hunting, and all of the things that’s involved with dogs. But there was evidence that the deer hunting—outlaw hunting culture was still evident
00:52:26 – 2433
in—in East Texas on that trip as well. The 1999 trip, as I said, was moderately successful. But the 2001 trip that we—that we took, when we got them all involved, was—was spectacular, beyond our wildest dreams. Never did I dream that there would be so much coverage and so much interest in it. When we got to what I call Anderson Crossing, which is a county road across the Neches, that bridge had been burned out a few years before by people that didn’t like people using their roads. So they had gone out and soaked the bridge with kerosene, set it on fire, and it burned it down. And so that road was u—unusable for a few years, until the county came in and built a metal bridge across the road. So now they—across the river, so now they
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can come back using it. So when I got to Anderson Crossing, Gina—let me regress for just a moment. When we saw how much interest that was being created by this second trip—with the Texas Conservation Alliance approached Gina about being the media organizer for the rest of the trip. So Gina had to pull out and start helping organize media events. Well, when I got to Anderson Crossing, well the two Beaumont television stations were there, as well as the Lufkin Daily News was there. And the Jacksonville Daily Progress Reporter was there. So we had, what I call, a—and incidentally Ellen Temple was there. And I mention Ellen because she is one of the stalwart environmental advocates in East Texas. So we had what I called a floating press conference for the next ten miles. And I was really concerned
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because there were some pretty expensive television cameras in those canoes with people that had never been in a canoe before. And—but luckily we didn’t have any trees to cross, it was pretty smooth going down through there. And that’s also the—and put in a little commercial plug here. That is the starting point of the Neches River Rendezvous that is held in the first weekend, first Saturday in June of every year. (Coughs) Excuse me. And—so we had a floating press conference with those television cameras and newspaper reporters, and—asking questions and floating down through there. Well, when we got to the Highway 7 bridge, which was their takeout point, well there was KTRE there, and it was their second time to film us. And this gentleman by the name—I can only remember his na—last name, Dodi, but
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he was the KTRE news coordinator at that time. And he wound up doing a six part series, staged at different intervals of the time that I was on the river, and did quite lengthy stories on the river, and footage of the river, and comments. And then gave opposing people’s—the water board’s views, and the engineering firm’s views, and different people’s perspective on—on the dam and on the river itself. Quite an interesting series. And he was at the takeout point in Beaumont when I took out and did a wrap up on it. But they were all there were filming as we came in. And just as we were about to leave on the second part of the trip—and Gina was going to join me at that point and go for a few days, who should step forward but Tony
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Freemantle and Kevin Fuji of the Houston Chronicle. Now here’s a paper of a—of a circulation of somewhere around 750 to 800,000 readership. And so I’m thinking, “Golly Ned, what—what could have precipitated this?” And actually, as I come to find out later, it was just a chance remark by Brandt Mansion of the Houston Sierra Club. And Jan—Brandt had just been talking to Tony Freemantle as I understand it, and just mentioned the event and Tony zeroed in on it and—and came up prepared. And—and they traveled with us for four days and four nights, a distance of, I think about fifty miles. I’m not sure about it but I think the distance was about fifty miles. And Kevin took a lot of beautiful photographs and Tony wrote a—a tremendous story that made the front page of The Chronicle some weeks later—Sunday edition, by
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the way. Beautiful, full color picture on the front page of The Chronicle. The Associated Press picked it up—it made their wire, and we got inquiries and calls from as far away as New England about it. So—and I’m thinking, man alive, this is, you know, beyond my wildest dreams. You know, I just never could have even envisioned anything like this. So, we traveled on to Dam B. And Gina had put together a really spectacular news event at that area, m—m—once again there were TV people and newspaper people there as well, and a lot of locals from around the area. So we camped out at Martin Dies Jr. State Park, and I took a shower. And I will mention here at this point that during that last trip, oh for twenty-seven days, I slept between sheets two nights. The rest of the time I spent sleeping underneath
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the beautiful stars along the bank of the East Texas Neches River, listening to the wildlife and wo—watching the wildlife, and being immersed in all those sights, scents, and sounds of the Neches River. But, after camping out and having a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, and—Bonnie re-provisioned me at that point with some food, because it—I’m now where there’s enough water flow that I can take bacon and eggs and—and things like that, and really enjoy life a little bit better than noodles and hot water. So I then proceed on down and at a small community called Lakeview, there were some people that know what date I’m supposed to be there. In fact, I had to layover a couple of days in order to meet my schedule. We—after my first trip, I felt comfortable enough that I—what kind of schedule I can make that
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I began to predict points that I—that people could meet me. And I was—I was usually within four hours of when I said I would be. But I got to Lakeview because the lower Neches—I had anticipated being tougher going than it was. And it was not, so I was way ahead of schedule. So when I got to Lakeview I had to pull up, and spend some time. And the people were just great with me. I camped at a little national park campground there. Some people took me out to lunch at a little local beanery there in Lakeview. And—some, then as I made my scheduled departure, there were many people in canoes and kayaks from all different—in fact even Houston people were there. And they paddled with me that last six hours. I guess—five or six hours it took me to paddle from Lakeview on into Collier Ferry Park in
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Beaumont. And I hit that coastal wind coming in, and it was really, really difficult paddling that—the canoe would catch that wind and it would just kind of turn you sideways almost. It was—it was a struggle to paddle. But we made it into Colliers Ferry Park, and Tony Freemantle with The Chronicle was there to catch my take out point. And, once again, a big coverage of news media, as I said, KTRE from Lufkin was there for the final. And I—I—I—all I can keep repeating is the awe that I have for the coverage that we got. I—one thing that I mentioned, that back on that river, some gentleman had heard about the trip. And he called my wife and he said, the next time you see your husband, you tell him that if he wants to stop at my
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campground and take a shower, that I’d just be more than honored for him to do that. So Bonnie described his house and—was a camp house, and I watched for it, I knew about where it was going to be. And I saw it, and I pulled in, and he was there, he was waiting on me. And I went to his cabin and took a good, long, hot shower. And he made me a cup of coffee, and I drank a cup of coffee. And then we sat on his front porch, and had a coke—coffee and a coke right back-to-back. And we talked about the river, and—and he—he was a little older than I am, and we exchanged stories. And—but time to go, I had to leave. So it was just a really great adventure David. And I—as I said earlier, I wish everyone could do it.
[End of Reel 2433]
DT: When we left off at—on the last tape, you told us about the trips in 1999 and in 2001 on the Neches, as you paddled down the river trying to promote protection of the stream. I thought you might tell us sort of the next chapter where you actually wrote a book about your trip and—and got it published and—and got a very good reception.
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RD: Well, I do take pride in that story, because that is—it’s really quite interesting. I—as I said earlier, I kept a log book that I would hand off to the news media as I went down the river. And I’d had that thing in—in a loose leaf binder, and—and Gina was aware of it. And Gina at that time was a member of the Governor’s River Advisory Board. And these boards met at different—this board met at different spots around the states, periodically. And it was kind of the custom that the host of that board—whatever particular spot they were in—or reason they were in, would give some kind of little memento gift. And so Gina, it was—it was her turn and they were having it at Boggy Slew—Temple-Inland’s Boggy Slew camp house out
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on the Neches. And Gina said, dad, she says, I would like to give them a copy of—of your river notes. And I thought, Gina, nobody’s going to be interested in a copy of those river notes. And she said, dad, says, do it. Well, I didn’t, I—I didn’t do it. And so as time approached for her to have the meeting, she came to me and she said, dad, she said, here’s some coupons from Office Max. She says, you go to Office Max, and says, you have those copies made and bound into a spiral binder. And I think she told me fifteen, as I recall. But anyway, I—I did. Dads do what their daughters want when they put their foot on their neck. And—so I went to Office Max and I had the copies made and gave them to her. And she had—hosted
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the meeting, and she handed those things out. Well, perchance, a copy of it made its way to Texas Parks and Wildlife desk in Austin. And, gosh, the lady, whose name escapes me, who I hold very dear to my heart. Maybe it’ll come to me in the course of the conversation. But—it made it to her desk, and she read it. And she called me, she says, Mr. Donovan, says, you need to write a book about this. And I said, yeah, sure, yeah, sure. So I—I hung up with her and—and some days passed and she called me back again. And she says “Have you given any more thought to writing that book about your—about your trip?” And I said, well, really I haven’t. I said I don’t consider myself capable of writing a book. And she said, well you really need to. And I said, well okay, I’ll think about it. So—so more time passed and she
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called me, she said, look, she says, I’m going to make an interview—or a telephone interview with you, with Tex A&M University Press and—to talk to you about—about your book. She says, I’ve sent them a copy of your manuscript of your—or a copy of your log book, and said, she—somebody’s going to be calling you. So a few days later the phone rang and Ms. Shannon Davies with the Tex A&M University president editor—one of the editors there. And Shannon was a very charming person, I liked her immediately. And she says, I’ve read your—your log book. She says, I think this would make a good book, and would you do a little something else—would you write a little something else and send it to us, and enlarge it just a little bit. So I did, and she sent word back that—that she really liked that, that maybe it has a future. So she said, write some more. So—and she kind of told me what she
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wanted, so I sat down—and A&M has a system, I think, where—that they send things out to three writers. Three—I meant three reviewers. So she sent this first manuscript out to a viewer and he—and I got his remarks back. It’s—I don’t ever know who they are. Said, this has potential, I think there’s something that we really do, but says it needs to be a lot longer and—and more detail, et cetera. And so she asked me if I was interested—or would I continue to do it. And I said yes I would. So I made another—I enlarged it and did a lot of stuff. She sent it back and this guy came back, and I think he’s an anti-environmental guy; I really do, because he just pulverized me. He just—there wasn’t anything good about the whole deal. He just really put me down in so many ways. Not so much about the book, but about the contents of it and everything. So that kind of annoyed me. So I was kind of
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determined then to—to do something with it. And so I began to work on it in earnest, and I came out with the third manuscript. They sent it off and got a real glory report on it. And they printed it, and it came out in June. Had the grand opening at the Temple History Center in Diboll, and it was a tremendous success. Well attended. It—it took me four hours to go through the—the people that were there and just an unbelievable thing. You—you—you got to look at this—this the perspective that I had no idea that we were going to get this kind of response, even to the point of somebody wanting me to write a book about it. And you think, well that’s what you set out to do. And—and really that was the spur that kind of drove
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me on, was the fact that that’s what I had set out to do, was to promote the Neches, and here was this opportunity. So it—it just—it went off really, really well. I began to make book signing appearances. And we were going into November, just into the Christmas Season, and Texas A&M University Press let us run out of books, just at the peak buying season. And so we were without books from November until March, I believe it was, that we didn’t have any books because they are printed in, of all places, China. And—but it’s a beautiful book. They did a really, really tremendous job with the photography and—and the maps, and it’s just—I thought they did a great job with the book. But we’ve been out of—we were out of books for a long time, but we got them back. And it’s been—we’re in the second printing now, and
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the sales have been quite spectacular. But I—I was just blown away by the fact that—that we got to write a book about it and it’s doing so well.
DT: The—the book is called Paddling the Wild Neches, right?
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DT: And through your—your canoe trip, and then the press coverage, and then the—the book, and the book signings, these were all, I guess, steps towards trying to promote your concern about—about the Neches River and about the proposals for the dams. What sort of impact do you think you’ve seen in the years since the trip and the book?
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RD: That’s a really good question. It’s—it’s an excellent question. There’s certainly a lot more awareness about the Neches River, and about environmental issues in the broad spectrum. In fact it has been translated into some initiatives that I never dreamed of. At the present time, we’re working on a project called the East Texas Experience. Now, I’m not having much to do with it, I’m just not on the log. But Ellen Temple and some people are really involved in this, which our hope is to make the people of East Texas aware of what we have here. Catalog all the interesting and historical places, generate a infrastructure—an infrastructure that will accommodate guests to come here. And make East Texas a tourist desent—dest—destination and increase the income of people in this area of the state. At the
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same time, protect these natural resources that we hold so dear. There has just been—I’ve been invited to speak to any number of groups around the area, I am well received by all of them. But, as far as any concrete thing, as I said, The East Texas Experience and the activity that the Conservation Fund is doing here to preserve land and then make it into public domain has been, the—the real concrete things that I can (?). Oh, don’t let me fail to mention—and I don’t’ know how much—well I do know how much, we had a tremendous impact on the establishment Upper Neches River National Wildlife Refuge.
DT: Let’s talk about that.
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RD: Yeah, that’s a—that’s a spectacular thing, and it’s a—about a 25,000 acre refuge that’s under—maybe something a little less than that. But wildlife refuge on the upper Neches is some of that pristine, rare, almost exotic, hardwood bottomland. It’s—it’s almost gone. It’s—it’s almost non-existent in this state, and even in the United States anymore. And that is some beautiful hardwood bottomland forest up there. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been working to establish that thing since sometime back in the 80’s. But like all bureaucracies, time grinds slowly with them. And—and they just saw fit last year, I believe it was, to designate that as a—the Upper Neches National Wildlife Refuge. Well, it just so happened that
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Dallas—and I speak of Dallas in the broad umbrella sense, had its eyes on the same area to build Fastrill Reservoir. And so they immediately filed a lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to halt the designation of that area as a refuge, even though the refuge had already taken in one acre of land to confirm the fact that it was going to be a refuge. And it’s a donated tract. And—but they filed that lawsuit, so we’re now suspended in time awaiting the court’s decision. Supposedly the court is going to give us a decision sometime the latter part of this month. And that’s been hanging on now for some six or eight months, I don’t (?) how long. But hopefully sometime by the end of this month, or certainly maybe in the month of April we’ll find out what the—what the court’s decision on that’s going to be. Now, if
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we win, whether Dallas will appeal or not, I don’t know. If the court rules in favor of Dallas I don’t—whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will appeal. You know, I just don’t know what to expect from here. But that was a great victory because—first thing is when we heard that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was interested in doing that, our group, the Texas Conservation Alliance, and its a—affiliate that we spun off, the Neches River Protection Initiative, generated—and I hear different figures, somewhere between 12 and 20,000 pieces of mail. And faxes and e-mail have been to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in support of that. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that it was by far the most correspondence ever generated by
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the establishment of any wildlife refuge that they had done in the nation. So that shows you the awareness that has been created among—among the loc—local people for—of—of what the environment holds and the value that it is, and the value that we have here. So, yeah, there has been some real good environmental awareness generated by the activity that we’ve done on that river.
DT: You had mentioned th—the City of Dallas has plans for Fastrill Reservoir and how concerned you were about it. I thought this might be a chance to maybe roll back the clock a little bit to talk about earlier reservoirs that were built on the Neches and the Angelina. And try to understand what kind of impact you saw from those reservoirs that—that led to your concern about what Fastrill might mean to the Neches.
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RD: Those are good points, Dave but before we leave Fastrill, let me make just a couple comments more about that, that I was about to forget. Fastrill—Dallas doesn’t even know for sure that they need Fastrill or not. That’s a “just in case” designation. They may need it sometime in the next forty or fifty years. In the meantime, those people that hold property there, their property is—is dead because you got that hammer hanging over all the time that—that you may be condemned and taken for—for a reservoir. But, that dam is being built, essentially. And this is going to take a whole different change of mindset in—in Texas for sure. But that dam is being built, these are my words, so that the people of the Dallas metropolitan area can have lush non-native lawns of Saint Augustine grass, and non-
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native shrubbery landscaping their property. Now that’s—that’s the gist of why Fastrill Reservoir and all these other reservoirs are being built. And somehow or another, we’re going to have to get away from that model, of the Saint Augustine grass and the pittosporum and the photinia and all of those things that—that—that require watering. We’re going to have to go to xeriscaping, or certainly to native plants. You know, we have yaupon and—and wax myrtle and all those kind of shrubs that could be utilized. And we have native—native carpet grass that if nursery people would—would, you know, experiment with and develop it, it could be done to—to take care of that. But th—this landscape watering has got to change. Farming has got to—different methods of farming—of course, I don’t think anything
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from Fastrill was slated to go to farming, but there’s an awful lot of water used in—in agriculture. Back to your remarks about earlier dams, yeah know, I can remember the construction—I learned how to water ski in the brand new bar ditch at Dam B. Behind, if you can believe it, a twenty-five horsepower motor, and that was a big motor in those days. When I was growing up, a twenty-five horsepower motor was a big motor. And I learned how to water ski in that bar ditch. And then, following the tremendous drought of the 1950’s—it’s still the record drought of history in—in Texas. And I lived through that, I saw the Neches where that I could leap across it in many, many places. But following that record drought, there was a big interest toward building of reservoirs. And Sam Rayburn Reservoir is known as McGee Bend dam at the time. But Sam Rayburn Reservoir was one of the reservoirs that was
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built. It’s a—once again I speak in around numbers, 125,000 acre reservoir. It was built and I—I believe the gates were closed on it in 1965. But that happened, and as I digress—you call me back if you need to. But that happened during a time that was also a tumultuous area in Texas, with the closing of the woods, where farmers were being and—and I use that word loosely because Texas was not a—a this part of Texas was never a big farming country, but just a minimal amount. But people let their wild—livestock run wild. They ran on the highways, there were people killed and maimed with hitting livestock on the roads. And hogs were abundant in the woods and—and it was just a way of life. And people used dogs to manage this livestock with. Whenever a man got ready to work his cattle, unlike the western
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cowboy who turned to his horse and rope, these men turned to their dogs and their rawhide whips, and their blowing horns. And—but they began the condemning of land and taking of land for Sam Rayburn Reservoir, just as all of this was kind of coming to a climax. And I helped some of the people take their stock out of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir area. In fact, one man had some animals that were so wild that he could handle them in—in no fashion, and he came to me and asked me if I would go shoot them for him. And—and I did, and that’s where we got some of his cattle out of there. But it was a—it was a very heart rendering, emotional time because a lot of that area was—it was on the Angelina, which is a tributary of the Neches,
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was—you’d hear people talk about, you know, Washington-on-the-Brazos and Goliad and places like that as being the cradle of—of Texas. Well I—I will accept that, but if that’s the cradle of Texas, I would say that the Neches River basin is the womb of Texas. Texas was nurtured right here in the Neches River valley. And a lot of old family cemeteries are beneath the area of what is now Sam Rayburn Reservoir. And people fought that bitterly. And homesteads that had been there for—I—I remember one old family, the name was J.T. McGilbury. Still lived in one of the old, pioneer homes with wood shingles on the roof, and at night he could look up through his roof and see the stars. So you can imagine how hard a place like that was to heat in the wintertime. But these were elderly people, and that’s where they had spent their lives. And you stand there in front of a fireplace to warm with it and it was just like
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you’re on a rotisserie. You—you baked on one side and you froze the devil on the other, and you just sat there and constantly turning. People wore their overcoats and their boots in the house and—and slept on feather—feather mattresses and covered up with feawe—feather quilts and things. So yeah, it was—it was pioneer like. But this dam took this land away from these people, and consigned them to a life of—actually when they got their money, they couldn’t go out and buy anything else because, number one, they paid them insufficient money for their land. And number two, when this cash flow started coming out, you had dollars chasing land. And the land just escalated in value, so they started out, I think maybe some of the first land maybe was paid for, maybe like fifty dollars an acre. And then, along toward the last of it they were paying 125, but that still wasn’t enough to replace.
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So a lot of those people lived out their lives in—in virtual squalor because they’d had their lands taken away from them. And their cemeteries, and their churches, moved and uprooted, and—and eventually just demolished and destroyed. So it was a very tumultuous time for—for those people i—if you lived there. Now there were promises that there were going to be spectacular growth and wealth and it didn’t happen. Most of the things—and I say most of the things, there were areas that did develop reasonably well. But most of the things that developed around the lake were—well they were not top-of-the-line residential area developments. And so no one really made a lot of money off of it, except the people that built the dam. And then of course the—what we refer to as the water hustlers. The people that make the money selling the water, and just got the office complexes, and the expense
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accounts and—and that sort of thing. They—they make a lot of money off of that, they got high salaries and that sort of thing. So Rayburn and Dam B both were big traumatic events to the population of—or that part of the population of East Texas.
DT: You talked about the—the kind of—kind of social and cultural impact of these dams. What sort of ecological effects did you see from the construction of the dams in the years that—that followed, or—or maybe during the—the clearing of the land for the—the dams themselves?
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RD: Well, of course, they—they brought in huge machines with cutter blades on the rollers that the—they called choppers. And what they didn’t cut down and haul off, well then they came in with those big chopper blades. They just chopped up the landscape, just ground everything up. And there was nothing left. It was just a moonscape out there when they were through with it. And the Rayburn covered a lot of national forest. And by that time, it was already getting to the point where the national forests, save for the Neches property that Temple-Inland owned. The national forest was already the last retreat for hardwoods. And that reservoir covered up a lot of U.S. national forest land and those hardwoods, the place that I used to hunt and fish a lot. And there were a lot of oxbow lakes and—that were full of fish and alligators and wildlife. And—of course all of that was obliterated. And
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you’ve got to understand that these trees and things were being pushed down all year long. And there were literally thousands of bird’s nests filled with eggs and baby chicks and dens of bobcats and raccoons and—and all of the cavity dwellers. Woodpeckers and owls and hawks and—all of those animals, all of that was destroyed. All of those baby chicks, and all of those eggs, and all those young critters were—they were destroyed. And young fawns were—were killed with having trees thrown over on them. Now, the animals that fled, where did they go? Well, they had to go in and make their livelihood in places that were already stocked with wildlife. So you had a die off, you had a Diaspora, I call it. W—with that, because you know, you push still more animals onto a place that’s already saturated, and you’re going to have a die off. So it was a tremendous impact on—on wildlife and—
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and forests, plants. Rare—some of them rare plants as well, and cavity trees, and nesting sites.
DT: And then downstream of the dams, once the dams were—were installed, how did the river change below those—those big dams?
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RD: Well, you know, you look at the Big Thicket. And then you just come back upstream to the Big Thicket. But bottomlands are designed by God, the creator. And you, you know, me I—I—I believe in God. And those nights on the river, if—if there’s ever a place that you are close to your—your maker, it’s—it’s there, with all that silence or maybe with those animals making those noises. But ecosystems evolve.
DT: Let’s resume, if we could. We were talking about the—how the—the river bottoms changed after these dams were put in.
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RD: Well, these ecosystems that are—are that—all along the river are adapted to seasonal floodings. We get torrential rains here and we get tremendous runoff and the river that’s in its, what we call in its banks. And it’s flowing happily along, and then all of the sudden you come a big inrush of water, and the river’s flooding, get out of banks, and flood the bottomlands, and stay out in the bottomlands for weeks at a time sometimes. And saturate the land and—and these ecosystems have evolved and developed to—to sus—sustain themselves and to flourish indeed under those kind of conditions. Well, when you put a dam in, of course, you interrupt that process. You begin to starve those ecosystems of the overflows that they need to sustain them. And so they begin to contract, they get smaller. And less—more
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drought tolerant plants begin to take their place. And yo—you ha—you change the whole ecosystem when you do that. And the—every time you build a dam, you increase that drawdown of that seasonal flooding that is so essential to bottomland habitat growth and—and prosperity.
DT: I understand that—that also it—it’s increased the—the saltwater inflows coming in from the bay. What—what sort of effects have you seen from that?
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RD: Well, it’s strange that you should mention that, because I knew as I made my last trip down the river in—in ‘01 that I was going to encounter the saltwater barrier that was under construction between the little community of Lakeview and Beaumont. And when I got there and saw that thing I was just awed by it. It’s essentially just another big dam that’s built there to keep saltwater from encroaching back up the Neches and destroying the ecosystem as it—as it penetrates farther and farther inland. And the reason is saltwater is making these encroachments in the—upper—I mean the lower Neches is the reduced flow of the river. Plus they continue to dredge out the ship channel. And the dredging of the ship channel plus the
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reduced water volume flow down the river allows the saltwater to push further and further inland. And of course, you know what saltwater would do to vegetation. It would just—it would kill it. And they had to build this monumental saltwater barrier there to reduce that—that effect.
DT: So far we’ve talked about the development and management of the national forest and—and of—of large dams and reservoirs by a variety of different agencies, from the—the Forest Service to the Texas Water Development Board and the local river authorities. And—and I was wondering if you could tell about your experience as an individual citizen trying to deal with these—these large agencies and make your case and try to get a response from them.
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RD: I believe my best response to that would be the Texas Water Development Board. That’s—had recent encounters with them and very frustrating. But, like all bureaucracies, they—they have a constituency. And you have to give them good marks because they do a good job for their constituency. You know, they’re—they’re people just like you and I are, doing their job. And they’re hired to do that job and they are—or else appointed to a board to do that job. And they set out, and I—I can’t do anything but admire them for getting the job done. At the same time, the public trust—the public good suffers. And I only wish that people that hold those kind of jobs were more attune to the public good rather than the specific narrow thing that they’re focused on, that they’ve been hired or appointed to do. The Texas
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Water Development Board is a perfect example of that. That’s an agency that is almost totally, I think—in my opinion, beholden to special interests. And those special interests are municipal water authorities—or water authorities in general. Big bureaucracies that want to grow, they want to expand their—their quote, unquote kingdom. They want to have more filing cabinets, and more secretaries, and more employees, more company cars, and they can get a bigger salary if they do that. They become more important. So—and once again that’s—that’s the way we work, that’s the way America works, the way we run. In addition to those bureaucracies, there are the engineering firms. The engineering firms want to build these dams and build these TxDot, this Trans-Texas I-69 corridor across Texas, from—from Laredo to Texarkana. They want to do that because that increases their fiefdom. That puts
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money in their pockets, and the bulldozer people and all of those. And so they have a big constituency there. Then there are real estate speculators, and developers that enter into the equation. So there is a big constituency of all of those issues that—that you have to deal with. And a lone individual’s voice is like a voice crying in the wilderness. You’re not heard. And there are really only two ways that you can affect issues like that. That’s been my finding. And one is power which comes through money, and that’s what they have. And the other is power which comes through numbers, people, voters, people that will speak out. And if I had th—the choice of which one I’d rather have, I’d rather have the power that comes through money, but
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lacking that I’ll take the power that comes from the people. The big problem there comes is getting those people to speak with a unified voice, to get the people organized to speak. And that’s a difficult thing in itself. But in my meetings and dealings with the Texas Water Development Board and its special interest focus, I have not been very successful in affecting any change with them at all. I have been to numerous of their meetings that’s held at Nacogdoches, and I always get announcements of when those meetings will be. And I’ve been there, and I’ve requested to speak and they’ve been cordial and very pleasant with me, and—and granting me a request every time—granting my request very time I ask. They’ve listened attentively and politely and allowed me to make my say. And when it’s over, the door slams shut and that’s it. Nothing ever becomes of that. On at least
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two occasions, when the region I planned was—and the reason our plan includes the building of Fastrill Reservoir, let me add that, which is what has my attention. When i—i—two different occasions when the plans were developed, a year apart, I’ve attended meetings where the meeting venue was jam packed with people that were opposed to the building of the dam. And we were all allowed to speak. And once again all that information was duly recorded on video and folded up in a box, and I guess sent to Austin and nothing happened to the plans. It went right through as it was. And that was just a dog and pony show that—that the—you know, government put out there to appease the local peasants, I guess. And then, following that, I had the opportunity to make a trip to Austin. Drove three and a half hours to Austin to
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make an appearance before th—the state board. And, once again, that venue was jam packed with people that were opposed to different projects that they were doing over the state. And we were granted four minutes each to speak. And the board sat up there and talked to each other and did various things while we were speaking. And recorded everything, I’m sure. But when it was over with, when we all got in our cars and came back home, and the state water plan was left unchanged. Then another time I was approached and asked if I would like to be on the—the river’s flow committee, which guaranteed a minimum flow in the river so that it never would get below environmental—safe environmental levels. And I said, yes, that I would—I would do it. So they asked me to put together a resume and—and put together
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a lot of information about myself, which I hurriedly did, and—and sent it off. And I never heard anything back. And later I heard that that board had been staffed and still never heard anything. And then, just a chance meeting with the—with the president of that board at a—at a function one time. He said, oh by the way, he said, you weren’t accepted to that board. And I thought, well, you know, I don’t think I probably ever really had a chance to get on it to begin with. That was just a—a—a bone that they had thrown out, you know, to maybe appease us. But I find it almost impossible to deal with—with bureaucracies. They’re—they’re entrenched, they have their own agenda like the Forest Service. You know, we can appeal things to the Forest Service. We have avenues that we can try to affect change. And—but it gets nowhere. Tha—the Forest Service has gotten better, I’ve got to give them a little bit—a little bit of a plug here. They’ve gotten better, even though they don’t implement very much of it.
DT: Well, we’ve talked a little bit about the development of the timber industry and development of the water industry in East Texas. And I think that—i—it seems like this is part of a process of building an economy. But also has—has made it more and more difficult for individuals to get access to some of these resources that are being developed, and—and privatized, essentially. And—and I guess you can trace this back to the commons, and—and the passage of some of these stock laws, and—and the game laws. And then all the way forward to, I guess, current day where I think you were saying off tape that—that a lot of younger people are pretty disconnected, I guess, from nature. I was wondering if you could, as—as the tape sort of winds down here, track that to—to—from the passage of some of these stock laws through to what you see as—as troubling, I think you put it, about kid’s attitudes towards the woods.
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RD: Well the decade of the 1950’s was definitely a watershed decade for East Texas. It was the dying of the last frontier of—of Texas, essentially. I guess maybe people along the Rio Grande might argue with that. But at least a great culture that has swept across the underbelly of the United States, all the way from the Virginias and the Carolinas ended on the Neches River in the 1950’s. And that was the commons, that everybody treated the land—the land as belonging to everyone. And if you wanted to protect something, it was the landowner’s responsibility tod—to—to build a fence around what he wanted to protect. And everything else was open range. And in my early lifetime, you went anywhere you wanted to. You could get on a horse and ride for days in any direction in my hometown of Zavala and not
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encounter a fence. If you did encounter a fence you might ride a short distance, find the corner of it and be—be free of it again. So all up and down the Neches River and Angelina (coughs) excuse me, was—was unfettered ingress and egress. Then the stock laws, people grew tired of cattle killing and maiming people on the highways. People grew tired of cattle, and horses, and hogs coming into towns and scattering dung up and down the streets. And—and fleas and ticks, and—just lying down in the roads. I can remember Mr. Barge feeding his cattle right in downtown Zavala, and interrupting the traffic, stopping it on Highway 69. For long periods of time, cars would have to just sit there and wait for, you know, some minutes before they could ease around and get through all that mess. So the—there was a real problem, but it
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was a culture and a society that had evolved over time. Lufkin’s stock law was passed—or Angelina County’s stock law was passed in 1952. But that doesn’t mean that the began to close the—the woods off at that time. It was just a fire—shot fired across the bow. But as time passed and more and more people were forced to enclose their animals behind fences, and as authorities of the—the county sheriffs and things were expanded to force that, the—the woods became more and more closed off. And the timber companies were—this was a—a great boon to them. They had been wanting to close their woods for—for quite some time. For—one reason, probably the main reason was that hogs root up little pine seedlings to eat that tender root off the bottom of that pine seedling. So hogs can destroy. If they had
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planted an area or a natural seedling had occurred there, they could destroy an area of pine seedlings in a night. And so companies were—they didn’t like that. And then people felt nothing about going onto company land, cutting down a cypress tree for—for the lumber out of it, to make cypress shingles for their house. Or if a bee tree was growing on company land, they went in and cut down the tree and—and extracted the honey from it and just left the tree lying there. And they just used the land as if it were their own, and—which it had been for generations. So the company seized these opportunities to form up hunting clubs. And the hunting clubs were often—the company’s hired old outlaw hunters, to be their enforcement officers. Well, these hunters knew the whole tricks of the trade and they knew how to—how
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to s—stop people from—from hunting. They also took bulldozers and plowed ditches across all the old wagon roads that led down to the river. They put fences across many of the roads. They did everything they could to close off access to the river and to the forest, simply because—to protect the integrity of their hunting clubs. And they charged people to be a member of these clubs, which over time has grown to be really significant income for the companies. But originally it was just to protect their—their private property rights. Today, because of these actions that have been taken over a period of time by private individuals as well as companies, there is essentially—the younger people have been disconnected from the land. There’s no—there’s no appreciation, really, for the natural things that take place out there. I find it interesting sometime, and I have conversations with young people, and I’m
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talking about college educated, thirty year old young men and women. And I ask questions like “Where is the Neches River?” And most often they do not know. And it’s a—forms the western boundary of our county. I ask them where the Angelina River is and—and they don’t know, and it forms the eastern boundary of our county. They can’t identify a sweet gum tree from a hickory tree. And to me, that is—that is tragic. This may be not important that they know how to identify those trees, but they need an appreciation for the fact that each one of those plants forms a different function, and it enriches our life by what it does. Sweet gum trees, or black gum trees, particularly are notorious for their cavities, so that wild animals and b—nesting birds can nest in them. Oaks the most sizable bounty that—from coast to coast, I
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guess, along the eastern seaboard for sure, the mainstay food supply for animals and birds is acorns. Acorns is the manna of wildlife. So every time you cut down an oak tree, you deprive a wide array of birds and animals of food stuff, plus they’re also a great source of cavities. So you reduce the nesting sites for many plants and animals. So we have these people that are detached from nature. They—they want to know about it, but they’re experience with nature is they read a natural—National Geographic magazine, or a Walt Disney program on television, or a video game that they can play and interact with nature. They don’t—they don’t feel the—the heat, and they don’t feel the mosquitoes. And they don’t feel the air in their face and they don’t smell the sound—or the scent of decaying cellulose, or the smell of wild azaleas wafting through the air, or hear the call of the—of the pileated
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woodpecker, or at night the hoot of the barred owl, or the great horned owl. And so, we don’t really—all I can say da—David is that we have just totally lost our contact with—with nature. And they’re all interested in it, but they can’t put their hands on it. They can’t become a part of it, they can’t—they can’t experience all of the senses that I’ve tried to—to mention.
DT: Well, I think you—you’ve been very clear about why these things are important to you and—and why they should be important to—to younger people. We often try to—to wrap up these interviews by asking if there’s a particular place that you like to go to that reminds you of all these things, about why it’s important to you to protect the forest, to protect the rivers. And—and gives you some solace and comfort to go there.
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RD: Well, actually there are two places. It’s hard for me to—to bring it down to just one. These two places are essentially adjacent to each other, and they’re all a continuation of a place called Longleaf Ridge in Angelina National Forest. On the western terminus of Longleaf Ridge is Upland Island Wilderness. It’s a 14,000 acre wilderness brought about primarily by the efforts of one man, Ned Fritz. Now he had an awful lot of help, but Ned Fritz drove this stake in the ground. But you have majestic hardwoods, you have Graham Creek flowing—you have any number of creeks flowing, but Graham Creek is the largest creek. You have Orwell Creek and Cypress Creek, and Mill Creek, and any number of creeks flowing through – big creeks –
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flowing through Upland Island Wilderness. But Graham Creek is the main artery of—through the middle of it. It give you these beautiful har—hardwood bottomlands, pitcher plant seeps, rare orchids, towering hardwoods, higher elevations for East Texas, 260-300 feet elevations. The—the strum of the wind through the towering pine trees, it’s—it’s an almost unearthly sound to hear that wind in those tall pines. Different than anything you’ve maybe ever experienced. Then you move on over into the Boykin Springs area, and more of the majestic pines. And then those clear running streams. Boykin Creek, for instance, Sherwood Creek, Orwell Creek, all those springs, and—and the Boykin Springs there, they gush out of the ground.
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They just act like fountains, just exploding from the ground. Most of the other places, they just come out in a series of small springs bubbling up in sandy bottoms, and coming down through that forest headed toward the river. Much of that land has been eroded by off-road vehicles before some of our efforts got the ORVs prohibited from using that area. But there are countless, beautiful areas in there with those creeks and hills and pine forests and pitcher plant seeps, and as I said, wild azaleas and orchids, and—and wildlife. But the—Longleaf Ridge, Upland Island Wilderness, Boykin Springs area. And—and Boykin Springs Park was build by the CCC and the WPA back in the 1930’s, and for literally decades, it was a favorite spot of campers and hikers and people that just want—and swimmers. Boykin Lake—but
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Hurricane Rita two years ago took a heavy toll on it, and the U.S. Forest Service shut it down. And as far into the future as I can see, makes no attempt to reopen it, because that’s not part of their agenda. They—they’re into growing pine trees and—and building roads. The Sawmill Hiking Trail that connected Boykin Springs with Old Aldridge, the ancient sawmill town. And Bouton Lake, which is the southern terminus of the trail, which is in u—Upland Island Wilderness, right (?) of Upland Is—that trail is being closed down by the Forest Service, simply because it’s too expensive to—to maintain. So those are just some of the environmental impacts that—I will allude to again, that the bureaucracies have on beautiful places that they don’t—they don’t care about keeping because it’s an expense to them rather than an income.
DT: Well, I’ve asked a number of questions. Maybe I can leave you with one sort of open ended one, is there—is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered in—in some detail?
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RD: I’m sure there would be. The only thing that I could possibly add, David, is we all live on a finite Earth. W—you know, I just got through reading some interesting articles about the Polynesian Islands. And thousands of years ago people—how they did it no one knows, but they migrated from Asia to cover those Polynesian Islands, thousands of miles out into the Pacific. But every single one of them that they went to was a virtual paradise when they got there. But as the impact of their civilization was felt on that island, they ate up and they destroyed most of the things that were on the island, and in the surrounding sea. And so they—they move on to—to the next island. So I just use that maybe as a microcosm to point out what—what I think, and what I’m afraid of is as our population
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expands—and it’s the number one concern that I have for the environment, is our increased appetite for natural resources. And as those things are consumed, the generations that follow us are not going to have the experiences even that we had to look at or the natural beauty, or the healthy air, and the healthy water. So, it’s—it’s not so much for me, I’m an old man, I’m not going to—it’s not going to be a concern of mine. But, other people’s children, their grandchildren, that’s what my concern is. And so, things that we can do to educate and preserve is—is what I’m dedicated to the remaining time that I have left.
DT: Thanks for explaining this to us. You’ve done a good job. Thank you so much.
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RD: Well, I could have chased a lot more rabbits, but I tried to keep myself confined as best I could.
DT: Well, you did a good job, thank you.
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RD: Thank you guys.
[End of Reel 2434]
[End of Interview with Richard Donovan]
INTERVIEWEE: Richard Donovan
INTERVIEWER: David Todd
DATE: May 14, 2020
LOCATION: Lufkin, Texas, by telephone
TRANSCRIBER: Trint, David Todd
SOURCE MEDIA: Google Voice, MP3 audio file
Google Voice [00:00:00] This call is now being recorded.
David Todd [00:00:03] No, no, no. This is this is the right one. You got me. I have, it’s a little confusing, I have one, just regular old office phone. And then I got a number from Google Voice that allows me to record calls. And in fact, before we dive into this, I wanted to explain to you and for the record what we’re up to and get your permission to do this recording and to move ahead. So here’s what I want to do. I can recite to you:.
David Todd [00:00:34] With your approval, we plan on recording this interview for research and educational work on behalf of the Conservation History Association of Texas, for a book and a Web site for Texas A&M University Press and for an archive that we’re keeping at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. And of course, you keep all equal rights to use the recording, if that’s agreeable with you, we could get into this.
Richard Donovan [00:01:10] Well, I think every bit of it sounds wonderful to me. David, I just am so proud and pleased that somebody is looking at East Texas, because I always felt all my life like east Texas had fallen through the cracks. And most historical records, etc., etc. and traditions and the things that just expired here in East Texas had never been noticed anywhere else. That’s probably wrong. I mean, I but that’s just the way I have always viewed it with my bias, prejudices.
David Todd [00:01:46] Yeah, well I don’t know, I think I’d agree. I’m so glad that you taking the trouble to to, you know, notice and record so much of this so, well with that let’s let’s dive into it. Today is May 14, 2020, and we are conducting an interview with Richard Donovan, who is the author of Paddling the Wild Neches, and a board member of the Texas Conservation Alliance, and a former realtor and employee of Temple Inland and a longtime resident of East Texas, and very knowledgeable about life there.
David Todd [00:02:29] So basically, I was hoping that we could visit with you to learn about the history of hunting deer as well as other animals with dogs in East Texas. And maybe we can spend a little time to learn about that from you.
Richard Donovan [00:02:48] David, I’d be glad to talk to you about. I will, I’ll make this up front, you know, I came along just to catch a glimpse through the crack of the closing of the door, of the closing in the woods. I mean, it it happened during my early lifetime and it was a very traumatic experience for all the people of this area. Prior to, prior to that, free range in Texas, East Texas, was just taken for granted. People’s livestock, horses and cattle and hogs just roamed at will. And if you had a crop, if you owned a farm or something, it was your responsibility to fence the animals out, rather than the animal owner’s responsibility to keep them in something. So livestock roamed at will and farmers always had a big problem with particularly hogs getting into their fields and destroying their crops and that sort of thing. So that was just always a problem throughout my life, in my early lifetime. Free range was the order of the day.
Richard Donovan [00:03:58] And then the first thing that happened to change all of that, and of course I know you’re interested in the hunting aspect of it, but I think these two things are intertwined to a large extent. But free range came to a close in East Texas in the early 1950s. It began to happen then. I think I’m correct in remembering that 1952 was the date that the stock laws came into effect in Angelina County. Now, it took another decade or maybe a little bit longer for the rest of the Angelina, I meant the East Texas counties to become stock law because I remember some of them were way into the late 60s closing. So I can’t speak to all of them. But I just know that Angelina County began in 1952 and it was strictly because of too people. You might say Arthur Temple and Ernest Kerr because Mr. Temple owned Temple Inland, or Temple Industries at that time and Ernest Kerr owned Angelina County Lumber company. And both of whom were huge timber companies at that time. And they didn’t like people’s hogs and cattle roaming across their land, nd people burning the forest for the benefit of making grass grow for cattle to graze upon and hogs coming along and rooting up the pine seedlings as they were trying to sprout and grow back.
Richard Donovan [00:05:34] So there was a little bit of opposition to that in the very beginning of what was known here as the closing of the woods. And I don’t know whether that was an East Texas origination, but that was a term I heard all my life, was the closing of the woods and it was a vy, as I said earlier, it was a thing that was very much resented by the populace. Then the stock law, laws came along. I believe it was in the eighties, but I came. The hunting, the dog-hunting. I mean, they came along in the 80s, i believe. You’ll have to follow up on that because I can’t speak to that from memory at all.
Richard Donovan [00:06:21] But up until that time, people hunted with dogs. And that was a tradition of East Texas that you cannot. It’s just hard for me to to tell you the way that that was wound into people’s lives and their hearts here in East Texas was the ability to hunt with dogs. And they hunted squirrels with dogs; they hunted coons with dogs. But boy, the most important one, I suppose, was hunting deer with dogs. And that was for two reasons. One is that put meat on the table. But number two, it was just the sheer enjoyment of hearing the hounds run and watching them run, you know, and shooting the deer and all that, and the camaraderie that existed with all of that. So deer hunting was a really popular, nd I’m not I won’t call it a sport because it went on 12 months a year, and it was a, an essential thing almost, and it was very much intertwined with East Texas society. And everyone had dogs. They had all kinds of dogs. There were hog dogs, and stock dogs. And a stock dog and a hog dog can and probably most of the time were the same thing. But at times, they were not because some dogs were strictly catch dogs. You held him until the other dogs bayed the hogs up somewhere. And then when you got the hog bayed, then you went to him with the dog that you had under rein. And you were you own a horse, of course, because hogs would attack you and hurt you. So they rode up there with their catch dog and then they would point out to the caged dog which one they wanted and he would go catch one. And he was usually a big powerful dog and he’d go in and grab the hog by the ear, something like that most of the time. And then the otehr dogs would attack as well. So how am I going here? David, am I talking just right?
David Todd [00:08:33] Right. I’m just fascinated. Don’t let me get in the way at. Tell me more.
Richard Donovan [00:08:40] Well, and then. And I by the way, I discussed a lot of this in my book, Paddling the Wild Neches. There’s a lot of it covered in that book. But as the stock dog as the catch dog caught the hog. Well then, the owners usually went up there and earmarked that hog and turn him loose and let him go or whatever they wanted to do with him. But if they weren’t wanting to catch any dogs, hogs, they just simply rode up there, picked out the hog that they wanted, and usually with a .22, they circled around to get a good shot. Shot him right between the eyes. And he fell over. And maybe they shot another one or two. And then pulled the dogs off the hogs, and allowed the hogs to run back into the forest. And then they would throw a rope around the heels of those hogs and drag them out of the woods somewhere.
Richard Donovan [00:09:38] Somebody would come along with the early days, a horse and a wagon. I can remember, and I tell about story about it, in the, in the book about hunting with my great grandfather. I wasn’t with him. I just went to pick up the hog back after he and some other guy had killed them. And I rode with my grandmother out there to pick them up. But that was the way they did it, and after we got a pickup truck, of course, then they rode out to where they’d dragged the hogs out to the road and loaded them back to a pickup truck, carried them back to the house.
Richard Donovan [00:10:12] And they had big cast iron pots with boiling water ready, by the time hunters got there. Of course, they had blown on the horns or blowing horns that were made out of cow horns and they could blow those horns. You could hear it for two or three miles. And so they warned the people at the house that they were coming and they had the fire boiling and everything. They dragged those hogs up there. And some people had metal barrels that they had, would pour the scalding water into and then slide that hog down into that metal barrel and bring him out real quick. And others just went over to the wash pot that was cast iron pot that was boiling with water. And they would bring dippers with scalding water and poured on the hog and turned the knife edge-down and then just scraped the hair off the hog. That was just a scraping motion that you would do to the hog. And that scalding water released the hair and you just took that knife and just scraped it all off and you scraped that hog just as clean as it could be.
Richard Donovan [00:11:18] And then you took him and you strung him up by his heels. And cut his open and his entrails and everything fell out, of course. And then you gutted him and went from there and you cut him up. Some of it went into salt box and some other went to the smokehouse where it was smoked. And the hams and things like that were smoked, of course. And then all during the winter, you could eat all that. I know one old gentleman one time that I knew very well. I ask him, how many hogs his family consumed every year. And he said nineteen. So that gives you an idea of how, what an essential part of the life that hogs were to families. And this guy would have been raised during the late 20s and early 30s. So you can imagine how important it hogs were to people’s lives back in those days.
Richard Donovan [00:12:20] But you’re interested in hunting, about deer. And so I will try to get off this other tangent that I’m on and talk to you about deer hunting. But it was a very much loved tradition and most of it went on. at the end of crop season and after people had gathered their crops and laid by and harvested and all that, well, then they turned their attention probably first to fishing. They went fishing first in the, the rivers. Then after that was over and it came the first cold snap, well, that’s when people’s attention turned most to the deer because that’s when acorns would be on the ground at that time.
Richard Donovan [00:13:03] And deer would be in the bottoms feeding on those acorns. And so they were a little bit easier to find that way. And so what they would do is there would be a road or a fire lane, I guess, or a pipeline or anything that they could find so that they would have a free shooting area and they would put out what they would call stand along that road. And they were never close enough together that two hunters would shoot each other, but they would string hunters along this road or pipeline or whatever there is they were putting out.
Richard Donovan [00:13:45] And then they would circle around going to the other side and somebody would take the dogs and they would turn the dogs loose and they would start walking toward those stands that are on that road over there and they would walk through there and the dogs would be circling around in front of them and distract a trail and start baying, you know, making a barking noise and sometimes would be a cold trail. And there were different kind of dogs, which is the type of dog that you hunted with, was important to a lot of people. But some dogs would pick up a cold trail and just trail it and trail it and trail it and bark and bark and bark, you know, and other dogs would just bypass a cold trail and they would just keep circling around until they get a pretty warm trail. And then they barked and you know that you had a deer close by.
Richard Donovan [00:14:43] So then they would start pushing that deer ahead of them toward that road where they had those stands set up, and then whatever direction that deer went out along that road, somebody was going to shoot at him. And most of the time they shot him but sometimes they shot at him and missed. And then what kind of deer it was. It was as a doe, it was a dead deer, if it was a buck, it was a deer. And if it was a fawn big enough to run, it was a dead deer. So they weren’t very selective in the animals that they killed. And then they went back to camp, and sometimes they killed the deer and ate it there. Sometimes they took the deer home and dressed it and ate it there. But that’s basically the, the picture of hunting deer in East Texas at that time.
Richard Donovan [00:15:37] And as I mentioned, they were, when I was growing, in fact, I can tell you that first Walker hound I ever saw. A Walker hound didn’t appear in my part of the world until probably, I’m going to say, the late 1950s. Because a friend and I were coming in from the woods, hunting, and I had an old ’36 Ford that didn’t have any doors on it, and that was my car. I was just young fella and we were coming in from hunting and up in the road, going down a road, that had a white caliche rock top on top of it, U.S. Forest Service road. And we were going down this road and we saw this animal standing in the road up in front of us. It was as big as a Shetland pony looked like from the distance, and it was spotted, white and red spotted. And we were kind of awestruck with that dog. And we got to it. And it was really a tall dog and it was very dissipated. I guess he had been lost for four or five days and he’d run so far, and he’d run out of the range of the hunters chasing a deer. That’s what Walkers were famous for. And he’d come out on that road and nobody knew where he was. They couldn’t find it. So anyway, we stopped and got out and looked at the dog and he had a collar on him. And I’m getting into too much detail for you, I know. But anyway, we looked, looked at him. He had a collar on him, so I took him home with me. And we had a telephone at that time and I called the telephone operator and she was, she knew everybody and everything that was going on in the county in, with a circle probably 45 miles of her telephone office. But anyway, I told her, I said Beula, I’ve been out hunting and I found a dog down on the Forest Service road and she got Mr So-and-so’s name on it. She said, oh, yeah. She says, I know he’s been looking for that dog and says, I know his telephone number as well. You gave him a call and you tell him I’ve got it. So a little while later she called me back and then maybe the next day I don’t know, anyway she called me. And she says, well, Mr. So-and-so says he was so glad to hear about his dog and he would be by there. And she told me what date he was coming by to pick him up and said, he sure did appreciate you picking up and calling him about it. So I put them the man back in contact with his dog. He was very thankful, but he was from Houston up here, hunting dogs and hunting hogs with his dogs. And he had lost that Wallker houng. But that was the first one I had ever seen.
Richard Donovan [00:18:38] The dogs that were real common and popular up in here at that time were black and tan and blue tick and red bone, I guess, were probably the most common type dogs that that I grew up knowing back, of course, the cur dog was was the essential part of life up here too, and a lot of times the cur dogs were bred to hounds and had a dog with both a tendency to be a good hog dog, and yet have a good smelling nose that he could trail with to.
Richard Donovan [00:19:14] And as I mentioned to you earlier, and I’m just continuing the talk to you until you tell me to hush.
Richard Donovan [00:19:18] But as I mentioned to you earlier, dogs cannot trail during the summer time. It’s just too hot. The ground is dry. It doesn’t hold any scent and, you know, a dog just cannot do a very good job trailing in the summertime. So the people that had this hog dog, I meant deer dogs would just keep them tied up until had a little shower or something like that. And boy, they loaded those dogs in the back of the pick p and went wherever they wanted to hide and hunt, and put out the stands along the road, and went after it, and usually kill a deer. And that resulted in East Texas being almost totally depleted of deer when I was a boy in, in the 50s. People would just kill so few deer that it was just unbelievable how few deer were available. And that’s when a place called Boggy Slough, which is owned by Temple Inland, or Temple Industries at that time, or Southern Pine Lumber company before that. And Mr. Kerr, I think that I might have misspoke who was with Angelina County Lumber Company? Well, I don’t know whether I said that right or not.
David Todd [00:20:42] Yeah.
Richard Donovan [00:20:46] They had a place called Boggy Slough and it was up, and I forgot how many thousand acres were there, but it’s thousands of acres over there. And they put a deer-proof fence around I believe, 640 acres, not a deer-proof, but a horg-proof fence around 640 acres of it. And they put put it in there strictly for hunting deer and they put posted signs all around. And they hired range riders and everything to protect that property. And the owners, I mean, the neighbors really resented that. I mean, they would furiously resented that and then they cut the fence and went in there and killed deer. And just did all kinds of mischievous things to be an aggravation to the company. In fact, one of the company range riders wound up killing one of the trespassers one time and had a big lawsuit about it. As I recal, he wasn’t convicted, but I believe he was acquitted and I believe he left the country just out of safety measures, I think. And but that was just the kind of way deer hunting was at that point in time. And Boggy Slough became really a haven for deer. And they became so plentiful in Boggy Slough and they reared up on their hind legs, really, and got to browse until it was until it was out of their reach. You could see for, you know, this is not typical of that part of the world, but you could see for a mile, you know, because there was no no limbs in your way because the deer had nibbled all the leaves off of the browse and everything and everything it was, that they could get to, and the deer were starving because they had all sought safety in Boggy Slough. And it was just so overpopulated. And so Temple began trying to get more of its, you know, it would take hunters in there as a kind of a sales tool, you know. And so they begin to invite more and more people in there to hunt, hunt the deer, and they begin to harvest a lot of deer out of Boggy Slough. But that was just the way things went at that time. And I used to hunt in Boggy Slough, of course, when I worked for Temple and there were a lot of deers there. And they had a, they had deer stands built all over the oh, the several thousand acres and you, yuu were appointed one of those stands to go get into and you go sit in that stand, and you would (there were no dogs involved in this). You’d just sit in that stand and if a deer walked by, you shot it. And if it didn’t, you didn’t shoot a deer that day or you maybe you went again later on that afternoon or something like that. But.
David Todd [00:23:55] But it was a different way of hunting, wasn’t it, too?
Richard Donovan [00:23:58] Yeah, that’s right. Change, change.
Richard Donovan [00:24:02] Yeah. See, that’s the way the people became when when the stock laws, stock laws and the hunting laws went into effect is that then opened the woods up more to the average ordinary man than it had before. But strangely enough, after about a generation, that disappeared because the timber companies all were, with the passing of the stock laws, the timber companies all began posting up their land. And when they posted up their land, then you couldn’t go in there to hunt. And Temple owned, I think, I mean if forgot how many thousand acres they owned here in East Texas. And so did also Angelina County Lumber Company also had so many thousand acres. And then there were a lot of other smaller lumber companies that owned thousands of acres of land. So it really, fenced the common man out of a place to hunt. And so then you had to become a member of a hunting club somewhere. You were forced to join a hunting club if you wanted to hunt. And so that pretty well put that to a stop. And so nowadays you’d have to belong to hunting club. And you go out every year and fix your stand yourself, plant an oat patch out there. And then you go out, and you crawl up in your stand during the hunting season. You set there, and you wait for the deer there and you put a corn feeder out there, too, by the way, and you go out and crawl up in your box stand before daylight, and you sit there and wait until the deer comes up to the corn feeder to eat, and then shoot.
Richard Donovan [00:25:58] So my point is, there’s not much excitement to hunting today like it was when in the days of the dogs, when you had all that drama going on, you could hear that dog baying way off in the distance, you know, and then he struck the trail, and as the deer approached you, as the dog approached you. His barking got more intense and got closer and louder, you know. And you knew that deer would come out right by you because you could tell, by the way the dogs’ bark sounded. So you got ready and then you didn’t know which side of you he was going to come out, whether he was going to come out in front of you, behind you. So you had to turn to face him and you didn’t know whether he was going come to your left or to your right. And so, you know, it was just a very tense few minutes in there.
Richard Donovan [00:26:45] And then, boom, he bounded across that open space by you most of the time and you had to be quick on the trigger to take him down. And most people at that time shot deer with shotguns, with buckshot, double-aught shot, most of the time, was what was preferred by people. But there was number one buckshot, and aught buckshot, and then double aught buckshot. So the number one was the smallest and aught was a little bit larger and double aught was the biggest. And that’s what most people hunted with because you didn’t have the time to get up and take a bead on things, on the deer. After the hunting clubs came into existence, then people switched over to rifles because you were shooting out of a stand and the deer was coming up to eat, to grain you had planted out there or else to eat out of the feeder that you had out there. So being you had a rifle then you could take time to take a good shot at it.
Richard Donovan [00:27:56] Well, that makes me curious. So did the the older generation, the more traditional hunters who used dogs and used shotguns and, you know, it was a pretty fast-moving kind of sport, did they have had to have attitudes of contempt for people who sat in stands with rifles and deer feeders and scopes on their rifles? Did they see that as fair chase, fair play? Or or what was her attitude about this new kind of hunting?
Richard Donovan [00:28:36] You see, they had been shoved aside by that time. And so they were, they were pretty scornful about all of that kind of stuff. But at the same time, the younger people that were those people with children, they adapted to it because they had to. I mean, like I said, the timber companies and everybody closed their lands off. And all that was available was, you know, U/S. national forest, which was close to half a million acres scattered over East Texas, I think. But, that was the only place people had to hunt, unless they were a member of a hunting club somewhere. And yes, those people did treat them with scorn, but at the same time, they were the older generation and they they didn’t last very long at that point. But I remember people, you know, I can, I can think of people like Archie and Bill Lott, Red Marshall and Genie Braun, his brother, and I just sit here and name these names, I guess if I could get my mind to it, of people that I knew of that just lived twelve months out a year with their dogs. I mean they hunted fervently and killed an awful lot of deer.
David Todd [00:30:07] And so I gather there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the seasons or bag limits or how many points or, you know, whether it was a buck or doe or a fawn. It was…
Richard Donovan [00:30:22] Zero or zero.
David Todd [00:30:24] Subsistence hunting, I guess. Is that the idea? Or just, it was such a sport that they loved that they..
Richard Donovan [00:30:31] It was both. Now you get back to Boggy Slough. Now back to them. I brought them into that picture I believe. The reason I do, of course, I know a lot about it. But Boggy Slough, now, when they, when the company fenced that, that was still back before stock law days, that they did that. But when the company fenced that, they were pretty meticulous about what kind of deer you killed. They, they wanted you to kill bucks. And sometimes they even required certain number points on the buck. That was that was pretty rare that the average man that was out there hunting, he wanted a deer. And if it was, and this is a funny thing too along back in the, this 50s era because the deer were getting kind of scarce. But if a person killed a doe and you were down there in a car, you put that thing in the trunk of your car. But if you killed a buck, you know, if it was a four point or a five point or whatever it was, you draped him on the fender. Back in those days, all cars had fenders on the front fenders. And you draped that deer across the fender of your car and you drove back and forth through town, until people got tired of seeing you. But you wanted to be sure and see that you had killed a buck deer and you were just so proud of that. That was a way of announcing to the world that you had killed a deer that day. I said that for humor. And that was true. But it was also kind of humorous.
David Todd [00:32:11] Yeah, I remember, I think in your book, you said sometimes they drove around until the deer was just a little bit rotten.
Richard Donovan [00:32:19] Well maybe I did, I don’t know. Yeah.
David Todd [00:32:21] Yeah, well, this is fascinating. So I’m really curious about this time when there is this change over, both I guess earliest with the passage of those stock laws, and then later with the passage of the the laws about hunting deer with dogs. And what kind of reaction there was from people who had traditionally been in the woods, either running their hogs or running their dogs.
Richard Donovan [00:33:00] Well, David, that was a real squishy, squashy time in there. All I can say, and that’s made not a very good adjective to use. But you see that, they closed that, they did those hunting laws kind of county by county, just like they did the stock laws, at first. I mean, they had, they had, you could kill a buck a certain size in one county and in another county that was not, that was not required. You know, but like I say, I can’t remember the details on those deer laws when they came in. But I do know that you could kill a deer in some county, and in an adjoining county, that you couldn’t kill a deer. And you know, if you’re out in the woods, you can’t see an invisible line. If the river is the county line, of course, that’s a easy marker. But if you’re out in the woods and there’s a survey line, it goes through there, that you know that you can no longer see, you don’t know where you’re in Newton County or you’re in Sabine County. And people just didn’t pay very much attention to it. And maybe killed a deer over in Newton County. And it was legal to bring it out in Sabine county. Well, he made sure that he came out through Sabine county. I’m just picking that as an example of the, I don’t remember the laws in each county, but I do know that that was a conflict because some counties you could, and some counties, you couldn’t kill a deer. And that was a contentious point. And finally, they just, Texas Parks and Wildlife, they just made their laws homogeneous to each stand. And you just couldn’t kill a deer in general anywhere unless it was said it was OK by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
David Todd [00:35:08] Well, I think early you said that in the 50s, it was people like Mr. Temple, and Mr. Kerr, who, you know, felt strongly about trying to manage their own lands, protect their own acreage. What, who was the big proponent of limiting and banning hunting deer with dogs in the late eighties and I guess 1990 when that passed?
Richard Donovan [00:35:39] Well.
David Todd [00:35:39] Parks and Wildlife? Where was the political support for it?
Richard Donovan [00:35:44] You know it wasn’t Mr. Temple and Mr. Kerr, personally so much. And I guess they both were. But or their companies would have been. But their companies were really against it because it was trespassing on their property, most of the time, hunting was. The owners just did ignored property lines. They came on the company land all the time and and you know, started fires near that sort of thing.
Richard Donovan [00:36:12] But. Your question was.
David Todd [00:36:20] Well, I was just thinking about how you explained that Angelina Timber and then Temple, were both proponents of having these stock laws back in the 50s, and I guess into the 60s and later in other counties. But I’m curious – it’s almost a full generation later, in maybe the late 80s, 1990, when Parks and Wildlife says, you know, we’re going to shut down this hunting deer with dogs. And I’m curious what what sort of spurred that or who spurred it? Why did that happen do you think?
Richard Donovan [00:37:01] Well, it was mostly because of trespass. I mean, that was the, that was the big thing that local people had against it because, you know, people had their own private property and they hated to look up and see a bunch of hounds running across the back of their pasture back there, through their cattle and that sort of thing. And, you know, they liked to have their own deer on the back of their land and not have people coming in with dogs and running them off. So it was it was just privacy and trespass, I think that that had more to do with it than anything. Plus, the fact that it was just so hard on the deer population, you just, you just put those standards up or they got like, like I think I maybe I told you when I talked to you the other day. We have a farm down on Farm Road 1818 and back in the 60s, hunting with dogs was still fairly common back in the 60s and people would come down that county road that went beside of our farm and would put the dogs out on the county road when the guys get out with them and then they’d have some people strung out along another company, logging road on the west side of us, and then they put those dogs out and sick ’em in the woods and then they wouldn’t trespass on our property. But the dogs would hit out on our property and go through there till they struck a deer track, a scent. And then they would start pursuing that deer and pushing it in toward that road to the west and then the stands over there would get a shot at the deer. So, you know, I didn’t like ’em putting the dogs out and let them run across my land. And and nobody else did either. So I think the trespass and the fact that they were killing so many deer is two things that brought it to a close.
David Todd [00:39:12] OK. Maybe we can talk about each of those. So I’m curious of how people’s attitude about trespass change. I mean, I guess this hunting of hogs and dogs and other kinds of animals, you know, with, with hounds and curs and so on went back a hundred or more years. Was it that the population of people was growing in or what made people feel more like, you know, what’s mine is mine, what’s within my boundaries is my kingdom. And you know, I want to protect it. It seems like there’s an attitude that may have changed. Is that fair to say?
Richard Donovan [00:39:58] Yes, it is. One of your key words was population growth and another, another key word, or another key phrase is people getting killed on the roads. I mean, there were a lot of people hitting animals, struck on the highway and getting killed. So that was bringing about the stock laws. Well, I know you’re not so much interested in that, but they’re most closely intertwined, I think. And they begin to close the woods off. And that was the beginning of the closing of the woods. Like I said, I’ve heard that all my life. And that was the colloquialism, I suppose, but. As they closed the woods off, people, people liked that. And I mean some landowners liked that, the farmers and people like that. But when they did that, that forced the hunters over onto the local people’s property. They didn’t like that. You know, the extra push that put over on their property with dogs coming onto their land and all that sort of thing. So it was just a movement that grew with what I think you used the term, “increased population”. I think that was one of the key words.
Richard Donovan [00:41:21] Plus the fact that they were just eradicating the deer population. I mean, you take and put hounds out there and if there’s a deer out there, they’re going to find that deer. And the only thing is, if that deer can somehow slip around those stands, well, then he’s gonna get away. Otherwise he’s gonna get killed. And so, and you’ve got hunters out there that they’re gonna shoot a deer that doesn’t make any difference, whether it’s a doe or buck or a fawn, they’re going to shoot that deer when it comes out and you can deplete the deer population pretty quick. And that’s reason I said earlier this Boggy Slough became such a haven for deer because they would jump over that fence. They learned that there was sanctuary inside that fence and they would jump over inside that fence, and would stay in there and could get away from those hounds that way because the dogs would be in pursuit of them. And they’d come up against that fence, and the deer would just easily leap that fence. Well, when the dogs hit it, they couldn’t, couldn’t follow them. So deer just learned that that was sanctuary behind that fence, that wire fence. And the population just exploded into a bug sloop.
David Todd [00:42:40] Well, it would be interesting. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
Richard Donovan [00:42:45] No, I was going to say that that took a few years for that to happen, but but over a period of time, it drew.
David Todd [00:42:53] Well, you know, it’s it’s curious to me, you know, now they’re they’re deer in the suburbs, wandering down, you know, St. Augustine lawns. And I wonder if you could give people an example what it was like in East Texas when there were very few deer. And I guess the hunting deer with dogs was so effective in clearing out the words.
Richard Donovan [00:43:20] Well, David, let me just put a footnote to what you just said. I can sit here in my chair and look out my window and say they’re just almost any time. Well, not that frequently, but I see them frequently. And I live right here, almost the heart of the city of Lufkin. So there are a lot of deer now. But back in to when we were talking in the earlier years, the deer got so scarce that if someone saw a deer track. You know, people were in the woods all the time -loggers and all that sort of thing, so people were out fishing and like I said, the woods were full of people then. You don’t see people in the woods anymore. People don’t know how to act in the woods. But they would come in and say I saw a track down the, down the creek yesterday. You did? Was it a buck or no? Well, it was it was a great big buck. I can’t believe there’s deer that big left in in East Texas.
Richard Donovan [00:44:25] Well, you can bet that whoever he told that to would be back down there the next day or two with some dogs trying to find out, put them on that deer and run him out, and kill him. So that was the way it was. If a deer, deer track was seen somewhere, it was such an oddity that people came out and talked about it. And then as soon as they talked about it, well, then the people with the dogs went in and killed it. Does that make sense to you?
David Todd [00:44:54] Yeah. Yeah, it’s a different world.
Richard Donovan [00:44:58] So I guess it got to a point. It got to the point where if you saw a deer track, that was a conversation piece. That’s how small, how small the population in East Texas got and I’m talking counties adjoining Angelina and all through here, I’m told about East Texas in general. And if hadn’t been for the stock laws and hunting laws, you know, we just wouldn’t have any, we would have. You know, it’s just like there were no otters and no beavers in here to speak of during my my lifetime. And it was only after they closed the woods and begin to make it more difficult. And now there are otters and beavers and mink and things everywhere. But they were trapped into extinction.
Richard Donovan [00:46:00] When I was a kid. Oh, man, Wes Karnes was an excellent trapper. In fact, he was the first person to catch a wolf in East Texas. There were no wolves in East Texas until I was probably in high school. And then old man Wes Karnes was an expert trapper and he was trapping for mink and just about anything. And that was the way he made his living and he caught this, quote unquote, wolf, and brought it in. Wolves were in East Texas until, I don’t know, oh the 1920s or somewhere I don’t remember when the last gray wolf was killed out here. But the wolves were taken out early nineteen hundreds and but he came in and caught this wolf because nobody ever dreamed that there was a coyote in East Texas. But Mr. Wes Karnes brought this wolf in and put him in his, he had a big cage that he put chickens in, and he carried this wolf home and got him out of the trap and carried him home and put him in that cage. And David, I’m telling you, people came from far and wide to see this wolf, that old man Wes Karnes had caught. And Mr. Karnes’ son, Wesley, and I were in the same grade. We were good friends and we hunted together and all that sort of stuff. But I was always amazed at how far away people came to get to see that wolf.
Richard Donovan [00:47:38] And then in later times, you know, well, it turned out that it was coyotes that had made the invasion into East Texas. And I ought to put another note on that. And that was exactly the same time that the broiler industry was introduced into east Texas. And people that had these broiler houses – these chickens would die, you know. Oh, they were dying all the time. And the way those farmers disposed of those chickens, would just take them out there and throw them in the ditch somewhere out of sight of the house somewhere. And so the coyotes just came in here and had a snack bar with all these chicken houses that used to be here in East Texas, course they’re not here anymore because they’ve become a lot more, I guess you’d say, mechanized and people don’t have them like they used to. But when I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for a lot of farmers to have a chicken house and raise 3000 chickens. And then at a certain time they had to catch those chickens and they’d pay us boys so much to come out there at night and get those chickens and and put them in boxes or, you know, cartons and haul them off to the chicken processing plant. But those coyotes were drawn here, I think mostly, mostly, and maybe not, but it happened simultaneously: the chickens arrived here at the same time the coyotes did.
David Todd [00:49:19] And they’ll be in the nineteen fifties?
Richard Donovan [00:49:22] Yes sir.
David Todd [00:49:24] Interesting. So the the wolves had been trapped out in the 20s, but then the coyotes arrived maybe a generation later with this.
Richard Donovan [00:49:35] I don’t remember exactly I don’t remember exactly when the wolves were taken out of East Texas, but the gray wolf was the East Texas Wolf, you know, it was smaller than the wolf to the north of us. Pretty formidable animal anyhow.
David Todd [00:50:02] Huh. Well, you know, it’s we’ve sort of circled around this issue of the deer hunting laws and then the stock laws that generation earlier, but that they both seemed to have a big impact on people’s attitude about the woods and the commonly held, or commonly used, land in East Texas.
Richard Donovan [00:50:30] Tremendous. Tremendous.
David Todd [00:50:31] Yeah. I just wonder if you could sort of try to sum it up and maybe help me understand that that change, that change in the culture and attitude about land and habitat with those two laws that were, were changing attitudes?
Richard Donovan [00:50:53] You know, a lot of things happened about that time, also is people began to move to the cities, too, and leaving the farms. And it was just a completely upheaval in the culture is what I’m trying to say, that it changed all of our, kind of simultaneously. And they all, I suppose, helped each other change – each of these events. But the people of East Texas came from a, changed from a urban, a rural society to a, I can’t say an urban, society, but they were not so much farmers as it used to be.
Richard Donovan [00:51:52] When I was a boy, Shawnee Prairie, and that doesn’t mean anything to you, but there’s a place here called Shawnee Prairie, and called Windham Prairie and Bald Hill and all that is kind of clay country and through there is, is loamy soil. It’s sand and clay mixed, but more clay than it is sand. And it was a good crop-growing country because it held moisture better and it held the nutrients in soil better. So it was better farmland. Plus the fact that it didn’t have as many trees on it when the settlers first got here, and so it was easier to clear. So that, all that country was was farmland and, and I kind of forgot where I was going with that I got the tracked off of it.
David Todd [00:52:39] So this, traditionally it was farmed, and then you were seeing that the people moved to the cities and they abandoned those farms?
Richard Donovan [00:52:48] Exactly. That’s exactly right. It was farmed and then World War II came along and the man were all taken off into the armed services and the men that weren’t drafted, had something wrong with them, well, they were able to go to Beaumont and Houston in places like that and get jobs at the shipyard and their wives got jobs in the shipyards. I knew one family, some of these big deer hunters that I’m talking about right now, he and his wife and twin daughters went to Port Arthur, I believe where that shipyard was. And they lived in a house with two other families. And they got it arranged where that, and they all slept in the same bed, or the same two beds, I think it was. When they got on the graveyard shift and one was on the evening shift, and one of them on the day shift. And when one of them came in, the other one was vacating that bed and they went to bed and slept and they did that for quite some time during the war, working in the shipyards in, in Port Arthur, somewhere down there, I can’t remember. But I won’t call their names. But they were some of these big deer hunters that I’m telling you about here, that did that. And they had couple of, pair of twin daughters and I knew them real well.
David Todd [00:54:20] Kept the beds warm, I guess. They never cooled off.
Richard Donovan [00:54:23] The bed. They all slept in the same bed. That’s right. Or the same two beds, I guess. And that’s the way it worked. But it was an interesting time, but those people abandoned this part of the world, but they always want to come back and hunt. That’s where I was going with this conversation is those people always want to come back and hunt during the hunting season. And they either took off from work, got their vacation during that time, or just went absent from work or something. But they came back particularly on weekends and wanted to hunt in the same way that they had always hunted traditionally, open range, everywhere. And that was a lot of the time with the resentment, and when they would burn the woods out of resentment and just mad at the timber companies and burn their trees up that they had planted. And it was just a very interesting time.
David Todd [00:55:29] Well, in that, tell me more about that push-back, you know, the burning of the woods. I saw you wrote about that in your book, Paddling the Wild Neches, about the arson. Do you have any stories about that?
Richard Donovan [00:55:49] Well, I think I put in that, in that book, about pines won’t grow where my, they say, pines won’t grow where my dogs don’t go, and those kinds of sayings that they said back in those days. But yeah, that was mostly in the 40s and the very early 50s that that attitude prevailed. But the timber companies were trying to force people off their lands, you know. They, they had hunted that land for all their years and used it just like it was theirs. Well, then the timber companies come along and start planting it, put paint around their lands is the first thing they did. Temple’s paint was blue and Angelina County Lumber Company’s paint was orange and government land was red. And you could hunt on government land. But the national forest had red paint around their land. And so but then they put “posted” signs in addition to that paint that they put up. And they wouldn’t let you come on, but then they would turn around and lease that land out to hunting clubs. And you could be a member of that hunting club, and that way you would defend the company’s land against me. I mean, you would – you’re a member of that club and you wouldn’t want me coming on there, so if I came on there with my dogs or something, you would report me to the authorities because you were now a member of that club and that was part of your club. You paid money to be a member of it. So you have the timber companies enforce the law: no hunting on their land. And so then I’m really resentful of that because you’ve, the timber companies have boxed me out. And I would find a place that the, particularly I want to find a place where the little pine seedlings were up maybe a foot or so tall. Then I would step in there and set that on fire, and I’d burn up several thousand acres that you just got through planting, or several hundred acres of it, that you had just got through planting, the timber companies had just got through planting. And it was revenge and a lot of that went on, an awful lot of it.
Richard Donovan [00:58:08] And I think God might be repeating myself, but our constable, who was a very efficient law man, by the way. I could talk to you hours about him, but he collected, I believe, 2500 dollar reward, one time for arresting a man. And he was a friend of mine. I won’t call his name, but he got a 2500 dollar reward for arresting him and turning him in for burning the woods. And that guy had to go to Huntsville and serve some time. I don’t remember how much, but he had served some time. And then he came back.
David Todd [00:58:44] Well, and when the constables or sheriffs and deputies and pasture riders would catch somebody who was violating stock laws, or later the dog laws, was it difficult to get them prosecuted or was there kind of a wink, wink kind of attitude about these laws, as not being too pay much attention to.
Richard Donovan [00:59:11] It depends on what decade you’re talking about, David.
David Todd [00:59:17] OK.
Richard Donovan [00:59:17] Early on, the law wouldn’t even arrest you. I mean, the sheriffs and the people like that, they, that was up to the game wardens to do the arresting, because the sheriff and people, they didn’t want to lose the votes. I mean, the rural people would not vote for a sheriff that did that sort of thing. And, but as time changed then, and attitudes changed and the sheriff was then more, became more involved in it and the deputies as well. So it just depends on the timeline that you’re talking about. In the early days of the stock laws, they didn’t pay any attention to the speak of, even in Angelina county.
Richard Donovan [01:00:07] I remember well, Sam Rayburn reservoir. I don’t remember. It was in the 60s, bout 64, or maybe or something like that, when they close the gates on Rayburn Reservoir. David, I’m sorry. I can’t remember the dates on that, but it was in the 60s, and a friend of mine, an old friend of mine had to ask me to come down and shoot a cow for him because he knew I was a good shot. And I think I was in from college or something during the summer. I’m not sure what the score was on that. But anyway, he asked me to come down to the part of the land that was going be flooded by the lake and shoot a cow for him because it was a Brahma cow and she was very wild. And he couldn’t even get close to her. He tried to catch her with dogs and everything else. He didn’t have anything that could handle that a cow. She was pretty good size – Brahma. And so I went down there with a 30/30 and and he and a couple of his boys, grown boys, came in and started running behind her and got her running. And then I did, just like we did with deer hunting, just like I told you, I was waiting on the road up there for that cow to come trotting out up through there. Soon as she did, well, I shot her, but I told you that story, to tell you how it was up into the mid-60s that cattle were still… they had kind of fenced them off of the highways. But back in the bottoms and things, here in Angelina County, and everywhere else, there were still cattle roaming free will into the mid 60s.
David Todd [01:02:07] Well, you know, that was, maybe one last question I wanted to ask you, is it that it seems like a lot of the free range and I was thinking particularly the hogs, but it sounds like the cattle as well were down in the bottoms that were eventually flooded out with Rayburn and Dam B, Steinhagen. Did that sort of help change the attitude about the open woods, the commons, you know, when when all that land was flooded?
Richard Donovan [01:02:43] Yeah, it decreased that population considerably. You know, the people that pushed them out of there. And there was, oh, there were hearts broken over that. I remember an old man that, J.C. McGilverer, J.T. McGilverer. I went to the nursing home to see him one time. And, and it had been years since he lived on his land. I mean, they forced them out. And it just came up in our conversation. And he started crying right there in the nursing home. And I said, well, J.T., I’m sorry that came up. He said, “that’s all right”. But anyway, they took his farm away from him. And and and didn’t pay him any money. You know, what he got, he couldn’t take it out and buy half the little land that he owned had taken away from him. So anyway, it was a bad deal for them.
Richard Donovan [01:03:43] You know, people people , by attrition, I guess you could say, David, more than anything else, that is what changed the attitudes about people and about the stock laws and things like that. As I said earlier in our conversation, people today, right here in Lufkin, Texas: now we’re a small town and I go to Huntington, or Zavalle, even places like that. People do not know how to handle the woods. I mean, the woods are a, I’m overemphasizing this, but I won’t say it to make a point. They are a dark, brooding, evil empire in there, the woods are where there are all kinds of creatures that would devour you. You understand what I’m saying? The point I’m trying to make is that there’s snakes in there, there. You can get lost in there and you’d never be found. And people are just afraid of the woods today. Whereas a couple of generations ago, people lived in the woods.
David Todd [01:04:59] So that may be one of the consequences of the, this end of the frontier, this closing of the woods, that people just, they don’t know what to do and they fear the forest?
Richard Donovan [01:05:12] That’s absolutely a fact, because people don’t understand anything about the forest. They don’t know what a raccoon, they know what a raccoon is., because, they seen maybe plenty of them in town, course there are a lot of them in town. But, to understand about a ‘coon, you know how you, we used to hunt ’em and tree ’em. A lot of times laws we would climb the tree and throw the ‘coon out and the dogs would have a big dog and ‘coon fight. And the dog would, would kill the coon, you know. But we, we liked the fight. We, we loved doing that just to have the fight, you know. It was probably cruel, you know, a terrible thing to do, I suppose. People today would view it as very inhuman, inhumane. But we did it. And that was just a way of life. That’s a long time ago. But if you ask somebody today, if they want to do that, they would look at you as if you were as if you’re crazy.
Richard Donovan [01:06:14] It’s kind of like I talk all the time about you drive all over my home town here, the town of Lufkin and for every teenager you see out mowing their yard with a lawnmower, I’ll buy you your lunch. Because it doesn’t happen anymore. Kids don’t mow their own yards anymore. They’re sitting in the house with their telephone or on the computer or something like that. And back in my age, it began not even having a law. I mean, we didn’t have long lawns back when I was a kid. I mean, I didn’t get a lawn until I was in the. I was in the fifth grade when I got my first lawn and it wasn’t much of a lawn and my lawn mower was a big circular mower. It wasn’t a rotary mower like people use to mow the lawn with today, it was a big circular mower, more like you mow down brush with. But that was my first lawn mower, big cumbersome thing.
Richard Donovan [01:07:26] But my point is people’s aspect or perception of the forest are so entirely different today. And it’s because we are so divorced from nature. I mean, when a kid doesn’t have to mow the yard anymore, he no longer understands how grass and weeds grow and how you have to keep the flower beds clean and all that sort of thing. I mean, I maybe grinding a nut shell here, but that is the reality as far as I’m concerned.
David Todd [01:08:06] Sure, sure. And that’s, that’s a pretty tame kind of landscape compared to the deep woods. I mean, to go from Bermuda grass lawn to, you know, the bottoms of the Neches. I understand your point. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I guess I’m curious, do some of these changes about understanding the woods and appreciating them and going in them and feeling comfortable there? That seems to be, that East Texas was one of the last places that I’m aware of, where there was a culture of, you know, understanding the out-of-doors. Really, you know, instinctively. Is that fair to say?
Richard Donovan [01:08:56] And that’s a real fair statement to say. And, and it began to change in the 50s. I mean, that that lifestyle began to change in the 50s. That perception of the forest, you know. You know. You know, David, kids nowadays, you ask what side of a tree moss grows on. And they can’t tell you. Every kid in the world back in my age knew that moss grew on the north side of the tree. I mean, you’re out in the woods and you’re kind of lost and you start looking around, say, well, how do I get out of here? And then you start looking, you find a tree that’s got some moss growing. Well, you know that that’s north. You know, which way to go that you can at least walk in a straight line and come out somewhere. You may not come out where you want to, but you won’t walk in a circle because, you know, I know of people walk in a complete circle at night. But you know, and on a cloudy night that is not hard to do, because when you’re out coon-hunting at night or fox-hunting at night, you look at the stars and that’s where you find your way out.
Richard Donovan [01:10:11] And I knew enough star locations that I could look it up at night and find my way out without too much trouble. But on a cloudy night, it’s difficult. It is difficult.
David Todd [01:10:28] Yeah. You think it’d be hard enough during the day to find your way through the woods, but at night even more so.
Richard Donovan [01:10:37] You will walk in a circle. You will actually walk in a circle when you’re lost? It just, that’s a reality.
David Todd [01:10:48] Well, you have helped lead me in a straight line without going in a circle too much, and I really appreciate that today. Is there anything that you would like to add about in our little discussion about stock laws and dog laws, before I let you go?
Richard Donovan [01:11:13] David, all I can tell you, it was a traumatic experience for East Texans of that time. The, the stock laws to start with, because that really changed how people lived, because a lot of people depended. You know, there, the woods today are full of hogs. I mean, they are tearing up the country. I wish that Texas Parks and Wildlife would offer a. Not a reward, but what word, I’m getting where I can’t….
David Todd [01:11:50] A bounty maybe or?
Richard Donovan [01:11:52] A bounty, a bounty on every hog that people brought in, like they cut the hog ears off or something like that. Because they’re doing tremendous damage to the forest. They just tearing places up real badly. And because people simply, they’re not managed anymore. Nobody cares anything about them. I mean, there are a few people that hunt them, but by and large they’re just beasts like squirrels are out there. They just multiply and a hog will have two litters a year and her litter will likely be anywhere from four to eight pigs a litter. And, you do that twice a year and you can see what happens to the hog population. And it’s out there. It’s terrible right now.
Richard Donovan [01:12:42] And, but people just had their lives so abruptly changed by those two things. the passing of the stock laws and then hunting laws that forbid hunting with dogs. And that changed the culture of East Texas as much as any. I think the stock law was probably the most culture-changing, but the hunting deer with dogs was another one. Because those dogs, they, people loved to hear them and people loved to see ’em run. And people loved to shoot the deer and that was the big change.
David Todd [01:13:35] Yeah, and something that had gone on for generations, so I guess something that had been just really ingrained. You know, your great grandparents did it, your grandparents, did it, your parents did it. You did it with your friends. And it was just, must have been such a part of life.
Richard Donovan [01:13:53] That’s right. It just came up generation after generation after generation. And then it was abruptly, you know, shut off. And then that’s very traumatic for the people that are involved in it. And it was a momentous event in their lives. But boy, I loved the dogs, you know, the black and tans and the blue ticks and the redbone, and I love to hear the dogs run as much as anybody. And I remember one time that I was out squirrel hunting and heard the dogs running, and all of a sudden here came the deer right by me. And then a few minutes here came the dogs right by me. And it was just a real, you know, just a real experience to be put right in the pocket of that. The deer pace within probably 40, 50 feet. I mean, the dogs came right on top of me, I mean, you know, they weren’t right exactly on the trail. But at that time they were just running by, just smelling the deer itself, in the breeze, you know.
David Todd [01:15:01] And high speed I bet!
Richard Donovan [01:15:01] Oh they were running wide open both of them.
David Todd [01:15:10] Well, when you tell these stories, I feel like I’m there. Thank you so much. You, you, love talking to you. And I hope we can catch up again soon. But thank you for the visit today.
Richard Donovan [01:15:25] Well, David, I hope I’ve given you some information that’s worthwhile. I’ve just sat here and kind of blabbered and maybe not said some of the things that I should have said, but I just said what came in my mind as I was talking.
David Todd [01:15:40] It was very helpful and I really thank you.
Richard Donovan [01:15:44] All right. If you think of anything that I might have left out, or something like that, feel free to call me back, David.
David Todd [01:15:50] All right. Well, best to you and to your family. I appreciate it.
Richard Donovan [01:15:54] A real privilege. Thank you, sir.
David Todd [01:15:56] All right. Goodbye.
Richard Donovan [01:15:58] Bye, David.