Stephen F. Austin State University

The Piney Woods was 'land of milk and honey' (January 2017)

The Piney Woods was 'land of milk and honey'

By Van Craddock

East Texas was ready to boom and the Texas Almanac and Emigrant's Guide of 1872 was doing its part to promote the area, even if it had to fudge the facts a wee bit.

"There is a prevailing error, which has deterred thousands from making their homes in this State, that our climate is hot and unhealthy," noted the Texas Almanac. "We are equally exempt from the extreme summer heat and the extreme winter cold of the North. While in the North thousands perish by sunstroke every summer, there is, perhaps, not a well-authenticated instance of sunstroke in Texas," said the publication that was owned by the Galveston News in 1872.

The 242-page almanac boasted of the "extensive forests of pine and cypress timber in Eastern Texas --- The counties of Marion, Cass, Titus, Upshur and Wood are essentially a timbered country, high and rolling, well-watered with never-failing streams of the clearest and most delightful water, covered with vast forests … and possessing a soil easy of cultivation."

In fact, said the almanac, "Honey is very abundant in the pine-timbered counties, and milk is so abundant that it is literally given away and fed to hogs; so our correspondent says the country literally flows with milk and honey."

Longview was brand new, having been incorporated in 1871 as part of Upshur County. Gregg County wasn't created until 1873. Longview served as the western terminus of the Southern Pacific (soon to be absorbed by the Texas and Pacific).

In addition, the almanac said, the International Railroad, chartered in 1870, "is expected to be completed to Longview … by October next by which connection we shall have uninterrupted communication by rail from Galveston to Shreveport."

In 1872, no East Texas community was more prosperous than Jefferson, the government seat of Marion County. The almanac noted "a flourishing commercial city has sprung up during the past few years, especially since the war; it is now the third or fourth city in the State in point of population, and about the second in commerce and trade."

The great "Red River Raft," a huge logjam that raised the water level of Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou, permitted commercial riverboat travel from New Orleans to Jefferson. "Her steamboat trade with New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati and other Western cities is steadily growing from year to year," the almanac said. "Her exportations of cotton, brought to the city on wagons alone, have reached during the past two years 75,000 bales annually."

Upshur, Marion and Cass counties were "filled with immense hills of iron ore, all of which has been thoroughly tested. Four miles west of Jefferson … are the extensive foundries and machine shops of George A. Kelly, the enterprising iron pioneer of this section."

Texas cotton "has a better staple and commands a higher price" while Texas soil had "decided advantages over any other State of this Union," boasted the almanac. "Good lands can be had by immigrants from one to ten dollars an acre … and pleasant homes can be secured in most desirable neighborhoods with the expenditure of but little money," said the 1872 edition.

The Texas Almanac struggled to publish its edition that year. After all, the Civil War had only ended seven years earlier and Texas remained under Reconstruction rule by federal officials.

The publication apologized for its "deficiencies" due to "civil offices being suspended, and the civil laws and courts of the country, in some instances, being super-ceded by military authorities."

However, the Texas Almanac, first published in 1857, has endured. Published for many years by the Dallas Morning News, the almanac of "All Things Texas" today is published by the Texas State Historical Association.