Texas Forest Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Outlaws and Legends of the Big Thicket

The natural characteristics of the historic Big Thicket in east Texas made it an ideal setting for ghost stories and outlaw legends. The Thicket was once over a million acres in size according to some estimates, comprised of dense woodlands described as a convergence of eastern hardwood forests, prairies, and the Gulf coastal plains. Before the lumber and oil industries reduced the Thicket to a patchwork of its former self, the region was composed of dense vegetation populated by bear, wolves, panthers, and a remarkable variety of unique plants. It was also a perfect place to hide.

Although criminals and scofflaws used the Thicket to escape local law enforcement throughout the region’s early history of Anglo settlement, the Thicket’s most renowned fugitives were Confederate deserters during the Civil War. Soldiers wanting to avoid the battle took to the woods, living off the land, often trading goods with locals while evading “authority” (never a popular entity in the Thicket). In order to flush out suspected deserters, the local Confederate Army would set fires to the Thicket in an attempt to drive them from their hiding places and out in the open, not an easy task considering the Thicket’s density and size.

Fugitives weren’t the only specters haunting the environs, however. Tales of swamp ghosts and spirits populate Big Thicket lore, including the mystery light of Bragg Road. The ghost light is said to appear along a dirt road running through the Thicket, swaying to and fro in the hands of a spirit railroad worker killed on the tracks. Advancing and receding according to whim, the light seems to approach almost close enough to decipher only to retreat or rise up and disappear in the night sky. But perhaps the biggest ghost is the Thicket itself. Small, remnant pockets now comprise the once-contiguous environment, survivors of an ecosystem in sharp decline. The Big Thicket National Preserve is represented by twelve units distributed across the Forest Trail Region, a dismembered ghost of a former giant.   

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