now and then, a wonderful slice of East
Texas history walks up to your front door and slaps you in the
The other day, brothers Buster and Charlie Harbor walked into my
office in Lufkin.
Buster had a thick binder tucked under his arm.
“You’ll be interested in this,” he said, thrusting the binder into
Inside was the finest and most complete collection of sawmill tokens--the
rarest kind of tender in early East
Texas--that I have ever seen, including any museum.
Buster, 80, who retired from the Lufkin post office in 1990, has
been scouring East Texas
for the tokens since 1995. Amazingly, he has collected nearly 260
tokens, most of them from sawmill communities that have vanished.
He has another four binders of tokens used by individual merchants
in East Texas before
they were declared illegal tender by the government.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, men who worked for sawmills and
logging companies often paid their employees with tokens or script
which could be used to purchase goods at a company-owned commissary
Harbor’s first token find was from Bodan Lumber Company, the forerunner
of today’s Pollok in Angelina County. He found it in a Lufkin
Sawmill tokens will tell you a lot about a community and the lumbering
the town of Wells,
located near the line separating Cherokee and Angelina counties,
had at least five sawmills during its boom years. Harbor’s collection
of tokens reflect their names:
The Rube Sessions Lumber Company, Bill Sessions’ lumber company,
the Arkansas Lumber Company, the Harrison Lumber Company and the
J.W. Sessions Lumber Company. Each company’s token was distinctive
in size and appearance.
An old story
they tell at Wells
is that Rube Sessions, who built a sawmilling empire in the community,
was so honest that he once wrote out a check on a piece of 2x4 lumber,
and the bank cashed it.
Harbor’s rarest token is from the old Pine Island Lumber Company,
which had mills at Clawson and Pine Island in Angelina County.
tokens are from Plank (another sawmill, naturally), owed by the
J.A. Bentley Lumber Company in Hardin County.
Charlie Harbor, 87, who has as much appreciation for sawmill tokens
as his brother, tells the story of a Manning bootlegger who accepted
sawmill tokens in exchange for his whiskey.
He did such
a booming business that the Manning lumber company ran out of tokens
and had to buy the bootlegger’s cache, amounting to about $10,000,
to stay in business.
Other towns represented by Harbor’s tokens include Doucette in Tyler
County, Fostoria in Montgomery County, Benford in Polk County, Bivins
in Cass County, Flanagan in Rusk County, Gladstell and Milvid in
Liberty County, Haslam in Shelby County, East Mayfield in Sabine
County, Lemonville in Orange County, Nona in Hardin County, Peach
in Wood County, Sarber in Marion County, and Tally in Harrison County.