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Columns | All Things Historical

KAISER'S BURNOUT
and Other
Big Thicket Adventures

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD
The Big Thicket has provided southeast Texans with a bucket full of political controversy.

That statement likely will remind greybeards of the struggles of Maxine Johnston, Archer Fulingim, Pete Gunter, even Senator Ralph Yarborough, and many others to preserve this natural wonder from those who, in their view, were exploiters and despoilers.

But a previous political controversy is the subject of this tale. The teller is Francis Abernethy, who knows more than most about the flora, fauna, and folklore of the Thicket. Ab presented Dean Tevis' "The Battle At Bad Luck Creek" in his Tales From The Big Thicket, published by the University of Texas Press. It is a story about political dissent and intolerance of such by the faithful during the American Civil War. Ab's introduction to the article weaves several legends of this confrontation. Confederate Texans, as with all embattled people, were in no mood to suffer some residents of the Thicket who would not volunteer for Confederate military service or even allow themselves to be drafted. Known as Jayhawkers, they hid out in the Thicket when government types showed up. Since this was home ground, they made themselves impossible to find in the tighteye country.

If they ran out of staples, they robbed bee hives and stashed the honey in a pine grove, and helpers would take the honey and leave needed supplies. A town located there, says Ab, is still known as Honey Island. Captain Charlie Bullock captured a band of Jayhawkers and locked them up in Woodville in a wooden shack, doubtless the only kind available. One of them, Warren Collins, had his pocket knife hidden in his boot. So while the guards were distracted, Jayhawkers whittled away on their wooden jail until they had a hole through which they could escape. Even Collins, evidently the chief distractor, escaped during the confusion that resulted when the absence of the others was discovered.

And the Burnout?

This occurred when Captain James Kaiser set fire to a canebrake to flush out Jayhawkers. The heat was so intense that the cane never grew back, and its ugly scar became a perpetual witness to the high emotional temperature of those who fought, and those who refused to fight, for the Confederacy.


All Things Historical
December 10-16, 2000
Published by permission.
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of more than 20 books on Texas)

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