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Bad Luck Creek

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

You’d think a stream with a name like Bad Luck Creek would be unique, but all of us endure a run of bad luck every once in a while. And that can happen anywhere.

Turns out that at least five other states also have their share of Bad Luck creeks – Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho (it has two such streams), Montana and Virginia.

For a waterway to end up with such an ominous name, obviously something unfortunate must have occurred along its banks. That’s definitely the case with Texas’s Bad Luck Creek, which flows about 15 miles from Hardin to Polk County.

While the Bad Luck Creeks elsewhere in the nation doubtless have their stories, the cypress-lined stream that cuts through part of the Big Thicket at least has a chance of redemption name-wise. In fact, it could become a singularly lucky creek for someone. But first it’s best to explain how it got to be Bad Luck Creek. Actually, local legend holds that three different strokes of bad luck happened on this stream.

Big Thicket old-timer “Aunt” Cordella Sutton, who came to Hardin County with her family in 1856, later claimed that early day settler Warren Hunter Collins gave the waterway its name because he never managed to shoot even one squirrel anywhere along its banks. (Of course, as far as some of the local fauna were concerned, that made it Good Luck Creek.)

The second bit of bad luck happened during a Civil War incident called the Battle of Bad Luck Creek – a shootout between Jayhawkers (Northern partisans) and Confederates who mightily resented the Jayhawker’s reluctance to fight for the South – when an innocent Polk County resident known only as Old Man Lilly got killed by inadvertently running into the line of fire.

The third instance of bad luck on Bad Luck Creek supposedly happened after the war.

Around 1868, Eli Hall, a Louisiana native who had married a Georgia girl in Newton County in 1849 before coming to Hardin County, found a tract of land he liked and made an offer to buy it. The landowner took him up on the deal and Hall – carrying $500 in gold coins to complete the transaction – started walking toward the community of White Oak (present Thicket, Texas) from wherever he lived at the time.

On the way, following a creek with many turns through a thick forest, Hall got lost. Seriously lost. The more he tried to find his way out, the more turned around he became. He was on Bad Luck Creek.

Soon, being lost became only his secondary problem. Hall didn’t have anything to eat and must have been unarmed, because the only meat he acquired was a large crane he managed to sneak up on and kill with his bare hands. (We already know the creek bottom was bereft of squirrels.)

While definitely not a bird likely to be on anyone’s table, the hapless crane and water from the creek kept Hall alive. Still, after eight days in the Big Thicket, the lost would-be landowner figured he’d be dead soon. If he had any chance at all of making it out alive, he knew he couldn’t keep toting around all that gold. He just didn’t have the strength any longer. With what energy he did have left, Hall dug a hole on the creek bank beneath a large gallberry holly tree and buried his gold.

On the ninth day of his ordeal, someone found him. Of course, when he returned to find his hidden stash, he couldn’t locate it. That’s not as unlucky as dying, but even back then, $500 in gold was a lot of money. Factoring inflation, the buying power of $500 would be $8,333-plus today. Assuming Hall carried 50 $10 gold pieces, or 25 $20 gold pieces, at $1,174 an ounce, that amount of gold would be worth more than $33,000 today. The collector’s value of those coins would be even higher.

Unlike many treasure tales, this one seems to involve a real person. At least someone named Eli Hall lies buried in the Hall Family Cemetery at Thicket. Born two days after Christmas in 1830, he moved from Newton to Hardin County around 1852 and stayed there until his death on May 13, 1886.

Assuming the Eli Hall buried in Hardin County is the same Eli Hall who figured in the naming of Bad Luck Creek, he at least was luckier in love. He and his wife Cynthia Davis (1831-1888) raised 12 children.

If anyone ever finds the Bad Luck Creek treasure, an argument could be made that it might be time to rename the stream Good Luck Creek.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - June 18, 2015 Column

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