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
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
tokens are from Plank (another sawmill, naturally), owed by the
J.A. Bentley Lumber Company in Hardin
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
in Cass County,
Flanagan in Rusk County,
Gladstell and Milvid in Liberty
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 Tallys
in Harrison County.