Retro Week: Day Three – A Texas Bonanza by Karen Witemeyer

My choice for retro week is a post I wrote back in April 2012. Since both of my Archer brother books are set in the Piney Woods of Texas, I thought it would be fun to look back at the history of Texas’s lumber industry.

What was the leading industry in Texas at the turn of the 20th century?

Oil? – No, that came later.

Cattle? Cotton?

The answer: Lumber.


Lumber? Are you kidding? I live in Texas. There are no trees. Oh, we’ve got some scrubby little mesquite and an occasional oak, but nothing that this California native would call a tree. So how in the world did the lumber industry out-perform cattle and cotton, two Texas staples?

A virgin stand of longleaf pine in the East Texas Piney Woods region, 1908.

Well, as anyone who has ever driven across this great state can tell you, Texas is a big place. Yes we have desert regions and prairie and grassland and hill country, but over in the southeast is a lovely section called the Piney Woods. And as the railroad worked it’s way west in the 1870’s and 1880’s, lumber men from Pennsylvania like Henry Lutcher and G. Bedell Moore saw the virgin forests of east Texas as a gold mine. Local boys like John Henry Kirby got in on the action, too, buying up and consolidating individual sawmills into complete lumber manufacturing plants. Kirby rose to success so quickly, he became known as the “Prince of the Pines,” having become the largest lumber manufacturer in the state by combining 14 sawmills into the Kirby Lumber Company in 1901.

Not only did the railroad boom make travel to the Texas woods easier, it was also one of the biggest sources of demand for timber. Railroads needed lumber to construct rail cars, stations, fences, and cross ties in addition to the massive amounts of wood they burned for fuel. Each year railroads needed some 73 million ties for the construction of new rail lines and the maintenance of old ones, estimated by the magazine Scientific American in 1890. From the 1870s to 1900, railroads used as much as a fourth of national timber production.

This combination of supply and demand fueled a “bonanza era” for the Texas lumber industry that lasted 50 years, from 1880 until the Great Depression. During this time, Texas became the third largest lumber-producing state in the nation.

Northern investors swooped in to buy up land, sometimes even taking advantage of “use and possession laws” to seize property from families who had owned it for generations. Corruption abounded as logging companies controlled their workers, paying them only in vouchers for the company store despite the incredibly hazardous working conditions. These “cut and get out” operations left acres of land decimated.

Today if you travel through east Texas, you can still see the pine forests, however the trees are younger and more slender compared to the giants that grew there back in the 1880s. Maybe in another 100 years, we’ll find a return of the true Piney Woods of Texas.

Now for the big treat…

Winnie Griggs is giving away a copy of her brand new release, The Bride Next Door, along with a sparkly “I Love To Read” pin. What could be better than a free book and a little book-lover’s bling?

To be entered to win, leave a comment about what you most like about forests.

Happy Summer!!!

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

67 thoughts on “Retro Week: Day Three – A Texas Bonanza by Karen Witemeyer”

  1. I love the forest. This story reminds me of a forest of the Great Northwest that had been set on fire the year before. Some great people perished while fighting this fire. I saw the remnants of it while going through a crisis of my own. The remnants showed blackened tree trunks blanketed with a white coat of snow. the peacefulness and beauty was indescribable as God reminded me that no matter how destructive life gets, there is still beauty from ashes. That life does rebuild itself and we can still go on with one step at a time. That is how I describe forests – the beauty of God’s artwork.

  2. A forest can be such a beautiful place. The sound of the leaves as they rustle in a gentle breeze, the birds twittering, and the snap of a branch as deer, elk, bear or some other animal move quietly away….all of this is so peaceful. A mountain forest can make me feel at peace with the world and close to our Lord.

  3. I love the smell and the beautiful sound of the wind through the trees. The vastness that is natures sound barrier.

  4. I love the forest! I love all the animals that live there. I have two red tail hawks nesting in a huge pine tree. This is the second time this year that they have had babies . I love to hear them squawk while feeding their young. We also have a momma deer that has had twins for the past 3 years. We need to save the forest or the planet will die. Thanks for stopping by. I would love to win!

  5. Forests- I like the peacefulness, the quiet. A sense of calm comes over me as I view the sunlight filtering in through the tree leaves. I hear the birds sing. I see woodland violets, ferns and moss growing on trees and broken tree logs. I smell the freshness of the earth. I feel like the forest is air conditioned. It’s so refreshing! I love seeing deer scamper through the trees or pause as they watch us enter their territory.

  6. Hi Karen, I once set a historical in the Piney Woods and a reader wrote to tell me that Texas didn’t have a forest. It still is a pretty area, but nothing compared to how it looked in the 1800s.

  7. The Jefferson National Forest is right behind my house and love it. It’s so peaceful and a reminder of God’s beauty.

  8. Boy, we have some great early birds, today!

    Ann – with all the forest fires in Colorado lately, I found your comment particularly poignant. You are so right that God can bring beauty from the ashes. In fact, sometimes a forest needs a fire to clear out the dead and make room for new life.

  9. Connie, Kim, Sherry, Laurie –

    As you each said so eloquently – the quiet and secluded feel of forests bring such a feeling of peace. I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s because forests are a special treat for me, I don’t see them every day, but when I am in one I just want to sigh and drink it in, feeling so close to the God who created such beauty.

  10. I love everything about the forest, the beautiful creatures that live in it, it’s grandness & it’s scent. It reminds us that we are all God’s creatures, & how in it’s vastness, how small we are in it!

  11. I have always lived in the Appalachians so trees abound! I love the peace and serenity of being surrounded by the mountains. My family loves the hunting:-)

  12. I love the smell of pine forests, the quite of rainforests in the NW and the lovely wildlife contained within!

  13. Enjoyed your post on the forrest in texas, just reading the other day how BIG the state is, I have not seem many trees either when I visit my family there.
    In Ga we have many pine woods growing for timber companies. I live with a woods at back of my property and interesting some of the things that come up out of it at times…
    thanks for sharing today
    Paula O(

  14. Karen, I think I missed this blog the first time around. How very interesting. East Texas is one of my favorite parts about the state. I always love to be where there are trees. Guess it’s because I never lived anywhere except the barren part of the state. The Piney Woods is dear to my heart. Thanks for re-posting this interesting piece. I enjoyed it.

  15. That was so informative, I had no idea Texas was known for lumber!! I live in CA, close to the Giant Redwoods! We love to go and visit them, the trees are massive! The smell, the air is wonderful!!

    The book sounds fun! The pin is to die for!!

  16. Thanks for the history of my neck of the woods. I am from East Texas and grew up surrounded by pine trees. We had a row of them on the from yard and I loved to walk on the fallen needles after a rain. We had many needles on the ground that we would build forts out of them and play cowboys There was some acreage down the road from of us where we would ride our three wheelers through the pine trees making all kinds of trails. I remember thinking how big the seemed. Fresh pine has the best smell. It is so refreshing. Thanks for an opportunity to win a new book by Winnie. I lover her stories. Tonja.

  17. Is there anything more relaxing than sitting in the forest and listening to the “wind whisper through the pines”? I love a cool breezy day in the forest, it seems like the very voice of God can be heard in the wind that sweeps through the trees.

  18. I was just at Caddo Lake State Park this past weekend and loved the spanish moss all over the trees. The pond in the park was gorgeous. It was covered in lily pads.

  19. Forests are a good place to just sit, think, relax, or simply breathe in all the fresh air. A good place to sort through your thoughts. 🙂

  20. Anybody else ready to take a vacation in a forest? I sure am. Reading all these comments has be dying to leave the heat of West Texas and climb a mountain trail in the cool forest glades.

    We took our kids to the giant redwoods in northern CA a couple years back and the looks on their faces were priceless. They’d never truly seen REAL trees. Ha!

  21. Outside of Seattle the forests are different from those in Louisiana. What I like about those forests are how green and lush the ground is with ferns all over.

  22. My husband and I LOVE the forest! We moved from AZ, (all desert), to NC, (all forest!) 7 years ago and we are still in love with the trees! The smell, the sounds at night, the shapes the sun makes when it comes through all the leaves, how it feels like you are lost in another world when you are hiking… love the forest! 🙂

  23. I live in NW Louisiana and am just a hop skip and a jump from East Texas. So my mental image of Texas has always included rolling hills and forest lands.

    I remember when I was working on a Texas set book many years ago and was researching native forest plants. I contacted a botanist with my question and had him email me back that I needed to get my facts straight because ‘everyone knew’ there were no forests in Texas. Needless to say I moved on to other sources!

  24. Visiting Germany & France we loved walking through a couple of beautiful green forests. The smell of the trees, sounds of the bubbling creeks and the moss that covered the ground will forever stay in my memory. Shutting my eyes I would imagine how magical & delightful it would be to live as fairy surround by God’s nature. 🙂

  25. We have lots of forrests in PA. They’re cool in the summer and you’re surrounded by so much grandeur and nature as it should be. It is just glorious in Autumn.

  26. I love the shade of the forest. Plus it takes me back to being a kid and exploring in the woods. Now, Living in West Texas our trees seem like shrubs in comparison.

  27. I like the smell of the forest. I also find it fascinating that some trees are so old and still stand proud.

  28. I love forests. They’re so quiet and yet there’s always something to hear: the wind blowing against the leaves, birds, an animal crawling in the bushes…

  29. The farm I grew up on had a woodlot and the neighboring properties were also wooded. It was a special place where we had picnics by the creek, picked wild blackberries, found wild flowers in the spring and greenery for Christmas wreaths. It also provided wood for our stoves and lumber for our house and barn remodeling. Most of all it was a wonderful place to go if you needed to get away for awhile to think and dream.

  30. Karen, I had no idea that lumber was a leading product there in Texas. That just amazes me. What an interesting post! Loved it!

  31. You sure are right about Texas being a big State and the Piney Woods in East Texas is where our (mine and Linda Broday’s) mother and dad settled after leaving New Mexico. One of my fondest memories is going with mom to pick wild blackberries that grew along the fence line, although we sure did keep an eye out for copperhead snakes that might be taking a nap in the bushes. 🙂 Great blog!

  32. I love walking through a forest of trees and exploring for interesting plants and wildlife. I like to think about the years the trees have seen and how they’ve been able to weather through the years. I think it helps put life’s challenges in perspective.

    Very interesting post. I lived in Texas for a short time, when I was a child. I didn’t see any trees, so have always thought of Texas as being rather tree-less. Thank you for educating me!

  33. I can’t say I have ever been to a real forest, just read about them. When we were kids we use to go over into a wooded area and play and pretend we were is a large forest. We would swing on grape vines and do everything else we were told not to do.

  34. Growing up in Oregon, I am a tree hugger at heart. I love the shade it provides, the cooler weather, the beauty it shares with us, and the animals that live there. I love the forest!

  35. I love the beauty of the trees and the life that thrives in those forests. Also thankful for God providing them so we can breath clean air.

  36. I love trees in general, so a forest is really great. I like the sounds, the smells, and the majesty that God created.

  37. I love the beauty of all nature. The serenity within a forest is so appealing…the sounds, the smells, the beauty

  38. I love the smell of forests – my relatives are from Maine and I love riding the lumber company back roads and just smelling the balsam in the air

  39. I love the forest of East Texas. I taught in the Lufkin area for three years and loved it. I was also an Angelina County deputy sheriff there for two years along with my teaching years. I loved patrolling through the woods. I also went to college at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville so I spent many days under the trees on campus and other times in the woods during other times. I grew up with my grandparents having some woods on their place and I roamed the woods on my horse a lot. Love the woods. Would like the book too and the pin is sooo me.

  40. I have to laugh at your comment of the Piney Woods of Texas. I live on Piney Woods street, but not in Texas! Very hard to picture that lumber was the biggest money maker. Thanks for an informative post!
    Susan P
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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