Wild Ones
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THE WILD ONES OF THE BIG THICKET

By W. T. Block

There is hardly a boy among us, sixteen or sixty, who has not strolled a wooded trail or paddled a canoe down Pine Island Bayou without acquiring something of a Huckleberry Finn inclination to be alone in the wilderness and live off the land. There is fish and game waiting to be fried over an open flame; berries, mayhaws, chinquapins, and other nuts in abundance to extinguish those hunger pangs. Everywhere in sight in springtime, the magnolia and dogwood blossoms accentuate the scent of the pine needles, and nowhere is there to be found the discomforts or the predators of society - that is, the school bells and truant officers, the tax or bill collectors, or the traffic tickets or eviction notices. However, "living off the land" was not all that comfortable for the Big Thicket's wild ones of 1886-1887.

Elor Richardson and his family were homeless vagrants of the Big Thicket during those years, and perhaps had been for several years before that. Loggers occasionally caught a glimpse of them as they scampered away like squirrels in the underbrush. It was believed that Richardson had wandered alone for many years until perhaps he met up with a runaway girl, and from their liason, a number of children resulted. His name did not appear on any of several census enumerations after the Civil War, although the Richardson name was quite common in Hardin, Tyler, and Jasper counties. And a point near Evadale was known in 1840 as the Richardson Ferry post office.

Perhaps Elor Richardson escaped to the thickets as a teenager during the Civil War to escape the Confederate draft. Many others did so as well, and the "Kaiser Burnout" was an attempt to rid the Big Thicket of one of its jayhawker bands. Only twice did the Elor Richardson family encounter civilization, and the first occasion was in August, 1886, when Elor was arrested at Kountze for vagrancy. The Galveston Daily News of September 5, 1886, carried the following account:

"One Elor Richardson was charged... with vagrancy, and ... the facts were developed that he had not worked at all... for 15 years, nor had any means of support. He has a wife and several children, who go in an almost nude state. Their only wearing apparel consists of corn sacks, with hole cut, through which they thrust their heads."

"They have no furniture..., no dishes, knives, or forks, nor cooking pots. At night they sleep on old corn sacks, which they pick up around the timber camps. They have never been accused of dishonesty.... They roam the woods in search of wild fruit, and when that is scarce, they subsist upon the bodies of dead animals. One of the family died some time ago in the woods and was not found for several days....."

For another year or so, the family subsisted in the Pine Island Bayou thickets until illness overtook Elor Richardson, and during that moment of misfortune, the homeless family were captured. However, all the good intentions of civilized society in Beaumont were to no avail to domesticate the wild ones, as the following quote from Galveston Daily News of October 4, 1887, confirms:

"For over 20 years, a wild man named Richardson with his faimily... have inhabited the woodlands and thickets of Jasper and Hardin counties..., subsisting on the native products of the forest, such as acorns, roots, etc., and when opportunity afforded, the flesh of dead animals.... This life they led until about three months ago, when they unwittingly wandered within three miles of Beaumont. The family, almost overcome by sickness and hunger, were captured by passers-by and brought here..."

"The church (of Beaumont) appointed a committee, who rented a house for them, and undertook to furnish them with all the substantials of life, but the "old gray heads" shook at that action of the committee. "That man will die," they said, "if you put him in a house, where he is protected from the elements; treatment of that kind will kill them; all they need is plenty of rain and sunshine, cold and heat, a hollow log or grassy meadow to sleep in..."

"The tender hands of the ladies nursed them; preachers prayed for them; and they were furnished medicine by the skilled hand of a physician; fed on the best the market could afford...."

"The prediction of the gray heads came true, and the wild spirit of the man ... winged its way to the happy hunting ground of eternal rest. The survivors will now witness... seeing the father and husband laid... into the bosom of the earth in a coffin made by skilled workmen ... and paid for out of the coffers of Jefferson County, while they ... wonder like some dumb creature at these strange proceedings. The survivors of this strange family will soon, no doubt, betake themselves to their former retreat, as the toil and work and worry especially is exceedingly distasteful to them...."

The subsequent newspapers do not record what eventually happened to Elor Richardson's survivors - whether they returned to the only life they knew, scampering through the woodlands, or whether they eventually submitted to the domestication and civilized ways that Beaumonters sought to force upon them. Come to think of it though - compared to sleeping in a hollow log, wearing corn sacks, and eating dead animals, maybe the tolling of the church and school bells and the harassment of the bill collectors ain't all that bad after all, or is it?

Copyright 1998-2012 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
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