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Howard Peacock

INTERVIEWEE: Howard Peacock (HP)
Christopher Cook (CC) and Randy Mallory (RM)
DATE: March 3, 2000
LOCATION: Warren, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Christopher Cook and Howard Peacock

Boldfaced numbers indicate audio tape time markers. “Misc.” refers to various background conversation or noise that is unrelated to the interview.

[bird sounds in woods]
CC: This trail goes this way…
HP: Go down this way down to the creek and then come back…
When we were working to get this preserve we’d bring visitors down here on this trail.
CC: When was that?
HP: This was back in the 50s and 60s, early 70s, and it was owned then by Kirby Lumber Company… and they let us bring groups down here. It was an interesting situation. We were swords’ points with them almost all the way, and yet they let us bring groups down here… of course, these were just primitive trails then. And we sold a lot of people on a Big Thicket National Preserve from what we could show them on this trail.
CC: Who would you bring down to show, congressmen?
HP: Judge Douglas, William O. Douglas?
CC: The Supreme Court Justice.
HP: Yeah, and many nature groups. Flower societies … and anybody who wanted to see it. Any kind of group. The great trail leaders in those days were Geraldine Watson and Harold Nicholas.
CC: Is Geraldine Watson still alive?
HP: Yes, she is still alive.
CC: Does she work for the forest service?
HP: No, hasn’t worked for the National Preserve for years and years. She got mad at them but Geraldine gets mad at everybody. (laughs)
CC: Where does she live?
HP: She lives in Silsbee, and then she has a place she built with her own hands up here at the lake. Oh, what’s the name of that lake? We passed it. Not much of a lake, really.
Now, all this has changed. Of course, the forest is constantly changing anyway. But you see so much … like all of this used to be so thick. It is clearing out now. It’s becoming a climax forest.
CC: That’s because it is being preserved?
HP: That’s right.
CC: So why was the Thicket, what they used to call the Thicket … obviously it was so thick you couldn’t get through it, but that was not a climax forest?
HP: Oh no.
CC: But it hadn’t been cleared either, right?
HP: Oh that’s right, well it was cleared back in late 1800s and early 1900s.
CC: Is any of this virgin? the Big Thicket that we now have?
HP: Very little, there are a few pockets here and there … but almost all of it is either second growth or even more recent. There was such a demand for lumber after the Civil War in the East, and that’s when transportation systems were developing too— railroads, transportation down the rivers, floating logs down rivers, so a lot of these virgin woods, the virgin pines, the gigantic longleafs, they were taken out to supply lumber for war-torn areas in the East.
This clean-looking[?] area is a baygall.
CC: So let’s start in the 50s, what were you doing then?
HP: I lived in Houston…In the 50s I was working for the United Fund in Houston. And in the early 60s, still with the United Fund. Then I became the campaign director. Some friends asked me to I was helping to form a foundation called the Texas Bill of Rights Foundation with some friends and they asked me to become the first executive director of the Texas Bill of Rights Foundation. That was 1963 and that was at a time of very serious hostility between opposing political factions. Everybody was tearing each other apart. This group wanted to establish a forum for these differing ideas to come through and be presented in a reasonable atmosphere. It was wonderfully successful. Everytime a big shot would come to Houston, Robert Kennedy or Richard Nixon, anybody of any stature, we would put them on our television program called “Ideas in Focus,” and it presented at least two sides to any controversy. We put on town hall meetings. Every Bill of Rights Day we would have school programs with maybe a hundred lawyers of different persuasions appearing….I did that for seven years, until about 1970.
Of course, all that time I was poking around the woods. It was the Big Thicket Association. It had been founded in the 1950s, though a precursor had been founded in the late 1920s, so it had some background. But it had died down. It picked up again in the 50s, and by the 60s it was going pretty good.
CC: Did you know Lance Rozier?
HP: No. He died in the late 1960s but I did not know Lance. A super guy. He was St. Francis of the forest.
CC: In the 1970s?
HP: I worked for the Houston Museum for Natural Science for a couple of years. Writing, putting on programs, raising a little money, that kind of stuff. Then John Neibel, the dean of the University of Houston Law School, asked me to come to work for him. He was a great friend. I was administrator of the law school, he was dean. The students resented me a lot at first because not only was I not a lawyer, I’d never been to college. (laughs) They wanted a legal scholar. It bothered them that I did not have a certificate on my office wall. They were giving the dean a lot of problems. I wanted to do something to get a piece of paper on the wall, and I noticed something in the university newspaper. They were giving exams for MENSA. I took the exam and got the piece of paper for the wall. That’s the reason I joined MENSA, it gave me credentials for my office wall. That got me by.
CC: Where’d you grow up?
HP: Beaumont. I graduated from Beaumont High School, in the lower third. (laughs) …
That’s where I grew up. My father was a sports writer for the Beaumont Enterprise for a while, then he became a Chamber of Commerce executive. Joe Peacock.
CC: How old are you?
HP: I’m 74. I will be 75 in July. Kitty is a year older. She’ll be 76 in July. Her family was one of the older Italian families that settled in Beaumont. Galiano. And let’s see, so then my dad went to San Antonio, then Palestine, and then wound up in Austin. He died there in 1950.
CC: So when did you get out of high school?
CC: 1942. I joined the Navy during the war. I edited a newspaper for a year while I was in the Sates, and then went overseas to the Philippines and loaded ammunition on the ships and then offloaded from other ships for two years. Good work, honest work! (laughs)
And then I went back to work for the Beaumont Journal. I had gone to work for the Beaumont Journal about 6 or 8 months before I went into the Navy. [By then his dad had moved to Austin.] At first I covered sports, then went on to police and courts and lots of feature writing. I worked there about 4 or 5 years.
Then we moved to Houston in 1951 and we were in Houston for 25 years. We moved to Houston because we could not make a living in Beaumont, it was just too hard to make a buck writing there.
I went to work for the Chamber of Commerce in Houston and I worked there 3 years. All this time I was free-lancing. I started free-lancing even while I was in the Navy, so I have been free-lancing for more than 50 years.
(hear bird sounds, very bright and loud] That might be a red-eyed vireo.
I went to work for the Chamber of Commerce editing a weekly newspaper for the Chamber. That was for about 3 years and then I went to work for Southern Pacific Railroad as an editor on their magazine and I worked there for several years. And then I started up a magazine for a gas transmission company. [Then worked for United Fund, the precursor of United Way.]
CC: So your career pattern has been sort of a zigzag?
HP: Yes (laughs loudly). Definitely zigzag.
I was always looking for new experiences and new slants of our way of life. I greatly enjoyed the United Fund. I was very touched by the things I saw at the agencies.
CC: Did you have any problem working for the gas company, like ethical problem?
HP: Yes and personality problems.
CC: Are you a pretty stubborn guy?
HP: No, I am easy to get along with. But it’s got to make sense.
CC: Well that sounds stubborn to me!
HP: (laughter)
I hate pettiness. I found that in the corporate world there is so much pettiness and you are dealing with pettiness so much of the time when you ought to be dealing with issues that are important.
CC: The people are preoccupied with status and power?
HP: Yessir.
CC: What is the basis of your ethical system? Is it a radical Christianity?
HP: (laughs) First I got to decide, what is my system? I guess kindliness and good humor and tolerance, playfulness. I really enjoy playfulness.
CC: It seems like when we talk, you make comments where there is some kind of theological foundation.
HP: Oh yes I am spiritually oriented, I really am.
CC: But not religiously oriented?
HP: Not denominationally. One of my favorite writers I have just discovered now is a nun in Arkansas. At a monastery in Arkansas. Her name is Macrina Wiederkehr. And the way I came across her writing was when Kitty was in the Methodist hospital in Houston, the Chaplain of the Hospital became a friend of ours. And the Chaplain, a woman chaplain, brought us a book and said I think you will enjoy it. And it was a little book by Macrina, and I thought she was playing a joke on me because the cover of the book showed a peacock perched in a tree, so I thought she was just playing a joke on me because of this cover picture. The name of the book was “A Tree Full of Angels”, but it turned out to be she wasn’t playing a joke on me at all, she was just giving something that she thought I would enjoy. And I was really impressed by it.
CC: You know a writer who kept peacocks?
HP: No.
CC: Flannery O’Connor.
HP: She did?
CC: She had dozens of them.
HP: Oh no, peahens make a terrible noise.
CC: Yes she was really intrigued by peacocks, she wrote about them some. She is one of my favorite writers. I also wrote some short stories this past summer similar that had to do with spiritual themes, sort of the contradiction and tension between what I call spirituality and religiosity. I don’t like religion but spirituality is essential.
HP: Right.
[Photos…sitting on logs or bench…]
Well some of the best writers that I find today are spiritual writers. Like Macrina for example and there are others, so yes I am spiritually oriented.
CC: Are those fiction or non-fiction?
HP: Neither one, essays, and I am becoming fond of the essays for some reason.
CC: Why don’t you write some of that? You’ve got a typewriter, a Royal, what model?
HP: It is a 1949 model. But it’s not so much that, I could write you know with pencil and paper. I don’t have any concentrated times of focus. Like I can’t sit down and say I am gonna be here for an hour, I can’t do that.
CC: What do you do?
HP: Well I’m either cooking, washing, getting water, checking the oxygen machine, ordering oxygen tanks.
CC: You have turned into a house-husband-nurse?
HP: Yes, yes. There is a lot of that. I am paying the bills. . .
CC: She has emphysema?
HP: That is one of her problems. It is a combination of emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis. All respiratory. And of course she is overloaded with steroids, usually she is on ten or twelve medicines.
CC: Is this caused by smoking?
HP: I think so. It’s what they said.
CC: She smoked a long time, but you did too?
HP: I did. I smoked for almost 30 years. I was a heavy smoker. I quit in time, she did not quit in time.
CC: How old were you when you quit?
HP: About 45.
CC: So it is like good time for me to quit, right? I am 47, I quit first of the year.
HP: Any time is a good time to quit.
CC: Well I thought I was ready to quit before I destroy my health for the rest of my life.
HP: Well, you not only destroy your health, you destroy your finances. You destroy your earning capacity. You destroy the lives of—you don’t really destroy the lives of other people, but you change the lives of other people drastically. Like Kitty’s disease has changed my life drastically. Look at this magnolia here…[pointing]
[see a lightning-struck tree with large slit-like hole, joking about it]
CC: So when did you get interested in the nature stuff. Were you an outdoors person?
HP: Well I use to go camping in the Big Thicket when I was a boy in Beaumont. The cub scouts. Wow, look at those wild azaleas! Oh, man, they’re nice!
The Wild Azalea Canyon oughta be right on the verge…It’s up above Newton.
[photos…smelling wild azaleas]
It’s not hard to find, but a little bit tricky. It’s owned by Temple Industries. It is a series of steep ravines filled with wild azaleas. Even when you’re on the rim you can smell them. It’s a very very beautiful area…
CC: So you grew up involved in cub scouts and boy scouts?
HP: Yes.
CC: At what point did it change?
HP: In the Big Thicket, that’s when I began to love the Big Thicket.
CC: And then when you were working at the Beaumont paper you would come ever here?
HP: Oh yes.
CC: So when did it become…
HP: A passion?
CC: A passion. Not just to enjoy it, but to try to save parts of it?
HP: That came about in the 60’s when the Save the Big Thicket movement regenerated and then in the early 70’s I became an organized ecoterrorist. (laughing)
CC: Ecoterrorist or ecoactivist?
HP: Ecoactivist.
CC: You have read Edward Abbey much?
HP: I have but not lately. And I met some people in the movement that were just my soul buddies. That was in the early 70’s or so. Arthur Fullingham, Geraldine and Maxine Johnston, Pete Gunter… a bunch of them. Harold Nicholas? From Saratoga. He was such a great naturalist, a self-taught naturalist. A fine self-taught artist.
And there was a great lady living in Batson, Alice Cashen.
CC: You all were in the Big Thicket Association?
HP: Yes. It was just a very exciting time. I put on programs at the Museum of Natural Science on the Big Thicket. And on the weekends I was over here taking groups to places like this.
CC: Who were the big opponents of the Big Thicket Preserve?
HP: At that time, it was the timber companies. They wanted to set aside a series of trails, about 30,000 acres in all, of just simple trails through prettier parks of the Thicket. They called it the string of pearls. They were willing to do that, but our contention was and we backed up by a lot of scientific evidence, spokesmen and even popular leaders like William O. Douglas, that you couldn’t save this ecological gem that way. We needed 300,000 acres, not 30,000 acres. Because drainage patterns, for one thing, are so important.
CC: And you need movement from one area to the other?
HP: That’s right. They wanted to set these little green spots in East Texas and then clear-cut around it. (snickers)
CC: These were like Kirby, Temple Inland, Louisiana Pacific?
HP: Yes.
CC: The bigger ones. Weyerhauser?
HP: Weyerhauser was not at that time because it was not located here then. The other three were. But the guy who really turned a trick was Arthur Temple. There was just a complete stand off between the environmentalist and the ecologists and the timber companies. And I mean a hostile stand off. Then Arthur Temple broke the pattern.
CC: He was the chairman at that time of Temple Industries?
HP: Yes.
And he appointed a man on his staff, a forester, a Jasper man, to work with the environmental groups. His name was Garland Bridges.
CC: Garland Bridges, did he turned out to be a good pick?
HP: Yes, and the whole pattern there was to see whether each of the sides could make some concessions, where we could wind up with a Big Thicket national preserve. Charlie Wilson was congressman.
CC: Timber Charlie.
HP: Yes, and Charlie told us right from the beginning, I am not an environmentalist but I am willing to work with you to get a nice preserve.
CC: Because Arthur told me to.
HP: (laughter) I’m sure that was part of it.
CC: He worked for the Temple, that was his job.
HP: Oh yes. It was a fine combination of personalities and situations. We didn’t get our 300,000 acres which we desperately wanted, but we got 85,000 which at least preserved some of the ecological systems in the Thicket.
CC: Now it’s about 100,000.
HP: Yes, it’s getting close to a hundred now. They keep adding.
CC: At one point it was about 3.5 million acres, right?
HP: Yes, the old primitive Thicket.
CC: You ever think, it was about 3.5 million acres, we preserved 100,000, that’s about 3%, we’ve got something but, of course we were still screwed?
HP: That’s right, that’s right. But we still are trying, we’re still pitching for more. I say “we,” but I am not in it anymore.
CC: They are not going to get anymore, are they?
HP: Yes, we are going to keep getting some. We are going to keep getting some next to the river, which is really prized land.
CC: It surprises me we didn’t get some under Clinton. He’s been doing that sort of thing, at least out West.
HP: We didn’t have the congressman.
So do you feel it was a success? What do you really think?
Oh yes, it was a success. Yes. It was not a huge success. We got nice pieces that we could preserve, nice pieces of the whole ecological treasure. We didn’t get all the treasure, but we got some nice pieces that we could work with, and that could be preserved by the National Park Service. We didn’t get enough. For example, we didn’t get the arid sandylands, which was a very very important part of the Big Thicket, of the whole Big Thicket picture. But Arthur Temple did give it as a private gift to the Nature Conservancy, so it was preserved in that way.
CC: Where is that?
HP: That’s over by Silsbee, it’s on Village Creek.
CC: I think I have seen that. It has a closed gate, it’s not opened up to the public, right?
HP: No, it’s open. You can walk right through the gate. Just as you cross the bridge going over toward Silsbee, it’s on the left, on Village Creek as you cross the bridge. It’s called the Arthur E. Larsen Sanctuary. Arthur Larsen at that time was one of the bigwigs at Time magazine and a personal friend of Arthur Temple.
CC: Because at that time Temple had owned Time magazine?
HP: Yes. Ah, don’t you like to see these bright ferns against the pine needles?
CC: To know how to choose or recommend which pieces of land to be put aside for the preserve, the association I assume was making recommendations along with the park service?
HP: Not the park service
CC: They were not involved?
HP: No, we made the recommendations.
CC: We are talking about thousands of square miles. How did you know which places to recommend, how did you do that?
HP: It is remarkable, it is remarkable….look at those magnolias…We had biologists and botanists from a lot of universities poking around here. We got a real nice story in an American science magazine, and some leading scientists and some of the leading nature writers. The Audubon magazine, the Sierra Club also was active in it. So we had all this scientific focus on the Thicket, which helped. It gave it credibility. And then we had the popularizers. We had artists coming in doing splendid painting scenes from the Thicket, great photographers. We had a whole array of communicators, scientific, writers of the popular magazines, and had the great men like Douglas, and the big clubs, the Sierra Club…we had all of those people going for it. And then there was a hero named Billy Hallmon, a very very shy man. Billy Hallmon worked for the telephone company in Dallas, Texas, and every weekend, just about every week end, Billy Hallmon would come down here and he would trace entire areas, making copious notes of what he found, and he was a very good observer, he knew what he was looking at. And he would talk about the various changes and the terrain. It was Billy who did the first detailed mapping of the areas that became the units of the national preserve. When it got really serious, then the national park service and its people came down here. They confirmed Billy’s findings as to what would be good parts of the Thicket to save. In some cases they enlarged it a little bit, some cases they adjusted it a little bit back. All of these things were made in consideration of not taking people’s homes, except in a very very few cases. Most of the land that was taken was either unoccupied at the time or absentee ownership. In some cases they were using it for second or weekend places. There were a few lawsuits filed, but I thought it was all handled with a minimum of problems.
CC: So how was Arthur Temple involved?
HP: He was involved in getting these two warring groups, and it was a bitter war, in getting these two groups together to try to make some kind of plan, some kind of proposal to the Congress that had a chance of passage and the creation of a national preserve.
CC: If Temple was behind it, that meant that Temple Industries still had to convince Louisiana Pacific and Kirby.
HP: Well he had to show them what…I don’t know how much convincing he did, but he had to show them what he was doing, because he thought it was in the public interest to do that, for us to have the Thicket preserved. He could see the wisdom of saving parts of the Big Thicket.
CC: The politicians weren’t going to do anything until you guys reached an agreement, right?
HP: That’s right. Now, we had a great champion in the Senate. Ralph Yarborough.
CC: I met him in 1989, in Austin, and he gave me a copy of the bill. It was like one of the proudest accomplishments of his career.
HP: It was, he was a great man. He became president of the Big Thicket Association when my turn expired.
CC: When were you president?
HP: 1974-75 and then when I left the office—and I am not a good person to work through committees—and the normal term for presidency was two years, but after one year of it I bowed out, because I am just not good at working through committees. I can do other things but not…and especially committees of volunteers. They are volunteers who are fueled by ego, and I just did not have that kind of tolerance.
CC: That’s right before the law passed?
HP: No it was right after. The law was passed in 1974. But the organization needed to keep going, because it had done so well. It was not finished with the job. It had got the national preserve but that left some stuff to do. The acquisition of the land, for one thing. And then the plans for a park center, which still have not come to fruition.
CC: That’s supposed to be here, right?
HP: No, it’s down the road, we passed it, I’ll show you on our way out.
CC: The center?
HP: Visitor’s center.
CC: That’s where we parked.
HP: Nope, this is a visitor station here. The visitor center is gonna have movies, big pictures, like a visitor center you have seen at any national park. It’s going to have all of that good stuff, a theater. It’s about half a mile off Highway 69.
CC: So what are they waiting for?
HP: Money.
CC: Who is the congressman on that?
HP: A guy named Turner, and he is no environmentalist. (laughs)
CC: Jim Turner?
HP: Yes.
CC: No, he is not.
HP: And then of course, we don’t have any support in the U.S. Senate at all.
CC: Seems like one of those rich lawyers from Beaumont would fork over a couple of million to bring that thing.
HP: Umphrey was on the board of Texas Parks & Wildlife for a while, but I don’t consider him an environmentalist.
CC: No he is not. He just wanted the position. He is a hunter.
HP: Not only that, but he wiped out a beautiful forest on that road that he’s got his place on in Hillister. A gorgeous forest that he just wiped out to make meadows for his cattle. Walter Umphrey doesn’t need any cattle.
CC: How many acres did he cut?
HP: I don’t know, several hundred. He could have selectively cut it and preserved a beautiful place but what does he need with cattle?
CC: Ego?
HP: Ego, and probably a tax write-off.
CC: I went to Austin in 1989 to start law school. He offered to pay me $30,000 a year salary while in school if I would go to work for him after law school.
HP: Oh that’s hard to turn down isn’t?
CC: No it was not. I wished it had been harder, it would’ve made a better story.
HP: (laughter)
Oh you would have been a millionaire many many times over.
CC: So would you say that in terms of your environmental activism the preserve is one of your proudest moments?
HP: It wouldn’t be pride. But, yes it would be one of the best times of my life. It would be one of the best time of my life.
CC: What was the best time of your life?
HP: (laughs)
Oh Lord, I dunno, I dunno, I dunno.
[pictures…self-portraits of me, Howard, Randy Mallory]
All right, now we want to take this cypress loop. I will tell you one thing, I had expected to see, was jack-in-the-pulpits coming up. There used to be large colonies of jack-in-the-pulpits on the early trails.
[Talking about Athena…]
[bird calls in forest]
HP: This is yellow jessamine [vines] [blooms lying on ground] They are very fragrant. [cinnamon aroma]
CC: So I heard bears have been seen, that they had come over from Louisiana, across the river.
HP: I’ll be darned. I wouldn’t doubt it. Hope so. Of course, they’ll be shot out pretty soon.
CC: I guess there are some bobcats in here.
HP: Oh yes.
CC: But no mountain lion.
HP: No, I am afraid not. No, those screaming women have all left. There’s a nice old cypress…
CC: I spent 3 days taking Corinne all over. She’s been taking pictures of cypress knees.
HP: Boy, you’ve got some beauties around Comfort, close to Austin. There is a magnificent display of cypresses over there.
CC: That’s true, and I haven’t taken her over there, it’s a different kind of terrain over there. It’s odd that you find the cypresses in both of those places.
HP: That’s true.
CC: What kind of tree is that?
HP: Cypress. We’re coming into a cypress bog.
[Randy describing a photograph of a huge cypress]
HP: Look at that monster over there. It’s kind of a character tree.
CC: Look at that vine on that tree there.
HP: Yes, it’s gonna kill it. One of these days it will shut off the flow in that cambium layer.
Like girdling a tree.
[see a baby turtle on the high bank of the creek]
CC: Look at this, don’t step over it. Hey Buddy where are you going? I could throw him in the water what do you think?
HP: Well, I’d let him go.
CC: It looks a little lost to me. I wonder how it got up here?
CC: Hear that red eye vireo.
[point to plants on limbs overhanging creek bridge] That one is fascinating. What is that?
HP: That’s resurrection fern. When it gets wet it comes to life.
CC: It grows around the log and it can live like that, dry for a long time?
HP: Yes and then when it rains, it bursts out.
CC: What is that?
HP: Hornbeam.
CC: That bark, it look like a ironwood or crepe myrtle.
HP: Well ironwood is another common name for hornbeam. And there is another tree called an ironwood. And the other tree is also called a hophornbeam. That’s where you get into trouble…
CC: Crepe myrtle does have that kind of same sort twist and smooth, looks fleshy.
HP: Another common name for this is muscle tree because the convolutions in the trunk look sort of like muscles. Common names are very interesting but they just are not very precise. I am trying to forget names of trees and flowers and birds and everything like that. I tell you what I found out, I found out that the names get in the way of the enjoyment of looking at the objects. The names get in the way of the objects. When you are looking at a flower and you are trying to figure the name, you are not enjoying the flower. I am trying to forget all that crap. And what really attracted my eyes in the first place was the gorgeous green leaves.
My favorite green of all is the new green in the beech trees. It’s up in the top and it will come down. It’s too early for us to see it at eye level. But it’s even a more brilliant green than this, I love this though.
CC: How many books have you written on the Big Thicket? Two or three?
HP: Just two.
CC: I have that last one, the little guide, in the truck. One from Texas A&M.
HP: The first book was “The Big Thicket of Texas.” It’s out of print now.
CC: Didn’t you do one on the Neches River?
HP: No, I tried to get some funding so I could write a book about the Neches River, but I never could get the funding. The Temple people offered a nice grant, but it would have been a matching grant and I couldn’t get the matching funds. We tried most of the major foundations in Texas, but like one of the foundations told me, “Nobody wants to read about the Neches River.” (laughs) I thought it was a good idea.
RM: So would this be different today? The awareness level would be different?
HP: Probably so, this was during the 80’s, when Reagan’s policies, the anti-environment…
A guy from Chevron came to talk to me about it, and his only question was, “What would your book do for Chevron?” (amazed laughter)
Don’t you just love the coloring on the holly trees [the trunks]? The reds and yellows?
CC: I still don’t buy gas from Exxon, after the Valdez spill, and what they did to Howard [?]..
HP: I had a very happy relationship writing for them. It wasn’t really the editor, the editor was a friend of mine for some years. He was a great editor. It wasn’t the spill that ended the magazine. It was the fact that the magazine was not making money for the company. It was the best [p.r.] that Exxon had. It went to millions of readers around the world, including thought leaders around the world. It built a tremendous amount of good will for the company. But then the Harvard MBAs took over, and everything had a bottom line. They had a meeting in Sanderson, Texas, I understand, on a railroad car, the big shots of Exxon, where they made their major decisions. They wanted privacy, so they met there. They made sweeping decisions on what to cut from the company. That happened one weekend, and Monday the editor called me and said “Do I owe you any money? If I do, you’d better get…
RM: Was he shocked?
HP: Oh yes.
RM: See that’s the thing with those big companies. He probably didn’t lead you down a garden path, he was probably as distraught as you were or more so.
HP: And unemployed.
RM: Yes these big companies, people end up looking like liars when they really weren’t because it is not their fault.
HP: When they had the spill, that’s when I cut off Exxon. I haven’t bought a gallon of their gasoline since the spill…The company used such poor judgment on a captain to send in…
[see some scat on trail; discuss what it is]
[see lots of plants, very thick; Howard says that plant is what makes the Thicket a thicket…he can’t recall name]
It’s why they called it the Big Thicket. Because there were huge expanses of this. [pioneers found the pulp at the base would stop the flow of blood.]
This is such a beautiful seed box. It’s almost like one of those 14th century Japanese boxes. It’s so beautifully crafted. I used to carry a magnifying glass with me and could look at those things. Oh, it’s beautiful. Look at the four seams on the sides.
CC: Did you ever find that place of the Ticket called the Hurricane, or the Tornado? The one near the Kaiser Burnout?
HP: Oh yes, it’s down by Honey Island.
CC: Can you tell where it was? The Burnout?
HP: You’d have to have someone take you there. It’s grown up again. It’s been years since I have been there, I would doubt that there would be any visible signs now.
CC: I wonder where that big tree was, do you remember that story? It was a huge tree and someone killed it on purpose?
HP: Yes.
CC: I can’t remember what it was, but it was like a huge old tree. And they were trying to make a point to all these environmentalists and they killed this tree.
HP: Yes, just out of pure meanness. They bored holes in it and poured poison into the holes. It was one of the giants down there around Saratoga and I am not sure of the species now.
CC: I think that was in the story, I read that in that book edited by Abernathy, “Tales of the Big Thicket.”
HP: I had a story about it in my first book. I oughta remember it. Lance showed that tree to William O. Douglas. And that’s one of the things that impressed Douglas very much about the Big Thicket. He devoted the first chapter in his book “Farewell to Texas” to the Big Thicket. Mary Lasswell wrote about the Big Thicket in her book “I’ll Take Texas.”
Douglas was just a nature lover. He had heard about the Big Thicket and he used to spend his vacations going to all the parts of the country to natural wonders. When he came down here Lance took him around and then he wrote about it. That was one of the triggers for the renewed interest in the Save the Big thicket movement. The first movement began back in the late twenties and then the Depression came along and hurt the movement, and then World War II came along and it just about killed it. But it revived in the late fifties and sixties.
RM: Were some of this first generation people still in the second go around?
HP: Yes, sure were.
CC: By then most of East Texas had pretty much been forested down.
HP: That’s right.
RM: That’s probably one of the thing that set them off, wouldn’t you think?
The virginal stuff finally disappearing totally?
HP: Yes.
CC: The only places that are virginal now are in creekbottoms and riverbottoms that they couldn’t get to.
HP: Right.
There used to be a little place on Beech Creek around Spurger that we called Woodland Cathedral, and it was a virginal area, very small, about 2 acres, and about a quarter of a mile off the road, if you could find the road. I would find it by looking at the tops of the trees and when I spotted the grove of beech trees then I’d park the car and walk in. But I don’t know if it’s still there. We got it into the preserve, but the Park Service does not encourage visitation there because then it would not be a virginal area. Sometimes again when you all are down here and I can get loose, we can go over there.
CC: Are there any parks like this at all in Northeast Texas around Tyler?
RM: Well, there are areas when you walk through they look exactly like this.
CC: No, but I mean national park.
RM: Well no, there are some state forests but those have been largely used for timber production, you know. Certainly the state parks, a lot of the state parks were established during the WPA [Works Progress Administration] era are substantial like this…There is an area called Little Sandy just north of Tyler that’s owned privately that’s apparently one of the best hardwood bottom areas in the State. It’s pretty much never been cut.
HP: The main difference is the Big Thicket area is a meeting area for all these different kinds of ecological systems. We’ve probably walked through 5 or 6 different ecological systems.
RM: Yes you don’t get as much diversity there as you get down here.
End of reel
End of interview with Howard Peacock