Vernon Parish opal mine once eyed as “tourism bonanza”

 

I like to think of myself as a treasure hunter.  In my dreams.

In reality… unfortunately for me… I am about as far from a treasure hunter as one could be.

I did not find this on my search for opal. :(
I did not find this on my search for opal. 🙁

Back in the 1990s, I had heard people were finding opal in Vernon Parish, south of Toro and a bit northwest of Anacoco.  Intrigued and tempted, I searched a bit in the area… a bit being about an hour or less.  And with only limited knowledge of exactly where to search, I covered, say, 200 yards in my very cursory search.  I thought it would be easy.  Not hot, boring, tedious and extremely vague.  Well, actually, it was not tedious, for I looked about the way I look for a lost this or that at my house… just glancing around.

My arrowheads did not look so much like this. I was told they looked like "plain, pointy rocks." (No names mentioned, Ranay!) What a buzz kill.
My arrowheads did not look so much like this. I was told they looked like “plain, pointy rocks.” (No names mentioned, Ranay!) What a buzz kill.

And so, like my earlier quests for arrowheads and later for prehistoric shark teeth along the southeastern banks of Toledo Bend, I came up empty handed in my search for precious opal.  Also, by the way, I never was able to find any gold bars believed to have been buried or hidden in our area by bandits in the 1800s.  In all, I figure I’ve spent a good five hours of my life (seven or so if you add the drive time) searching for treasures of any sort whatsoever in our treasure-rich geographic area.

I found this photo on Pinterest... And I realized I was way off on my idea of the size of a prehistoric Megalodon shark tooth... I think my eyes were on the quest for something about, oh, one-ten-thousandth the size of this.
I found this photo on Pinterest… And I realized I was way off on my idea of the size of a prehistoric Megalodon shark tooth… I think my eyes were on the quest for something about, oh, one-ten-thousandth the size of this.

I concluded I probably would not know an opal if I found one.  Nor would I know an arrowhead (I must have retrieved 30 or more things that looked like they could be arrowheads, but I was told by people supposedly more knowledgeable than me… who shall remain nameless due to their cruel buzz-kill thrills’ nature…  that I was pretty far off from having actually found an arrowhead and had only collected a few “basic, pointy rocks”).

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure now that I would not have found a shark’s tooth if it was staring me straight in the eye (those things blend in perfectly with the sand, or so I thought).

I would, however, recognize gold bars if I saw them. I’m pretty sure.  I think.

I would have settled happily for finding just one of these bars. it could even have been filthy dirty and scratched up a bit. Or even broken... yes, I would have accepted broken.
I would have settled happily for finding just one of these bars. it could even have been filthy dirty and scratched up a bit. Or even broken… yes, I would have accepted broken.

Basically, I am impatient and I become bored way too easily… and because of that, I have no opals, no sharks’ teeth, no arrow heads, and no gold bars to call my own.  Nothing.  Na da.

I’ve digressed a bit before getting to the juicy stuff… The following article was published in The Alexandria Town Talk newspaper in November 1990, written by Town Talk staff reporter Richard Ryman.

Oh, and by the way, just as a buzz kill in case any one wants to set out to go hunt for opal, I have heard that that would be a losing quest… that the land where the opal was discovered is private land (that cool theme park they speak of in this article never materialized, I guess) and is well guarded.  I’m just clarifying this so that hopes don’t get unnecessarily elevated only to be cruelly dashed.  As mine did once before… and twice and more.

Vernon opal mine could be tourism bonanza

ANACOCO — Deep in the hills of northwest Vernon Parish, at a place called Monks Hammock, four men and a puppy are mining what they say is this country’s best opal supply.

They are digging in a hillside along a creek bottom about a quarter of a mile from the end of a sandy road. Except for the barking of the puppy, the place is peaceful and pleasant, but it is also an economic and tourism bonanza in the making, says Keith Griffin.

Griffin, who leases about 50 acres from Boise Cascade Corp., named it the Hidden Fire Opal Mine. He plans on surrounding it with campgrounds and gem washes, turning it into a mecca for lapidary hobbyists, known to one another as rockhounds.

the_town_talk_sun__nov_18__1990_

“There is no opal mine in the United States that can claim they dig up 100 percent cutable material. We can claim that,” he said, showing the site to state Rep. John Smith, D-Leesville, and a delegation from the Vernon Parish Tourism and Recreation Commission.

Griffin held up a penny-sized polished black opal which he said was appraised at $1,000 a carat. He said it weighed about three carats.

Australia is the only other known source of such quality material, he said. In addition to the black opal, Griffin has uncovered myriad other combinations, which he has been naming at his discre-tion.

“No one else has ever found anything like this,” he said, holding up a “Christmas” opal, “so we can call it what we want,”

Tales of mining in the area go back to early French explorations, said Martha Palmer, chairman of the Vernon Parish Tourism and Recreation Commission. She said French Catholic explorers reportedly found silver and lead in the area, and in the early part of the 20th century one man was sending “rainbow rock,” possibly opals, to New York jewelers, receiving $5 gold pieces in return.

Gary Moore mined some opal in the area in the late 1970s and 1980s before his source played out.

Griffin, who has operated emerald and other mines in North Carolina, said he was vacationing in the area, hunting fossils, when an acquaintance showed him the site. Griffin said he immediately knew he was on to something.

“The biggest question about this formation was how was it formed?” Griffin said. “If I don’t know how it was formed, I don’t know where to dig.”

He said some speculated the area was a prehistoric lake bed, but evidence indicates it is instead laced with prehistoric creek beds. It is in those former creek bottoms that he is finding his opal.

Much of his find is quartzite sandstone laced with flecks of blue, green, yellow and red fire opal.  The most common is brown opal with green fire.

He said quartzite and opal is the hardest mixture of quality opal in the world. That is good, but he expects better.

“As we follow this back, we will get to the area where the water came out of the ground to form the creek. Then we will get into clay soil and should find the real precious opal,” he said.

Griffin said black rock laced with red fire is called black opal, and is the most valuable. He said rock laced with blue or green fire is called blue opal.

Four pockets have been found so far, each yielding “about a double-handful,” Griffin said.

He said he plans to open a full-service campsite with gem-wash in the spring.

“Arizona is known for its petrified wood, Arkansas for its diamonds and North Carolina for its emeralds. This will put Vernon Parish on the map,” he said.

Lapidary, the cutting, polishing and engraving of precious stones, is one of the largest hobbies in the world. Griffin said lapidary magazines are among the few that have more wanted-to-buy than for sale ads.

He said that by having control over most of the opal supply in the area, he will be able to make the project financially feasible.

“People have tried to market this material for years, but the problem was they had no control over supply,” he said.

Griffin, who lives in Lafayette, said he has been “into rocks and tourism my whole life.”

“The old adage of ‘Son, walk with your head up,’ is not for rockhounds,” he said.

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Quinton Brandon: Walking Tall in Zwolle

 

In October 1981, The Shreveport Times published a two-page spread featuring newly retired Zwolle Police Chief Quinton Brandon, aptly titled “Walking Tall in Zwolle.”  The article was written by Calvin Gilbert. It follows:

ZWOLLE — If a legend ever existed in Sabine Parish, it’s Quinton Brandon. Often compared to Walking Tall Sheriff Buford Pusser, Brandon is credited with bringing law and order to Zwolle.

Brandon retired in late August, ending his 35-year reign as police chief in Zwolle, which, like it or not, has a reputation as a place where many a friendly disagreement in a barroom has resulted in a violent brawl.

Quinton Brandon, from The Shreveport TImes, 1981
Quinton Brandon, from The Shreveport TImes, 1981

But Brandon says most of the stories about Zwolle are based upon incidents outside the town’s incorporated limits.

“These are good people here,” Brandon said. “We just don’t have that much trouble in Zwolle any more. “Everything that happens 15 miles away they seem to blame on Zwolle.”

Wayne Ebarb, Brandon’s successor as police chief, is the first to admit that Brandon is responsible for making Zwolle a respectable place.

“A lot of the old tales on Zwolle are still alive,” Ebarb said. “It’s just not true. Zwolle is a good place.” Ebarb paused and looked at his mentor.
“Thanks to him, we don’t have such a problem these days,” he said.

The son of a Sabine Parish lawman, Brandon received his first concepts about law enforcement from his father, “He believed in it just like I did,” Brandon said. “Anybody that violated the law violated the law.”the_times_sun__oct_18__1981_3

“There’s not many men around here — old or young — that I didn’t put in jail at one time or another,” Brandon said.  “I’d arrest them when they broke the law. But I always saw that they were treated fairly.”

In a community with an oilfield heritage and a more-than-average population of poor blacks and Chicanos, Brandon’s early days as police chief were long and demanding.

“I was the only lawman.” Brandon said. The days were rough. My biggest problem was the boys carousing around. getting rough and fighting.”

The creation of Toledo Bend Reservoir in 1968 resulted in more problems for the police department.

“I don’t think liquor would have been legalized here if it hadn’t been for Toledo Bend.” Brandon said. “Of course. we always had problems with bootleggers. But this was just a bad place to legalize it.”

Most of the illegal alcohol came from Natchitoches Parish, Brandon said.

“They had a man over there that would sell them a load on credit,” Brandon said. “When they’d come back, they’d bring him the money.”

Brandon, who turns 64 in November, doesn’t move as fast as he once did. A serious stroke two years ago left him partially paralyzed. But standing more than 6 feet tall, he has a look about him that shows he still has the kind of determination which gained him the respect of law enforcement officers and outlaws alike.

Even so, Brandon is modest when it comes to talking about his reputation.

“A lot of it I didn’t want. I had no idea that would happen. I guess I was just a born lawman. They have to be born,” he said, “or they won’t stay with it. You just don’t have the lawmen you used to. Most of them I knew back in my early years are dead.  It’s hard to get hold of a man to work in law enforcement these days. Now we have young ones who don’t know what it’s all about. All they want is their time up and a check. I
may sound hard on them. But that’s the facts.”

Brandon has been a friend to Zwolle.  But Zwolle’s been a friend to him, too.

A walk with Brandon near the railroad tracks in downtown Zwolle makes you realize that you’re with a local celebrity. Stopping to wave to motorists and speak to the towns-people, Brandon is obviously enjoying his retirement.

“I’ve got a bunch of grandkids who like to visit me,” he said. “I want to spend more time with them. And I want to spend more time with my wife. Not once did she ever complain about me leaving in the middle of the night and staying gone all weekend.”

the_times_sun__oct_18__1981_4While he enjoys relaxing in the big reclining chair in his living room, Brandon’s not going to sit still for long.

“I can still hop in my truck and go any place I need to go,” he said. One place he’ll probably be found is the police department next to city hall. There’s a pot of rich coffee brewing there. And although Brandon has been out of office for two months. his coffee cup remains on the wall. Just like Quinton Brandon, it’s gathering no dust.

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“One tough hombre:” Sheriff who tamed Tombstone, Arizona and beyond had roots in Sabine Parish and Sabine County

John Horton Slaughter
John Horton Slaughter

His name was Slaughter… John H. Slaughter, and he was also known as Texas John Slaughter.  He is credited with taming a notorious part of the Wild Wild West… in particular a large part of the Arizona Territory… geograpically specifically bringing lawfulness back to Tombstone, Arizona after the infamous 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Furthermore, he was the inspiration for a popular Walt Disney TV series in the 1950s, aptly titled, “Texas John Slaughter.”

Although I do not know specifically where (if anyone does, please respond), I do know that this old West gunfighter was born in 1841 in today’s Sabine Parish (back then, Natchitoches Parish), on what is described as a “Southern plantation near Many, Louisiana.”  His parents were Benjamin Slaughter and the former Minerva Mabry.

John Horton Slaughter was educated in Sabine County, near current Hemphill, Texas, and later in Caldwell County, Texas.

John Horton Slaughter
John Horton Slaughter

In the 1870s, he and his brother became cattle drivers near San Antonio, Texas, and the two formed a cattle-transporting company, the San Antonio Ranch Company, which drove cattle to Kansas via the Chisholm Trail.

In the late 1870s, Slaughter left Texas for New Mexico, where he traded cattle for a brief period.  Soonafter, he established a ranch in the Arizona Territory, having acquired the San Bernardino Ranch near today’s Douglas, Arizona (Cochise County).

Slaughter, with his rifle
Slaughter, with his rifle

In 1886, he was elected sheriff of Cochise County and served two terms as the county’s top law officer.  As sheriff, he helped track down Geronimo, the Apache chief, and Geronimo ultimately surrendered at San Bernardino. Slaughter fought for law and order with his six-shooter, a repeating shotgun, and with his Henry rifle.  He arrested hundreds of desperadoes, including members of the Jack Taylor Gang, and brought them to justice.

The Tombstone Jail was even once known as the “Hotel de Slaughter” for all the men who were put away there by Slaughter.

A legend of all sorts, Slaughter was known to return from searching from outlaws with only the horses and equipment of the outlaws he sought.

Slaughter was married twice, the first marriage from which two children were produced and though he and his second wife, Viola Howell Slaughter, never had any biological children, they adopted several.  Most noteworthy of the children they adopted was Apache May Slaughter, an Apache toddler adopted after she was abandoned by her parents while Slaughter was tracking her band who were responsible for killing white men in Arizona.

Apache May
Apache May

From Wikipedia:  “Apache May Slaughter became a young celebrity across Arizona, because many newspapers and publications speculated about the girl’s natural parents, her relation to the Apaches and whether those factors would affect her personality in the future and turn her into a violent person without morals.  Photographers were no strangers to the small girl; she was constantly pictured and appeared in most Arizona publications of the era.

“Apache May died at the Slaughters’ San Bernardino Ranch when one of her dresses caught fire as she was playing near a pot with boiling water. There were rumors at the time that were more likely true that the ranch hands, who were prejudiced against the little girl for being Indian, had actually set on fire the ranch.

————-

“As a type of the true Westerner, John Slaughter was perhaps the most outstanding of any of the pioneers of Arizona from the dangers of the hostile Apache and for protection of early settlers from outlawry and depredation,” stated an article written in The Copper Era and Morenci Leader at the time of his death, in February 1922.

In its Feb. 19, 1922 edition reporting Slaughter’s death, The Tombstone Epitath wrote, “During his 10 years of office, (Slaughter) brought to justice many desperadoes who had been operating through the country and many attempts  were made to entrap him and take his life.  But Slaughter was too quick and too wise for them to cope with and in every case, he outgeneraled his foes.”

The newspaper article continued, “In passing of the venerable old pioneer, it can truly be said that Tombstone and Cochise County have lost one of the most constructive citizens they have had, and when news of his death at a ripe old age reaches the ears of the old timers of this county who fought with him, worked with and honored John Slaughter, it will be with a pang of regret which can only be fully realized by those who have met him and known him in his lie in the Southwest.”

—————

In August 2015, The Arizona Republic featured a section entitled “Arizona’s True Tales” in which Arizona historian Marshall Trimble shared a brief look at some of the characters highlighted in his recently published book, “Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen.”  Included was Slaughter, described simply as “Peacekeeper.”  The article reads:

“John Horton Slaughter was one of the many drought-stricken Texas cattlemen who drove their herds to the virgin ranges of Arizona in the 1870s. He settled in Cochise County and eventually bought the historic San Bernardino ranch that straddled the Mexican border in south-eastern Arizona. He also brought law and order to a county that had been ravaged by outlaws and rustlers since its creation in 1881.

“Slaughter personified the 19th-century rawhide-tough breed that settled the wild Southwest border country. Slaughter was a no-nonsense man with dark, penetrating eyes. He always believed he was protected by a guardian angel and couldn’t be killed. The many times he stared death in the eye seemed to bear that out. “I’ll die in bed,” he declared and he did eventually, at a ripe old age.

“He was a product of frontier life, a lawless and violent post-Civil War era. He had no problem killing a man if he believed the man needed killing. He packed a pearl-handled .44 and a shot-gun. Some called him a good man and others said he was bad but they all agreed, John Slaughter was one tough hombre.

“Slaughter might have killed 20 men or more but he never said. One of his deputies described him as ‘a man of few words and he used them damn seldom.’

“After Slaughter became sheriff of Cochise County in 1887, he issued a stern warning to the rustler gangs, ‘get out or get shot.’ Most took his advice and left the country.

“In running outlaws to the ground, he sometimes acted as judge, jury and executioner. Nobody asked questions but law-abiding citizens were glad the undesirables were gone and wouldn’t return.

“He retired after two terms and returned to his beloved San Bernardino ranch. Years later, during the Mexican Revolution, Slaughter discovered Pancho Villa’s hungry solderos were butchering his cattle. Slaughter grabbed his gun, mounted his horse and rode boldly into Villa’s camp with fire in his eyes. He returned home later with his saddlebags full of shiny new $20 gold pieces.

“Not even Pancho Villa was willing to tangle with the old man Geronimo referred to as ‘that wicked little gringo.’ \

“His last gunfight occurred on May 4, 1921, when he was 81. A gang of border bandits, bent on robbery, attacked the ranch. Armed with his trusty pearl-handled .44, he drove off the bandits.

Standing only 5-foot-6, John Slaughter was small in size, but great in frontier stature. He’d been a lawman, cattleman, gun-fighter, businessman, pioneer, legislator, empire builder and even participated in the final campaign against Geronimo.

“Sometimes he was a bit careless about the legal niceties of the law but it was a hard country and it took men with bark on to tame it.”

 

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Singer Jim Croce, who died in plane crash in Natchitoches, “gave something to remember”

From The Shreveport Times, Natchitoches News Bureau, Sept. 22, 1973
From The Shreveport Times, Natchitoches News Bureau, Sept. 22, 1973

On Sept. 21, 1973, singer Jim Croce who had an outstanding diction, along with an entourage of five people, were killed after their chartered twin-engine Beechcraft plane crashed near the Natchitoches Municipal Airport.

Croce, who was just 30, had just one hour and 10 minutes earlier finished a concert at Northwestern State University and was headed out to perform next in Dallas.

According to Natkchitoches officials, the plane never gained much altitude.  One wing reported scraped the edge of a pecan tree near the then-new Hwy. 1 bypass.  The plane erolled over and burst apart upon impact with hte ground before coming to rest about 200 yards from the end of hte runway.  All passengers were killed instantly.

Croce’s body was found in the copilot’s seat.

Croce had been scheduled to stay overnight in Natchitoches and fly to Dallas the following day, but last minute changes in plans caused him to leave after the concert instead of the following day.

I came across the following article, from UPI (United Press International) News Services on Sept. 22, 1973.

NATCHITOCHES, La. —Jim Croce sat in a folding chair, relaxed and comfortable in his faded blue work shirt and jeans. softly strumming his guitar.

“I’ve flown about 700,000 or 800,000 miles just this past year.  I’m starting to feel it now, too.  You know, jet lag.”

Then he gave his last concert before 2,000 laughing and cheering students at Northwestern University’s Prather Coliseum.   An hour later, alter closing with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” he was dead in the wreckage of an airplane

Rough-hewn, mustachioed, cigar-smoking, weather-beaten Jim Croce gave the students something to remember: music that was honest, sincere, old fashioned, but not slick and spoiled by success.

“I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing now,” was what he said in that last interview before going on one more time

He said he liked performing before college kids in the South, because, “East and West Coast audiences tend to have a ‘show me’ attitude.  He was in the middle of a fiv-week tour of one-night concerts in the Southwest.

“Operator,” one of his early hits, and his current big single, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” were the show stoppers.  When Croce finished with “Leroy Brown,” he just walked off the stage, leaving many students wondering if that was the end of the concert.  It was.

In his 35 minute performance, his new releases, “I Have Name’ and “I Fell in Love with a Roller Derby Queen,” were pleasers, too.  He mode the audience laugh when he told them he wrote “Derby Queen” after meeting a fat lady in a bar.

Croce died with his five-man troupe at Natchitoches Airport in the crash of the twin-engine airplane that was taking them to Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

Croce sang with his guitar in a spotlight standing at a microphone at center stage.  A few feet away, Comedian George Stevens proceeded Croce’s appearance, which began at 9 p.m. And ended at 9:35 p.m.

“In an industry filled with freak acts, Croce was a welcome and much needed change,” one student said.

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“Bitter Waters Round the Bend”… Tales from 1966, pre-Toledo Bend Lake

Following is an article from The Shreveport Times, dated Sun, Jul 3, 1966, and written by Norman Richardson.

Bitter Waters    the_times_sun__jul_3__1966_1
Moses Speights Morris is a proud man whose family tree roots reach deep into the red clay of Sabine County.

His father, who is buried just up the road, worked the land, fought in the Confederacy, and built a big farmhouse that still stands today.

His grandfather received a land grant from the Mexican Republic around Sabinetown, fought for it in the Texas Revolution and he, too, is buried in it

But as much as he loves the land, as linked to it as he is, Morris must leave his 222 acres.

He has known no other home in his 81 years and vows he will stay until the waters come.

And they will come.

mosesSometime before 1968, the muddy waters of the Sabine River will slip from their banks to create the mammoth Toledo Bend Reservoir which will swallow tip Morris’ land and be two feet ever his porch.

“I’m not liking it at all, not a doggone bit,” Morris says bitterly of the Toledo Rend project.

He is the last holdout among the landowners in the Milam, Texas area.

On the Louisiana side of the twisting Sabine, an almost forgotten historic site near Many is on its death bed. It will die slowly as it gives way to progress and surrenders to the turbid waters.

The Sabine Breastworks, most extensive and best preserved military breastworks on the river, will simply cease to exist this year.

It is a project marked with mixed emotions ranging from tears and heartbreak to joy, excitement and downright stubbornness by the people living here.

All have stories to tell, all have reasons for wanting to go or stay.

The same story holds true a few miles deeper into East Texas and the Sam Rayburn Reservoir project.

“I think it’s one of the most outrageous things ever was.” Morris says, slapping his leg in disgust. “Penalizes all of us upstream to satisfy the thirst of those downstream.  I’m gonna stay here til the waters come. They think i ain’t . . but I am, I don’t pay ’em no mind.”

lanetownThe sometimes hard blows of this thing called progress have already been felt in the little community of Concord. As little as six years ago, over 100 citizens here went about their own way of life, working their rich fields, hauling pulp-wood and ritually placing fresh flowers on the graves in a little cemetery established even before Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Life in Concord was built around the old Missionary Baptist Church, fondly called “God’s Home in the Wilderness.”  Now, there is no life here. no townsite, and it is somewhat of an eerie feel-ing to look out over the waters of Rayburn Reservoir and realize that somewhere underneath tons of water lies the historic old community.

Near Pineland, a finger of the reservoir reaches inward to almost surround a new state park where a few old homes once stood.  Less than 300 yards offshore at the bottom of the water lies the old community of I.anetown.  A little further an, the site of the Gum Flat community is also lost forever.

The old communities are gone, but in their places will spring hundreds of new homes around both lakes. new boat camps, new stores and lodges and fishing camps, and there are even a few ghost towns, and a retirement mecca for the elderly.

mcgownThe lakes have enhanced land values over a wide radius and it has been estimated by the Corps of Engineers that annual benefits of over $4.5 million will result from the Rayburn Reservoir be-cause of flood control, the conservation of water for various municipal and industrial purposes and the generation of hydroelectric power.

Those who have moved away from the gso projects were a proud, rural, hard working people for the most part, and many still hold only bitterness even if they reluctantly admit the benefits to be derived from both.

And some. like one elderly woman, were glad to move in order to be closer to a doctor and hospitals. An old farmer near the Toledo Bend area said the “only way I’ll get out is to float out.”

A 66-year-old man said, “I ain’t wanting to move.  This is my home.”

W. W. Cavendar, Sabine County and district clerk. moved out of the home he and his wife had occupied singe 1945 and which has been in his wife’s family for 75 years. They built a newer home 12 miles away.

“It’s okay to build a dam.  It’s good for the area and the county … but they shouldn’t pin all the hardships on the landowner.” Cavendar said.

From Mrs, Cavendar: ‘It’s pretty hard to leave the old family home.  I.was born aind raised here.  It is pretty bard.”

Situations are different and opinions vary all along the Sabine and Rayburn projects.

“The lake builders want lo take all of my land,” Morris said. “That includes the old house and that’s the worst part of all.”  The house ie 94 years old and the land “is the very best. I can make a crop off it anytime.”

Morris says he has been offered $180 per acre, but is holding out for $300, but then counters with, “They can’t pay me enough money to satisfy me… I can’t be satisfied anywhere else.”

He said he has been served condemnation papers on his land, which means, according to a spokesman in the Hemphill, Texas headquarters of the Toledo Rend project, that the case has now reached the court stage.

“Of cuurse.” he added, “the case can be settled out of court anytime.”

The normal process or land acquisition involves an appraisal by an independent contract fee appraiser. On the basis of this an attempt is made to acquire the property. If this eventually fails, the case is presented to a court to decide the outcome.

The areas to be flooded by the two lakes are sparsely settled and wooded. There are no major improvements on land to go under water, but there are a lot of old homes. small churches and stores, roads… and a lot of memories.

But the majority feeling is probably best summed up by 80-year-old Lee Felts whose farm home where be has lived since 1911 is less than 15 feet from the planned shoreline of Toledo Bend:

“You know… sometimes a fellow does things he does not like to do.”.

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He captured the moments and lived the life: Gary Bass was one of the good ones

Gary Bass, 1953-2017
Gary Bass, 1953-2017

Words often come very easily for me.  Until life happens in a way so unexpected and so difficult to comprehend that my usually trustworthy word-producing mind lets me down, finding a void where words should be plentiful.

But I feel extremely inclined to offer whatever words I can for a long-time close friend of mine who just yesterday lost her beloved father.  For words are the least I can offer.  And perhaps they are the most I can offer as well.

Gary Bass, a lifetime Sabine Parish resident, passed away suddenly yesterday.  I do not know the details… but what I do know is that it was sudden and it was unexpected… From what I understand, he was alive and well just yesterday morning.  He was full of life and love and so much good.  And now, he is gone from this Earth… I can only imagine for his family, this is barely comprehensible, if at all.

Gary’s daughter, Martha Bass Snider worked with me at the local newspaper for many years, during the 1990s.  We watched as local citizens of prominent status… doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, and businessmen… were posthumously honored with Page One obituaries and feature articles in the newspaper, detailing their lives on this Earth.  As it happens, and quite frankly, as he wanted it, Gary Bass was not a prominent citizen per se… He probably fancied himself a common man but in truth, he was actually quite uncommon.  A bit of a rarity in this world we live in.

Gary Bass, in fact, was as honorable of a man as I’ve ever come across in my lifetime. A man who deserves fine mention in any and every manner.

And so with this in mind, I offer to my friend Martha and to her family my heartfelt and sincere words and thoughts about Gary Bass. And by offering these words here, in this forum, I wish to honor Gary Bass and the man that he was to any of 22,933 followers of All Things Sabine who take the time to read this.

Gary Bass was a good man.  I say this with seeming simplicity, but it is so very much more than that.  In this world we live in, coming across truly good people is the exception rather than the rule.  A bit of a rarity, if you will.  I guess perhaps because it is not always so simple to be good… I mean to be truly good.  It is not so simple to be selfless and it is not so simple to put others first, as Gary did.

It warrants repeating, Gary was an honorable man… one of the good ones… one of the individuals who will never be forgotten by those who knew him in any way beyond just a “Hello.”

He was a family man through and through.  A bit of a lost breed.  Not to say there aren’t true family men out there, but his devotion to his family was both phenomenal and special.  And yes, a bit rare in today’s times.

He was a wonderful husband to Myra… To say devoted doesn’t scratch the surface of who Gary Bass was.  I remember thinking many times how strong and evident their mutual love and adoration for each other was.  Gary’s relationship with Myra was so simple and pure and yet equally unique and complex… I say with a high degree of confidence that it was apparent to all who knew Gary and Myra knew that they were still truly in love with each other after all their years of marriage.  That, too, is rare in this day and time.

Gary was a wonderful father… he doted on his children and they on him.  He worked and sacrificed to provide for them.  And I could tell that with him, it was not so much a matter of obligation or duty, though both were certainly inside of him, but rather a matter of pure love and adoration and wishes for the happiness and well being of his children as youths and later on as adults.

He was an amazing grandfather… the kind who regularly made moments to be forever remembered and cherished by his grandchildren.  The kind who set examples for these youngsters through the way he was and the way he lived.

Gary was a hard worker.  Always.  Even in times of injury, he never made excuses… work was second nature to him.  He did what he had to do… he knew exactly what it was he had to do and he always seemed to make it happen.

Gary was a religious man.  He worshiped regularly and celebrated in his faith.  His strong faith was evident in his consistent positive attitude… another rarity.

He was an incredibly kind man, who welcomed any one at any time.  He had a keen sense of humor, witty sometimes but warm all the same, and he made people laugh.  Mostly, he made people smile… there was just that something about him… that something I can’t put my finger on but it was there, in his presence.

Gary was always, always accepting.  He was truly interested in others and what they were doing.  He asked questions, and he listened, keenly… with genuine interest and caring.  He never seemed to judge, for through his strong faith, he knew well that was not his place.

Gary loved his Country, and he loved the country.  He was a country man if I ever met one, and I mean that in the nicest way.  He loved Sabine Parish and he loved the countryside.  He loved open spaces, at home and on the road.

Gary was one of those individuals whose love of life was ever present.  You could just sense it in his presence.  And from what I saw, he lived life to its fullest… he relished the busy times and the simple times alike.  For him, there was a time for all things, and he captured the moments and he lived the full life… honorably and with dignity, purpose, and lots of love.  That is a rarity… a bit uncommon by today’s standards.

Gary Bass was a common man in self-declaration who lived an uncommon life and held uncommon values dear.  He was a rarity.  He was, in more ways than I can count, prominent in his own right… for he stood out indeed, the very definition of prominence when you get right down to it… Gary Bass, in fact, stood well above many men in many ways.

His time came too soon.  Certainly too soon for his family and his close friends.  I have no place to say, “he’s in a better place,” or “God called him home because he needed another angel”, or any of the things we hear when lose a loved one.  What I can say, though, is that Gary Bass was, without a doubt, one of the good ones… a fine man with a thirst for life who made the absolute most of his time on Earth.

And for the life he lived, Gary Bass will be welcomed in Heaven and missed on Earth.

 

 

 

 

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Canal between Rayburn and Toledo was once in the works

Following was an Associated Press article, originally published I believe in the Longview News-Journal, in September 1965.   It relates to a proposed canal between Sam Rayburn Lake in East Texas and Toledo Bend Lake.

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$25 Million Tag Placed On Canal Between Lakes

SAN AUGUSTINE — A $25 million price tag has been hung on the proposed interbasin canal linking Sam Rayburn and Toledo Rend reservoirs in East Texas.

The estimate was made in a report by Forrest and Cotton Inc. of Dallas to the Deep East Texas Development Association .

The cost includes $13 million for earth excavation, $8 million for a lock with a 46-foot lift, and $1.6 million for right-of-way and relocations.

The engineers recommended a 17.2 mile canal beginning at Six-Mile Creek on Toledo Bend’s western edge and ending at the confluence of Devil’s Ford and Ponpanaugh creeks on Rayburn’s eastern side.

The single lock would be built a few miles north of Stringtown in Sabine County.

Based on estimates for a 12-foot canal with a bottom width of 150 feet. the engineers estimated 52 million cubic yards of earth wouldhave to be moved.

Relocations would affect the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad immediately east of Rayburn, State Hwy. 87, U. S. 96, and several pipelines

Copies of the report were forwarded to the Corps of Engineers. which agreed last month to include a feasibility investigation of the canal in a comprehensive study of water needs and navigation in the Sabine’ River Basin.

The canal, which will be built by a multicounty navigation distnct created by the last Texas Legislature. would connect two of the largest man-made lakes in the South.

Rayburn, on the Angelina River, will cover 115.000 acres when completed next year; Toledo Bend, on the Sabine, will inundate almost 185.000 acres when finished in 1967.  East Texas leaders also see the channel as a means of tying the heavily – industrialized Lufkin area into a projected navigation system on the Sabine

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Archaeological sites exposed along Toledo Bend during severe drought years

While searching for details on the Indian village discovered near Noble and researched in the 1960s, before Toledo Bend, I also found a more recent article relating to the Caddo Indian Village.  A little over 11 years ago, in September 2006, The Shreveport Times published an article relating to the village, as discoveries were being made in the area during a drought season which left banks along Toledo Bend Lake high and dry.

Following is the article, written by Vickie Welborn.

Archaeological sites exposed at reservoir
■ State warns public against removing artifacts from lakebed.

Caddo village scene. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Caddo village scene. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR —The expanding shoreline of the drought-stricken Toledo Bend Reservoir is raising more than just the ire of recreational users frustrated with the limited access and hazardous conditions.

It’s also elevating the concerns of state archaeologists who have learned the exposed lake bottom has become a drawing card for curiosity seekers in search of archeological treasures hidden underneath the water’s surface for the past 40 years.

Many people don’t realize it is illegal to excavate or remove items from state-owned lands, including exposed river-beds and lakebeds, said Jeff Girard, regional archaeologist on staff at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

“It tends to get worse when there is easy public access such as what you find now on Toledo Bend. But we’re trying to educate the public as much as we can,” Girard said.

His main worry is the potential of losing a significant part of this region’s history.

Readily discovered in the past two weeks near Converse Bay is a duster of sites providing evidence of the Caddo Nation Indian tribes living on what once was high bluffs along the Sabine River.

It’s not a surprise, given that the Caddo are an integral part of the state’s history.

But little is known about the Caddo Nation in relation to the Sabine River basin, especially in more prehistoric times, which makes Girard’s archaeological finds —and those that might be in the hands of unsuspecting looters — all the more important.

“A lot of the early history on the Sabine River has not been documented,” Girard said.

Part of the reason can be blamed on the creation of Toledo Bend Reservoir. An idea borne out of a 1958 feasibility study, the 186,000- acre lake — the fifth largest in the nation — was once 150,000 acres of standing timber straddling the meandering Sabine River.

Land acquisition began in 1963, with construction of the earthen dam, spillway and power plant following in 1964. Impoundment of water began in 1966.

During the construction phase, at least one Caddo Indian burial site was discovered and hundreds of remains were exhumed. “It was a site dated to the 16th century,” Girard said.

The burial ground unknowingly was located behind Earline and Robert Bison’s home, south of Converse, that once sat close to the Sabine River. The Bisons moved to higher ground before the lake swallowed up their family home, and Earline Bison recalls watching the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University college students painstakingly remove the Native Americans’ remains.

“My husband had dug up pottery during the years when he was gardening, but we had no idea that was behind our home,” Earline Bison said.

Girard is concerned that former burial site might be exposed again as Toledo Bend continues to drop to levels not witnessed since its creation.

Friday, the lake measured 161.97 feet. Until earlier this month, the reservoir had never dropped below 162.5 feet. The bottom of the power pool is 162.2feet and the top is 172 feet.

The opportunity to collect and record artifacts from Toledo Bend’s lakebed is only temporary, said Phillip G. Rivet, archaeologist with the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Division of Archaeology.

“The lake will be coming back so now is a great opportunity to collect representative samples, get them cleaned and recorded,” Toledo Bend is usually at its lowest in late summer and early fall, and there’s been some years that shallow lower parts of the lakebed, especially from the Converse area north, has been briefly void of water.

But not to the extent witnessed in recent days, Sabine River Authority Executive Director Jim Pratt said. The water has receded so much on the north end that an old roadbed extending from near the public boat launch in Converse has re-emerged.

The barren roots of hundreds of tree stumps once hidden under several feet of water stick up from the now dusty ground. Small mounds of dirt dotting the sandy soil also are evidence of the weekend artifact hunters, Girard said.

Within seconds of scouting the surface, Girard picks up more than dozen small brown objects that at first glance appear to be merely pieces of chipped rock or slivers of hardened dirt. But upon closer inspection, Girard identifies some as small pieces of clay pottery and others as crude tools that likely were used to tip a spear or used like a screw-driver.

Mark Moore found one such tool Tuesday morning. Moore, who drove to Converse Bay from his home near Marshall, Texas, walked the lakebed for only 30 minutes before finding a brown sharp-tipped stone that Girard dated any-where from 400-500 B.C. to 500600 A.D.

“What fascinates me is that I could be the first person to see this since then,” Moore said. Girard estimates some of the scraping tools to be 7,000 to 8,000 years old, with the pottery pieces dating to the late 1500s.

“That tells you how ancient this river area is,” Pratt said.

The mixture of old and new is intriguing to Girard, who is spending several days a week walking the dusty lakebed with a GPS device in hand. Girard is able to pinpoint exact locations of the suspected cluster of Indian villages onto topographical maps to forever document this new discovery in the Caddo Nation’s history.

Ancestors of the Caddo Indians were agriculturalists whose way of life emerged by 900 A.D., as revealed in archaeological sites in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. When members of Hernando de Soto’s expedition entered the region in 1542. thriving Caddo communities were distributed along several rivers, including the Sabine and Red, according to a brief history of the Caddo Nation appearing on its official Web site.

Efforts to reach spokesmen Bobby Gonzales and Robert Cast were not successful Thursday or Friday.

“We don’t know a lot about this river… it never was studied much…. I don’t know why. But we’re trying to document as much as we can.” Girard said.

That’s why he cautions the weekend artifact hunters to not remove or unearth objects. “The early history of this area is being lost. And from the Caddo’s point of view, this is their history. How would you like it if someone came digging around in your grandparents back yard?”

While it against the law for people to remove items from the lakebed, Pratt admits it is almost impossible for the SRA to enforce it. Pratt asks citizens to contact Girard if they find or have found anything significant.

“We want people to know we won’t confiscate their finds. We just want to document them because once it’s lost, it’s lost,” Girard said. Rivet said another concern is the possible disturbance of human remains should the collectors move beyond scraping the surface. “Our main issue is to make the public aware that it is illegal to dig for artifacts.” Rivet said. the_times_mon__sep_18__2006_1 the_times_mon__sep_18__2006_

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Caddo Indian Village site on Sabine River studied before creation of Toledo Bend

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One of the readers of All Things Sabine, from Leesville, La., messaged me this morning, asking if I could find something on “an Indian burial site that was excavated back in 1966 or 67.”  The reader said he recalled going to the site, which was referred to as “Bison’s Homeplace” and watching the excavations.  I found this quite interesting article, which was published in The Sabine Index, Spring of 1966, and written by Index journalist Mary Calcote.  The article follows, along with pictures that were published with it:

The was the year 1266.  The Sabine River left its banks and rolled over the land in West Louisiana.

It was springtime, and the crops were budding and blooming and trees were green.  There was much game to hunt and the fish were plentiful.  But in the spring of this year, the Caddo people were burdened with sadness.

The oldest and wisest of the Indian tribe called by the name of Swift River was dying…

The sky was darkening and the amber moon was rising over the trees.  It was time to light up the evening fires and begin the chants that would take the sickness out of Swift River.

Death Nears

The time of departure was near for the old Indian and the chants of his followers could not save him.  As the sun rose over the hills, Swift River died.

Red Clay, the oldest of his sons, was the one the tribe would turn to today.  Swift River was buried that day, along with his eating utensils, drinking vessel, pottery, his arrows and his smoking pipe.

White Man Comes

The years rolled by faster and faster until the white man took over the beautiful country that the Caddos loved so much.  Soon, there were cabins built, farms planted, and our ancestors settled in to their new homes in Sabine Parish.

Robert Bison came to own the old Indian Village site, located about eight miles west of Noble.  And as he plowed the lands, he would often find the arrowheads and other artifacts left by the Caddos.

Then came the creation of the gigantic Toledo Bend Reservoir, and Bison was among many who had to move out of the Sabine River valley.

In 1963, working under a grant given by the National Science Foundation, a survey was made of Indian Village sites in the Toledo Bend Reservoir area.  This initial survey was made by Dan Skarlock of the University of Texas at Austin.  He mapped this and other sites in Sabine Parish.  Dr. Ed Jelks, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, worked on the project.  He later moved to Southern Methodist University.

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Digging Starts

About mid-April, anthropologists from SMU in Dallas began digging at the site.  Ned Woodall served as archeologist in charge of this, the second of four field seasons by SMU this year in the Reservoir area.

This was the third site in Sabine Parish to be explored and other sites in upper Sabine Parish will be looked at later.

When I arrived at the scene Friday afternoon, May 6, the rain was slowly falling, but archeologists were busy under a tent that had made from a parachute.

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I introduced myself to Dave Brown, who served as assistant in charge, while Wodall was in Reno, Nevada to give a speech.  Assisting Brown was Hiram Gregory, professor of Anthropology at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, and several of his students.

700 Years Old

Gregory, who is an authority on the Indian cultures of this area, said these Indians lived about 700 years ago.  They were Caddo Indians, so very early that the anthropologists gave them the name “Belcher Focus.” The Caddo tribe was believed to be of the same tribe that has baen discovered in a line running into Arkansas and East Texas.

Gregory told me these people were hunters, fishers and agriculturists.

When I was there, four burials had been found. Three had grave goods which consisted of arrowheads, vessels, pottery, and smoking pipes.

To find a lead as to where the graves might be located, the archeologists dig trenches with back hoes.  Gregory said these Indians were buried from five to six feet deep.  When the archeologists get near the skeleton, they are very careful not to disturb it or any of the grave goods.  They carefully use bamboo knives, trowels, and paint brushes as wisk brooms to uncover their finds.

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Skeleton Uncovered

I then saw one of the graves just as they were. uncovering the skeleton and grave goods. It gave me a good feeling to know that I was watching history being made.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncovered, the exploration may go on longer.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncov-ered, the exploration may go on longer.

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As I left, I looked at Mr. Bison’s old barn still standing a few feet from the grave sites, and wondered if someday archaeologists would be uncovering it. You see, in just a few months it will be covered by about twelve feet of water when the Toledo Bend Reservoir fills.

This was springtime, 1966.  I looked at the Sabine River 150 yards from the graves as it rolled by, increased by heavy rains from u north.  I looked back at the Indian Village, then again at the river, and left.

Excavation at the 700-year old Caddo Indian village on the Sabine ended a few weeks later.  This brought to an end the month of digging at the Robert Bison place, and ended with the uncovering of about 10 grave sites.

Woodall told The Index that his team had found evidence of houses at the old site.  He said holes were found in the ground, showing that poles supporting houses were once there.  A hearth area was also uncovered.

Woodall said the location was a wonderful place for a village.  Clear springs feed the Sabine River about 150 yards from the grave sites.  Fishing was good in the river, hunting was good, and the soil was rich.

The anthropologist said that deer bones and mussel shells were uncovered at the site.  He said the Indians planted corn and squash.

Those working at the village area said Saturday and Sunday were like carnival days at the site, with steady streams of people coming all the time.  They said as many as 500 people were at the site at one time.

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East Texas Twain

E. I. KellieYears ago, I came across an article on a quite interesting journalist from East Texas.  To say Edward Irwin Kellie, who founded the still operating newspaper of Jasper, Texas, was a “character” seems to be a bit of an understatement.  In an August 1967 edition, Shreveport Times writer Norman Richardson compared Kellie to Mark Twain, and in fact, named his editorial piece “East Texas Twain.”

Following is the text of the editorial:

He was a 190-pounder with piercing eyes, a big walrus mustache and a pen of penitence that dug furrows in the conscience of Jasper County citizens.

Once, when his words evoked the wrath of carpetbaggers, they arrested him and tied him to a tree on the courthouse grounds.

Later, when he was dying, he insisted on being buried wrapped in a Confederate flag.

Capt. Edward L. Kellie was the Mark Twain of East Texas, a plucky little publisher who found-ed the Jasper News-Boy in 1865.

Twain dreamed of being a cowboy. So did Kellie, Twain labored in a print shop as a boy, as did Kellie. Twain loved the river and longed to be a steam-boat captain, as did Kellie. And both possessed a biting wit.

Kellie’s parents died of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1856. Three. years later, tired ‘ of walking the streets, he headed for Texas with a body full of the cowboy fever.

In Galveston, looking for work, he was given a job as a printer’s devil, with duties of keeping the office clean, picking up the type dropped on the floor and whatever else he was told to do.

He stayed there a year and then took a steamboat to Sabine Pass and hooked on with a newspaper there in the same capacity.

Edward KellieIn 1861 the Civil War broke out and Kellie immediately enlisted in a Confederate company.

“We drilled on the prairie for about six months,” he once wrote. “Seeing no chance to get into a fight, six of us under age who wanted to fight packed our duds without asking anybody and went up to Jasper, where we learned a company was going to war.”

Kellie’s baptism to fire came at Elk Horn in Arkansas but he later wrote that, “I never did know which whipped, as the federals quit and so did we, they going north and we going south.”

Jasper News Boy, early daysIn 1865, with the battle flag of his Confederate company hidden under his uniform, Kellie re-turned to Jasper, found a hand press and a box of jumbled type in an old newspaper shop, rented an office and founded the Jasper News-Boy.

Few escaped his pungent scoldings. He wrote on many things, including this note on Masonry:

“We have always thought Masonry was a good thing and we intended to try to join them when we could get money enough. But this stripping a fellow and tearing his undershirt (during initiation rites) all to pieces we don’t like. We ain’t got but two undershirts and blamed if we know what to do if one of them was tored up.”

E. I. KellieDuring his career as publisher—which he left in 1880 to become a steamboat captain on the Sabine River—Kellie left Jasper with somewhat of a mystery.

In 1872 he solemnly reported that the News-Boy had received a cable from Queen Victoria of England, asking that a subscrip-tion be started and sent to Buckingham Palace. “I have been a constant reader of your paper for the past year and find it impossible to live without it. It is, indeed, the life of my household,” the cable reportedly said.

Kellie never did say if the wire was authentic or a hoax.

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