Even East Texans living in the1940s considered the past as being less complicated and somehow more pleasant.
But in 1948-49, when eighty-year-old Andrew Allen Veatch of Sabine County sat down to write his unpublished autobiography, “The Sage of Lone Vale,” he observed that he had lived in those so-called “delightful times, and I should not like to go back to them.”
Veatch grew up in an East Texas that was sparsely settled and the Civil War had left the region “perhaps more distressingly affected than any other section.” Confederate money was worthless, “yet it was the only kind we had,” said Veatch.
To survive, Veatch said East Texans depended on home-grown vegetables and meat from “razorback hogs, the meanest in the world.” He said the hogs were never fed, but “found their own living in the woods,” and could outrun a deer.
“When other food in the woods gave out, the razorbacks would root up pine saplings, chew the roots and go on living,” he said. The hogs were hunted down, using dogs, a tradition which still exists in parts of East Texas.
His family, Veatch said, had corn ground by a water mill six miles away and every housewife spun and wove the cloth, turning it into garments. Women and young girls knew how to knit and their knitting needles supplied the family with socks and stockings. “Hats were made of palmetto, which had been cut and bleached...and shoes were made (by shoemakers) from leather tanned at home,” he recalled.
One such shoemaker was L.N. Morris, whose quality work earned him the nickname, “Leatherneck Morris.”
Medicines were scare and the East Texans turned to nature for remedies, using red pepper, watermelon seeds, corn husk tea, charcoal, pine rosin and tar, sassafras, black haw and dogwood bark, roots from wild plants, and weeds such as one he called “the devil’s shoe string.”
Veatch observed caustically: “Some of these remedies may have been worthless, but at least they had the merit of being harmless...the strongest curative power was our faith in its efficiency.”
Soap making was the most arduous task in a household. Families made lye, an ingredient used in soap, by filtering water through wood ashes, and there were four other steps essential to producing soap, as described by Veatch.
First, it was unwise to make soap except in the dark of a March moon.
Second, at least two pounds of pine rosin had to be added to chunks of fat meat or “old cracklings” to create “soap grease.”
Third, the lye and soap grease were combined in a kettle sitting over a fire in a fireplace.
Fourth, to stir the mixture, a “soap stick” had to be cut from a sassafras limb cut from the right side of a woods trail. It had to be slightly crooked at the end which touched the soap mixture.
Five, the mixture was always stirred to the right. If stirred from the left, even for a few seconds, the soap would be of a poor quality.
The next time you complain about having to drive to the store for a bar of soap, remember Andrew Veatch and the “good old days.”
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of over 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)