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The Old Roads
Joe F. Combs
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The Old Roads

Farm Corner - September 25, 1956

by Joe F. Combs

The roads of yesterday left their imprints upon the lands of today. As we travel through the pines of East Texas on modern fast concrete highways, straight as the crow flies, we often see branching from the new ribbon of concrete a dim, sandy aisle, columned by stately pines, as a reminder of a day that is no more.

Down these old dirt roads the wagons laden with farm produce went to market. They were pulled in many cases by teams of oxen, and their rattling, squeaky sound echoed through the forest like a loud voice in a great hall. The farmers of that time, not so long ago, marketed their cotton in the little cities along the railroads, where this was possible.

Others went to the steamboat towns along the Sabine and the Neches, where buyers sampled their staple, and paid them mostly in silver dollars. They bought their months supply of schnapps, tobacco, YC sugar, peaberry coffee and a barrel of flour, and began the slow plodding journey home. They usually camped a few miles from town, in the great forests, where the timber wolves howled, and an occasional panther lifted his voice to announce his claim to the realm.

The country roads were maintained by those who lived upon the roads. Ever so often the "overseer," who had been appointed and commissioned with authority by the commissioners' court, summoned the men residents for a day or two of labor on the roads, and they used the scrapers and plows supplied by the court for repairing the roads. Every man brought his ax, spade or how, and they did a fair job of making the roads passable.

It was upon such old roads, built with human sweat and maintained by strong arms and backs, that this nation had its "birth of freedom." Down these old roads traveled such historic old families as the Wheats, the Louts, Brittains, McGowns, Parkers, Runnels, Crockers, Adams, Ellingtons, Cannons, Crawfords, Kirbys, Blounts, Dents, Holts, Becks, Hooks, Caraways, Deans and many many others.

Down these winding backwood trails the men who fought at San Jacinto hastily crammed their knapsacks and walked to their call of duty. Some of the old roads are marked, and others are gone to be covered with the rush and shrubs of today. But all could tell a tale of interest if they could talk. They made it possible to develop East Texas into a great farming region.

As I look upon these old abandoned roads, once the arteries of commerce in a new land, the words of Bert Cooksley's poem comet o mind. "This road is used no more. The long weeds call their ancient friends, the spider and the snail; toads walk it all day idly, and the small lizard paddles down its copper trail. Long vanished are the creaking homestead carts, the herdboy's whistle and the blacksmith's song."

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