Winner, T. H. Fehrenbach Award, Texas Historical Commission
Sawmill communities were once the thriving centers of East Texas life. Many sprang up almost overnight in a pine forest clearing, and many disappeared just as quickly after the company "cut out" its last trees. But during their heyday, these company towns made Texas the nation's third-largest lumber producer and created a colorful way of life that lingers in the memories of the remaining former residents and their children and grandchildren.
Drawing on oral history, company records, and other archival sources, Sitton and Conrad recreate the lifeways of the sawmill communities. They describe the companies that ran the mills and the different kinds of jobs involved in logging and milling. They depict the usually rough-hewn towns, with their central mill, unpainted houses, company store, and schools, churches, and community centers. And they characterize the lives of the people, from the hard, awesomely dangerous mill work to the dances, picnics, and other recreations that offered welcome diversions.
Sawmill is a history of logging in the Arkansas and Oklahoma Ouachita Mountains from 1900 to 1950, a penetrating study of the lumber industry, and a significant view of man’s interaction with a major forest resource. It is also a social history in its account of the lumbermen’s quest for the last virgin timber and the effects of its depletion. Kenneth L. Smith interviewed more than three hundred people to develop this lively history of the cutting of virgin shortleaf pine forests.
The Caddo River Lumber Company and the Arkansas mill towns of Rosboro, Glenwood, and Forester provided jobs and homes for many during the brief heyday of the big sawmills. Smith takes a close look at several important timber companies, and at the personality of T. W. Rosborough, a man who bought and sold vast tracts of land and had an almost fatherly concern for both white and black sawmill workers.
The recollections included here provide insight into a population that lived through the Depression years in isolated mountain communities where cats were sometimes sold as possum meat, and where men enjoyed weekend “sip and sniff” poker parties. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from the time of the mills and includes a foldout map.
Sawmill was originally published in 1986 and reprinted in 2006.