Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Nameless Towns: Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Nameless Towns: Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942

Article excerpt

Nameless Towns: Texas Sawmill Communities, 1880-1942. By Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. Pp. xii, 257. Acknowledgment, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $37.50, cloth; $18.95, paper.)

The authors of Nameless Towns have provided an interesting narrative history of sawmill communities during the sixty year heyday of that industry in east Texas. Although Sitton and Conrad fail to fully integrate the Texas experience into that of other southern states, they offer many useful descriptive passages detailing the social and working lives of sawmill workers and their families. The discussion of race, class, and occupational status is revealing. The sections on conditions within noisy and dangerous sawmills are sometimes harrowing, and the discussions of the role of wives within the community, the courting rituals among adolescents and young adults, and the playtime activities of children create a sense of what life must have been like outside the mill. While the authors focus much of their attention on the lives of the hard drinking, hard living men who worked the mills, they portray the sawmill community in its entirety.

Sitton and Conrad argue that most of the labor for the east Texas mills was drawn from the surrounding countryside and that lumber mill owners sometimes augmented this insufficient force with foreign, particularly Italian and Mexican, laborers. Because this heavily forested and relatively infertile section of east Texas was sparsely populated, it is not surprising lumber mill owners found it necessary to bring in foreign labor. What is surprising is that the authors fail to discuss the extent to which the mills of east Texas might have attracted labor from other sawmill areas in the South-particularly nearby Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Given the vulnerability of the lumber industry to downturns in the economy and the uncertain weather of the South, mills frequently closed, if only briefly, and left many workers to seek employment elsewhere. Thus mill workers wandered from mill town to mill town searching for work. …

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