So, I'm going to start east, in the Piney Woods, and head west from there. Or maybe south. Dunno.
East Texas is a little different from the Piney Woods. Some folks define East Texas--which is a distinct region of the state--as everything east of Interstate 45. However, the territory along the coast, around "The Golden Triangle" (Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, right by the Louisiana border) is distinctly different from the Piney Woods area. It rightly belongs to the Coastal Bend region. Some people deny that Houston has any part of the Piney Woods, but those pine trees come down through Huntsville, Conroe and The Woodlands right into Houston. I put up this map because it helps to show the disputed definition of East Texas. Those stripey counties are the disputed area. I don't think East Texas goes that far west. In my not-so-humble opinion, East Texas runs along that red area line, and then cuts south to Galveston Bay (that big blue indent). Everything east of that is East Texas. But only the red counties are the Piney Woods.
A lot of cows are raised in the Piney Woods, amongst the trees. Just not generally on what you would think of as ranches. Most East Texans agriculturists would consider themselves farmers rather than ranchers, historically raising cotton. Around Tyler, they grow roses. The lumber industry has also been important in the Piney Woods--all those pine trees... Up until the discovery of the East Texas oil field in 1930, cotton, cattle and lumber were the main businesses in the region. Oil and natural gas are the biggest industries now, but the others are still important.
|Caddo Lake bald cypress, lily pads and Spanish moss|
The Piney Woods was historically a lawless part of the state. When Texas was ruled by Spain and later, by Mexico, settlement in the area was forbidden. So of course, people settled there anyway. Because of the Big Thicket undergrowth making it hard for law enforcement to get through the forest, a lot of outlaws from the U.S. settled there for a lot of years. East Texas is considered the westernmost outpost of Southern culture. It's more South than West, so a lot of those folks hiding in the thicket were moonshiners.
Underneath the tall pines, dogwood trees and Texas redbud trees bloom, along with Louisiana iris, and of course, bluebonnets in the open areas. Redbuds are early signs of spring, exploding in purple in February. Texas spring begins early.
Huntsville claims Sam because he lived there when he died. Sam Houston State University is in Huntsville. It's always referred to as Sam Houston, as in "I go to Sam Houston," or maybe "Sam Houston State." Never one or the other.
Stephen F. Austin University is in Nacogdoches (pronounced Nacka-DOE-chess) in Deep East Texas, and is often shortened to "Stephen F." as in "Joe just enrolled at Stephen F." For those of you unfamiliar with Texas history, Stephen F. Austin was the man who organized the first Anglo-American colony in Texas. His first colonies were along the Brazos and Colorado Rivers, neither of which flows through East Texas, and he died in Brazoria County, which is the next county south of where I live, in Galveston County, so I'm not sure why the university is in Nacogdoches...