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LARRY JEHE FISHER’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE -LAST SOUTHERN FRONTZER ROOKS a THE CULTURE Golden Days and Olden Ways Big Thicket People: Larry Jene Fisher’s Photographs of the Last Southern Frontier By Thad Sitton and C.E. Hunt University of Texas Press 156 pages, $29.95 II here’s no Chisos Basin, no Santa Elena Canyon, no Mule Ears in Texas’ Big Thicket National Preserve. Unlike Big Bend National Park, the only other United Nations International Biosphere Reserve in Texas, the Thicket entertains few visitors. Blackwater swamps, hardwood bottoms, and longleaf pine forests thick as cobwebs don’t make for best-selling coffee-table books. Besides being uninviting, the Thicket is plain dangerous. Of its nearly 1,000 species of flowering plants and ferns, the forest shelters four types of carnivorous plants. In addition to its 186 species of migratory and nesting birds, the swamp is home to alligators and all four groups of North America’s venomous snakes. Panthers and black bears drank from its myriad creeks into the 20th century. Although its name implies an endless bramble tangle, the Thicket is a varied landscape. Longleaf yellow pines occupy much of the low, rolling hills to the exclusion of other growth. A walk across the bare ground beneath the giant pines, their branches forming a striated canopy overhead, recalls the sense and scale of medieval cathedral. Dubbed “the biological crossroads of North America,” the Thicket comprises elements of the Florida Everglades, the Okefenokee Swamp, the Appalachian region, piedmont forests, and the open woodlands of the Coastal Plains. Other areas resemble tropical jungles found in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz. It’s an easy place to get lost. “The paths of Indian hunters and wild beasts were long the only roads through this wilderness,” the 1940 Works Progress Administration guide to Texas states, “and even the Indians avoided straying far from these beaten trails:” In 1542, the Spanish conquistador Luis de Moscoso marched west from the Mississippi River toward Mexico. Upon reaching the Big Thicket, he turned his army around, declaring it impossible “to traverse so miserable a land.” During the Civil War, service-dodging Texans hid out among the hardwoods. Confederate Army conscript details hunted the fugitives, 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 8, 2008