Devil's Pocket a bad spot to be

By Bob Bowman
Special to the Journal

Devil's Pocket is an intriguing, forgotten settlement lying in a remote part of Newton County on the Texas side of the Sabine River.

In its early years, the area had some desirable home sites for pioneers, and families settled in the area, hoping to farm and raise cattle on the open lands.

But, to many of the families, bad luck came in various ways.

A mixture of tangled undergrowth, marshlands, hummocks and glades, the land left settlers with droughts, floods, plagues of malaria and fever, failing crops and the disappearance of their cattle.

As a result, the land soon took on the name, "The Devil's Pocket."

Located about seven miles north of Deweyville, the Pocket is a flat, pie-shaped area bounded on the west by Nichols Creek, which runs southeast into the Sabine River, the eastern boundary of the Pocket, The northern boundary is Slaydon's Creek, which also flows into the Sabine.

Settlers were late in coming into the area and in the nineteenth century Devil's Pocket was known primarily for being the home of brush-loving longhorn cattle. Later, it gained popularity as a hunting preserve.

The land between the creeks was a maze of wild forest growth and swamps and the cattle that lived there were wild and hard to gather.

Alexander Wright recalled living in the area in the 1800s. He said "it would be hard to find a country more desolate." When he worked livestock there around 1900, he described the land as "swampy, brush country with some open pinewoods" where the cattle grazed and bedded down.

He said cowboys always worked the Pocket first because it was the hardest drive and "was the very devil to work."

And to add to the misery of the people who made their home there, a meteor is said to have smashed into the middle of the forest, landing with a terrible explosion that shook cabins for miles away.

It left a gaping hole some fifty feet across and thirty feet deep. Steam and smoke rose from the hole for weeks, leading someone to remark that "the devil came to see us."

While the meteor story has never been confirmed, the area has a depression in the earth that is often filled with stagnant water and hundreds of water moccasins.

The vicious snakes, according to old stories, not only cluttered up the pond-like depression, but occupied the land around it, leading Devil's Pocket residents to avoid the area as much as possible.

Part of the reputation given to the Pocket came from unsavory characters who took refuge in the area when lawmen came hunting for them.

In the late 1800s, outlaws headed straight for the pocket with the knowledge that most lawmen were reluctant to follow them.

Even today, with the advances of civilization, the Newton County area is still referred to as the Devil's Pocket.

Most of its inhabitants live on a looped road at the terminal east end of Farm Road 253, which circles an island of relatively high ground. The poorly drained bottomland is dominated by eastern cottonwood and sweet gum trees with understory vegetation that includes pine-hill bluestem, switch cane and sedge.

The name Devil's Pocket is not unique to East Texas.

A camping area in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah bears the name, as does a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which got its name when a Catholic priest said the kids in the area were so bad that "they would steal a chain from the devil's pocket."

A novel by Fred B. McKinley also bears the name. McKinley's book is set against the rich oil backdrop of East Texas.

(Bob Bowman of Lufkin, Texas, is the author of more than 30 books about East Texas, including the "Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Volume I." He can be reached at bobb@consolidated.net )

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