"Backwoodsmen: Stockmen and Hunters along a BIg Thicket Valley" presents a detailed social history of the back-country stockmen, hunters, and woodsmen of the Neches River in southeastern Texas. Labeled "crackers," "pineys," "sandhillers," and "nesters" by townspeople across the upland South, southern backwoodsmen have often been dismissed by historians. One of the first works to challenge these stereotypes was Frank Owsley's "Plain Folk of the Old South" (1949). In " Backwoodsmen," Thad Sitton follows Owsley's stockmen and small farmers into the twentieth century.
As in parts of Appalachia, many elements of centuries-old herding and hunting lifeways survived in the Neches Valley into the 1960s. In what early settlers called the "Big Thicket" or "Big Woods," everything outside fenced fields was, by long established custom, "open range," a wooded commons in which hogs, cattle, and backwoodsmen were free to roam. And roam they did--not only stockmen, with their "rooter hogs" and "woods cattle," but also tir cutters, grey-moss gatherers, hunters, trappers, fishermen, and moonshiners. Sitton details their daily activities, relying mainly on oral history interviews he conducted with dozens of Neches Valley woodsmen. Along the edge of river bottoms, at the end of county roads, the author found hist story, still alive in the memories of the people of the Neches River.