The answer is – well maybe. Northeast Texas remains an under populated part of the state. A region known as the Big Thicket extends north from Beaumont. The Big Thicket is a vast pine forest that stretches for hundreds of miles. This large forest, by anyone’s count, contains more wild animals than humans, many of which moved up from Mexico, or south from the huge Ouachita forests in central Arkansas.
The Big Thicket, by definition, doesn’t extend into far northeast Texas. In reality, however, the vast forest comprising the Big Thicket continues into northwest Louisiana and even into Arkansas, all the way to the Ouachita Mountains. Anyone that has ever visited the area knows if you stray very far off the main highway and follow a winding blacktop or dirt road, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a sea of green often called the “pine curtain.”
Behind this curtain of trees and vegetation lies a world as mysterious and haunting as the day the first white man visited it. If you take this road, don’t be surprised if you hear the howl of a wolf, or the low throaty growl of a panther – yes, maybe even a black panther.
While growing up, I often spent the night at my Grandmother’s house in the piney woods of Cass County. They still had no electricity when I was young and burned coal oil lanterns at night for illumination. People went to bed early in those days, the smoke, soot and acrid odor of burning fuel more than most people could tolerate for very long.
Wolves were very much a part of east Texas in the 1950s and I still remember their mournful howls when we finally snuffed out the lanterns for the night. Don’t believe me? They had a bounty on their heads and were hunted into near extinction. I recall seeing the carcasses of an entire pack hanging in a row by their hind legs on fence posts. I was probably ten or twelve at the time.
Are there still wolves in east Texas? Not likely. Wolves are social creatures and usually run in packs. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if an occasional lobo passed through the area. Black panthers are a different story. Locals have reported seeing them many times, although this is unconfirmed and denied by the Authorities. Have I ever seen a black panther? No, but I’ve seen bobcats and heard their woman-like screams in the woods.
If you’re still unconvinced, travel south to Cass County, Texas sometime. Leave the main road and follow a blacktop until it dead-ends. Hike a mile or so back into the piney woods, maybe until you reach a cypress bayou. Pitch your tent and then wait for the sun to go down. But zip the door up tightly. The howls, growls and woman-like screams you will definitely hear may just raise those tiny hairs on the back of your neck.