Jennifer Ridge: Okay NOW it’s on. See? The little green light is on.
Norma Wallis: Oh yes, I see that now.
JR: So now that I am recording, would you mind giving me your name and stating whether or not I have permission to record this conversation?
NW: My name is Norma Wallis. I am librarian for the Pinebox Library. I work here part time in the archives. I am also Treasurer for the Pinebox Historical Society.
JR: Thank you Ms. Wallis. And you don’t mind my recording this?
NW: I suppose so.
JR: Thank you. So, can you tell me a bit about how Pinebox got started?
NW: Well, Empresario Greystone settled this area in 1826—
JR: I’m sorry. Who? Did you say Emperor Greystone?
NW: No no no. EM-PRES-ARE-EE-OH. Didn’t you ever take Texas History in school?
JR: Actually, I just recently moved to Texas.
NW: And you’re writing for a Texas travel magazine?
JR: Think of it this way: I can write about Pinebox from a fresh perspective.
NW: I guess so. Well, back in 1825 I think, Mexico passed a colonization law. Under the law, contractors were issued large tracts of land to colonize. Empresarios were like recruiters, land developers, and governors all in one.
JR: So Pinebox was colonized by one of these Empresarios.
NW: Right. Carter Greystone. Before getting an Empresario contract he was a fairly successful farmer and businessman in Virginia. But after his wife and son died of pneumonia in 1823 he decided to leave his old memories behind and start fresh out on the frontier. Of course, after he settled down out here he changed his mind and had their bodies brought to Texas to be buried near his new home.
JR: Wow, really? Back in the early 1800s that must have been a messy job.
NW: He was a rich man by the standards of the day. After getting his Empresario contract from the Mexican government in 1825, Carter didn’t waste any time. He recruited 400 families. Think about that. Four hundred FAMILIES all willing to pick up and move out into the wilderness for the promise of free land they’d never even seen. No roads. No towns. No civilization except what you make.
JR: Free land? I can see how that would be a draw.
NW: Well, there is that. Each family got something like 100 acres of land. Anyway, by the end of 1826 the first families had arrived and settled around the lake. By 1828 over 600 families had been lured here with the promise of fertile land. Things were getting a bit crowded, so Greystone applied to the Mexican government for more land.
NW: Well, he applied but he never got a response. Finally in September of 1829 he took matters into his own hands. He took a dozen families into the Big Thicket with the intention of building another settlement upriver from Lake Greystone. He left his younger brother William in charge of the settlement. William had come to Texas in 1827 with his wife and daughters.
Weeks went by, then months with no word from the new settlement. William got worried that his brother had been attacked by Karankawa Indians and sent a request to Mexico for troops to protect the settlers and to locate Carter’s lost colony. Needless to say, his request went unanswered too.
JR: This is really interesting. Someone could make a movie based on this.
NW: You haven’t even heard the ending yet. The next spring, William formed a militia to search for his brother’s outpost. They traveled upriver into the Big Thicket, where they found scraps of clothing and some busted trunks. No other evidence was ever found of Carter or the families who traveled with him.
JR: Wow! So do you think they were attacked by Indians or what?
NW: I guess it depends on who you talk to. Most historians assume the Carter party was attacked by the Karankawas. But there’s also another explanation. All the local school kids can tell you about the creature in the woods. It’s like a local Bigfoot. Maybe Carter disturbed something in those woods. Something that fought back.
JR: You’re kidding me, right?
NW: Well, it makes a fun story, doesn’t it? Anyway, when Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, all those old Empresario contracts become void. William continued to run the settlement until it officially became the town of Pinebox in 1855. Even after that he was Mayor until he died in 1875. As a matter of fact, there are still descendants of the Greystone family in the area.
JR: So why is the town called Pinebox and not Greystone?
NW: Well, the first colonists came here for farming, but pretty soon it was clear that this was timber land. By the time the city was chartered, timber was the major economic force. There was already a town named “Pine”, so Greystone named us Pinebox. Maybe it was a kind of nod toward his brother’s death, or maybe not. Nobody really knows for sure and we probably never will.
JR: Well Ms. Wallis, thank you so much for your time. It has been fascinating hearing you talk about the history here.
NW: Well I hope some of this makes it into your story. My name is spelled N – O – R – M – A – W – A – L – L – I – S.