Davy Crockett may not have killed a bear at three years old as he claimed, but he still was the “King of the Wild Frontier.” Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt named a new national forest after the legendary frontiersman who died fighting at the Battle of the Alamo. The newly-minted Davy Crockett National Forest offered federal protection to a rich and timbered landscape that needed conservation if it was to survive.
The story of the Davy Crockett National Forest begins properly with Texas settler, J.H. Ratcliff who owned an operated a small sawmill in the area at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1901, Ratcliff sold that sawmill to the Central Coal and Coke Company (known as the Four C). The town of Ratcliff was then established around the Four C Milling operation. Due to tensions between the lumber company and local merchants, however, the company decided to create a new mill outside of Ratcliff in what would become the town of Kennard. This site soon became the second largest sawmill in the nation, cranking out 300,000 board feet a day by 1902. Yet, the production came at a cost. By the early 1930s, the timber industry had depleted the forests in East Texas, and people were worried about the regional economy and jobs.
In 1933, as part of federal conservation efforts, the Texas legislature authorized the acquisition of much of this cut-over timberland for the United States national forest system. As one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped reforest much of the land that the timber companies had decimated. CCC Camp P-58-T was built in Weches and CCC Camp F-4-T was built in Ratcliff, both in 1933. These camps housed the companies that helped create the Davy Crockett National Forest. From 1933 until 1941, CCC workers transformed a small log pond into Ratcliff Lake, built recreational facilities and roads, installed phone lines, and fought fires. One of the most important CCC projects was to plant seedlings and reforest the land. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the CCC planted about 3 million trees in the area. Davy Crockett National Forest now includes over 160,000 acres of woodlands in Houston and Trinity counties.