East Texas Fast Facts
Est. Population: 572,874
Total Population of Texas: 5.65%
Know As: The Piney Woods
Sq. Miles Of Piney Woods: 23,500
10 Largest Cities:
1. Tyler, Texas
2. Longview, Texas
3. Huntsville, Texas
4. Texarkana, Texas
5. Lufkin, Texas
6. Nacogdoches, Texas
7. Paris, Texas
8. Marshall, Texas
9. Palestine, Texas
10. Mt. Pleasant, Texas
East Texas City Map:
A Distinct Cultural, Geographic and Ecological Area
According to the Handbook of Texas, the East Texas area “may be separated from the rest of Texas roughly by a line extending from the Red River in north central Lamar County southwestward to east central Limestone County and then southeastward towards eastern Galveston Bay”, though most sources separate the Gulf Coast area into a separate region.
Another popular, somewhat simpler, definition defines East Texas as the region between the Trinity River, north and east of Houston, (or sometimes Interstate 45, when defining generously) as the western border, the Louisiana border as the eastern border, the Oklahoma border as the northern border, and extending as far south as Lufkin, Texas.
Most of the region consists of the Piney Woods ecoregion, and East Texas can sometimes be reduced to include only the Piney Woods. At the fringes, towards Central Texas, the forests expand outward toward sparser trees and eventually into open plains.
Population, Demographics and Government
East Texas comprises 35 counties, most of which collaborate in sub-regional Ark-Tex Council of Governments, the East Texas Council of Governments, the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission.
Counties included are Anderson, Angelina, Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Delta, Franklin, Gregg, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Hopkins, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Rains, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood County, Texas.
Continuing north from Deep East Texas, Tyler, Longview and Marshall, in Northeast Texas, along with Texarkana, on the far northeastern border with Arkansas, represent the major population centers in the northern section of East Texas. Only eight miles from the Texas border, Shreveport, Louisiana, is considered the economic and cultural center for the Ark-La-Tex, the area where Arkansas, Louisiana, and East Texas meet.
The 2017 estimated U.S. Census shows these 35 East Texas counties with a population of 572,874 residents, which represents 8% of the total state population of Texas.
According to US Census records from 2010, the population of East Texas counties is 65.93% White Non-Hispanic, 17.44% African-American, 14.29% Hispanic or Latino Origin and 2.34% Other (including native and Asian). East Texas’ most ethnically and racially diverse county is Jefferson County, East Texas’ largest county which includes the city of Beaumont, with 44.1% White Non-Hispanic, 34.1% African-American, 17.7% Hispanic or Latino Origin and 4.1% Other (including native and Asian). Unlike Texas’ total state racial demographics, only two counties in East Texas have a majority minority, Jefferson County in the Golden Triangle and Titus County having a 40.6% Hispanic or Latino origin population. East Texas and Southeast Texas has a significant African-American population, ranging to nearly 20% in some counties.
Geography and Climate
Climate is the unifying factor in the region’s geography—all of East Texas has the humid subtropical climate typical of the Southeast, occasionally interrupted by intrusions of cold air from the north. East Texas receives more rainfall, 35 to 60 inches (890 to 1,520 mm), than the rest of Texas. All of East Texas also lies within the Gulf Coastal Plain, but with less uniformity than the climate with rolling hills in the north and flat coastal plains in the south. Local vegetation also varies from north to south with the lower third consisting of the temperate grassland extending from South Texas to South Louisiana. The upper two-thirds of the region dominated by temperate forest known as the Piney Woods, which extends over 23,500 square miles (61,000 km2). The Piney Woods are part of a much larger region of pine-hardwood forest that extends into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The Piney Woods thins out as it nears the Gulf of Mexico. West of the Piney Woods are the ranch lands and remnant oak forests of the East Central Texas forests ecoregion.
The Sabine River, Trinity River, Neches River, Angelina River and Sulphur River are the major rivers in East Texas, but the Brazos River and Red River also flow through the region. The Brazos cuts through the southwest portion of the region while the Red River forms its northern border with Oklahoma and a portion of Arkansas. In East Texas and the rest of the South, small rivers and creeks collect into swamps called “Bayous” and merge with the surrounding forest. Bald cypress and Spanish moss are the dominant plants in bayous. The most famous of these bayous are Cypress Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. Cypress Bayou surrounds the Big, Little, and Black Cypress rivers around Jefferson. They flow east into Caddo Lake and the adjoining wetlands cover the rim and islands of the lake.
East Texas is often considered the westernmost extension of the Deep South. The predominant cultural influence comes from customs and traditions passed down from European-American and African-American Southerners who settled the region during the mid and late 19th century. African Americans were first brought to the area as enslaved workers for the plantations.
These influences are noticeable in the sub-dialect of Texan English that is spoken throughout the region. According to the most recent linguistic studies, East Texans tend to pronounce Southern English with the drawl typical of the Lower South, whereas other parts of Texas are more prone to the “twang” of the Upper South, or—depending upon demographic influences of the particular area—with some Hispanic and Midwestern traits.
East Texas lacks the strong influence of late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants from Germany and Central Europe. Similarly, the new waves of immigrants since the late 20th century, primarily from India, other Asian nations, and Latin America, and their influences, have been less prevalent in East Texas.
East Texans are predominantly Protestant Christians, expressing their faith as members of many denominations: Baptist (particularly Southern Baptist), Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and others. Catholicism continues to have influence, particularly with an increased Hispanic population in recent decades. Other religions with smaller numbers, but with adherents in East Texas, include Mormonism and Judaism.
Significant numbers of people of Cajun and Creole descent have come from Louisiana, although most are assimilated partially or completely into East Texas culture (adopting the local culture and losing, to varying degrees, their original culture). This assimilation pattern has often historically included conversion from Catholicism to Protestant faiths. United States settlers from the Protestant Southeast practiced some discrimination against Cajun and Creole migrants, a cultural attitude that persisted until quite recently. Despite the tendency towards assimilation, Cajun and Creole cuisine (for example, jambalaya and catfish gumbo), are popular in the region. Many East Texans, including those without Louisiana roots, are known to be expert at preparing at least some well-known Louisiana dishes.
While some East Texans associate with cowboy culture, most identify more with plantation traditions of the South than with the expansive cattle ranching of the plains regions of Texas. However, it is common for East Texans to own and trade cattle. There are several “sale barns” across East Texas with weekly and monthly trades, as is common in other parts of the lower South.
In the northern part of East Texas, awareness of the native and historical Caddo Mississippian culture remains significant. Cherokee County is home to the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Patrons can also view the “Caddo Indian Collection” at the Gregg County Historical Museum in Longview.
East Texas is home to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, located in Carthage. East Texans enjoy a range of music that is influenced by gospel, bluegrass, blues, rock, country, soul, rhythm and blues, Cajun, etc. Texas blues originated in East Texas, with many legends having been born in the region including Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker. East Texans enjoy live music at many of the region’s fairs and festivals, including the Texas Rose Festival in Tyler, the East Texas Yamboree in Gilmer, and Longview’s Great Texas Balloon Race. East Texas also has many venues included in what is commonly referred to as the Texas country music circuit, although the majority of such venues are located in Central/South/West Texas and the metropolitan areas of the state.
Many notable music artists have East Texas roots including: George Jones (Saratoga), Miranda Lambert (Lindale), Kacey Musgraves (Mineola), Neal McCoy (Longview and Jacksonville), Lee Ann Womack (Jacksonville), Janis Joplin (Port Arthur), Don Henley (Linden), Ray Price (Perryville), Johnny Horton (Rusk), Johnny Mathis (Gilmer), Tex Ritter (Panola County), Jim Reeves (Panola County), Mark Chesnutt (Beaumont), Tracy Byrd (Vidor), Clay Walker (Beaumont), Chris Tomlin (Grand Saline), Michelle Shocked (Gilmer) among many others.
Worldwide-acclaimed pianist Van Cliburn, a native of nearby Shreveport, Louisiana, was raised in Kilgore. Kilgore College houses the Van Cliburn Auditorium on its home campus.
Many high school bands in East Texas continue the tradition of military-style marching, unlike other parts of the state. These bands compete in the National Association of Military Marching Bands (NAMMB).
Deep East Texas
Deep East Texas is a sub-region of East Texas. According to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments the region consists of the following twelve counties: Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity, and Tyler.
The “Deep” designation comes from the similarity to East Texas (it is similar in culture and topography, being highly forested), but with a location “deeper” (i.e., farther south and towards the Gulf Coast) than the rest of East Texas.
“Deep” also refers to the cultural and social characteristics of the area and is considered synonymous to “The Big Thicket”, an allusion to the dense growth of underbrush in the “piney woods.” It was the earliest area of Texas to be settled by Anglo-Americans (and one of the last areas to submit to law enforcement—by the governments of New Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, state of Texas, or the United States). Renegade clans controlled local governments, especially in Shelby County, well into the first quarter of the 20th century.
The area contains two of the oldest towns in Texas; Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, dating from 18th century, and San Augustine, the oldest “Anglo” settlement in Texas, dating from the 1820s. People of English, Scottish, Scots-Irish, and to a lesser extent Welsh ancestry predominate in the region, which is in contrast to South Central Texas and West Texas in which people of German and Hispanic heritage predominate, respectively. Prior to the Texas War of Independence, settlement was generally prohibited by the Spanish and later Mexican governments, but neither government was able to exert control or law enforcement in the area. As a consequence, the “Big Thicket” became a refuge for criminals fleeing the United States and hiding out in a “no man’s land” in the pine tree thickets.
The Pine Curtin
The early isolation of the region and its links to the Deep South have resulted in its well-known pine woods being described as a ‘curtain’ which demarcates a certain cultural enclave or bubble that distinguishes East Texas from the rest of the state. Former residents describe leaving behind the ‘Pine Curtain’ as a form of escape.
Historically, the East Texas economy has been led by lumber, cotton, cattle and oil. Prior to the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field, cotton, lumber and cattle were the predominant source of economic gains and stability. Needs of local farmers contributed greatly to the establishment of local towns and trading posts. As with many parts of the nation, the chosen paths of railroads often determined the continuation of many towns. At the beginning of the 20th century, the oil fields were discovered and oil became accessible, which changed the future trajectory of the region.
In the decades leading to the new millennium, crude oil production in the East Texas Oil Field, the largest oil field in the United States, somewhat decreased. In turn, the number of high-paying jobs for uneducated workers also decreased. During the 20th century, local groceries, general stores and cafes were replaced with franchise department stores, retail chains and fast food restaurants. Due to the decline of oil production, many small towns closed cafés and gas stations, some of which were replaced with cash loan shops and pawn shops.
Tourism has not been a highly significant source of economic activity in East Texas, although several high-traffic corridors pass through East Texas which have aided economic development along those routes. These include: Interstate 30 (from Dallas through Texarkana), Interstate 20 (through Dallas and on through Shreveport), Interstate 10 (through Houston and Beaumont into Louisiana), Interstate 45 (through Houston up to Dallas) and U.S. Highway 59 (through Houston and up past Texarkana; in process of being upgraded along most of the route to Interstate 69).
In recent years, the region has become home to many patent holding companies, due to its legal system being particularly friendly to patent holders and hostile to out of state tech defendants.