Big Thicket Light

By: Francis Edward Abernethy

Type: General Entry

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: September 7, 2017

The Big Thicket light (or the Saratoga light) is a ghostly light that periodically appears at night on the Old Bragg Road that runs through the heart of the Big Thicket in Hardin County. Bragg Road was originally a seven-mile bed for a Santa Fe branchline from Bragg Station, on what is now Farm Road 1293, to Saratoga. The rails were laid in 1901 and pulled in 1934, but the bed remained and became a well-used road through some of the densest woods in the Big Thicket. The Big Thicket light was reported while the tracks were still down. In summer 1960 Archer Fullingim, editor and publisher of the Kountze News, began running front page stories speculating on the nature of the light; these stories were picked up and carried in metropolitan newspapers in Texas and elsewhere. Light seers visited Bragg Road by the hundreds. They described the light, disagreeing as to its color or characteristics, but agreeing that a ghostly light of some sort frequented the road. The lights were variously rationalized as the reflections of car lights going in to Saratoga, patches of low-grade gas, a reflection of foxfire or swamp fire, or the figment of hysterical imaginations.

More romantic explanations produced stories about local history. The light was a mystical phenomenon that typically frequented areas where treasure was buried, and some early Spanish conquistadors had cached a golden hoard in the thicket but had failed to return for it. The light was a little bit of fire that never was extinguished after the Kaiser Burnout or the ghost of a man shot during the burnout, when the Confederate soldiers fired part of the thicket to flush out Jayhawkers who did not choose to fight for the South. Another story tells of a railroad man who was decapitated in a train wreck on this part of the Saratoga line; they found his body but never could locate his head, and the body continues to roam up and down the right-of-way looking for the lost member. And one tale tells that the light comes from a spectral fire pan carried by a night hunter who got lost in the Big Thicket years ago. He still wanders, never stopping to rest, always futilely searching for a way out of the mud and briars.

The story of the Mexican cemetery tells of a crew of Mexicans who were hired to help cut the right-of-way and lay the tracks. But, rumor has it that the foreman of the road gang, rather than pay them a large amount of accumulated wages, killed the men and kept the money. They were hurriedly interred in the dense woods nearby, from whence come their restless, uneasy souls, clouded in ghostly light to haunt that piece of ground that cost them their lives. And there is the story of a man who sold his farm and parted with everything that he couldn't pack in a suitcase, to work on the railroad. He was devoted to the line and became a brakeman on the "Saratoga." When the Santa Fe began to cut down on its runs, he found himself without a job or prospects. He died soon after, and his lonesome and troubled spirit still walks the road bed with its brakeman's lantern, the Big Thicket light, looking for the life that left him behind.

Francis E. Abernethy, ed., Tales from the Big Thicket (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Francis Edward Abernethy, “Big Thicket Light,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
September 7, 2017