Jefferson, Texas Shamrock Tour®: Bayou Chiefs

Text: Bill Dragoo • Photography: James Pratt

It is 1901. Dirt roads are evolving from indian trails and wagon routes to connect a country in the 
midst of a technological revolution. George M. Hendee and Carl Hedstrom have just completed their 
first 1.75-horsepower prototype of the Indian Motorcycle in Springfield, MA.

More than 114 years later, narrow remnants of those early roads still wind through the woods and bayous of Northeast Texas, many paved with aging asphalt, and the Indian Motorcycle has been reborn. The new 111-cubic inch Chief Vintage thumps beneath me while my friend, James Pratt, and his lovely wife, Kay, grace my rearview mirrors on a black Indian Roadmaster. A century ago, this road might have been merely a trail used by the Caddo tribe of Native Americans who called this place home. 

Tall Trees and a Big Breakfast

Today’s destination is the Big Pines Lodge, where we hope to catch a boat ride into the lair of the great bald cypress. It is early November and fall is in full swing. This is the perfect time to be here, as the rich greens of a wet summer give way to vivid red and gold foliage. Our machines, graciously provided by Scott Conway of Indian Motorcycles of Oklahoma City, seem fitting mounts for such an excursion. 

After a tasty breakfast of individual egg casseroles, toast, and homemade jam served by our hosts at Captain’s Castle Bed and Breakfast, we head southeast from Jefferson on Highway 134 toward Caddo Lake, home of the largest cypress forest in the world. These majestic giants lurk among the swamps, draped in Spanish moss and befriended by alligators. 

The Swamp Tour

As we swing into the Big Pines parking lot, a tall smokestack captures our attention. It belongs to The Graceful Ghost, touted as the world’s last remaining stern paddle-wheel, steam-powered tour vessel. The classic lines of these historical icons, the ship and our Indian motorcycles, harken back to a bygone era of kick-starters and external combustion engines. We are approached by a tall, square-jawed, stout-looking young man who might have just walked off a movie set. A 21st century renaissance man, Byron Aldridge is a business owner, historian, Indian aficionado, and as luck would have it, an accomplished river guide. The next two hours are spent chugging through the shadows in a fascinating front row history lesson of Caddo Lake, the first over-water platform oil wells, and the near-demise of an ecosystem before cooler heads prevailed and began to revive this primeval wilderness. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2015 back issue.