Category Archives: Recollections 1966-1990

This is the middling period, 1966-90.

Norman Clyde and Life on Mountain Trails

Norman Clyde taught, read, guided mountain climbs and rescues.  “Norman Clyde still guided parties into the Sierra into the 1960s, when he was in his seventies. In the 1950s and 1960s, he lived by himself at the old Baker ranch-house on Baker Creek near Big Pine. Because he was trained in the classics, Norman Clyde loved to read books in Latin and Greek. At the Baker ranch-house, Clyde had thousands of rare classical books. At age 80, he was still sleeping outside the ranch-house on a mattress and sleeping bag, as long as it was fair weather.”

The above photograph on the cover of the magazine, Climbing, I have kept since a friend of mine, Mark Garlin, gave me the magazine in 1972.  Norman Clyde died later that year, December, 1972, at the age of 87.  I have kept the magazine at my ready shelf since that time because of my love of climbing mountains and the presence of strength and fortitude in Clyde’s face and posture.  Despite age, he has tools of his love and trade beside him:  rope, ice axe, and rucksack.

When I have climbed mountains by way of trail and path, not rope nor ice axe, I have met young and old, educated and not, rich and poor, and men and women who love the outdoors and the challenge of a good climb.  Without fail, those that are on the trail take an interest in the columbine and rushing waters and all the conifers in high country.  Oh, the trees: ponderosa pine, spruce, juniper, pinion.  There is learning in the austere mountain trail that is both external and internal.  In the external, one sees and usually identifies geological formations, the topography, the magpies and jays, and the trees.  Internally, the lessons run deep and are formative, even in old age.

Norman Clyde in the photograph above was in his eighties.  The perseverance in his climbing is found off the slopes in building strawbale compounds (as my good friend, Jimmy Henley, was doing at the time of his death in his seventies), performing the arts, climbing trees as a trimmer, and pursuing goals in getting a degree.  If ever you think you are too old, think of Norman Clyde on the front cover, the mountains behind and the tools of his adventure about him.  Clyde will climb until his body fails.

As I wrote, I keep Clyde’s photograph on my ready shelf.  If he can climb at his age, I can hike and build fence and mountaineer at my age.  As I climb in the high country, three questions arise:  What am I doing here?  What should I do?  And, how do I know?  The answers are simple and complex.  I am hiking.  I am hiking.  I know I am hiking in this moment at my pace, walking among the trees, hearing birds, seeing and hearing rushing waters, touching ground, seeing the sky as I meet others on the trail.  Those are my three answers.  In a sense, those are everyone’s answers.  Until our bodies fail.   Norman Clyde, front cover, Norma Clyde, front cover….


Photograph of Norman Clyde by David Hiser.

Quote in first paragraph from Wikipedia, “Norman Clyde,” accessed Aug. 23, 2016.

The three questions in the last paragraph are derivative from my course in philosophy at University of Texas at Austin, 1961.  On the Philosophy Department’s website page (at least a couple of years ago) those questions were posed in a slightly different way.

I climbed with Mark Garlin, my friend who gave me the magazine.  He lectured at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s on climbing and survival in the mountains.




Filed under Adventure, Juniper, Recollections 1966-1990, Recollections 1990-

Wind and flag football


I read the weather forecast last night, fearing an outbreak of fire with such oxygen rushing through dry brush and grass.  From the back porch, I see eight miles to the Cross Timbers hills and ridge lines toward Stephenville and Hannibal.  Neither smoke nor fire can be seen, only dust and the affect of wind.

I seek to take photographs that will reflect the aridity, the drought conditions as well as today’s fierce wind.  As I have written before in another post, if you wait for the wind to die down or cease in Texas to work, you will never get anything done.  True.  A good pair of sunglasses and sunscreen provide protection as well as a sense of humor to work and play here in central West Texas.  To play hard and lose one’s self, one forgets the wind.

In the 1970s, at holidays with family in the Panhandle, near Canyon, Texas, we played football after dinner (served at noon), and we played with windy conditions.  Across a large front yard providing turf for, say, forty yards of a playing field, we had to compensate for the strong prevailing winds out of the southwest or northwest — low, short passes.  The teams were co-ed and young wives and female cousins ran and fought for every yard along side their husbands and relatives — one female cousin became a colonel in the Marines.  Touch football rules prevailed, sometimes flag football with a bandanna hanging out of our blue jeans.  The wind begone, we played anyway.  Of course, we forgot about the cold and wind as we played together at Thanksgiving, Christmas and once in the summer.

Here at the ranchito, the wind blows today, but there are no contests in the front yard, only birds tucked fast in the branches of the live oaks or nestled in pasture grass.  Here are some photos I took about an hour ago.

This view is towards the southwest, showing the dust in the distance and the leafless trees.


Wind whipping grass blades on terrace.


View towards Lilly's rock cairn and the Blue farm beyond the mesquite tree line.


Looking towards the west.


From the back terrace, I shot a thirty-second video of the landscape to the southeast.  Not much excitement in the footage, but it’s the middle of Winter.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Recollections 1966-1990

Rough Creek drums

Rough Creek on the Parks Place, San Saba County, Texas, looking northeast, ca. 1970 (J. Matthews)

Relying upon memories of childhood can be misleading, even downright wrong in place and time.  As adults when we reflect upon last year’s vacation we may err in detail and conversations we thought we had.  Even so, memories preserve detail that can re-emerge with an almost preternatural force with a bit of reflection and musing, even to the point of re-evoking scents and cachets of the past that transcend the moment.

My mother and grandmother never hosted parties, but they hosted and partook of family celebrations — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays.  And there were funerals, lots of them.  Funerals brought the Parks, McRorey, Morris, Ward, Millican and Ragsdale families together for burying kinfolk and re-establishing contact with distant relatives at Bend Sand, High Valley, Colony and Cherokee cemeteries in central Texas.  When I attended these functions, I had two sets of clothes, one for dressing-up and the other for outdoors.  Following the meal or funeral, I changed quickly into jeans and hiking shoes and explored and played with my cousins.  Having dinner at the Parks Place signified the best of all possible worlds because Rough Creek ran through it.

Rough Creek flowed through my great-grandfather’s place and formed the backdrop, foreground, side-scene and main-event for me.  Even today, still, Rough Creek continues to course through my mind and heart and its memory pacifies my days.  My great-grandfather’s ranch was called the Parks Place.  Not the Parks Ranch, the Parks Place.  Rough Creek cut the Parks Place in two parts, emptying into the Colorado River that bordered the east boundary.  For untold generations, Comanche Indians encamped at the confluence of Rough Creek and the Colorado, only to be driven away in the 1840s with the settlement of the area.  In the field north of the creek, after a hard rain, flint tools lay exposed.  A large midden revealed debris of hundreds of years.

I found stone tools, but my primary focus concerned the creek.  A county road ran through the Parks Place and at the creek, a large concrete slab had been poured, forming a stone-firm foundation for the road and continual pool of fresh water for perch, catfish and minnows.  Blue-colored dragon flies lit on green lily-pads and joined together in reproduction that I never fully figured out as to male and female flies.  Sycamore, cottonwood and pecan trees shaded most of the creek’s bank.  The water temperature was cold and it took a few minutes to become accustomed when as a boy my mother allowed me to swim and wallow with slippery moss on rounded stones.

I hiked up and down both banks of the creek.  When the terrible drought of the 1950s occurred, Rough Creek continued to run.  Neighbors in pickups with forty-five gallon water drums, came to the creek, parked on the slab and filled drums with water.  Their children swam and played in the water while the adults bailed water into the drums with buckets.  The elders were sun-tanned and strong, their hats crusted with dark sweatbands that bespoke toil and care for their cattle and family.  My great-grandfather never closed the road and I never saw the gates closed.  Cattle guards — steel-framed panels set in the ground — allowed trucks and pickups to pass over them unhindered, but kept the cattle in check and within the bounds of the Parks Place.

My great-grandfather gave me a branding iron, an iron with a capital “P” for the Parks Place, when I was a boy.  I have it hanging in the alleyway of my barn and see it everyday when I feed Star, my paint gelding.  I’ve not used it because our brand is a Running M.  I do not think of cattle when I see the the branding iron.  I think of Rough Creek on the Parks Place and I wonder how high the water is at the crossing.  Is it high enough that perch and catfish swim back and forth across the slab?  If another drought comes, will the present owners be patient with the neighbors who come to fill their drums?

In the early 1970s, I took the photograph of Rough Creek that sets the banner and feature photo of this post.  The Parks Place had been sold and passed into other hands.  The road remained open and I stopped at the creek’s edge and took this photograph.  I framed it with the sycamore on the left and the road and concrete slab in the foreground.  Behind the trees, on the upper left-side of the photograph is the grist mill, but you cannot see it clearly.

The photograph verified that my memory remained good and that cool, fresh water flowed over a concrete slab with lily-pads and bull rushes abounding.  After taking the photo, I drove slowly out of the Parks Place and up the road, past the mill and over the cattle guard I had seen when I was young and had most of my life in front of me.



The intersection of Rough Creek and the road is precisely 31.136°N 98.5468°W, elevation at center: 1,119 feet (341 meters), San Saba Quad map.

I have a true narrative I have written involving a court case between my relatives and the first owner of the Parks Place (not the present owners) after it was sold.  The first post-Parks owner attempted to close the road.  My cousins de-welded the gates, threw them in the pasture and smeared his brand on the portal with cow manure.  The owner sued my cousins in civil court — most upset he was about the cow manure.  My mother and cousins testified that the road running through the Parks Place had always been open for ranchers and their families living in the back country, and that closing the gate impeded the commercial and social intercourse, long-standing in history, of the community.  The owner lost the case, sold out and moved on.  The present owners of the former Parks Place indulge me and my kin when we stop and look at Rough Creek as we go into the back country.  My great-aunt Helen Tom, daughter of my great-grandfather, talks with the present owners about her growing up on the ranch and they allow my aunt to visit and see the place at any time she so desires.


Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, Recollections 1966-1990, San Saba Texas

Larry McMurtry and the Barber

Last evening, I finished reading Larry McMurtry’s Books: A Memoir (2008).  He sustained a theme about books in his life, defining himself in book lingo as antiquarian, second-hand bookseller and book scout.  A few years ago, he settled back in his hometown of Archer City, Texas, bringing his Georgetown bookstore business into the small Texas town, about two hours away from where I live.  The name of his bookstore in Archer City is the Blue Pig (merged with his Georgetown Booked Up bookstore) from the notorious pigs in Lonesome Dove.  He owns six buildings on the square in Archer City, five of them devoted to books, about 400,000.  At his home, he has a personal library of 28,000 volumes that began with his original nineteen books as a boy.

Dustcover of Books by Larry McMurtry

I’ve been there twice and have an appointment to go again in the near future with my wife and friends, Selden Hale and Claudia Stravato.  I am interested in purchasing ethnography of Western America.

I met McMurtry once in Amarillo, Texas, where he lectured at the Amarillo Art Center back in the 1980s.  I asked him what was the greatest novel ever written and he replied, “Anna Karenina.”  He is not fond of novels anymore, preferring non-fiction, especially travel journals of the late-nineteenth, twentieth century.

McMurtry has bought bookshops in bulk and one that he bought was Barber’s Book Store in Fort Worth, Texas.  When I came to TCU in 1990, I asked about second-hand bookshops and was referred to Barber’s.  It was downtown.  (Last weekend when I was in Fort Worth, I saw that the sign for Barber’s was still erect over the closed shop.)  The shop was quite large and had a good collection of Western Americana.  I purchased several books, including a five or six-year collection of The New Mexico Historical Quarterly.


Filed under Recollections 1966-1990

Is This the Way to Idaho?

In the 1970s, in the middle of May after I finished teaching the spring semester, a few of us guys from Amarillo, Texas, would go camping in New Mexico and Colorado before snow completely melted in the mountains.  We called our movable camp, The Rendezvous, after the “present yourselves” French word, and more historical, the mountain man trade meetings in the early nineteenth century.  We camped out for a week, avoiding established campsites in favor of back country in the national forests:  Gila, Kit Carson, Isabell.  We took several pickups and one pop-up Coleman camper, tons of grub, beer (before several guys went on the wagon in the late 70s), money for bail, and reading material.  Over the decade of the seventies, we camped from the Conejos River Valley in Colorado to the desert boot heel of Columbus, New Mexico.  We bailed our friend out of jail at Tierra Amarilla and ate native plants near Jemez Springs.

One May, we started our movable camp at Holy Ghost Canyon near Santa Fe, up the Pecos River , then northwest ascending Holy Ghost Creek.  Getting to the campgrounds was tedious, dangerous, and way, way far into the forest.  The road to Holy Ghost turned into a one-lane, barely passable road where if you met a car or truck, you usually had to back up to a side cut in the road so both could pass.  Warning signs back at the main road that goes from Pecos to Cowles alerted recreational vehicles from ascending to Holy Ghost Campground, although stock trailers could usually make the trip to pastures in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to round up cattle.  Holy Ghost Creek was far away from normal camping areas.  Remote, quiet, and unnerving.  We really liked it even though it was built up with national park structures, tables, outhouses, the like.

After a couple of nights, we planned to leave Holy Ghost and venture elsewhere.  But before we left, three of us had to go into Terrero for some supplies.  Terrero was back at the crossroads to Cowles, a beautiful place at the entry to the Pecos Wilderness area.  We got in a pickup and headed back down the road following Holy Ghost Creek, coasting down the narrow road and being careful lest we run off to the side of the road and down the embankment.

About halfway down the road to Terrero, we met a car, an aged maroon Impala Chevy, driven by an old, mostly toothless driver waving frantically out the window for us to stop.  We slowed down and saw the car was filled with camping gear and trash, up to the window sills in the back seat and papers and junk on the dashboard.  The driver was alone.  A little Chihuahua dog was barking like crazy inside the car, running over the camping gear and junk in the back seat.  The driver was wide-eyed and hair-blown.  When we halted, he stopped waving.  We thought there must have been a landslide or accident down the road and he was summoning our aid or warning us to turn around.

We pulled closer so that we could understand him over the barking Chihuahua and truck, and still hanging out the window, the old man shouted at the three of us:  Is this the way to Idaho?

I thought: for god’s sake, mister, Is this the way to Idaho?  Do you know just where in the hell you are?  Apparently not.  That’s why the question, but you are at least three states away from Idaho and if you continue up the road, you will dead end at Holy Ghost Canyon.  There’s no way out.  Further, you are way off the Interstate 25 by at least fifteen miles.  Our Rendezvous group of revelers could barely navigate the road to Holy Ghost and you are looking for Idaho?  Up here?

We wanted to help.  So, being courteous to the old coot, we answered his question:  No, this is not the way to Idaho, you are pretty far off the beaten path for that, old timer.  We gave him correct directions back to Pecos, then to the interstate.  He thanked us and drove up and I guess turned around at Holy Ghost and went back to the highway cause we never saw him again.  We slowly drove to Terrero for supplies.

The three of us very nearly fell out of the pickup in laughter:  Is this the way to Idaho?  We must have told that story a hundred times over the years, but we pitied the old man in a good way.

We knew he was disoriented and probably a bit addled, but with his Chihuahua and car full of camping equipment, he probably wouldn’t hurt himself, but spend his days, driving the backroads,  trying to find the road to Idaho.  He could have been in a lot worse place, say, the Golden Age Nursing Home, looking at television.  The old guy, I think, was much better off searching for Idaho, El Dorado or the grail in the Great West of North America than watching reruns of Bonanza from bed.


Filed under Adventure, Recollections 1966-1990

Protected: Leroy and Alibates (The Notes)

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Filed under Colony Road, Recollections 1966-1990, Taos

Leroy and Alibates

Taos, 1970s…

Leroy, a northern Tiwa, came over and sat beside me on a bench on the Taos city plaza before they removed the jail that plunged beneath the ground on the northwest side.  It seemed a dungeon, of sorts, the jail.  Could be a Taos County law enforcement kiva?  Hey! he said.  Hey, back.  I read a newspaper.  We talked that day.  We talked the second day.  Jack, can you loan me ten?  Yes, I said.  It may have been the first day he wanted the ten.

Leroy and I talked the third day, on the plaza before they covered the jail underneath.  He said he used to make jewelry, but it bored him and he quit and drank too much.  So, he said, I came back here, to the pueblo.  More conversation.  I was from Amarillo, loved to come up to the mountains, the high-desert country, I confessed.

I liked Leroy.  So, I gave him a gift.

Out of my backpack on the third day, I brought out a paleolithic axe I had discovered in an exposed sandbank in the middle of  the Canadian River near the Alibates flint quarry in Texas.  I had waded across the Canadian River when it was low in the winter to find the 1849 rock cairns of Major Randolph B. Marcy when his survey team mapped a southern transcontinental railroad route.  I found Marcy’s cairn.  My legs cramped from the freezing, cold water when I waded across the Canadian River and when I came back.  The muscle cramps were worth it: I found a rare tool, a paleolithic axe, perfectly formed, grayish-blue.  And, I’ve never found such a prize since.

I handed the axe to Leroy.  He took it in his hands and then quickly raised it to his cheek and rubbed the Alibates flint axe against his face.

Why the rub against his cheek?  He smiled.  Ahh! he said.

It’s yours, I said.

All I can remember now is that he said, Ohh.

Then, Leroy:  Let me take you to the pueblo and up the mountain, Jack.

We went together up the Taos Mountain that day with his cousins in a blue Volkswagen with sunroof.  Towards Blue Lake, towards the sky, towards birch trees all around.


Filed under Adventure, Colony Road, Recollections 1966-1990, Taos

Quail in the Texas Panhandle


Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990