Category Archives: San Saba Texas

Southwestern farrago

San Saba Weekly News, October 9, 1891.

Within the last two months, I have collected a special farrago of items relative to the Southwest and travel south of the border.  I had thought about writing a post on each of these items, but probably will not in the near future.  I do not want these bits and pieces to go stale.  So, in this mixed bag of  items you may find something of interest.  Click on the hyperlinks for details.


Tundra Native Flies To Texas | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth.  The Snowy Owl comes to Texas — near Dallas.  This is so rare of a sighting down here that I may drive over to the area and photograph the owl (Robertson State Park at Lake Ray Hubbard Snowy Owl sighting site location courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife).


In Arizona, Rare Sightings Of Ocelots and Jaguars –  The New York Times relates to Arizona.  But, two years ago near Abilene, Texas, three sober people sighted what was thought to be a jaguar.  The Texas Parks and Wildlife agency did not confirm the sighting along a brushy ridge line that extended for miles running east and west.  Given the craziness of some hunters, I have not given the story publicity and I do not intend to pinpoint the location.


How safe is Mexico for tourists? – World – CBC News.  This writer has experience in Mexico and his website seems worthwhile.  This is a valuable article for those of you seeking to take your Spring break in Mexico.  Combined with the State Department’s guidelines and warnings linked below, avoid some places and enjoy safely other areas.


Mexico.  U.S. Department of State Travel Warning to Mexico.  The State Department updates these warnings regularly.


BBC – Travel – A German enclave in central Texas : Cultural Activities, Texas.  This is about Fredericksburg, one of my favorite towns in Texas.  I went to Fredericksburg as a boy, before it became touristy.  It still has the old-town feeling.  This was written for the British Broadcasting Company.


Filed under Birds, Fredericksburg Texas, San Saba Texas, Texas

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

Acequia and Rough Creek mill race

Acequia Madre of Santa Fe

Throughout the upper Rio Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human.  For centuries, this region has been homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos.  These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community….Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape.  Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland….

But these systems have also performed other important roles…social, political, and ecological.  As a social institution the acequia systems have preserved the historic settlements and local cultures spanning four major periods….The great majority of acequia villages are unincorporated.  In these instances the acequia institutions have functioned as the only form of local government below the county level.

As biological systems, the acequias have served other important objectives:  soil and water conservation, aquifer recharge, wildlife and plant habitat preservation, and energy conservation.

Jose A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, pp. xvii-xviii (1998).

In 2007, I drove up Santa Fe River canyon from downtown to the iron gates of the reservoir that held water for the town, including the Acequia Madre.  The acequia no longer irrigated fields, but the channel held water for occasional diversions to small plots in the neighborhood.  For a distance of about two miles, I traced the acequia back towards the center of Santa Fe.  All along the way, I saw some neighborhoods had gleaned the acequia while others ignored it.  At the end of my search near the junction of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the acequia held little water, but it was visible and grasses sprouted about the narrow canal.  It appeared ready, at attention really, to carry water again.

* * *

I spoke with a vintner at Dixon, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, who also superintended the annual cleaning of the Dixon acequia.  She told me that local inhabitants still work on keeping their canal clear of brush, even if it does not border their property,  a communal behavior extending back to prehistoric times.

* * *

On my great-grandfather’s ranch in San Saba County, Texas, the local inhabitants of Colony and High Valley constructed a grist mill for grinding grain in the late-nineteenth century.  They dug a mill race or channel to divert the water of Rough Creek to the wheel that powered belts to millstones.  My mother often told me she remembered her father coming out of the mill covered in flour, face smothered and sweaty.  As a boy, when I visited my great-grandfather’s ranch, I followed the channel upstream on Rough Creek to where the water diverted.

Today, the mill still stands sans roof, windows and doors; the mill race is visible, though eroded, and no water flows.  On the second story ledge of the mill, a prickly-pear cactus took root in shallow soil, erupting ten or twelve paddles of cacti clearly visible from the ground, its propulsion coming from the prevailing southwesterly wind from High Valley and warmer climes in Mexico that blew seed upwards onto the old mill’s second story.  To this day, picnics and family reunions congregate about the old mill and under the pecan trees nearby.

Although some acequias have fallen into disrepair and the old mill will no longer grind grain, no lament is necessary because these structures symbolize the communal efforts of people to work with the flow of water.  Acequias can be cleaned out and the mill race can be reconstructed to a higher ground so that its flow can be opened to a newly-planted orchard of plum and peach.  The mill race becomes acequia.



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

Saving a drowning Roadrunner

Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Petersen Field Guide

In the summer of 2009, I rescued a roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) from drowning in the circular water trough in the Well House Corral.

Roadrunners occupied a minor niche in my bird and animal kingdom as I grew up in central Texas.  My Aunt Lennie McRorey who lived on a ranch with her husband in San Saba County, Texas, kept a minor collection of roadrunner figurines and commissioned a small oil painting of a roadrunner that my daughter displays on her end table in Lubbock.  Driving down highways and especially back roads, roadrunners flew or ran across the road in front of the car.  I never saw any remains of roadrunners beside the road, attesting, I think, to their agility and speed.  They were big and seemed amusing the way they ran and picked at insects along the highways.  In a way, the roadrunner to me seemed unique among birds, more of an ostrich-like being than a flight creature — a miniature ostrich, for sure.

When we moved to our ranch in 2003, I saw roadrunners occasionally along our county road, but in 2008 and 2009, I noticed a pair of roadrunners that nested or habitually occupied the Well House Corral next to the Dooley Pond and mesquite brush to the west of our fence line.  As are most of my discoveries here on the place, my initial observation was accidental.  I was resting in the shade of the barn alleyway one hot summer day in 2008, when I saw a roadrunner dart from well house to the arena and under the trees in the corral.  Initially, I saw only one, but after a few more sightings during the summer, I saw two of them.  They often flew up in the lower branches of the live oaks and sat in the afternoon.  At the most, I spent thirty minutes watching their antics in the lower branches, wallowing and playing in the arena, and then I followed their hunt towards the east and our stock pond.  The summer of 2008 came to a close and I did not see them until the next summer.

Water trough in Well House Corral that ensnared roadrunner.

I had set a circular water trough in the Well House Corral for cattle and horses.  The trough was large, about six feet in diameter and held enough water for two or three days for cattle.  One afternoon in the summer of 2009, I walked down to the trough to check its level and noticed that the water was greenish and appeared disturbed.  Live oak leaves fell in the trough, and algae grew about the leaves and errant grass stems.

As I looked at the level of water I saw a long, log-like thing in the water.  It was listless, dead.  I looked closer and realized it was some kind of animal?   I thought at first a very large squirrel or possum?  Then, the parts all came together and I realized it was a roadrunner, one of the roadrunners I had been observing for two summers.  I thought, How could you have gotten drowned as crafty and smart as you are?  Oh, no, you poor thing.  I beat myself up for a moment, thinking I should have kept the water level higher so that if he had wanted a drink, he could have perched on the edge.

Well, I had to get him out of the water or it would become contaminated.  As I reached over to pick him up, his eye blinked!

Good god almighty, he’s alive!

I gotta get him out of there.  As I reached over to pick him up with my bare hands, I stopped.  The roadrunner could turn and peck me mightily, drawing blood.  Several years ago I had grabbed a mockingbird that had become caught in some netting I used to protect ripening grapes in our vineyard and the mockingbird had turned and pecked my finger in two places, drawing blood before I could let it go.  Pecked by a mockingbird is one injury, but a roadrunner peck may be a wound to the bone.

Seeing that the roadrunner was exhausted and I had to do something fast, I ran back up to the barn and grabbed my sombrero that was large and a couple of warm, fresh towels I used to groom horses.  I hurried back down to the water trough and dipped the sombrero under the roadrunner and lifted him out.  He was still blinking, but not moving at all.  He was huge.  I never knew how big these things were.  He was at least two feet long!  Think a small ostrich.

I put the roadrunner and sombrero on the ground and gently gathered him up in the towels.  With one towel I held him and the other I dried him off thoroughly.  With each stroke of the towel, going from head to tail, he would stretch his neck and extend his body as if running.  As he would stretch, his neck area would reveal sparse feathers and tender skin.  I saw no lesions or breaks or fractures.  I continued for five minutes or so drying him off.

Now what to do?  He was not standing or trying to fly off.  I decided to keep him on the towel and take him to the arena where it was sunny and warm and away from our barn cats.  I placed him down alongside the arena panels, near an area that I had seen him and his mate play.  He remained still, but was beginning to stir a bit.

I walked back up to the alleyway where I could monitor him and watched.  After about thirty minutes, I saw him stand up and begin to fluff his feathers and preen.  This went on for fifteen minutes.  I had to move on to other chores and left him alone.  An hour or so later, I went back to the arena and checked on his condition.  He was gone, most likely over the fence line to the Dooleys and his mate.

I’ve often wondered, fantasy-like, Borges-like, that somewhere in Mexico after he had recovered, this roadrunner told a story to his friends about a sombrero, the marvelous power of a hat that came down out of the sky and carried him out of water to dry land and life again amongst the cactus and creosote of the desert.  Just a fantasy.

The sombrero that was used to rescue the roadrunner.



This last summer, 2010, I have not seen any roadrunners in the Well House Corral.  Our neighbors to the east have cleared a lot of brush from their property and deer and other critters have moved southward, into the grove and far pasture, so the habitat for the roadrunner has changed.  I continue to look for them.  I know that observing the roadrunner in the wild is most infrequent and I am motivated to observe more when I can.

In the photograph of the hat, you will notice two bite marks out of the rim.  Star, my paint gelding, reached through the stall and took two chunks of straw out of it while I wasn’t looking.  The hat is made by SunBody hats and is constructed from palm leaves in Guatemala by Jose Medrano.

Towards the Dooley Pond where the roadrunners have their nest.

The live oak trees where the roadrunners sat.

The arena where the roadrunners played.

The spot where I put the roadrunner to dry off.

Senor Jack wearing the hat that saved the roadrunner.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, San Saba Texas

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.


Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

Quite a Merry Crowd (1892)

Last Friday night an old fashion straw ride was gotton up, and participated in by Misses Clara Fentress Maymee and Lillie Dofflemyre, and Mrs. Tennon, Messrs Chas. Biggs, A. P. Homar, T. A. Murray, Nix Lidstone, and Elsworth McKenna.  They visited the bridges and rode through town.  Quite a merry crowd, but hard up for fun.



From the San Saba County News, San Saba, Texas, February 19, 1892, Vol. XVIII, No. 14, p. 4.

The Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, has digital newspapers of small towns, some ten or so from Texas.  San Saba, Texas, is the birthplace of many of my ancestors and is part of the digital archive of the Library of Congress.


Filed under San Saba Texas