Tag Archives: Mingus Texas

Hot spots and Possum Kingdom Lake wildfire 16 APR 11

US Highway 180, south of Possum Kingdom Lake

I went out this morning to view and photograph the Possum Kingdom Lake wildfire event. I was not able to see Possum Kingdom Lake because I do not have press credentials and State Highway 16 was blocked at the intersection of US 180.

Today the winds are calm, but tomorrow afternoon a Red Flag warning has been issued for west-central Texas.  I drove the F-250 from our ranch north of I-20 on SH 919 to Gordon, cut west along the Schoolhouse Road north of Gordon to St. Boniface Catholic Church on Dodson Prairie.  The elk behind the high field fence on the Guest Ranch appeared unharmed.  After driving by St. Boniface, I turned north on SH 16 and journeyed to US 180, turning west and headed in the direction of Possum Kingdom and Breckenridge, Texas.

As I ascended the small mountains about Ioni Creek on US 180, I saw blackened trees and fence posts that had burned last night.  The pasture lands were turned to cinders, but I saw no livestock affected.  Hotspots of fence posts and erosion barriers emitted smoke and flames.  Towards Possum Kingdom Lake, the Highway Patrol blockaded SH 16, and after a few more miles going west on US 180, I turned around and started back to the ranch.

I turned south on SH 16 towards Strawn, past Schoolhouse Road and St. Boniface and then realized why the Texas Forest Service and state officials had ordered an evacuation of Mingus and Gordon last night.  The fire last evening had leapt the highway and was headed southwest towards the two villages.  The Forest Service, Brazos Volunteer Fire Department and the Lone Camp Volunteers (other volunteer departments were also involved) had stopped it last night, but the frontline of combating it today and tomorrow was east of SH 16, about six miles north of Strawn.  The Texas Department of Public Safety and Forest Service set up command posts in Strawn.

The winds tomorrow are forecast out of the south at 25 m.p.h. so the winds will carry any fire to the north and east.  The Possum Kingdom Lake fire will not affect us.  We will wait and see what else transpires when the dry line (nicknamed the Marfa Line) passes by tomorrow afternoon, lowering the humidity.  Our ranch lies south of I-20 and we will be prepared for any outbreak of fire in our area.  That means that we have trailers hitched, grass and lawns watered and the dogs ready to go with Star, our paint gelding.

With the exception of the sunset photograph, I have the photographs arranged in the order I traveled and time that I shot the pictures.  When I came back to the house, I had to take off my coat and leave it in the utility room because it stank of smoke.

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Correction:  the church is St. Boniface, not St. Alban.

Changed verb conjugation: leap, leaped, leapt.

All photographs were taken NEF, uploaded JPEG.  NEF file sizes ca. 10 megs., a digital negative.


Filed under Wildfire

Mingus and Gordon, Texas, evacuated 15 APR 11

Officials have ordered the evacuation of Mingus and Gordon, Texas, six miles to the north of us.

News link on evacuation.

10:51 p.m.  I have returned from Gordon and Mingus.  Fire trucks are concentrating at Gordon.  It’s fairly pacific there.  Russell Stowe Ford Company seems to be moving all of their vehicles out of the building to another location.  Some people are huddled at the volunteer fire department building.

The game warden said that our ranchito — south of Gordon six miles — would probably be okay and not to worry.  He did state that the situation was serious or they wouldn’t have issued the evacuation order.  Obviously, I thought to myself.  Not much help there.

I went to Mingus and the bars were open and still serving drinks and the lights are on.  A Burlington-Santa Fe freight train came roaring through town as I circled the Mule Lip Bar, so at least the railway tracks are presently clear between Mingus and Abilene.  I much prefer Mingus to Gordon.

I came back to our ranch on the south access road of Interstate 20 and I saw in the distance the glow of the fire north of Mingus-Gordon.  I estimate it was at least fifteen to twenty miles away, maybe more.

The wind has died down, probably around ten m.p.h.   I can look directly up in the sky and see the moon despite the smoke.


Filed under Wildfire

The eve of a new year on the ranch

Pigeons flying towards a new year above the Santa Fe plaza.

We make resolutions and there’s nothing wrong in doing so.  We plan to do better, give more and finish the big chores we have had on our list for months, maybe even curtail or give up our vices.  Well, maybe not completely give them up, but back off bad habits.

I work with students, horses and the land.  I work in order to live, not live in order to work.  That’s a big, big difference.  Working with students this last year has been more rewarding than ever before in my professional career.  I attribute that to my nearing retirement and wanting to give what I think is of value to the student before I put the chalk in the tray and walk away.  Time is fleeting and I don’t have time to cover all the points, just the most significant.  So, for this next year, I resolve to cut the excess from the lectures and discussions and get right to the core: finding your voice, writing down your voice and tending to your own garden (Voltaire, Gilgamesh, Trilling).

For my life with horses, it’s a sadder year coming.  We are selling Sweet Hija who is pregnant with a female and Shiners Fannin Peppy, the first foal out of Sweet Hija.  Brenda and I will be left with our two paints, Star and Lilly, both having their share of health problems these days.  In January, we are going to Oklahoma City for the Mixed Winter Sale at Heritage Place.  Market forces beyond my control have cut through our ranch operations with a vengeance and the cost of horse breeding and market conditions force my hand.  What Brenda and I are trying to do, in taking Hija and Fanny to the sale in Oklahoma, is to put these fine horses in the best sale around so that they will have good homes or ranches to live out their days.  So, for this next year, I resolve to focus on Star and Lilly, build some good, strong pens in the Pecan Tree Pasture for their safety.  I resolve not to think too much about our loss of Hija and Fanny and the little one — difficult to push that resolution through next year, I guarantee.

And, finally with the land, I resolve to set up brush piles for the little critters, deer and birds about the place, not shredding every single bush like some of my neighbors.  Further, I want to learn the name of every tree species on Flying Hat Ranch, or at least make a major dent in nomenclature.  I will also continue to plant native grasses about the pastures.

The eve of 2011 is here.  I toast to love, health and fortune to be found among horses and land, family and students — yours as well as mine.

Sweet Hija at full gallop in winter snow (2010).

Fanny strutting in the grove with Shiney (summer 2009).


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Lilly, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny), Sweet Hija

Siesta in Mingus

Texas heat and the great, fiery bronze orb in the sky drives us into long siestas these August days.  Temperatures in the 100s bleaches the hair on my horses.  Star, my big paint gelding, loses the black color on his head to a color of creamed coffee and his browsing during the afternoon comes in bursts of fifteen or twenty minutes before he seeks the shade of the live oak trees in the corral.

I stay inside the house from about 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.  At six o’clock I go down to the corral to feed the horses and my barn cat, Painters.  But, most of the day is siesta, hiding from the heat.  If this is a foretaste of global warming, we are all in for despairing afternoons.   Buy misters to put on the porches, turn the air conditioners to 75 deg. F. and put the ceiling fans on medium speed.  Put ice cubes in the bathtub with your daily wash.

The highest spot in Texas is in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas.  Guadalupe Peak is 8,749 feet.  Is it cool there?  The National Park Service that manages the park does not report the temperature on their web page.  I frankly can’t answer if it is cool or not on Guadalupe Peak.  I’m busy taking my siesta in Mingus.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch

Wood Not Splitting

This morning at almost 7:30 o’clock, I heard a sharp, loud crack, towards the south pasture.  I thought an oak tree in the grove had split its trunk.

It was not the splitting of a large oak tree, but the sharp, hard retort of a deer rifle.  To the southeast is the Hall place, to the due south is the Bryant place, and west is the Dooley land.  I could not determine the precise location of the wood-not-splitting crack.

Since moving here in 2003, I have seen the deer population go down significantly.  The Halls to the southeast have cleared their ten acres and, thus, removed the brush for deer.  The Dooleys have a deer stand within fifty yards of my Well House Corral.  The Bryants have had as many as four or five deer stands to the south of the native-grass pasture.  The harvest of deer has been devastating.  I now see two deer occasionally, where six years ago, I saw a herd of twelve to fifteen regularly.

After the rifle report this morning, I put on my red jacket, fed the horses, and then walked over our fifty-three acres to see the killing fields around us.  Deer tracks in our creek indicated two, maybe three deer, had passed.  I walked the creek bed, then over to the pasture of gramma, Johnson, and blue-stem grasses.  I saw no hunters, but a half a mile away a white pickup was tucked up against a grove on the Fulfer place.  That was the place of the Wood Not Splitting.

The hunter’s white pickup was new, neither rusted nor bleached by the sun.  The chrome shined.  Was it necessary to kill deer for food this Sunday morning?  To rouse me and my wife with your wood-not-splitting crack?  I’m not so sure I would be the Gentle Stockman if you met me today.

I say again, I have no argument with those that need food to live, to harvest deer for their table, to take a kill with respect.  But, for those that kill to gainsay an image of Western toughness or ruggedness, I think their behavior is violent upon the deer, their friends, and themselves.  There is redemption for the blood sportsman.  Go into the field without a weapon and sit.  Sit quietly for a day and see the stag and doe dash through the brush, across the pasture, and out of sight.  Sit so quietly that you see the deer graze, browse, and lick their young.  Then, if you are not redeemed after seeing these things, you are lost.

The word “deer” is connected to the verb, “to breathe,” in the Indo-European hypothetical.  Harvesting deer without respect cuts off breathing, the deer as well as your own.


Filed under Deer, Flying Hat Ranch

Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans

Abandoned Mingus Grocery Store, Texas

Mingus Post Office, Texas, 2009

In 1999, my wife and I looked at a house to purchase in Mingus, Texas, an old nineteenth-century mining community mid-way between Fort Worth and Abilene.  The house was a wooden two bedroom structure that had been moved from New York Hill along the main highway to 113 East Grant Town Road.  The caretaker and brother of the woman that had lived in the house was named Bill Tiblets.  He and his wife lived next door to the house we would buy.  Bill said, “Set a price on the house.”  We did, and for $35,000 we had a 1913 Arts and Crafts house with about one-quarter of an acre upon which I planted a vineyard of forty-four Cabernet franc, Cabernet savignon, and Syrah grape vines, most imported from California vineyards.  The vineyard flourished over the next four years and we still have a car boy of the Cabernet sitting in the dining room.

Bill Tiblets had lived in Mingus all of his life, been postmaster, and had operated a steak house, “Will’s Steakhouse,” for many years before he retired.  He was tall, pleasant, well-groomed, and friendly.  Bill became a close friend of mine and so did his wife, Will, for whom the steakhouse was named.  They had four sons, Larry, Jody, James, and Charles, and the kind and friendly attributes of their father and mother were ingrained into their behavior.

Bill, however, in his early seventies, was partially impaired by the concoction of old age and hard work.  He had osteoarthritis and from time to time had to use a scooter to get around in the house and yard.   Each week or so, he would call me and invite me to come over to his home next door and have a toddy.  It would be a toddy of Old Granddad whiskey with Seven-Up or Coca-Cola.  We talked and I found out that during World War II, he had been stationed in Brownwood, Texas, for training, and that his wife, Will, had come down to stay with him.  Accommodations were so sparse in Brownwood  with Camp Bowie nearby, that they rented out a clean chicken house in which to reside for a couple of months.

As time passed, I could tell that Bill was in a state of physical degeneration, becoming less and less mobile.  Still, however, he would walk as best he could.  One day, he and his sons came over to the house and we went outside to see the old steakhouse that he had owned.  The steakhouse was across a nearby creek that used to have crawdads and bullfrogs when the climate was wetter and cooler, back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Bill, his four sons, and I picked up relics from the cafe that had burned down (a case of arson): spoons, forks, knives.  Brenda and I had already picked up some Buffalo-style platters in the rubble.  We use them to serve steaks to our guests.  But, on that day, Bill, his sons, and I reflected on the steakhouse so many people enjoyed.  Bill said that people would fly into the landing strip on New York Hill and come down to their steakhouse to eat.   Will’s Steakhouse was also known as Little Lowake, a steakhouse near San Angelo that was as popular in Texas as The French Laundry in California.

Lowake Steakhouse, Concho County, Texas

As Bill’s degeneration worsened, he walked less and less, motored more and more.  We still had our weekly toddies.  He continued to joke.  He tolerated the local minister’s visits to insure his passage to the afterlife would be comfortable, although, like me, Bill professed skepticism at such things as heaven and hell.  He much preferred the company of his family and friends while alive to thinking of  reverie beyond the grave.  Bill worked in his wood shop and plant nursery in his last days.

Our houses, as I said, were next door:  the Tiblets a brick house, ours the wooden Arts and Crafts of 1913.  Pecan trees bordered our property with a 100 foot vacant grassy lot between us that we kept mowed.  Larry, Bill’s son, trimmed around the mesquite and pecan trees.  The vacant lot had been a parking lot for a dance hall in the 1930s and 1940s.  The pecan trees would seasonally give both our families a sufficient harvest for munching, perhaps a pie.  We could see each other across the lot and we would talk almost daily.

One fall day, Bill drove his scooter to the pecan trees between our homes.  I saw him through our kitchen window.  He sat briefly under the shade of the trees, warming in the sun, and then he wiggled out of the scooter, got on his hands and knees and picked pecans.  His impairment prevented him from bending over from the scooter.  I called my wife to the kitchen window.  “Bill is picking pecans on his hands and knees,” I said quietly.  He would put them in his pockets and occasionally empty the nuts into a bag attached to the scooter.  Over the next few weeks, Bill would pick every few days or so, easing himself down from his machine.

Bill possessed the good in mankind,  the deep-down drive to keep going, despite pain, to maintain a simple but necessary ritual of harvesting pecans when ripe or making a pie for the holidays or feeding the horses or cattle.  Necessary toil.  I saw Bill on his knees that day, but he was a thousand feet tall, decked in finery, and crowned with an ancient helmet of self-possession to duty, until the end of his time, his day, his life.

Bill died later that year.  We all will have our end, but until that day, we need to get out of the chair and harvest the fruit on the ground, on hands and knees, if necessary.  Like Bill.

I raise my toddy everyday and toast to my friend, Bill Tiblets:  “A votre exemple.”



Bill’s children and widow have moved from their home on Grant Town Road in Mingus.  Will lives in Gordon, Texas, a few miles east of Mingus, and her children have all built homes nearby  on top of a hill, overlooking Interstate 20.  The Arts and Crafts home Brenda and I lived in for four years has been sold.  The present tenants have let the vineyard lapse into semi-chaos, but when I drive by on the way to the post office I do see Cabernet franc vines robustly staying alive.  We kept the Mingus house for a couple of years as we moved  to our ranch.  We got a good price for it since I had cleaned up the dead trees and had planted the vineyard.  I miss the house and so does Brenda.  Bill’s children are settling in on the hill and each son has the drive and initiative of their father: construction, home repair, accounting, water plant worker, and other skills.  Brenda and I talk about Will and Bill and our life next door to them in Mingus, but the one topic that always comes up is Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans.


Filed under Recollections 1990-