Tag 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.

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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).

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In Arizona, Rare Sightings Of Ocelots and Jaguars – NYTimes.com.  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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

Hardshell and gobble, gobble! Pecans and turkeys in my family

In central Texas, for as long as I can remember, pecans and turkeys have been a mainstay harvest source for my family clan:  Morris, Parks, McRorey, Millican, Gray, Hollingshead.

Millican Pecan Co., San Saba, Texas

The Millican family business, stretching back to the nineteenth century, provided pecans for Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The queen and Lord Tennyson were an integral part of the customer base for many years. My grandfather and grandmother took long bamboo poles and thrashed pecans along the Colorado and San Saba Rivers. On one occasion my grandfather lost his high school ring while thrashing and never found it. Someone will unearth it one day and see the graduation date at about 1917-1918, and think it unfortunate, yet quaint, the ring was lost.

Before mechanical pecan shellers, my step-father and uncles about Thanksgiving and Christmas had stained fingers, like charred wood, from cracking and peeling pecans.  In older years, a package of shelled pecans was always included with Christmas gifts and the nuts were minced upon for days thereafter.  As I put a pecan in my mouth, I reflected upon the labor tended, my step-father cracking pecans in front of the radio or television in the evenings.  I knew hard shell from soft shell pecans and sought the soft shell to crack — didn’t we all?

The McRorey family — Floyd, Lennie, John R. and Joycelyn — raised turkeys for the Thanksgiving table on a grand scale with thousands fed and sped to market before the holidays.  The turkey business was good for the McRoreys and when I stayed with them I drove the tractor as grain was unloaded in the feed bins.  I was not the best of drivers, but I meant well.  I learned much from my Uncle Floyd.

My mother hunted wild turkey.  On one occasion in Brown County (Brownwood, Texas, the county seat), she bagged the first turkey of the season.  With a .22 caliber rifle she took her kill that season.  She arose before daylight in the morning and placed herself behind a hunter’s blind on my uncle’s ranch near Brookesmith, along the creek, and waited patiently for the flock.  Ofttimes, she merely watched the wildlife, counting the flock or observing deer in the pasture.  For many years after she won the first-turkey-taken prize, as I accompanied her on errands around town, she was asked: Are you going to get the first turkey this year, Gywn?  What rifle do shoot turkey with?  Where do you hunt?

I am one and two generations removed from a family clan that thrashed pecans, raised turkeys and lived off the produce of the soil, harvesting and consuming nature’s fecundity.  I have only lightly touched those activities, but I am aware, deeply so, that when I eat pecan pie today I see the bamboo poles of thrashing in the rafters of the barn, and when I see the breast meat of turkey upon my plate I hear the gobble-gobble of Uncle Floyd’s turkeys along the Cherokee Creek in San Saba County.  I am truly thankful for for the produce of the soil and the hands that have tended the harvest and taught me lessons about nature and all that dwells therein.

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Filed under Pecan, Turkey

Kiowa wind, grass, colors

Map of the Kiowa Territory in Western Oklahoma, 1833-1843, from Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, p. 15.

In 1944, Alice Marriott in her book, The Ten Grandmothers, recorded Kiowa Spear Woman’s narrative of the motion and color changes of prairie grasses.  The “Ten Grandmothers” are ten Kiowa medicine bundles.  The bundles still exist, but they have not been opened since the 1890s when the last person who had the right to see the contents died.

For Leah the south porch of the big house was the best part of home.  Here you could sit and watch sunrise or sunset; watch the shapes of the earth change and move as the sun moved.  Then you knew, when you sat out there, that the earth was alive itself.

Spear Woman sat beside her granddaughter and thought that the earth had gone dead.  Lights played and moved, and cloud shadows came and went, but the earth itself had somehow died.  It was all one color now; not like the old days when its shades really changed and flickered like flames under the wind.  She stirred and sighed and spoke.

When the buffalo moved across it, there were other colors and other lights.

The thought was near enough Leah’s own to startle her.  There are lots of colors there now.

Her father spoke behind them.  Not like there used to be.  In the days that even I remember, there was one color when the wind was from the north and another when it was from the south, one from the east and another from the west.  Now the grass is all one color on every side, and it doesn’t change with the wind.

Sometimes the colors change.  Down near Lawton there is a prairie where the grass takes different colors.

* * *

[Spear Woman insists they travel to Lawton (Fort Sill, Oklahoma), fifty miles away.]

She brought her best Pendleton blanket from the trunk and spread it over the seat.  She put on her very best clothes and painted her face….

Two lines of high, tight fence spread across the prairie from a gate, and Spear Woman sat stiff, suddenly.  What is that!  That is grass like the old days.  Real grass.  All different colors.

It was, too.  It was like changeable silk, the kind the Delawares used to trim their blankets.  Yellow as the wind struck it; rose-color as it died away; then a sort of in-between color, with patterns that moved like patterns in silk when you folded it….

Shade was not even in sight, and when they had driven through the gates, with the lines of the fence on either hand, it was still not easy to find.  Spear Woman didn’t care.  She sat and watched the grass turn over in the sun, flickering and bending and straightening like little campfire flames, and was happy.  It was the old kind of grass, the old, rippling, running prairies, even if there were fences.  She was glad her eyes were dim, because she didn’t always see the fences, and could forget about them.  It was all peaceful and alive again.

From Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, pp. 285-288.

* * *

When I was a boy, my grandmother drove between Brownwood and Bend, Texas, near San Saba to visit relatives.  I watched fields of grass sway in the wind on either side of the road, a narrow two-lane highway.  She would point out to me where she and her family had camped and where she had seen buckboard wagons ascend a hill along the creek, the hubs carving their initials along the cliffs.  I saw them and put my hands in wagon-hub grooves when we stopped to rest.  The prairie wind flowed over the grass, moving stems and leaves in a rhythm, a wave of motion like water I saw in Corpus Christi Bay.

* * *

Last year I planted six acres of native grasses in the Pecan Tree Pasture.  The grasses are native to the Cross Timbers of Oklahoma where Spear Woman found peace again, and the grasses are native to our ranch that is also designated as Cross Timbers.  The grasses in our pastures grow waist-high, chest-high in some areas, and when the prevailing wind, a southwest flow from Mexico, crosses the pastures, grasses move and bend and change color.  As I go up the road towards Huckabay, Texas, about six miles away, I always notice a very old stand of Bluestem that turns reddish-brown in the Fall and Winter, but becomes blue and green in the Spring.  The stand of Bluestem is only an acre in size and machines have not touched it in many years for it is on the side of a hill.  It is old, that family, and I care for it.  If I could move that acre of old Bluestem to my ranch, I would.  I can’t.  But I have planted its relatives in the Pecan Tree Pasture and there I shall attend to their health and growth.

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Notes:

The citation is: Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1945.  I have the fourth printing, October, 1951.  In the excerpt, I have omitted quotation marks and substituted italics for the spoken words.

Lawton, Oklahoma, is also the home of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, that is seen in the map above.  If you click on the map, then enlarge it with your computer, you can see more clearly the locations of encampments and the Sun Dance locations.  The Cross Timbers designation flows all the way down into Texas and includes our ranch, Flying Hat Ranch, Mingus, Texas.

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Nature Quote of the Day

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.

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Notes:

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.

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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.

 

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

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.

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Notes:

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

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86088452/1892-02-19/ed-1/seq-1/

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.

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FB is not Facebook Down Here in Lampasas

Farm Bureau Royalty

2010 Farm Bureau Royalty of Lampasas, Texas

FB stands for Farm Bureau down here in Lampasas, Texas.

At Saturday’s annual Lampasas County Farm Bureau contests, winners were crowned (1).

[The full story will be available online after two weeks from today, unless you are a subscriber to the Lampasas Dispatch Record.]

Lampasas, Texas, and the immediate surround was the birthplace of the Southern Farmers Alliance of the late-nineteenth century, the early-southern manifestation of the Populist Party in the United States that began to regulate corporations for the public good.  The association in Lampasas, Texas, became an integral part of my family’s background and its behavior set a pattern in my family (Parks, Morris, Ward, Brazil) to abhor corporate uniformity and place the tension of liberty and the public good at the front of every public decision (2).

To be sure, Lampasas folk, young and old, know FB may stand for Facebook, but the first association is the Farm Bureau.

______________________________

Notes:

1. http://www.lampasasdispatchrecord.com/ for June 29, 2010.

2.  The neighboring county, San Saba, also has a record of upholding the commonweal.  Its courthouse has a rock-chiseled motto:  “From the people to the people.”  I have a chapter in my unfinished book on an incident along Rough Creek in San Saba County that resulted in a semi-violent confrontation with an absentee landlord and ranchers who closed a county road on my family’s old ranch that he had purchased.  The road was re-opened and the oilman moved on out of the county.

A correction has been made from the original post distributed:  Southern Farmers Alliance rather than Association.

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Filed under Life in Balance

Texas Prickly Pear or The Nopal That Coyote Brushes

 

Prickly Pear Bush, April 2010

 

This is a common Prickly Pear in Texas, also known as Nopal Prickly Pear.  There’s much about the cactus to be learned and applied in the world.

Texas prickly pear has been used extensively for food: the tunas are eaten raw or processed into preserves, syrups and fermented juice, tuna cheese (queso al tuna) and a tea to cure gallstones. Commercial alcohol is produced from the sap and the tender young joints are used as poultices to reduce swelling. The juice of the joints is also used in candle making. For cattle food the spines are burned from the joints. The older pads contain oxalic acid and may cause oxalic acid poisoning when eaten to excess. Of course many animals and birds feed on the fruit. There is a legend that the coyote brushes the spines off the fruit with his tail before eating it. [Texas A&M University, Texas Native Plants Database]

The Texas Prickly Pear is found along fence rows especially on Flying Hat.  I am letting larger stands of the Nopal Prickly Pear alone to thrive.  Can’t do it all.  I have to set up a list of priorities on our place.  Mesquite control in the fields is my first priority, then comes the elimination of broomweed.  On the other hand, I have a fondness for the Nopal Prickly Pear–it relaxes me to see a good stand of it with fruit.  I’ve eaten the fruit in survival training and it’s okay.  Not cantaloupe, but good enough.  It’s soothing to see a healthy stand of Prickly Pear because it’s a sign that no pear-burning has occurred.  And, pear-burning is a task to be avoided.

My family burned Nopal thorns off the cacti for cattle to eat de-thorned cactus pads (other varieties of cacti, too).  My great-grandfather Henry Morris labored at such terrible work during the drought of the 1930s.  For him and others, west of San Angelo, it was a hot, brutal job.   In the 1950s, I used to see and hear the burning of Prickly Pear thorns on ranches near San Saba and Lampasas, Texas.  The sound the propane hand-held burners spewed was low-modulated, hollow–a raspy roar.  Violent, unearthly.  Uncommon sound, even for Texas, and you could hear the roar for miles around.  It was rather disturbing, the sound, because it signified hard times and lack of rain upon the region as well as ghastly work for the crew performing the task.  My uncle and cousin and their work crews would wear bandannas about their faces, shields from errant licks of flame and a filter from the smell of torched plants.  After the toil of the day, blisters arose in bubbles upon parts of their hands and wrists. I never burned pear, for as a boy they made me stay in the shade.

As my uncle and crew burned pear, they would first give the snakes and small animals time to flee from the burning.  The reptiles and animals would, after an hour or so, circle back to their stands of cacti, their habitat singed, but not destroyed.  The cattle would have emergency rations.  And, we might all see another day, a chance for rain.  No good feelings came out of burning Nopal.  We all suffered when pear burned.

Rain brought the good and allowed land and flesh to heal, and the coyote could use his tail for combing spines away–as legend would have it.

Millions of people cook and eat the tender young pads of several species of prickly pear. Besides being more tender, immature pads have less oxalic acid, which could be toxic in large amounts. Nopales (the edible species of prickly pear and the harvested whole pads of the same) are very nutritious. Nopalitos (small pads that are cut into bite-size pieces) are mucilaginous like okra, and good for thickening broths. The mucilage also helps control blood-sugar levels associated with adult-onset diabetes. Diabetes is a common affliction among native Americans who adopt Western high-fat, low-fiber diets. There is also clinical evidence that nopales reduce blood cholesterol. Widely ignored by Anglos, who often regard them as worthless nuisances, opuntias are abundant and healthy foods for those who know how to use them.

Prickly pears are a historically important reason that the Spaniards continued their conquest of the New World. They quickly looted the precious metals they were after, but they also discovered cochineal. Cochineal is a scale insect that feeds on prickly pears. Its body fluids contain a bright crimson, foul-tasting substance that protects it from predators. Ground up cochineal insects were used by native peoples to dye their textiles rich red or purple, depending on the processing. In Europe this color of dye was so rare that only royalty could afford it. In some kingdoms the colors “royal purple”(derived from a sea cucumber) and, after discovery of the New World, royal crimson from cochineal, were reserved for the king by law. The cultivation and export of cochineal dye became a major economic activity, and its source was kept secret for many years. The commercial cochineal was harvested and later cultivated from prickly pears in southern Mexico. Our Sonoran Desert species contain the same dye.  [From Mark A. Dimmitt, A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (ASDM Press, 2000), as quoted from webpage of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Digital Library on Opuntia wilcoxii.]

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Filed under Recollections 1942-1966

Harry’s of San Saba, Texas

In 1950, Aunt Lennie bought me a pair of jeans and a straw hat at Harry’s Store in San Saba, Texas, a dry goods store near the corner of East Wallace and Highway 16.  As I was growing up, I visited Aunt Lennie and Uncle Floyd many times, spending weeks at their Cherokee, Texas, ranch near San Saba.

Harry’s purveyed hats, boots, shirts, Levis, jackets, coats and all associated accouterments to farm and ranch living in central Texas.  The smell of leather, felt, and Levis surrounded a customer as they shopped.  The dry goods were new and unbroken by weather and work.  Trading at Harry’s was serious shopping, not browsing or spending time checking out the newest fashions, rubbing the fabric for quality. You bought jeans that withstood brush and barbed wire; hats that shielded you from a sun that blistered the fair-skinned into pain; coats that were warm and gave enough room to twist, turn and lift sacks of feed and drag cedar posts; and boots that had high-heels enough to keep the foot from plunging through the stirrup in a tight turn or a moment of fright.

I wasn’t riding horses or lifting cedar posts into holes in the ground.  I was eight or nine-years-old and tagging along with my uncle into the pastures and fields, making a nuisance of myself, asking too many questions.  Nonetheless, I had jeans and a hat from Harry’s after that trading day in San Saba.  The possession of country dry goods to protect myself from brush and sun signified a boy’s development into life on farm and ranch.  I dressed the part and looked like my uncle and cousin.  Not a poser.  You are not a poser when you buy from Harry’s and work on your uncle’s ranch.

Now in 2010, Harry’s has expanded into several adjacent stores, including the old San Saba Hardware store.  Four buildings comprise Harry’s, not the one or two rooms I remembered.  The expansion into the hardware store revealed a weather history.  A clerk had recorded San Saba’s weather patterns, writing data on the wall for remembrance, prediction, or both.  Today, the tin ceiling remains intact.  The hat area is on the second floor.  Silk western shirts are now sold with short-sleeved cotton work shirts and Levis.

Harry’s still evokes the same scent as years gone by.  As my wife and I toured on Highway 16 to Fredericksburg this week, we went into Harry’s to purchase jeans and shirts.  Opening the door to the new entryway, the smell of leather and new jeans surrounded us and I felt comforted that life may be, for a short time, comprehensible and integrated.  I bought a pair of Wrangler jeans — a change from the past — that the sales girl said were pre-washed and less stiff to begin with.  My wife looked at the shirt section and selected one for me: a Ryan brand, silk type that I would never wear in the field, but under my field jacket in winter it would give me flexibility in the barn as I fed the horses.

As I stood in the middle of Harry’s breathing a history, a friend and colleague came up to me.  Surprise!  He had seen me and and Brenda enter the store and had parked his car to come in and say, Hello — he was on the way to Austin down Highway 16 to visit his son on spring break.  We talked and chatted about politics and the weather, the recent death of a colleague and her funeral.

I need to buy you a shirt, I said.

Oh, no, he said.

Oh yes, a work shirt.  Come over here.  Which one do you like?  This one?

Well, yes.

Then, it’s yours.

I paid for it and told him the story of my first visit to Harry’s.  I fetched him a business card from the sales clerk.  Then, he looked down at the shirt and Harry’s store label was attached to the lower flap.

Oh, I’ll remember Harry’s, from the label on the shirt, he said, as he walked out the door.

So will I.

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Filed under Cedar, Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966

The Blue Sign

Blue Sign on Pasture Gate, TSCRA

One of the protective aspects for livestock in Texas and the Southwest is the familiar TSCRA blue sign.  Texas and Oklahoma are divided into districts with a special ranger from TSCRA chasing down rustlers and thieves that pinch off everything from one cow to a whole herd.  I have these signs on all my pasture gates that front a public road.  Rustlers admit that they try and stay clear of places with the blue sign, but it doesn’t always work. Recent letters to The Cattleman, the official publication of the TSCRA, compliment special rangers catching the bad guys:  “Our camp house and barn in Waller County was broken into and several items were stolen–including a pair of spurs my dad had made for me 26 years ago….[They] were recovered five days later in Vega (30 miles west of Amarillo).”

Here at my place, I am in TSCRA district 10 and H.D. Brittain of Weatherford, Texas, is the special ranger.  I’ve not had a reason to call H.D., but the shooting of Bald-Face Lie has put him on the list of persons to interview about the status of the investigation.

My uncle Floyd in Cherokee, Texas, near San Saba, was a member of the TSCRA and posted these signs on his place.  The entry to Floyd’s ranch was a cattle guard that several ranches used for access to their own property.  Wired to the fence, next to Uncle Floyd’s cattle guard, was the blue sign of TSCRA that cautioned desperadoes to move farther on down the trail.

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