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.