Everything Matters

Everything Matters
Zim's Bottling of Strawn

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dodson Prairie Dances
Tie Old Country to New
By Jeff Clark

            There’s a scene in the movie “Titanic” about the fabled luxury ship’s fateful date with destiny. The elderly woman in the film tells the story of her own voyage that tragic night. She looks off across the waves many decades later, visions of a luxurious whirling ballroom filled with dancing couples coming brightly back into view inside her memory, inside her words. She makes us see it too. We are transported.
I met with 95-years-young Lenora Teichman Boyd last week. I like it when someone I’m interviewing says, “I can only tell you what happened up until the 1940s.”
I’m wanting to learn about the monthly Dodson Prairie dances, held about six miles west of Palo Pinto, the town. They started just after 1910. Lenora is home from the hospital, from rehab after back surgery to relieve constant pain. She’s sitting in a recliner, enjoying the unseasonably warm December day. I pull up a chair.
            “They had the dances right out there.” She’s pointing out the window south and a little east behind this house. The closest public building that direction is in Strawn or maybe Mingus many miles away. But Lenora sees the old dance hall just outside, about fifty yards away. She starts talking, teaching. She makes me see it too.
Dodson Prairie really was in 1900 – a prairie, I mean. There might be an occasional small stand of oaks out there, she told me. Mostly one saw grass, as high as a horse’s belly. The flat prairie is today covered in cedar and mesquite, flat earth loping west until the ground erupts skyward into mountains, cleaved in two by Metcalf Gap. Lenora told me that those early farmers would burn their fields back each year, to invite fresh grass in the spring. The Comanche did the same, during their turn on this land.
Dodson Prairie was and is a German settlement. Folks worked hard, mostly farming, raising stock. Lenora’s Teichmann Family arrived in 1900 from the Schulenberg-Weimar area (before that, from Germany in 1868, landing at Galveston). They’ve been hard at it in Palo Pinto County ever since.
            Once a month area families gave a dance, a get together. There was a public wagon road when this all got started, leading in from the west. That road is gone, though Teichmann Road remains. Lenora keeps talking.
It’s a black dark Saturday night on the Texas prairie. Coal oil lamps paint pale orange light onto the dusty ground outside Dutch Hall’s double doors. Saddled horses and mules are tied outside. The creak of wagons pulled by teams approach from the west, puncturing the stark silence of this bone cold December. Kids hop out and meet their friends, promise moms they’ll stay close, then run off to play. “There was a bed in one corner of the hall,” Lenora told me, “where babies could sleep.”
Dutch Hall was a tall community building made of overlapping frame lumber. It might’ve been 30 by 50 feet, though lonely brown foundation stones and a few wooden pilings are all that remain. Dutch Hall was used for dances, lodge meetings, and other community get-togethers. Night school for adults happened here. People came from all over for those Dodson Prairie dances – from Thurber, Mingus, Gordon, Palo Pinto, even the country across the Gap west toward Caddo.
We start to hear painfully brittle sounds inside the wood-heated hall – trumpets, sousaphones, a bass drum, and fiddle strings all looking inside the growing cacophony for a key they can all agree on. Finally, the band starts playing and the silent prairie comes to life with the joyous dancing, stomping and hand-clapping of hard-working farm families, taking a break from their tough frontier.
Cap Foreman yells loud across the heads of couples circling the floor. A square dance is called, couples circle up, his loud voice centers all:

Meet your partner and meet her with a smile,
Once and a half, and go hog wild.
Treat ‘em all alike,
 if it takes all night.

Married couples and still-shopping young singles answer his call, with doe-see-does, and promenade rights. That morning’s broken plow and the calf that ran away fade in importance to these farmers and their wives.
Lenora’s father C. A. “Charlie” Teichmann led the Dodson Prairie Band. He taught friends and relatives to play brass instruments, and in one case a drum. At midnight, the wooden dance floor is cleared and large tables are spread deep with fine native foods prepared by the Prairie’s Germanic mothers and maidens. Families gather into Community here, from the oldest great grandmothers to the youngest newborns, rock fences built to keep in cattle, not to keep people out.
Dodson Prairie families were in many cases only one generation removed from their European homelands. The Herman Riebe family came here along with Joseph and Carl Teichmann, then the Ankenbauers, Bergers, Beyers, Dreitners, Holubs, Kainer, Kaspers, Nowaks, Popps, Schlinders, Telchiks, Thiels, and others.
 One time “wild cowboys” interrupted the dance’s fun after one too many snort from the bottle. Poor planning on their part became apparent as lawmen were in attendance. The offenders were congratulated, then handcuffed to oak trees outside until morning. As the years progressed, fiddles, guitars and banjos replaced the brass-centric nature of Teichmann’s original Dodson Prairie Band.
I asked Lenora about moonshine, knowing it flowed liberally (I’m sorry, “freely”) to the south of here. “There was no moonshine,” she tells me, and I believe her. “Well, there might have been wine,” she finally admitted, these being upstanding Germans after all. I’d been told elsewhere that no one partook inside. During breaks men might wander outside for some light inebriation, I mean conversation. Many of these German families had their own small vineyards at home, home grown mixed with wild grapes from Lake Creek thickets down the hill. Do the math.
When the dances were over late on star-speckled nights, Lenora’s family would walk through the dark about a quarter mile to their home. Lenora remembers being carried. She couldn’t have been more than three. Lenora remembers.
            “Was downtown Dodson Prairie right here back then?”
            “No, it was spread out. St. Boniface was to our south. The first schoolhouse to the south of that, then the new schoolhouse was built north of the church. Over toward Highway 180 there was a cotton gin, west side of the road. Past that fell the store, the post office inside. The Poseidon post office. And a filling station. The county farm (poor farm) on the east, but that came later.”
            The Teichman Family (the second “N” dropped through the years) came from Austria and Germany to Galveston, then to central Texas. They must’ve scored down there, because they bought two full sections of land when they reached this prairie. They paid between $2.50 and $4 an acre.
            “Why did they buy here?” I asked.
            “Because it was for sale,” Lenora answers.
It might have been because the black soil at Dodson Prairie mirrors that found where the Teichmans farmed down south, her son Charlie later tells me. Clearing these wide fields of rock, they built stacked, drift rock fences by hand. The two fences I saw to the southeast were two to three feet thick. A vintage photo shows another farther east rising in height above a horse’s head.
            Dances moved to the “new” schoolhouse around 1950s. They occurred off and on there until four or five years ago. The bands finally got too expensive.
            When Lenora was born in 1915 Woodrow Wilson was president. The Ranger oil boom was still two years in the future. Dodson Prairie was a thriving, peopled settlement.
            Back to that German factor I mentioned earlier. Son Charlie and his friend Ann kindly loaded me in their pickup to show me around the Prairie. I’d made a quick tour before, not finding a lot. I wasn’t looking close enough.
            Though their early houses were mere box houses (no internal framing), both original Teichman brother’s homes are still standing. From around 1900. One is being lived in, standing in proud testimony to the hard labor and attention to quality that these men and women nailed into place. The old school house, the new school, several thick rock walls, the church, and several county poor farm buildings are all standing. Those Germans built straight and true, though their local population continues to wane.
            Teichmann and Schoolhouse Roads are two of the few roads in this area one can still travel down and read many of the same family names that settled that land 100 years ago. This too, is changing. If you stand respectfully in a quiet spot out Dodson Prairie way, I have to believe the old dance is still being held. Couples twirl, long lost love still beating hard and true. Invisible dance floors and midnight dance callers invite the distant past into the prayed-for future. If you stand quietly. If you believe.

            Special thanks to Lenora Teichman Boyd, Charlie Boyd, Ann Mixon and Gloria Holub. Jeff may be reached at jdclark3312@aol.com.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Daddy wouldn’t let that happen
The Tudor Community speaks
By Jeff Clark

I’m sorry I haven’t written in awhile. It’s been a tough year.
I went to see Chrystal Falls last Friday. Several had pointed me in her direction, once they learned I was interested in Tudor Road, in the now-vanished Tudor-Gourdneck Community.
Mrs. Falls was born a Jackson in 1917, at the foot of County Knob, a landmark mountain hugging the eastern boundary of Eastland County. Her older brothers walked to the Tudor School all the way from the Knob. Her daddy later bought a closer place, on Tudor Road when she was six-years-old. He didn’t want six-year-old Chrystal to have to cross the creek, on her way to school.
She thinks the Tudors or Mitchells might have owned their farm first. You remember me telling you about that fine rock cellar at the turn in the road? That cellar was already there when they moved in. As was the house, also still standing.
The one room Tudor School sat by the cemetery, opening its one door as far back as the 1870s. Some called the place Gourdneck, don’t ask me why. The school cistern, located off the corner of the school building, still waits out there in the woods. Mrs. Falls attended first through sixth grade, the year the school closed down, the first year of the Great Depression for most – 1929.
Her family shopped in Strawn and Mingus. Mrs. Falls’ mom liked cornbread and there was a corn mill in Mingus at the time. They shopped for groceries at Watson Brothers in Strawn. That was an all-day trip back then.
Mrs. Falls was the only student in Tudor’s first grade. There was another girl in third grade. Miss Vivian was her teacher. Also Walter Michell’s wife, Mabell. She was of the Pope Family.
That old wooden building hosted school during the week. Saturdays were for Easter egg hunts, picnics sometimes. Sunday was for church. Fourth of July was ice cream, turned by hand in a wooden ice cream freezer – one of her favorite days, she recalled with a smile. Everyone from the community was there –maybe fifty, maybe 100. Mrs. Falls graduated from Strawn High School.
Whenever there was a Tudor Community church revival, the minister stayed at the Jackson house (her mom cooked). Her Dad was a Baptist. Tudor Road used to continue on straight into Strawn, she said. I’d wondered if maybe it ended at Peter Davidson’s first place, between Strawn and Thurber (neither town was there in 1856, back when he first landed on the banks of Palo Pinto Creek).
Mrs. Falls dad was Willie Jackson (William Henry Harrison Jackson), who married Nora Gailey. Mr. Jackson was a fine man, one of four children.
Willie’s dad abandoned the family when the boy was small, up in Arkansas. Just up and left. Eventually those four kids were taken away from their mom by some judge. Willie remembered seeing his mother sob as the kids were removed from their home.
So this is the part I was telling you about, when someone you’ve never met teaches you something. Just like he’s standing right there in front of you. Willie talked about being hungry as a child. You don’t hear that from folks, not in this country. Not today. He never forgot that. But listen to this.
After the judge took Willie from his mom (and his siblings, who were separated), he ended up with the Vaught Family in Desdemona. I’m not sure if Willie was adopted or just taken in. They worked him like a slave, beat him even. This became his life, for awhile. One Saturday that family hooked up their wagon to go to town, gave him a long list of chores to do “or you know what’ll happen to you”. Then they left.
Eleven-year-old Willie took off, escaped, wading up the middle of Hog Creek so they couldn’t track him in the water. The Vaughts later seined their tank, thinking maybe he’d drowned himself. Think about that for a minute.
Willie went up the creek, then took off north and a little east, cross country, through the brush. After many, many miles of up and down valleys and desolate wild country, he ended up at the Gailey Place, east of Tudor Road, south of the Tudor School. Willie had never seen the Gaileys before in his life.
He knocked on the Gailey’s front door. Grandma came to the door. “I’m hungry,” he said. “Can I do some work?” The Gaileys fed him, took him in, and raised him like one of their own. Willie worshipped Grandma Ada Gailey, the only mother he’d ever known, since being taken from his own mom’s wing so young. Willie lived in the Gailey house with the kids. He was the one who wrote out the verse that’s on Grandma Gailey’s tombstone in Tudor Cemetery: “She was a kind and affectionate wife, mother and a friend to all.”
The Vaughts didn’t find Willie until many years later. Grandpa Gailey told them they’d better just leave the boy be. That struggle made Willie a better man.
As an adult, Willie rode to work on horseback at the Number One Thurber mine, digging coal. He was devastated when the mines shut down. There’s a picture of the Number One mine in the Thurber museum, I’m told.
Willie also farmed and ranched. The family planted a garden – did okay. “We were never hungry. Daddy saw to that. He’d never let that happen,” Mrs. Falls wanted me to know. They didn’t have electricity down Tudor way until after she married.
Some names I heard, but don’t yet know. Dutch and Walter Mitchell (brothers), the Popes, the Gaileys (Mrs. Falls’ mom Nora was the oldest).
Mrs. Falls moved away when she was 24 (marrying George Falls). They traveled all over the world, after a childhood of staying close to home. The Falls’ trip to the Holy Land was a “trip of a lifetime,” she told me.
Times are hard right now, in Texas, all over really. Picking up the newspaper, watching the evening news can be the toughest part of the day. There was a time, not so long ago, when survival grew from the sweat of one’s brow. When folks had problems, they prayed, usually together. When young Willie Jackson showed up hungry, what he asked for was work.
“We were never hungry. Daddy saw to that.”
I hope things are good with you. Please take care.

Jeff Clark is the author of "Tabernacle – The Back Road to Alameda and Cheaney," writes about lost Texas places and characters for Texas newspapers, and is a senior citizens’ insurance agent in Central and West Texas. To pass along story tips, please email jdclark3312@aol.com.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

County Poor Farm
A Little Girl in the Woods

By Jeff Clark

We may lose everything.

There's a depression heading our way. That's what the newspapers tell us. The economic kind. Here in Weatherford. Nibbling around the edges of our little town - taking its first taste.

Millions of everywhere-but-here folks have lost their jobs already. Swept away by the same tidal wave. Whose shadow we don't yet see. Most in this nation, in this town, live three paychecks from the abyss. It will frost my britches, if my parents were right.

A family doesn't need nice cars, a big house. You don't OWN anything. You can't DO anything. Why, your father and I made do with so much less. We didn't have to worry about tomorrow. We didn't have to.

Then a little girl calls out to me. "I survived," she whispers. "So must you."

That young girl's childhood, remembered by her through a prism of almost eighty years, haunts me this day. She was my storyteller. I didn't see it at the time. I visited her home expecting a Great Depression story of hardship and woe. That cup was handed back to me, overflowing. But in the midst of today's woe, her small farm girl's smiling stories keep bubbling to my surface. In the swirl of terrible suffering, humiliation, of death, there had been joy. I pull out my notes from our visit. I listen to her words.

Parker County Commissioners bought land for the County Poor Farm in 1883. It operated until about 1946. The county still owns the site, about three miles south of town. A few of its buildings, along with its lonely pauper cemetery still wait out there.
Individuals and families deemed insolvent were "sentenced" to live there, many decades ago. When neither family nor neighbors would take them in. Many were old. Were infirm.

Pride still governed our society back then. These folks weren't happy to be out there. They weren't looking for a free ride. Weatherford resident Nila Bielss Seale remembers those times as a girl. Remembers those people. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Bielss were the Poor Farm's caretakers. Hired by the county from the late 1920s through the early 1930s.

"It was like a big home," she said. "All the people there were like aunts and uncles. My mother and dad took care of them. They were doctor, nurse, and psychologist".

The Poor Farm consisted of two 160 acre tracts of land. The superintendent and his family had a home out there. The house still stands, barely. There was a barracks-like dormitory across the road from the family's house. Each Poor Farm resident had a room off its center hallway. The dormitory had a large porch across the front where the residents would often gather.

The Poor Farm's large barn, smaller outbuildings, and a water trough inscribed by Nila's daddy in 1923 also still remain. There's also a shack of a house off by itself, being eaten alive by a tree, shared back then by a blind man and the farm's Delco electrical system.

Joe C. Moore was one of the early Parker County Commissioners. He reflected on the court's thinking in starting the poor farm, in a Weatherford Weekly Herald story September 21, 1911: "Editor: I desire to answer some of your questions as to why the county poor farm was purchased, how used and what revenue it produced. About 1881, soon after A. J. Hunter was elected county judge, B.C. Tarkinton, Joe C. Moore, Frank Barnett and W. A. Massey were commissioners. After an investigation, this court found that other counties had farms that were a source of good revenue, a large savings to the taxpayers, and a good thing in general."

Moore says there were then thirty-eight people on the county indigent list who were each receiving $3 - $10 monthly. Parker County spent about $3,000 annually on its poor, back then. So the county bought this 320 acres, he said.

"George Abbott and wife were employed to superintend the farm with instructions to feed and clothe well all inmates of the farm, and to give each of the inmates a task according to their fittedness or ability."

The farm was free and clear of debt after only three years. The commissioners additionally used jail inmates to work at the farm. They received credit against their sentences.

All thirty-eight paupers under the county's financial support were then notified of the day and time to assemble, to be taken to the Poor Farm. Steaming Nazi locomotives pulling wooden-slatted cattle cars pop into my imagination as I write this. Though that's probably not fair. I'm sure some thought, in Parker County back then, these people must've brought it on themselves. They had it coming.

Apparently only about half showed up, Mr. Moore tells us, "showing that the county had been paying out money to those who had other means of support." No such testing goes on today. Far as I know.

The Poor Farm usually had between fourteen and twenty people living there at any one time. Those that were able worked in the fields, gathered eggs, raised hogs and cattle, milked or helped cook and clean back at the dormitory.

Aunt Mary, one of the residents there, was a cook while the Bielss Family lived there. The woman showed kindness to young Nila. "Aunt Mary made the best tea cakes," she remembered. Once Nila's pet goat Billy, who followed Nila everywhere, somehow got into Aunt Mary's room when the little girl was visiting. Though Billy created quite a mess, Aunt Mary, known for her organization and cleanliness, acted like nothing had happened. 

Aunt Mary grew tired in her later years and decided she was not going to help out around the farm any longer. Her back was bothering her, she said. She could no longer get around, she told some others. One afternoon, Nila's dad came up to the dormitory's porch, where Aunt Mary was still feigning illness. He let a harmless snake loose that promptly sought Aunt Mary out. Terrified of snakes, she leapt from her chair and took off, promptly cured of her affliction.

"We were almost totally self-sufficient," Nila said. "The people there were very busy people. My mother and dad alternated each month in buying groceries. Mother would get mad if the grocery bill was over twenty dollars for the month (for about eighteen people). My dad butchered hogs after the first cold spell and cured the meat. The cellar was full - the walls were lined with fruits and vegetables my mother put up."

During harvest season, when they would thresh the wheat, county commissioners would pay people from Weatherford one dollar a day to work (during the Great Depression). And people from town would come out, to help out - to get paid.
Nila's dad would salt meat and hang it from the rafters. When Poor Farm folks became ill, her mother or dad would sit up all night with them.

Nila had a horse as a little girl. The commissioners apparently had confiscated the animal from someone, to stop its abuse. "The horse wasn't quite right," she remembered.  "He would be perfectly sweet and normal, then all of the sudden just go crazy for a little bit." Nila loved that horse. One day she was riding him up by the big barn, through some old tree stumps. The horse had one of his episodes. Threw her through the air and onto the ground. Her dad was nearby. Thank goodness. Made sure she was okay. She remembers this part. He told her to get right back up on that horse. So she did.

The Poor Farm owned a few other horses to pull the plows and wagons, even a couple of Percherons at one point. Nila remembers her dad being partial to mules. These teams would take corn to the gin in Granbury in a wagon, and would help harvest the wheat. When it was ready.

Nila's father often woke up at 3 a.m. to begin his endless work around the farm. Near the end, most of the farm's residents were advanced in age. Were not a lot of help.
"Daddy liked to whistle," Nila told me. "He was known for that. You could hear him, even at three in the morning, out there whistling." He was a deacon in the local church, where her mom taught Sunday School and played the piano. Before they were married, Mr. Bielss had to sell his beloved horse Penny. He needed the money. He wanted a proper wedding ring. He sacrificed.

Nila's folks were good people, were hard workers. Nobody helped them out much except for Moses, Mr. Taylor, and sometimes Aunt Mary. "Mr. Taylor, who was blind, would want to help out more, but we were always afraid for him, when he got around the big saw," Nila told me. He was a nice man, she said. Mr. Taylor.

Nila remembers her family having a small record player. One day she and her brother Eldon were playing "He'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" so loud that her mother could hear it down the hill. They got into a storm of trouble. Before electricity was common, the farm had a Delco unit powered by a windmill to run a few things, like the single bulbs that hung from a few of the ceilings. The Delco was located in same little house that Mr. Taylor lived in. The blind gentleman.

Poor Farm residents washed their clothes in big black number five wash pots. The man named Moses kept pecans in a Maxwell Coffee can. He cut those pecans into laser-perfect halves. Moses did. Moses was paralyzed on one side. Had a peg leg that he made himself.

Nila told me about Mrs. Baker, who'd been addled after being struck by lightning. It stayed with her. Mrs. Baker. Whenever a storm approached, Nila's parents had to comfort her fears.

Nila told tales of a happy childhood at the farm. At the Poor Farm. Where her parents took care of so many. Nila never lacked for anything, she wanted me to know. Nila bottle fed her goats. Had a menagerie of livestock to keep her entertained. She listened to Little Orphan Annie on the family's radio.

Around 1946 the dormitory building where the residents lived was moved to the 100 block of Throckmorton in Weatherford. It there served as a home for the aged. The move was the end of the true operation of the Poor Farm. The building was later relocated to Rusk Street, where it still stands.
I drive past it. Often. Though I've never ventured up to it. Wouldn't be polite.
After World War II, the federal and state governments increased social services for the poor and the elderly. For the nation. Not just Parker County.

The Poor Farm pauper cemetery still sleeps off in the woods. The place was forgotten until the early 1980s, rediscovered by a group of hunters. It appeared to have about forty adult graves. And one child's grave. No one knows for sure.

The earliest documented burial was 1904. The lonely site had no fence. At that time the county commissioners were considering selling the farm. The Parker County Historical Commission persuaded commissioners to let them restore the dignity of the cemetery. This, they did.

Later in 1986 a historic marker was awarded by the state, now visible from Tin Top Road. A right-of-way was established from Tin Top to the cemetery. The Parker County Abandoned Cemetery Association continues to maintain the cemetery, with the help of donations. They do this, to this day.

I need to finish this story. There's much to do. To prepare for. I feel nauseous. Unsure.

I need a snake to scare me off this porch.

One man living at the Poor Farm was insistent that he not end up in the pauper cemetery. When the time came, Mr. Bielss buried him off in the woods. Wayne Thompson, who ran a dairy on the property in the 1950s remembers three lone graves off together near a lone tree, about a half mile away. This man's presumed to be one of the three. But I'm not sure.

J. G. Godley's death was particularly tragic. Godley died of suicide November 11, 1929. Nila recalls that Godley was once a wealthy man (related to the family that started the Godley community to our south). He was divorced, was 87 at the time of his passing. He apparently squandered his fortune and died a pauper at the farm. He was always very bitter and depressed, Nila told me. Many times he pleaded with her dad to kill him.
One morning the Bielss Family was having breakfast. Before sunrise. The cows down the hill started bawling. Her dad got his lantern. Said he'd better go check on what was wrong. On what was the matter.

Mr. Godley had cut his throat inside the farm's two hole privy. In the Poor Farm's out house. He lay dead on the floor. The county death certificate lists no relatives and no birthdate. The November 12, 1929 Daily Herald obituary shows one daughter in Austin. I never found her.

Nila remembers Mr. Godley being buried outside the paupers' cemetery fence by her father. County records show his final resting place as Oakland Cemetery, in an unmarked grave. Stories about Mr. Godley conflict around this town, even today. I believe that little girl, though bottom line, Mr. Godley is lost as well.

The Poor Farm Cemetery has one of the highest ratios of unmarked graves in Parker County. Out forty known graves, only one had a marked headstone. There is a newer granite marker listing the people who died at the farm, but were buried in other locations. The Abandoned Cemetery Association did that.

Association members Mary Kemp and Billie Bell spent long hours going through records trying to learn the names of those interred at this cemetery. Mary helped me with this story. Nila was its ringside witness.

I don't know how this story comes out. The Poor Farm. Parker County. The American nation writhing in doubt and uncertainty. Today's headlines could be an echo to that earlier time.

We could be in for the surprise of our lives.

The Poor Farm woods south of Weatherford probably hold this nation's answer. The souls in that graveyard. The whispers in those trees.Those times seem so foreign. Listening to that little girl. To the slip-sliding past. Our future's out there. A cradled secret, walking around in the faded front overalls pocket of another time. But those folks aren't talking. Not today. Not to me.

Jeff Clark is the author of "Tabernacle - The Back Road to Alameda and Cheaney," writes about lost Texas places and characters for Texas newspapers, and is a senior citizens' insurance agent in Central and West Texas. To pass along story tips, please email jdclark3312@aol.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Black Mount Pleasant School Forges

Two Communities Into One

By Jeff Clark

Race riots may be coming to Weatherford.
That was the talk around town. Images of angry police dogs, fire hoses and bloodied protestors across the Deep South paraded across Parker County TV sets in the early 1960s. Some feared a repeat performance here.
When Weatherford schools opened that first 1963 day of integration, all was quiet. The reasons are both simple, and complex.
Our mystery begins in church. Two years after the Civil War ended, blacks organized the Prince Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Oak Street. This oldest “still in business” church in Weatherford was named after the Rev. A. Bartlett “Bart” Prince, its first elder (as is Prince Street, near the first black public school). The church’s building went up in 1871, and was modified in 1912.
The “CME” sign in front meant “Colored Methodist Episcopal” until the 1960s, when it changed to Christian Methodist Church. It’s believed to be the second oldest CME church in the nation. There’s no Texas Historical Marker here.
Within this pioneer church’s walls, black students received their first education, until the county built them a schoolhouse. Smythe’s 1877 “Historical Sketch of Parker County” lists thirty-seven county schools that year, each tied to a geographic “community”, save one: School No. 33 – The Weatherford Colored School. Seymour Simpkins taught thirty-nine “colored” students. Prince Memorial pillars Willis Pickard, Rev. Henry Johnson and Rev. Prince served as trustees.
The “Colored School” gets mentioned in the newspaper off and on down through the years. In 1887, land just south of West Oak and west of Prince was purchased for $200, its schoolhouse built in 1917. A brick school house replaced that structure in 1927. Today that forgotten brick schoolhouse stands proudly among the weeds.
The September 8, 1933 Weatherford Democrat lists five ward schools that year, plus the “Colored School”. Tillie Woods was principal and Ella Varnel was the teacher. The “Colored School” taught Cub Young, who pitched against Satchell Paige in the Negro Baseball League. Weatherford’s Negro League team played where Weatherford High School is now.
Leonard Smith entered first grade at Mount Pleasant in 1939, three years after it was renamed the Mount Pleasant School. The school’s two classrooms taught nine grades then.
Most black students walked to Mount Pleasant from four Weatherford neighborhoods – The Flat (First Monday Trade Day Grounds area), The Hill (West Oak Street area), Sand Town (near Akard & Sloan) and The Neck (near Cherry Park).
Black and white kids played baseball together, had rock fights, and cut up like children still do. Raymond George and some of his white friends walked to school together in the late 1940s. When they reached the Stanley School, the white boys went inside. Raymond kept walking.
“That’s just the way it was,” he said.
Mount Pleasant was a two room school, several grades in each classroom. Florine Roddy taught in the southern room, when Raymond was a student. The northern classroom was Lucille Rucker’s. Outside sat two outhouses and a water well whose pipe led over a trough. “One kid pumped while another drank,” Raymond told me.
Raymond remembers there being about fifty students, though that number swelled when migratory families came to town with the railroad or picking cotton. Raymond’s teachers (1946-1953) included Ella Varnell, Lucille Rucker and Mrs. Roddy.
“Lucille Rucker built the foundation beneath those black kids’ sense of respect,” Raymond said, “respect for others and for themselves.” Not only was she a good teacher, she was highly regarded by whites and blacks alike. Rucker made the boys play out back and the girls play out front during recess. “She taught us to treat the girls like ladies. Because of her, my generation of students stayed married, kept one job our whole lives, and successfully retired from those same jobs.” Still, when Mount Pleasant closed, Mrs. Rucker was forced to do odd jobs to survive. “She wasn’t taken care of,” he reflected sadly.
Wilson Hall was added to the northwest edge of the Mount Pleasant campus around 1944. Named after Superintendent Leonard B. Wilson, it was a barracks-like building used for classes and assemblies, with a stage on its west side.
Mount Pleasant sits high atop the western skyline of Weatherford, looking down on the Courthouse to its east. Below its majestic perch, blight stares back from where working black families once raised families. “Wood-burning stoves sat in the corners of each classroom,” Charlie Simmons told me, “replaced by gas heaters.” Flue holes still puncture the school’s two chimneys.
Each large classroom had wood floors and large windows along two walls. One can see daylight looking up through fourteen foot ceilings to the sky. “These classrooms were filled with little desks,” Charlie told me. “There were kids everywhere.”
“Every morning all the kids would walk out here, to the flag pole,” he said. “Say their Pledge of Allegiance and sing a patriotic song.” The flag pole base remains. He showed me where the swings were, the slide, the concrete front porch to Wilson Hall. “We had more fun than you can shake a stick at.”
The schoolhouse road entered from Prince Street, rising up the hill then circling the school. The old schoolhouse sits on private property, contiguous to Love Street Park on its west.
This was a time of separate white and black drinking fountains in our city. Blacks couldn’t enter white restaurants (unless they worked there) or attend most theaters. Blacks could buy Texas Theater tickets, as long as they sat in the balcony. Raymond remembers walking through the Texas CafĂ© to the kitchen out back as a little boy, wanting to spin the bar stools around. He couldn’t since the place was whites only.
Weatherford had black churches, a black tabernacle, and a two-story black Masonic Lodge on Fort Worth Highway, east of the courthouse. There were few black businesses.
If black students aspired to go to high school, they were on their own. Raymond and Leonard went to Fort Worth’s I. M. Terrell High School. Most of these kids didn’t have bikes, much less cars to make the thirty-one mile journey each way.
Raymond’s dad John Lorenzo “J. L.” George stepped up between 1953 – 1963. He left his upholstery shop twice a day to drive black students to Cowtown in his Ford station wagon at his own expense. Local businessmen later chipped in to buy gas. When J. L’s car got too crowded, a bus was finally supplied. J. L. spent five hours a day toting school kids, losing this time at his store.
Mitchell Rucker was another pillar of the black community here, born in 1899. “He was respected by the white community,” Raymond told me, “but held at a distance.” In the white community, Rucker was employed at the M & F Bank as a janitor. In the black community, he was superintendent at Prince Memorial for over fifty years, taught classes to Senior Citizens for the WPA in 1944, taught soldiers at Camp Wolters and was a board member at Texas College in Tyler for forty years. Rucker was one of the main conduits between Weatherford’s white and black communities.
“Pappa Ike” Simmons was another black leader. He attended school at Prince Memorial, before Mount Pleasant was built. “Pappa Ike was more of a politician – he knew everybody, running that mouth 100 miles an hour,” Charlie told me. Ike and brother “Uncle Charlie Simmons” each raised families off shining shoes at the Palace or Texas theaters and at barber shops.
Many prominent white families had black nannies, butlers, and groundskeepers. There was a parallel but unseen black society here, one from which trusted black men like Rucker, Pappa Ike and J. L. George could communicate informally with the white establishment.
Equally important, several white leaders reached out to the black community – Jack Borden, Borden Seaberry, the Cotton Family, and James and Dorothy Doss, among a few others. Respected whites and blacks interacted, albeit at a distance. Though not treated equally by any means, attacking one group would’ve meant attacking their own.
Mary Kemp remembers when the integration meetings took place in the third floor study hall of the old Weatherford High School. “It was a great time for all, very peaceful. I remember thinking, ‘This is a great historical time.”
Charlie Simmons was one of the first black students at Weatherford High School in 1963. He did well, as hundreds of other black students had before, riding atop the shoulders of Mount Pleasant’s teachers and black leaders. “It was a simple transition,” he said. “Nothing happened.”
This would be another “happily ever after” Weatherford story, save one omission. Unlike so much of this great town’s heritage, the Mount Pleasant School hasn’t been added to the roll call of hallowed historic touchstone sites in our town.
Raymond George tried to ignite a movement to get Mount Pleasant a historical marker some years back, maybe have the site turned into a museum or park. The Mount Pleasant School site and several surrounding acres can be accessed from the city’s Love Street Park and four city streets. The old school’s roof stopped turning back the rain many years ago. This historic place is not long for the world.
The Mount Pleasant School marks a chapter in Weatherford’s history where two communities became one. Unlike much of the South, this town pulled it off peacefully and with respect. As I put my camera back in its case, I noticed graffiti on the wall of Miss Rucker’s last classroom:
“Hold on to the ones you love,
cuz you never know when you’ll lose them.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Peoples

First Peoples
The Tabernacle
            Ken Falls grew up in the Lone Cedar – Merriman area. His family has solid Eastland County roots going back to the 1800s. More importantly (at least to me), Ken worked for many years as a pumper for oil companies. His laser-like interest in the study of American Indian cultures and artifacts, combined with a job that took him onto private property all over the region, destined Ken to be the Alameda – Cheaney area’s greatest expert on Native societies. Ken’s lifetime of field work lays a solid foundation for the future study of prehistoric Alameda and Cheaney.
            When the whole Indian thing came up, Ken counseled that I should keep an open mind. He knew I’d run across white settler stories detailing long years of Indian – Anglo conflict. He also knew more than one flavor of Indian had lived in the Leon River Valley.
            Ken has a twisted sense of humor, once you get to know him. Most of Ken’s best stories I can’t include, knowing mom will read this someday. During his decades as a pumper, stomping around the pastures and creek beds of rural Eastland County, Ken
discovered artifacts. He was able to construct an important map detailing twenty-five Native American camps within the county, based upon these discoveries. Ken catalogued what he found through the years, creating a rich historical Native American tapestry fueling this chapter.
            To protect the integrity of those sites, many of which are still relatively undisturbed, their locations are only described in general terms. They all fall with the “Alameda – Cheaney Box” detailed on Map I, however. Rather than recite a long list of amateur finds by Ken and others, I include only those which document certain time periods and cultures.
            Sparse archeological study in Eastland County flows from little invasive land development and a suspicion by local landowners that control of their hard-won real estate holdings might pass from their hands. Except for some sporadic surface collection by deer hunters or pre-WWII school kids, whatever the Indians left out there, still awaits collection and interpretation.
            Alameda – Cheaney Native peoples date to Clovis era man, 13,000 years ago. He walked the Leon River Valley in fairly large numbers. Though rough country, these hillsides supplied water, game and because of the thickness (then) of the Texas Cross Timbers, offered refuge from other tribes.
The dense Cross Timbers barrier was quite striking for westbound Anglo explorers who had just crossed a wide open Blackland Prairie, covered with chest-high
native grasses. Most of these travelers recorded this radical change, giving us first hand accounts of what this country looked like. Randolph Marcy traveled this country extensively when, saying, “At six different points where I have passed through [the Cross Timbers], I have found it characterized by the same peculiarities; the trees, consisting principally of post-oak and black-jack, standing at such intervals that wagons
can’t without difficulty pass between them in any direction. The soil is thin, sandy, and poorly watered.”
George Wilkins Kendall with the Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841, called the Cross Timbers "almost impenetrable" and "full of deep and almost impassable gullies. The ground was covered with a heavy undergrowth of briers and thorn-bushes, impenetrable even by mules, and these, with the black jacks and post oaks which thickly studded the broken surface, had to be cut away, their removal only showing, in bolder relief, the rough and jagged surface of the soil which had given them existence and nourishment.”
Josiah Gregg (1844) ascribed the forest’s density to fires, natural or started intentionally by Indians. “Most of the timber appears to be kept small by the continual inroads of the 'burning prairies for, being killed almost annually, it is constantly replaced by scions of undergrowth; so that it becomes more and more dense every reproduction. In some places, however, the oaks are of considerable size, and able to withstand the conflagrations. The underwood is so matted in many places with grape-vines, green-briars, etc., as to form almost impenetrable 'roughs'.”
If a band of Native peoples were looking for a place in which to disappear, Eastland County’s Leon River Valley would have been hard to beat. The northern end of the Leon River and its Colony Creek tributary cuts through rougher terrain, more cut up with low mountains, rock outcroppings, hollows, winding creeks and streams. As you move south down the Leon, getting closer to the mid-point of the Alameda – Cheaney Box, the valley widens to a smooth, gentle swale. Cliffs resurface on the western side of this valley (Reid Ridge), just above Alameda Cemetery, continuing south to Nash Creek.       Below the Alameda Cemetery hill, Mansker Lake and the Leon River are within sight of each other on a broad, flat delta studded by giant pecan trees.
The Leon River is punctuated by several deep, rock bottomed “holes” where water would have stood for months after rains ceased. Numerous springs (Duvall Springs, Young Springs, Winsett Springs, Ellison Springs, McGough Springs, Nash Springs, Blackwell Springs, and others) offered passing Native travelers cool, clear water during arid months. Indians could hunt game that wandered up for a drink. 
Many think of Central Texas as a land with plentiful lakes, reservoirs and stock tanks. The vast majority of these are man-made, and those pretty recently (1950s on). Before the impulse to impound runoff water for future use began, large bodies of water like Mansker Lake were rare.
Bill McGough refers to Mansker’s waters as “the lake” from a distance of ten miles away as late as the late mid-1800s. These peaceful waters were known to ancient
people, and were returned to often. Its shorelines may have even been fought over, with the fallen dead buried in the east-facing cliffs nearby (this Native gravesite long since desecrated).
Native peoples visited Mansker Lake in waves. People capable of recording Native presence (French or Spanish explorers, Republic of Texas soldiers, early ranching settlers) didn’t hit this broad area of Texas until the mid-1700s. There are no known eyewitness sightings of Native Americans in our specific Eastland County area recorded until Big Foot Wallace explored just to our east in 1837. From that date until 1874 when the Indians disappeared to reservations or were killed (or driven underground in at least one Cheaney case), few written accounts fail to mention Native Americans, usually Comanches.
The natural food basket that Natives sought was found in this stretch of the Leon River Valley. The valley is filled with giant pecan trees (“protein that won’t run away,” my new friend and Comanche ethnologist Linda Pelon reminds). The presence of deer, large panthers and bears are recorded by early settlers (McGough and Mrs. Jim Hart). Corn would have grown in these fertile bottoms without the need of soil preparation. Older interviewees report a greater presence of walnut trees than is found today.
Bison would have been hard pressed to get into this rough-terrain valley in large numbers, though McGough reports them seven miles to the west. Big Foot Wallace also reports bison near present day Victor, ten miles to the southeast. Either site is well within the known range of Indian hunting parties. Theoretically, the McGough Springs
bison to the west of Alameda could have been herded to the Reid Ridge cliff on the western side of Alameda, and driven over its edge into the fast moving waters below (like Natives did at the Bonfire Shelter in Val Verde County…a similar, seventy foot high cliff). The writer was unable to access the Reid Ridge land, to explore this theory, though the topography, archeology and the nearby presence of bison fit.
            If Mansker Lake’s human clock started 13,000 years ago, more than 600 succeeding generations of people could have lived here during that period of time. Hunters and gatherers looking for food and water, would have found a sure supply, unlike other inland Texas areas. We cannot know for sure “who these Indians were”. We cannot give those peoples definite names, like we later can the Comanches, at least not yet. Additional investigation could fill those voids.
All these “could have” theories would have remained conjecture. That’s where Ken Falls and others came to Alameda’s rescue. Ken and I built a ladder of civilizations together, driven only by the nature of artifacts found. Those artifacts become markers for amazing periods of civilization in what is now sparsely settled farmland. Additional hard work by citizens of the City of DeLeon corroborated our story.
DeLeon is a bustling town of 2,424 people, located 16 miles south of Alameda. Amateur and professional archeologists made tremendous progress putting their Indian puzzle together. The preponderance of DeLeon’s Indians are thought to be Wichita, divided into the Waco and the Tawakoni. Their culture was a mix of Caddo to the east,
and Great Plains Indians to the west. They farmed a little, but made frequent hunting trips to the plains.
            Indians would have been on foot until the later arrival of the horse-borne Kiowa and Comanche. The Leon River bottom, cleared of underbrush by seasonal flooding, would have been a clear thoroughfare to camps above and below Alameda and DeLeon. The water would have drawn game, just as it drew human life.
If Natives preceding the Comanches also used smoke signals, smaller hilltop smoke sites along its course could have reached the major Jameson Peak and Ranger Hill regional smoke sites easily (a hilltop above Jim Neal Creek, the Schmick Ridge below Alameda and the Staff (“Round”) Mountain sites all fit subsidiary smoke signaling location profiles. Physical evidence was found at two of these sites.
            Linda told me to look for Indian footprints along paths of least resistance, when we first met. She said that many settler roads (even a few highways) follow prehistoric paths created by Native peoples. Plotting Mr. Falls findings, then cross-referencing his work with the earliest known detailed road maps of Eastland County (1888 and 1917), yielded a surprising breakthrough.
A north-south roadway recorded on a 1917 U.S. Soil Conservation Map implies an ancient roadway connecting several Indian campsites, dating from the Archaic Era, 8,000 years ago. That same route was widely used as a public road until late 1878 by settlers and travelers, when a new county road was built to its east, on higher ground. This Old Alameda Road forms the spine of much of this region’s early history, though it is now largely invisible.
Bill McGough (1859) places the intersection of the two overland Comanche War Trails a mile and a half east of Desdemona, beneath the most important Native regional mountain landmark, Jameson Peak. This seems to be roughly corroborated by the 1839 “Map of Texas Compiled from Surveys on record in the General Land Office of the Republic”, by Richard S. Hunt and Jesse F Randel. The 1839 map shows a Y intersection that the Alameda – Cheaney Box lies completely within. It is likely the Comanches were not the first to travel this well-defined migration path, as earlier peoples were also always on the move. This intersection is eight miles from Mansker Lake, if McGough is correct. The 1839 map plots it farther west.
The writer will only identify the more stirring marker artifacts found, mostly arrowheads, spear points and mano/metates, that suggest the timelines of the peoples who left them behind. This discussion is informed by the extensive archeological study undertaken around DeLeon.
The Clovis Culture of Paleo-Indian presence begins with two Clovis points, found inside the Alameda – Cheaney Box. Nearby Native fire pits have not been carbon dated. Alameda’s Clovis Man lived for around 800 years, beginning 13,000 years ago. These Clovis points were found near the Rock Ledge Shelter Camp.
Clovis points were used on spears, lances and darts – weapons used to “stab” their prey, not be thrown or shot. These first Paleo-American Stage Indians hunted the now-extinct camel, the prehistoric horse, four-horned antelope, mastodon and the

mammoth, though the mastodon is the only ancient megafauna whose remains have been found in this valley (to this writer’s knowledge).
These early Paleo-Indians are not thought to have been shelter builders. They might have lived in the open, in trees, or beneath rock outcroppings. These outcroppings are an easy walk from the Rock Ledge Shelter Camp site. Earlier shelter outcroppings could have been softened or eroded away through the years by the seasonally-flooding Leon River and other man-made alterations to this river’s nature. Caves lie at the western edge of this site in two locations.
            The Folsom Culture (9,000 – 8,000 B. C.) hunted now-extinct ancient bison, much taller than the animals alive today. These later Paleo-Indians were slightly more sophisticated in their tool making than the Clovis peoples. Folsom tips were found in the same area as the Clovis tips, suggesting the site’s ongoing desirability, or perhaps even a linking thread between the two people. When I later talked to Comanche Nation representatives, they told me that their people believe that all Native peoples share an eternal core linkage. Though it sounded like mystical allegory to me, a part of their cosmic belief system, the Comanches’ spiritual legacy might also literally explain the evolution of Native peoples at one location through time.
            The Plano Culture is represented by Plainview points, found at the Upper Leon Fulcrum Camp. This culture’s population lived from 10,000 - 8,000 years ago. The sheer number of these people is thought to be greater, as many more artifacts have been found. Metates show up as early as this culture, but were used constantly until early

Historic times. The Fulcrum Camp peoples widely roamed this valley as flint scraping tools, several manos and metates and stone cleavers have all been found as far south as the Alameda Cemetery vicinity. An additional cleaver was found on the Hamilton Place near Jim Neal Creek, ironically, near the site of the valley’s first Anglo settler foothold. Paths of least resistance.
            Plano artifacts tend to concentrate at Fulcrum Camp, but scatter liberally at multiple sites along Jim Neal Creek, Colony Creek and the Leon River. These people’s population grew through time. The end of this Paleo period is thought to be the Altithermal Period. Average temperatures rose markedly. Rainfall decreased 6,500-7,500 years ago, producing punishing droughts. Large game like bison would have suffered.
            A large year-round inland lake like Mansker Lake would have been necessary for survival, attracting refugees from the Great Plains. The Antithermal may have made West Texas uninhabitable, scientists believe. If the Antithermal caused bison to disappear, Indians would be forced to retool, to hunt smaller game along wooded river bottoms, like rabbit, turtle and deer. This Leon River Valley’s native pecan, walnut and several seed-bearing plants surely added to Alameda-Cheany’s allure. Its desirability probably produced conflict.
            The Archaic Stage began about 6000 B.C. – 200 B. C. A Bulverde Point from the Early Archaic Period (3,000 – 2500 B. C.) was found at the Alameda Cemetery many years ago. A Trinity Tip was also found farther north at the cornerstone Fulcrum Camp. More paths of least resistance.
            The Native’s weapons transitioned to airborne delivery (arrows are shot, not jabbed). Black-scarred middens begin to appear. There is no evidence of farming at this stage, or constructed shelters, but again, cliffs and caves are convenient to both sites.
The Middle Archaic Period (8,000 – 1,000 B. C.) announced cooler temperatures and more rainfall. Bison returned to the recovering grasslands to the west. Pedernales points were found just north of Alameda Cemetery.
The Late Archaic Period brought a marked growth of population and intense interaction. These folks gathered berries, roots, nuts, pecan and the lemon size bur-oak acorns. They hunted deer, small game, and bison. Refuse mounds filled with discarded bones, shells, and broken hearth stones formed the “rock middens” of Central Texas, found in two places within the Alameda – Cheaney Box. The dart was their primary weapon. They developed a wooden device called an atlatl to increase the power of their throwing arm.
            Pottery began to be made during this time, as well as organized agriculture. The bow and arrow replaced the atlatl. The arrow points were much thinner, smaller and lighter. Though Ruth Terry Denney mentions pottery in her well-written 1941 A Short History of Ranger, the writer did not interview anyone who found Native pottery within the Alameda – Cheaney Box. Anecdotal stories reported pottery finds on the upper Jim Neal Creek and also southwest of Alameda Cemetery. Neither were confirmed.
            The Late Prehistoric Period (A. D. 600 – A. D. 1600) fully embraced the bow and arrow, and pottery. Caddo and Plains Indian cultural influences meld in this period, just prior to the first Spanish and French ventures into this part of Texas. Perdiz points found at Fulcrum Camp could point to a wide time frame, from the 1800 Historic Period as far back as the Late Prehistoric Period. Alba Points found at Fulcrum seem to better anchor the Late Prehistoric I Period (1250-750 BP).
            Fresno points confirm man a short distance to the northeast, at the large Colony Rock Mountain Camp. There are Washita Points from this same site, and also farther south along the Jim Neal.
HISTORIC PERIOD (AD 1600 – Present). The Wacos seem to be in abundance in DeLeon, driven out later by Lipan Apaches. The points found in the Alameda – Cheaney Box support DeLeon’s discovery of a sizable Waco civilization. Any Wacos left behind were surely eliminated by the Comanches, beginning around 1740.
Indian campsites around DeLeon seem to be of two types – the first contained flint arrow points. The second contained large spearheads, hand axes, points with corner tangs, and grinding manos or “squaw rocks”.
Where the Leon and Sabanna merge south of DeLeon (eighteen miles south of Alameda) a large “war camp” was found. “It was in blow sand that was originally about two and one half feet deep but has since exposed eleven small fire place mounds about two feet in height and three feet in diameter at its base.”
“The major site of the second type was located east of De Leon on the west bank of the Leon. It covered an acre of ground and was a small hill so littered with mussel shells as to resemble one of the shell heaps common on the coast. This site produced a great many drills, mortars and manos, arrowpoints, large spearpoints, hand axes and flint scrapers.”
Two professional digs near DeLeon found “Central Texas Aspect” Clifton, Scallorn, Granbury and Perdiz points. A second division of the Neo-American Stage called the Henrietta Focus found Harrell, Fresno and Young Points. The Edwards Plateau aspect of the Archaic Stage found Pedernales, Martindale and Darl points. In rough terms, DeLeon’s prehistoric history seems to mirror Alameda’s, a short distance to its north.
Ruth Terry Denny believes that various flavors of Caddo were pushed into this area from East Texas during this period by early Anglo settlers. Earthen berms visually consistent with Caddo mounds were observed at two sites in the Leon River Valley, both on land the writer could not access.
Denny tells us “the Indians inhabiting the central part of the State when (the) white man was moving West were, for the most part, these speaking dialects of the Caddo language. They were the Caddos, Wacos, Wichitas, Keechies, Andarkos, Tejas, Ionies, Adaes, Bedias, Ayish, Towash, Tawakanas, and the Nachodoches. These tribes were builders of permanent homes, and cultivated corn, melons, and vegetables for their
own use. Those inhabiting the North Central part of Texas were the Caddos, Wacos, Keechies, Witchitas, and Towash tribes”.
Denny offers fascinating clues. “The meal bowls, pestles, stone-hoos, and most of the flint artifacts found in Eastland County were left by the Caddos and kindred tribes. The meal bowls vary a great deal. Some were made of thin rock which required experienced and skilled hands in shaping them. Perhaps these were the ones taken with them when they moved camp. Others have been found which were too heavy to have been moved any considerable distance. Some times round holes about the size of post holes were found in large sand rocks or in limestone boulders which seem to indicate the site of a permanent camp. Some camp sites have been found where it seems that those bowls were purposely broken. This is thought to have been done to prevent their falling into the hands of their enemies. Arrowheads have been found in many sizes and types. Tomahawks vary so much that hardly any two are very much alike.”
When French, Spanish and Anglo explorers hit this land, Native fortunes declined rapidly, on several fronts. Though scattered battles killed both Indians and European explorers, the disease the fair-complected men brought with them turned out to be their most effective weapon.
The introduction of the horse by the Spaniards near Taos and the rifle by the French and Spanish helped the Apache and Comanche grow to dominate the region’s more peaceful Caddo. Comanche hegemony continued to grow to the south, eventually beyond the Rio Grande into Mexico.
The Comanches probably beat Anglo covered wagons to the Leon River Valley by no more than 120 years (1740 versus 1859). The Comanches are thought to have swooped down from the north (Native roads tend to run north to south, unlike Anglo east to west paths). Some Native historians believe conversely that earlier peoples were mixed into the Comanche population. Either way, the Comanches (and Kiowas) were operating full bore in Eastland County when the first Anglo settlers arrived at Mansker Lake and Blair’s Fort to its east.
First hand, written reports from this fated meeting punctuate the beginning of Alameda’s recorded history. Though written in heroic language, and clearly from the Anglo writers’ sole perspectives, they offer a look at this valley that is hard to imagine today.
Pre-Comanche First Peoples arrived at Mansker Lake and the Leon River Valley in hundreds of waves through the years. They stayed for a while, got what they needed, then history’s tide forced them to pack up and leave (or be killed trying). The Native folks who stayed behind are buried here, in cemeteries off in the woods, victims of disease or other tribes or old age or each other.
The parade of the Natives described in this chapter got the wakeup call of their lives when “who came next” arrived. One morning many moons ago, these mostly peaceful people heard the sound of mustang hoof beats in the distance. Perhaps blood-curdling war cries filled the stilled air. Within the space of a few years, the Comanche had displaced all who came before. And the Comanche dug in, preparing for what came next.