Ranch Life in Bandera County in 1878

About 1878, Mr. Maverick had little or nothing to do, so he spent most of his time riding around the country looking for a ranch. I had been raised on a farm in Virginia, and of course, thought all respectable people lived in the country. He had a beautiful "paint pony" which was supposed to have been a descendant of some Arabian stock brought out to Texas to be used by the U. S. Government: whether she was or not, she was a "dear girl" and was named "Lady." As a boy, Mr. Maverick had spent a good deal of time on Jose Policarpo Rodriquez ranch in Bandera County. He had hunted with Mr. Polly and had an affectionate and romantic idea of the country. In those days there were no fences and the Indians and sheep men had been in the habit of burning the grass every spring, so there was no underbrush and even the large trees were often burnt at the bottom and the trunks of the trees would be hollow to the branches. In the springtime all the way from San Antonio to Bandera it would seem as if you traveled through a beautiful park. The stage stopped at Mrs. Miller's ranch on the San Geronimo, or if you traveled in your own conveyance, people camped anywhere there was water or good grass for the horses. I saw a bear on Red Bluff Creek one day going up, another time I was wonder struck at the beauty of my first view of Polly's Peak and another mountain near, where hundreds of white goats were being herded near the top. It only needed the bright red serapes like the shepherds wear in Mexico to complete the beauty of the scene.

After much riding, Mr. Maverick decided on a ranch situated on the Medina River and Winans Creek, lying between Bandera town and Medina City. Mr. Mott, of Galveston owned the place and he and John Gahagan batched there together. It was a most beautiful place when we moved there. It looked like a well kept park. Occasional big post oak and live oak trees shaded green grass which went to the very edges of the river and creek. Mr. Mott moved back to Galveston, but John stayed, fortunately for us. He was considered a cranky old Irishman and when he had headaches, he would tie a red bandana on his head, get a quirt and whip every dog in sight. In reality he was one of the kindest men and was a God send to two greenhorns like we were. Coming from Virginia, where darkies were plentiful, I was one of the poorest housekeepers to be found. I did not know how to boil water, but Mrs. Annie E. Brown, who recently died at Tarpley, came over and saved our lives. Mrs. Brown was a well educated lady and had been raised by her uncle who was a banker of New Orleans but she, like many others at that time, had been stranded in Texas during the gold rush to California. She always carried her own feather bed wherever she went and mentioned to me one day, "I have had to work so many years, I like to have some proof of better days, so I carry my bed and sewed up on the inside are some little trophies of my youth." She also mentioned that Big Foot Wallace wished to send her son to North Caroline to school, but for some reason she refused. We were devoted friends and when I came back to San Antonio, she came and went to Europe with Mr. Maverick's sister whose huband was minister to Belgium.

I was the first woman to set foot on the Mott Ranch and when the chickens, dogs and stock of all kinds, caught sight of me the shock was too great, and they took to the brush. The house was just what one might expect it to be—kept by two middle-aged bachelors. Mr. Mott was small, fat and red and was very nervous, so much so that when a hen would do her duty by laying an egg, her cackling would annoy him to such an extent he would rush out and thrown stones until she quieted down. Consequently, every fall a wagon load of stones would have to be cleaned out of the corn house before the new crop could be stored.

John was an entirely different type—tall, thin, and gotten up in a most attractive style. He rode a good horse and always wore a pistol and cartridge belt, high boots, high hat and red handkerchief around his neck. I think he must have belonged to the better class in Ireland. He was well educated and spoke of taking fencing lessons which is only taught to the people of means. He had beautiful hunting dogs and was very fond of animals, and on one occasion when he lit the fire to make coffee he was deeply grieved because he shut the stove door and burnt up his cat.

For the few years we lived in Bandera there was a great influx of people from everywhere and there was a good deal of money spent. The people did not know how they were going to do it, but they all expected to get rich some way. Above us on the river a little below Medina City a young blood from Boston, Job Parker, bought a ranch, put up a nice house and bought most anything in sight that anyone brought around. Somebody sold him a drove of geese and told him they always roosted in trees, that he must put planks up to the trees and drive them up until they were accustomed to the place. The cow boys made it convenient to be on time for the drive and had great fun watching the procedure. Mr. Parker brought with him from Boston, a young friend, a sailor named Ladd, to run the ranch. You can imagine how successful they were. This young scrapegrace, we understood was a wayward son of a fine old Boston family and he had the earmarks not entirely rubbed off. He had been to Harvard and once he had eight Harvard friends come and visit him. Some of them were most attractive men. My cousin, Miss Price, was spending the winter with us and Miss Jeannie Carpenter about the same age, whose parents had recently moved above us on the river, made a very gay company at my house at the ranch. We had lots of ponies to ride and there was always some excuse for the girls to go on some jaunt. I had a grand outfit for horse back that would be very amusing now, but was considered the latest thing at the time. A very expensive English side saddle, a dark blue habit, fitting as tight as the skin, and a beaver hat—in this grand costume I accompanied the girls and young men. John Gahagan lead the trail to a camp meeting given under a brush arbor. One night on the way, we encountered a pole-cat: My pony was the first to strike it, consequently my habit had to be buried for some time. The young people were hilarious over the experience and I had some trouble quieting them down before we arrived at the meeting, when someone remarked in an undertone "Hick's dog has killed another polecat." Mr. Ventrus Pue was often with us and it was at my house about that time that he met Miss Jeannie Carpenter, whom he afterwards married. She was a dear, sweet girl and we were very fond of her.

Mr. Parker did not prove a credit to his family by any means and didn't tarry long in the country. On his last visit he borrowed a very beautiful Indian shield from a gentleman in Bandera County, who, of course, prized it very highly. Mr. Parker told him that "Mrs. Maverick wished to exhibit it in San Antonio." He left it at my house for awhile and then took it off north with him, explaining to me that he had bought it. We were much distressed that our name had been used in the affair.

Another quite interesting man who visited us whom some Bandera people may remember, was the French Count Dodur de Karoman. He was a most imposing figure, six feet four in his stocking feet. He had been a soldier in Algiers and was of a very military bearing and handsome, dignified and claimed to be a very great rider. He would give the Texas boys suggestions which they did not appreciate, so they invited him over to our ranch one day when a lot of young horses were to be broken. The Frenchman announced that he could ride anything they chose to bring out. Nothing suited the cow-boys better than such confidence. They brought out a young Nornan horse about four years old, full of life and as wild as they are made. The count had on a most beautiful costume. Pure white silk helmet and a white silk military coat to his knees. The boys remarked, "We don't want to kill him," so they took the horse to a plowed filed, blindfolded him and held him for the count to get well into the saddle. Then the blinks were pulled off. The Count's ride was of short duration. The blinds once removed, the horse showed the whites of his eyes, shivered and started to buck. It was only a few moments later when the Count's six feet four was flat in the dust. There was unheard of merriment when the boys went to catch the horse. The Frenchman explained with much dignity that he really didn't care to ride again. He went from our house to a place near Boerne where a lot of young Englishmen were dipping sheep. He offered some small advice, which they didn't appreciate and they suggested that he ride on, or they would catch and dip him—in the sheep vat. He evidently felt that he was unappreciated in the country and went back to San Antonio, where he married the daughter of a barkeeper and left for Panama.

One of the next celebrated people we had to visit us was King Fisher, at the height of his career. He arrived late one evening with a lot of cowboys and a good sized bunch of cattle. Someone explained that he wished to sleep in the house for fear of being killed in the night by some one of his various enemies. That night he was careful when he sat at the supper table not to be a target for a gun, but as Rose Kalka, a little Polish girl, happened to touch him while handling around the batter cakes, he jumped like his time had come. He slept in a small room on the gallery. The cattle bellowed all night long. Someone had told me of his many wild experiences, how he said that he had killed twenty-seven men, one for each year of his life. After all was quiet, I spent a very restless time—and one time when he got up to get a drink of water from the bucket, I held my baby very tight thinking we would die together. I didn't realize that he was a man killer and not a baby killer. To my inexperienced eye, he was a very innocent looking cow boy, tall and thin and dark. He and I had a very pleasant conversation about his wife and babies before I knew who he was. Not very long after this visit, he was shot in San Antonio at the White Elephant saloon, with Ben Thompson, and I hope passed on to the happy hunting ground.

One Christmas we had a grand gentleman's dinner at the ranch at one o'clock in the day. I knew how to make egg-nog like my mother used to make in Virginia, but strange to say, some of my guests preferred the whisky "straight" and a "few fingers" in a glass. The egg-nog did not have enough "bite." There was a joke which had quite a vogue those days. Someone gave a cowboy some whiskey with a few wasps inside. To the astonishment of his friends, he drank it down with evident pleasure, but though "it didn't have enough bite to it." I can't remember all the gentlemen's names at the party, but there was a Mr. Hicks, Buck Hamilton, Mr. Ventris Pue, Mr. Montague, Hugh Duffy, H. H. Carmichael, and others, about ten in all, whose names I can't remember.

My second daughter was born in Bandera and named Agatha. Mr. Maverick's mother was to have been with me, but we missed count so she didn't arrive. I was very ignorant on such subjects, so Miss Agatha arrived almost unattended. The old Polish midwife arrived, riding straddle—unheard of for women in those days. She relieved the extreme anxiety of Mrs. Brown and a neighbor. I was entirely exhausted and went to sleep. When I awoke, my eyes opened on quite a medieval scene. The room was darkened, a big wood fire was roaring in the rough stone fire place. The clock ticked on the mantle shelf and the only person I could see was the old Polish midwife kneeling at the side of the bed praying audibly. She had a little gray shawl around her shoulders, a big white apron on and her hair was very smooth. She held a rosary in her hand and with her eyes raised to heaven, she looked like an old painting. Seeing I was awake, she brought the baby triumphantly to me and a worse looking specimen I never saw. A poor wretched looking little thing—long black hair and a sight to behold. The old Polish lady believed in the ways of the old country and did not believe in the modern invention of pins, so she had torn a piece of cloth up into wide strings and bound the baby in swaddling clothes, which I had heard of but had never seen before. All the babies in the country that year had a hard time. There had been a dreadful drought through the country and no one had anything fresh to eat, which Dr. Hudspeth, a good old doctor from Houston, explained was the reason babies had something which was not recognized then, but is now, as a form of scurvy. It gave the babies a sore mouth and a nasty little eruption and my baby was not cured until I went home to Virginia to my old home where we had different food. We had many jokes in the country about the food that year. Some body said that they had biscuits, molasses and coffee for supper; condensed milk, no butter and when I mentioned keeping a cow for milk I was laughed at although there were hundreds of cows. Our fruits consisted of prunes and dried apples. A man volunteered to bring me some fresh goat meat. When it arrived, the man laid it down in the kitchen window and as the sun shown on it it was a shiney blue. I took one look and decided it meant starvation. There were no eggs, and John Gahagan remarked that a hen would have to have an iron beak and feet to scratch anything out of the hard, dry ground. We decided in a year or two that we were not a grand success at ranching and moved back to San Antonio with a very affectionate remembrance of the friends we had made while living there. Henry McKeen ran this ranch for some years for Mr. Maverick. While living there, he was married to Miss Obieske from up the river. The wedding was a grand affair, lots of people were there, but one thing to be remembered was the bride. She was dressed as the usual bride, white dress, tulle veil and orange blossoms. Her hair was almost a gold color and hung in curls to her knees. She had blue eyes, a fresh complexion, was about eighteen and I remember her as a beautiful sight.

I have forgotten to mention old Mr. Steward. He was quite an old man when I knew him. He belonged to an aristocratic family of Richmond, Va., and had been for many years in the U. S. Navy. He could hold a glass of wine and repeat poetry by the hour. He had seen a great deal of the world and was a very agreeable man. The hardships of a pioneer life were very hard on him and about the only fun he got out of it was to swear like a sailor at the whole "dam business." I went to see him once when he insisted on living alone in a little cabin by the river. I called and he at last told me to come in. In the most polished language he explained his great suffering, while he lay on a raw hide with very few garments on and scratched the mosquito bites with a carving knife. I was ashamed when I went back to San Antonio that I did not do more for his comfort. His death happened shortly after I left Bandera, but my excuse for not doing many things that would have been a pleasure, was because my whole time was taken up raising our children, and I feel certain it could not have been better or more happily spent.

Mrs. Albert Maverick, Sr., Frontier Times, April, 1928

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