Texas Ranching Adventure: The Spirits of the Field
Behind our ranch house and across a dry creek bed was a long rectangular pasture. There was something strange in that place—it could be felt.
The geography itself told a haunted tale: one-third was a stunted live oak wood with a pond. At the cleared end were tree carcasses, a falling-down rock corral and the graves.
In December 1858, there was an Indian attack. This is the story: a family called Jackson ventured into a grove one day to meet another family and together gather pecans for a winter supply. As the Jacksons drove their oxen and wagon towards the meeting place, they could see people in the distance and thought these were their friends. Instead, they were a band of Comanche. By earlier treaty, this land belonged to the Comanche. They attacked, killing the parents, the oldest daughter and the baby. The Comanche seized the oxen, the eight year old boy and ten year old girl, and fled.
Days later, on the trail, the children escaped and walked back home through creek beds to avoid detection. A group of Texas Rangers and other pursuers found the children.
The dead family were buried where they fell: the communal grave of the mother and baby is about four hundred yards from the communal grave of the father and eighteen year old. Both graves are covered and encircled by big slabs of sandstone, just as the original funeral party left them.
The Dead Trees
In the cleared section, the corpses of huge oaks lay here and there. In the 1940’s, people tried to clear-cut the land to turn the region into farms. The thin soil was soon washed and blown away after the prairie sod had been replaced by cotton planting. That put a stop to farming dreams.
The Old House
At one time, a house had stood a short ways from the rock corral on what is now another property. All that’s left is some rotting lumber. But a local named Pete told this story: in the 1930’s, planting cotton, he plowed the pasture with mules. During his work, he would hear children talking and laughing in the vicinity of the house ruins, though no one was ever visible.
The Rock Corral
My husband and I spent several months reinforcing this corral, stringing new wire fence for a goat-working pen and rebuilding the stone wall and shelter. At one time, a little rock wall had run all the way from this corral along the old road down to the creek and on, but the rocks were scavenged at some point, and just a rock or two here and there was all that was left. We scavenged a few more for our rebuilding project.
While building the rockwork, we met the locals. A family of foxes – on a spring day, we would see them, led by the papa, followed by three bouncing young pups, then the mama, all with their big red fluffy tails up behind and waving like flags.
In the ruined corral wall, there lived an elegant five-foot black Kingsnake. We called her Electra, and I like to think she reigns there still.
The Round Ups
Each year, we rounded up our goats in this pasture when it was time to separate the young billy goats from the rest. At first this was a circus show, of running and chasing back and forth for hours. We were early man at his worst. But soon enough my husband learned to take his friend and lead goat, Big Heart, named so because of a white heart-shape emblazoned on the black of her chest. He would escort Big Heart, and get her to lead the other goats by patience and by his gentle crooning of “Goatie, goatie, goatie!”
I do believe it all exists there still. All at the same time. Were you to visit that place, see the shining straw-colored grasses, the big elegant pecan and oak clustered along the creek bed, the stands of lacy mesquite trees, feel the whispering warm breeze of summer or the whipping winter blasts, see the red rock corral and goat pen, you’d feel the fear of the Jacksons being surrounded, the violence of their bloody deaths, you’d smell the anger and justice of the Comanche, you’d hear the huge trees being chopped down by the stubborn wood choppers, you’d watch our friend Pete leading his mule furrowing the rough sod, hear the children at the ruin banging a tin can of pebbles, see the couple in love fitting stones on the rock wall, the fox family running, Queen Electra sunning, and surely even hear my husband crooning during the round up on foot, and the clip clip of many goat hooves.
For the beginning of the Texas Ranching Adventure series, click here.