Jim Dennis, my great-grandfather, bought the ranch in 1904. When he decided to retire to a simpler life other than cowboying, he told Ike he could run the place. Great Grandpa Dennis took Granny Dennis and moved to town.
Jim’s recountings of his younger days were filled with pioneering stories and Indian raids. “After the Civil War, the country was full of unbranded cattle and it was customary for cowmen to brand everythin’ in sight. We sorta Tapered off, though, when the cattle brandin’ law went into force. In the free branding days there was grass enough for all, and plenty of cattle but the cattle had small market value. In 1881, fencing became general, and free pasture was a thing of the past,” he told us great grandkids. “I remember the days when Fort Griffin was a boomtown,” he’d said, “The center of buffalo hide and bone business. Hunters outfitted their parties at Fort Griffin and brought their hides and bones there to be sold. When the buffalo were all killed and the Indians had been put on the reservations, Fort Griffin’s businessmen moved to Albany and the old fort was soon a ghost town.”
Great Grandpa Jim also told us that doctors were few and far between, but not many people got sick. “Couldn’t afford to get down with doctors twenty-five miles away. There weren’t any dentists and teeth seemed to last nearly as long as the folks did. Maybe the pioneer diet of beans, syrup, bread, meat, and coffee wadn’t so bad after all.”
When Jim and Granny Dennis first got married, they moved to Nolan County and spent twenty years on Bitter Creek. Their first ranch home was a dugout, twelve feet square. I didn’t know it back then, but me, Delma, Mother, and Dad would be living in a dugout before too long.
God almighty, they had a total of twelve kids. I can only imagine Granny Dennis raising those kids, taking a break every so often to sit on the front porch to chew her tobacco and spit it back out into her brass spittoon. “Ping!;” like she probably did, when Dad took Delma that time. “Now Wayne, ping, she belongs with her mother, ping. Ye take her back right now, ping.”
Their son, Henry, died in 1898. And Boxley died in 1918 while serving with the American Expeditionary Force in France. That left James, Sid, Maggie, Ike, Bertie, Lawrence, Thurmond, Florine and the twins, Raymond and Rubie. Uncle Sid is ranching in New Mexico, Uncle Thurman is the foreman of the Martin ranch, Uncle Raymond ranches too. While the other kids were off doing other things, thirty-two hundred acres of pure Texas sat in the capable hands of Ike.
The ranch sits at the base of Double Mountain about fifteen miles outside of Rotan just past the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Mesquite trees, scrub brush, and red dirt were pure and raw Texas. In 1941, the land that spoke to itself and made the people who lived there a little stronger, would be out of our hands and in the hands of the famous football player, Mr. Sammy Baugh. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I’d get to be with Ike and not with Mrs. Berry and, at the time, that was all that mattered.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper
Daily word prompt: Taper
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