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Places Visited:

Jacksboro, Fort Richardson, Richards Ranch Retreat, Bridgeport

Travelogue #5 Jack County Part 2
Thousand Trails Bay Landing
Bridgeport, TX

4/2 We left the coach early this morning to meet John and Charlotte at their home in Jacksboro by 8:30, after a fast stop at Chris's place, the Kwik Stop, for fresh biscuit and sausage sandwiches.

Upon arrival at the house, the girls immediately started discussing how to make butterfly and angel note cards. Charlotte seemed excited to get Peggy's starter kit for string art, complete with thread, patterns and personal instructions. By the time John and I left for the ranch to meet the scale man, the girls were engrossed in their craft.

Driving out of town, we passed the entrance to Fort Richardson Texas State Park. This fort was one in a series built by the Federal Government, to protect Texans along the perimeter of the frontier as it moved west. This lonely outpost, established in 1868, played a key role in the post-Civil War Texas Indian campaign. During the Buffalo War, 1874-1875, Fort Richardson was the most heavily garrisoned military installation in the United States. Many of the old buildings, built around the parade grounds, still remain standing.

Leaving the highway and turning onto one of the ranch's gravel roads, we crested a rocky ridge which looked out over a wide expanse of arid land and I could visualize the Comanche's and Kiowa's roaming these plains on horseback long ago. The bravery and tenacity of the early settlers, to build a log cabin, and live out here with limited access to supplies and water and the constant danger of passing Comanche scouting parties, amazes me.

There was one more stop before meeting the scale man...The 7th generation since 1865, Mr. Hunter Hackley, John's 5-year-old grandson, was waiting for us at his home on the Ranch. We drove up to the ranch house where mom, Cindy, had him ready to go in his cowboy boots, blue jeans, t-shirt, dark wrap-around safety glasses and cowboy hat. He hopped in the truck and found his treat…John had come prepared with fresh donut holes he'd picked up on the way out of town. Now, we were ready to roll.

Shortly, we entered a pasture with several holding pens and a cattle shoot, where Robert Waggner and one of his assistants of Waggner Scales and Service out of Wichita Falls, were waiting. Once a year, usually in April before shipping their cattle to the feedlots in May, the scales are certified for accuracy. Here again is a profession that most city people never think about…certifying cattle scales. This is one of 5 scales on the Ranch; 20' X 6', and the cattle reach it through the shoot.

Robert pulls an open flatbed trailer with side rails. A steel I-beam runs above from end- to- end. On the I-beam is an electric hoist, which picks up a 500 pound weight, certified by the State of Texas, and places it at the end of the trailer to be lowered and unhooked onto a 3-wheeled dolly. The dolly has a jack to hoist and deposit the weight on a corner of the scale. Various 500 lb weights are then placed in different locations and thus, the scale is tested for its accuracy and officially marked. A not so favorite step in this process is the job of opening the under-carriage of the scale to check for rat nests, rattlesnakes and then give a general cleaning, so it will hang correctly. This particular scale can weigh up to 10,000 lbs. of live cattle and was placed on the Ranch by John's grandfather Cater, back in the 40's.

As I walked toward the gate, leaving this pasture and its scale, I couldn't help but notice the majestic beauty, 360 degrees around me. I could see, maybe 30 miles in one direction and 50 miles in another, while a turkey buzzard sailed on the updrafts above me.

We then took Robert to an even larger scale; this one was 24' X 12' with a total holding weight of 15,000 lbs. There was a hydraulic squeeze shoot at these pens that works very quietly so as not to scare the cattle like some of the older shoots. Here, the cattle are branded, get their vaccine shots, and tagged with permanent ear identification tags. The quieter the cattle are kept, the less body weight they lose, leaving more weighable poundage for the rancher.

While waiting for Robert to finish certifying this scale, Hunter climbed up onto a shallow cattle water trough and started drawing lines in the green algae on the bottom and wanted Mr. Bob and GJ (Granddaddy John) to come see his etchings.

About the same time Russell, the ranchhand, drove up pulling a goose-neck horse trailer holding two saddle horses, one for himself and the other for Tandy, a day working cowboy. They needed to move a mother cow into the trailer and to another pasture. She had slipped away from the rest of the herd to come back to the place she had left her calf the day before…the mothering instinct. These two cowboys were for real, from cowboy hats to dirty jeans, boots with spurs and the ever-present "pooch" in their jaws of a good wad of Skool.

Next, it was time to check on the outfitter who was coming in today to set up for the opening of turkey season, which starts this weekend. Wes Windgate, a well-known fishing guide, out of Lake Fork Reservoir in East Texas, is the outfitter for the Ranch and he arranges all of the hunts. Hunting is a source of revenue for the Ranch and on this particular weekend, Wes had people flying in from Delaware to turkey hunt. Using short wave radios, we found Wes who was having trouble with his truck.

The Richards Ranch Retreat (www.richardsranchtexas.com) has cabins plus a large pavilion and Lodge, with the ability to serve small or large gatherings for business meetings, retreats, hunting, etc. The ranching business has changed since 1865…The cash crop is still the cattle operation with hunting and tourism added, but the land and Mother Nature make it all work.

As we started heading back to town, I looked toward the west, watching the sunrays bounce off some thunderheads as the wind blew out of the southeast. Once again, my thoughts drifted back to what this land might have looked like 150 or 200 years ago, a time when this was part of the Great American Prairie, covered with native grasses. I would imagine, it looked pretty much like John has it today.

4/4 We wanted to go to church this morning but the closest Episcopal Church was in Decatur, TX, 30 miles away so, we chose St. John the Baptizer Catholic Church in Bridgeport, TX, which had one service at 8:45. We adjusted our clocks last night to Daylight Savings Time, making it an early wake-up call.

Leaving the coach a little after 8 am gave us plenty of time. The entire church experience was especially meaningful. Since it was Palm Sunday, the laity distributed palm branches, which everyone held as the Rector, Fr. Gill, entered, walking up and down the isles dipping a green palm branch in Holy Water and sprinkling the parishioners. I sat at the end of our pew, next to the center isle. As he walked toward the altar dipping his palm branch and slinging the Holy Water out on the folks, I heard something and turned to my right in time to get a face full of Holy Water…. Had to get my handkerchief and clean my glasses. Guess I was "blessed" for the week.

We enjoyed the service; it was new and unusual for us because it was said in English and Spanish, as Fr. Gill was bilingual. The parishioners were divided among Anglos, Mexicans, and Native Americans. The choir was made up of Mexicans and Native Americans with a mariachi string ensemble and a concertina, an accordion type instrument, carrying the melody. All of the music was sung in Spanish.

It seemed to us, after seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, that the scripture readings of Christ's Passion this morning had more visual replay. Fr. Gill also referred to the movie in his Homily.

After church, since we were in a Chicano mood, we stopped at theTres Rios Mexican Restaurant for brunch. We were just in time to catch breakfast tacos and Huevos Rancheros with lots of hot sauce. The food was excellent.

It was 11:30 when we returned to the coach and we "putzed" around here the rest of the day. Later in the afternoon, we joined our new next-door neighbors, Troy and Sandra Bratcher, Bob and Phyllis Hawkins and their daughter Nancy, the Preserve's Activity Director, for some lively conversation while sitting in lawn chairs overlooking Lake Bridgeport. Each of us, except Nancy, spent the winter in the Valley and upon saying, "Good Night", Bob gave us some 1015 onions plus a couple of Ruby Red grapefruits. Gosh! We were excited to have the opportunity to taste Ruby Reds just one more time.

Spending time in Jack County over the years has been special and this visit was no different. Good friends, good food, and a touch of the West passed our way this week.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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