Christmas at the Ranch, 2016


Super J Cable Tool Spudder, c. 1930s

Every year the National Ranching Heritage Center hosts Christmas at the Ranch, a look back at how Christmas was celebrated on the Texas Plains throughout the years.  For those who are familiar with the facility, a number of structures have been moved to the grounds.  They are from different periods of the state’s history and show how life has changed from before Texas became a country to around the 1950s.  Which buildings are open varies somewhat from one year to the next, I think depending on how many people are available.

We particularly enjoyed this year’s event.  In the past you went through in a line (more or less) single file, and everyone saw the same exhibits in the same order.  This year you were free to walk around and see whatever you liked in whichever order you chose.  I liked this a lot better.  We were able to go where the lines were shortest and still see everything.  Well, almost everything.  One or two things had shut down before we got to them; my son had marched in a Christmas parade with his high school band before we went.

I’m going to include some photos I took, with a minimum of commentary.  I’ve not included some of the better pictures because they contain images of children.  I don’t put pictures of my son on the internet, and I’m not going to put pictures of other people’s children up without permission.  And since I have no idea how to get it, I’ve made the choice not to include those shots.  20161210_201445Any photos containing children will only show them from the back.

The photo on the right shows a group of cowboys in the Matador Half-Dugout (1888).  They were singing Christmas carols when we looked in the door.  The dugout was built into the side of a hill, with most of the walls and ceiling covered by dirt.

20161210_203431Here’s a shot of a Christmas dance at a structure called Las Escarbadas (1886).  There were signs describing each structure, where it was originally built, and the time period when it was used.  I tried taking a few photos, but they didn’t turn out very clear.  I know better than to rely on my memory at this date, and I don’t have the handout that names each structure.  Fortunately, the Center has an online map that gives the names and dates of the exhibits.

This next set of photos were taken at the Harrell House (1887, 1900, 1917).  To minimize white space, I’ve posted this set as thumbnails.  Click on the images to see the full photo.

20161210_20321320161210_20312520161210_203008The cowboy in these two shots is hand carving Christmas presents in the Masterson JY Bunkhouse (1879).  While wood was scarce on the Caprock (where the NRHC is located), it was available in most parts of the state.  Because early settles often had little or no money, they either had to barter or make much of what they needed.  Toys were no exception.  Many men were skilled at carving.







The centerpiece of the National Ranching Heritage Center’s Foy Proctor Park, which is where the buildings and other outdoor exhibits are, is the Barton House (1909).  It was the only exhibit that had a substantial line while we were there.  I’ve only included a few shots because most of the scenes contained children, including the Christmas tree and the ladies quilting.  Candlelight at the Ranch is very much a family oriented event, and many of the scenes portrayed family groups.  Again, except the shot of the house, the images below are thumbnails.  Click to see the full photo.20161210_204208






The only other structure with electricity was the 6666 Barn (1908).  This is where you can buy hot chocolate or cider, the kids can write a letter to Santa, and there was live music.


All and all, the exhibit this year was quite enjoyable.  I hope the NHRC keeps the format they adopted this year of allowing the visitors to walk about freely rather than going through single file.

For anyone interested in learning more about the national Ranching Heritage Center, there’s an app that lets you see the exhibits.  The link is at the bottom of their homepage.


Baldwin Locomotive, 1923

The Final Resting Place of Doc Scurlock

20160313_090313Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock was born in January 11, 1850 in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, and died on July 25, 1929, in Eastland Texas, where he was buried.

Scurlock’s claim to fame comes from his participation in the Lincoln County War.  He was a founding member of the Regulators and their third and last leader.  He had medical training, which earned him the nickname “Doc”. Continue reading

Life and Death on the Border, 1910-1920

20160314_094849Not too long ago, I read about an exhibit at the Bullock State History Museum over at Frontier Partisans.  Yes, a guy in Texas heard about an exhibit in Texas from a guy in Oregon.  I’ve got to start paying better attention.

Anyway, I managed to get away over Spring Break a few weeks ago to see the exhibit.  I’d like to thank Jim Cornelius for putting it on my radar.I wanted to make sure I had enough time to see everything, so I decided to stay overnight and catch the exhibit the next morning when the museum opened.  I popped a Tom Russell CD in the player to set the mood and hit the road.

Not only was the exhibit great, but I saw some other great exhibits, visited some small town cemeteries, ate some great Mexican food, spent way too much time and money in second hand bookstores, and should get at least six blog posts out of the trip.  (The first one on the Frank Frazetta exhibit is here.)

20160314_090333I’d never been to the Bullock Museum before.  This trip won’t be my last.  I spent half the day there, and there were some exhibits I skipped, like the food exhibit.  It was making me hungry.

The exhibit I went to see was in the rotunda, which you can see in the photo on the left.  It’s on the level with the top row windows.  Much of the lighting was from the Sun shining in, so some of the pictures that follow will have some contrast to them.  I apologize for the glare in some of the photos, as I was not able to get a clear shot because of the lighting.

Also, this is an extremely long post.  My intention here is to allow anyone who would have liked to see the exhibit but wasn’t able to attend to experience as much of the exhibit as possible.  I’ve tried to summarize the information in a coherent fashion. Continue reading

Texas Independence Day

200px-Texas_Declaration_of_IndependenceIt was on this day, March 2, in 1836 that the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Those signing the document included Sam Houston.  The declaration established the Republic of Texas.

There were 41 delegates to the Convention of 1836.  Many were young men who had arrived in Texas since an immigration ban was implemented in April of 1830, and were thus there illegally.  Only two of the people who signed the Declaration can be confirmed as Texas natives.

The Texas Revolution had begun the previous year, but there were conflicting goals among the revolutionaries.  Some wanted to return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824, while others wanted to become completely independent from Mexico.  The Convention was called to settle that question.

Among the complaints were that General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana had usurped the legal government established by the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and established a military dictatorship.  Other complaints were that the people were denied a trial by jury and forbidden the right to bear arms.  As many of the signatories of Declaration were from the United States, there was a strong resemblance to the US Constitution.

The Convention strongly favored independence,   The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed the second day of the Convention.

Happy 180th birthday, Texas!


A Visit to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, Pt. 1

20160213_123853Last weekend, my son had an academic competition in Canyon, Texas. The competition was held on the campus of West Texas A&M University. I went along to cheer him and his team on, and while I was there I took advantange of some time when the kids weren’t competing to slip over to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, which is on the campus. It’s the largest historical musueum in the state, with museum being defined as a facility which houses indoor exhibits. And places like the National Ranching Heritage Center, which has a number of reconstructed buildings, don’t fall under this definition.20160213_123917-2

I didn’t have time to see everything. There are two floors, plus a basement. There are fossils, old cars, windmills, a frontier town, pottery, swords, natural history displays, and that’s just the basement and the ground floor. I had just gotten to the second floor and was looking at the firearm display when the teacher accompanying the students texted me to say they were leaving. So, I’m going to show you some of the things I saw in several installments. Click the photos for a larger view.

This post is going to focus on what I saw of the firearm exhibit, which won’t be everything.  I snapped this group of pictures in a hurry since we were leaving, and some of them didn’t turn out quite as clear as I thought once I looked at them carefully.  I intend to go back and take my time walking through the museum at some future date and get a better set of pictures. Continue reading

Deep Time in Texas

Contrary to what some Texans think, Texas history actually goes back thousands of years before the Alamo.  Humans have lived in the Southwest for over ten thousand years, although the exact date of their arrival is subject to intense debate among archaeologists.

While there are a vast number of topics I could (and will) write about from historical times, I’ve always been interested in prehistory.  So from time to time, I’m going to be posting about topics involving the centuries before the coming of the Europeans. Don’t be surprised if these posts focus on the extinct megafauna from the Ice Age.

For this post, I want to look at the interaction between man and beast. Continue reading

Opening Salvo 2.0

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I’ve not posted anything here in quite a long time.  (Never mind how long.  What are you trying to do, embarrass me?)

I’ve had too many irons in the fire is what it boils down to.  Between work, family, and other writing commitments, I’ve let this blog slide.  When I started it, I envisioned most of the posts having to do with historical sites I’d visited or events I’d attended that related to the history and culture of the Southwest in general and Texas in particluar.  I wanted to do something other than simply summarize what I’d read somewhere.

I still want to do that.  But right not there are too many constraints on my time (and money) do a lot of traveling.  So I’m going to try something different.  I’m going to write about whatever interests me that would fall under the general umbrella of Texas and the Southwest.  While the main focus will be on the history, there will be other posts dealing culture, cuisine, and life in general.  And yes, I’m going to talk about events that I’ve read about in books or online.  But I promise I won’t simply rehash stuff.  I’ll put my own spin on it.

My goal is to post at least once a month, and no, this post doesn’t count for January.  There’ll be another post soon.  If there’s something anyone would like me to wrtie about, please let me know, either in the comments or via email.  I don’t promise to about everything that’s suggested, or to do so in a timely manner, but I’ll do my best.

Merry Christmas

Collin Street Bakery fruitcakeMerry Christmas!

A familiar sight growing up in Texas was the tin you see on the left.  It’s a fruitcake tin from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana.  That’s south of Dallas, in case you didn’t know.  The bakery famous for their fruitcakes, among other things.    Much of their business is through mail order.

I remember seeing these tins when I was a kid.  While time has corroded my memory (and some would say my mind), I think we would take one to my grandparents in Mississippi when we would visit for the holidays.  I have a vague recollection of seeing one one the table and being struck that it was there since the Alamo is prominently displayed at the top of the picture.


Image from Collin Street Bakery website

The Collin Street Bakery was founded in 1896 by Gus Weidmann and Tom McElwee.  It didn’t take long for their products to gain recognition.  Early customers included Will Rogers, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, and John Ringling, the circus owner.  On one occasion, so the story goes, the entire circus ordered fruitcakes to send to friends around the globe.  The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus still gets its fruitcakes from the Collin Street Bakery.

Different Christmas posts are up at Adventures Fantastic, Futures Past and Present, and Gumshoes, Gats, and Gams.

Candlelight at the Ranch

For one weekend each December, the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock hosts a Christmas event, Candlelight at the Ranch. The Center is a museum and historical park affiliated with Texas Tech University.  Sitting on 27.5 acres, the facility contains 48 structures that have been relocated from across the state. Candlelight at the Ranch is a walking tour through some of the buildings where reenactors show what Christmas was like on the plains throughout the years.  What follows below are some of the photos I took at this year’s event.  The camera on my phone didn’t always pick up things well, so for some I’ve got with and without flash versions.  I don’t know the names of the people in the photos, but I would like to thank them for doing this and for putting up with the flash on my camera.  Continue reading

The Santa Claus Bandits


Site of Ratliff’s Lynching

This post originally appeared at both the now defunct Home of Heroics site and Adventures Fantastic in December 2011. I’ve updated it a bit and reprinted it. I feel it’s a better fit here than either of the other two venues. As I mention later, this story was adapted for radio in the 1950s. I recently heard it broadcast again, so I thought I would dust this post off and reprint it.

Four men robbed the First National Bank in Cisco, Texas on Friday, December 23, 1927. The men were Marshall Ratliff, Henry Helms, Robert Hill, and Helm’s brother-in-law, Louis E. Davis. The men started from Wichita Falls, in Northwest Texas. They chose the bank in Cisco because Ratliff’s mother once ran a cafe there, and he knew the city. To keep from being recognized, Ratliff wore a Santa suit into the bank.   Continue reading