4. Back In Texas

By Jeep Collins

When World War II came to an end in 1945 my parents commissioned my grandfather in San Antonio to look for a ranch in the hill country.  He found 400 acres 14 miles west of Medina where the west prong of the river began.  When he described it to them they told him, “ buy it.” They piled everything they owned into a two horse trailer hitched to their Buick convertible and drove down to Texas.  They made the down payment with War bonds they bought during the war and my grandfather found someone to finance the rest; the price was $50.00 per acre.

The road to the ranch followed the river and crossed it at several points where the water was shallow and the bottom was rock. The road went through several ranches and at every one there was a gate. I don’t know how many there were in those early days, but when Cynthia and I came along and were old enough to be the gate openers there were only twelve because the state paved the first seven miles out of Medina and fenced off the ranches from the road.  It must have taken at least an hour to get to town in those early days.  The county eventually replaced the gates with cattle guards, but the last seven miles did not get paved until years later when the road cut through to Vanderpool. When I was old enough to drive the gates were gone and the trip took about 30 minutes.

The only building on the ranch was an old frame house.  There was one room that served as a bedroom and living room, a small room with a bathtub, and a kitchen.  The kitchen had a sink with running water that was piped down from a spring a hundred yards up the valley.  On the front was a covered porch that my dad later screened in for sleeping in the warm summer months.   Out the back door about thirty feet away was the outhouse.  To use it after dark it was necessary to take a kerosene lantern.  They quickly learned that you never walk in the dark without a light because of the rattlesnakes and copperheads. Soon after they moved in the Bandera Rural Electric Co-op ran electricity and Dad ran an electric line for a light in the outhouse and put a light on the back porch to light the path.  The house had no insulation and was heated with a wood stove. The outside was in need of paint but the views in every direction were beautiful.  In the spring the wildflowers grew along the edges of the rocky crags of the surrounding hills and along the valley floor.  Along the creek on the side of the hill grew blackberries that had been planted by settlers years earlier.  When they were ripe the turkeys would walk on top of them and  eat their fill. Remembering the ways of those turkeys when I got big enough I would lay a ladder on top of the mass of tangled vines, black with berries and gather bucketfuls, and Cynthia made blackberry pies. 

The ranch was at the headwaters of the western branch of the Medina river. It was the west prong, high country; mountains to a small boy looking up from his little valley.  This is the southwestern edge of the Texas hill country before it drops down and levels off into the flatter land of south Texas.  The back of Spring Valley ranch was on the divide where the water to the west flowed down to the towns of Vanderpool and south on to Utopia forming the Sabinal river.  From the eastern slopes of the divide where our ranch began it dropped gradually into canyons that turned into valleys as they widened out.  If the searching buzzards could describe it, they would say it looked like their creator’s hand laid out on the earth.  

From between these gnarly fingers, springs, gushing cold, mineral laden water from the giant cisterns beneath the hills, formed creeks named for the early settlers; Elam, Adams, Carpenter and others.  Fourteen or so miles down river to the East the West prong met the North prong and the two became the Medina River where the town of Medina came to be.

The banks of the river were thick with cypress trees whose ancestors came mostly from the northern waters.  Blessed by their roots that reached deep into the water they prospered.  They were taller than any other variety of tree in that part of the country.  The fruit of their existence was the life that abounded in the shaded quiet pools between the rocky rapids. Their sprawling roots provided protection for the bass, bluegills, and sun perch that hid in the shadows waiting for a meal to drift by.  

The Medina was not the largest river in Texas but when heavy rains came in the early summer and the water came rushing down from the rocky hills it grew ten, sometimes twenty or more times its normal size and moved everything in its path except the cypress trees.  Then in the summer of 1978 even many of them yielded to the record breaking flood of that year.  Upstream some began to break and they came downriver like battering rams taking out the other trees along the way.  After that the river was changed forever.

Our ranch had water and it had life; both in abundance.  It was, and is to this day, hidden from the outside world seen only by the occasional plane that would fly over in those days.  But the view from a plane, or a short visit, can never give one the feel for living and being a part of the land; for knowing the secrets that only a few people have ever known. For that one has to live there.  After my first light of day which came in the winter of 1948 in San Antonio, Texas I spent the first 18 years of my life there.  I owe the blessings of those years to my parents, who in those days were modern day pioneers. 

Upcoming Enid Collins Tales:

5.  The Neighbors

6.  Bobo the Lamb

7.  The War Memorial

8.  The Birth of Collins of Texas

And more