Land, Weather and Dogs


Ranchers and Land

One of the most time-consuming parts of fossil hunting, as any bone digger knows, is getting onto the lands for prospecting. In Texas we were not bothered by federal laws of the Bureau of Land Management or Indian Reservations, for we were digging on private lands. For a while, Texas did put in some collecting laws, but they were soon modified and, in effect, dropped. But wherever there are large spreads, as in ranch country, land tends to become sacred and going on it without permission is taking a chance — not nowadays of being shot (I only looked down the barrel of one shotgun) but of being "kicked off" and unable to continue the work already started.

The Waggoner managers, with their half million acre spread, were always gracious and, except for a few years when ownership problems cropped up, issued permits for legitimate studies on their lands. The permit, however, is a must. Most ranchers, if approached reasonably, are similarly gracious and helpful. The main frustration comes in trying to find the owners, for it sometimes entails a lot of running around over a period of several days. Then, after all of that, it may not work out.

Some land north of Benjamin along the Wichita River looked worth studying for fossils (Figure 13). The formation exposed in that area was clearly Choza and we had not yet learned that the even, alternating red and green layers of that formation were formed in shallow, salty waters and lacked any fossils. The land was owned by an 83 year old doctor who lived in Benjamin. At Wade's suggestion, I went to talk with him. Wade knew him well.


Figure 13. The many faces of Texas red beds. Top: The valley of the South Wichita River looking southeast from the camp at Ignorant Ridge. Center: Flood plain, over-bank and channel-fill deposits in Wilbarger County, north of camp on Ignorant Ridge. Bottom: Outcrops of lower San Angelo formation beds capping evaporite deposits of the Choza formation north of Crowell, Texas.


"He's a funny old boy," Wade had said. "If you get him right, he'll say all right. If not, he'll likely say no."

So armed, I went to see the doctor and found him home. He was cordial enough, at least not hostile, as I gradually worked around to my wish to get on his land. He was way ahead of me, but he listened without saying much. When I finally told him I would like to get on his land, he didn't change his expression but just said, quietly, "I don't guess you better."

This sounded hopeful to me, so I explained a little more what I was doing, that it was scientific, not commercial, and that his land was in a specially important place.

"I know what you're doing," he replied, "but I don't guess you better."

"I know cattle, close gates, don't set fires and don't even smoke," I came back.

"I know," he replied again, "but I just don't guess you better." This time with a little more emphasis.

Soon I left, no further along then when I started. That evening I told Wade about the experience. He laughed and told me that when I heard, "I don't guess you better," I was through and should have quit right then. The doctor did not want anyone on his land. No reason. He just didn't want it. It was his land and that was that.

One time later, near San Angelo, Texas, came a reminder. I stopped one Saturday afternoon to ask about getting into some rugged hills where the San Angelo formation was exposed. First, I had gone to a house west of the road. It turned out to be the hands' house and they spoke only Spanish. They let me know that the owner was over east. That I went to "help's quarters" first may not have helped in what happened. Anyhow, the rancher came to the door, in his undershirt and drooping pants, beer can in hand. The television was blasting out a baseball game, so I went right to the point. So did he.

"That there land's mine, them gates is locked and going to stay locked. Ain't nobody gettin' on that land."

Quickly this time, that was that. Some years later Mr. Carey, in Taylor County, Texas, was different. When I asked him about my party looking over his breaks, he told me, "No." My wife and Rick Lassen were in the Jeep and could not see, they said later, why I didn't get in and leave. The straight, flat "no" somehow seemed to me not really so flat. It turned out, after more talk, that he had a ''tank" full of fish and didn't want any fisherman. The main things that turned it were his old dog and a car that happened to go down the gravel road in front of his house too fast, kicking up a mess of dust.

"No good driving like that," I said.

"Killed my old dog the other day, one jest like'em," Mr. Carey said.

"Boy, that's no good," I sympathized.

"Old feller came dragging his rear end, all stove in, lay down and died."

"Worse than losing a friend. What was his name?"

"Jim. None like him, not now anyhow.

"If you want to go through that gate there, you can drive way back. Look out for the rattlesnakes, place is full of them."

Wade had some of this same sense of property and the inviolability of the land. Anything he had was yours, provided he gave it to you voluntarily or you asked. Down in the gully, falling apart was an old, discarded feed trough. One day while I was away one of my party had seen it and taken some broken planks to put around the bottom of our tent which was blowing and ripping. Wade was hurt by this, maybe a bit mad, but if so he didn't show it. How could someone take something without asking?

So I told the fellows to put it back, which they did, but without any understanding of why. After all, the wood was just rotting away. Wade, of course, forgave their ignorance about the proper ways of life.

"He's a good boy, but he just don't know about property, being raised in the city," Wade commented to me.

Wade had much the same attitude toward the people north of the river in Oklahoma. One day we had driven to near the Red River and were standing on the sands looking across to Oklahoma. The low, muddy central river channel passed into coarse grass, mesquite, "salt cedars" or tamarisk and then into a backing of oaks on both sides.

"Looks over there just the same as here," Wade mused, "but you know, the people sure are different."

Of course, this is true. The Oklahomans are very easy to know and not very suspicious of motives, except in the far western ranch country. The people of north central Texas, to me at least, were slower to accept strangers and waited to be shown what the motives back of their presence really were. It took about three seasons really to be accepted into one small town, but then acceptance was complete and impellingly gracious.

Wade, in keeping with general custom, accepted the graduate students who showed up with me, because they were with me. He sized them up quickly and usually correctly.

"Too much mother," he said of one. "Too small for this country, ought to put a flag on him," of another, sounding like Ernest. "He'll be fine when he gets over being scared of the outdoors," referring to one to whom field work was all brand new. "Never need to worry about him, he acts like a Texan," and so on.

Most of the young men enjoyed going up to the house and talking with Wade and Maude in the evening, and Wade never gave them any indication of how he felt about them one way or another. We talked mostly trivia, about coyotes, dogs, rattlesnakes and weather. Sometimes the fascinating history of the land came up and his comments were a lesson in lived history. Army life and Wade's assignment to take care of military dogs occupied many sessions. Wade said the army couldn't figure what to do with him, an old cowhand, so they gave him charge of the animals, which turned out to be dogs. The boys and I, of course, just ate all of this up. But we never got very far below the surface.

The deeper side came out gradually in continued contact over the years. There never was any oral self-examination. Wade knew who he was and what he was, what he could do, and how the world ought to be, and saw no sense in telling anyone about it. If he had no use for you, it came out, but only the more sensitive persons would ever recognize it. The core of likes and dislikes, of right and wrong, all centered about the sacredness of property and reflected the attitudes of this whole part of the

giant state.

Wade, of course, was in strong favor with all of his ranching associates and was often away helping some neighbor work his cattle. Even after retirement from Waggoner's, after 65, he was in constant demand as one of the rare practical cattlemen still around.

Before coming to Waggoner's, Wade had worked for Halsell's in Foard County. One day he suggested that Halsell's might be a good place to look for fossils. The location of the ranch, north across the North Fork of the Wichita River and to the west, suggested to me that the beds exposed there might be high in the Lower Permian section. This was just what we were looking for, so I was eager to see what might be there. Wade drove up with us in the old Model A, now on its last legs, and we found Glenn Halsell in. Wade had told me he had better do the talking because Glenn was kind of touchy about people on his land. Glenn didn't seem too enthusiastic but after a time he agreed.

'I'll tell the hands not to bother you," he said. "Don't I need a written note?" I put in. "I said I'd tell them, didn't I?" closed the conversation. We didn't get off to a very good start. When we got out to the Model A, we noticed a strong smell of burnt insulation. The ammeter had shorted and wires had fused. The battery was dead. At least the car had not burned up. After I had wired a bypass of the meter, we pushed the "A" down a hill, trying to start it, but we ended up in a blind fence corner, still dead. Glenn, red-faced from pushing, took a dim view of the whole affair, and I was afraid we had blown the whole thing. Then I took the crank, thumb over the handle in "broken arm" style for leverage, and spun the old, four cylinder motor as fast as I could. The rings were weak and the valves somewhat corroded, so the compression was low. I must have worked up a slight charge, for on about the twentieth turn the motor caught. Nick Hotton, at the steering wheel, slapped the spark down and we were ready to roll. After dropping Glenn at the house, we headed back for the ridge.

Halsell's proved a good place to work. It was easy to get around by car. Fossils were rare, and fragmentary, but anything in these high beds was important. Glenn Halsell apparently did tell his men to let us alone, with an almost eerie result. No one ever waved as we went by, no one looked at this old wreck of a Model A struggling along over the breaks. It seemed to us that, as we went by, they always turned and looked the other way. After a while this began to get to Nick and me. It was like being in a room, part of a trio, where two talked as if a third was not there. After a while the odd man begins to wonder if in fact he is there. It must hit a person in solitary confinement this way.

We were having this sense of isolation, when one morning, after a heavy rain, we could not drive in and started to hike the three miles to where we had been working. As we took off down the muddy road we noticed a man, seemingly with a gun over his shoulder, a couple of hundred yards back. He kept coming along, about the same rate that we were walking, but when we looked around, we would see him duck out of sight. Maybe we were in trouble. Maybe the word who we were had not gotten around to everyone.

After a couple of miles of this, we decided to stop and have it out. As we watched, the man approached, ducking out of sight once or twice. When he got to us, I hastily explained what we were doing and that we had permission from Glenn Halsell. He allowed as to how he guessed that was all right, but it didn't mean much to him. He was just walking the pipe line, checking for gas leaks! His "gun" was a probe. Our paranoia thinned a bit. Still, for the whole following month on the ranch, no one else ever spoke to us or acknowledged that we existed.

Weather, Bone Diggers and Cars

North central Texas spring storms are awesome. Cold northern air, usually from the northwest, tumbles headlong into the mass of warm, moist air up from the Gulf of Mexico. Of an evening, a first alert may be a few faint flashes of lightning far on the northwest horizon. The next morning a hot brilliant sun mocks the omens of the night before. Then a rustling of grass and brush and a refreshing push of the leading edge of the cool air mass under the hot, humid blanket. The cooling is welcome for a moment, but from then on all sorts of things may happen.

Wade and Maude's ridge was a marvellous vantage point from which to follow these nature-made spectaculars (Figure 14), Up the course of the South Fork a red sand cloud may rise into a thousand-foot wall, pressing east at express train speed. Temperatures drop from 90 degrees or more to as low as 45 in what seems like a few minutes. Lightning begins to flash and thunder makes even the wind's roar wane. Rain and hail start pelting and, somewhere in all that fury, there is a tornado sweeping across the land.



Figure 14. Wade and Maude Barker's sturdy stone house on Ignorant Ridge. Photograph taken from our camp east of the house while watching a storm riding in from the northwest. The tall water tower withstood this cloud and many others.


The house on the ridge, like most in the region, had a storm cellar. Sometimes these doubled as potato cellars with a proud king snake in attendance to keep out the rats. The one on the ridge had only one purpose, protection. Perched high above it, not far from the house as well, was that immense, iron water tank which a squeaking windmill kept filled with the delicious, somewhat saline water from the underlying Pleistocene gravels. It always seemed to me that a big storm might topple the tank onto the house or the storm cellar, but it never did.

During the time that Wade was in the hospital with his concussion, cut arm and broken ribs, we were in our camp down the ridge from the house when one of the granddaddies of Texas storms came through. First, in the late afternoon, there was the harbinger cloud of sand rushing down the river bottom and, not far north of it, a deep black, sometimes red, funnel cloud tearing up brush and gravel. With a final explosion of a barn about three miles away, it rose and passed some 500 feet overhead.

By night the storm was in full bloom, with lightning bursts that crackled out in all directions across the full vault of the sky. The wind became stronger and the tent shuddered. For a time our car radio worked, reporting such disturbing items as a train derailment in southern Oklahoma, caused by a tornado. Soon a lightning charge, dancing along the overhead wires to the ranch house, jammed our radio's capacitors. All in all, it was bad and we were a little scared.

Finally, about 9:00 o'clock, we lay down on our cots to wait it out. About then I had my one and only "convincing" encounter with telekinesis. When the rains were especially bad, I had often kidded my assistants that they were not to worry, because if it became necessary, I would exert my will and stop the rain. They decided now was the time.

"Okay," they said, "let's see you stop this rain."

"It'll take a couple of minutes," I shouted back over the roar on the tent canvas. "Be real still so I can concentrate."

So I concentrated on the task of stopping the rain, putting out real strong "brain waves." It stopped! The silence was almost overpowering — no rain, no wind, no night birds and no frogs — and no one said anything.

"Hey guys," I said after about five minutes, "I'm pooped, can I let it go now?"

"Okay," they laughed, and the rain came pelting down.

Once I shot a bullfrog at about 50 feet, hitting it right behind the skull, in effect "pithing" it, as in a biology laboratory. The sights on the gun were way off and everyone cheered. I never tried it again. I never tried the rain again either, so to date I am one hundred percent effective in applied telekinetic


The storm continued violently for most of the night, and it was hard to get to sleep. Every so often I would peer out around the tent to look at the house. Maude, had the lights on and so I knew she had not gone to the storm cellar. It must be all right, I assumed, knowing that she had a radio and telephone. The night did pass, the tent held up, and by morning there was only a misty drizzle. I went up to get some water and Maude came out.

"Bad storm," she said, "Hope Wade's all right, my radio and phone have quit."

"We looked up to the house last night, trying to see if you were all right," I continued the conversation. "Decided as long as you hadn't gone to the storm cellar things were okay."

"Well now," Maude replied in her quiet way. "That's odd. When the cloud was real bad I was looking at the tent and figured it was all right when you-all hadn't gone to the cellar. When you came I was going to go."

The weather is always a problem in collecting fossils in the spring in north central Texas. Rains and red mud make it nearly impossible to navigate the roads, much less to walk with 10 pounds of sticky clay on each foot. Spring's virtue, however, is that it is not as hot as it is in the summer. One time we managed to get our 1951 pickup mired in an arroyo, about 10 miles off the paved road. A forecast of general mist turned out five inches of rain that came down in an hour or two. This was one time I saw a tornado from the bottom of the funnel. The heart, or eye, appeared immensely clear blue.

Wade was not too worried when we did not show up that night. He knew we had to cross a river that would have flooded and would wait for it to go down. What he didn't know was how tightly we got stuck. The 1951 pickup, as pickups tend to do, dug in where the Model A might have "floated" across. There was a bad arroyo, one that always worried me even when it was dry. Anxious to get out before the river came into flood, I tried it when it was running water. We didn't come close to making it and so began digging in the muck, mesquite and cedar at about 10:30 in the morning. What with a 200 pound chunk of sandy gypsum lodged under the wooden tail board, we dug until dark. The night, at 50 degrees and with a howling wind that shook the pickup, passed slowly. There were three of us in the tiny cab, tilted at about 15 degrees to the side. Still covered with wet mud and getting hungry, we started to dig again about 4:30 A.M.

By noon we had the machine free. I must hand it to my two assistants, Swanny Swanson and Dick Seltin, for they took it all in stride. As we came to the river, I was delighted to see the old bridge was still there and now clear of water. It was an odd affair, planks fastened onto two wire cables and about 30 feet across. It went out in one of the next big storms and the ranchers made a ford, which was much safer.

We got back to Wade's in about two hours and found that he had just called the sheriff to organize a posse to hunt for us. He'd been down to the river and seen that it had dropped. Guessing that we were in trouble he started an abortive search.

Secretly, I felt it was a shame we got back so soon, because not too often nowadays do a college professor and a couple of his students get rescued by a genuine, western sheriff's posse.

The Model A didn't get stuck very often, but it did go through points, plugs, condensers and coils in fairly short order. I think the cam on the distributor shaft had a sandpaper surface. On the way back from a foolhardy venture, everything happened to it at once in a hard rain storm. In one of his rare moments of giving questionable advice, Wade had said we could probably drive from the Waggoner Ranch headquarters, Sachuista, across country to his place. We had done about three-fourths of this from one end or the other, but wanted to see the country in between. It was important to know the full


Nick Hotton and I had gotten about 20 miles past Sachuista

when a rancher met us and said we couldn't get through, and anyway it was going to rain. We went a bit farther and then declared "to hell with it" and turned back. Night began to come down so we pulled off the trail a ways and bedded down. It was a miserable evening with black clouds scudding overhead, marked by eerie orange patches that shown through from the high clouds, which we could see through occasional holes in the lower ones. Finally, the sun went all the way down. Rain spittered but never fell in any amount. Mosquitoes were there in droves, so we had to put our heads down inside the bags, sweltering. About 4:30 A.M. I finally dropped off. "Hey, ya'll lost?" some voice shouted at us. Sticking my head out of the bag, I saw a truck up on the

trail, going out to tend herd.

"Hell no," I said ungraciously. "Trying to get some sleep." Fully frustrated now, we got out of the sleeping bags and made our way back to the ranch and the road. By the time we reached Seymour, it was delightfully cool. By the time we reached Vera it was pouring, so we did not stop for gas, which we really needed. We took the new, paved road across the valley towards Gilliland, but two thirds of the way across the rain drowned out the "A" completely. About then some "fool," I thought, came up and blew his horn right behind us.

"Good God, that's it," I vented. "Some bastard wants us to move over!"

It turned out to be a highway truck checking the culverts. "Need a tow?" he asked.

We did, of course, so we hooked on for a hair-raising ride to Gilliland, getting pulled much faster than the "A" would go on its own, and on the bias. There at the filling station, we pulled out most of the electrical system and put it on the wood stove to dry. While we were sitting in the car, Roger came by. Oddly, I don't believe I ever knew his last name, although we often crossed his land going north for fossil digging. He was driving his wife — Billy, of course — back from the hospital where she had been healing broken ribs from a bout with a horse. He stopped his yellow Jeepster. "Give you a push?" he yelled at me. "No!" I yelled back.

But it did no good, for we went a hoop and holler down the road to the end of the blacktop. "Won't start?" Roger called over.

"Hell, no," I replied irritated. "The goddamned coil and distributor are sitting on the stove back in the filling station."

"Oh," said Roger without a blink, "push you back." Which he did — backwards — for a half mile in a short wheelbase Model A, that backed badly at best.

We got the thing back together again, filled with gas and took off. We made it to Wade's, but would have done better had we not got about 10 percent water from the heavy rain.

"Still moving," was our only comment through hundreds of yards of hub deep water, on a sand base, and a hundred yards of the fine, black gumbo, also hub deep. As we drove in, Wade was tending his horses. "You boy's have some trouble?" he asked. We told him about our harrowing adventure, ending up with our watered-gas trip from Gilliland.

"Old 'A''ll always get you there," he commented.

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