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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

FM 116:
In The Shadow of Fort Hood

by Clay Coppedge
PIDCOKE -
Driving north from Copperas Cove to Gatesville on FM 116 you're never far from Fort Hood. Even when you're not driving alongside its boundaries, you're reminded that you're close to the largest military installation in the free world not only by what you see, but also by what you don't.

Copperas Cove is ringed by five hills, a pattern drivers will see repeated on the way to Gatesville. A few miles out of town you come to FM 580, and if you just feel like it you can detour to the town of Topsey, which was named for an early farmer's mule. It's hard not to like a town named for a mule. Mules were once held in the same esteem as, say, a SUV is today. During the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln was told the Confederates had captured a general and a team of mules, Lincoln replied, "I sure am sorry to hear about those mules."

Topsey is also home to the Topsey Exotic Ranch, which insures that critters outnumber people in Topsey. The ranch has adax, horn oryx and a couple of Texas natives like Longhorn cattle and bison.

If, instead of heading to Topsey you get on 116 you will drive up on a green, bowl-shaped valley cut by scenic creeks. Nestled between the hills and creeks is the community of
Pidcoke, named for the Pidcocke family, early English colonists to the area. It's not hard to see what drew the Pidcockes here. The creeks would have been as good a reason to settle here as anything. This is good ranch country; the best side of the grass is already topside.

A detour in
Pidcoke to see the local cemetery is a good one, but follow the road past the cemetery to catch some fine glimpses of Bee House Creek and a couple of panoramas of the valley. Bee House was once the home of a communal house called Bee House Hall. Residents wanted to name the community Bee Hive but the post office decided it would be Bee House instead.

Pidcoke was the home of NFL legend Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, who passed away in 1998 at the age of 79. Turner was a member of the NFL Hall of Fame who played his college ball art Hardin-Simmons University. He was the first draft pick of the Chicago Bears in the 1940.

As a 20-year old rookie center for the Bears, he was the highest paid rookie lineman in the league. He made $2,000 a year. Turner also owns the distinction, if that's the word, of playing in the most lopsided NFL game ever played, when his Bears delivered a 73-0 shellacking of the Washington Redskins. He had 16 pass interceptions in his career (players played both offense and defense in those days) and four of them came in NFL championship games. He had eight interceptions in 1942, which led the league.

Six miles southeast of Pidcoke used to be the community of Stampede, which had about 40 families living there in 1917. The town disappeared when Fort Hood was established in the early 1940s. Looking for it today, the only reminder might be the sound of artillery sounding like thunder off in the distance.

The enduring reality of Fort Hood is sometimes further emphasized if you glance off to the side of the road on the way back and you see an otherwise innocuous gate guarded by soldiers in desert camouflage. They're not guarding against a stampede.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" - December 9, 2005 column

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