by Clay Coppedge
In The Shadow of Fort Hood
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
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
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.