is not the most evocative of Texas
town names, and residents might even have found it somewhat
embarrassing during the reign of Depression-era outlaws Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow.
The Callahan County community got its name from one Robert Clyde,
a railroad construction crew foreman who operated a commissary in
the vicinity when the Texas and Pacific laid tracks through that
part of West Texas in December 1880. A year later, enough folks
had settled in the area to support a post office that Washington
approved designating as Clyde.
Though historical sketches of Clyde the town offer nothing more
about Clyde the man, he must have been a likable enough sort to
be honored in such a way. Or maybe early residents lacked imagination.
Someone representing Clyde's
second generation did a little better in the 1920s when civic boosters
painted "The California of Texas" on the town's water tower. That
tank held H2O drawn from a sizable aquifer beneath the town, enough
to sustain the kind of agricultural produce that came from the Golden
State. Alas, Clyde's nickname faded along with the paint and the
abundance of water.
ought to be remembered for is a tale from the early 1900s about
an area farmer and his prized jack, a long-eared, four-footed Casanova
with quite a reputation. Local farmer-rancher-businessman John Berry,
who late in life wrote a little book about Clyde
and some of its colorful characters and notable events, told the
story in his "The Hills of Home."
In the days before farmers relied on tractors, mules played a vital
role in any agricultural operation. A mule is the hard-working if
sterile result of breeding a mare with a jack. That process begins
in the spring. Consequently, back then any farmer owning a robust
young jack could bring in a little extra money every year by making
his animal available for procreation purposes. Owners of fine jacks
with strong blood lines did particularly well.
Otto Schmidt, an aging farmer of German heritage, possessed such
a jack. While a hard-working man of faith and integrity, neither
he nor his long-time spouse commanded English with fluency. Of course,
that was not unusual. In the era prior to World
War One, many German Texans were much more proficient in the
German language than English.
As usual, farmer Schmidt scheduled social visits for his stud jack,
an animal that took natural pleasure in handling this line of work.
Clearly, even a jack understood that romancing mares beat more mundane
tasks. Unfortunately, as the country greened and breeding time arrived
one year, Schmidt took sick and grew progressively worse.
Their family doctor told Mrs. Schmidt that her husband was in no
condition to deal with all the farmers coming by with the female
stock they needed to have serviced. Such business activity simply
would have to stop until the old fellow with the frisky jack got
to feeling better.
So, following doctor's orders, Mrs. Schmidt looked around for something
to write on and settled on a shoebox lid. Then she put down in bold
letters what needed to be said and nailed the sign to their gate
"The old man is sick, do not come to see the jackass until he gets
In saving that story for posterity, Berry also noted that the Schmidts
had two sons, August and Otto. The couple had their first son christened
Otto August. When their next boy came along, his birth certificate
listed his full name as August Otto.
people and what they did are the core of all history, local or world,
descriptions of pivotal events are another key element in understanding
the past. For instance, when Berry's book came out in 1949 and for
years after, it practically stood as a federal law that any work
of local history had to contain three things: The name of the first
white child born in the county, details surrounding the first automobile
and a discussion of the first airplane seen in the town or county.
Berry doesn't mention the first Anglo kid born in Callahan County,
but he did not fail to describe Clyde's
first car and first aircraft ever seen over his town.
"Sam Sherrill had the first car I remember in Clyde,"
Berry wrote. "It was a big red Reo. He had the [Reo] agency and
sold Drs. Estes and Bailey one. It was a run-about, had one cylinder
and cranked on the side."
While he didn't mention the date, Berry said an east-bound bi-plane
first flyover. The only way the pilot knew his route was to look
down and follow the T&P tracks, and on this day that took the airplane
from Abilene to
and additional points east.
The depot agent heard via telegraph that the plane was headed toward
and quickly spread the word. With the plane expected about 2 p.m.
that day, schools let out early and people crowded the streets near
the tracks to see a flying machine.
"Soon we could hear the hum of the motor, and we stood with open
mouths as it slowly buzzed past....," Berry wrote. "We watched it
until it went out of sight. Some said they still didn't believe
it, there was a trick to it. Nearly everyone said they wouldn't
ride in it for a million dollars."
Speaking of money, when Berry's book came out, it sold for $2. Readers
definitely got their money's worth with "The Hills of Home".
© Mike Cox
- June 9, 2016 Column
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