Texas Escapes
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Masterson, Texas

by Louise George

Excerpted from "No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas"
published in 1994 by Louise George
The charm of living in a camp is difficult to explain to someone who has not had the experience – and to some who have. It was not for everyone. There were some distinct disadvantages. A few of the ranch families who claimed Masterson as home may have boasted about their beautiful surroundings. But, most of us lived out in the middle of a big pasture, where someone had planted every tree that existed, and there was absolutely nothing to stop the wind. The houses all looked alike, except some were slightly larger than others. The smells that came from the plants were atrocious at times, and the rumble, rumble, rumble of huge engines never stopped. If we woke up to quiet, we knew there was something wrong at the plant.

There was a long list of things we didn’t have. Our little store was no supermarket, and the gas pump was no service station. We had no doctor, no theater, no barber shop, no high school, no football team, no swimming pool and no shopping mall – not even a Walmart.

And, the people weren’t exactly perfect. They often were nosey and gossipy, sometimes quarrelsome and occasionally downright mean.

Keeping to yourself was almost impossible. A few couples drew their window shades, did not participate in a single community activity and maintained a degree of privacy. Total privacy, however, was not available. People knew when you left the camp and what time you got back. If inclined to know more, the local grapevine provided news about which neighbors were quarreling, which kids were brawling and which couples were fussing. There probably weren’t nearly as many scandals as there were rumors of scandals.

Considering all the disagreeable characteristics of camp life, an outsider likely wonders what could possibly be the advantages. The conditions that made our lives seem so isolated and inconvenient are the very things that brought us together to create a safe and happy atmosphere, and allowed lifetime friendships to develop.

The same annoying grapevine that let every single person know every single thing about your business also let everyone know when you were in need. Whatever your need happened to be, if one neighbor didn’t have it, chances are they knew someone who did. If you needed transportation to town to see a doctor, someone drove you while someone else watched your children. Friends traded baby-sitting chores for shopping trips alone or a special evening out. But, if a couple had an emergency and needed to be gone overnight, or longer, trading didn’t enter into the picture. Help was there. In many cases more baby-sitters volunteered than were needed. Bereaved families were overwhelmed with the kindness extended to them from the whole community. The only people who were alone were the ones who chose to be alone.

Perhaps the best part of life in a camp was the complete absence of fear. Dark was no reason to go home and lock the doors. If a person wanted to take a walk at two a.m., they weren’t afraid, and children played outdoors until all hours. The children knew they were safe in any house out there. They also knew perfectly well that they got on some people’s nerves and weren’t welcome everywhere. They didn’t always keep the rules, but usually ganged up to play where they wouldn’t get in trouble.

For the most part, neighbors watched out for others’ children as well as they did their own. Children often spent so much time in their friends’ homes, they were treated almost like family members, with the same privileges and disciplines. Those relationships created abiding friendships between children and the parents of their friends.

Both camps had playgrounds and the neighbors who lived next to them found both good and bad features in their location. While it was easy to keep an eye on their own children, often they were called on to see to the needs of the other children playing there. That included everything from breaking up fights, to attending scraped knees, to passing out drinks and providing a handy restroom.

In the early years there was a company store in the Bivins camp. It didn’t survive many years, and Fourway [about five miles north of Bivins] was the closest store until Steve Scott built the XL General Store. Though the little stores were convenient, their stock didn’t include some necessary items. For most of us, trips to Amarillo or Dumas came exactly as often as payday…. The distance from town and the length of time between paydays made almost everyone a borrower and a lender. Only a few compiled so complete a shopping list they didn’t have to call on their neighbors. While we could count on the little store for most absolutely necessary items such as milk and bread, and for some of us coffee and cigarettes, borrowing was the best source for many items. We borrowed everything: from yellow thread to a pound of hamburger, from wrapping paper to a pressure cooker and from cough syrup to a shovel. People who kept a supply of cigarettes were particularly popular during the winter when we were stranded by snow storms. Borrowing reached its highest levels at those times.

When these awful storms hit, workers [who lived in town] could not get to their jobs and those on duty were stranded – sometimes for days. When that occurred everyone went to their pantries for food to send to the plant, and homes were opened to the men. In addition to caring for the workers, the people at Bivins took stranded motorists into their homes. That also lasted for days on a few occasions. But, it was the neighborly thing to do, and we tried to be good neighbors.

People who lived at Masterson often use the word family to describe the community. “We were like a big, happy family,” they say. Not everyone who lived there thought that it was a happy experience. But, they at least have to admit that one of Webster’s definitions for family applies to the lifestyle we knew. That is: “A group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” Our certain convictions might be debated. Our common affiliation could not. We were all out there in the same boat. Essentially, we all belonged to the same social set. We worked together, played together and stuck up for one another. Sounds just like a family.

A long time resident of Exell camp, Becky Martin said, “Ahh, didn’t we have the best time?”

© Louise George
History by George - August 27 , 2005

Order Information - "No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas" was published in 1994 by Louise George who can be contacted at (806)935-5286 or lgeorge@NTS-online.net or Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029.
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