Rule one of reading other people’s stories is that whenever you say ‘Well that’s not convincing’ the author tells you that’s the bit that wasn’t made up. This is because real life is under no obligation to be convincing.
The property in Texas that I live on once belonged to Mexico. That ownership ended back in the 1800s, when Stephen F. Austin and 300 stalwart souls came along and decided to petition for land in the southeastern region of the Province of Texas.
In a letter to the Honorable Commissioner Baron de Bastrop, one of those Old 300 wrote—
“I, Noel F. Roberts, a native of the United States of America and an actual resident of this Province of Texas—living on the Eastern margin of the Brazos River, to your presence say: That having come to said place with my family and chattels with the intention of settling myself in the Colonial Establishment permitted by the Superior government of the Mexican Nation to Empresario Stephen F. Austin…”
Noel Roberts got his requested league and labor of land from the Mexican government, and he farmed and probably fought in the Texas Revolution and did whatever it was he did here in this new land.
The Robert’s league sold in bits and chunks over the years until it finally became the small parcel I now call home. In 1918, acreage was carved out of the huge League of land “being situated on the east side of the Brazos River on Little Prairie, and commencing at a hackberry tree in the N.W. corner of said acres…thence East 320 varas to a stake…”
Of course, when we bought the property in the mid 80s and having no clue what kind of width-depth-length-or height varas constituted, we had to have faith that the Spanish measurement would somehow translate favorably to the gullible and naive city-bred buyers (that would be us) in this transaction. And, of course, the hackberry tree was long gone and would be of no use, whatsoever.
But, since I am merely a keeper of stories—other people’s stories—this one belongs to the man who owned the property before us, the one who bought it back in 1918. His name was Garfield. He was apparently an honest man, well-liked in the community, and married to a most dignified woman who grew quite attached to her garden and her peach trees. Garfield rented the land as a sharecropper before earning enough to buy the property and start farming in his own right. He raised a highly educated daughter who married a well-known mover and shaker in the Civil Rights movement.
Garfield, it seems, was also in the moonshining business.
As I was told by a couple of old-timers, “No one ever got sick from Garfield’s whiskey because he insisted on properly filtering it through charcoal.” I guess that an honest bootlegger who made safe hooch was a valuable commodity in the days of hatchet-wielding-Carrie-Nation kind of folk.
Okay, so here is what I’ve learned about the End of Garfield’s lucrative side business—
In the height of the depression in the 30s, there was a cotton gin in the center of this small Texas town. During off season, farmers would sit on benches under the gin’s tin roof to discuss crop yields and various affairs of small-town gossip. Well, one day, here comes this chubby, red-faced, middle-aged man who claimed that he could work on any of their livestock that needed attention. They took him for his word and, within hours, there were lines of animals that needed teeth floated or worms eradicated or hoof fungus treated. The Vet was a hard worker, of that there was no doubt.
He apparently was also a hard drinker.
As one elderly citizen recalled, the Vet would constantly inquire of any passerby where he could get some good whiskey. Since almost everyone in the community knew of the illegal distillers in the vicinity, they were more than willing to offer directions to any of the local suppliers.
The Vet disappeared for a few days, returning with a scraggly beard and a hung-over demeanor. This scenario of inquiring into some good whiskey and returning several days later—bedraggled, unshaven, dirty, and hung-over—recurred several times over the next few weeks.
Finally, when it seemed as if every cow and horse and pig had been properly tended to, the Vet stated that it was time that he move on.
All seemed back to normal until, one day about a month later, federal agents descended on the area and made a great sweeping raid of every still and bootlegger in the entire area. Some embarrassing revelations of public officials who happened to partake of the illegal libations were also exposed by the federal dragnet.
The biggest surprise in this small town was that the leader of the feds was none other than the old Vet. But on this visit, he was clean, trim, well-dressed, sober, and very much in command.
So, Garfield’s liquor-making business was laid to rest…at least for awhile. I’m sure he kept planting his cotton and corn and biding his time until the federal agents turned their interest elsewhere.
But one elderly gentleman recollected that local farmers and ranchers sort of missed the chubby, red-faced Vet. He was, after all, pretty darn good with animals.