A Look Into History

October 13, 2016

cowboy1902

The managing editor’s history that is. Elizabeth Akin Stelling was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but spent plenty of time in Mineral Wells, Breckenridge, and Odessa, Texas. She had heard family stories, old timer’s they called each other, about how rough living in west and far west Texas was, back in the early century when cowboys and ranches filled the dusty roadways. Elizabeth was born in 1961, and began a love affair with the old west, Native Americans (her great-grandfather mentioned was part Cherokee, and her mother was Choctaw), the oil boom her family benefited from, and how her father taught her to live off the land–even though she was a “sort of” city girl in modern eyes. It never left her, thus Cowboy Poetry Press was born in 2010.

Recently someone from her family’s past approached her on one of her personal blogs, and turned out to have been engaged to her father (what a surprise!), eventually marrying one of his 2nd cousins, paternal-maternal Estill side of the family. Much about her great-grandfather was a mystery, Corine has brought him to light. This old article was shared…

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Estill Moving West

—Mineral Wells Oldtimer Recalls Cattle Drives Through Ft.Worth

By Ray McGehee   MINERAL WELLS, Texas

 
In 1879, a slight, tow-headed, five-year-old boy stood in front of a Fort Worth general store and watched a dusty herd of big South Texas steers amble up Main Street on their way to Kansas. Wide-eyed, he watched as cowboys, their faces covered with dirty handkerchiefs, cursed and cracked long whips to keep the herd moving westward, to bed ground outside town.

Awed by campfire stories of Texas, heard from travelers he’d encountered since his family left their (Stamping Ground) Scott County, Kentucky farm, Clarence R. Estill was soon to be a part of Texas history which few people can still remember. Although his 84 years have dimmed his sight and hearing, Clarence Estill lives today in a world of keen memories of the development of a part of this state which many historians have termed, “the toughest, roughest country, mile-for-mile, to be found anywhere.”

“It was a lust to move west,” Estill says, “which caused Papa to sell his Kentucky farm and pack up for Texas.” But this lust subsided a few days west of Fort Worth when he pulled his team up and made camp near the present town of Cisco in Eastland County. Here the Estill family planted its roots amid the torrid aftermath of Civil War with its carpetbaggers, outlaw rule, cattle rustling, coming of the railroads, and later the era of oil booms.

While still a boy, Estill assumed the role of a man when the first railroad moved westward from Fort Worth into the cedar breaks of Eastland and Palo Pinto counties. For 15 cents an hour he turned in 10-hour days on the railroad to help supplement the family’s meager income. Rough Times, Herd Justice “Those were rough times.” he says, “and I well remember one day a man rode into Eastland and said he had been robbed just west of town by two ornery looking Clarence Estill characters. It didn’t take long for a bunch of men hanging around the livery stable to saddle up and go out looking. “I didn’t hear any more until I started home the next morning and saw two men hanging by their necks from a big oak tree.

We had pretty fast justice in those days; but you know it was a longtime before anybody else was robbed around Eastland.” After living in tents and dugouts while following the railroads, and not sleeping in a “built” house for six years, Estill’s father moved to a small farm just south of Fort Worth near the present town of Benbrook. Farming was hard in those days, and a large portion of the people were drawing daily rations from government soup lines, but the senior Estill decided to give up his small farm for a larger one near Mineral Wells.

In 1886 when Clarence was 12, they moved to a place four miles east of Mineral Wells. And despite the fact that folks there too, were in soup lines, the Estill family managed to make ends meet. Eleven years after his family moved to Palo Pinto County, Clarence, then 23, met and married Delia Mary Connaster, the daughter of a Palo Pinto rancher, who have their own story of moving westward from York, PA, originally from Germay. As he recently recounted his long and interesting life, Delia, in a voice too low for his failing ears, added many details which otherwise would have been omitted.

One of his memorable experiences took place shortly after the turn of the century when a man named George Lock offered Estill $25 to deliver two mares to his brother near Robert Lee in Coke County-a distance of about 190 miles.

“I took the job under one condition,” Estill said, “that being that I could make the trip as fast as the horses would take me. You see, I had a family by then, and since I’ve always been a family man I didn’t like being away from home too long.”

“Well,” Lock told him, “they’re good-blooded mares and in good road shape, so I guess it’ll be all right if you don’t kill ’em.”

Estill saddled what looked like the best of the two and headed west, riding one and leading the other. 190 Miles in 36 Hours “For36 hours I rode that mare and never took the saddle off until I reached Lock’s house about a mile from Robert Lee. “I never will forget stopping at a house just south of Buffalo Gap. I rode up and asked a lady if I could water my horses. She said I could, and if I had time she would make a pot of coffee. I waited in the shade of a big oak tree until she came out with the best coffee I ever drank. “I got to Winters, south of Abilene late that afternoon and ate in a boarding house. That was the first real food I’d had since leaving home. “Just after dark I headed west from Winters and made the 20-oddmiles to a little town near the Colorado river (the present town of Bronte) where I rested and watered the horses again. It was a little before day light then, and when I learned it was only 12 miles to my destination, I rode on and got there about mid-morning. “Seeing how tired and sleepy I was, Mr. Lock insisted I have a good meal and a night’s sleep before heading home. “That was a mighty fine night’s sleep, and the next morning Mr. Lock wanted me to go with him to a horse race, but I declined, saying I had to get home. And after one of his hands tied my saddle in a wool bag, I boarded the train for home with my $25 hidden in my boot.”

Last year at 83 and assisted by his son Virgil, a Brazos County peace officer, Estill realized a lifetime ambition. After years of searching, he was able to find his mother’s grave in a small cemetery near Cisco.

“I had hunted her resting place since her death when I was just a kid, but was never able to find it. But with Virgil’s help and some old documents, we found it clearly marked with a stone my father had erected.” Estill credits his long life to what he terms “homemade” wisdom. “I’ve never taken a drink of anything stronger than good black coffee, and I’ve never used tobacco in any form,” he says, adding: “And about 61 years ago I made sure I found and married a good woman.” Mr. and Mrs. Estill live alone near the outskirts of Mineral Wells. She still does all her own housework while he “piddles” around the yard. Here’s how one of his neighbors describes him: “Mr. Estill is a serious minded old timer, but certainly from the old school where a man’s word was his bond.”

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Elizabeth remembers her Dad’s fondness for that set of grandparents. His mother would tell her the story of how she’d pack up an old doctor’s bag and drop him off old Jackson Highway, pointing him toward old highway 80, west, towards the Estill home, he would hitchhike the hour and half, or more to their house for a week or so. He loved the butter beans that waited on the old wood stove. And the good black coffee he continued to drink as his daughter grew up. “Daddy would take us out on hikes around that old farm, an area called Indian Creek. I have fond memories of that place, and I miss seeing Clarence’s wife, my great-grandmother, we called Mammaw Estill, rocking on the front porch, waiting for us to visit.”

“Daddy confirmed his mother’s stories, saying back then it was safe as a 13 year old to walk and often catch rides from sheriffs, farmers, and random salesmen in old model-T fords along the road.” Elizabeth couldn’t imagine, but she herself has his adventuresome spirit.

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Keep an eye out for the newest volume of Unbridled III, 2016. It’s been a long grueling year with personal time off, but we’re back up and running!

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