dirt road winding to Loma Vista Ranch is as rough as I remember.
Each mesquite and scrub oak looks to be just as it has always been,
hanging on despite droughts and down turns.
The next bend in the road brings into view the gentle slopes of
Loma Vista hill, meaning "hill view" in Spanish, the highest point
Texas in rain-starved Zavala county in harsh South
Texas brush country. According to stories passed down through
the years, the lone hill once had a fort and was used by Spanish
explorers traveling the Upper Presidio Road. Legend has it French
Salle camped on Loma Vista hill in the early 1600s. A wine bottle
shard and stone seal found near the hill, dated from the 1600s with
a French Medoc imprint, adds credence to the legend.
Nothing is up there now except rattlesnakes, rabbit nests, Indian
artifacts, and perhaps a few unrepentant spirits. John Quincy Adams,
Jr., my uncle, has nearly 1,000 arrow heads and spear points he
found on his ranch, many of them discovered around Loma Vista hill
where Indians had camped.
ranch is small by Texas standards. Only 640 rugged acres of sun-baked
terrain remain of the ranch founded in 1882 by Uncle Quincy's grandfather,
Jesse Adams, 17 years after he came to Texas
when the War Between the States ended in 1865. Jesse and his wife,
Lucie Jane, as well as many other Southerners, heard Texas
was a good place to make a new homestead start after losing plantations,
farms, and family in the devastation of the War.
Jesse had been a scout for the Confederate Army along the border
of Missouri and North Arkansas. As a result of his service in harsh
conditions, his health had been damaged and he died at age 48 at
Before the War, Jesse's father, Peter F. Adams, had been a prosperous
plantation owner in Arkansas. But Loma
Vista was far too dry, too rough, too inhospitable to offer
much prosperity to those bold or reckless enough to ranch against
My rental car makes a sharp turn and flushes two mourning doves
from the dry grass at road's edge. A dove's head is small in comparison
to its plump gray body, but the most remarkable feature is its soft,
The legend of the dove's cry tells of a Mexican maiden who fell
in love with a pastor (shepherd), but he proved false and deserted
her, going off unconcerned to tend his flock of goats and live off
the land. In her grief, she wept until death was near. Then the
Great Spirit took pity on her and turned her and her false lover
into doves. If you listen, you can hear their Spanish conversation
in the repetitive four beat coo-coo, coo-coo song of the dove today:
Cry of the dove:
"Que quieres, pastor?"
"Comer moras, comer moras."
"Adios, pastor, adios, pastor."
"What do you want, shepherd boy?"
"To eat berries, to eat berries."
"Good-bye shepherd, good-bye shepherd."
the next turn, a small ranch house with a porch across the front
comes into view. Uncle Quincy built the four-room rough cedar ranch
house after he decided the seven-room house nearby, built in the
1800s by his family, was too big.
He also built the heavy wooden table and chairs in his kitchen.
An old, wood-burning cast-iron cook stove squats in the kitchen
and a silver stovepipe runs from the stove to a hole cut high into
the outside wall.
In sharp contrast to the once imposing but long abandoned white
house nearby, the cedar ranch house is plain and rustic, but it
has warmth, promising welcome for those who enter.
Uncle Quincy tells a story about a relative visiting the Chicago
World's Fair in 1893. Not only did the relative see the new invention
called electric lights in Thomas Edison's prominent exhibit, he
also paid 10 cents to have his fortune told. The fortune teller
told him he lived in a big house with a kitchen about 40 feet back
from the main house. Under that kitchen, she said, were four or
five rocks arranged in a circle around a larger rock. If he would
dig up the center rock, she assured him, he would find Wells Fargo
pouches filled with gold.
Everyone back home laughed at the story and it was told around for
nearly 30 years. Then the kitchen burned down, and sure enough,
there were four rocks around a larger rock. Apparently no one bothered
to dig up the rocks before the kitchen was rebuilt, and Uncle Quincy
does not intend to do so either. When asked why, he replies, "Well,
that gold if it's there, doesn't belong to me. It belongs to Wells
Fargo, or the government would claim it ."
He says if he found gold, people would come out to the ranch, upset
the livestock and give him trouble. "They would tramp all over the
place, and I would be questioned, bothered, and have to fill out
all kinds of forms." For years I told him that what is really under
the ranch is black gold, oil. He laughs at that. "Water is more
important than oil around here," he says. "Cows can't drink oil."
When I arrive, Uncle Quincy isn't in the ranch house, so I head
down to the corral. But first I kick off my high heels and pull
on a pair of well-worn boots, comfortable old friends custom-made
when I was a teenager.
Uncle Quincy and a Mexican ranch hand are in the corral, and curses
in English and Spanish can be heard for half a mile. A new bull
they're branding has tried their patience. When Uncle Quincy sees
me, he saunters out of the corral, minus the curses, and says, "I
swear to my time, you sure don't let anyone know when you're coming
do you? Stovepipe, how are you? Let me look at you, it's sure good
to see you."
I was 7 years old when he gave me that nickname because he said
I was tall and skinny like a stovepipe. He believes young girls
in Texas require affectionate names more suitable than the ones
given by their parents. His own two girls he calls Janie Bird and
"Come here, Stovepipe, and hug your broken-down old uncle's neck."
He wraps me in a bear hug I manage to return once I catch my breath;
then he steps back to look at me. I see he has a two or three days
growth of beard with a touch of gray. He is still tan and lean,
but more weathered than I remember. He has on ancient leather chaps
he has worn ever since I can recall, mostly to protect him from
mesquite and cactus thorns when he rides horseback. But he doesn't
ride horses much since Tiger died. Now he rides an old Jeep more
than he rides a horse.
on his Arabian/Quarter horse, Tiger."
Courtesy Barbara Duvall Wesolek
|Stovepipe - "Age
10 or 11 waving one of Uncle Quincy's hats as I pen several white
faced Hereford cattle in the corral."
Tiger, an Arabian/Quarter
horse mix, had been his beloved horse for 26 years. No one but Uncle
Quincy rode Tiger because no one could tell when Tiger would take
a rare notion to pitch. Many horses will lay their ears back or
bow their necks or give other dependable sign of impending deviltry,
but not Tiger. Tiger is buried in a clearing near the corral, and
I notice a well-worn path leading to the area.
Uncle Quincy sees me glance toward the path and says, "Yes, I pay
a visit 'most every day. Don't want him to feel abandoned and I
want him to know I'm still alive and kicking."
He's finished at the corral and ready to go to the house and have
a beer. At the house, he opens a cool one, props his boots on the
porch rail, and pushes his sweat-stained Stetson back on his head.
"Well, how have you been, Stovepipe? What's a big city girl doing
out here in the sticks? Tell me all about it."
We talk until after the sun goes down. He listens intently when
I tell him what's going on, and he offers good advice, honest wisdom
that will stay with me all my life. Then he fries a chicken in a
black cast- iron skillet, on the same wood stove I last cooked on
when I was 13 and electricity had not yet come to the ranch. We
have crisp chicken with buttermilk and yesterday's corn bread, real
Southern comfort food. When the key-wind clock on the mantle strikes
11 p.m., Uncle Quincy says it's time to turn in.
The bed and comforter in the front room are made of down so warm
and soft I barely have time to listen to the rare gentle rain on
the tin roof and the distant song of coyotes before I fall asleep.
During the night, the clank of the windmill, when the breeze shifts
directions, drifts into my sleep, bringing a familiar reassurance
from my childhood that all is well. This is home.
The sun is up when the smell of bacon and biscuits wakes me. When
I enter the kitchen, Uncle Quincy is squatting in front of the wood
stove, taking golden biscuits out of the oven. He glances around
and says in mock disapproval, "Thought you might sleep the whole
day away, Stovepipe."
He has on a clean, long-sleeved, blue shirt and pressed khaki pants.
He looks like the actor Paul Newman, except Uncle Quincy is more
rugged, an outdoorsman, a real cowboy. I notice he has shaved. His
code of conduct for a gentleman does not deem it proper to be unshaven
in front of guests, especially not women. During breakfast of hot
biscuits, fresh butter, mesquite honey and bacon, we laugh and talk
about the good times on the ranch when all the family were still
around. I look at his honest, sun-baked face and know how lucky
I am to have an Uncle Quincy who still forsakes crowded cities,
still calls a grown woman Stovepipe, and lives by his own honest
rules just as the real-life cowboy he is. Some writers, such as
Larry McMurtry, have insisted the Code of the West is a myth, but
McMurtry has done very well writing about such men. And Uncle Quincy
is proof such men are not a myth.
Too soon it's time for me to leave. The saddest moments in life
are those of leaving, sad because you know you may not return, or
when you return the one you love may not be there. It's the latter
I fear more. As long as Uncle Quincy is here I can always go home
again. He will always put out his arms and call me Stovepipe, but
the day will come when he will do these things only in my memory
and I hurt with the pain of knowing.
Uncle Quincy is looking closely at me. "You're thinking like a tree
full of owls, Stovepipe. Never saw anyone think as much as you do,
even when you were a kid."
He's aware of what I'm thinking and he's trying to make leaving
Walking to the car, he tells a humorous story about one of his longtime
neighbors, John And Mary Powell, but I don't hear much of it because
I'm storing up the sight of him and the feel of the rough South
Texas brush country that is so much a part of both of us. He opens
the car door, hugs me, steps back and closes the door. I must leave
quickly. Waving good-bye, he calls out, "Watch where you put your
How often I've heard his warning and how often it has come back
to me in moments of uncertainty. Driving the dirt road leading to
the highway headed back to Houston,
I still hear his warning in my mind. But also I hear something else.
I hear a mourning dove grieving in a mesquite tree, "Adios pastor,
Old age caught up with Uncle Quincy, and he died in 1997. The ranch
was sold, including mineral rights although Uncle Quincy always
preached to us, "You may have to sell land, but never sell your
mineral rights." Before he died, he had experts check the ranch
for oil and minerals. The experts assured him: no oil, no uranium,
nothing of value.
Uncle Quincy is buried in the red dirt of Loma Vista cemetery with
his ancestors. The inscription on his chunk of granite headstone
has a carved deer and a mesquite tree and the words, " Looking Toward
|John Quincy Adams'
granite headstone at Loma Vista cemetery.
Courtesy Tim & Gail Dorrycott, Findagrave.com
|Loma Vista Cemetery
Courtesy Tim & Gail Dorrycott, Findagrave.com
In his life
he fought drought and dry water tanks, with cattle dying of lack
of water and forage in the 1950s. He lived through the Great Depression.
He served in WWII
and built the landing strip for the American pilots flying "The
Hump" to Burma. Then he returned home to Loma
Vista. At the end, he lived alone on the ranch and worked it
mostly by himself.
He died long before the current Eagle Ford Shale and fracking brought
the promise of oil and gas riches to Zavala County. I wonder what
he would think now if he knew about the buried treasure under the
ranch. I can just see him slapping his worn old Stetson on his knees
and saying, "Well, I swear to my time, Stovepipe, I swear to my
August 1, 2014 column
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