Excerpted from "No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas"
published in 1994 by Louise George
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?”
- August 27 , 2005
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 Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029.
in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas,
asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic
photos, please contact