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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"


Bosque County, Texas

by Angela Blair
As a child of five years old - which was 64 years ago - I often visited in the home of Mrs. Nanny Benson, fondly known to my family in Kopperl, Bosque County, Texas, as "Aunt Nanny Benson." Looking back she was a very dignified personage, always sitting in a comfortable chair with her steel gray hair pulled back to the nape of her neck, earrings, a simple cotton dress and sometimes dark glasses. She always smelled of Avon body powder and a scent that I didn't truly identify until I was a grown woman - it was the tobacco smell of snuff - although I never saw her use it.

I lived with my maternal grandmother, Mrs. Steve H. Hughes (Hirstine) who was related to Aunt Nanny - although I never quite figured out how as it was so far before my time - and we visited often in the Benson home. Visiting at Aunt Nanny's house was a true wonderland for a child. There was beautiful furniture, rugs, books, delicate figurines and games of all kinds. Aunt Nanny had three grown daughters, Ira, Veta and Nona - all teachers. At that time only Nona was married and Ira and Veta taught school, kept the house absolutely spotless, took care of their mother and always had time to entertain visiting children.

Aunt Nanny told the most marvelous stories about her growing up and her childhood. She attended school at the Kimball Bend School, in Bosque County, Texas, which was practically right on the Chisholm Trail. I used to beg her to tell me the story of the cattle drives over and over again, and she always did.

It seemed that although the school had a learning curriculum, etc. they were much before their time in that they believed that all things surrounding children were a part of their education, too. Aunt Nanny said the children would be sitting at their primitive little desks doing their "numbers" and one of the children would lay their head down on the desk, one ear down and it was obvious to everyone in the room that the student was listening to something. Within minutes everyone in the room would have their head on their desk in a similar fashion at which point the teacher would dismiss class for a bit and allow them to go outside. Once outside all the children would get down on their hands and knees and put their ear to the ground to see if it was true!

If one heard a slight rumbling noise it meant one of the big cattle drives was coming down the Chisholm Trail - which was cause for great celebration. Aunt Nanny said the herds were so big that sometimes you could hear them coming when they were still three days out. The children would be filled with anticipation by the time the herd actually appeared as the teacher turned school out for the children to watch the big herds ford the Brazos River. The fording process could take days, depending on whether or not the river was up or low. If it was up it required hard work on the part of the cowboys to keep the cattle moving so they wouldn't be swept downstream. Usually it was true Texas weather and the cattle weren't endangered at all - just walked across most of the river and perhaps swam a very little depending on the exact spot they entered the water. Aunt Nanny said the herds were so big that it often took two or three days to get all the cattle on the other side.

She told of the chuck wagon where the cook worked and the trail bosses who always conferred with the teacher - keep the children back and out of the way as there was no way for the cowboys to look out for them - and the cattle weren't going to be watching for an errant child at all. Truth be known, I've since surmised that these wise trail bosses wanted to keep the children back not only for their safety but to also prevent a "wild-loose" child from running, screaming or in some other manner startling the herd and starting a stampede.

It seemed that all the cowboys on every cattle drive were the stuff that dreams were made of for young girls. The older girls in the school would each pick out one cowboy and "claim" him - never matter that they would never meet the guy or he'd even have an opportunity to look their way if he'd wanted to. The boys all picked out a man working on the drive that they admired and for days after the herd was gone there were "let's pretend" cattle drives with each boy portraying his hero.

Aunt Nanny said that the cattle herds coming down the Chisholm Trail were the big events in her life as a child and most of the other children she knew. Apparently there was a type of general store in Kimball at that time as she said if any of the cowhands left the herd and went into the main part of town to the store there was always a bunch of kids right behind him just to see what he was doing and to get an up-close look at the cowboy. (I have since traced the "store" back in history and find that there was a store in Kimball owned by my great, great grandfather, "Babe" Greer. He eventually sold the business so I don't know if he owned it at the time of Aunt Nanny's stories or it had already passed to the next owner.)

How exciting it was to be a child at Aunt Nanny's knee and listen to her stories. I was nearly grown when she passed away. She had been blind for many years by that time with cataracts which today could have been easily corrected with surgery. She wore her dark glasses all the time after she could no longer see - and crocheted constantly, regally, like a queen, in her favorite rocking chair. She was well into her 90's when she died. For me - and the other children at her knee - Aunt Nanny Benson died in body only. Well, think about it…there was a bunch of us little kids listening to her stories…and I'd bet most of us are still telling them…and it's 65 years later.

"They shoe horses, don't they?" November 1, 2006 Guest Column

See Kimball, Texas

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