Chasing Ghosts in a Cowboy Land. The Authors Collection
November 19, 2013
Jim H. Ainsworth
I left the Quien Sabe about mid-afternoon and headed south toward my high school stomping grounds, but could not pass Boys Ranch and Old Tascosa without stopping. I toured the Tascosa courthouse donated by Julian Bivins. Tascosa is an aberration of Otascoso (means boggy–for a nearby creek). Western legends abound here and the town has been featured in many books and movies.
Bivins also donated land to form Boys Ranch. Cal Farley and his wife then established a home for wayward boys and orphans. They ran the place for many years and are buried in front. Cal was a semi-pro baseball player and a professional wrestler before he came to Amarillo to open a tire shop. Mr. and Mrs. Farley were there when I played high school sports there many years ago.
I left the town and the homes where boys stay with foster parents and drove up to Old Tascosa Boot Hill. It was serene to sit on top of the hill with so much history laid out before me. I always feel a deep connection to the place–as if I have lived there in another life.
I drove south to Adrian and roamed around the town full of high school memories. Route 66, what Steinbeck called the Mother Road, ran straight through the town when I attended school there as a boy. The Mother Road was lined with service stations and cafes, a grain elevator and one of the best general, hardware, mercantile and clothing stores I have ever seen. It was two-story and had once been the Giles hotel. But traffic has been rerouted to Interstate 40 and it bypasses the tiny town.
Adrian has almost become a ghost town, but my old school was still there. I drove across the cattle guard and onto the Matador Ranch. I drove out to find the old abandoned corral that used to be the southern loading pen when this land was part of the XIT. The ranch is said to have done spring works here, then shipping in the fall. The Matador reached all the way to South Dakota. Not connected, of course.
From Rivers Ebb: Something about the place stirred him. Maybe his great-grandfather or even his grandfather had worked cattle here. Maybe he had been a ranch cowboy in another life.
I drove back to Adrian and rode around reading caution signs that had been painted with all sorts of weird proclamations that I can’t recall. It looked like an artists’ colony of sorts. I stopped in at Mid-Point Café (Adrian is the halfway point between Chicago and Los Angeles (1139 miles). Inside, I found copies of Sam Brown’s (the high school friend who became a cowboy poet and author) books and I learned that the post office had cancelled a commemorative stamp with Sam’s image a few months earlier.
As I headed out toward our old home place, I saw the Bent Door Café and stopped to look through its abandoned windows. What a waste of a unique old building with bent doors and windows. Looking at the booth where I sat so many times inspired me somehow. I wanted to take a few notes. I had left this country unwillingly, my cowboy dreams abandoned. Now, I had come back with dreams of becoming a writer. Suddenly tired, I realized I wanted to stay in Adrian a while longer.
The Fabulous Forty motel seemed my only choice. The old woman who had me sign the register was really gruff and unwelcoming. The room was clean enough, but austere. I pulled a metal chair outside, leaned against the building and listened to traffic going by on I-40. Still inspired, I wrote about my time on the Quien Sabe and the visit with Calvin on a tablet.
I had brought along a copy of Hold Autumn in Your Hand, a book Dr. Fred Tarpley had suggested was similar to my manuscript. I finished it before bedtime.
On Fri. Morning, I put a copy of Biscuits Across the Brazos on the table beside Sam Brown’s books in the Midpoint Cafe and drove out toward our old house and farm. We leased the place back then and cousin Arliss farmed it for another forty years after we left. But Arliss had died the previous Christmas and the place seemed doubly sad. His old farm truck was in the shop garage with a lot more dings and dents. The shop building seemed in better shape than when we left, but the house we had lived in was falling down.
I shoved open the back door and walked in. The place was hardly recognizable because it had been used as storage for farm castoffs. I could see through the ceiling, the roof and holes in the sides. The place was falling in. I worried a little about rattlers because Arliss said they liked the place.
I spooked a little when a white owl fluttered its feathers and flew out through a hole in the side wall. I have returned to this old place about three times in forty years, and a white owl has flown each time. I wondered if it was a sign I am not perceptive enough to decipher.
I was dressed for conference registration later in the day, so I decided not to climb over the junk blocking the doorways. I stood still for a while, trying to reconnect to the three people who had lived here for only a brief period in our lives. I always felt the presence of my parents here, though we spent most of our lives five hundred miles southeast. Maybe it’s because it was just the three of us then, alone in new country. Looking back, I now realize how frightened my parents must have been in this unfamiliar life. I grew to love it, but they never did.
Next—A Memorable Visit with a Famous Writer
Please click the book cover image to read more about Jim H. Ainsworth and his novels.