The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Texas Goat Farms In The '30s

By Royce Q. Holland © 1986

Issue: March, 1986

Royce Holland and his brother (taken about 1936 when he was working on the Goat Farm in Texas.)Royce Holland and his brother (taken about 1936 when he was working on the Goat Farm in Texas.)Getting enough food was only one of the dogging problems facing a kid. Big problems beset a kid on the road alone, especially if he weighed less than 120 lbs. Some "Knights of the Road" were very aggressive. Believe me, when some of the others saw one having fun teasing the Kid, they emerged usually one by one, for each his share of the joke on the Kid. The Kid was in for a long hard trip. There was one way out. The Kid had to handle it, before the problem handled the Kid.

Now in theory, there were two ways to handle the problem. One way was to out-run the aggressor. But if you were less than 120 lbs, your legs were not long enough to be a distance-runner. I decided too, that Texas was not wide enough for me to out-run some of the big monkeys who chose me. Therefore, I evaluated what other talents I possessed.

I had one talent which I reluctantly developed and I owe that to my older brother. He weighed 170 lbs. by the time he was thirteen. His specialty was "Fist-A-Cuffs" and he was quite a bruiser. I've never known too many in our country to go out of their way to chose him, even til this day. He is now 67 years old.

Since he and I were the only males in our house (no father), I was always "IT" when it, came time for his daily work-outs. And work-out we did. Sometimes we fought a half day at a time. Our poor mother would finally give up, take our three baby sisters in a brood and sit on a hillside until we got done. Then she would "turn-to" on us with an ax handle

We were exhausted by then. She would frail our heads firmly, until we cleaned it all up and straightened up the old house and/or barn and anything else that had gone down in the brawl. Sometimes we used the whole farmstead before we got done.

Daily work-outs like this finally developed certain talents in me. The unique talent being that I had learned to fight a big man. Be reminded, the absurd fact was, that most little men could lick me hands down. But also be reminded that few knew this. I fought him much and licked him never. But my unique talent commenced to develop.

I noticed that he chose me less often, after I became quite skillful at what I did. What I did was with tenacity, with the use of everything loose around the farm that I could lay my hands on, if I could carry it. Another thing was to never let it be over.

I will never forget the horrified look on my brother's face one night, when he awoke to examine an 18 inch file-rasp which I had acquired from Dad's old blacksmith shop. I had crawled in from the yard after a long brawl and hurled it like a Circus Knife Thrower. It was sticking in the old pine wall, vibrating not one inch above his head. He had awakened from the loud blast of its landing.

It may be understandable then, that on the road, I always chose the biggest guy. That's where all my talents were.

One particular time I well-remember was on a goat ranch near Sanderson, Texas, not far from old Fort Stockton. A brawl with a Mexican had run far into the night. I was the only "Gringo" (a kind of put-down name Mexicans called whites then) in the camp of about 30 Mexicans. A "Teasing of the Kid" had developed into a situation which none of them had ever seen. None of them dared go off to sleep because they did not know how many of them I was mad at. I spoke no Spanish then, nor did they speak English. The Mexican foreman, finally in desperation, sprang from his bunk, still in his long-johns, leaped on his burro and without brush chaps, galloped two miles through the schenery-bush to the owner of the ranch. He was an old retired U.S. Army Doctor.

The old doctor roared up to the brush sleeping lean-to, a kind of brush arbor we used on goat ranches. He turned the bright lights of his truck on all of us. He pointed. "You! You! and You! Get on that truck," he said, I was the last one he chose. He roared not too slowly back to the ranch house. He took me first inside his immaculate office.

It is hard to believe how beautiful that house was. He had the biggest radio I'd ever seen, even in the catalog. He sat me down.

"What are you fellows fighting about?" he asked, in a very angry voice. He waited impatiently for my answer.

I was not being disrespectful, but for the life of me, I could not remember what started the brawl. He became very irate and sent me out and called in my opponent.

Shortly, he called me back in. He almost went out of his head. "You aren't a fighter," he said pointing his finger in my face. "You are a darned feuder." He went on. "Why don't you let it be done? Your face is so swollen that you have to pull your eyes open to see." He pulled up my work-jumper. (We wore heavy dungaree jumpers in the thorny brush.) He felt my bruised ribs. (This Mexican was a stomper.) "And I think you have some broken ribs," he said. He spun me around facing the tall Mexican. "Look at this man!" he yelled. "He's not got a scratch on him."

I was surprised because I felt sure I'd hit him in the face several times, but my arms were short and perhaps I'd missed him every time. I felt rather discouraged, because the Mexican's begging his buddies to stop the fight during the last hour gave me the false illusion that I was winning.

The old doctor folded his arms, paced the floor and called in his Spanish wife to translate. "You two pick up your bed rolls and head for that road over there!" he pointed to the South. There was a public highway about 11 miles to our South. "If you can't have this fighting done with, then I don't want you on this ranch." he said.

When his beautiful wife translated this, the Mexican began to cry. He was a family man and jobs were scarce. There were a lot of Mexicans out of work and there was a lot of discrimination in those days.

With tears rolling down his face he knelt in front of the doctor's wife, pleading for his job.

Through the translation, he said, "Si! Si! I will never fight again even if the Gringo never stops. I will be as kind as Our Blessed Mother of Christ." The doctor turned to me, "Darn you! Can't you let it be done?" he asked. He stood and glared at me.

When I am nervous I trot my knee. That is, I let my heal go up and down, tapping the floor. "Why are you patting your foot," he asked.

I told him I didn't know why, but I think it is because sometimes I try to play the fiddle and I think I just got the habit. He smiled and looked toward his wife. She laughed out loud. "Can't you let it be done, Gringo like the Mexican has?" he asked again. The Mexican showed happiness.

I told him that I thought I could let it stop. He laid me on the floor and wrapped wide tape all around my rib cage. The Mexican took a comb the lady handed him with an order in Spanish. He commenced combing my hair. He combed out leaves, brush, twigs, dirt, sheep-dip and any amount of strange things out of my hair. My hair was very unruly and I had not been near a barber for six months. The Mexican was really happy. He tenderly combed and combed and tried to smooth my hair down flat like theirs all the way back to the truck. He helped me aboard the truck, always looking back to make sure the Doctor and wife saw how kind and tender he was to me.

Those Mexicans on the border were very comical, I thought after years had passed and I had time to look back on that scene objectively. I served shipboard with them later when the war came on. They were comical, but brave and fearless on a gun with you.

The doctor drove slowly as a hearse back to our sleeping lean-to. This gave me time to reflect my mind on my situation. I suddenly realized that my brother must really love me. I remember his comments down through our growing up. "We're in for a tough time," he always said. "I am big enough to handle it," he said, "but you are small. You've got to be tough as a pine-knot or you aren't going to make it." (Be reminded that he uttered this witticism 50 years before Johnny Cash met "A Boy Named Sue".) I remembered too, that night that he had never cut my face like the Mexican. He could have any day, because during my skirmish with them, I knew he could have licked any two of them. He once climbed a 70 feet high pecan tree and pried me loose from where I'd frozen with fear, from looking down. He pulled me loose and climbed back down with me in his arms. I guess I just had a spell of "growing up" that night on the truck, to use one of Dad's old expressions. I suddenly wished I were home, but I couldn't go home. It took every cent my brother and I made to keep food on the family table. Those were starving times. Historians will later call it "THE GREAT DEPRESSION."

We worked that job until late into the fall. We ended the job by gathering five thousand Angora goats. We sent thousands of pounds of mohair on big trucks to San Angelo.

The old doctor paid us $259.00 each. This was my first year to draw full man's pay. He stood up on the truck and had his wife translate.

"I'm giving the Gringo $50.00 extra", he said. Because by my pillaging his mail, I find that he is sending all his money to his mother back in Oklahoma. He has no father," he said. He reached and hooked his finger in my collar and pulled me up onto the truck and handed me the $50. I was spellbound.

I expected the Mexicans to explode into a lynching mob, because I was still very slow at working the goats. I was a poor hand beside of them.

A long, long silence ensued. Then the Mexicans to the last one yelled only like Mexicans can yell. They threw their hats into the air, locked arms and danced around clapping their hands and laughing. I had a very warm feeling toward them which has lasted until this day. They have a way of yelling and laughing at the same time in a very high tenor voice. It's a sound unique to their race. One can hear it even now sometimes in their folk music.

That old doctor was a very fine man. I pray that I can always keep an open mind as he did. I pray that if anyone ever drags a stupid, skinny Gringo to me who doesn't have the gumption to stop fighting, that I can handle it with compassion. I am not a fatalist. I sincerely believe that for the most part, our country will be run by good and companionate men. They seem to always keep coming, as they did during the Great Depression.