“I am an old cowboy,
I don’t ride much no more;
I came to this valley,
Right after the war.
And I used to shoe horses,
And there’s some saddles I built;
And I’ve rode after cattle
All over these hills…”
Most people don’t give it a second thought these days, but there was a time not long ago when the entire lower Big Bend was pretty much a scattered patchwork of isolated ranches loosely held together by one common goal: Trying to create something from nothing in this harsh, dry and recalcitrant land.
The first of these came into being in the mid-1880s and was known as the G4. Headquartered at Oak Spring below The Window on the west side of the Chisos, the ranch stretched from those mountains across to Anguila Mesa, then from along the river all the way up to the Agua Fria.
As the years went by, the G4 sold out and was broken into numerous smaller ranches. When I was a kid, I got to know some of them fairly well and in fact ret on a few of those places. The main backdrop for my historical novel ‘Destiny’s Way’ happens to be one of those ranches my family once had.
Like most everything else in this country save for government land, that ranch has since been carved up, cut on and sliced into itty-bitty pieces by land developers. Good or bad in nature the sad fact remains that once these old outfits are gone, they stay gone, never to come back. Presently I know of no real working ranches south of Green Valley. That’s a whole lot of wide open, lonesome sort of country to see go away in one life time.
This photograph was taken on some more of that land that once belonged to the G4. Situated along the northern side of the Paint Gap Hills, it has long since been swallowed whole by the National Park Service. My family knew it as the Mathews Place, though before then it was part of the Stillwell complex and for some reason I keep thinking it once belonged to one of the Rice clan.
But be forewarned, I’ve been wrong before.
When Lone Star Literary Life asked for a play list for ‘Destiny’s Way’ during their book blog tour, ‘Song For Jake’ was near the top of my list. Written and sung by Dave Stamey, the arrangement and words are simple in nature: The sound of a six string guitar and the voice of a man who has actually been there, and done that. I suppose that is why I enjoy his music so much.
The ballad of ‘Song For Jake’ is a near perfect mixture of that simplicity. It is an encapsulated life story of a man who went his own way and carried through faithfully in his personal philosophy of worth. In a present time with so much strife and polarization, with so much technology that manages to keep us from really knowing each other and more so ourselves, there is much to learn in the quiet thoughts of such simplicity.
A link to this song follows below. If you can, find a few moments of solitude someplace and listen to it while gazing into that photo. If that does not stir you in some manner, then something is presently missing in your soul.
Take haste to find it before it’s too late.
They say the simple things in life are the most important, as well as the hardest to accomplish. ‘Song For Jake’ is a reminder of this delicate balance for us all.
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