BEN SMITH

The Brady Standard
24 February 1967

    If you take Ben Smith seriously you would believe that Brady and McCulloch County has gone to pot in the last 80 odd years.  He thinks the old days were the best ones and he has lived here all of his 87 years.
    "You just can't believe how the people and the county have deteriorated since I was young," he chided when asked about the changes in the county.
    "Sure was not much town when I was old enough to first remember it.  There were prairie dog towns all over the square where the courthouse is.  Just a lot of mudholes and rocks," he reminisced.
    "Mr. Ben" was born at Dodge Water Hole (the site of Brady Lake) in a tent.  The year was 1880.  His father came to McCulloch County in 1874 when, he says, there was nothing but Indians.
    "Then the Englishmen commenced coming in and settled it up," he said.
    Mr. Smith went to work on the ford Ranch in 1893 "when there wasn't a windmill or a tank in sight."  He was still a young boy when he was working for the father of the late G. Rollie White.
    Mr. Smith made numerous trail drives and broke a great number of horses for the late Mr. White.  He and his brother, Willie Smith, worked together for the ranch for 14 years before they were split up and Mr. Ben was sent to work on the Glenn Ranch.
    He recalls the acres and acres of grass that had to be burned off each year to let the new grass come through. "We would burn off acres of the west side of the ranch in Concho and Menard Counties to get rid of the dry grass so the new grass would be green.  It only took a matter of days for the pastures to become green again.
    "They would come from the livery stable here in town and gather bales and bakes if hay.  It was so high you could just see a deer's head over it," he recalled.
    Mr. Smith gets quite ecstatic over the beauty of the country in the late 80's.  He says no native grass can be found now that compares to that he remembers.
    "Sheep ruined the country in my way of thinking," he said.  "They never let the grass go to seed, the cattle just mowed it off.  You've never seen anything like the beautiful wild flowers there used to be.  Not any more, the sheep ate all the seed."
    "If anyone had told me than that Brady Creek would stop running, I would have said he didn't know what he was talking about."
    His face brightened as he recalled, "That old creek was always full and ran the clearest, sweetest water ever.  Just over there (near his home in south Brady) behind Abner Trigg's house, a fellow dug a hole in that little draw and got a good supply of real pretty clear water."
    Even the change in the rain pattern brought comment from him.  "It doesn't rain like it used to any more.  Take a day like yesterday (a dark cloudy day), you might as well get your slicker out 'cause it was gonna rain.  It rained all over the county, not just a section here and skip a section there.  We never missed an acorn or pecan crop either."
    Mr. Smith said they worked hard in his young day.  "Didn't need much entertainment.  Out before daylight, breaking horses and in late at night.
    "Worked hard in the round-ups once a year," he said.  "We would gather from 15-20 sections in the morning.  Find an open place, and build a fire then brand all afternoon.  Wasn't many fences and the cattle got all mixed up.  We branded the calves with the same brand as the cow they were following.  One Ford Ranch pasture had 48 sections with no fences."
    The talk of all that beef got Mr. Ben interested in food.  He said you wouldn't believe they never "put up" meat on those days. "We just killed a beef, hung it in a tree and wrapped a slicker around it.  It hung there until we ate it all up."
    According to his wife he loves to eat.  In fact, he told of working for one man for about five months but quit because "I was about to starve to death."
    He affectionately calls his wife Bridget, thought her name is Blanche.  His explanation? Bridget, the washerwoman, is all he ever gave.
    Entertainment in his youth was simple, but fun.  "The bunch of kids I ran with from the ranch and I would come to town and go to the skating rink.  A fellow named Adkins ran it.
    "We paid 25¢ for a pair of skates for an hour.  None of us could skate much and with cowboy boots on we fell a lot.  In fact, we fell so much the man would give us 50¢ to get off the floor."
    His memories of businesses around the square were of a typical small western town.
    "A livery stable was where the Commercial Bank is now.  There was a blacksmith shop in Malone's location, and Uncle Jess Wood's store was in the Sessions' liquor store building.  Aunt Jane Moore ran a millinery shop where John's Boot Shop is.  There was a saloon where Samuels is and at Homer Duncum's tire store, there was a dance hall."
    When he told of the hotel located on the J.C. Penny corner he started to laugh.
    "I used to go with a girl that worked in the dining room.  They had one long table the length of the room.  Above the table was stretched a rope with a lot of short ropes hanging down over the table.  On the ends of the short ropes was paper.  The girl sat on a high stool at one end and pulled the long rope.  It made the papers wave over the table and scared away the flies."
    "I sure used to like to watch her do that.  You know, you only had to pay 25¢ for a whole dinner."
    Working wages were low for young Ben.  $15 dollars a month, and I had more money then than I do now.  When you bought something it lasted.  I paid $10 for a pair of boots that lasted for years unless you tore the heels off roping.
    He jestingly credits himself with the start of Johnson grass in the county.  "A man came through selling it for planting and was asking 25¢ for three bunches.  He went out back for a drink of water and I stole three bunches and later planted it.  My father asked him how it would affect the garden and he said, "It won't hurt the garden none."
    "At the ranch we were bothered with lots of lobo wolves.  Mr. White went to Brownwood and bought 10 hounds.  They never bothered the wolves much but the purtiest music I ever heard was listening to those hounds on a cold moonlight night.  Every hound had a different voice and they sure were something to listen to.
    "We didn't come to town much.  We would go to Nine or someplace like that.  We would find a camp meeting and go to it so we could get all the food we could eat," he said.
    When he and his brother Willie got old enough to go "Galling" they bought a buggy and would pick up a "gal" to share their fun.
    He says he met his wife on the way to Brownwood.  She says it was a church, introduced by none other than Mr. Ben's girl friend who was a school teacher.
    They were married in the Methodist Church at Mercury, Mar. 29, 1905 and lived at Nine until they moved to Brady in 1954.
    Mr. Smith is still active in his life's work, ranching, but an accident in 1960 with dynamite impaired his vision so that he cannot read or drive.
    He was "shooting" a post hole and didn't know he had a slow burning fuse.  he was trying to make it sputter when the shot went off almost in his face.  after a series of operations and treatments he sees well enough to distinguish objects.
    The sight failure doesn't keep him from accompanying his neighbor on his ranching rounds and helping him feed and such.
    Nor does it hamper his gardening projects just south of his home.  He has a beautiful garden every year which produces plenty of vegetables during the spring and summer.  Anyone who drives down South Walnut Street finds a familiar sight in Mr. Ben down on his knees, hand raising his garden.
    He is a young 87 years and a man who finds the past fair to look upon and the future an adventure to behold.

The Brady Standard
24 February 1967
(Compiler's {Wayne Spiller, McCulloch County History, Vol. I} Note: Ben Smith today, nine years later, is a young 96 years-old, bright, happy, cheerful, a joy to visit with and an inspiration to anyone with whom he comes in contact.)

Submitted by: Louann Hall