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From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

Back in the late 1940s, a gentleman by the name of“Callie” delivered ice to folks out in the country on the farms and ranches along Lost Creek, and I decided that I wanted to be an iceman, just like Callie, when I grew up. You see, when Mom paid for the 50-pound block of ice that went into the top compartment of our icebox, Callie would dig down into the pockets of his bib overalls and come out with a whole handful of nickels and dimes to make change. I figured that ol’ Callie had found the perfect enterprise to complement his favorite activity of running fox hounds all night, every night. Therefore, I especially enjoyed the article in this issue History by the Book about the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm and the interpreters — our storytellers — who help us understand the lifestyle and the knowledge that it took for our ancestors to survive and prosper 100 years ago. We must not lose that knowledge, that culture. The employees and volunteers at our historic sites like Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, Barrington Living History Farm, Fort McKavett and in our cultural programs such as the Buffalo Soldiers help tell that story; they keep that knowledge alive and help us understand how our great-grandparents and their parents lived.

Why is this knowledge important today? Why should we keep it alive? When the power goes out these days, we are suddenly faced with the reality of how dependent we are on the modern conveniences that were unavailable to many Texans only 75 years ago. For example, much of rural Texas got electricity in the late 1930s and 1940s. Coal-oil lamps and iceboxes were soon replaced in farm and ranch homes across the state, and, believe me, that bare, 75-watt light bulb hanging from a wire was a wonderful thing. It took us several months to think of things to keep cool in our new Kelvinator. Even today, many Texans out in the country get their drinking water from their own well, or from a spring-box or from their stock tank. Before they got electricity, they dipped their water in buckets and carried it to the home and to their livestock. Just those few decades ago, the sometimes weekly, or more likely monthly, trips to town were the only time our great-grandparents visited the grocery store. And then it was for the basic staples – stuff they could not grow or build for themselves; stuff like sugar, salt, horseshoe nails, coffee, kerosene or coal oil. It is amazing to understand that they raised and canned almost all their own vegetables, fruit and meat. They butchered their own animals, and cured or canned the meat for later use. With a small garden, a few cows and hogs, and 15-20 chickens, they figured that they could hold off just about whomever came over the hill with the intent of doing them harm, and that they could outlast the next drought. And, you know what? They did.

When I watch our Buffalo Soldiers cook an entire meal for a dozen folks in a couple of cast iron dutch ovens bedded in mesquite coals, I wonder how many of us could do that today. Fortunately, much of that knowledge is preserved and conveyed to our visitors at living historic sites like Sauer-Beckmann and Barrington Farms. In addition, our outreach programs such as Becoming an Outdoors Woman and Youth Hunting and Fishing programs transfer this kind of know-how to the next generation. By the way, when we pulled the string on that 75-watt light bulb the first time, my career as an iceman went right out the window. Oh well …

Get outdoors. Enjoy.

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