South Texas’, Benbow Ranch, is named for its former owner, Hugh Benbow, who for some strange reason erected a boxing gymnasium right-smack-dab in the middle of a 500-acre cattle ranch. Boxing fans will remember the highly touted World Heavy Weight boxing match in the late 1960s between Muhammed Ali and Big Cat Williams. Every sports fan knows the image: birds-eye-view from the Houston Astrodome of the Champ looking down on a sprawled out and defeated Cat. Anyway, ol’ Man Benbow trained “the Cat” at his ranch in DeWitt County. He charged 50 cents a head to all the locals who would come in the late afternoons to watch the Cat work. History says Big Cat Cleveland Williams was the hardest hitting boxer to ever live. In his autobiography, famed sportscaster, Howard Cossell, writes about flying into Yoakum, Texas to interview the Cat. Howard claimed the area to be so backward that he had to climb a pole just to access a telephone.
Well, backward or not, my mom ended up buying that ranch and raised my brother and I there. It is now covered in improved grasses with F1 cattle grazing among the live oak trees. Two huge stock tanks are perfect for fishing and the back woods is hunter paradise. In case you were wondering, the old boxing gym is still there.
Right-smack-dab in the middle.
If you were to come for a visit, you would find the big house at the end of a mile long drive way. There you would find Gary, longtime family friend and now ranch manager. Gary is in charge of the property and overseeing the pasture leases. He’s handy with a come-a-long and and hell on a mower. He literally mows two days a week and has the place looking like a damn golf course instead of a ranch. Did I mention Bossman, Mr. D, runs his cattle out there? More than once, Mr. D has jokingly mentioned re-negotiating the terms of his lease because Gary has mowed down all of the grazing.
Anyway, after graduation from TCU, I returned back to the Benbow for the summer. Gary, his wife, Kim, and their son Cason have made it three months to remember. There are stories upon stories of adventures we have shared. One includes Cason teaching me how to rope. He claimed it would only take him “two weeks if we practiced nightly." After the first lesson, he changed his mind and decided, “it might take a few weeks longer.” He succeeded, but only partially. He christened me "Mr. Goat Roper" however I heard,
"Mystic Goat Roper."
I think that sounds better anyway.
Everyday, I looked forward to my evenings back at the ranch with Gary and his family. I would get home around 6 and we would all head down to the barn to tend the horses and calves. For three hours, we did our daily barn chores: bringing in the Jersey cows, feeding the calves, haying the horses, mucking the stalls, and shootin’ the shit. Let me tell you, Gary can shoot the shit like no other. And when he is shootin’ the shit, he is usually rubbing his belly and overusing the word “brotha.” I’ve been told that my impersonation of him is spot on.
We’d wrap up around 9 and head back to the big house for supper. Thursday nights were my favorite because Gary cooked fajitas. Gary, Cason, and I would man the pit… and shoot the shit while Kim whipped up some guacamole.
Let me tell you, that man can cook some fajitas.
Now I’ve been off at college and I’m use to eating dinner between 6 and 8. Gary doesn’t even crank the stove until somewhere after 9. There have been nights when we have not started eating until after 11:30. When I questioned Gary about the late meal he always gave me one of three replies:
- “It don’t matter what that little watch on your wrist says, brotha.”
- Or, “I’m always working, it don’t matter the time.”
- And my favorite, “Brotha, I don’t eat until my horses have eat.”
I head out to Brooklyn next week for the next leg of my journey.
Damn, I’m gonna miss that “brotha.”