BACK IN TIME: Don’t overlook local history that is close to home

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this article came from the books “Hobo of the Rangeland” by Bob Beverly and “The Boy Captives” by J. Marvin Hunter.
Most people who are attracted by history end up overwhelmed by the books they collect, the photocopied articles that cover the top of their desk, and the multitude of handwritten notes about the stories they want to follow up on or contacts they plan to make.
I’m no different in that regard. All history fascinates me and as a result I seem to always be working on a new story or arranging a new interview or planning a new article or column. But when you consider all the different types of history — world history, national history, Texas history and all the other kinds of local history — there is no way to run out of interesting reading material or stories to pursue. In that regard, my advice is do not overlook local history. Here’s why.
While I was growing up near Winters in Runnels County, I was at the home of one of my uncles quite regularly — usually once or twice a week anyway. He was not particularly a well-educated man, but he liked to read books about early-day cowboys and I was fascinated by the cheaply-printed books he read, books that often were published by a nearby printing company and told tales of daring adventure such as escapes from Indian attacks or even gunfights by normal people against some well-known gunslinger.
As I grew older and started talking with some writers who tried to get their own stories or books published, I began to learn that there are several different categories of books published. There are national book publishers that cater to well-known authors and there are regional book publishers that cater to a different market. And there are small printing firms that cater to the publishing market in mainly local markets and that print books for would-be authors who can’t get published other way.
While the books that are published in that manner may not be able to compete with the books that are printed by top-flight New York publishing houses, it isn’t wise to merely discard books printed by local firms as unworthy of an evening’s reading time. In fact, some of the books that I have read published in that way are the most interesting of all.
Some of the authors are people such as Bob Beverly, an early-day Midland County sheriff who in 1943 published a little book titled “Hobo of the Rangeland.” Beverly was not well-known as a writer or author, but his book was so interesting and contained such factual information about the early cowboy years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that it is still used by historians today.
For example, one of the articles that Beverly included in “Hobo of the Rangeland” was titled “No Man’s Land” and concerned an area of what today is Texas, Beaver and Cimarron Counties of Okla. and, as Beverly wrote, “was called No Man’s Land, as no country seemed to care to own it and besides no country had enough interest in that section of the U.S.A. to ever try to establish law whatever, over this country.
“The boys saw that I was interested, in finding out about this part of Uncle Sam’s Domain and of course took a delight in telling of the many poor drag drivers that had been left along this trail for the wolves to eat the meat off their bones, shot by the gun men that lived in No Man’s Land.”
Then, continued Beverly’s writing about that parcel of property, “So when the trail cutters of the different ranches would show up I tried to find out all I could from them as to just how much chance a drag driver had of making it across that strip of country, about thirty miles wide.
“Of course the boys had the stray men posted and they would ride along with me for hours telling of all the poor drag drivers that they had helped bury in No Man’s Land.”
Many other valuable books — in terms of the information they contain — were published in the same manner. One is “The Boy Captives” first published in 1927 which is the story of Clinton and Jeff Smith who were taken captive by the Comanche Indians. Jeff eventually was adopted by the Apache Chief Geronimo. After years as captives, both boys were released and resumed their lives on ranches in the San Antonio area.
Both boys were taken captive in 1871 while herding sheep near their home at Dripping Springs. At the time Clint was 11 and Jeff was 9. Clint was kept with his Indian captors for five years while Jeff was kept for seven years. Both boys adopted Indian ways of life and lived as Indians. After they returned to life with the white people, they ranched in the San Antonio area and often attended Old Trail Drivers Reunions, visiting with Indian friends.
The story of the Smith brothers was particularly interesting because of the long years they spent with their Indian captors and because they adopted Indian life and could provide revealing information about how the Indians lived. Their tales of life with the Indians helped the white people to better understand Indian life.
Of course, there are thousands of other books published in this way that can provide useful information to readers.