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Fat Boy (from a 1917 letter by my father)

May 21, 2015

From San Antonio [Ernest Jesse Palmer (1875 to 1962)] went to Kerrville on the 30th [of September, 1917] to plan an extended trip into the remote hills of the Edwards Plateau. Unable to arrange for a driver, team and camp outfit there (in lieu of railroads), Palmer continued to Junction in Kimball County where he secured all of these. It then took him more than a week to make the trip from Junction to Rock Springs. The following account is an excerpt from Palmer’s letter to his mother and sister:

“…At Junction [Texas] I engaged a team and light wagon or “hack” and a camp outfit from the hotel keeper and livery stable man. He agreed to furnish me a good driver and camp cook. But as a substitute he sent his grandson, a fat sleepy, thick-headed lad of about sixteen. He reminded me of nothing so much at the “Fat Boy” in Martin Chuzzelwit. He was fairly good as a driver and at taking care of the team, but his ability or willingness went no farther, and I soon found that if I was going to play fair with my camp appetite I would have to do the cooking myself. So I made a virtue of necessity and set to it insisting only on his going through the form of washing the dishes. Our route lay up the canyon of the South branch of the Llano River–a fine spring-fed stream amid beautiful scenery. The first night out we camped on the bank of the river near a little village named Telegraph–I suppose because it is so far away from a telegraph office. The weather was ideal and the moon was at the full. At night we could hear the murmur of the swift-flowing stream and the string band of insect neighbors, accompanied by batrachean base horns. From the distance came the baying of dogs and the strains of an accordion at a house a short distance up the road. And the boy–I had almost forgotten him. The poor lad suffered from enlarged adenoids and when he fell asleep the silence of the night was rudely broken and the echoing hills resounded. He didn’t snore; he snorted; he ran the gamut from low C to high G, and kept time to his stentorian disharmonies by rolling and kicking and jerking. He tangoed from side to side of the wagon sheet that served as the ground work for our bed. He bucked like a Texas bronco and cavorted like a new caught eel. I moved my quilt off the wagon sheet to a respectful distance, but I didn’t get to sleep until near morning.

“After we had made camp and while I was working on my plants another party in a covered wagon drove up and camped at a short distance from us. It consisted of three generations of a family named Hill—an aged grand-father of 83, his gray haired son and a grandson of 20. I discovered that the old gentleman was a brother Mason and a Royal Arch Mason. [Palmer had earlier that year joined the Masons himself.]

“At noon on the second day we camped near a beautiful spot called Seven Hundred Springs. I didn’t cont them, but there are a very great number of springs of different volume gushing out along the base of a bluff amid masses of mint and moss and maiden-hair ferns, and flowing down through the rubble to the river below. Some of the springs come from the higher ledges of the limestone cliff and they have carved deep channels in rock which stands out in fantastic forms. The plant growth is rich and varied and I found several things of interest. By evening we had passed the head of the river and were on the high divide. The only water here is at the ranches where it is elevated by wind mills from deep wells…The Hill family had chosen a camping place here, (near a large herd of cattle)…The senior Hill said that I was a “regular scientific cook” as he saw the corn bread, fried potatoes eggs, bacon and coffee that I turned out. You know this is quite a new role for me and a new sort of “scientific” honor, so I was a bit flattered. All night we could hear the lowing of the big herd in a near-by pasture and separated from us only by a wire fence. But the noise from the eleven hundred steers was nothing compared to what the Fat Boy could do. After supper a wolf came prowling about the camp, and the Hill’s dog kept up a continual barking…it seemed that I had not been asleep long when another great commotion arose. A bunch of vicious wild hogs, which are common in the ravines and canyons of this part of Texas, had invaded the camp and seemed likely to carry it by storm…The issue looked doubtful, but at last–the Lord being on our side, I suppose–we put them to flight. The Fat Boy snored on through it all.

“The elevation on the divide here is about 3000 feet above sea level, and the nights are quite cool. There is no farming as it is all occupied by the great cattle and goat ranches. There are great pastures with stunted mesquite trees, many of them loaded down with great tufts of mistletoe. There also are a few shrubby junipers and other bushes along the ravines. The growth of wild prairie grass looks rather sparse as it is grazed so closely by the stock. The roads, such as they are, run through the great pasture, some of which cover several sections of land, and as it is now all fenced, one has to keep getting down to open and shut gates. Game is abundant, and we saw many wild turkeys in coming up the canyon and great flocks of ducks. One of the Hills reported seeing a deer along the roadside.

Toward evening we got into Rock Springs,… I went to the Eagle Hotel, which is the leading hostelry–also the following and only one, I believe, and if you will excuse the slang, it was quite a bird. I paid the Fat Boy, giving him an extra half dollar for his cussedness, and sent him off to the wagon yard, as he said the proprietor was a friend of his with whom he could stay.

I fondly thought that I had seen the last of him. But no such good fortune was in store for me, for it seemed I had not yet worked out my Karma with him, for at supper time he showed up again at the hotel and ate at my expense. After supper I took him up town where he met one of his friends and while he was engaged with him, I gave him the dodge and slipped back to the hotel. However, before I got to bed the thing stuck his head in at the doorway of my room which he had located, and said that the proprietor of the wagon yard had gone to a dance and had locked him out. He was almost in tears and there was nothing to do but to take him in. He had me at close quarters there and I soon resigned myself to the fact that there was to be little sleep for me that night…in spite of his contortions he slept the sleep of the just while I lay awake and herded him with sentiments inaudible but mental that you wouldn’t like to repeat to your Sunday School class…”

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One Comment
  1. Marjorie Mountainsong permalink

    Your father transported me effortlessly into his world. A charming story. Thanks.

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