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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 • Posted January 23, 2013

By the mid 1880’s, most of the frontier settlers of the Erna area had managed to establish a means of livelihood for foods and meats to make the winter months and have winter crops for forage and grain in the spring. Now it is becoming apparent that a cash crop is needed in order to establish, what we call today, cash flow each year and the growing of wool for which there was a ready market, as the hills and valley provided short grass country suitable for sheep production. Thus the production sheep as meat and the wool market became the means of the cash flow required for better financial security.

However, a huge drawback was present to prevent the raising of sheep, especially on the ranges unattended as was the rule in the cattle industry and that was the presence of wolf packs in the post oak flats of Leon Creek and the Llano River country. The wolf was a problem for the cattle rancher but the cattle were free ranging and the need for winter feeding was not know, so what, a few losses were tolerated but this was not so for the raising of sheep. Therefore, it became apparent that some means to control the wolf population was needed and this is where my story begins with hiring of a government trapper by the name of James. N. Andrews, my great uncle.

Jim was the youngest of the family of Andrew Cullen Andrews and wife, Mahalia Pollard Andrews and had three brothers and two sisters. Jim grew up in the Leon Valley area between what we refer to as the Leon Point and Gentry Point to the east of Erna Hill. At about the age of twelve, he injured one leg and the length of the leg did not grow so he was short legged on the left. His playmate in the early teen years was his close boyhood friend, Will Newton. According to the relay of this story by James Johnson, he and Will were experimenting with terrible stuff one day in the wash of a draw just north of Leon Point where they were smoking, of all things, coffee rolled in brown paper wrapper, dry grape vine and crushed cedar bark as cigarettes. Well, their source of lighting got out of control and the grass caught fire and the fire traveled all the was to the San Saba River, about 15 miles north.

As the two matured, Will’s family sold their ranch and moved to the Pecos Region and Jim was hired as a government trapper to control the wolf population in the valley. He had as an assistant for a few years, John Brewer of Erna and the two eliminated the wolf problem in the Leon Valley. I have a photo of Jim and John Brewer standing beside a wood wall and I counted thirty two hides stretched and nailed to the wall. As time went on, Jim became know as Cripple Jim and it stuck to identify him thru life and he became the lonesome trapper of the area during the fall and winter months. After I retired, Louis Eckert took me to a place on the Leon, which was the campsite for Uncle Jim. The cedar stakes still remained where he placed his tent in a small clearing near the creek.

As the wolf population was under control in one area, he would move with the wolves, which would take him to the James River area. His campsite was near a flowing spring about 100 yards from the James by what is now the Mill Creek Road and some two miles west of the confluence of the Little Devils and James Rivers. By this time, he had a Model T Ford strip down which became his road car and a mare named Molly. In the spring, he would break camp, load up on the Ford and make ready to return to his summer campsite, which was a tent in the shades of the live oaks at my grandfather’s place, Dora and Aunt Sally Woodward Andrews, which is now my home. He put a halter on Molly as he was leaving the James and turn her lose and he would take off to Erna in the T Model and in about three days, here came Molly to enjoy the summer vacation as well. As the fall approached, the two returned to the trap lines. During the summer, the live oaks sort of became a campsite, as Cripple Jim’s sister, Alice and her husband, had sold their smith shop in London and set up shop in Erna under the live oaks and there home was a tent. In the early 1900’s, Uncle Jims other sister, married a Kurkendall and the Walkers and Kurkendalls moved to Cherokee. There is at present, a chain embedded into a branch of a live oak beside my garage to mark the spot of his smith shop.

Again, as the wolves were under control, his duties moved with them again. He trapped in the Fort Terrett Area for a few years and later in the Trans Pecos area of West Texas. It is still told that as he left Fort Terrett, he would halter Molly, he would climb on his T and to Erna they would go. I am thinking that this was a tie race as the T Model probably traveled slower than Molly in Kimble County, as the road system was a pick and choose in a general direction. Cripple Jim, to my knowledge never stayed in a house after he began his career as a trapper. His tent and Model T was his fortress and Molly, his companion.

Cripple Jim Andrews never married but I remember his nieces and nephews teasing him about a clerk for the Gartreil”s dry good store that required making trips to Mason, during his summer months, to have her wait on him for his clothing NEEDS. Cripple Jim, almost single handed, made the area free of the wolf population. James N. Andrews, Cripple Jim, was the youngest of the six brothers and sisters of Andy and Mahalia Andrews, who are buried at the Long Mountain Cemetery. In 1933, Cripple Jim was laid to rest in Long Mountain along with his brothers, Charley, Dora and Dave. I do not know the demise of Molly, his long standing love affair and constant companion. To my knowledge, he, after manhood, never stayed in a house but lived in a tent in an isolated spot of nature. He inherited my old home place which had his fathers home on it but he sold it early on and never lived in the house, which later burned after my parents bought the place, in 1935.

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