Mason County News
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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 • Posted March 6, 2013

I wish to thank many who read the most recent article about my Great Uncle “Cripple” Jim Andrews and John Brewer and made comments in order to further write about other characters of the Erna area in later issues but now we have to take advantage of the work that has been accomplished by the thinning and moving the wolf population elsewhere.

Now that the wolf has been brought under control, the sheep industry is about to take hold as a means of cash flow around 1900 for the small operators of the Leon Valley, Little Saline and Big Saline valleys as well. Of course, the early settlers had sheep in small amounts in order to have wool for the spinning and weaving of cloth, as the spinning wheel was a part of the household and well used. My grandmother, Sallie Andrews, had a spinning wheel and the cords for combing the wool after washing before spinning into yarn for the weaving process. I never got to witness the weaving but I did receive limited demos about the spinning, as she still had the wheel after my arrival in 1930. As cash became a commodity, local shops opened with woven goods and clothing. I had the good fortune to “Grandma set” for about 10 years of my early life and I was told of their coming to the Land Of Erna and the early years during these set to’s.

As the flocks of sheep expanded, there became a need for buyers so Menardville became the center for wool buyers and later, the center of the sheep industry, which attracted the railroad. As the need for wool expanded, so did the market for mutton. The Black family of Fort McKavitt, at the head of the San Saba River, build a mutton canning facility around 1900 and the sheep business was off and running, as San Angelo and west, became the major players in the sheep industry as the dry, short grass country was ideal for sheep. I have been told many times of a sheep/lamb buyer, Walton Kothmann, who had an office in the glassed in ground floor corner room of the Bevans Hotel in Menard, the father of Jamie and Carlton Kothmann, could set at his desk in the office and carry on a conversation over the phone, wave to all the passer-byers in the street and have a conversation with a client in the office at the same time.

When the industry grew, the need for some means of mechanized shearing was needed in order to facilitate the slow process of the hand clipping so mechanization came about. We had a local individual, Marvin Eckert, of Long Mountain, who was tired of the slow, back breaking method of hand shearing so he bought mechanical clippers but then he realized that he no means of portable power so he had an old Dodge Bros. Motor Car, and he designed a shearing table on the rear, a jack shaft to the clippers and a flat belt pulley on the other end of the shaft and when he pulled into the shearing pin, he set down his table at the back of the Dodge, jacked up a rear wheel and but a flat belt over the rear tire running to the flat belt pulley on the jack shaft, cranked up the Dodge and had a shearing machine ready for business. Still, a backbreaking job but the output went from 10 a day to two hundred. Of course, wool production became a big business so contract crews formed who had as many at 20 to 30 drops rigged up on a stripped down truck chassis and covered the areas at shearing time, usually May. Some industry grew from the wool production and one such was the Eldorado Woolen Mills which took the raw wool, washed, combed and spun into yarn and weaved into wool blankets, which was an asset to the war effort of WW II and later sold blankets to the local residents. This mill closed about 1955.

Of course, the sheep got the blame for the over grazing of the lands as they ate the grass down to the dirt and most places were overstocked with sheep and cows, each scrambling for a blade of grass. When the drought of the early 1930”s came about, we not only got the dust from Kansas and places north but most of our local soil went east as well and erosion began. Of course, conservation was not invented at this time so when it did rain the topsoil went to the river basin. Many ditched in a straight line down hill to drain water from their fields, as they actually had too much rain during the early stages of cropping. I still have one such ditch thru my place that runs from a mile west of me thru my place into what we call Andrews Draw. This draw was 10 feet deep in places and handled a considerable amount of water during a rain. We struggled along in the ‘30’s and then the RAIN came in 1935 and with no grass to hold back the water, the area creeks went out o their banks, the Big Saline being one. A Carroll family lived about 8 miles west of London when the rain came and the Big Saline was coming down from the south portions of Menard County and northern Kimble in a wall and the family was warned but elected to stay. The house was about 150 yards north of the creek at what is the last crossing on KR 370 and the floods hit, washed the house away and the father, mother and one son perished in the flood. The Llano got to what was estimated at the 35 foot level and devastated the huge pecan groves in the river bottom, as well as many homes.

Of course, the lowly sheep got the blame and at the present time, the sheep have gone away as well as the pecan trees as synthetics began to take the place of wool and mohair so by 1990, the wool became a liability thus a sheep was bred to have no wool, called DORPERS. However, during these changes, lamb remained in demand and thus the meat goat industry began to flourish, namely, the Spanish Goat. Now, a version of the wolf has returned, the lowly coyote, to be a curse once again. Who said life was going to be easy and without something to annoy you on your journey?

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