Memories of Camp Billy Gibbons by Jim White

I had initially not intended to include a piece about Camp Billy Gibbons as I feared that it would have only limited appeal, i.e. only to the Martians among us and not all of them. However, many spontaneously referenced it and I must admit, that place and those occasions will forever be imprinted among my favorite memories. In fact, one of my fantasies has been, after winning the lottery, to acquire that property from Hamon's Ranch (or whoever is the current owner) for my personal use and to re-deed it to the Scouts for any further enhancements they might wish.

Upon returning to Ft. Worth I made mends with a man in our church who grew up in Eastland. Walker Hart and I discovered that we had been campers/scouts at the same time although we didn't remember the other. In 1989 or 1990 he and I made a trip back to the camps. We left Ft. Worth on a Sunday afternoon and spent the night in Brady (we didn't know that EM 45 as a straight shot from Brownwood to Richland Springs now existed). I remember the trips as a youth, crammed in the back of a truck (covered, open, cattle, whatever), all of us sitting on our camp boxes. We would travel US 377 till we crossed the Colorado at Winchell; then we took one of the many unpaved roads leading South and East (it didn't seem to matter which one). As you traveled in that unmarked maze of intersecting roads, all you needed to do was keep heading South and East and ultimately you ended up in Richland Springs. I made every camp from 1942 to and including 1947 (New camp), at least 2 or 3 winter camps and drove myself in our family car at least twice and the trip was always the same - a seemingly different and unrecognized route but always ending up in the right place.

Early on that Monday, Walker and I drove first to the present camp.  This camp, although being the one established in 1947 after the original was dispossessed by Jake Hamon, holds a special memory for me. It was here during the Thanksgiving break in 1945 that I was fortunate enough to be chosen along with Thomas Smith (Roy's older brother) by Mr. C. L. Pouncy (Cherita's father) for a hunting trip. Neither Thomas or I got anything but the camping was great and the turkey Mr. Pouncy did get and cooked was the best I think I have ever had. Little did we know we would come back to this same spot and establish the new camp. The road is still very rough and almost appears to be lined with flint aimed toward your tires whether you're going or coming. By chance our arrival coincided with the first day of activities of scouts and adults setting up the camp (Bull Gang). We visited here and toured the camp till noon, then headed for the original site - the camp that holds most of our affection.

The road to the old camp now is smooth and easily traveled, not at all like the road we remember in our early days. No more side trips to avoid muddy car traps, no more cattle guards, no more steep hill with tree limbs scraping the side of the truck and attempting to scratch the unwary camper with his arm out the side, no more barely creeping down it as you approach Brady Creek; in fact, that approach now is hard-topped with asphalt and where we used to have to ford the creek, there is now a low-water concrete bridge just like the one over the San Saba below Hamon's ranch house.

The road to the camp area is now fenced-in but Walker and I parked my car and walked in anyway. We did not go to the swimming hole (the wide expanse of water smoothed rocks separating the road from the area is still there and as foreboding as ever). When we got to Kunieh draw we walked up it rather that proceeding further into the old central area. The Indian paintings drawn by Gaither Browning at the meeting site for the Kunieh are still there and as livid and unencipherable as ever. We went on to the old campfire circle and it is still recognizable - to some extent the stones outlining it can still be seen. We then climbed out of the draw along the same route we used to go leaving the campfire and walked down the hill into the old central area. As we did so, Walker exclaimed, "The mess hall's still here!" At first that seemed so, but on closer exam it appeared that a hunting lodge had been built on the previous foundation in a very similar type of architecture. The canteen is, of course, gone but the foundation is still there. A modern pump has been placed over the old well (presumably for the hunting lodge). Do you remember that old two-cycle gasoline powered pump that would sometimes run even into the night and might wake you in the morning? If it didn't waken one, then sometimes the expletives expressed by the person trying to start it might!

We then crossed the creek. The creek bed in the main or central part of the camp has changed from the time we remember. It would take up too much space to relate how but can be summarized as saying that it now flows along what we knew as a previous dry bed. On the other side of the creek we found the entrance to the draw that leads to Honeycomb cave but did not go that far. I am sure all remember the first time you crawled through it, leaving your belt attached canteens etc. outside so that you wouldn't get stuck. Not for the claustrophobic or the thick-waisted!

Old swimming holeWe returned to the main camp area and, I regret, did not go farther upstream. I would have loved to see what the old bathtub area was like. That spot was unknown to my mend as the Eastland, Cisco, and Breckenridge troops always camped on the East Side whereas Brownwood was on the West where this spot is. I recall at least twice hiking upstream past Pump Rock, Falls Hole (best fishing spot I have ever found), Turkey Hole and ultimately reaching Blue Hole (the site of the present camp).

After leaving the campgrounds, we drove on the same old dirt road you would remember across Buffalo Hollow to the San Saba where we crossed and drove past Hamon's ranch house. (We actually stopped and I knocked to see if it was alright for us to continue - with no one answering, we proceeded.) The dammed up outflow from Cold Springs producing a small lake just below the house is now totally engulfed with Hydrilla. We went a short distance further, again parked my car, climbed a fence and hiked over to the ravine and found Cold Springs. Still as it ever was - beautiful cold clear water, and deceptive in its depth. We then hiked the additional short distance to the tall cliff that contains Crystal Cave and the small body of water at its base. I can't believe we used to swim in that water. Now it's really a stagnant pond. May have been then also but it seemed bigger back then ("face it, Jim, a lot of things do") and maybe at one time rather than being totally land-locked, it also was a seep. Crystal Cave is filled in now with leafy vegetation. We didn't go up to it to find out what kind. As I remember it there used to be a small growth at the far back where most of the quartz/crystal was. Someone said it was poison ivy so maybe that's what's filled in.

Ready for inspectionWe then hiked back to my car, drove back to the camp area, crossed the Brady and took a short detour to drive down to the mouth of the Brady at the San Saba. There's a fishing camp there now if anyone is interested.

All of this trip and the conversations with my friend brought back many memories and many of them have been added to my others, whose writings I have attached. I can't leave my portion of this without calling two publications to the attention of those who wish to add mementos. Mr. Frank Hilton, retired Scout executive from Brownwood has published two books. The first of these, "A History of the Otena Lodge, Comanche Trail Council" is a history of the Order of the Arrow in our area. This book is currently out of print but Mr. Hilton says it will be republished sometime this year. Included in this book is the roster of the first members, the class of 1945. Included here are many names from our graduating class - Billy Baker, John Chaney, George Day, John Robnett, Harold Smith, Tony Walker and yours truly. Many others from our town, but not our class, are also there.

The second book, "Ninety Years of Service - A History of the Comanche Trail Council, BSA" has just been printed (June 1999) by Mr. Hilton. It is available from the Council office, Box 1086, Brownwood, 76804-1086 for a fee of $23.95 (includes tax and mail) and is highly recommended by me. It has a whole section on the remembrances of the camp. There is also the full history of every thing you always wondered about regarding the bulldozing and dispossession by Jake Hamon of the old camp. By the way during my trip back we discovered to our great surprise that there was not the great destruction of the old campsite that we had thought. The big trees are still there, including the large live oak where we used to have' stunt' night. Most of the bulldozing was apparently underbrush with, of course, damage to the mess hall.

That's enough (more than enough-you say) for me for now. Let's see what others have sent in.

This story was taken from the Brownwood High School Class of 1947 newsletter "The Roar of '47", newsletter #8, Fall, 1999.  Our thanks to Jim White for getting his old Scout gang to share their memories of Camp Billy Gibbons!

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