Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

Jack Murray A Man With A Plan


By Dub Ramsel  click on photo for a enlarged view
(These stories cover a period from early 1950's to the late eighties.  These stories have come from my memory with an occasional quote from some Williamson County residents.)

When I first met Jack Murray shortly after I arrived in Williamson County, I knew that here was a man who knew where he was going and how he was going to get there. He was a rancher and spent every day except Sunday at the many man killing chores that went along with getting the job done. Only these chores were not something he ever shirked in any way. He seemed to accomplish these daily chores in a stride that looked easy to those looking for, until they tried to do as he did.

Jack was a man with great strength and agility. He could move his two hundred plus pounds with the grace of an athlete. He was always good natured and everyone who knew him liked him and admired the way he went about everything he did.

Jack grew up in the Granger area on his grand father’s farm. He had two brothers and a sister. His mother was left a widow early in life and she taught school and saw that her kids all got a fair education. His older brother Bill went to Texas A&M and graduated with a degree in Agriculture. He also became a rancher. His sister Martha went to TSCW in Denton and graduated. Tom graduated from high school and went in the Army for a tour in WW2, came home and bought a small piece of choice land at the edge of Georgetown and found enough to keep him busy and raised two children.

Jack had an uncle living in the Georgetown area who had become a lawyer and had managed to acquire a large tract of land west of town along Hwy 29. He was District Judge, D.B. Wood when I became acquainted with him. Judge Wood had one daughter, and with all this land, he needed a young man to take care of the livestock and live on the ranch. Jack was delegated to this job, and was given a chance to enroll in South Western University there. This got him off his grand father Wood's farm and headed toward a ranching career.

I was told that Jack often rode a horse into town and attended classes and then rode the four miles back home. Back in the late thirties, not many college kids had cars and had to live on campus or make some other arrangements. Jack did not mind getting to school on horse hack.

Jack got a lot of experience working the ranch for his uncle and, he was soon given an interest in the livestock on the D.B. Wood ranch, which was something over 2500 acres. When he finished school, He was able to lease a large tract of land adjoining the Wood ranch, it was an estate belonging to the Hoffman family.

Being a lawyer, Mr. Wood drew up a lease contract for Jack with an option to buy at a firm price of $40,00 per acre at the end of a ten year lease. At that time the price was far more than land of this nature was going for in the area, so was readily accepted. About all the land had been used for was for cutting cedar and it was still pretty brushy when Jack got a hold of it.

The Middle Gabriel Diver ran through the land for the entire length of the 1500 acres. Part of it extended up to the rim of the North San Gabriel Diver. Jack could see the potential and it his job to clear it of cedar by the end of his ten year lease. He mounted a buzz saw in front of an old iron wheeled Farmall tractor and used it to cut down the larger trees. By the end of his lease he had it looking like a park and could carry quite a large herd of cattle as well as sheep and goats. Since it is bad manners to ask a man, how many heads of cows he has, I never asked.

There was an old frame house with a well and barn on the west end of the property and Jack made this his headquarters and started batching, but not for long. His sister had made Jack acquainted with her roommate at TSCW, her name was Helen Love. Helen was a tall P.E. Major and was teaching at Southwestern. She was from Cleburne, TX and was a farm girl. Jack really took a shine to her.

It wasn't long before Helen and Jack hitched up and she took over the cooking and management of the house. By 1952, when I first knew them there were four little Murray’s in the house, Lige, Bill, Diaz and his twin sister Mary Helen. We had just bought a 437 acre track of land across the road from the Murray's and they become our closest neighbors. No one had a phone at this time.

Helen became a stay at home mom and found plenty to do on the ranch with four kids. Soon after I arrived Jack was able to buy another 600 acres of land joining the lease place. This was known as the Smith  Place. There was quite a bit of farmland on it and it was used to raise feed for the cattle. Soon the boys were big enough to help out with the farming as well as tending the livestock. There was time out for fishing and hunting, but no time for football or other extra activities. They all learned how to work and were each given chores to do. They thrived and all learned to like the work that went along with ranching. They learned responsibilities early and it paid off later on.

About he only hobby Jack had been calf roping. He first had some heifer calves that he bought for roping. They were cross bred with a touch of Brahma. Before he married, Jack and his old buddy, Fats Kimbro, would go off at night and attend roping events, but Helen put a stop to that soon after she arrived. He had had enough fun anyway. His roping heifers became cows and were kept in a separate pasture. Some grew to be 1200 pound cows. His other cows were Herefords and he soon learned that his cross bred cows out did the Herefords.

I don't think I ever knew a harder working man than Jack Murray. I have seen him when his shirt was white with salt from his sweat and he was still going. He would fall in with his shearing crews and shear as many sheep as the Mexicans. Tobacco juice was always dripping off his chin; I can still see his old gallon jug with burlap tie on the outside to keep his water cool. He would dip the jug and sucking in the water trough and then hang it under the shade on a limb of a tree. He drank a couple of gallons each day.

As busy as Jack was, he always had time to help his neighbor’s. One day I was trying to drive some cows across the paved highway, and was having a lot of trouble, when Jack happened to come along on his old brown horse. He immediately took his rope down and roped one of my cows and led her across with the rest following along behind. There weren’t many cars on the Hwy 29 in those days.

When Jacks lease was up on the land he had been clearing for ten years, he was able to exercise his option and the land became his. Then the next step was to build a larger house. The old two bedroom house was bulging at the seams. Again, it was a family undertaking. I think they hired a building contractor, but he and the kids did a lot of the work on building the beautiful colonial style brick home that still stands out from the highway. It was two stories and had a huge fireplace and white pillars on the front. When finished which took about a year, it was the best looking ranch house in the area.

For several consecutive years, Jack and his brother Bill would go up to Montana hunting and started buying sections of cheap land in and around Miles City. A friend Ralph Giesecke would also go along and he bought some too. By the seventies, land prices began going up in Williamson County and the urge to go north became stronger. The kids were weaned and out of school and were urging their folks to make the move.

The ranch was sold to a group of investors and so on, all the Murray's except Mary Helen were in Montana. Mary Helen married a boy from Houston and she stayed in Texas. The land would have brought a lot more if they had waited, but the Montana land was also going up.

Other changes were taking place around Williamson County that did not set well with the Murray's. People were moving in from all directions and it was beginning to get crowded. And by selling when they did, they were able to convert the proceeds from the 2200 acres here into over fifty sections in Montana, with the Tongue River flowing through it. In short, they increased their cow business ten fold. Now each boy has his own spread and they are really happy about it all.

The only thing tragic was that Jack lost his partner and mentor, Helen. She got cancer and died there on the ranch. But not until she trained Jack on how to cook for himself and do the other chores that need to be done like laundry, etc. He is now 86 years old and has been batching a couple of years.

The last time I talked to Jack, I asked if he was still riding those bronc horses. His answer was just the ones the boys cannot handle.

Now, here is what happened to the Murray’s Ranch. The group who first bought it sold to another developer. This new owner had to borrow a lot of money just before the big slump of the mid eighties. He had to default and the bank took it over. Then the FDIC got evolved and some how a developer from Montana managed to buy the land from the FDIC for the ridiculously low price of $500.00 per acre. His name was Coffin. Mr. Coffin then put up the Smith Place and a couple hundred acres for sale. He got enough to pay off the amount the entire tract of 2200 acres cost him. He then kept it until he cleared a couple million on the residue to another developer. This developer built a Jack Nicklaus designed Golf Course and laid the rest out in two acre tracts for people who want to have their own private Golf Course. Nolan Ryan just paid two million for his home and two acres. It became a gated private Community is known as Cimmeron Hills and is the most expensive real, state in the county.

P.S. In my opinion, there are few men who could have accomplished what Jack did. The weather in Montana is harsh and sometimes fatal to new comers. Jack had studied lessons well and was ready for whet it and he prevailed. The three sons also copied and now have their own ranches.


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