Sunday, January 25, 2009

A visit to Sam Baugh Ranch

Photographer Carolyn Cruz and I made the 3.5-hour drive out to Stonewall County to check out where TCU football legend Sam Baugh spent a lot of his life. (Baugh's death this winter is the subject of our Spring 2009 issue.) It’s a little more than an hour north and west of Abilene off dusty Farm to Market Road 610, far outside my cellphone range.

Sam had five children, four boys and a girl. The second son, David, a former high school and college star-turned-football coach himself, now runs the Bar Lazy S ranch at age 65. Asked what the ranch’s name stands for, David chuckles and says: “I think Sam would have said, ‘Bar all lazy asses.’ “

With 6,400 acres and nearly 500 head of cattle, it’s no place for the idle. There’s more land, too. A second property under the Baugh name is leased to another rancher. October was the last time it rained there. They are burning cacti to clear out some places for the livestock to feed.

David showed us around his house and the house Sam grew up in. Typical one-story ranch house with screened front porch. Yellowing wallpaper in the hallways. Oak paneling in the den. The furnishings are not his, but Sam’s photos with wife Edmonia and some of the kids are nearly in every room.

In the back of the house was a small collection of some of his old awards and memorabilia – a 1963 inaugural NFL Hall of Fame induction plaque, framed jerseys from TCU and the Washington Redskins, Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame trophy, a few signed pigskins, a replica Redskins helmet and more. “He never spent much time looking at these. They were just around the house when we were growin’ up,” David recalled.

Behind David’s house is the Cook House, a 7-foot-by-14-foot shack with the Baugh’s large smoker in it and bags of charcoal. Tools and cooking implements are neatly organized around the room. On the walls are photos of Sam – on horseback, with Edmonia, maybe one or two of him playing football, several of him dressed as Tom King when starred in the 12-episode Western serial “King of the Texas Rangers.”

There was a white NFL wristband with the letters SB written on them. It’s tacked to wall next to a note. “I wore these Sunday against the Jaguars. I always remember visiting with Sam and how kind he was to have me at the ranch.” It’s signed – Peyton Manning.

Sam bought the ranch in 1941 for $200 an acre while he was still playing for the Redskins. It sits at the foot of Double Mountain, which in the middle of late winter day wears a reddish hue rising out of the flat brushland. Sam grew to love the ranch more than anything besides his family. His dad James worked for Santa Fe Railroad in Temple, Texas, and sadly was a gambler, chicken fighter and alcoholic who had a friend named Ruby. James later ran off with Ruby. His mother Lucy raised him and his siblings.

When he was 16, they moved to Sweetwater, where Sam starred for the Mustangs in football, basketball and baseball. “He was a natural cowman,” David says. David thinks his dad saw a rodeo back then and decided that he was destined for ranching. Sam grew into riding horses and was a top notch roper. The folks in nearby Rotan were kind enough to help Sam get started and his ranch grew to 600 head of cattle at one point.

Today, a mix of Black Brangus and Angus cows, a few Beefmaster cows and about 30 bulls make up the stock. David rides around in his F-150 pickup over bumpy trails surveying some new young calves. Cows follow at a safe distance anytime he gets out of the truck to walk around.

"He was a remarkable man," the younger Baugh says of his father. Edmonia died in 1990, after 52 years of marriage to her high school sweetheart. "Pretty much, he's lived his life the way he wanted to."

- Rick

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