I don’t always get to see the television show “Texas Country Reporter,” because stations broadcast it at hours when I’m not watching TV — or so it seems. But when I do find it, there’s a lot to like.
Such was the case a few weeks ago, when a TCR segment showed Weldon Wilson leading a Longhorn cattle drive at the family ranch south of town. The moment it came on, I thought, “This has Martin Perry written all over it.” That’s my assumption, because Martin is the Brownwood native who works with TCR founder and co-host Bob Phillips as director of photography.
As the segment explained, this 16-mile cattle drive is nothing out of the ordinary for the Wilson family. It’s a periodic function of ranching that’s been happening for decades through three generations of his family. The rest of the world might never know about it, except that the drive needs to follow some rural roads and cross a major highway. So traffic control is required from law enforcement officers.
OK, this is Central Texas. Moving cattle around is no big deal.
Well, maybe this is indeed something of a big deal, because old-time cattle drives so common decades ago are quickly disappearing. Texas’ population is 85 percent urban now, and some of those residents may never connect the dots between ag producers and the delicious food on their plates. At the very least, they have never realized that ranchers do move their herds from one pasture to another.
Texas Country Reporter viewers learned that the process is accomplished in much the same way it was done 150 years ago — you know, when Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates were riding tall in the saddle.
Forgive me for embellishing. Yes, there was a time, back when Brownwood was a frontier settlement on the western edge of Manifest Destiny, when drovers bought cattle right down the middle of Main Street.
But now, seeing so many head of cattle on the move across public spaces is a rare occurrence even for Brownwood residents, although we do see plenty of livestock grazing in pastures, or waiting their turns to shine at rodeos and stock shows.
Reporters are often drawn to a story because of a specific storyline, and the cattle drive by the Wilson ranch was the fascination that attracted the TCR team to Brown County. But as its hosts talked to Weldon, the story took an unexpected turn. And as good reporters do, they embraced that turn.
The story veered off script to include an emotional tribute to Wilson’s father and the Texas traditions the ranch continues to uphold — and will continue to honor, Wilson said, for as many years as he has left.
If you haven’t seen the segment, I recommend it. It’s available online, and easily found with a simple search.
The reaction from viewers, sampled through comments where the video is posted, indicates that the story has generated a lot of warm fuzzies. Rural residents may find it quite interesting, because we really don’t see cattle drives often, but it’s something urban residents know mostly from a Hollywood western. A national cable network carries the TCR program, so we can imagine city dwellers across the country marveling at such a sight.
Then add the part about remembering a man’s father, and you’ve got a story with true universal appeal, because almost all of us can relate to that.
I read an article about stressed-out urban residents who are increasingly seeking the beauty and slower pace of country life. Half a century ago, city dwellers scrambled to live in suburbia. As suburbia grew, it started looking a lot like big cities, complete with cars, crowds, crime and concrete.
Texans are part of the trend. Perhaps that means vacationing at the state’s parks system, or resorts in remote areas. For residents with plenty of disposable income, it might mean purchasing some acreage far off the beaten path.
I like to think the trend is further evidence that human beings weren’t intended to live the way so many exist these days — stacked in layers of high-rise homes. Most people can take only so much of that before they sound “retreat.”
When they do look for green grass and blue sky, they seek wide-open spaces to enjoy, and we’ve got that right here at home. We have trees, open creeks, and a form of wildlife that’s quite different from what’s available along the notorious strip found in most metropolitan cities.
Who knows? With the worries of the big city in the rearview mirror, people might be lucky enough to find a cattle drive.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.