There are two gifts we should give our children: One is roots, and the other is wings. That is exactly what Clarice Selman and Ray Ogle gave their kids. This is a story of one of the pioneering families of Big Bend in the early 1900s. Told through the eyes of the mother and daughter who wrote the book The Bend – Before the Park; An Ogle Family Journey Through the Big Bend of Texas by Betty Ray Ogle and Clarice Ogle.
Clarice was born in May of 1909 in Fountain Hill, AR and came to Marathon in 1927 to be a schoolteacher in a one-room house. Not only did that one-room schoolhouse serve her students, but it also served as her home. One afternoon, Clarice’s friend Johnny Bull rushed into the schoolhouse ordering her to pack up bedding, food, matches, and other valuables. He had heard Pancho Villa was possibly going to raid.
It was a few days later that she would meet a cowboy named Ray Ogle. He was the son of a horse rancher who was sent to tend the horses that free grazed on the land where Clarice taught school. Their romance began when she invited Ray and his rancher friends over to dinner. They mingled with her regular friends – cranking the old victrola and dancing the night away. The courtship bloomed from having fun and getting acquainted, to meeting his entire family in Sanderson, to wedding plans. As Clarice tells it in the book “There was no real proposal.” Ray just said, “I’m going to ask you to marry me, then what will you say?” Her reply was, “Oh, I guess it will be yes” As the saying goes, the rest is history.
A few summers after Clarice and Ray married, they planted roots along Tornillo Creek. This land bordered the Rio Grande and had several mineral springs. Living in a tent, Ray planted a garden and began ranching a herd of Spanish goats. Ray’s father also owned a parcel of land on which he built little cabins for those who had the money for a mineral bath, although it was nowhere near as fancy as the Langford Hot Springs where the facilities were much better than the vat Papa Ogle built.
The Fall of 1930 was the beginning of two events – The Ogles began to build their home and to start a family. Ray got help from a Mexican migrant looking for food in exchange to help build their adobe home. The two men built a solid house, which included a fireplace, a feature Clarice insisted on despite Ray’s apprehension. Shortly before Christmas, the Ogles were in Marathon where Ray was offered a job cooking for the county road crew. The pay was $60.00 per month plus groceries. This was incredible pay for a worker at the beginning of The Great Depression. While Ray was out on the road working, Clarice stayed in town as a safety measure. That July 2nd their daughter Betty Ray Ogle was born.
Clarice was hoping that the baby would be born on Ray’s birthday, July 4th, but there was no stopping Betty’s entrance into the world. Ray was a natural father. He stayed on working for the State Highway Department. His pay went up to a hefty $10.00 per day. Living in Alpine life was idyllic. Although their financial and food sources were a struggle, hard work and devotion saw them through. That December Ray’s mother suffered a stroke. This would bring them back to the ranch at Tornillo Creek, as Ray’s highway job was taken in the time he was with his ailing mother and the few days after her death and funeral.
Clarice and Ray took their last paycheck, stocked up on groceries and staples, and headed for the ranch. They went back to living in their halfway-built house with that coveted fireplace Clarice so loved. Times were tough, and they barely managed to feed Betty milk from a borrowed cow. The only cash they had was in Betty’s piggy bank, which was used for stamps. They had no money for laundry soap and made lotion from “clabber” milk. Ray kept them in deer meat they wrapped and stored under the bed.
Their desperation for money turned into a plan to bootleg. With Clarice’s encouragement, Ray went across the river to get a gallon of sotol, potent alcohol native to the Chihuahuan region. He got it on a credit for five dollars. Loading the horse in his truck, Clarice followed in the car with the gallon jug of sotol at her feet, a baby blanket thrown over it. Around 45 miles into the road back, Ray was pulled over by a Texas Ranger. Clarice recalls being scared out of her mind that Ray may be caught. The Ranger searched Ray’s truck and waved him on. As the Ranger approached Clarice’s car, her heart was beating out of her chest. With her window already rolled down, the Ranger simply said,d “Hot weather we are having Mrs. Ogle, aren’t we?” Then wave her on, as well. When they got back to the ranch, Ray took the gallon jug and sold it for $15.00 cash.
As they continued to struggle through The Depression, Ray was hired by a rancher to shear his sheep. His wages were paid in groceries and gas. In the later part of that June with the shearing job over, Ray was hired as a cook for the Gage Cattle Company’s fall round-up. This job would take them away from the ranch to Marathon. It could not have come sooner for Clarice, as days before she found their daughter Betty chewing on a millipede. With Clarice screaming that her baby was going to die, Ray swooped in and with his finger down Betty’s throat to induce vomiting. A scary moment, for sure, but baby Betty was just fine.
The Ogles lived in Marathon while Ray worked for Gage Cattle Chuckwagon. His duties required him to wake at 3 am to prep for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ray butchered all the meat that he cooked and served, which was served alongside pinto beans, potatoes, and bread baked in a Dutch oven. The money he earned afforded them a cow for their milk and a rented place with a water well that also served two other families. This water resource was precious, as they were living not only in a depression but also in a severe drought.
After the round-up was over, once again Ray found himself jobless. The Depression was forcing ranchers to turn over their livestock to the banks. In turn, the banks were desperate for someone to take over all livestock. Ray’s older brother had a flock of Angora goats that he could take over with no payment if they could find pasturage and if they did not need to ask the bank for a money supply. A desperate Ray went looking for land to lease, which brought him to Stormy Lease's place. This was in the northern part of the Nine-Point mountain range. Part of the brother’s agreement was Ray would stay on the ranch and tend to everything while his older brother would keep his job in town working as a road grader. The Ogles packed up their belongings and headed to the ranch. THe ranch was approximately thirty-five miles outside of Alpine thirty-five miles of bumps and grinds, and the turn-off road to the ranch was essentially nonexistent. About a mile from the canyon, Clarice saw her future home.
Ray warned Clarice about the poor condition of the house they would live in. “Poor condition” was an understatement. There was garbage blocking the front door with bottles and buckets and every kind of junk littered everywhere. A peek inside the house showed there was not even a floor, just dirt. It was clear that raccoons, skunks, and other animals had made it their home, too. With a new baby in tow, Clarice rolled up her sleeves and got to cleaning. While Ray tended the 800 goats, Clarice tackled the house. As down as she felt, the dawn always brought the promise of hope, primarily motivated by a hope for Betty’s future.
The Ogles named their ranch Pluto Valley. Life in Pluto was such a joyful time, as they watched their little girl’s imagination grow. Betty Ray (pronounced BettaRay) was a Daddy’s girl through and through. Nothing gave BettaRay more delight than helping her Daddy ranch. She was a tomboy. The great outdoors of the Bend was her playground. Her dog Juno and rooster Shanty were her pals. The best birthday BettaRay got was a promise of not getting spankings for a full day. It did not bother her one bit that her parents could not afford a present or cake. She got a full day of doing all the things normally be prohibited.
Growing up in Big Bend, BettaRay was fascinated with its beauty and loved to explore and investigate everything. Even though it was nearly impossible to get to their ranch, she recalls the endless stream of cowboys living with them. They were either there to learn how to “cowboy” from her father, or they needed a place to stay and rest. Her day started by rising in the morning when her Daddy got up. She slept on a little trundle under her parents’ bed. Her Mom would get breakfast started, have their coffee, and talk to little BettaRay about what she had planned for the day. All days were alike: put on coveralls and head out to help her Daddy ranch. Her favorite thing was to check the springs. Nine Points had sixteen of them, and her job was to clean them of debris to keep the water flow clear and open. She took pride in having the “neatest” job. However, if the men staying at the ranch were working stock, she would have to stay home. So, she gathered up her imaginary friends, and off she would go to explore the land.
One Christmas the Ogle families got together to eat, open presents, and enjoy their time together. BettaRay recalls the boys getting pop guns and wagons, and the girls got play dishes and dolls. This infuriated her. She tried not to cry, but the flood of tears came anyway. Her mother scooped her up and went to a bedroom where she could have her fit of hurt and anger. Ray came in and instructed that they both head back to the ranch, and he would follow shortly after. BettaRay stayed up late in the night when her Daddy came in saying he ran into “Santy” on the road and said he forgot to drop off a pop gun and wagon for her. Years later she would learn that her Daddy drove 150 miles to open credit into Louis Forscheimer’s store in order to get that pop gun and wagon. He would do anything to please his little girl.
Life was simple and sweet yet gritty and wrought with trying to survive in Big Bend. Evenings were spent listening to the radio, specifically XERF out of Del Rio. They played country music, and if you sent in $2.98, the radio sent you your very own plastic Jesus. But, BettaRay’s favorite was listening to her parents and the ranch hands tell stories. Specifically, she remembered her Daddy and his best friend Frank making extra income bootlegging. They made a run to Boquillas for sotol. They would go to the top of the hill in Boquillas, whistle, and someone would come out of the bushes to ask how many jugs were wanted. Once paid, Ray and his partner in crime would go running down the hill yelling for their wives to start up the car and get out of dodge.
BettaRay’s Auntie Dot told another bootleg story about the famous innkeeper named Chata near the Boquillas who kept a hole in the floor of her restaurant with a rug hiding the trap door, full of jugs of sotol. Legend has it Chata said most of her customers were lawmen.
Not long after BettaRay’s sister Pat was born and sometime after her toddler brother passed away from a brain tumor the Ogles picked up stakes and moved to Pipeline Canyon. There was not much to move; their belongings fit in one truckload. The only heavy load to move was Ray’s cattle. Pipeline Canyon was much lusher, and their home was bigger than their last ranch home. BettaRay was back to
exploring. She loved the steep canyon and hunting lizards. Those summer months were spent being her Daddy’s assistant ranch hands, but during the school months, her mother and siblings lived in Alpine.
BettaRay asked her mother, “Ain’t you a teacher? Why don’t you home school us?” Her mother’s reply was, “I hated teaching so bad I sure wasn’t going to teach my own kids!”
They rented a motel cottage for a short time called the Cozy Courts. It was owned by the Bobo. BettaRay loathed school. Too many people crowded the building and rooms. She wanted to be back at their ranch exploring and working as a cowboy. The only thing she liked was the music class. She played what she thought was the most important instrument, the triangle. Their band was good enough to play at Sul Ross. This was the only time BettaRay did not mind getting “spiffied up”.
It was late Spring, just before school was let out for Summer break, Ray sustained a bad leg injury. Ray had been building a dam as a way to catch water for his cattle. He was stacking rocks. They were not stacking right. He tried to rearrange them when they collapsed on him, pinning his leg. The impact nearly severed his leg. One of his ranch hands came to his aid and frantically moved the rocks, then dragged him out. The ranch hand then took off his own shirt and wrapped it around Ray’s leg. They hoisted him in the bed of the truck and took him into Alpine. They headed to Dr. Craddock’s office, who examined his injury, determining he needed to go to the hospital. Ray nearly lost a gallon of blood but never lost consciousness. Dr. Craddock performed a 14-hour surgery on Ray’s leg. His diligence paid off, as Ray was roping and ranching within two years of his accident.
About the time World War II began, the government started a conservation program. They paid half and ranchers paid the other to have spreading dams built on their land to conserve water. When
there were rains, water drained from the Rio Grande, which flooded the lower regions with nothing to barrier the land below. Ray bought two bulldozers and went into the construction business to support the ranch. South of Alpine at the South Kokernot Ranch, Ray did dirt work for David Kokernot. The nephew of the Alpine Herbert Kokernot. Ray camped close to David Kokernot’s home just below Elephant Mountain while building his dirt business. BettaRay recalls nervously knocking on Mr. Kokernot’s front door to ask if they cleaned out his water tank could she and her friends swim in it. Mr. Kokernot smiled and gave her the go-ahead. She had never worked so hard in her life, but it was worth it in the end. She spent most of the summer swimming in his tank.
In the sixth grade, BettaRay got her first paying job from a neighboring married couple with a small boy. The wife had recently gotten surgery, and she needed help making dinners. All BettaRay had to do was call the grocery store and order groceries. The store delivered the groceries to the couple’s front porch. When BettaRay cooked dinner, the wife was in bed, and her husband left with their son. She would make enough for leftovers to warm up when the husband and little boy returned. BettaRay got a whole ten dollars for cooking those few meals. To a 12-year-old, she felt like a millionaire!
Years flew by in Pipeline Canyon. BettaRay was in high school, and the family had moved back to Alpine. Ray still had his construction business and continued to work for Kokernot Ranch as well as dig out The Tunnel in Big Bend. He also performed dirt work for Mr. Dunigan, who owned the Alpine Coca-Cola plant, while Clarice held down the fort and raised their kids.
As the war was winding down, Ray rented a place for the summer at the mouth of Terlingua Creek where water pours into the Rio Grande. There were many portions of land, one of which had a chapel. It was commonplace amongst the bigger ranches to have their own chapel. BettaRay recalls this area of the ranch being called “Baja Terlingua”, the original Terlingua. She lamented that the creek chapel had no roof, but inside there was a tiny alter with gold candle holders and many burned-out candles. There was a bench in the back draped in lace. BettaRay coveted this chapel as a desert gem.
Towards the end of their Terlingua Creek adventures, BettaRay and her sibling experienced the greatest thrill of their young lives. They were wading in the creek, splashing about, when they heard a truck come rumbling up. Ray got out of the truck, looking like a mad man, waving his arms and pointing up the creek. Coming down was a wall of water. The kids went running as fast as they could to make it out of the creek in time. Everyone stood with eyes wide open, watching a flood of water twist and turn, filling so high it nearly took out Ray’s truck. Shortly before they were to go back to Alpine for the new school year, BettaRay and her siblings had one more thrill to come. While their parents were shopping at the mercantile, she spotted a vacant house west of the store. There were no fences or gates, so she walked up to the ornately carved door and turned the knob. The door was open. She shut it immediately, then went alongside the house and entered through the garage. There was a black and shiny automobile with all the tires still tires on it. It had no battery or gas. Her younger sister opened the car door. Inside were plush red velvet seats. They explored the home to find a pool table, complete with chalk, pool sticks, and pool balls. The rooms had massive carved mahogany furniture. The beds were covered with bedspreads and doilies. The porch wrapped around the house. They did not touch a thing, just marveled, closed the door, and high-tailed it to the mercantile to tell their parents what they found. A man behind the counter said it was the Perry House. It stands to this day as a Terlingua landmark and historical marker.
Before the Ogles left Terlingua for good, Ray ran into a fellow rancher at the store named Rex Ivey. They were talking about the terrible conditions of the roads and why they could not get the commissioner to do anything. When Ray asked Rex why he did not run for Commissioner, Rex asked Ray why Ray did not run. After a bit of back and forth bantering, they each decided they would think about it but insisted the other should run. The next time Ray went to town, he went to the courthouse to pay his filing fee. When he tried to pay, the front desk clerk said that the fee had already been paid. Ray grinned and said, “Well, in that case, my name is Rex Ivey, and I’ve come to pay my fee.” Thus both men became candidates for the same job. On the day of the election, Ray and Clarice had a barbeque. They used a slab of concrete as a dance floor, and the Mexican migrants working the ranch played their instruments. It was a night of eating, drinking, dancing, and celebrating. The next morning around 6 AM, as Ray was making breakfast, he learned he had won the Commissioner’s seat. He later regretted winning. Ray never was able to grade the Terlingua roads properly. Eventually, Brewster county decided there was not anything south of the tracks to warrant improvement.
Shortly before BettaRay’s junior year in high school, the family pulled up stakes and moved to Deming, New Mexico. Once she graduated high school, BettyaRay attended Western New Mexico University. Her dad then moved their family to Texcaltian, Mexico. Clarice Ogle returned to Alpine after Ray’s death in 1988. Betty Ray moved to Del Rio where she worked for the telephone company. It was there she met her husband, and over the next 39 years, they moved from Houston to El Paso and many places in between. They settled in Coyanosa where she began her 23-year career in the U.S. Postal Service, retiring as the Post Master at Panther Junction, Big Bend National Park. Not one to stay idle for too long, she moved to Ft. Davis and worked another 10 years for the State of Texas as the night auditor of the Davis Mountain Park. After her second retirement, she enjoyed her Ft. Davis home with many friends until her death in 2018. The Ogles are still to this day well talked about and remembered as one of the first pioneering Big Bend families.