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Abilene Reporter-News, Friday, October 7, 1945 Abilene, Texas
Callahan Couple Has Witnessed Development of Area from Indian Days
By Maud Green

In a rambling white house, nestling in the hills of southern Callahan county live a tall, grey-haired man who is known for his love of good horses, and his friendly, charming wife, who like her husband, misses the “make yourself at home hospitality” of days gone by. They came to this area long before there was a trace of Abilene, Baird, or anything else but oak-covered hills in which they chose to make their home.

While he is the last one to admit it, and will not talk much lest he be accused of telling tall tales, Tom Windham, widely known as Uncle Tom, and his wife, Laura Jones Windham, probably knows more of the early day history of Callahan county than any other living persons.

In October 1874, Tom Windham, a lanky lad of 15, came to this section. Following the custom of those days when settlers sought water and trees for shelter, he stopped on the banks of a creek north of his present homeplace near Oplin.

His first venture as a land owner began when he bought, on credit at $6 per acre including improvements, 160 acres which the owner “couldn’t make a living on.” The improvements included a small house, a well, and a peach orchard.

But Mr. Windham did “right well” on the 160 acres. In recent years when he began deeding some of his land to his children, he owned “between 30 and 40 sections” (my note: a section is 640 acres) of the best land in the country. He bought it all at prices ranging from $1.50 an acre, to the top price of $20 per acre paid for one 4300 acre block.

As the years went by Windham became known for his fair dealing and his word was respected even where he was not known personally. He bred and raised the finest horses ever to come from this section of the state, and used registered Hereford bulls to produce a crop of 700 to 800 calves annually. But life was not always easy. A year after they were married, the Windhams were left “flat broke again” when a severe winter came along and all their cattle died.

“Winters were colder then,” Mr. Windham says, “we had to spend a lot of time out in the weather, keeping ice broken on the water ponds and keeping the cattle from freezing.”

In those days cattle sold by the head, and $7 each was considered a good price. Windham recalls the first time he heard of anyone paying $10 per head, and thought the price was “awful high.” When selling by the pound came into practice, he had a hard time, so he says, figuring how much a criter was worth, since he had no idea of how much they weighed. In fact, Mrs. Windham declares, he husband wanted each cow weighed separately so he would know how much it was worth.

His cattle were first marketed in Fort Worth, but after the railroad was built to Baird, that town became his shipping point. However, much of the stock was sold to buyers who came though out the country, bought cattle, and drove them to market.

In the early ‘80s very few people lived in Callahan or Taylor counties and fences were unknown. The land was free, and horse and cattle grazed at will. New graves were found and often no one ever knew whether they held white men or Indians, or how they died.

“Indians were in the country.” Windham said, “but I didn’t have any trouble with them. Closest call I ever had was while driving some cattle, right out there in front of the house. A band of Indians passed along, driving stolen horses. Part of my herd went in front of them, and the rest went behind them.”

“Riders traveling alone.” Windham continued, “learned how to out smart the Indians. The rider would stop, sometime before dark, stake his horse, build a fire and eat his supper. After nightfall he’d quietly mount his horse, and slip away a mile or so to sleep. Indians could find the camp, but not the camper.”

Mr. Windham was born in Angelina county Aug. 8, 1859, and came to Brown county with his parents when he was six years old, the same year Mrs. Windham was born. She was a native of Louisiana, and was “reared an orphan”. She has a longing to come into town and eat at that “high-toned Wooten hotel.” They were married Dec 20, 1883, in Baird at the W. E. Gilliland home.

“Our wedding day,” Mrs. Windham recalls, “was rainy and misty. Folks said that was a sign of trouble. Well we have had plenty of trouble, but there’s also been so many good things.” Before her marriage Mrs. Windham attended school at old Belle Plains, which was the only school in the entire section.

Probably the greatest sorrow to this couple was the loss of one of their sons, Jim, who was killed Aug. 15, 1900, while helping his father pen wild horses. The lad was 15 years old, and since that day Mr. Windham’s love of horses has never been as great. Soon after Jim’s death his father sold the greater part of his horses and has never raised as many since then.

Mr. Windham ignores his 86 years to the extent that he continues to ride horseback daily. His favorite mount is Gray, who lives a life of luxury with nothing to do but give his owner a short ride sometime during the day. The horse comes when called, and Uncle Tom says, “that’s because he knows I’ll feed him.” But the saddle is getting a bit heavy and the horseback rides are fewer and shorter than they used to be.

Other old timers of Callahan county will tell you of the days when, if some one remarked about seeing a man on the best horse they ever saw it was almost a sure thing the rider was Tom Windham. He did not even bother with learning to drive a car, and a sure sign he was home was to see his horse tied nearby. If the horse wasn’t there, Windham wasn’t either. Mrs. Windham knows here husband would never have been a farmer, “because he just wouldn’t have had an excuse to live on a horse.”

Windham still chuckles over an incident which happened years ago, while he was on a trip to market.

He only had 75 cents in his pocket and wouldn’t spend it, because he figured he’d get hungrier than he was. At last he went into a cafe near the cattle yards, ate and told the owner to send his bill to the railroad, and he would get his money. The owner either did not understand, or didn’t want to cooperate. “That man,” Windham laughed, “started cussing me and wouldn’t listen to anything I tried to say. I got tired and walked off, and the last I heard he was still going strong. But I kept that 75 cents in my pocket.”

Despite the hardships of beginning to get a foothold in an isolated country, in all his 86 years Windham worked for wages only “two days and one night and was paid $3.” They managed to raise their living at home, and the peach orchard which had come with the first 160 acres, didn’t help much.

“There just wasn’t any market for peaches,” Windham says. “I hauled a load to Coleman and couldn’t sell them. One woman bought a bucket full for a quarter, and when I tried to sell her more, she said that was all the money she had. I gave her quite a bit more than a bucket full.”

“I got rid of those peaches though. A bunch of little boys kept hanging around the wagon, and I told them to help themselves. They sure liked peaches.”

While both Mr. and Mrs. Windham loved the friendliness of the pioneer days, when people came and made themselves at home, and no one was ever denied hospitality, the only time he ever got “shot at” was while taking advantage of this unwritten law.

Windham and another man were riding through the country, and at dusk stopped at a house where no one was home. They ate their supper, mounted their horses, and started home. About that time the owner came riding up behind them aways, and probably thinking they were prowling Indians, shot towards them, “but missed us.”

The Windhams are definitely anti-new dealers (referring to President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”) and one of their most bitter rememberances is seeing so many of their calves killed during the depression days. While he has always been a Democrat, Mr. Windham says he will never again vote the party ticket.

The war-time labor shortage has been keenly felt by this aging couple. He and a son are working together on four places which include one of 10 to 12 sections, another of three and one-half sections, one of 4,300 acres, and a fourth of 3,000 acres. The help shortage has become such a problem Mr. Windham has sold most of his cows, and plans to sell still more.

About the first thing Mrs. Windham does when she meets someone new is to invite them to her home which “has about 20 doors which aren’t locked,” and then she wants to know if anybody knows of someone who will help her with the house work. High blood pressure keeps her from working like she wants to, and she cannot do the work “for just us two and, it sure seems strange to not even have a chicken or hog around the place.”

With the extensive oil developments which have been underway in comparatively recent years, it is only natural much leasing has been done one Windham’s property.

“That’s the most and the easiest money I ever made,” he says.

“And,” he continued, “there’s not a single producing oil well on an acre of land I own.”

Friends of Mr. Windham say, that while he probably does not know how much he is worth financially or how much land he owns, it is a pretty safe bet he has lost almost as much money as he has made. They say men who are successful today because of a helping start from Uncle Tom, and some of them have repaid their debt, but many others have “apparently forgotten.”

Mr. and Mrs. Windham continue to live simply in their modest, comfortable home, and have found little need for many of the so-called modern improvements. He is president of the Baird State Bank, is president of First National Bank of Baird, but seldom leaves his home community of Oplin.

They are the parents of 11 children, eight of whom are living. They have 17 grandchildren. Other than their 15-year-old son, Jim, who was killed, they have lost two more sons, Walter Windham, and Oscar Windham.

John Windham, oldest of the 11 children, lives in Abilene and also has extensive ranching interests to the West, around Midland. The others are Mrs. John Jordan (Winnie), Sam Windham, Mrs. Chas. Straley (Annie), Ernest Windham, Frank Windham, and Tommy Windham all living within one to seven miles of their parents.