By the time of which I write, there was no longer much reason for Pumpville, Texas to exist. The town had come into being in 1882, when the Southern Pacific railroad established a watering station there for its locomotives. On the map, it was east of “Big Bend Country,” smack-dab at the top of the arch of the west Texas “boot.” By the Great Depression, locomotives were bigger, faster and could carry more water. Sometimes they still stopped at Pumpville if they’d come a long way, but Pumpville by then was mostly a general store with a U.S. Post Office inside it.
The general store and post office served the surrounding Val Verde County sheep and cattle ranching community, and both were operated by my maternal grandfather’s brother, Pelham Bradford. He had a wife, but I would have to dig around in old family notes to be able to tell you what her name was.
Nor can I tell you the exact year of all this, but the Val Verde economy tanked despite Roosevelt trying his hardest to put the country on the road to recovery. The ranchers couldn’t pay Bradford for the supplies – both hardware and groceries – they needed to keep their ranches going. That meant Bradford couldn’t pay his wholesalers. Everybody was on the brink of going under.
Since Plymouth, the Bradfords had been a family that had risen and fallen many times in many endeavors in many places, but they never went down without trying to avoid it, and Bradford was certain he could avoid it – for himself and for the ranchers. Those ranchers were his friends, his neighbors, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of them were somehow related. Bradford believed in them as honorable men, and he was willing to play big stakes (for him) on that belief.
So he wrote, telephoned and even went east to visit some of his suppliers. What he asked for was nothing less than unlimited credit and unlimited trust. He told the wholesalers that if they would continue to supply him despite the fact that they wouldn’t be paid for the foreseeable future, he would keep the ranchers supplied with the food and hardware they needed to operate until things turned around and they were able to begin paying him back and he, in turn, was able to begin paying off the suppliers.
I never met Bradford but he must have been a man of considerable moral power because the wholesalers agreed. They gave him the credit.
Things eventually got a bit better and when the Val Verde ranchers got a little money, they passed it on to Bradford, who passed it on to the wholesalers. When the war in Europe cranked up, beef and sheep became decent commodities, and the debts eventually were all paid off.
Bradford’s store was never a big operation. He was more like Ike Godsey with his store on Walton’s Mountain in the TV series. And the ranchers were not cattle barons, most of them; they were what today we would call “small holders.” But they were a community of men and women who trusted one another and worked together to survive – and they made it.
The grab for wealth and success has bled America of a lot of that ethic. Maybe, if good can come of this coronavirus pandemic, some of what Bradford and those ranchers had can be infused back into our cultural fiber.
The present presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, when asked about “Make America Great Again,” replied, “I’m not so concerned with making America great, I’m more concerned about making America good.” What Bradford and the Val Verde ranchers believed and lived was certainly part of America’s goodness – and, therefore, part of America’s greatness.
Kenneth Ely is a 71-year-old resident of Blaine. After retiring from the chiropractic practice he opened in 1982, he now drives a bus for the school district.