Growing up in the foothill country just beneath the Texas Caprock in a small town called Roaring Springs (eight miles south of Matador, Texas) I thought I knew what being a good neighbor was all about. But then one Christmas I learned differently as I watched how two men became good neighbors.
It was Christmas in the early sixties. I would love to give the exact year but would hate to be wrong on this. I had just entered junior high in the fall and of course knew what I wanted for Christmas. I loved to hunt quail and doves and so did most of my buddies. I wanted to be able to hunt with them as well as my family. In our house we had one old .12 gauge shotgun which belonged to my Dad. To fire that old long tom was like taking a kick from a mule. So I wanted my own gun which would be a .20 gauge shotgun. Santa was really good and made a happy Christmas for me.
I was looking forward to my uncles and cousins coming in to my grandparents house for Christmas so that we could go hunting. We had about 80 acres of farmland which joined the Matador Land and Cattle Company property. The best hunting was on the Matador property and as long as I can remember when I would go with my Dad and older brother we would just crawl over that barbed wire fence and hunt like we owned the place. That was because my Dad and the foreman for the Matadors were good friends and worked closely on being good neighbors.
It was important to the ranch because on our farm was a little spring fed creek or draw that ran most of the time keeping water running into the Matador property. Of course that barbed wire fence crossed that creek and we had what we called a water gap where the water flowed through. When a big rain would come and wash it out, it was not unusual for my Dad, my brother, and I along with some of the Matador cowboys to work together to fix that gap so that the cattle would not get out and come onto our place or be lost.
In the summer before the Christmas that I am talking about the old foreman for the Matador Land and Cattle Company retired. It saddened my Dad but he was optimistic that the new boss would be just as good and just as neighborly. That,unfortunately, did not prove to be true.
That Christmas my uncles and cousins arrived with all their hunting gear and we headed for our land. The hunting wasn’t that good in the barren cotton field so we crossed onto Matador land. There was about a dozen of us in the hunting party carrying guns and a few more little ones tagging behind to pick up the birds once they were down. We looked up at one of the nearby hills and saw a cloud of dust coming toward us. It was the new foreman in his truck.
Once he reached us he jumped out of that truck and wanted to know who we were and why we were hunting on Matador land. My Dad introduced himself and told him about the verbal agreement. The new boss was having none of that. He informed my Dad that he was the new boss and that we no longer would be allowed to hunt on that property. My Dad gathered us all up and led us off the property. I was disappointed because I believed my Dad should have taken a stand.
I never thought much more about it until late March when we got the first big rain of the spring. Sure enough that water gap did not hold and washed out. As we looked across our land there was a herd of about 20 steers with the Matador brand on their hips. My Dad, my brother, and I went and herded them into our pens. We kept them penned and fed for about three days.
Each day we would see that Matador foreman go by in his truck and gaze toward our cattle pen. Finally he drove down to our place and asked my Dad if those were Matador steers because he was missing some. My Dad assured him that they were and that there would be a fee for property damage and feeding. The foreman looked my Dad in the eye and said, “Mr. Clifton you and your family are welcome to hunt on Matador land anytime that you want”. Next was a handshake and two big smiles.
We drove those steers back to the ranch property and then we all fixed that water gap together. From that point on we, once again, had a great relationship with Matador Land and Cattle Company. For me that was a great lesson about what it takes to be a good neighbor.