Bennett Allen Nance was born December 23, 1901, near the small community of Charco, Texas, located in northeastern Goliad County. Interestingly, this little town was settled by at least four members of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred. The Spanish charco means “pool” or “watering hole,” a name suggested by the numerous bodies of water that once dotted the area. Bennett was the sixth child of George Edward and Lucy Ann Woodward Nance. The Nances lived on a farm on the banks of the San Antonio River about 4 or 5 miles from Charco which at the time had one school, one grocery store, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith shop. In his autobiography, Bennett says:
I was born in a shack, I remember, and Al (his brother) was born (September 18, 1903) in a new house Papa had built. I visited the old homestead a couple of years ago and the oldhouse had burned down. It was very sad to see. All that remained were the foundation and chimneys.
In 1907, the Nance family moved to Wichita County, Texas. Here is what Bennett writes:
We moved our furniture, plows, wagon, buggy, horses, and mules in one freight car to Electra, Texas. We moved into an old house that had formally been the home of W.T. Wagoner. He was the owner of the 600,000 acre Whiteface Ranch. Electra was named after his daughter. Electra was very small, maybe 200 people. The barn on our place was behind the house in the middle of the present town. The present bank in Electra is where our house was located and a drug store is now where our barn was located. We lived here only a short time, and then we moved to a farm on Beaver Creek, 11 miles south of the town. This was a 984 acre stock farm which is still held by Nance descendants. (This is longer the case.) A school, Rocky Point, was built on the corner of our property and four of us started to school there. I remember Miss May Pridgen as my first teacher. Also, there was a Mr. Adrain.
According to Bennett, the Nance family stayed on the farm near Electra until 1915. He has this to say:
Oil had been discovered in 1911 near Electra, and in 1914, Papa Nance leased our farm to Texas Oil Company (later Texaco). Having a craving for land, Papa found this place west – a 320 acre farm 5 miles south of Lockney, Texas, in Floyd County. In 1915, we moved there, but we kept the Beaver Creek farm. In about 1916 oil was discovered on the Lockney farm and eventually there were more than 100 wells on the place. In 1915, we moved by train to a farm 5 miles south of Lockney, a town of maybe 100 homes. Every house in the town had a windmill. In those days no small town had waterworks. What a sight! Back on Beaver Creek we did not have windmills, and I don’t remember one in Electra. An elderly couple was more than glad to sell Papa their farm. Their name was Keys. Again the school was on our property – Pleasant Valley. My sisters had all married by this time. Al and I went to school here. Our teacher was Miss Maggie Satawhite. My older brother, George, did most of the farming with me and Al helping out. We still used horses and mules. The first crop on the 320 acres was planted with mules and a planter called a “sod buster planter.” Since the World War I was being fought, we made enough grain at about $3.00 per hundred weight, which was enough to pay for the land with the first crop.
By 1920 the Nance family is found in Abilene, Texas (1920 Federal Census). Bennett tells about their move here.
My older brother, George, had by this time (1917 or 1918) volunteered for the Navy in World War I and was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. The war was getting terrible. We moved to Abilene, Texas (1917 or 1918). I was seventeen years old and in the 6th grade. I went to Simmons College where they also taught grammar school. It was 3 miles from home and I walked it twice daily until the Armistice was signed and then I rode a streetcar.
During the next years in Bennett’s life, he lived in several locations, primarily for better education. In 1921 he entered Peacock Military School in San Antonio, Texas, and was classified as a junior in high school. By the end of his first year, he was promoted to captain. In 1922, he went to live with his sister, Willie Mae, and her husband, Doc Fisher, in Electra, Texas. It was here that he spent his senior year in high school and met his future wife, Archie LeBus. They graduated in the same class – The Electra High School Class of 1922.
Evidently, Bennett was well liked by his classmates at Electra High School. This was revealed to me as I looked through his small scrapbook of mementos including notes, cards, programs, and news clippings. Among these souvenirs was a program for the Electra High School Senior Play. It may surprise some in his family but Bennett was the leading man in the play, “Aaron Boggs, Freshman.” Perhaps we are a bit taken aback because our dad and grandfather was a man of quiet demeanor. I for one find it almost impossible to imagine him on stage!
After graduation from high school in 1922, Bennett wanted to continue to pursue an education. He says:
I persuaded my parents to let me go by train to school at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I stayed only a few months, to my everlasting sorrow and regret. It was a wonderful institution and I have always wished I could have graduated from there. I came home part way by boat via Savannah, Georgia.
While I was at Brown University, Papa had, in the meantime, traded for a ranch 6 miles east of Canyon, Texas, on the banks (edge) of what is now Palo Duro Park. At that time no one had ever thought of it being a park. I have been down in there by horseback. Big Sunday Canyon, one of its tributaries, headed in our pasture. I attended classes again in Canyon at West Texas State Teachers College (currently a university). Of course, I helped at the ranch also.
BENNETT AND ARCHIE WED
As previously mentioned, Bennett met Archie LeBus while a senior in Electra High School and they had stayed in contact in the years following graduation. In 1924, Bennett visited family in Electra and got in touch with Archie. Here he shares his thoughts about that time.
On a trip back to Electra, I was re-acquainted with Archie (we had been corresponding) and I decided I wanted to get married. It was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me, to acquire such a priceless pearl. She was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. We were married on January 1, 1925, in Wichita Falls, Texas, at the First Christian Church. Her brother, Jack LeBus, stood up for us.
We went on our honeymoon in a Model T Ford. After this, we decided to move back to Canyon with my folks. There were three families of us – my father and mother, my brother George and his wife, Lucille, and Archie and myself living in one house.
Mom (Archie) and I were never happy on the ranch at Canyon, so we went to Electra and I went to work at the LeBus and Friend (L & F) Chevrolet Company selling cars and helping out front at the gas pumps. In the meantime, Papa had sent me word that if I could find a ranch that I liked, he would look into the matter. I began to look around for another location and found an area that intrigued me around Rocksprings down in the Hill Country of Texas.
Bennett and Archie were still living in Electra when a very sad event occurred in their lives. Archie gave birth to a baby girl on September 16, 1926, and they named her Aileen. However, much to their great sorrow, baby Aileen died that same day. It must have been a devastating blow for them to lose their first child. Regrettably, neither of my parents spoke about this experience to me and Daddy (Bennett) makes no reference to it in his autobiography. I suppose through the years the pain of that event was partially replaced with the joy of having other healthy children.
As previous mentioned, Bennett’s “Papa” told him if he found a ranch, he would buy it. According to Bennett, here is what happened.
Homer Grizzle, my brother-in-law,(who also worked at L & F Chevrolet ) and I decided we would take a trip down through central West Texas to see what we could find. We drove down to San Angelo, Menard, Junction, and other parts of the country. I found a place I liked on the north fork of the Llano River. We went back to Electra and I contacted my folks and told them about the country we had seen. I also told them about mohair and wool being in its prime and how great goat ranching was. Goat ranching was in its real heyday as mohair was being used in autos for upholstery, furniture, cloth, drapes, etc.
When I got Papa Nance down there to look it over, Papa was just ‘carried away’ with the ranch country in the Edwards Plateau. He had never heard of that area. All the ranchers down there were raising Angora goats and doing well since mohair was in its prime, being used a lot in the rapidly growing automobile industry. One of the key people we visited with before making a purchase was a man, ‘Reo’ who worked on the Charlie Schreiner YO Ranch at Mountain Home, Texas, established in 1858. Papa Nance purchased the ranch from the Rudisil’s. It was located on the Divide of the Edwards Plateau where the Frio River started and became known as the Divide Ranch, 35 miles east of Rocksprings and 65 miles west of Kerrville.
In late August, 1927, we had all of our belongings loaded and traveled to the ranch to start our new adventure. I drove a truck and Archie followed in the car. We drove on mostly dirt roads. I can remember driving up to the ranch and going through the gate that was just about 100 yards from the house. The gate was too narrow and I ripped our new bedsprings off the side of the truck. Archie was upset and crying. You must remember this was a real change for her, but she was determined to try and be a good wife and mate.
We started improving the ranch. I was very pleased now being in what I thought was the best place on earth and in a new business. I knew nothing about sheep and goats, although, I had the advantage of being a country boy. The Great Depression was starting, but we were always able to get groceries once a week on credit payable when the mohair or wool sold.
THE NANCE FAMILY BEGINS TO GROW
More changes occurred in 1929 when Bennett and Archie were expecting a baby. Because Archie needed to be near a doctor and medical attention, they decided to move back to Electra. Having lost their first child, it makes sense that they must have felt some anxieties about this second baby and felt relief knowing she would also have family support there in Electra. Dan Allen was born April 10, 1929. Happily they welcomed their healthy baby boy! After Archie and Dan were strong enough to travel, they moved back to the ranch.
On October 25, 1931 Archie gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter, Nancy. Again, they had moved near a doctor but this time to Kerrville which was only 65 miles from the ranch. By this time, they had built a new home on the ranch which was more comfortable and suitable for their growing family. I recall hearing about the larger kitchen with both a wood-burning iron stove and a gas stove. Archie probably enjoyed her better equipped kitchen since cooking for her family was something she absolutely loved.
In his autobiography, Bennett says that by 1935 living in such a remote area presented a “school problem” for Dan and Nancy. To help remedy this they built a small school house and employed a tutor, Miss Dorothy Sikes, from Center Point, Texas to live in and teach the children. However, as the Depression got worse, home schooling worked for only a short time. They decided to rent a house in Kerrville during the fall and winter so that Dan and Nancy could attend school. Bennett commuted back and forth from town to ranch.
Bennett and Archie’s family continued to grow and on February 22, 1937, their baby girl, Lucy Ann, was born at home in Kerrville. (She was named after Bennett’s mother.) Perhaps it was more common at that time to give birth at home, but it required special preparation and, of course, a doctor who made house calls! In her autobiography, Lucy Nance Croft shares some memories her brother Dan had about her birth.
The first thing I can remember about you is Mom’s preparations for your being born at home. At the time it was 925 Myrta Street. Of course, that’s in Kerrville. I remember Mom and her friends obtained a hospital bed somewhere. They made up a lot of absorbent pads. They also had a crib and other things around. I can recall the big event but really not in great detail (Croft, 7).
In the fall of 1938, there was another move for the Nance family. When the school situation again presented a problem, they rented a home in San Antonio so that Dan and Nancy could attend better schools. This was a longer commute to the ranch for Bennett but it was necessary.
Continuing to search for a solution to the “school problem,” Bennett and Archie decided to purchase a home and move to Wichita Falls, Texas, so that Dan and Nancy could attend school there and Archie would be near her family. Bennett continued to commute to the ranch but says that because he had good help he could stay in Wichita Falls for longer periods of time. However, this changed somewhat in 1941 with the advent of World War II. He had to do his part in the war effort by raising food, mohair, and wool. Bennett makes the statement that his draft board gave him orders to do so. This meant he had to spend more time at the ranch and away from his family. Archie must have been happy to be near her family during this time of national and world upheaval.
A very happy event occurred on July 25, 1943, when Bennett and Archie added a beautiful little red haired baby boy, Steven Anthony, to the family! Not long after his birth, the family sold their home in Wichita Falls and bought a home in Kerrville. They lived at the ranch for about six months while the house at 901 Myrta Street was being remodeled. During that time, Nancy and Lucy attended a one-room school on the Divide and Dan was at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri.
BENNETT SELLS THE RANCH AND BUYS A FARM
In 1948 Bennett made a big decision to trade the Divide Ranch for a farm in south Texas. Here is what he says:
Batching at the ranch and driving 65 miles back and forth to Kerrville became impractical. Dan was in Kemper Military School in Missouri. I finally decided to make a switch, so I traded our Real County ranch for a farm in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. We still own this farm. (This is no longer the case. In 2010, only Dan Allen Nance owned a section of this farm.)
With his ranching days behind him, Bennett shares these thoughts:
On leaving the ranch, I had the fantastic notion that I was departing one of the last areas or vestiges of The Old West. I had the privilege of knowing a lot of folks that were the last persons to live in an era that is now gone forever. I am proud to have experienced a small fraction of it.
Owning a farm must have been quite a new and challenging venture for Bennett. Even though he had a sharecropper farm his land, his commuting days were not entirely over. Through the years, he and Archie made routine trips to the Valley to check out their crops of cotton and grain along with other business related to the operation of a large farm (1000 acres). As farmers can attest, there are good years and there are bad years. It seems to me that a farmer needs to have a lot of patience and a deep faith to negotiate the ups and downs of weather, price fluctuations, good help and other obstacles.
Both Bennett and Archie loved living in Kerrville. Through the years they made countless friends and were always so proud of their lovely home at 901 Myrta Street. Bennett called it his “castle.” Maintaining a beautiful yard was especially important to them.
Later in life, Bennett and Archie decided to purchase a small country house on 60 acres of scenic land near Leakey, Texas. It was adjacent to Rosetta Nance’s home and property and very near the Frio River. They called the place “El Charco” commemorating Bennett’s birthplace. For Bennett it became a work place and he enjoyed involving himself in various projects improving the house and land. The house was comfortable but rustic, so perhaps he enjoyed it more than Archie. Nevertheless, it provided a little “get-away” spot for them. It is possible it reminded them of their early days at the Divide ranch.
The darkest day of Bennett’s life occurred on August 5, 1987, when his dear wife, Archie, died. They had traveled together to the Rio Grande Valley to check out the cotton crop on their farm. While visiting there, with no warning, Archie died. It was a deep shock to Bennett and the entire family. Her body was returned to Kerrville for her funeral and burial at the Sunset Cemetery in Mountain Home, Texas.
Bennett continued to live in his home on Myrta Street until 1991. By then his health began to deteriorate, so he moved into a nursing home in Kerrville where he remained until his death. At one time he felt it might be possible for him to move into the home of one of his children, but after thought and discussion, he realized that was not a realistic solution. Dan, Nancy, Lucy and Steve helped “dismantle” his home and pack some of his favorite belongings to move to his new location. Even though they tried to ease the transition for Bennett, they knew it was a difficult time for him.
During the next few years, Bennett’s children would spend time with him, visiting, going out to eat, running errands or driving in the countryside. Dan made an effort to come to Kerrville for one week out of each month to be with his dad. Bennett and his children enjoyed these special times together.
Bennett Allen Nance died February 17, 1994 in Kerrville, Texas. He was buried at the Sunset Cemetery, Mountain Home, Texas beside his beloved wife, Archie.
In her autobiography, Lucy Nance Croft writes about her father.
During the early years of my life, Daddy was a rancher. When I was eleven, he sold his ranch and bought a cotton farm in the Rio Grande Valley, between Harlingen and Raymondville. He had a tenant to farm it, so even though he spent a good bit of time traveling there, we continued to live in Kerrville. As both a rancher and a farmer, Daddy loved the earth, its bounty and beauty, and treated it accordingly. I can say I certainly had a wonderful role model of a good steward. He had some direction from his dad in ranching and farming, but he gained most of his knowledge from on-the-job experience.
Education was important to Daddy, whether it was formal or informal. He graduated from high school and attended some college, but in many respects I would say he was self-educated. I feel that he regretted not having more college education. Reading and life experience were his primary means of continuing education. His favorite books were about Texas history or historical people, and he enjoyed reading the Bible and his Encyclopedia Britannica. Daddy also learned Spanish by working alongside Mexicans and reading Spanish newspapers. He never felt fluent, but I thought of him as bilingual and considered it quite an accomplishment. He loved many things about the Mexican people and their culture, especially their music.
Daddy was a very honest, responsible, and conservative person. He believed in diligence and persistence in all undertakings and was a fair person in his dealings, whether in business or daily living. He was a perfectionist in many ways, and because I am much the same way, I can say that it may have been both a blessing and a curse!
Because of his hard and frugal upbringing, I think Daddy had a difficult time enjoying himself. He was very comfortable with solitude, was a reserved, private, and rather shy man. I remember that he had only a few close friends whom he would occasionally meet in town for coffee. Also, Daddy and Mama seemed to be happiest when they had family gathered for a big meal. Another one of their pleasures as a couple was going for drives or “rides” as they called them. Late in the afternoon, they would drive around the Kerrville area, to Fredericksburg or along the Guadalupe River.
Daddy would sit on our front porch late in the day enjoying his home and yard. He always referred to his Kerrville home as his castle. He enjoyed good home-cooked food, and his favorite meal was a breakfast of eggs, bacon or ham, gravy, biscuits, peach preserves, and perhaps a few hot peppers on the side. A favorite quote of his—”A man should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Actually, that is pretty healthful advice.
Daddy was a conservative man in his lifestyle, religion, and politics. His tastes were simple, but he did enjoy looking well groomed and was quite handsome when he dressed up. He loved hats. In his older years, he always wore a “gimme” cap.
This is a favorite quote from Daddy’s autobiography – ‘I have lived a versatile and romantic life, witnessing the times of cotton kingdoms, cowboys, oil booms, drillers and roughnecks, oil field machine shops, and inventions beyond our wildest dreams – From the horse and buggy to traveling in space and to the moon. But the most memorable of all is a honeymoon in a model T Ford!’
On reflection, I would say that Daddy’s integrity, fairness, strength of character, diligence, perfectionism, and stewardship of the earth and his possessions were the qualities that most affected my life. Being a man of simple tastes, he appreciated the small things in life and was not overly impressed with the materialism of the world around him. Acting responsibly was important to him and influenced his evaluation of others. He was a dear and special man—a great daddy! He died in Kerrville at the North Haven Care Center on February 17, 1994, at the age of ninety-two. (Croft, 28-31)
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; thou holdest my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
Tom Curry, minister, First Presbyterian Church, Kerrville, Texas, used Psalm 16:5-6 as the text for the message at Bennett’s funeral service.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census, (database online). Provo UT,
USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census, (database online). Provo UT,
USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census, (database online). Provo UT, USA:
Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2002.
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census, (database online). Provo, UT, USA:
Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Ancestry.com. Social Security Death Index, (database online). Provo, UT, USA:
Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Bennett Allen Nance, birth certificate no. K211604, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Bennett Allen Nance, death certificate no. 0174460, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.
Handbook of Texas Online, www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/CC/hnc46html
Kellner, Marjorie, Project Director, Wagons, Ho! A History of Real County, Texas,
Curtis Media, Inc., 1995. (Includes Autobiography of Bennett Allen Nance.)
Kuhlman, Jim W., The History of the Nance Hereford Ranch, 1996.
Nance, Bennett Allen, Autobiography of Bennett Allen Nance: Rancher in Real County 1927-1948, 1985. n.p.
Wichita County, marriage certificate no. 12846, County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls, Texas.
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2010
Bennett Allen Nance Family Group Sheet (click link) bennett-a-nance-fgs-document