by Karen Taylor
Like many Texans, my family has a rich history of bearing arms. I tell the family children about their great-great-grandfather A.D. Taylor, once president of the Cisco National Rifle Association (NRA). Cisco natives Joe and Gene Schaefer were NRA members during that time. Both worked with my dad at Southwestern Bell Telephone and were the sons of one of my father’s dearest friends, Rudolph Schaefer and his wife Lola.
Memorable moments occurred in those innocent years growing up in Eastland County. If ever a phrase fit a situation, “It takes a village…” would be appropriate for what I’ve always considered a most blessed childhood. Youngsters here seem to be nurtured and encouraged by the entire community, an uncommon gift not always found in the big cities.
A.D. Taylor’s wife (my beautiful mother), Gena Taylor, member of the Eastland Garden Club, Beta Sigma Phi, and the First Baptist Churches of Cisco and later Eastland, once shot a trophy buck on our lease near Desdemona. My father had the regal trophy mounted and probably was never prouder of anything else she did in their near-50-year marriage. Except maybe her raisin pie.
Years later, she and my father were taking a toddler granddaughter outside for an evening walk when they heard a telltale rattle from a tall flowered bush by the front porch. Initially they thought it was a bird but soon realized it was a rattlesnake.
My dad ran around the house to the back stairway to get a gun. My mother placed the baby on the hood of a nearby car, safely away from harm. My father, dealing with less than perfect eyesight in the waning evening twilight, tried repeatedly to get a good bead on the deadly viper in the bush.
Finally Mother said, “Let me try,” and calmly dispatched the snake with one shot. She didn’t shoot very often, but when she did pick up a gun, watch out wildlife!
The next day my dad wound a chain around the flowering bush, attached it to the rear bumper of his pickup, and yanked it out of the ground. He was not a man to mess around or allow front-porch privileges to poisonous snakes.
Tales of Childhood Grandeur
What role models! As a nine-year-old tomboy too young to join the NRA but present at monthly meetings by parental default, I once scored a perfect 100 in the shooting competition. The score bested NRA and National Guard members during that night’s monthly competition at the Guard Armory (now the Crawford Theater sitting in the shadow of Cisco College Hill).
Cisco Press editor/publisher Jerry Sitton wrote about the incident in his front-page column; subsequently the Associated Press picked it up. Wow. Local Annie Oakley achieves marksgirl fame at the age of nine!
A couple of years later, my younger brother David Taylor, also nine years old and at that time the bane of my existence, shot a running white-tailed buck on our deer lease. I thought my father would pridefully burst right out of his canvas coveralls. In case you aren’t from a fishing-and-hunting Texas dynasty, bagging a buck on the run trumps out-shooting a bunch of youthful NRA members and Guardsmen.
At a long-ago Thanksgiving turkey shoot north of Cisco, I had the random luck of shooting a string in half at one of the event’s concessions. Skill may have played a small part in my shot, but luck had to be the biggest factor. The turkey-string coup won me a silver dollar but still lingered in the shadow of that show-off brother, who used to demand a quarter from my boyfriends to go away and leave us alone. The Taylors respected not only the right to bear arms but the right to make money in somewhat unorthodox ways.
There are many fond memories of brilliant autumn days on the Schaefers’ dairy farm on the Rising Star Highway where we hunted squirrels in towering pecan trees and fished in the richly-stocked ponds. Once when I was 10 years old, I already was a fairly good marksman, having learned to shoot by a man who was perhaps the best rifleman in the southwest.
On one golden autumn morning I handily brought down a couple of squirrels. My dad called me Eagle Eye, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud. At that time we routinely ate most of the wildlife we bagged; however, there were limits – no raccoons, possums, snakes, nutria, etc. Those were destined for the backyard zoo my little brothers maintained.
Terrifying Confrontation with a Gun
On a frigid winter morning during deer season, a teenager at the time, I sat on cold, damp ground and watched the winter sun slowly filter blooms of gray light into the trees. I could hear gunshots in the distance and surmised other hunters were getting a chance to bag their buck.
I heard the painful moaning sound before I saw the young buck emerge from the foggy murkiness of the winter landscape. Shockingly, he was stumbling directly towards me. He had one spike missing and was making a pitiful noise like a minor-key moo, undoubtedly from the pain of having lost his spike to someone not known as Eagle Eye.
With only one smallish spike, he wasn’t legal, so I wouldn’t shoot him, but as he stumbled closer and closer, I became increasingly tense (read terrified). None of my father’s training included the deer being the aggressor. My mind whirled: do deer bite?
I debated the possibility of flipping my rifle and using the stock to give the poor little pain-crazed buck a good swat to scare him away. He saw me move, stopped short about five feet from my perch, and bounded away, probably as shocked as I was.
Soon after I abandoned the 30.30 Winchester for a good camera and never looked back.
These days younger brother Joe Taylor, a Cisco native born at Eastland Memorial Hospital in 1955, hunts mostly with bow and arrow or a bizarre but effective telescopic camera mounted on a rifle scope. He doesn’t shoot anything unless its rack is bigger than previous trophies, but he does capture impressive photos of deer in their natural habitat.
A Presidential Charter and a Boone & Crockett Brother
Our youngest brother, Marshall Lee Taylor, born in Eastland in 1957, in the early ‘90s shot the Boone and Crockett Club trophy winner for that year in the dense woods around Lake Texoma. The magnificent trophy white-tailed buck sported an otherworldly set of antlers.
The B&C Club grades a variety of rack statistics to determine winners and “promotes conservation and management of wildlife and habitats to maintain high ethical standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in North America,” according to B&C’s Certificate of Incorporation drawn up by President Theodore Roosevelt and some of his hunting buddies in 1923.
Brother Lee died of lung cancer in 1991 at 34. His granite grave marker with the stone-carved heads of two bucks is a touching design by his daughter Tracie Lee Taylor and her sisters Amber and Beth.
Lee’s grave, along with our parents’, rests on a high hill overlooking the Red River Valley where it winds through the cleft separating Texas and Oklahoma. Deer wander through the quiet old Mt. Zion Cemetery near Pottsboro on a regular basis, along with all the wildlife in the area, and a wide variety of migrating birds who stop in for a quick rest. All three Taylors would have loved that. As I will someday when I’m planted there.
At an abandoned orchard near my parents’ lake home, my dad used to gather pears, storing them in a cool, dark space under. The deer routinely traveled through the peach orchard in front of the house, mornings to the lake for water and evenings back to sleeping places in the woods. The graceful deer families often would pause on their journeys, look toward the house, and jerk their noses up, signaling my father to toss, or perhaps trying to scent, the pears he pitched from the yard.
Oh those halcyon bittersweet days of our youth springing from the most unlikely mixtures of guns and wildlife and pear trees. As you can imagine, the issue of firearm ownership is much more complex for some of us than others.