Mr. Lamon Bennett, is the son Lamon Sr. and Inez Bennett. He worked for Celanese until 1993 when he retired, and then after some discussion within the Bennett family, they decided to come back to George West and make it their home. They came to George West and Live Oak County in 1945 originally, Mr. Lamon Bennett, Sr. was the county agent and Mrs. Bennett was the home economics teacher of many of us. He will talk about George West and how this town evolved.
George West High School students and building circa 1950. Fences, barbed wire, hog wire above, or picket were not made to keep people in or out, sometimes culturally misunderstood. Gates allowed people access. Animals, especially cattle, were often in all the streets as told below. Fences kept feral and domestic animals from causing damage, messes, or danger. Note street was still unpaved.
Photo courtesy Sue Nance.
Additional description of yard and cemetery fences supplied in Thelma Lindholm's descriptive narrative to The Texas Historical Commission in application for City of George West THC marker now on the Courthouse Square:
Then there came a period when the stray donkey and the curious Ranch steer had to give way to the Town Cows. Every home had a good yard fence, but the cow could find a way to get in occasionally. There were the dreaded rattlesnakes, also; at each gate entrance you usually found a well seasoned six foot mesquite stick to assure safety from the gate to the door. It was not surprising to see what had all the semblance of a coiled snake...a cow had made an evening call while you had been out ["cow patties " (dung) were rounded coils].
"Well, when Glynis asked me to do this I was very reluctant because I am not a storyteller, and I didn’t know what to bore you with. I remember my grandfather who was born in 1880 and lived to be 92. I remembered what a change he saw in his lifetime. He was born in the horse and buggy days and lived to see a man on the moon.
Well, I got to thinking about that. I am 85 and my memory goes back a good 80 years. I thought maybe that it might be interesting if I shared with you what the country was like when I was a kid.
I will eventually get to George West, but it started in central Texas. My mother and dad were school teachers. They were teaching in a country school in Limestone County in the western part of it. They had one year of college when they started teaching and this was a typical country school. In those days, every four, five or six miles there would be one of these communities. There would be a school, a church and a store. Everything in the community revolved around those three things.
My earliest memory is that we lived in a teacherage. My dad was the principal of this school, probably went through the tenth grade. There were not paved roads, there were not buses. Kids got to school the best way they could. When school was over, there wasn’t a line of cars to pick them up. If they lived quite a distance, it wasn’t unusual to ride a horse, and the parents would arrange for a pen or place to put the horse around the school. Some schools even had a corral for the horses. This school had a shop and a gymnasium.
My earliest recollection was before there was electricity. People, my mother, cooked on a kerosene stove. We used kerosene lamps. I had aunts and uncles that were cooking on kerosene or wood. Wood was a source of heat. In those days, you heated one or two rooms where the family lived. You either had a fire place in that living area or a wood stove.
You know, you look back on that time with our perspective today and think, man what a bad time to live. But you don’t miss what you never had. As a young kid, even though it was during the Depression, that all went right over my head. I look back on it and marvel at what a great time I had because I had all kind of freedom.
I had two friends about my age that lived down the road. I had a dog and they had dogs. Saturday we would spend our time roaming the creeks, and I knew every hollow tree within two miles of the place, and we would check them regular and see if there was a possum or coon in it. We never killed anything. We would chase rabbits, and we never caught any, but our dogs would. But those were great times as I look back on it.
My Dad, when I started to the 1st grade, my Dad was elected county school superintendent. We moved to Groesbeck, the county seat, and he was county school superintendent for I believe two terms. Then he entered the extension and became assistant county agent in Navarro County which is Corsicana. We moved out in the country near Corsicana, and I went to a rural school that had three teachers and taught 1-8. I shared a classroom with two other grades. I was amazed at how much I learned listening to those two other grades.
I can remember in those days, we did our Christmas shopping with a Sears and Roebuck catalogue. That was our wish list. We would wear those catalogues out looking at pictures. When a catalogue got out of date, it was put in the outhouse. You would tear a page out of the catalogue.
In 1944, my dad accepted a job in Live Oak County as county agent, and we moved in the summer of 1945. I can still remember what George West looked like. As I recall, I think it had one paved street and that was Main Street (Houston). It had two grocery stores and a couple of smaller grocery stores. It had a drugstore, a pool hall, feed store, and it was a typical country town. I will back up a little bit.
One part I was going to share with you was how we ate in those days. It was typical when I moved to George West. Regardless, whether you lived in the country or in town, you ate what was in season. In the fall, you would have fresh apples, and in the winter citrus. I loved those green seedless grapes. You would have those in the summer when the grapes came in, and they would last about a month. The bananas would come in bunches, and they hang them up with a big bunch, and you would break off the stalk what you wanted. I never bought a roasting ear in a grocery store. You ate roasting ears when the corn patch or the neighbors corn patch was ready. Most of what the country people ate, they raised.
I had an aunt and uncles on my Dad’s side and a great aunt and uncle on my mother’s side, and I spent a lot of time with them. They were very similar, except on my mother’s side, they were French. My great grandfather immigrated from France before the Civil War and settled in Tehuacana which was a small community between Mexia and Wortham. He had 16 kids, and those 16 kids grew up in that area and settled that land in the Tehuacana area. That area eventually became known as the French Colony. My mother grew up in that colony and went to school in Mexia.
My Dad’s folks came from England and settled in Kosse in the southern part of Limestone County after the Civil War. They came from the Carolinas. But anyway, that was my early childhood.
When I moved here, I was in the 8th grade. He [Dad] lived in the old West Hotel before we arrived. We didn’t move until the summer of 1945. His office was in the west end of the West Hotel. His office and the soil conservation office were there also.
I remember one thing that has always stood out that was when we were in the 8th grade. We went to the upstairs brick building that was located where the elementary school is today. Me, being the tallest, I was always put on the back row. From my seat, I could look out across the city and town plot.
In the spring of the year, I would look out, and there would be cattle from one end of the town to the other. What was happening is that they were bringing yearlings off the ranches west of here and driving them to the shipping pens down there on the railroad. Probably, those yearlings were going to Kansas. That was typical of those days. They would winter yearlings here, and in the spring, they would load them on cattle cars and send them to Kansas.
Also, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was probably the end of an era of shipping pens because prior to that in the earlier days the ranches would determine the number of cattle they were going to ship, when they would ship them and go to the depot. The depot agent would tell how many he had, how many he wanted to ship, and what day he wanted to ship.
The depot agent would arrange for cattle cars to be waiting. Those cattle would be shipped to the market which in this area was San Antonio. Then there would be a commission company in San Antonio that would take charge of the cattle and see that they were fed and watered, sell the cattle, deduct the commission, and mail a check to the rancher. Well all of that was coming to an end because the war [WWII] was over; trucking was coming in and trucking took over that business.
But, I remember moving on to high school. T. M. Rogstad. I will never forget that man. He was our principal. He was my football coach, my baseball coach. He taught science, general science, chemistry, and physics, and drove the bus. If the commodes plugged up, he was the first one to be called to fix it.
I remember our football dressing room was part of the bus barn. It had two showers on a piece of concrete about 8 x 10. The benches were 2 x 6 nailed to the wall that went all the way around the room. There was another 2 x 6 that ran about chest high with nails on it. You walked on boards on the dirt floor back to where you dressed. I remember the summer between my freshmen and sophomore year, I had left my head gear hanging on one of those nails, and I left it upside down. I came back that September, and I had a bird nest in it.
After the war, things got better very quick. My junior year, things were picking up, and they even built a new football field. That is one they are using today. Looking back on those years in George West, makes me so proud of what we have here today. If you haven’t seen it, you need to go by and see the facilities our kids have here. It is
something the community can be proud of, there is no better I think.
With that, I will turn it over to my wife, she is going to talk about school, and I hope I haven’t infringed too much on her. My wife Elaine.
Elaine Probst Bennett retired from teaching school in 1986. She is the granddaughter of Joe and Laura Probst who came to George West in 1914. Joe owned Joe Probst and Sons Mercantile, and her parents were Arthur Probst and Corine Weatherly Probst. Mr. Probst was the cotton buyer and worked for First National Bank. Elaine talks about growing up in George West and the schools in this area.
As told in both these stories, Lamon Bennett's father, an agricultural agent in Live Oak, and his wive, Inez, the George West High School Homemaking teacher, were an exceptional team. Pictured to the left are Joyce Jones, Margie Stewart, with Betty Jean Jordan showing off 1950's full circle skirts they made at school. From cotton fields raised with Mr. Bennett's helping hand and ag students, the girls picked cotton and learned cotton fabric's manufacturing process before making these cotton skirts in Mrs. Bennett's class.
Photo courtesy Armantrout Museum.
My name is Elaine Probst Bennett, and I would have been born in George West, but my mother went to Whitsett to visit her parents, and I was born in my grandmother and grandfather’s house. We lived in George West in an apartment in my grandfather’s mercantile store which is on the corner of the block that we own. We lived there until I was two years old, and our dad had a house built five miles east of George West, and I lived there the rest of my days in George West until I graduated in 1950. That means that I started the first grade in George West and graduated in George West, so that means I am a true Longhorn.
I still remember the first day of school, believe it or not. I have a good memory. My teacher was Mrs. Frieze, and she wanted to know who could write their name. I raised my hand and wrote my name in my Big Chief tablet and gave it to her and she put a big red X on it. I had written it in all CAPITALS and that wasn’t the right way to do it. I had to relearn how to write my name.
I also remember we started reading the first day of school. There wasn’t anything about sounds or letters. We had a reader and we all got a reader and sat around in a circle and turned to the first page, and it had a little black headed boy on it. Underneath was printed his name, Jack. So, we learned how to read Jack.
On the second page was a little blonde headed girl, and her name was Jane. Under her picture was printed Jane. So, then we learned about their dog, Tip, and on the next page was their kitten, Mitten. So, to make things interesting we learned to look at the page with the little boy on it with the black hair and it says, “See Jack” then on the next page was “See Jane” and then we went on to” Stop and Go” and this is called sight reading.
I learned to read, and I love to read, and it is one of my favorite things to do. So, it works. I learned about phonics when I came back to George West to teach 5th grade, and I learned it from the teacher’s manual to the reader that I was teaching.
I started school in George West; we had two school buildings. One was a two-story red brick which the Elementary School was in, and it was about a block from here. There was one room and one teacher for each of the 8 grades that were in that building. The first four grades were on the first floor, on the east side of the first floor. On the north side, the office was in the middle, and the restrooms were on each side of the office.
Then we had big stairs going upstairs. Going upstairs was fifth through eighth grades. The 5th and 6th grades were on the corners, and the 7th and 8th grades were in the middle. The 7th and 8th grade had a stage attached to one end of it. When we had assemblies, we would all come upstairs, and we would have our assembly upstairs in front of that stage. Off that stage was the fire escape. What it was was a slide, to my knowledge it was never used for a fire escape, but it we never had a fire drill. When we would play at recess, we would climb up from the outside or if we were over there after hours, we would climb up from the outside and then slide down it so it did get used.
The other school building was the high school which is very well constructed and which I believe is the 7th and 8th grades are using it still. We did have buses if you lived in the country, which we did. You could ride a school bus.
I remember the school bus had a long bench under the windows on each side. Two long benches that were padded. In the middle they built a bench out of wood, and so it went down the middle of the bus. If you got on late, you had to sit on the wooden bench. If you got there early you got to sit by the windows. And of course, the air conditioning was the windows up and down. When I was remembering this, I was young and the high school girls sat in the back of the bus, and they were always concerned about their hair, so they were always putting the windows up, so their hair wouldn’t blow. I was always hot, so I was always letting them down, so I could be cool. That is what we did while we rode the bus had let them up and down with the windows.
When I started school, we had public schools were 11 years long, and in 1941 they added another year to the school. So those of those who were in school got to skip a grade, so I remember how proud I was after second grade when I started school in the fall I got to go to the fourth-grade line. I got double promoted, and that is how they handled that situation. So now I guess there are 13 years in the school because they have added Kindergarten to it.
I wanted to tell you a little bit of how I experienced discipline when I was in the 5th grade, my teacher was Miss Anne Range. She later married Harry Hinton, and she has been my life-long friend; and my brother Joe was two years older than I was and we were very close, and we always played together and in fact, when he came home from his first day at school he said, “Elaine, I am going to give you all my dolls. I am not going to play dolls anymore!”
This day what happened to me was when I was in the 5th grade, and he was in the 7th grade, he had taken a model airplane to school and he was playing with it in his math class and Miss Range was his math teacher, so she took the model airplane away from him. Now, my next was in from of Miss Range’s desk in home room and so I saw his airplane there and we were out at recess and Joe asked me to get his airplane back, so I thought, “Well, yow, I can get do that. So, I got the airplane off her desk and gave it to Joe.
Then my teacher asked me if I knew what happened to the airplane. I told her I had taken it and given it to Joe. That wasn’t the right thing to do. I shouldn’t have done that, so my punishment was to sit on the green bench in the hall on the first floor during recess and always when the students when the were coming in and out of the school building and there they would see the students that were in trouble sitting on the green bench. That is where I was and that was my discipline for misbehavior in the 5th grade.
We didn’t have PE at all in elementary school, but we had recess, and one of the games we game we played was “Wolf Across the River”. You had two teams, and we each had imaginary home bases where we drew a line in the dirt. Home base here, home base there. Yet there was a lot of room in the middle where we ran around, and if you could touch someone from the other team, then you captured them, and they had to go get behind your baseline. If you got captured, you had to stand behind their baseline with your hand out, and you wanted your teammate to come touches your hand and get your rescued. That is what we played at recess or one of the games we played at recess. It was just a big game of chase, and it was a lot of fun especially if we chased the boy you liked or girl that you liked or whatever.
Another one that we played, was Red Rover. You had two teams, and you held hands and you call to the other team, take turns, and would say “Red Rover, Let Cindy come over." She would come at full steam and try to break through the line, and if she broke through the line then she got to take someone of her choice off that team back to her team. If she couldn’t break through the line, then she had to join that team. So, I bet some of you out there played Red Rover (oh yes in the audience). "Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Susie come over!"
The Elementary School was not integrated when I was going there and there was another school on the east side of the railroad tracks for Mexican children, and they went to school there until high school and then our high school was integrated. We had Tripe and Sapo Garcia were in Lamon and my class and they were valuable members of our class, especially playing football. They were very good football players. In May 1946, our graduation from the 8th grade was cancelled because of the polio epidemic that was going on. We just didn’t get to have our 8th grade graduation.
When I got to High School, I joined the band, and I loved being in the band. I played the clarinet. We had about 35 in our band, and we had a lot of fun. I really did enjoy being in the band.
In High School again, we didn’t have PE, there were no organized girls’ sports at all. We had tennis courts, and we could play tennis or there was a table tennis outside. I have wondered what they did when it rained, but there was a table tennis outside that we played on. Sometimes if we didn’t want to eat lunch, we would play tennis or table tennis, but there were no organized sports. Even the boys, the team organization took place after school.
My favorite teacher was Mrs. Bennett. I didn’t know when she was my teacher that she was going to be my mother-in-law, and one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. One of the most influential in my life. But she was a wonderful teacher, and she taught us so many things about setting high standards, being fair and she called us all “hoodlums” and we knew that was a term of endearment.
She set high standards. I remember one time that a girl that oversaw washing the dishes, left class with bubbles in the sink so Mrs. Bennett sent another kid over to get that kid out of the class she had gone to, and she had to come back and wash the bubbles out of the sink. I don’t think she ever left them there again.
She [Mrs. Bennett] would tell us, “Girls, be sure to sweep the corners.” And one that I tell my husband all the time, “Your floor is only as clean as your mop water!” That was one of Mrs. Bennett’s saying. Lamon injected, “that was usually when it was time to change the mop water.”
Mrs. Bennett and Tige Brown organized a camping trip in the summer after our junior, camping trip to Garner State Park. We had a lot of parents that went along, and they cooked and chaperoned us, and the kids played, swam, hiked during the daytime and went up to the park headquarters and danced to a juke box and an open concrete slab and there were a lot of teenagers from all over Texas in the park and that was a lot of fun. They did that for many years in George West with the FFA and FHA went to Garner Park in the summer. Some of you out there might have gotten to go or maybe you were a chaperone. That was another thing that Mrs. Bennett and Tige Brown had started.
When my husband retired at the end of 1992, I had already retired at that time. We came back to George West. His [Lamon's] mother invited us to live with her. Which we did as we looked around for the perfect place to live. We looked for ten years and then we finally found that we had already found that perfect place, and it is right here in George West. We built a home and moved in 2003 and that is where I want to stay for the rest of my life because George West is the best little town in Texas.
George West School built by rancher and town builder, George Washington West, about 1915. View is just before completed and before metal slide fire escape was added. It served as community school, then elelmentary when new high school was built. The second floor even served as a courtroom when the county seat was moved from Oakville to George West about 1919 until the new courthouse could be built. Courtesy Burns Family Archives.
[The last of this series from Storyfest, November 4, 2017 is presented by James E. Warren, Live Oak County, resident archeologist.]
The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Live Oak County Commissioners:
Precinct 1: Richard Lee
Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills
Precinct 3: Mitchell Williams
Precinct 4: Emilio Garza
The Commissioner's Court is committed to the preservation of our county's history. Judge Huff and your local commissioner welcome suggestions.