Deric Bownds


told by

Ruth Bownds Kershner

Compiled by

Susan Kershner Mundine

November 2001

I was born way out in the west Texas town of Marfa in 1914, the same place where I grew up not far from the Davis Mountains, daughter of MD (Marlin Deric) Bownds, and Lois Leo Johnson Bownds.  Marfa is located near the Big Bend National Park, only 200 miles east of El Paso and about 450 miles west of Austin. Trees are non-existent on the rocky approach to Marfa. Only cactus, scrub brush and a few blades of grass can be seen until the road west from Alpine rises over a small hill and the town suddenly comes into view.

Lois, born 1891, grew up in East Texas near the small town of Mt. Pleasant. At 16 she taught school there for a year, then, after attending Baylor University for a couple of years, moved from Waco to teach school in Marfa. Dad was born in Utopia, Texas in 1888 and moved to Marfa when he met Lois. They were married on June 15, 1913 in Cookville, Titus County, Texas.

As WWI was heating up my father, MD Bownds, wanted to join the Army, but he didn’t want to be an officer or to be sent to France. He wanted to stay in Marfa with his wife and family so he kept quiet about his education and work experiences when he enlisted as a Second Class Private at the local army post, Fort DA Russell.  The Army soon found out that he was a University of Texas graduate and had worked in a bank so, before long, he was promoted to Paymaster for the army post. At that time America was afraid that the Germans were going to invade Mexico and come across the Rio Grande to attack Texas so cavalry troops were posted along the border to protect Texas from attack. The troops were paid with gold coins. Dad bought a gun and practiced shooting to get ready to defend the gold from robbers. He had a driver and rode in a big open car with another car full of armed soldiers behind, guarding the gold.  They drove along the river road near the Rio Grande to pay the men stationed there. After he was promoted to Captain he stayed in the Army until the war was over.


For many years ours was the only two story house in Marfa. People kidded my Dad about buying a mail order house from Sears Roebuck, but it may have been built using plans purchased from Sears. Several years ago I saw a picture of one of the Sears mail order houses which was a mirror image of our house. The house was designed with a steep roof which would have prevented heavy loads of snow from accumulating in northern climates, but Marfa rarely had snow.

The lumber for the house arrived on the train from El Paso, custom cut and ready to assemble. Dad would walk home from the bank at noon to check on the construction. One day he was horrified to find the carpenter cutting the long 14' boards down to 8' lengths to use in the wrong location. He quickly put a stop to that. It was too difficult to obtain more lumber.

We had a barn in the back yard which was later turned into the garage for the car. There was a cow pen for Dad’s milk cow next to the barn. Unless he could get Jersey milk, which was very rich, he thought milk wasn’t worth drinking. Lots of our neighbors took milk, that is, bought milk from a neighbor who had extra, but very few people in town kept a Jersey cow. So, we usually had a cow and calf which he milked twice a day. When we were little, Marlin and I would go out to watch the milking. “Open your mouth”, Dad would say and then squirt the warm milk right into our mouths never missing his target. The rest of the milk would be strained and set on the back porch so the cream would rise to the top. Mother had a small ladle with a long handle which I used to dip the cream off the bottle.

Behind the barn was an alley which ran east and west. There was a large vegetable garden with seasonal vegetables in abundance: yellow crookneck squash but no zucchini, onions but no garlic, turnips, mustard greens, lettuce and radishes, black eye and cream peas, carrots, tiny new potatoes and so much okra so that I never want to see okra again. Each season Dad hired someone to plow the vegetable garden. I remember that the soil was very rocky. During the late spring and summer I would pick the green beans daily and sell the surplus at the local grocery store for pocket money.

There was also a fruit tree orchard which Dad looked after. Over the years he added more varieties until we had apples, grapes, peaches, apricots and the small native pecans that are hard to shell and to pick out. Mother planted flowers all around the house: daisies, gladioli, violets, dahlias, roses and other annuals and perennials. Often she would find wild flowers blooming out in the desert and carefully transplant them to her garden. There usually was a bouquet of cut flowers in the house. Gardening friends would trade cuttings and seeds with her.

City water was available, but Dad didn’t like the taste so he had a well dug in the backyard.  An auger about 3" in diameter was used to drill down 300' past the water level. A concrete tank was constructed of slightly curved concrete bricks about 1-1/2" thick which interlocked together to form a circle. The main tank was about twelve feet across and six to seven feet deep. It held water for the yard and gardens. I learned to swim in this tank.

Many homes had a windmill in the yard to fill the tank and we were no exception. The windmill also provided the power to pump water to fill the water trough, which tended to be mossy and slippery, and a small tank about three feet in diameter elevated high enough above the main tank to supply water by gravity flow to our second story bathroom.

A windmill was a great labor saving device in those days. One could be put out in a pasture miles from electricity, and it would pump water for the livestock as long as the tail was set to catch the wind. I used to read stories about climbing trees and building tree houses. But we didn’t have any trees much bigger than 3" in diameter so Marlin and I built our tree house up in the windmill tower which was about 35' high.

The wind came up one night after Dad retired for the evening,  and the windmill started creaking and groaning. He got up out of bed and went outside to unhitch the windmill and tie it so that the tail would be parallel to the path of the blades. This would keep the pump from operating so the tank would not overflow, wasting the precious water. The windmill tower had four legs on the ground angling up about 12' high to a 2' platform near the blades. The action could be adjusted from the ground. He had on a white homemade nightshirt like he always wore which ended just above his knees and had a split up each side to make walking easier. As Dad leaned over to untie the rope our big dog nosed under the nightshirt and licked him on the bare bottom. With a shriek he jumped around and, seeing that it was only the dog, dissolved in gales of laughter. Dad was mighty glad it was dark at the time. The next day we all laughed when the story was told. It turned into a family joke, “Did you turn the windmill off, Dad?”

The garden rows were laid out between shallow water ditches which made watering our large city lot easy. During the Depression we had windmill water for our gardens and animals when we could not have afforded to buy water from the city.

There was a covered back porch, but it was not screened until many years later. Out on the back porch we washed our clothing by hand in a basin or on a washboard or in a wringer washer. Out in the yard a wood fire heated water in a large black iron washtub for the Mexican washerwoman to use to wash the rough linens, bedclothes and towels.

In the kitchen was a large wood cook stove. Every night Dad started a pot of oatmeal so it would be ready to eat at breakfast. He put rolled oats and water in a covered pot. Over night the stove kept the oatmeal warm. Dad wanted oatmeal with Jersey cream and sugar every morning.

Our house faced west so the evening sun was hot in the warmer months. It was a long walk from the yard gate to our front door. Dad built a large white pergola which was attached to the house and covered the walk. It was 8' high, supported by pillars 8" square which were smoothed off on the corners creating an octagon shape. There were heavy cross pieces of 2" x 4"s to support the grape vines which he planted. The vines were trained to encircle the heavy support posts and grew to be as big around as Dad’s wrist. Marfa had a very dry climate so the water sprinklers had to be left going 24 hours, but the result was lots of grapes.  Most were a green variety for eating and for making wine. What couldn’t be eaten were mashed,  put in a jelly bag, the juice was allowed to drip out, but not ferment, before being heated and bottled. Heating the juice made wine with a different taste. Since this was Baptist country, wine was frowned upon. Mother was very careful to whom she gave her wine. Our parents drank some at home, and some was shared with chosen friends.

Marlin’s bedroom was on the second floor above the pergola. There were several windows facing west with window seats. Sometimes Marlin and I, and later, our children, would climb out those windows and scramble down the trellises holding onto the grapevines.

Dad left the bank each day at noon and walked home to have his main meal. He took a full hour at home; he didn’t rush back. All the other employees had to wait until he returned to have their dinner. A typical dinner consisted of fresh vegetables from our garden, some kind of stewed meat or baked chicken, fresh milk (buttermilk was fed to the chickens), cornbread or biscuits and butter.  Supper in the evening was a light meal consisting of buttermilk and cornbread or cornbread and tomatoes.

To the right of the front door was a panel of  three windows. Just inside the front door and to the right was the dining room. It had a bay window with a little bench and cushion. The bench had a hinge so that it could be raised to access the storage underneath. After eating dinner Dad would stretch out on the window seat to catch a few winks, and we all knew we’d better not disturb him while he was taking his nap.

The dining room also held the telephone. When the very first telephones were installed in Marfa homes, each phone was identified by number. Our number was 82. To make a call we turned the hand crank on the side of the telephone to get the operator’s attention. She would come on the line and say, “Number please.” I would say, “51 please”. Mr. Frank Barton, the head cashier, or some other bank employee would answer.

The telephone system was downtown on the second floor of the business building. The operators started worked in shifts, sleeping on a cot by the equipment during the night. This was great because, if a doctor was needed in the middle of the night, no one had to get dressed and go out to locate help. The operator always knew where to reach the doctor even if he was on a call to another house. That was the emergency response system then. We never called the doctor for minor things like headaches, but when called for the eminent arrival of a baby, he would get dressed and come over to the house at night and receive the baby.

Dr. Daricott was our family doctor. He gave me my first shot, a smallpox vaccination. I remember him telling me that he was going to give the vaccination injection in a place where no one would ever see it. However, I have a huge shiny scar larger than a quarter about 3" above my knee which shows anytime I wear shorts. He could never have imagined the skimpy clothing styles of today’s children.

Most couples had bigger families back then. Men, especially, were in favor of lots of children to work the farms and ranches. Occasionally a baby was lost before birth. The prevailing wisdom was that there was probably something wrong with the child.


Mr. Shipman was a professional chocolate cook who had settled his wife and family in Marfa, Texas.  In the 1920's he owned the only candy store in the Big Bend area. In those days very few men cooked, but Mr. Shipman made all the candy himself, from all day suckers and rock candy to hand dipped chocolates. My favorite confection was chocolate covered cherries with liquid centers.

The candy shop was located on Highland Avenue next to the Marfa National Bank, just down the street from the Presidio County Court House. Two or three times each week as my dad  walked home from the bank to have dinner at noon, he would stop by Shipman’s Candy Store and bring home some chocolates for dessert. In our hot summer weather chocolate didn’t ship or keep well so he only bought a little each time, and we always ate it right away.

One spring day Dad came in with the usual brown paper bag of candy. After dinner, as we started to eat the candy, we noticed it was very chewy. In fact, it was almost impossible to eat. The most we could do was to melt the chocolate off in our mouths leaving the tough center. We soon learned that earlier in the week Dad had visited Henry Shutze, the leather man, who made saddles and horse tackle, and he had purchased a flat piece of leather which he cut up into small pieces. Then, he made a call on Mr. Shipman who made up some special order candies by dipping the leather rectangles into melted chocolate so they resembled chocolate-covered toffee.  There were gales of laughter when we discovered the reason for our difficulties. That was an April Fools’ Day I’ve never forgotten. Dad loved practical jokes, and this tells us something about his personality.


I walked to school, most everybody did back then. My route took me past a house where there was a large screened porch. On the porch was a water bucket with a gourd dipper so anyone passing by could stop to get a cool drink, which I often did. The school was about six blocks from our house. The quickest way was to walk down into the arroyo and follow the curved bank to the school yard. Normally the arroyo was a big dry ditch, but after a rain it was filled with rain water diverted from the streets. The school sat on a large parcel of land, about 4 blocks wide and 6 blocks long. Everyone got out of school for an hour to go home for lunch.

One of my teachers was Miss Cadderly who was lame in one foot, but still had to supervise the children who were supposed to be getting active exercise every day. The boys got to play football, but the girls couldn’t. We had to settle for throwing balls through holes cut in a large piece of wood, a dumb, sissy game that none of us liked.

All the girls had to wear dresses to church and school, and I just despised wearing a dress. As soon as school let out for the day I hurried home to change into my comfortable coveralls.

Edna lived across the street. She was the only Negro person living in Marfa while I was growing up. She worked for an older childless couple and lived in a small house behind their big one. Often we’d run to visit after school, and she would give us freshly baked cookies and would tell us stories. We loved Edna, and Edna loved us, but I’ve often wondered how she could stand living so far from her own people. She must have missed them.


Mother’s brother, Will Johnson,  a physician, moved his elderly parents from their home in east Texas to El Paso for the dry climate. Mother’s sister, Ann Johnson lived with them. Gladys Johnson was mother’s younger sister. 

I was so fond of Aunt Ann. She was a school teacher in El Paso and not married. Every six weeks I would get out of school early on Friday and take the train 200 miles to El Paso. Aunt Ann would meet me at the station and I would spend the weekend with my Grandmother Johnson. Gran was a quilter as many women were in those days. Sturdy quilts were sewn from scraps left from making the family’s clothing. A quilting frame hung by ropes from the ceiling of their large screened porch. It could be lowered to work height and then raised back up to the ceiling to get it out of the way. When a top was ready to be quilted friends were invited over to help. It was a much anticipated social event for the women.

On Saturday morning Aunt Ann and I would ride the street car to the orthodontist and she would wait while I had my braces adjusted. She loved children and had a wonderful time entertaining me. One day we rode every street car line from the center of town out to the end of the line and back again. She often took me to visit her friends in Juarez, just across the Rio Grande in Mexico. We would shop and visit and eat before coming home. On Sunday afternoon she would put me back on the train for the trip home to Marfa.


I could barely see over the steering wheel when I learned to drive on the ranch roads. I was about 13 years old in 1927, and I wasn’t all that big. Automobile seats weren’t adjustable back then. A cushion had to be tucked in behind my back so I could the reach the clutch, and even so I had to push it to the floor with both feet at the same time. The windshield was hinged so it could be opened to let a little air come through and cool us off if the weather was hot. Even with the cushion I had to look under the steering wheel to see out.

Two car tracks snaked across the sage brush country. “Keep the tires in those tracks”, Dad told me. I had to shift three times to drive our Ford car which had first, second, and third gears.  Automatic gear shifts had not been invented yet. “See that gate, up ahead?” I could see a barbed wire fence and two stout posts holding up the barbed wire gate. “We have to go through it. You stop far enough back so I can open the gate on this side of the fence,” And Dad would get out of the car, unhook the wire from the post and swing the gate open towards the car. Then, standing next to the gate, he said to me, “Now drive through, stay in the tracks, then stop and wait until I get back in the car.” If there was a bumper gate I just had to bump it gently, but then I had to drive through quickly before the gate closed again. It was a firm rule that each traveler left all ranch gates the way they found them, open or closed. The ranchers sure didn’t like it if a gate was left open accidentally or by mistake and the cattle got into the wrong pasture.

Our Ford was kept in the garage which opened up into the very narrow alley. The car had to be backed and pulled forward several times at slight angles to make the 90 degree turn needed to maneuver it into the garage.

Whenever the car was taken out it was necessary to make sure that the spare tire was filled with air. Flats were common. It was much easier to change the spare than to fix a flat. Tires were not as good as they are today, and the roads had many hazards. It was a lot of work to fix a flat. A patch kit with rectangles of rubber and heavy rubber cement was kept in every vehicle. A jack was used to lift the car so the wheel with the flat tire could be taken off the axle. A tire iron was used to remove the tire from the rim, and then the inner tube taken off and pumped way up using a hand pump. These usually weren’t slow leaks so it wasn’t too difficult to find the hole by dipping the tube in some water and watching to see the bubbles indicating where the air was leaking out, or by listening to the air escape. As soon as the hole was located a rubber patch was cemented over it. After a few minutes the patch material was cured, and the inner tube and the tire were mounted back on the rim. If the tire had a big hole it was patched with a boot, a big piece of rubber 4-6" in diameter. A hand pump similar to an old fashioned bicycle pump was used to inflate the tire, and we were off again. If the tire went flat again because the leak had not been fixed properly then the process started all over.

I never learned how to drive a Model T. It was more complicated and hard to do. Marlin could, but he had learned to drive before I did which wasn’t fair because he was younger than I.


On the weekends Dad would get kind of “itchy” from staying in town all week. Frequently after Sunday dinner he would say, “Let’s go to the country”. As President of the Marfa National Bank he often made trips out to the ranches to see the cattle on which the bank had loaned money so he could evaluate the prospect of being repaid for the loans. It was a good excuse to get out of town. We would run change from our Sunday go-to-meeting clothes into our country clothes, corduroy or khaki pants, plaid shirts and leather shoes with laces. Marlin and I didn’t wear blue jeans in those days. They were cheaply made, and only those who could not afford anything better wore jeans. Jeans were bad about fading and their blue color tinted the sheets when laundered together. Dad wore khakis all the time unless he needed to wear a business suit for his job. Khakis were washable, but tailored, and they blended into the landscape. He didn’t wear boots to go to the country unless he needed to ride a horse. Boots were not made for walking on the rocks.

One Sunday when Marlin was about 8 years old and I was about 10, we climbed into the car, and Dad headed out on the ranch roads. We came to a halt beside some scrub brush and Marlin and I walked along with Dad down a narrow cow trail. Before long Marlin spotted something unusual. There was a small tree up ahead with strips of inner tube hanging from it. Dad said, “This looks kind of useful, doesn’t it? I wonder if we could make something out of this? Let’s take it along.” So we cut down some of the rubber strips and stuffed them in our pockets.

As we hurried a little farther around a bend in the trail I saw another small tree. It had several small pieces of leather dangling from the branches. As we ran to the tree Dad said, “I can’t believe it. This must be a leather tree. Wonder what we could use this for?”  We’d never seen anything like this before, but we gathered all the little pieces of leather and eagerly set out looking for another unusual sight. Low and behold, we both saw another unbelievable sight little farther on. Pieces of twine twisted in the wind from some tree branches. We jerked the twine off and ran down the trail.

Before long Dad stopped by another tree and said, “I believe this looks like a fork tree” as he took out the very sharp pocket knife that he always carried and started cutting on the tree. Pretty soon he had cut three forks from the branches. By then we were beginning to put two and two together. We watched in fascination as he made a sling shot for each of us out of the materials we had found on our walk. It was another great April Fool’s Day joke on us.


My mother always had some trouble with her goldfish pond. It was located on the side of the house not far from the back door. A Mexican man had been hired to dig the pond which was about 12' long and about 8' wide. A black iron fence kept children from wandering into the area. Water lilies planted in buckets were placed towards the center and water loving plants around the edges. Goldfish lived in the pond and ate the algae and small insects which buzzed around. Frogs, horned toads and dragonflies were attracted to this cool damp place. Small animals came to drink the water and some to catch a goldfish for a snack. Since mother took a dim view of unwanted guests  making a meal of her fish she encouraged us to use our slingshots to chase off the intruders. I don’t remember that we ever killed anything or even hit a creature with our weapons. We delighted in feeding the goldfish oatmeal every evening.

Loisie had a green thumb. Marfa was not a choice location for Kentucky bluegrass, but she always liked to try out different plants and ordered some bluegrass from an out of state nursery. Before long it arrived via the Post Office and was planted in the front yard where it thrived with her diligent care and frequent watering. It was a soft blue-green grass perfect for bare feet, and it stayed green during the winters which other lawn grasses did not. A few weeds, dandelions, wild onions and clover grew in the grass. My mother said she would pay me a penny each to pull up those weeds. One day I made a fortune, fifty cents!

Most of our friends parked in the driveway at the back of the house and came in a small entry hall on the south side which was filled with scented geraniums, summer and winter. Every time anyone walked out, brushing past the leaves, that tiny room would fill with a wonderful perfume. Even today the smell of geraniums brings back a flood of happy memories. 

One of my mother’s pleasures was tending her plants. One day a couple dropped by to say hello. “You probably don’t remember us”, they said, “but you furnished the flowers for our wedding several years ago.” The groom had been in the Army stationed at Ft. Russell when they married. Lois had cut arm loads of giant dahlias from her garden to decorate the church and for the bride’s bouquet. Since it was a military wedding the cavalry soldiers held up their swords to form an arch as the newly married couple left the church. Over the years Lois provided flowers for lots of Marfa weddings.


During the early 1930's, my father was President of the Marfa National Bank. The bank would make loans to individuals who had collateral or could demonstrate the ability to repay the loans.  Some individuals, however, could not qualify for a bank loan. One day my father gathered the family around the dining room table, and we established the Bownds Bank Unincorporated.  Each family member contributed a small amount of capital. The BBU was run like a bank. Funds were loaned in modest amounts to those who were unable to secure a loan from the bank. We earned interest on the principal. Records were kept, and we conducted monthly meetings to review our progress.  Dad encouraged us to leave our earnings in the BBU to compound the interest. Some of the profits earned helped send Marlin and me through the University of Texas.

As he taught his children the principals of fiscal responsibility, my father would often say “Take care of your money and it will take care of you”. Remember, this was during the Great Depression, a time when our country was experiencing deflation. Cash was worth more every day, so being a careful lender could earn above average returns.

This experience had a profound effect on my brother Marlin and me.  We both received an allowance but also got paid extra for other jobs. Dad taught us to keep track of our income. As soon as I saved up $100 I bought my first shares of stock and became an investor. 

One year a new bank vault was installed. I was given the great privilege of scraping the rust-proofing off the door, a layer of grease or Vaseline at least a quarter-inch thick. I was a high school student the summer I did clerical work while the staff vacationed. I wrote lists of deposited checks and added up the totals. The pay was 50 cents a day.

Dad had Safety Deposit Box Number 1 which mother kept after his death in 1940. I had a signature on this box and often used it at her direction until her death in 1979. Back then the bank always kept a key to all safety deposit boxes in the main vault as a convenience to their regular customers. When I wanted to access the box I would ask for the key and return it for safekeeping when I was done.

During the Great Depression many banks were robbed by men who were desperate for money to feed their families. Dad kept a loaded shotgun within reach of his desk which was near the door. The Texas Bankers Association poster was posted in a prominent place, “$5000 reward for DEAD bank robber”, which may have encouraged would-be robbers to try more friendly towns because the Marfa National Bank was never robbed during his tenure. Other towns were not so lucky. Some unscrupulous lawmen would convince a local drunk that it would be a good idea to rob the bank, and then they would shoot the robber in the act to collect the reward. The banks soon caught on and the reward was discontinued.


My brother Marlin was 10-12 years old when he came in to ask, “Mom can I have a burro?” Though several of his friends had burros she was not fond of the idea.  “What are you going to do with a burro?”, she asked. “I’m going to ride him”, Marlin answered.  He had been out in the back yard, playing, when a burro wandered down the alley behind our house. At the time there were many burros crisscrossing Marfa but they did not belong to anybody. Marlin asked a Mexican boy who was in the alley at the time, “Is this your burro?” “Oh no, do you want him? You can have him”, he replied.  So Marlin rigged up a halter and caught the burro and took him into the cow pen which was beside our garage. The burro was not very tame. The Mexican boys rode the loose burros all the time so this one was used to someone riding, but he didn’t understand bridles and reins. To make him turn right Marlin had to whack him on the left side of the head with a stick. It was difficult to get the burro to move at a faster pace than a walk.

At home, Dad had planted locust trees for shade in the cow pen. After the burro arrived he had to put woven wire around the tree trunks to keep the burro from eating the trees. Marlin had a wonderful time with his burro. He rode it to school and tied it up under a tree with a long rope while he attended class.

I never wanted a burro and never learned to ride one. I usually wore skirts so it wasn’t very convenient to get on a burro, and besides, they were very uncomfortable to sit on because there were no saddles. The boys usually sat on the haunches over the burros’ back legs to avoid the sharp backbone. Those west Texas burros were not very big. When a man tried to ride his feet would drag the ground.

After the bank bought new Underwood Standard typewriters in 1929, Marlin wanted to take typing in high school, but he was told that typing was for seniors only because the school only had enough typewriters for the senior class. Dad called on the Superintendent and made arrangements to purchase a typewriter at the school’s cost, which was about one quarter of the retail price, on the condition that Marlin would use it that semester for the typing class, then other students could use it, but when Marlin graduated that the typewriter belonged to him. After the typewriter moved to our house Mother used it some, reluctantly, and in her later years pressed me to take it home. “It’s hardly got 5,000 miles on it,” she explained. The manual earnestly explains why typewriting is much better than handwriting. It was still in mint condition when I donated it to the Marfa Museum in the 1990s.

In 1934 Marlin left Marfa to attend a military boarding school in San Antonio because the curriculum at Marfa High School had deteriorated in the four years since I had graduated. The math teacher was also the football coach. He would come into class, usually five minutes late, to start the days’s lesson. “Today we are going to study quadratic equations.” One of the boys would pipe up, “Coach, what did you think about that play in the last game that so and so did?” And then the rest of the class would be about football. Although Marlin didn’t want to go off to boarding school he realized that he would never make it at the university if he didn’t get better instruction in math. So at age of 17 he left home to enroll in The Texas Military Academy.

TMI was affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Every morning all students would gather for chapel and immediately after there was a spelling test for the whole school. Each student needed to study the spelling lesson from the textbook the night before because there were always words that were pronounced the same, but spelled differently depending on the meaning, such as wait and weight, and he better know which one was in the current lesson. If a student failed the spelling test he didn’t get a pass to go off campus the following weekend. Marlin learned to spell that year. The academic courses were rigorous. Marlin only attended one year. The next year he started at the University of Texas at age 18.


I was valedictorian of my Marfa High School class, won a college scholarship and chose to attend the University of Texas in Austin. Dad provided $1000 more for college expenses. This was to include railroad fares back and forth to Marfa, books and tuition, and spending money. He gave me enough for two semesters at a time, told me it had to last all year, and I deposited it in an Austin bank. It was great financial training for me. I kept records of expenditures and learned how to budget.

I majored in journalism and was a reporter for the UT campus newspaper which is now known as the “Daily Texan”. One of my jobs was to edit the contributions of campus organizations who wanted something published in the college newspaper. A handwritten notice would arrive for publication, “The Chemical Society met on Thursday, February 24. The next meeting will be March 22.” This wasn’t very interesting to our readers. It was my job to teach the contributors how to write an interesting notice. I started by emphasizing that it is especially good to mention any faculty at the beginning of the story. Write to your audience. Start your story with what happened at the meeting, “Dr Jones, Chairman of the Chemical Department, did....on Thursday February 24.” Over time the submitted contributions became better and less rewriting was required.

One of my friends in the sorority found herself in an embarrassing predicament. She was pregnant and had to drop out of school. I was able to purchase her car, a Model A, for $100 out of my savings. I named my car Bozzy Bucephalus Zilch. I lived in the Alpha Phi house, only a block from the campus, which  was being remodeled that year and everyone was living across the campus in other housing. That automobile attracted plenty of friends that year. Once there were 13 of us sitting in and hanging onto Bozzy as we drove the ten blocks over to the sorority house for our evening meal. I was crammed into the driver’s seat and could operate the clutch and brake pedals, but someone else was pressing the gas pedal and steering because we were packed in so tightly. 

Marlin bought Bozzy from me for $175, more than I had paid the year before. He arranged for friends to ride back and forth to UT from Marfa with him. They paid for the gas and some of the expenses which was less expensive and much more satisfactory to him than riding the train.

At the end of one summer vacation in Marfa I went down to the train depot to catch the train back to Austin. As I was standing on the platform with my suitcase an old gent came up to me and asked, “Whar ya goin’?” “I’m going to Austin”, I replied. “Well, what ya goin’ ta do thar?, he asked. “I’m going to the University of Texas.”, I answered. “Well, ya better not go there. It’ll ruin ya,” he told me. But he was surprised to hear that I’d already attended UT for three years, and I was heading off for my senior year, no worse for wear.

During the next school year I earned extra money proofreading papers for other students. I charged them for looking over their term papers and advising them on changes in spelling and composition. Most school papers were written in long hand, but I bought a used typewriter to make my job easier. It would back space one letter at a time. Wite-Out® had not been invented yet so to erase a mistake the paper was rolled forward, an ink eraser was rubbed on the wrong letter, and the eraser crumbs were brushed aside. Then as the paper was rolled back in I tried to position it back in the very same place so when the correct key was struck the letter lined up right to left and on the same horizontal line. Since it was almost impossible to get it done perfectly I quickly learned to type with very few errors.

I was dating a graduate of the College of Mechanical Engineering in 1935. When I took him home to Marfa to meet my parents the hometown folks were wary of Stuart Kershner because there was still a great distrust of Germans after WWI. Dad devised a test for my beau. He took him riding out in the desert for hours on a hard saddle. Stuart was not used to riding, but he never complained during the entire trip thus earning Dad’s respect. We were married in Marfa and moved to Houston.

After I had two children my mother was shocked when I became pregnant again. She thought two children were plenty for any family. Since it was now possible for a woman to control the number of children she had, Loisie thought any mother would be a fool to keep having so many. The years have passed. I have four wonderful children, 10 terrific grandchildren and, at this writing, four delightful great-grandchildren.


In 1928, when I was 14 and in Marfa High School, dancing and card playing in this Baptist community were equally sinful.

Marfa had an army post to protect our border with Mexico.  Pay for enlisted soldiers included $21 per month cash plus food and housing in barracks.  Only commissioned officers were entitled to houses.  While serving in France during World War I, one of the enlisted men had married a French dancer and brought her to Marfa to live.  This professional instructor offered ballet classes for girls and ballroom dancing for boys and girls. Although the boys thought dancing lessons were ridiculous, the girls really wanted some dancing partners.  So, their parents had to put the pressure on the boys' parents to get the boys to class.  J. W. Pevy, son of the lumber yard owner, was a bookish type, and one of the few willing to learn couple dancing.

One of my classmates, Kathryn Jordan, lived in a big two story house on the south side of town, no other roads or houses beyond it.  Although most Baptist parents considered "couple" dancing sinful, her parents, who were also Baptist, didn't mind couple dancing.  Kathryn's mother, Kate Jordan, organized private parties for the teenagers and offered space for dancing.  We helped her sweep the hay out of the barn so we could dance in the evening.  The boys would never ask a girl to dance and couldn't really dance, but they seemed to enjoy the group activity. At night, looking east over empty pastures, we saw the mysterious Marfa Lights each evening.

We also saw them later on Friday or Saturday night after a carload of kids had gone to the movies.  We drove out the highway about 15 miles east of town, but not crossing the Paisano Pass uplift because they could only be seen from certain places.  We pulled to the side of the road and looked down into a low place in front of a certain ridge.  We could see them there parallel to the highway.  The lights didn't move but looked like long streaks.  Some thought they could have been automobile headlights, but there were no roads in that vicinity.  So many people have walked down into that low arroyo looking for the source of the Marfa lights, but no car tracks or standing water which might have reflected light have ever been discovered.  There has never been anything unusual about that dry area except the sighting of the Marfa Lights.

Recently the Texas Highway Department has turned one of its roadside parks into a viewing area to see "The Marfa Lights".  A small sign describes their history and directions for locating the lights.  I had seen them in 1928-1932.  They were still being seen in 1996.  But, even now, there are no roads in that direction nor any explanations for the source of the "Marfa Lights".

8 Jan 1999

- Obituary -

RUTH BOWNDS KERSHNER, 87, died November 20, 2001 at her home in Austin, Texas. She was born in Marfa, Texas on March 22, 1914 to MD (Marlin Deric) Bownds and Lois Johnson Bownds.  She was valedictorian of her Marfa High School class, and attended the University of Texas in Austin on scholarship where she was active in Mortar Board, Alpha Phi, Theta Sigma Phi (now Women in Communication), and Sigma Delta Pi. She was a reporter for the UT campus newspaper which is now known as the “Daily Texan”.  In 1935 she graduated with honors earning a Bachelor Degree in Journalism.

After Ruth married Stuart G Kershner in 1935 in Marfa, they made their home in Houston, Texas. As their children grew Ruth volunteered with the Cub Scouts and the Girl Scouts. She held many positions, Den Leader, Scout Leader, Trainer, Community Relations Director for the largest Girl Scout Council in the U.S., and a member of their Board of Directors. In 1962 she was awarded a Thanks Badge for outstanding service by the San Jacinto Girl Scout Council. She was also a member of St Francis Episcopal Church and served on the Board of Directors of the St Francis Day School.

She enjoyed a lifetime of creative pursuits including painting western landscapes and photography. Ruth loved the natural world. Over the years many happy hours were spent peering through binoculars looking at birds with her best friend and confidante, Pauline M Delaney. She was active in communication and publishing, serving as Editor of the “Girl Scout Trails” followed by Editor of “The Memorial Mirror”, a weekly newspaper covering five villages in the Memorial area of Houston.

In 1968 Ruth and Stuart moved from Houston to West Lake Hills, and she was soon involved in starting the West Bank Library. She researched and published three volumes of the “Kershner Family History”, and helped many other genealogists research their own family histories. In 1987 they moved to Westminster Manor where she was secretary of the Resident’s Association and later served on the Building and Grounds committee. She assisted in founding the Utopia, Texas Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and in obtaining a DAR grant to start the Public Library there.

She was preceded in death by her beloved husband Stuart G Kershner. She is survived by her brother, Marlin Bownds and wife Helen of Austin; son Stuart D Kershner and wife Cheryl Johnston of St David AZ; daughter Susan Mundine and husband Edd of Cat Spring TX, son Tom W Kershner and wife Jill of Houston TX; daughter Ann Walton and husband Tony of Lawrence KS; grandsons Ken Kershner and wife Jane, Jay Kershner and wife Lisa, Stuart M Kershner, Andy Kershner and wife Soozi, Greg Kershner and wife Shannon, David Kershner, Jeff Kershner, Steve Walton and fiancee Cheri Caton; granddaughters Karen Mundine Wilson and husband Tim, and Betsy Walton and fiancee JD Hooge; great grandsons Will and Johnny; great granddaughters Alexandra, Robin, Annabelle, and Hannah; nephew Deric Bownds; grand nephew Jonathan Bownds; and grand niece Sarah Bownds.

A memorial service will be held at St Michael’s Episcopal Church, 6317 Bee Caves Rd, Austin TX 78746, 512-327-1474 at 11 AM on Monday, November 26, Robby Vickery presiding. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to St Michael’s Episcopal Church, St Francis Episcopal Church of Houston, the National Audubon Society, the San Jacinto Girl Scouts  or a charity of your choice.

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