West Texas Legend Hallie Stillwell Makes a Mistake and the Cowboys Ain't Happy
In 1997, when Hallie Stillwell died just shy of her 100th birthday in Alpine, she was a West Texas legend. She had married Big Bend Rancher Roy Stillwell nearly 80 years before, in 1918, and moved to his very small ranch house in the desert. Here, Hallie describes a mistake she made upon first arriving at the house:
“What I had in mind was to clean up the place, which I did in a big way. I swept, scrubbed, dusted, and worked on anything and everything, including the old black coffee pot. That particular coffee pot had never been cleaned before. The men had always just thrown out the coffee grounds, rinsed the pot with cold water, and considered it ready to set down on the fire at any given moment to brew a fresh pot of coffee.
I decided to take this pot to the sand pile, scrub it with sand first, scrub it with wood ashes, and then scrub it some more. I did not have any other kind of cleaning material except soap. I finally removed the crusts of black from the outside and most of the stains on the inside. I was more than proud of my accomplishment.
The next morning when I awakened I heard grumbling sounds coming from the kitchen. Four men were sitting in a torment as they sipped on the early morning coffee. It was obvious that they were trying to make the best of a bad situation. I heard Lee [one of the cowboys] moan, “It will be six months before this pot can make decent coffee again.”
I knew then that I had made another mistake. I would never be forgiven for washing that coffee pot. I covered my head with a pillow and sank down under the covers as Roy came into the bedroom. “Here, try to drink this coffee. Why the hell did you wash the coffee pot?”
I have always enjoyed lying in a comfortable bed and listening to the cowboys as they ground the Arbuckle coffee beans in the coffee grinder as they prepared the morning meal, but that particular morning I was not so comfortable. The grumbling about the clean coffee pot did not last the six months as predicted, and the men were thoughtful enough to keep the comments to themselves so that I would not feel so bad. But I never even attempted to wash that coffee pot again without first checking with Roy.
Even though I was somewhat embarrassed about my mistake, I felt that it was just a little one. Nevertheless, the story was told in Alpine and Marathon and it was years before I heard the end of it. Roy’s friends would casually ask if I had washed the coffee pot again and then let out a hearty laugh. Let a woman make one mistake and the cowboys will joke about it for years.”
----- Hallie Stillwell, legendary Big Bend rancher, journalist, Justice of the Peace, school teacher in “I’ll Gather My Geese,” 1991
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.