INTERVIEWEE: Bebe Fenstermaker (BF)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 18, 2006
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Jennifer Gumpertz, Denise Williams
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera background noise, unrelated to the interview content.
DT: My name’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 18th, 2006. We’re outside of Helotes, Texas on the northwestern edge of San Antonio. And we have the good fortune to be visiting with Bebe Fenstermaker…
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DT: Fenstermaker—sorry—who is a ranch owner and cattle operator with her sisters, has been involved in a lot of conservation issues, both related to protection of the land, and—and—and trying to bring up some of the issues that are related to plant conservation and wildlife conservation, than they—larger beyond the—the ranch’s boundary. I want to take this chance to thank you for spending time with us.
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BF: Glad to be here.
DT: I thought we might start by just asking you about your first exposure to conservation and—from—perhaps from your family or from early things in your childhood.
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BF: Well, I lived in West Texas, in Fort Davis, until I was about fourteen. And the big thing when we were there was the Forever Drought of the ‘50s. And I can remember my mother commenting about why haven’t they gotten the cattle and the sheep and the goats off the land yet. And of course, everyone was trying to hold their animals until they—they—as long as they could thinking the drought would break. But they just about
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lost their—all of their topsoil in doing that. And that would be the first conservation issue that I recall. Then we were interested—they—my parents were very interested in—in the land. They took us everywhere. We—we were fascinated with geology and plants. And—and I remember going fossil hunting, and geode hunting. And weather was of great concern because we would have tremendous dust storms, and we’d be out riding
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horseback and race to get in before the dirt hit, and not making it. And we were in a wonderful geological area, just outstanding with wonderful plants. And our parents were interested in that. And then our grandmother and aunt would come in the summers, and they were interested in that. And my grandmother and aunt were artists, and so we would go out painting, or we would do ceramics. So we—we were recording many natural things always.
DT: I—I was intrigued, too. You told me earlier that your family—your—your parents had been involved in trying to restore Fort Davis Historical Park.
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DT: And—and I was hoping that you might be able to tell us a little bit about that, and the—the broader connection with conservation that historic restoration has.
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BF: Well, Fort Davis was privately owned, and it was melting down, but got luckily saved because it was so dry. But they knew time was taking its toll, and efforts had been tried before. But a—a group of—of them, Mom and Pop and several friends decided they’d try again to start a—a historical society or preservation society. And they did it. And they put on money-making events. They—at—about the time they got started, or a
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couple years afterwards, Fort Davis was a hundred and fifty years old, I think. Eight—no—just a hundred years old. It’s—they had a centennial and they had a wonderful celebration. They had—everyone dressed up, and they’d—all they did was just go out to the barn and get the old things. They got carriages out of the barn, they got mules, they got the harness, they got costumes, they had, you know, grandma’s bonnet. And it was a
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s—it was one of the most exciting things we ever were in. And we all got to ride in the parade with all these people in their carriages and—and everything. And so you got to see the old stuff. And then I remember that they had organized—they had a wonderful bar-b-cue. We had bar-b-cued buffalo, because it was buffalo from the XIT Ranch. No, excuse me. The X Ranch up around the loop. And they—then they had old timers come
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and speak. And they were fascinating. It was not recorded. Not one word of that was recorded. But they told old stories about being there. And Mr. Kingston from—I think he was from Pecos or Balmorhea—told about Hi Jolly and the camels coming. And they had been out in carriages. They were driving somewhere, a bunch of people, and all of a sudden the horses just started stampeding. And then over the hill came Hi Jolly and the
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camel. We heard wonderful stories. And—and the one thing about Fort Davis was that we met so many characters, thanks to our parents. They—a—a lot of—a lot of times they were not listened to very carefully because they were old or odd looking and all, but our parents were always fascinated with those people. And so we got to hear the old stories. And that meant a great deal. We still listen to old stories, and—and what old people have to say.
DT: This is—is way out in West Texas, near Fort Davis that you—speaking about, but you also have family roots here in San Antonio.
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DT: And my understanding is that your grandmother was one of the founders of the San Antonio Conservation Society. I was hoping you could clue us in a little bit about its role in—in protecting some of the—both natural resources and historic resources.
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BF: When my grandmother felt—she came to San Antonio as a young girl. Her parents had moved away after the Civil War. My great grandfather said he got tired of looking for rain clouds because he got a crick in his neck, so he—they moved to St. Louis. And Grandma would come down to visit her grandmother, Mary Adams Maverick. And she loved San Antonio dearly. And then she met Bob Green, Robert B.
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Green, her future husband, and fell in love with, and married him. At about that time her parents moved back. And she—what she loved about San Antonio was the little low Spanish buildings, and the colors, and all of that meant a great deal to her, the—the way the river came through. And one day, after the 1921 flood, she read in the paper that they were going to demolish the—they were going to do a lot of changing because there’d
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been a terrible flood, and they were going to have to do something about the way the river came through downtown. And they were going to demolish the old Greek—oh, I think they wer—or—(?) column market house. And it upset her a great deal, and she found herself downtown looking to stay across the street looking at it later that day. And a friend of hers, Emily Edwards, came up and she was down there for the same reason.
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And Grandma said, Emily, we’re going to have organize. And so they went to a friend of theirs who was a lawyer, and—Mr. Franklin, and they incorporated. And they started, and they most certainly did things. The fir—one of the first things they did, they lost the market house. It was torn down. But one of the very first things they did was save the river from being paved over, because that’s what they were going to do. So they fought
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many battles. The Highway Department was going to go through one corner of San Jose Mission, and they put an end to that. And those ladies went out on the line. Grandma saved the Martin Perfecto de Cos House in La Villita single-handedly. She was going by one day and workman were going at it with a pick. It was adobe. And it was owned by
the City Water Board. And she knew Mr. Goethe who was the head of it, and she went
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right over there and made them stop. And Cos was the Mexican officer in charge of San Antonio when—when the revolution broke out. So—I mean it was important and Grandma knew it. Nobody seemed to care about things like that. And those first ladies were remarkable in what they accomplished. They—nobody could tell them no, and they just went ahead.
DT: You—you touched on something briefly there about the San Antonio River, which is I guess the main stem that goes through downtown of San Antonio. It has a nice loop that makes up the Riverwalk. Can you tell about her efforts to keep it from being paved over?
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BF: Yes. They put on a puppet show. Emily was a puppeteer. She was an artist and had a—done many things off—and one of the—the—off in New York and Provincetown, and all. One of the things she had learned to do was make puppets and put on shows. And she made puppets that were the image of each city councilman. And they put on a show called The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. And the goose of course was the
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river. And it was a smash hit. The—the city councilman loved it, and they saw the point, and they—and they stopped the—the move toward paving it over. But they took them out in boats. They—they made them float down the river and see what was beautiful about the river, and—and how important it was to the city. Think of it if they wouldn’t have it now.
DT: You also had mentioned that—that your family was involved in trying to protect Travis Park.
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DT: What was that about?
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BF: Well, Travis Park and everything nor—w—east of it belonged to Samuel Maverick. It was a beautiful, big piece of land, and Travis Park was part of his orchard. His house was on the east corner. And he put there, he built there because he had been in the Alamo, and he had been sent by the men from the Alamo to represent them as the
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Declaration—signing of the Declaration of Independence, and he escaped with his life.
And so he wanted to build his house there because that was where his—he—where he could see the Alamo everyday. Anyway, that was his orchard. And as things were broken up and—and the Houston Street was developed, and—and Travis Street, that land
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was—was about what was left. And so the family decided to deno—donate it, and they had the chance to name it Samuel Maverick Park. But they thought that naming Travis
Park was more important. And so they deeded it to the city with the stipulation that if they ever wanted to do anything else with it, it would be—it would revert back to the family. Well, when we were in Fort Davis, so that would be the ‘50s, H.B. Zachary
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decided that he wanted to get the city to put in a underground—he wanted to build it, but an underground parking lot instead of the pa—of the—the beautiful trees that are in there, in the park. And—oh, they planted some grass on top. And our family was just incensed. And they decided to sue. And they did it in the name—I think my grandmother and my cou—our—our cousin, Ann Wisey, and Robert Maverick sued.
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And they went to the courthouse to find that deed, and it disappeared. It was gone. And that deed has never been seen again. So they couldn’t go very far with the suit. But the Conservation Society took it up. And they—Hubert Green was the—Hubert Green Sr. was the law—their lawyer, and he was just about to retire in a year or two, so he said this would be his last case. And he would come back and regale them everyday about the
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bribes he’d been offered at the courthouse to throw the case. And that’s where we learned not to hire lawyers in your local county. Go outside your county and find a lawyer who is not involved. Anyway, it—they did win. They—they preserved Travis Park.
DT: You told us a little bit about conservation efforts out in West Texas, Fort Davis, and downtown with the San Antonio River, and with Travis Park. It seems like some of these development threats have—have started to come home to the ranch where you live now to the north of—of San Antonio, a historic that’s been in your family for many years called the Maverick-Altgelt Ranch, and the Fenstermaker…
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BF: The Fenstermaker…
DT: Frome Farm.
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BF: …Fromme—Fromme Farm.
DT: Fromme. I’m sorry. And I was hoping that you might be able to tell us a little bit about the historic roots of the ranch, and maybe describe some of the—the flora and fauna of the place as well.
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BF: Well, we’re in the Balcones Escarpment. We have habitat from several areas coming into the—together. And that’s what makes this area so remarkable, is that we have the South Texas Thorn Rush Country, we have the Hill Country, and we have a—a sort of a remnant or—or part of the Post Oaks Savannah. We have Post Oaks. So we have a lot of habitat that—that all meshes together, and we have the animals eh—of all 00:15:34 – 2347
three areas. And it makes us very unusual. And we have tried for a long, long time to wake up the—the pol—politicians of Bexar County as to how valuable this is, and they just don’t seem to get it. To this day they don’t seem to get it. What nature tourism becoming a huge industry in Texas, they still don’t get it. They really don’t even understand what we’re talking about when we say nature tourism.
DT: Well, maybe you can give us some example of what you mean by ecotourism. I’ve heard that you led folks San Antonio Audubon Society come out to the ranch and…
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DT: …what do—what do you do when they come and visit? What do you show them?
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BF: We walk around and they pretty much show us. They’re tremendous birders, and they have been coming for fifty-one or two years. The—actually, some of the people who started it were coming long before that. And I do want to say that next year the ranch will have been in our family a hundred years. And we’re real proud of that. Anyway, when we—when we go out, we’re with these tremendous birders who—
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that’s—that—all they want to do is walk and see. And they—they bird by ear, they can see a bird just splash through and they knew exactly what it is, and they’re—it’s just fascinating to be with them. They—they—and one of them saved our hide, because when we were fighting the Highway Department, I called her and it—as—Mrs.Adelle Harding—and I asked her if by any chance she had record of—of—or—or had kept
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record of her birding at the Maverick Ranch. And she’d been doing for, you know, forty—forty-five years. She said, yes, she’d look through her records. She had a very detailed list, but it was out in—in a pile in the garage. But she—she had a general list. She—it was amazing to me. She kept different kinds of lists. She had a very general list, a running list, of what she had seen at the ranch. And she would do this for each
place that they went to over the years. And she sent me the list, and there were the
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endangered birds on it. And it was a tremendous list that we’ve started from, and we’ve added to since. But she gave us something. At that time we kept saying we had the endangered birds. The Golden-cheeked warbler and the Black-capped vireo. And the Highway Department kept calling us insane, and hysterical women, and liars. And we just put it out there on the table, this is Harding’s list, and it was proof. She saved our hides.
DT: Well, speak—speaking of the vireo, I understand that—that you’ve been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore habitat on the ranch to—to increase those populations. Can you talk about that effort?
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BF: Well, they—the Black-capped vireo is a very interesting little bird that nests about, as they call it, “door handle height” off the ground. And they’re always running out of habitat because it grows out of size. And they do very well where there’s been fire, and then re-growth. And—and they—they—when you—when you have a fire and you lose oaks or things like that, then you’ll have a lot of sprouting. And then when it
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gets to be about chest height or—or head height, then they’ll go in in very dense brush and start nesting. And so we took out all the cedar. And we chose an area in which we did not have Golden-cheeked warblers. And we—we census every year, and so we knew we didn’t have them there. And it was mostly re-growth cedar, so we took that out. And then the hardest part was to cut tr—big oak trees. We cut all oak trees ten inches in
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diameter and under. And it was like slaughtering something you love. But as we did it, and we harvested the wood for—for fuel, but I—as we did it, it opened up the land and we began to see things as it would have been after a fire. And now we have a lot of good re-growth, and we’re getting to four years I think now. They said about five to six years it would take before we might see birds in there again.
DT: I understand that you all have also been involved with the Native Plant Society of—of Texas in its Boerne Chapter. And I was hoping that you could talk about the plant rescue efforts and—and the—I think it’s called Project Nice?
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BF: Yes. I’ll be happy to talk about the plant rescue. I wasn’t a part of Project Nice, but it’s a wonderful idea of working with nurseries to get them to—to highlight a—a—a particular native plant of this area each month. And they go in and they work with the—the—the nurseries and they have all kinds of information for the people, and they get them a list early enough so they’ll order the—enough plants for that month. And it’s
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been very successful. And the rest of the state organizations have take—and a—a lot of different chapters have taken that up. And the Plant Rescue is a good and very sad thing, too, because we—we try to get into areas that are going to be developed, and it’s almost come to an end because developers won’t let us in now. But we just want to go in and collect all the e—the plants that we can get out of there to—we do it in pots and—and
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pl—plastic bags, and we’ve—we’ve got a lot of tricks now. But we harvested one site. And I think it was the greatest education that our chapter has undertaken, because we went in, and little plants that no one knew anything about, there would be somebody that knew about that plant, or somebody that knew about that plant. And we all learned what each little thing was. And I mean we saw little things, big things, grasses, bushes, trees.
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And we learned what we could take and what we couldn’t take. And we all went home with fabulous plants. And—and—and that site isn’t wh—now. They came in and they didn’t—they scraped it once. They burned it once, and then they scraped it. And then that wasn’t enough, they cut it down and just took it away. And that is probably one of the most diverse, rich places we have ever worked in. And it’s gone. It will never come
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back. It will—you will never see the amount of plants on it that—that there were. And it breaks your heart. And now they don’t really want us to come in. They—they say we might fall down and—and—and hurt ourselves, or things like that. We’re willing always to sign releases, but they just don’t want us coming in and telling them how valuable what they have is. And we have had—we took—my sister, Mary, and I became master
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naturalists in the very first class. And one of the things that the group of people that were teaching us tried to do was tell developers how valuable the plants on their land are before they take them away. And wh—I remember going out to one site where they had tagged all these bushes, and given them the price three hundred—five hundred dollars on—on a—on a sumac that was a huge su—thing. But that they would just cut without thinking. And then, you know, think of what people come in a plant. Carpet grass and
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log strum. And then we have invasive plants, and we’ve lost the native plants. And we are—and native plants in Texas are—are in very, very frightful condition because of what developers do.
DT: You’ve talked some about the plants that support the—the Black-capped vireo and—and the warbler, and—and then some of these plants that are—are unique and special in their own right. I was curious if you could talk about some of the animals on your land, particularly the—the long-horn herd that you have, and what makes it distinctive.
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BF: Well, the fact we love it so much. But I was given a cow and calf for my fortieth birthday. And that started the whole thing. And then we went to an auction and came back with a couple more, and then it just got worse after that. We—I—it became my passion looking at lines and breeding. And then my—both of my sisters have a really good eye for cattle. And so we know—we just picked up I guess by osmosis what the old
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look was. I always wait for Mary to pass on it before I get excited. But we just naturally gravitated toward the old look. And they have improved the longhorn today so that it has what they call a “herring gut.” It’s just a—the—goes up to the hindquarters and—and it goes—goes—stomach areas, just terrible to look at. They have huge chests and huge heads. They have absolutely ruined the breed. And they’re having breeding problems. And one of the exciting things and good things about a longhorn is that they never have
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calving problems. The bulls never have a real big head, and they are narrow chested, so that calves are born without having to be assisted. And there’s a group of people who have persevered and they—the Cattleman’s Registry. They pretty much stuck with the old Yates line and the Wichita Wildlife Refuge line. And those go back to the very beginning of the saving the longhorn. And they look right, they have twisty horns, and
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they—narrow chests, and small heads, and—and the cows are a dream to see. And that’s—that’s what we raise. And they look right.
DT: You’ve given us a little history of the—the ranch and farm, and—and description of some of the—the—the plants and the habitat, and—and the animals that you run there. Can you talk some about what you’ve had to protect the ranch from? Some of the threats that have, I guess, sort of been spawned by some of the development in—in San Antonio?
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BF: Well, everyone has a better idea of what you should do with your property. And they’re wrong. They—we have fought eminent domain four times. Seventeen years ago we got a call from a neighbor who said that a six lane highway was coming through the ranch. And that was two months after my mother had died, and four months after my father had died, and my—our great aunt had died just two weeks before that. So we’d
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had some awful big shakeups. And I—I guess they thought maybe it was a good time to hit on us, but it was a terrible mistake because we were dug in. That was the place we knew everybody, and we remembered everybody there. Plus we love the place. And we did many things. As a matter of fact, we are still working with that, because they’ve never taken those plans off the drawing board. And we hear—we watch them all the time. But we’ve—we hired a lawyer within two weeks, and an eminent domain
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specialist. And we continue to work with him because we’ve been through three other em—eminent domain fights. Three with the utility company from San Antonio. The city owned our—utility company, thought that they—it was such a good idea to put some huge transmission lines through the ranch, and—and a substation right on the fence line. And then they’ve tried that two times. And then they—they hit on us individually to their
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embarrassment. They tried to come through and actually threatened with guns the last time. And we just always—we know what we have to do. We have to catch them by the nose and take them to the ground and start at ground zero. And that’s pretty much what we have to do each time. They just don’t seem to leave us alone. They tell us that they have to put in lines and roads to stay ahead of development, but they’re just working for the developer. They don’t have to do that.
DT: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the—the road project. I think that’s Route 211? Is that correct?
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DT: How did that start? What was its, you know, described purpose?
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BF: Well, a bunch of developers donated some land. They decided they needed to have a road that ran from 90—Highway 90 to 10, and hopefully they could get it over to 35. And so they looked—they all had land on the—the west—southwest side of San Antonio, plus there was—they were putting in—somebody had sold some land or donated some land to make a research park. And so they all just donated right of way.
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And they got it up to Highway 16, and they just expected to ri—roll on through. And they met a fight. They met a farmer, and they met a r—two ranchers that decided they’d about had enough. They—you know, that’s how roads were being built then. If a developer would give—donate right-a-way, that put a road project at the h—at the top of the list. It’s amazing. And that was n—in 19—about 1989 and ‘90. And right about that time the Highway Department went through the Sunset process for the first time in its
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whole life. And up until then they had always told Parks and Wildlife and all the other state entities where to go. They—the Antiquities Community, they would just plow through Indian sites. They did in—on 211, they scattered—scattered on over a five mile radius. Just, you know—this was all before. And we went up and testified. It was a very interesting day because all morning the Highway Department held its way I’ve
seen—I saw—it was—what we saw was really disgusting. We saw racism, we saw big
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brother, some of the meanest things I’ve ever seen, and determined and—and—and then smarminess, how wonderful they all were, and what all they did for this state, and so forth. And we knew, and the people we had talked to about highways knew what—what they actually have done is leave people with almost nothing. Anyway, in the afternoon it was up to the people who had a beef with the Highway Department. So we spoke, and so did many other people, many other people, from environmental groups to a little guy who
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ran a road cleaning business, and just because someone in his district wanted a pal of his to get the job, he re—almost put him out of business to get him off that road, get at—to take the job away from him. Just incredible. And after that the Highway Department—ti was a very good thing for the Highway Department to go through that because they had
to—they had to do memorandums of understanding with all the other state agencies. And that was the first time they ever had to start towing the line. They’re still bullies, but they have had to do that.
DT: And you were saying that they—they threatened (?) land, use of eminent domain. What sort of tools do you use to fight against such, you know, powerful companies?
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BF: You go out and you get the best eminent domain lawyer in the country. And then you go to every meeting you can think of. You talk to everyone you know. You ask everyone to write letters. You lose a lot of friends. And the—and the—and the way you lose friends is they all think you’ve caught some disease and they just run. But then you meet a lot of new people that are absolutely wonderful, and you meet a lot of people who know how to fight. And I’m sure my sisters can embroider a l—I mean or come up with
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a lot of other things to do with that, but it was—it was nonstop for the first six years. That’s all we did. The first year that they showed up, half the cow—we were doing artificial insemination for the cattle trying to get new blood into the herd, or really branch out and really go as far as we could go. If you do that, you can really improve your herd so fast. But half the herd did not get bred. So it really costs. It costs a tremendous amount of energy. And we never saw anyone we knew. We were working all the time. 00:34:02 – 2347
We were learned early that we’d be out there hanging all by ourselves, not to a—not to depend on someone to come and help you. No group would show up to support you, that you were really on your own. But we had to find that out for ourselves. We went before every group, every environmental group, every person we could think of. We listened to anybody who had an idea. And we found out. We were out there all by ourselves y—ultimately. And one is. But you have to decide what’s in—important to you. And we knew what was important. We want to save the ranch, and that’s our goal.
DT: Well, considering how fast development has moved northwest of San Antonio and in—around most of the big metropolitan areas in Texas, what—why did you feel that it was the right thing to do to take a stand rather than sell the ranch, subdivide it, make a lot of money, retire happily, you know, easily?
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BF: Well, where would I go? I love the ranch. It’s my home. I have a responsibility to every life that lives there. We hold a paper that says that we own it. But there are animals and plants, trees, and—and—that—that make their living there. They have no other place to go. And I’d never think of abandoning them. I have a responsibility in this
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life, and I have chosen this one. And there simply will not be a destruction of the habitat that I own, if I can do anything about it. I—it is the most important to me in my life. Not just longhorn cattle, but I mean all the bugs, every microbe on it.
DT: Speaking of—of bugs and microbes, I think that—that you and your sisters had been involved in an effort to list some of the cave invertebrates, is that correct?
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BF: Yes. Yes.
DT: Can you talk about that effort?
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BF: Well, Austin has its, and we have ours. And we—we—we knew about it. I mean we’re—we have many, many caves due to the Balcones Escarpment and the Edwards Aquifer. And we knew cavers and we knew entomologists that kept saying that these an—these are here, we have them right here, and we need to do something about it. So we worked many years trying to get them listed. And we had an uphill battle getting U.S.
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Fish and Wildlife to even listen to us. And we tried to work with them, and—and—and get them listed. We had the list, we had—we had everything that was needed, we—we petitioned to have them listed, and it kept being delayed and delayed and delayed to the point beyond which I think it had become illegal. And we finally had to threaten to sue. And we—there was a group of us, and we worked with the Center of Biological
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Diversity, I think, in Arizona, and they were going to help us sue. And finally they—we finally got them listed. But I’ll not forget the hearing where we—there were about—let’s see, there was Irene and Kyle and Mary and I, who spoke on behalf of listing them. And then a couple who just sort of took the easy way out. They were for listing, but when
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they got up to speak, I could have beaten them, they—they didn’t come out and say they should be listed. And then surprisingly some environmental groups who spoke against listing them along with thousands of developers. But somehow we got them listed.
DT: I guess these cave invertebrates are, along with lots of other creatures, dependent on the hydrology of the this area.
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DT: The—the water systems in the—in the Edwards Aquifer, and in the Trinity as well, I suppose.
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DT: Can you talk about some of the concerns that you might have about water development in this area and its effect on (?)?
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BF: It’s a nightmare, and it’s—it’s like depending on oil, you know, and thinking we’re going to do that the rest of human existence. The water in this area that we’re—that we use is the Trinity, and it is not the Edwards which has tremendous resource—resources and r—great recharge. The Trinity does not recharge. It—anything like—it—a—we’re a much harder surface, more limestone, and it—we—the ro—water generally
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runs off of us into the rivers and streams that either go to the coast or into the Edwards
Aquifer. And for a long time the Highway Department said that we didn’t—we didn’t help recharge the Edwards, but that has been tri—proven now. Anyway, we did try many things. W—we’ve tried articles, we’ve tried speaking before groups, we’ve—we tried to form our own water district, which was an education. We tried to w—form a water
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district that was fair to all the taxpayers. And we didn’t—one of the things we wouldn’t—we would not—we would not authorize, is that inner basin transfers—we
would not let our water be taken off—out of our—we would not be able to sell our water outward. But our state legislator, we tried it once and Buster Brown stopped all of those bills. We know where he is now, working for those water purveyors. And then the
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second time we decided to put the bill through again, and it was very well written. And we sent it to our legislator and he wouldn’t let us see it for a long, long time. And then the day came, he said, oh, come up and speak on behalf of the bill. And we said, well, send us the bill, we want to see it first. And he had fixed it, and worked with the big water purveyors, San Antonio Water Systems, and Bexar Metro, and Mark Murrieta, and he’d worked out an agreement that if they took less than fifty percent of the water they
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sold out of the Trinity, their Trinity wells, they wouldn’t have to pay anything to the water district. So we wouldn’t go and speak. He—and that passed. We tried very hard. We put up quite a campaign to defeat the—the—the vote for the water district, but people just thought it was a wonderful idea. And now their water can be sold right out from under them. And—and the ones who take it, the big water takers do not have to pay any taxes to the water district. How fair is that?
DT: Can you help us understand what—what water means in the case of the drought? I understand that—that you lived through the drought of the 1950’s out in West Texas. And I guess were aware of how it affected the area around San Antonio as well.
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BF: Yes. I think that wells went dry, having not been here in San Antonio. But I think that first of all, if you’re a rancher, you sell all your animals. And then as an old timer told me, when you can buy animals back, he said they were the lousiest animals
were s—were for sale. So you had to start from ground zero again. But I—in West
Texas I never remembered wells going dry. People always had water. But the situation is different now because we have so many people draining the aquifers. And it’s getting
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very dangerously low, but they keep developing as if there is all the water in the world. People keep moving here, and we have a very finite source of water. And they will tell you—or they tell everyone, no problem with the water. We tell everyone, big problem with the water. Guess who they listen to? Not us.
DT: Some of this growth and change in this area seems to be fueled by population growth. Do you have any views on—on that?
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BF: I’m an unmarried woman without children. That’s my view. I—I decided long ago I wasn’t going to add to the population. I’m not prescribing that for others, but I—I have not regretted that. I think that we really need to think about what’s happening to the entire world. And we have a lot of people crushing in on each other, and—and draining resources. And my huge beef, besides the water, is the loss of habitat, wildlife habitat.
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What I knew in Texas, what I love about Texas, I don’t see anymore. And I’m afraid to love a place other than my own that I can control. I’m afraid to look at a pretty place and—and admire it because tomorrow it may be just bulldozed. I can drive by and it’s gone. And that hurts to see that everyday. That’s really hurtful. And I don’t know how other people feel, but I feel it degrades my life to see beauty lost, and see cement, and—and—and bulldozers working on the hill.
DT: Well, given the experience that you’ve had in loving and restoring and working on a piece of land, and trying to protect it from all kind of encroachments, what sort of advise would you give to the—the next generation that might come to—to know and love this piece of land? Or to live in San Antonio and try to live well here?
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BF: To take time, and I know that’s very hard. People are so busy and there are so many stresses in life, and there’s so many demands on their time, and just making a living now is much harder. They just simply need to be allowed the time to reflect on what—what they see, and the fact that it could disappear. And they also need to think about what maybe has disappeared. They almost need to think about what was here, find out
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about what was there. I know that San Antonio Conservation Society, they would—their motto I think was something like “Do you want to say, here it is, I saved it? Or do you want to say, yes, I remembered it?” And of course, we don’t want to just remember it, we want to see everything. And I remember a child once. We were—I was taking a tour through San Jose Mission and—and—and the little fellow asked me, he said, where do
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birds go at night to sleep? And I think that’s a sad question. I think every single person on this earth ought to be able to know what a bird does. We have so little time. And we need to allow children to know what is. We need to allow them to see what there is, and to take it slow enough where they can see how s—how an animal or a tree lives.
DT: Well said. I—I—I don’t’ have anymore questions myself. But do you have anything you’d like to add?
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BF: No. I just think what you’re doing is wonderful. I love hearing from all these people.
DT: Great. Well, thank you very much for your time.
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BF: Thank you.
End of reel 2347
End of interview with Bebe Fenstermaker