9 April 2008
Oral History Interview
I interviewed Mrs. Sarah Boston on March 22, 2008 for a History 1302 project. The interview is about the history of Del Rio as a town and about her childhood, and we briefly discuss the flood of 1998. The interview on the tape extends more than what the transcript covers.
Chris Wood: The first question is, where were you born?
Sarah Boston: Del Rio, Texas.
CW: You were born here in Del Rio, and you’ve live here your whole life?
SB: No, not really. When I was about two years old, we moved to a ranch in old Mexico, out of Durango, Mexico. And at that time which would make it, I was born in ’38, it would make it ’43, well of course, World War II was going on. But, Mexico City was population probably not more than one hundred thousand, and right now the population is over three million. So it has really grown. But then I, we spent off and on about five years in, in umm, at the ranch and the ranch was known as “El Rancho de Tres Picos,” the three mountain peaks behind the ranch. And then we’d come back and forth here to Del Rio. And this is where the Hamilton headquarters was located. And then, more or less went from here, we went to Pumpville, Texas, thirty miles on the other side of Pumpville where there was complete isolation, no umm, no telephone—the nearest phone was forty miles away.
SB: And we lived out there for about four or five years and then we moved to the J. R. Hamilton Ranch outside of Del Rio here, across from Fisherman’s Headquarters. And then, I went to school here in Del Rio, graduated in 1955, and in ’56 I moved to Alpine, Texas and went to college up there. And in the latter part of ’56 I married Landon Boston, freshly back from Korea, and we went to college. And other than that I’ve lived one year in a little tiny, bitty logging camp by the name of Maverick, Arizona, which is not in existence anymore, but if you know where Sholo, Arizona is you go sixty miles east of Sholo and, I’m sure the forest has grown up already around there, but that’s the little tiny, bitty town we lived in.
CW: And what was Del Rio like when you were a young girl?
SB: Very clannish, in fact. And there was either low class San Felipe workers, middle class merchants, and ranchers.
CW: So, nothing like it is right now.
SB: No. The…when I graduated from high school in ’55, the city limits of Del Rio was at the point where, what is the name of that right off, right across the street from Taco Bell, what’s the name of that café, or restaurant, whatever it is? Something, Wendy’s? It’s not Wendy’s.
CW: It’s not Wendy’s.
SB: But anyway, that’s where, that’s where the city limits of Del Rio was.
CW: Right across from Taco Bell.
SB: Right across from – right due west of Taco Bell. And we had two hundred, two hundred and fifty in our graduating class, maybe if we where lucky, probably closer to about one hundred and seventy-five. And now the average size of the graduating class is one thousand.
CW: And in early Del Rio, how did the wool and mohair business effect the economy?
SB: Oh, that was it.
CW: That was the economy?
SB: That was the economy. If you’ll go out on the road going towards the base, you’ll see a road that turns off that says Hamilton Lane off to the left that is, was named for my great-grand father. And the Hamilton’s where the major, Hamilton’s and the Whites were the major sheep raisers in this country. And that’s the reason why we lived down in Mexico, because my great-grandfather J. R. Hamilton saw the potential for a large ranching business in Mexico. And as one, when I was doing the research on that, I knew that they were in a very large raiser of sheep, but I didn’t know how large. At one time, our leased property extended from Del Rio, all the way out to Langtry, Texas.
CW: Wow, that’s a lot of land.
SB: That’s a lot of land. And we used to turn sheepherders with the traditional lambs and ewes, and the herder and he had no means of defense, and he went out with his dog, and we’d see him again maybe in six months, and he just raised across open land and grazed his sheep there. He’d come in and we’d sheer the sheep, cut the lambs off, and give him a different set and he’d pick up a lot of tortillas and flour and take off and go again.
CW: Head back out.
CW: Back then, how did the Air Force effect the economy?
SB: There was no Air Force. Base was there in ’48 I think it was, reactivated in ’48, but there was, and the buildings were there but we’re talking probably five buildings maybe one built in office if they were lucky, and that was it.
CW: So it wasn’t a training base until more recently then?
SB: Became a training base in, let’s see, SAC was here—Strategic Air Command was here in the, in the ‘60s. And then it became a training base I guess in mid-‘60s all the way through now.
CW: I know it’s been a, it’s now a major part of our economy.
SB: Yes it is. And you don’t see as, thankfully, you don’t see as much of this anti-base. They used to be called, regretfully, quote and end quote “flyboys.”
SB: Yep. And I’m sure that was insulting to them, and of course they used to call the ranchers sheepherders and that didn’t go over too good. [Laughing]
CW: It was kind of a, kind of a class war then, I guess between the Air Force base and the ranchers.
SB: [Laughing] Right. And then the, the wool market immediately transferred, very shortly into the ‘80s it transferred Australia. And they can import wool more easily and cheaper then they can by selling sheep out of here and sheering them.
CW: So when did the wool and mohair business finally kind of…
SB: Clear off?
CW: Yeah, taper off here in Del Rio.
SB: Mmm, probably, I’m guessing in the ‘90s.
CW: The ‘90s.
SB: Yep. And now you see a comeback of the sheep as you move on, travel on out highway 90, travel on highway 90 East and West and you’ll see herds of sheep out there.
CW: Yeah, I’ve noticed that as you go out more towards Comstock…
CW: There is a lot of sheep out towards Comstock.
SB: OK, now you get up towards Sonora, and there’s no Air Force base.
SB: It’s strictly sheep and goat raisers. In fact, Connie Isenhour and that family can testify their, their umm mascot was an angora goat up there at Comstock, at uh Sonora.
CW: Sonora. So other than the flood of ’98, what other major disasters have happened here in Del Rio. SB: Oh, we’ve always had floods.
CW: Always had floods?
SB: Always had floods. In fact in, in ’56 when my husband and I tried to get back from, from Alpine where we were going to college, there was such a flood on that, that we couldn’t get out highway 90, so we had to go up and around, way around the Rio Grande River and come in from San Angelo, and come in that route. But even then, all those creeks were badly flooded. I can remember I guess I was a senior in high school here, and we had a major flood which would make it 50, the early part of ’55. And my cousin, Ham White took my friend and I, Shirley Car, and we went flying along the Rio Grande River, and we could see bloated bodies of cows and horses and even I guess, I’m sure there were humans too, but that was before the construction of the dam, of course.
CW: OK. So when did they, when did they construct the dam?
SB: I think in 1961 they started collecting the first water. And then it just progressed from there. And it was such a flood north of, of the dam site, see Landon Ross was already born so that’d make it ’60, ’64 I think. Tammy was born so that’d make it ’64, ’65. They had Caterpillars, bulldozers going along the top of the dam to shore up the top of the dam, then finally they just called the people and along the River and said, “Get out of there, we’re releasing the food gates.” And they did. Now the flood that occurred here in what was it, when was it? ‘90s?
SB: ’98. If that amount of water had been upstream, there wouldn’t have been any problem. But regretfully, it started below Amistad Dam, and we got twenty inches of rain overnight. And so as an end result, then, people had allowed themselves to build up on the flood plain of the, of San Felipe Creek, and so it picked up this trash along there, old cars, houses whatever, and just washed it right on down and that’s why it was so blocked up.
CW: Where y’all affected by the flood over here? Not as much?
SB: We could look out from upstairs, in Tammy’s bedroom, and we could look out and I could see where Cienegas was down that little draw right there, that draw that you came across to come out here, it was flood stage. And it was probably waist high on me across there. And, Del Rio lost utilities, but whatever it was, God made sure that we didn’t lose utilities. So we opened up our house and our water supply, because we have an electric pump, anybody who needed it, if they needed to have food supply all they did was bring there food over here and we opened up the two refrigerators, three refrigerators up at the barn, the one at the trailer, and the two of them that are down here. And people just put there names on their milk or whatever they needed and they kept it that way.
CW: That’s good, ‘cause I remember at the house where we stayed at, I mean, we didn’t have power we didn’t have water.
SB: No, we always had power and we always had water, thank goodness.
CW: I’m trying to remember, I don’t know if it was a week, a little bit less than a week, going down to H.E.B. waiting in line to get water, so.
SB: Right. No, we’ve always had water out here. We’ve always had electricity. Now, our daughter, Tammy, was living in Florida at the time. And Dan was in Korea, and she got concerned, of course saw all those films on television, she got concerned. Dan told her to contact the base people and for them to fly out over here. So they contacted the Border Patrol helicopter and the helicopter came, and in fact they landed right out there yonder in that field. And they came in here and they wanted to know if we were alright, and I said, “Yeah, why?” And they said, well, said, “You’re daughter made some pretty high mucky-muck telephone calls [laughing] and we came out to check on you.” I said, “Well we’re not on top of our roof yet.” And so, then she was able to call Dan and tell him that we were alright. But he was very concerned about us.
CW: It’s good to know that you have someone who loves you though.
SB: Yes, definitely does. He was very concerned about us. Yes.