If you grew up in Marble Falls, you knew Glenn. If you ever passed through Marble Falls you may have encountered Glenn Lewis.
His was a real cowboy, doing ranch work most of his life. You always hear it said, that ol boy was born a hundred years too late. In Glenn’s case, there was never a truer cliché ever used. He was rugged, both inside and out. As a young man you would seldom see him that he wasn’t riding a horse or didn’t have one in a trailer behind an old pickup. He was 5 years older than me and 3 years older than Kenny. There was a lot to be learned from Glenn.
We shared the same last name but one has to go way back to find how we connect by blood kin. My brother Kenny and I were thrown together with Glenn often. His mother and our step-grandmother, Leona, Maw-Maw, Aunt Nonie & Nonie, (you’ll hear a lot more out of her. She was probably my greatest supporter and the person that made me most want to do right by others – but that’s for another day) were sisters. Throughout our upbringing, Glenn was always part of the goat gathering and shearing days I’ve talked about and part of many Smithwick adventures. I most fondly recall to the MF Rodeo every year. That weekend we would come and spend with Glenn bringing our horses (well most of the time I’d bring Tar Baby my donkey). From the buildup of the Friday afternoon parade right on to the Friday and Saturday night rodeo there was something exciting happening around town.
Few people I’ve ever run across in life that knew Glenn didn’t have a story to tell. Glenn was as likely to unload a horse out of the trailer and ride it into the beer joint as he was to ride along Backbone Creek and chase down and rope a colored child and scare them to death. I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing of him really hurting a human by roping them, but then again I wasn’t always with him.
As legend has it that he and several other cowboys in the late 60s were gathering cattle down in south Texas along the Rio Grande below Eagle Pass. In the heat of the day they decided to ride across the river to a small village where they proceeded to rope the citizenry and tie some up. They took over the little cantina and were having a party when someone was able to get word to the Mexican Federales that were summoned from Eagle Pass. Most of the cowboys were still sober enough to see what was happening and got on their horses and rode back to safety. Glenn and a couple of others weren’t that sober. Luckily the rancher they were working for was well connected to Washington DC and the Mexican Government, so their stay in a Mexican Jail was limited to a few days. (I guess it seemed like the thing to do at the time). I loaned Glenn $500 to finish paying his way out of that mess. He gave me the title to his old blue and white 62’ model Ford pickup. Years later he needed the title so he could trade it off, so gave it back to him.
A favorite story told by many puts him at the Circle Inn on a Saturday night. It was one of those hot summer nights that caused people to not always get along. Glenn and another patron got into a fight and the Proprietor, Alice Sayers ushered them outside. Alice wasn’t someone you wanted to mess with. (I know, I married her granddaughter) Rather than get in his pickup and leave, Glenn walked to the back of the building (he had consumed huge amounts of beer) took the back off of the old-timey water cooler that blew damp cool air across the dance floor and relieved himself. The moist cool air turned to a fine mist of urine as the squirrel cage fan slung warm piss the full width of the building. Glenn wasn’t in most people that were there that night’s best grace’s for a while.
When I started my first construction project (a subcontract to lay new water mains all over Burnet, Texas in 1972, Big Jimmy Palmer and Glenn were my first two employees. They were hard workers and dependable. That summer we laid water lines and installed fire hydrants down what seemed like every street in Burnet. When I drive down those streets now, almost every block brings back a funny memory of some kind. When we finished in Burnet we moved on to Lakeway and then other projects around Austin. Madeline and I were newly married, I has sworn off of alcoholic beverages, so I didn’t get involved in there night life too much. There were always wild stories every morning. You can only imagine what bringing Jimmy and Glenn to the big city to live for the first time was like. The time with Glenn being away from Marble Falls came to an end after a couple of years and Jimmy hung around for a few more before his lust for the nightlife to precedence over construction work. He became a bouncer and then a manager of a south Austin favorite nightspot.
Now for the Glenn and the Hat Story:
Dial the clock forward to the fall of 1979. My brother had joined me in 1976 in the construction business after he finished a six year stint in the Army. We had contracted to build a nice housing subdivision on RR 2222 in west Austin, The Cliff’s Over Lake Austin. Kenny & I walked down through that heavily wooded piece of property and found a wealth of great straight cedar trees that was perfect of harvesting cedar posts for fence building. So rather than send a dozer through to clear we decided to put a crew of chainsaw wielding Mexicans together to maximize our profits. Kenny ran onto Glenn in Marble Falls and struck a deal with him to come be a foremen over that crew. Something he was very familiar with. His job was to keep the guys lined out, the saws running and the chains sharp.
They had been working on that project a few weeks when Christmas came along. Back in those days it was customary to give all the guys a small Christmas bonus check, a frozen turkey or ham and a bottle of whiskey to celebrate the season with. The Cliff’s Over Lake Austin was a fairly central location, so we sent word that at an appointed time we would all meet there. Kenny and our bookkeeper Woody, an elderly fellow, gathered up everything and I along with about 50 guys met them there.
They pulled down inside the cleared site so everyone could have a few beers out of sight of anyone. I stopped along-side of the highway, I was driving a new 80’ Buick Riviera and didn’t want to scratch it up. I walked down a path to join the others. We stood around, everyone visiting with chainsaws still running far off in the background when Kenny walked to the back door of his pickup and retrieved a big box. It was my Christmas present that all of the employees had gone together to buy. In the box was a beautiful 100x beaver cowboy hat. That is the best quality hat known to man. Even that long ago, it still cost around $500. I proudly removed it from the box and with its perfect crease and shape put it on my head. Every man in attendance couldn’t have been prouder. With the sound of the saws going silent, Glenn and the guys came up out of the brush to join us. Glenn was mostly unknown to all the other hands, as he had been hired and put on that project away from all the others.
As Glenn walked up he started admiring the new hat. He knew a good hat when he saw one. The thinner the felt of the brim the better quality. This hat seemed almost paper thin. He said “here let me see it”. I said no way, because his hands were filthy grimy from working on chain saws all day. He walk over to a truck and got some go-jo hand cleaner out and carefully cleaned his hands using water from a drinking can. Seeing his hands were clean I handed him the hat. He turned it this way and that way admiring it. He still didn’t know that I had been given the hat by my loyal employees. Suddenly he started wadding the hat up, rolling it in against his oily dirty jacket that covered his belly. Within seconds the hat became a ruined mess.
Everyone was stunned, especially me. I grabbed the hat from him and stormed out of there in a huff, getting in my fine automobile and left.
A couple of miles down the road something exploded inside me. I turned around and headed back. As if it were in a movie, me driving as fast as I could going back, I hit the shoulder of the road, locked up my brakes and slid right up to where I’d been previously parked. Kenny & Glenn at the same moment appeared out of the brush with many others behind them. In a huge cloud of dust I flung my door open, stepped out and immediately grabbed to back of Glenn’s big heavy denim jacket, pulling it up over his head, locking his arms in a fully upward position. He was helpless to move. One hand tightly holding on to the jacket, the other made into a tight fist I went to work on his face, completely transforming it. That lasted for a short while, with him finally tripping me up (at the time he would go 260 lbs. to my 165 lbs.) we tumbled to the ground. At that point Kenny any others stepped in to separate us. I’ll always remember how Glenn’s face resembled a package of raw hamburger meat more than it did and human face.
With my shirt torn almost completely off, I headed across town to home. It was the evening we were hosting a Christmas Party for Madeline’s family. They were all there when I arrived. Even Alice Sayers. All I had to do was tell them it was something Glenn Lewis was involved in.
Glenn left that day and didn’t return. He really wouldn’t have been welcomed back. We didn’t speak again for a few years. Soon afterward he married, took a job on the Arrowhead Ranch and lived out the rest of his life without nearly as much calamity. He was building fence along a highway one day a few years later. Seeing him I turned around and went back. We stood on the side of road for a long while remembering the many different memories we had. We visited many other times until his passing in early 2012, each time jokingly the hat incident was brought up. I’ll never know whether that afternoon on the side of RR 2222 changed him or getting married did it. I suspect it was some of both, but he undoubtedly was a changed man for the last half of his life.
Footnote: Kenny sent the hat off to the Resitol Factory for me and they cleaned, blocked and made it look completely new. That my friend is why good quality hats are well worth the money.