Texas, Like it Used to Be

Meet the Unruly Clan That Once Ruled the Hill Country

“Texas Monthly” a liberal rag that purports to represent Texas, has a story about Cedar Choppers. I met representatives of the clan, as a cop, in the 1970’s in San Marcos, Texas. Silly me! I never realized how cute and cuddly they were.

We had one family that lived in San Marcos. Other cedar choppers would drift into town on Saturday nights and head for the bars. College students and cedar wackers, a recipe for a brawl if ever there was one.

The extended family that lived in San Marcos were the Billings. Bubba, the smart one, got sentenced to TDC after he killed his cousin. That happened the week I started working as a cop.

Bubba left behind his two brothers and his mama. I forget the the names of the brothers. I’m not sure they remembered their names either. I arrested one brother on an outstanding warrant. I found the twenty something in the back yard. He was sitting in a dirt pile playing “trucks” with a six-year-old nephew.

One thing about the cedar choppers, they generally didn’t fight cops. Getting arrested was just one of those things that happened with cedar choppers. If the cops said you had to go, well then you went. The only objection they had was being handcuffed. They figured giving their solemn word that they’d come peaceably was enough.

Police policy didn’t mean anything to them. The fight started when the handcuffs came out. After several brawls I learned to agree with them, with an explanation. I would tell them I would get in trouble if I didn’t handcuff them. That ended the objection. It was a ritual that had to be followed each and every time a cedar wacker was arrested.

I arrested the other brother for a warrant, issued out of the adjoining county. It was in the middle of the winter. Standing there on the side of the road, I realized that he was rather pungent. Rather, didn’t begin to describe the stench. After I got him in the patrol car, I made it one block. I had to stop and roll down all the windows. It wasn’t enough. I drove back to the station with my head hanging out the window.

We weren’t in the station ten minutes before his stench had enveloped the entire building. Fortunately, a deputy from the adjoining county was in town (with his wife) and arrived to take the the prisoner.

This was in the mid-seventies. Deputies provided their own vehicles. Most drove pickup trucks. Extended cabs hadn’t been invented yet. When last seen the Billings boy, deputy and deputy’s wife were crammed in the cab of that pickup for the thirty mile trip to jail.

It turns out that a local sheriff’s deputy had arrested the other Billings brother on a companion warrant. I found this out when I walked into the county jail on an administrative matter.

I found the jailer and the cedar chopper in a heated argument. The jailer was demanding that Billings take a shower. He was at least as stinky as his brother. Billings wouldn’t hear of it. It was February. There was no way he was going to take a cold shower in February. The jailer assured him that he didn’t have to take a cold shower. The water was as warm or hot as he wanted it.

Billings was triumphant, “I knew you was lying to me! Everybody knows you can’t get hot water out of a spigot.”

I hung around for the floor show. Billings was astounded at the progress of modern plumbing. Had a hell of a time getting him out of that hot shower.

Eventually Bubba got out after doing five years for a ten year bit. He gathered up the brothers and set out to revolutionize the cedar wacking business.

Up until this time the brothers considered it a good day if they could stack two cords of cedar posts and stays a day. They used axes. Bubba bought chain saws. They could now stack two cords before lunch. The other brothers figured this left the afternoon free to drink beer. Bubba had a different idea, he was gonna build an empire.

Bubba’s dream of empire didn’t last long. Bubba soon found himself back in county jail and on the chain to TDC. A funny thing happened, the chain stretched.

As a revoked parolee Bubba had a first class ticket to TDC, the next time the bus rolled around. Bubba kept missing the bus. The Sheriff discovered that Bubba could cook. He also had a better handle on jail operations than his jailers.

Deer, in Texas, belong to the state. Violate the game laws and the game wardens take your deer away. Game wardens have the ability to dispose of the carcass by giving it to needy people or non profit operations. What could be more non profit that the county jail? Bubba could dress a deer in nothing flat and then serve it up any number of ways. The inmates never ate so well. The sheriff saved $30,000 in his food budget.

It got to the point where Bubba had the run of the jail. He slept in the law library. If he needed condiments from the grocery store, he’d grab a set of car keys, some petty cash and off he would go.

I asked Bubba why he got revoked. He explained he got caught stealing cedar off the county judge’s ranch. I told him that sounded like a lot of work for very little in return. His reply, “Got three new chainsaws and a one ton pickup.”

After three years Bubba finally made the journey to TDC. The Sheriff allowed him to make long distance phone calls to the warden at his last unit, so he could get his old job back.

Given the choice between an Austin elite and a cedar wacker, I’ll go with the cedar wacker.