A REFUGE FROM CIVILIZATION
by Bob Wear
Sunday Magazine – The Dallas Times Herald
January 4, 1976
When a Texan buys himself a whole mountain Easterners might think it just an ordinary Texas-sized transaction. Not so with Joe Lewis Nutt of Granbury, and his purchase of 1,000-acre table-topped Comanche Peak.
“When our family came here in 1854, the Comanches were still around – and that was a sacred mountain to them,” Nutt says. “They’re gone now, but maybe they’ve left us some of their sacred feeling about that mountain.”
Of course, that mountain, which dominates the broad central valley of the Brazos River, isn’t really a “peak” but a long, north-south mesa shaped liked an exclamation point. It was known in the Comanche language as “Que-Tah-To-Yah” or “rocky butte.”
Who is Nutt? Why did he buy Comanche Peak?
“Each generation of our family has left something worthwhile for Granbury and this community. I hope my wife Lu and I can do the same,” he says.
“The opportunity came to buy the whole property – and the main idea immediately has been to save Comanche Peak from being exploited in the wrong way – as a ‘boom-and-bust’ sort of thing that could deteriorate into an eyesore.”
He pointed out that the building of De Cordoba [sic] Bend Dam and Lake Granbury awakened the whole area, 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, as from a long sleep.
“The development has been unbelievable,” he says, “and we know there’s more to come.
“The building of the nuclear power plant between Granbury and Glen Rose, on Squaw Creek, is going to make a vast difference. They’ve even named that plant the ‘Comanche Peak Steam Electric Station’.”
In all of this, Joe Nutt has watched with foreboding the encroachment of mobile homes, lakeshore weekend cottages and jerrybuilt developments that could soon downgrade property values in the whole area. He saw “the Mountain” threatened as the land craze swept right to its feet.
There seemed little time to lose, for Hood County’s population, counted at 6,368 in the 1970 federal census, is now estimated to exceed 10,000. Granbury, a small rural county seat of 2,700 in 1970, now exceeds 4,500 residents.
On weekends, when campers, water skiers and fishermen invade the area from Dallas, Fort Worth and the larger cities, the temporary population quadruples.
Old deed records show that John F. Torrey, who came to Texas from Connecticut in 1838, was the first owner of Comanche Peak, under a grant from Gov. J. Pickney Henderson in 1847. He had served on Gen. Sam Houston’s staff as a colonel during the Texas Revolution.
Torrey’s heirs sold the property in 1916 to L.S. Ginn. His heirs, in turn, sold the peak in 1947 to J. Hubert Dickey, the third owner.
Rising to an elevation of more than 1,200 feet – 600 feet higher than the floor of the valley – Comanche Peak affords a panoramic view over a wide tier of North Central Texas counties.
The peak’s rocky soil, long since de-nuded of oaks and cedars, gave little encouragement to the farmers of bygone generations who tried to grow corn and cotton there.
Dickey and the preceding owners concluded long ago the most sensible agricultural use would be for grazing cattle.
Now, with the rumble of bulldozers and backhoes coming closer and closer, the land has become too valuable for that.
It is a lost refuge, as civilization crowds so near, for many deer, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums and armadillos, as well as for quail, doves and many migrating birds.
When Joe Nutt and his partner, Courts Cleveland of Acton, recently concluded the purchase from Dickey, who is 93, he was granted a lifetime estate in the small tract on which his home is located, on the northeastern slope of the mountain facing the Glen Rose highway and Lake Granbury. A grazing lease for cattle, which still has a year and a half to run, also was allowed to stand.
“I’ve had all sorts of dreams and plans about what to do with the property, such as possibly a fenced game preserve for deer and other wildlife – and perhaps a limited number of condominium homes and a golf course,” says Nutt. “Now I feel I’m too old to undertake a project that ambitious. When the present grazing lease expires, we’ll take another look.”
Nutt admits he is turning over seriously in his mind the recurring suggestion of many citizens that Comanche Peak should be acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and be made into a state park.
“That, of course, would depend on the Legislature appropriating the money,” Nutt reasons. “I bought the property as an investment and would have to be reimbursed for the money I’m putting into it.”
If the mountain becomes a state park, it would mean construction of roads to the broad summit and of camping and shelter facilities. Hunting would be strictly forbidden and it would become a wildlife refuge. The many caves under the rim rocks, some of them with interesting Indian pictographs, would be preserved for students and the general public to study and enjoy.
Trespassers on the property in years past have heard shots whistling past their ears, especially when careless ones would leave gates open allowing cattle to stray from the mountain. At one time, several of the caves were reportedly dynamited to discourage treasure hunters lured to the mountain by unverified legends of Spanish gold supposedly hidden there.
Joe Nutt has prospered in the educational training films business from which he sold out and retired six years ago. Then he came home to Granbury and built a comfortable cottage on the Lambert Creek arm of Lake Granbury, on the small city’s northeastern edge.
Nutt, a stocky blond looking far younger than his years, makes no secret at his sentimental feeling and deep attachment for Granbury and the surrounding area so intertwined in the history of his own family.
Whether it’s the Opera House, the Library, the new hospital or a new subdivision, Joe Nutt is generous in his support – and with all of the diplomacy he can employ to win over those who see no value in the legacy of history.
But Joe Nutt is far from being retired. His Nutt Ranch office at the northeastern corner of the square is the headquarters for his ranching and real estate holdings and his continuing duties as a consultant to Elba Communications Systems in Denver.
Last year, he and Lu bought the old 1883 Opera House on the Granbury square. It was falling into ruins after 60 years of neglect.
They gave it to the newly-formed Granbury Opera House Association, headed by retired Justice Jack Langdon of the Court of Civil Appeals in Fort Worth. With two large foundation grants and many private gifts, $150,000 was raised for restoration work. Dallas architect Ed Berans gave his services to bring the old Opera House back to life again.
At the gala opening night last June, Joe and Lu Nutt stood proudly on a stair landing, Lu in a peacock blue sequined evening gown and Joe in a salmon-pink Edwardian dinner jacket, watching the elegantly dressed “finest” of Granbury, Fort Worth, Dallas and other neighboring cities crowding in for curtain time.
Next door is the old stone store building built in 1880 by great-grandfather David Nutt and his brothers Jesse and Jacob to house their mercantile business. It now is the home of a bakery aptly named, “All in a Nuttshell,” over which Mrs. Sis Hensley presides in serving up delicious home-baked breads and pies.
Across the square is The Nutt House, the stone hostelry built in 1883 by those three Nutt progenitors. Joe’s cousin, Mrs. Mary Lou Watkins, now operates an 1870-style dining room there serving home-cooked food. On weekends, the waiting line extends to the flagstone-paved sidewalk outside.
Dr. Merle C. Nutt of Phoenix, Ariz., in his book, “The Nutt Family Through the Years,” speaks of “those dedicated men and women who, at some time in their lives, have become immersed in a great cause and who, as a result, have been ‘touched with fire’.”
Close friends of Joe Nutt and Mary Lou Watkins – herself a great-granddaughter of David Nutt – will assure you that these two Nutt descendants have been “touched with fire” when it comes to restoring and preserving the beauty of Granbury’s old buildings and treasuring its history, with which the name “Nutt” is synonymous. Mrs. Watkins has restored the 1870 David Nutt mansion.
After all, David Nutt and Tom Lambert together gave the 40 acres for the townsite when Granbury was established in 1868 and named for Confederate Gen. Hiram Brinson Granbury.
“I owe a lot to Granbury,” Nutt explains. “I started out here the hard way – at $5 a week in a business I hoped to learn. For years, I traveled the road selling Tom’s Toasted Peanuts and confections. Then I was lucky to get in on the start of Elba Systems in Denver and prospered. When I retired six years ago, we had no other thought but to ‘come home to Granbury’.”
It was a grey, cold and foggy day as we climbed into a pickup and took off along a rocky lane leading up the western side to the top of Comanche Peak.
Fog closed in around us and it was like being on a rocky island floating in space, the outlines of cedars and scrub oaks blurring into the edges of the mesa. Some farmer in generations gone by once grew corn and cotton here. Brush fires have swept over the mesa, leaving many charred stumps.
The sudden ascent leaves your heart thumping as loud in the stillness ass the beat of ghostly Indian drums.
Joe recalls Vance Maloney’s account in “The Story of Comanche Peak” that the news that Texas was no longer a republic but had become one of the United States was proclaimed here March 7, 1846, to a powwow of Indian chieftains that included Chief Pahayuca or “Buffalo Hump” of the Comanches.
Fog dripped from the intense green foliage of the cedars. In our imaginations we could see an Indian fluttering a blanket over a fire of green branches to send up a smoke signal from the peak to some distant scout or flashing signals with a mirror obtained from a trader.
Various historians have told how the Comanches would simply “fade away” after skirmishes or battles with other Indians or white settlers, then reassemble on this mountain. It was the half-way landmark on their war trail from Oklahoma to Mexico and they would meet here to divide the spoils. They usually left their squaws and children here under the watchful eye of a medicine man.
History’s records grow dim after 400 years but presumably the first Europeans to visit the area were the Spanish explorers Coronado, Cabeza de Vaca and Alvarado.
The turbulent, now reservoir-tamed river, that meanders through this broad valley received from those early Spaniards its name, El Rio de los Muchos Brazos de Dios – “The River of the Many Arms of God.”
“As a small boy growing up in Fort Worth, I loved to come with my parents back to Granbury,” Nutt recalls. “On the road from Cresson, you come through a gap in the hills, framed by trees – and there, spread out before you, is this valley of the “River of the Many Arms of God.” On the horizon, dominating it all, is the long, blue shadow of this mountain. It’s best on a clear day, when you can see over perhaps a dozen counties from this summit.”
Joe gunned the pickup through the gate to leave, while I wrestled to fasten the barbed-wire contraption, meanwhile yelling “Whoo-ah!” at a large black Angus bull and a huge white Charolais bull who had followed, thinking any pickup meant food – and they meant business.
|JOE LOUIS NUTT|
Born September 27, 1914
Died September 19, 1988
Burial in Granbury Cemetery