Buzzards in Wortham

This article was written by A.C. Black some years back and appeared in the Mexia Daily News. I only knew Mr. Black a short time before his death, but I am sorry I didn’t know him much longer as I really enjoyed our short friendship.
Mr. Black a World War II Navy veteran with service in the South Pacific. “I grew up in Wortham during the 1920-30’s. The big oil boom had followed on the heels of the big one in Mexia and was approaching an end about 1926. The large influx of oil field workers and others began departing
rapidly. Soon the town had settled back down to a thriving little farming community of about two thousand or so citizens.
Business was very good. Farmers came flowing into town on Saturdays. Most came in wagons drawn by a team of mules which tethered in the alleys while the families milled about on the streets visiting, and talking with friends and merchants. They usually ate a “nickel” hamburger or two, washing it down with a bottle of Nehi soda water and perhaps, eating a peanut patty. The children might go to “moving picture show” where they would see western stars such as Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Bob Steele, or Tim McCoy, ect. Admission was only a dime.
The man of the family might seek out the local “bootlegger” while the wife wasn’t looking and purchase a bottle of “White Lightning” or good quality red corn whiskey made by a famous local family down on the creek bottom.
In the late afternoon, most families would load their wagons down with groceries. Perhaps a 98 pound sack of flour, a sack of corn meal, coffee, sugar, salt and pepper, a big can of coal oil (kerosene with a small potato stuck into the spout to prevent spilling), large box of matches, tobacco, snuff, and maybe a little hard candy for the children. They would then head the mules out for home. (These were the only items that they didn’t raise at home).
Most everyone had been enjoying prosperity, and life had been mostly quiet and peaceful during these few years. But suddenly everything changed!
The Stock Market crashed on my eighth birthday, Oct. 29, 1929. And the Great Depression began immediately. This was a terrible blow to the welfare of everyone! Business came to an almost complete standstill, and I recall hearing merchants saying many times during the following years that “the town of Wortham was dying.”
My Mother and Daddy were operating a small café (hamburger joint on North 2nd Street) during those years, and it was becoming pretty difficult to sell many of their nickel hamburgers, 20 cent plates of Irish stew, or bowls of chili. Several times I heard my Daddy say the town of Wortham was dead.
And this seemed to actually be true around 1931 because there were now three fully grown buzzards constantly circling above the main street, and sometimes perching on the edges of the two story store buildings. They would perch there balefully staring down at the people below in the same manner as they would while patiently waiting for a wounded animal to die.
There was a reasonable explanation for the unusual presence of these buzzards. A citizen named Wayne Riley, who loved pets, animals, birds most anything, was responsible for the buzzards. Mr. Riley was a welder and mechanic with a shop on the corner of the alley next to the calaboose (city jail).
Someone had robbed a buzzard’s nest and sold them to him. Wayne had raised the birds, made pets of them, and when they were old enough to fly set them free. But he continued to provide food and water for them. They had become so tame and attached to him that he could approach them with food and they would always come flocking to him.
Of course these buzzards attracted quite a lot of attention. Most people were amused by their presence, but some were not. The First National Bank building was on the northwest corner of Main Street and 2nd Avenue. (The building with it’s marble front still exists as it did then) Along the 2nd Street side of the building was a very long bench on the sidewalk which was in the shade each afternoon. Local merchants, customers, and some of the “town fathers” often sat there in the cool shade discussing the hard times, President Hoover, and other things.
I was a very curious young boy and often sat on the curb near them to listen to their talk. On this particular afternoon, the three buzzards began to slowly circle low above the main intersection a couple of times, and finally alighted on the edge of the building across from us.
The birds continued to sit there, balefully watching us in the same ominous way as they were waiting for a wounded prey to die. Some of the men on the bench seemed amused by this, but a few definitely were not. Suddenly one of our town fathers jumped to his feet “I’ve had enough of this,” he declared. “I know our town is dying!! But those darned buzzards are just too much!”
“They sure do hurt the town’s image,” another man agreed.
Roy (Crook) Calame, the City Constable, joined in, “Lets go down and tell Wayne Riley that he has got to get rid of them dang buzzards right now!”
“They sure do make a fellow feel uncomfortable,” another man said. “Sort of a bad omen or something.”
All of the men got to their feet and the delegation headed for Wayne Riley’s Shop. I never saw the buzzards again after that day.

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