CHINA CREEK SUSPENSION BRIDGE: I didn't know it at the time, but
when I took this photo I was just a few miles from the final resting place of my
great-grandfather, John Green Kelley. (See last months issue for the story.).
A BACKROAD TO CHINA
Actually, it's the only road to China but without a little help
from locals in San Saba you might miss it altogether.
Story & Photos by IRA KENNEDY
San Saba is the hub of the communities we were hunting down.
they weren't there anymore, except in the memories of a few old-timers and,
for some unknown reason, on state highway maps.
ack on the road we followed
Kenneth's directions, turning left on Fentress Street. From there we followed every
turn in the road indicated on the map.
The morning had started out with a clear sky, pale in
the morning light. I had been hoping for a few clouds, for photography's sake.
"Clouds on command," Ms. Intrepid said.
I looked up from the map, and sure enough, cumulus
clouds were building up in the west. Behind us the caliche road billowed a powdery
mass as we approached a dense cluster of pecan trees. What else should we have
expected near San Saba -- The Pecan Capital of the World"?
Hidden in the heavily leafed branches was the
structure of the old suspension bridge over China Creek. The bridge was in fine
shape. We crossed and parked immediately to the left where many a vehicle had parked
before. The usual "No Dumping" sign hung on the roadside fence.
(Don't they know the folks that do that sorta thing can't read?) After stopping for
a horizontal and a vertical picture of the bridge I turned back to the car and noticed, on
the ground, the scattered feathers of a dove. I bent down, picked up its blue-grey
right wing and returned to the car.
"That," Ms. Intrepid said with a smile and
serious eyes, "is staying out there."
"Look," I replied, not even trying to plead
my lost cause. "I'll put it in the glove compartment and take it out as soon as
we get back."
I knew she'd never believe that, so without waiting
for a reply I returned it to the earth, a little closer to the underbrush. Back in the
car, I noticed on the map that a cemetery lay just up the road, so we targeted it for our
Not far ahead we came upon a building rapidly giving
itself over to weather and ruin. Like a cadaver opened up to the study of anatomy,
the old frame place peeled away, through time, leaving tin in places on the roof.
Exposed were the deeper layers of shingles, beams, and walls. The windows had become
wide open wind holes. Scattered around its base were fallen pieces of house where
boards warped toward the sun like old bone ribs.
I know, I could have passed by this description
because there is a picture of the place in this article. And I've been told a
picture is worth a thousand words. But if pictures were all that mattered we'd be
photographers to the person and we'd toss pictures around instead of words. And
there'd be no call for poets. Anyway, the experience put me in just the right mood
for the cemetery just ahead.
My reaction to cemeteries may seem
strange to some but, despite the common morbid reaction to such places, I find them more
like books you can walk through. Or sculpture gardens. Both actually. Also, as a
historian, they help fix in my mind names and places, and provide a spatial relationship
between communities that are otherwise only dots on a map. In this particular case, the
cemetery is the last vestige of a place in Texas called China.
I don't know what it is, but most folks visiting a cemetery
where they have no relations, usually look for the oldest marker in the place. I do.
I'm not certain which one it was, but B. F. Smith, born in 1823 and died in 1870,
must have been pretty close.
drove on we found, at Algerita, another cemetery to mark the community and another
structure gradually sinking back into the earth. Great dead trees lined up alongside
the place like buzzards, waiting. I imagined a time when the trees were full and
green, the house alive with the laughter of children playing, and other sounds common to
ranch life. Who were the last to live here? When did they leave, and
why? And why does it stand empty today?
Leaving Algerita, or where Algerita used to be, we
headed for Richland Springs, carefully following every turn of the map.
"There's a paved road just ahead," I told
Ms. Intrepid just as we made our next turn. Sure enough, there it was. A paved
road, in every way worse than the dirt roads we had been
traveling. Here the chug-holes had hard, sharp edges and we longed for the rub-board
roads we had just left.
1: MOVIN' ON / PAGE 2: CHEROKEE
PAGE 3: SAN SABA & CHINA / PAGE 4: RICHLAND SPRINGS
PAGE 5: SLOAN / THE MAP
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