One Feisty Schoolmarm: A West Texas Lady’s Legacy

Bobcat Hills Historical Marker, Photo by GB     Bobcat Hills, close to the Locklin Ranch, taken by Greg Bodin

“There are people who can achieve huge success in life, while adding a bit of fun and a splash of color to this increasingly grey world.” – Peter James

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

In the advertising for the Women’s Study Club’s annual Style Show honoring the Senior Girls, I read a name in the program of a person who I knew nothing about. Curious, I decided to do some investigating on this Nora Locklin, a woman so esteemed, they had named a scholarship in her honor. I soon discovered that early on she had worked in West Texas as a teacher at various ranch schools while following her husband around West Texas, and that Mrs. Locklin was one tough lady.

Born in Goldtwaite in 1897, Nora Bernice Gentry met and married handsome rancher Dee Locklin in San Angelo in 1919. Dee Locklin had just returned to Texas from serving as a Private in the US Army during World War I. She joined him to live and raise and run cattle and sheep on their twenty section ranch which included the Pecos River’s narrower but still notoriously treacherous Adobe Crossing.

Nora taught in small ranch schoolhouses in Sheffield and surrounding areas. Dee also worked as a driller and tool dresser, so Nora Locklin saw and experienced more than most schoolteachers or ranchers’ wives would. At the time of her death at 101 years old, she was the last living person to have witnessed history in the making, the miraculous Santa Rita Gusher of 1923.

A wildcat well between Rankin and Big Lake, the Santa Rita well was drilled with the help of Nora’s husband Dee in an area that had “officially” seen no sign of oil. Financed in part by a Catholic women’s society, wildcatter Frank Pickerell climbed and christened the derrick with rose petals blessed by their priest. The well came in soon after it was named after the patron saint of the hopeless and impossible. Just like Dee knew it would.

In 1931, the bottom fell out of the cattle market after prices plummeted and the Locklins were forced to give it all up, or move to unfenced land (owned by the bank, but thought to be unsellable at any cost). Truth was, the bank they owed over $1000 to didn’t bargain on the Locklins actually taking them up on the offer.

Dee Locklin, determined not to lose it all, chose to take a big gamble instead of giving up what he had worked so hard for. It wasn’t an easy decision. This meant herding their 2500 sheep, 1,000 goats, 40 horses and a hundred cows a whopping 75 miles from Crockett County.

It was hard for Nora to leave the security of a home with a garden knowing that what lay on the other end of the move was acres of coyote-infested unfenced country. They could not sell their car, purchased only a few years prior, so Nora would ride “in comfort” the whole way. Some hills were so steep, the vehicle had to be nudged up by one of the horses.

They had to pass through five ranches to get to their new settlement three miles South of McCamey East of Bobcat Hills. The unprotected traveling herds were easy picking for predators and it was necessary to be constantly vigilant. In fact, the area was so infested State government and ranchers were forced to hire trappers just to help control the bobcats and coyotes in the area.

Fellow ranchers and their employees helped them control the herds and keep them separated on their way through. On the way, Mr. and Mrs. Dee Locklin helped close one of the last frontiers of the two counties.

Dee generously estimated that the trip would take them a little over a week, but it would take them eleven grueling days after the start of their journey to arrive. Camping in areas with nowhere to water the cattle, fighting coyotes and bobcats and losing much of their supplies they finally reached the ranch land near McCamey. Here Nora and Dee would start over.

The market improved, the country began to pull out of the Depression. Luckily hard-working Dee had been making money working as a driller as well and that kept them afloat. Not just treading water, either…they had also managed to hold on to most of their herds thanks to the bank’s offer, unlike many ranchers who owed the banks in West Texas.

Shortly after the birth of their children, the Locklins purchased a former army barracks in McCamey that had been converted into a grocery store. It was located at 9th and Johns. According to Billy Locklin himself (who I had the pleasure to meet this week), Nora and the boys ran the store and lived in the back.

Life finally eased up a little, giving Mrs. Dee Locklin time to become involved in the community. Nora became very active in the McCamey Women’s Study Club, at one point in her membership she was elected to serve as the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs Western District President.

She remained a well-respected friend to many and community-minded citizen and member of the First Christian Church until her passing in 1998. She left behind two children, five grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. In 2011, relative Barbara Barton published a book, “Two Feisty Schoolmarms” (of which Nora Locklin was one) chronicling Mrs. Dee Locklin’s teaching days near Knickerbocker and elsewhere in West Texas.

Many years after she retired as a teacher in Sheffield, Nora Locklin is still giving students a hand up towards future success. Every year, one Senior Girl from the McCamey High School graduating class is awarded a $1000 scholarship given out in Nora’s honor, presented by the Women’s Study Club. Applicants are evaluated on their personal achievements such as dependability, honesty, citizenship, and the desire to succeed.

There are fewer every year that are still around who knew Nora Locklin and fewer still who know the story of her interesting life. As long as the Nora Locklin Scholarship is presented, she will never be forgotten.


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