Jim Ned Creek flows through retired rancher Bill Cox’s life almost like one of his own arteries. The stream afforded him adventure and fishing as a youth and now the comfort of long familiarity in his old age.
Not that he and the once mini-river haven’t changed. Rising near Tuscola in Taylor County and running for 70 miles until it reaches Lake Brownwood in Brown County, Jim Ned Creek once flowed robustly year-round. Now, it only has water after a good upstream rain. And Cox (no relation) moves a little slower than he did before he had a stroke a few months back.
But the retired etymologist’s recollections remain about as clear as the water used to be as it ran over the rocky ford on his ranch in Coleman County.
Born in the county seat of Coleman in 1924, Cox spent much of his time as a youth working and playing on the roughly 700-acre ranch he would eventually inherit from his father, Ben Cox. Ben’s wife, Irene Broad Cox, was the daughter of Will Broad, the man who bought a large portion of the land for $12.50 an acre in 1908.
The first owner of the ranch was former Texas Ranger J.W. Elkins, an Indian fighter and later, cattleman. Elkins is buried in the nearby Camp Colorado Cemetery, a graveyard that dates to 1857, when the U.S. Cavalry established a post on Jim Need Creek just downstream from what would become the Broad-Cox Ranch. This was the second location for Camp Colorado, which initially had been located on the Colorado River. That also explains its name. The creek got its name from a Delaware Indian scout called Jim Ned.
Of course, the history of Jim Ned Creek goes back a lot further than the cavalry presence or Captain Elkins’ homestead. In fact, Cox’s part of the stream has at least three large pre-historic archeological sites where flint artifacts several thousand years old have been found.
In 1757, the Spanish built a stone presidio and mission 86 miles to the south near future Menard. Indians overran the mission a year later — killing all its occupants — and Spain did not try to reopen it. But Spanish horsemen likely explored the area along Jim Ned Creek. And despite the failure of their plan to Christianize Native Americans, the Europeans did leave a lasting legacy, albeit an unintentional one.
“When I was a boy, a woman who claimed to be a fortune teller said there was Spanish silver buried under a certain tree not far from the creek on our ranch,” Cox recalled. “They dug all around it and found nothing but roots.”
Through the first six or seven decades of the 19th century, Comanches and other tribes camped along the creek as they followed the buffalo. The frontier military post established on the creek remained active until the beginning of the Civil War. After then, it served as a Ranger camp, which is what first drew Captain Elkins to the area.
As a kid in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Cox and his friends and family caught catfish in the creek. Some of his more gutsy friends “noodled” for catfish, a process involving reaching around under water along the bank and pulling out big blue and yellow cats with their bare hands.
Occasionally, Jim Ned Creek collected its cosmic “rent” and flooded. The worst flood in Cox’s memory came on July 4, 1932, when the creek became a torrential river. Eight feet of water swept above the flood plain, washing away the cabin former Ranger Elkins had built.
Even at normal flow, the creek could be a challenge to cross.
“When I was eight or nine,” 92-year-old neighbor Charlotte Strawn recalled, “my family was following a wagon holding the homemade board coffin of one of the Epperson women who had died. When the wagon crossed the creek and went up the embankment on the other side, the coffin slid out and hit the ground in front of us.”
Fortunately, the casket had been securely closed, so no one got one last if unplanned look at the dearly departed. Mrs. Strawn, whose grandfather had a large ranch near the Cox place, said the coffin was returned to the wagon and taken on to the Camp Colorado Cemetery for burial.
In the early 1920s, Coleman County enjoyed an oil boom. Drilling activity wasn’t as wild and crazy as other places saw, but it led to the building of a pipeline pump station near the Jim Ned on the Cox ranch. The station required a fair amount of manpower. In addition to the pumping equipment, the pipeline company built housing for five families.
“My family sold them eggs and milk,” Mrs. Strawn said.
Cox said the pump station was abandoned around 1938. Today, only concrete foundations and long lengths of rusty pipe mark the overgrown site.
The next big change to the area along the creek came in 1950, when Mother Nature forgot to make it rain for the next seven years.
“The creek went dry for the first time anybody could remember,” Cox said. “Eventually it flooded again, but it’s never run constantly since that drought.”
After Cox retired, he moved from Dallas back to the old ranch. He built a new house with a long porch facing Jim Ned Creek in the distance and razed the house that his family had built after the 1932 flood.
Now, Cox and his wife Pat often sit on their porch swing, looking out toward the Jim Ned and enjoying their memories of life along the Jim Ned.