Buckner’s always been a small town. It came into being when two roads crossed near a creek. They used to be old trails, now they’re US 67 and FM 501. Buckner never had a boom and never had a bust. It did have more people, once upon a time, but not all that many more than what’s here right now. Couple hundred or so. Most folks got a home here because their ancestors had a home here, and it’s been that way ever since those roads crossed.
It’s out in West Texas, so not a lot of rainfall. Ranching’s possible, though not all that profitable. There’s an oil field under much of the area, so more than a few folks make a living off of leasing their land to a drilling company and getting a royalty check. Price swings can affect earnings, but even in hard times, that check is something that helps to make ends meet. The central business district is all of three stores, a gas station, a drive-in diner, and a parts store, that’s all. Each on a corner of the crossroads, with a house on the fourth. Besides the main roads, there’s 6 streets going east-west and 4 north-south. And that’s the whole of Buckner, a little rectangle covering about 60 acres, if I’m generous.
Dallas and Fort Worth used to be impossibly distant. The twin pressures of urban house prices and increased telecommuting have made those cities much, much closer in the minds of many a young would-be home buyer. And then there’s the folks from back East, saw one of them the other day, driving around in a minivan with New York plates, looking at empty lots and asking questions like they wanted to buy and build on one of them lots.
Bobby Horton was there with me when the New York plates rolled by. Bobby said, “Hey Clark, you got a look on your face like we did when Columbus showed up.” Bobby was half-Choctaw, all-Assiniboine, half-Cherokee, and half-English. Math did funny things when it got to Bobby Little Bear. And he was right.
“I’d always thought we were too far out to see the city come to us.” I said to Bobby.
“It was just a matter of time, Clark. Just a matter of time. I remember when I was a newcomer here. I came here because disability checks go a lot farther out in the country. Bricks and dirt are cheaper here, too. If you don’t want to rent, the city’s got nowhere to get started.”
Bobby had come to Buckner 30 years ago and aside from a few kids born here, he and his family were still the new folks in town. I’d grown up here, got into country music, lived a while in Nashville, and came back to Buckner when I wanted a quieter place to make my guitars. Not everyone wants a Clark Williams guitar, but those who do, well, they keep me in clover, as it were.
“Changes are coming. Anything we can do about them?”
“Best thing we can do is open arms and welcome them. Better to make friends and hope for the best than to make enemies and get wiped out as soon as we’re outnumbered.”
“Well, that’s the people part. What about the infrastructure part? If a developer gets hold of a big enough parcel, we’ll have too many people for the utilities and roads we got now.”
“Yeah, that’s going to be the toughest struggle, the planning. That’s why we need friends. There’s not many of us and potentially a whole lot of them, and we’ll need them to incorporate as a city. Buckner is small, it’s a general law town – same kind of law as applied to unincorporated parts of the county. State of Texas requires 5000 for a city to incorporate as a full legal entity, and then the county commissioners have to approve it. I never guessed the activism I did in rural areas was preparing me for this day. And if cars from Dallas and New York are rolling on Buckner roads, you can bet money that there are already moving vans hitting Oldham and Wyler. More than just Buckner are going to be incorporating.”
Bobby said, “We don’t know what kinds of developments are coming here. Could be single homes on acreage, could be lots that fit the grid we got going, could be apartments or condos.”
I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they built up big ol’ apartment blocks with artist’s impressions of Old West saloons and what-not on the ground floor?”
Bobby cracked his big ol’ grin and said, “Maybe we should beat ’em to it and add in a bunch of wigwam motels, like from the fifties. Or maybe go the other way and make a huge statue of Crazy Horse scalping General Custer and when people complain ask if it would be better if we glorified different losers and put a Confederate general up?”
As we considered other ways to mess with newcomers, Bobby got serious and said, “We’re going to need Bead Mountain with all the changes stuff coming here.”
Bead Mountain wasn’t that much higher than the surrounding plain, but it was over a thousand feet above sea level at its summit, so it was, technically, a mountain. It was also a place that had been sacred to the Comanches, once upon a time. With the Comanches driven from the place, Bobby had taken it upon himself to win it back for Native Americans in general. He had worked hard at raising money to buy that land and was proud that wildlife had a refuge there. He said, “The medicine is felt there, in the quiet and stillness at sundown.”
Bobby said, “Men assume they construct their place. Men assume wrongly. Men do not design their place. Place, instead, designs its men… the Old Magic is still here, it won’t die. The freeways can’t kill it.”
“So you think we can get the newcomers to build houses like we got here and not make it all look like Southern California?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not my point. The kind of house or road isn’t as important as the person in the house or on the road. We should get with the folks that own the land and talk with them about how they plan to sell it. We should talk with them about if we want to help folks whose property taxes are about to be more than they can afford. We need to ask where the Walmart will go, where the sewage gets pumped, where the Home Depot and the Whataburger will go. We need to ask them which road will divide the rich from the poor, the Armani shops from the Dollar Generals. We need to ask them where the big fancy houses will go and where the tenement slums get set up.”
“Now, nobody’s gonna come in and build slums or poor neighborhoods.”
Bobby said, “They build them. They just pretend that there won’t be any social or economic or racial division so that we all smile and act happy to see new buildings going up. We think that’s progress. But, over time, the plan for the place reveals itself in divisions. If we’re honest about them now, we won’t be surprised when they happen. I only say there’s progress when there’s no poor people in a town.”
I said, “Highway 67 is likely to be the dividing line, then. It’ll get made into a freeway and the places on the north side are going to be the rich people houses and shops. South is going to be where the industry and poor people get put.”
“And the prisons and the waste treatment and the landfills.”
“Of course. There’s more floodplain on the south side. East of 501 would be more floodplain for the poor.”
It was brutal how easy it was to think like that, with money and profits driving choices. But if we didn’t do anything, that was what was going to happen or at least something that rhymed with our scenario.
“You want to get the meeting together at your place, Bobby, or should we have it at my house?”
“My place, it’s closer to the cemetery that gets moved or plowed under if we don’t have a meeting.”
“Am I gonna have to move? You know I like it quiet.”
“You ain’t moving. And neither am I, Clark. Buckner needs all its folk to keep it together. You know that.”
“Yeah, you’re right. We all need each other. Even the folks that ain’t here yet, who don’t even know yet that they’re coming here.”
“With the right heart, we might be able to share the medicine of Bead Mountain, let the place make the people who come here.”