Who was Hondo Crouch?
He was the "Clown Prince of Luckenbach," and entertainer of star quality who refused for years to make money from his comic gifts. He as rancher. A philosopher. A poet. A music man and inspiration for the hit song "Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas." Hondo Crouch was a Texas folk hero.
Before he died in 1976, Hondo helped stage at Luckenbach a series of zany happenings -- from all-female chili cook-offs to Great World's Fairs -- that became so popular the tiny town almost got trampled out of existence. But there was more Hondo than spectacular spoofs.
He had a gift for seeing past facades and into the true nature of the human comedy -- and tragedy -- that we all live inside our hearts. His style ranged from lighthearted teasing to barbed satire, from pratfalls and pranks to rueful reflection.
The following excerpt is from the book Hondo, My Father, by his daughter Becky Crouch Patterson. Through this and other passages to come in future months, discover the life of the man who bought a town and turned it and its people into a modern-day legend.
As a youth Hondo had always carved on wood -- beautiful bas-relief Mexican or Southwestern scenes on boards used for free-standing pictures or doorstops.
At the age of fourteen Kerry revitalized the whittling and carving art in our home. Clyde Cook, Fredericksburg's furniture and woodcraftsman, came out to the Ranch to show Kerry some of his techniques of chiseling bowls and smoothing spoons. Kerry also was a natural in a class of Lynn Ford, expert woodcarver and designer. Kerry would whittle a pair of pliers out of one piece of wood or a chain whose links had no seams.
The way some people smoke cigarettes and chew gum, Hondo was always carving on a wooden spoon. He and Kerry together carved Pennsylvania Dutch style wall sconces, boxes, spoons, bread, boards, bowls, and crosses.
Hondo didn't work a spoon into shape, he loved it into shape. After each chip was carved, he felt with his fingers. Cut. Feel. Cut. Touch. Cut. Rub. The spoons were patiently sanded, stained, mellowed with worm holes or deliberate scratches. Stains varied from shoe polish, water colors, oil paints to agarita root dye. He rubbed them on his nose for oil.
"You have to hold your knife blade real flat to the whetrock, Kerry, to get a good blade. A good sharp blade is the most important part of whittling. You have to sharpen it about every fifteen minutes. You are constantly shaping the blade as well as the thing you are whittlin' on."
Sometimes Hondo didn't whittle wood but flint. Protecting his palm with a thick piece of leather, he'd shape a piece of already "worked" flint into an arrowhead by snapping and flaking the edges with the point of a deer antler or a nail. He even tried dipping a blade of grass in cold water and stroking the hot flint with it, popping off surface pieces. He especially delighted in making thin bird-point arrowheads because they were small and easy to perfect. Kerry cherished Hondo's whittled arrowheads, wrapping them in cotton to bed in tiny oiled boxes under his pillow. "They are symmetrical," he said, "tiny pieces of sculpture you can put into your pocket."
From whittling wood, shaping, holding arrowheads, Hondo made us aware of the art of touching.
"Hondo carried the sensitivity of the things he touched to other people," Kerry said.
"The best feeling," Kerry once said, "is to walk barefooted through a freshly plowed field."
And it was barefooted through plowed fields that we often hunted arrowheads. We revered arrowheads in our family. The best times to hunt were after a rain or at sunset. When the sun glinted off flint from a certain angle the flint was easy to see.
Hondo taught us to hunt arrowheads "in a place where you think an Indian might have lived-near water, or on the south side of a hill protected from a norther. Or you look for a midden," he'd say, "land changes, evidences that a culture has once lived there. It's usually a mound made by debris with small squarish rocks, broken from campfire burns."
Hondo could always spot a mound. As we approached the square limestone rocks, sure enough, flint was abundant. If we didn't find perfect bird points or drills, sometimes an axe head or scraper. Most exciting to me were the "unfinished" points. I'd always wonder why it wasn't finished. Was it imperfect? Was the tribe moving on? Maybe I picked it up joyfully after an Indian threw it down in discouragement.
Hondo usually broke in a "city slicker" guest with an arrow head hunt. One particular time it was a big-city guy who wanted to hunt on Hondo's land. He and Hondo strolled the caliche ground with Juan and Kerry, searching for arrowheads while terms were being discussed. Hondo stayed close to the man's side, telling him to step carefully. The city man's eyes were dull, Hondo knew. Suddenly Hondo stopped. The boys knew that Hondo had spotted an arrowhead, but they remained silent.
"His boot toe must be pointing to it," Kerry thought. "He's just waiting for that city guy to see it."
Unaware of Hondo's boot tip hint, the man finally saw it and enthusiastically picked up the genuine artifact.
"By gosh! Here's one!" He shook with excitement.
Kerry saw that the arrowhead, perfectly formed, had mud stuck to it as if it were freshly pried out of its dirt tomb. Fondling his new treasure from the earth, the man rubbed the dirt off. Turning it in his palm, he glanced again at something written on the back of the arrowhead.
"A dollar seventy-five! Plus tax!" he shouted.
Juan and Kerry were about to explode with laughter. Kerry winked at Hondo.
"Hmmmm." Hondo casually shrugged. "They've gone up."