Fawcett:FAWCETT, Erasmus Keyes (1865 - 1941)

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Biographical sketch

ERASMUS KEYES FAWCETT was born on Thursday, June 15, 1865 on the F.T. Scott plantation near DeKalb, Kemper County, Mississippi to Erasmus Rigney Fawcett and Ann E.P. Hill (Death Certificate #43873; Baptismal Record; Davis and Grobe 1929). Their youngest child was named after Benjamin Keyes Fawcett, and his father whom he closely resembled. All of E.R. Fawcett’s children had light-colored hair and blue eyes (ER Fawcett to V Fawcett 10/9/1865). Keyes was baptized by Episcopal Bishop Green of Jackson, Mississippi in August 1865 (EK Fawcett notes).

They moved to Gonzales County, Texas in January 1867, and in September and December of 1868 his parents died. Keyes was raised by his older sister, Brancie, who married John W. Carson in 1872. Later his brother, Frank, who became his legal guardian at about the time that Keyes moved to west Texas. The Carsons lived first on Five Mile/Brushy Creek (1872-79) and then near Hamon (1879-1889).

Keyes attended the Five Mile and Bellevue Schools--both one room school houses--in the 1870s. The Bellevue school measured 30-40 feet square, and had a central wood-stove. Children were taught by readers rather than by grades. Keyes road horseback or walked 3-4 miles to the school. Horses were staked in a nearby pasture.

E.K. Fawcett, his siblings, and aunts and uncles inherited 160 acres on Flat Creek, in eastern Blanco County, from B.K. Fawcett after he was murdered (Dec. 1870). The deed was given primarilly to Keyes at the suggestion of Willis Fawcett (Letter W Fawcett to V Fawcett 3/20/1877). They sold this land to W. Phillips on June 25-29, 1892 (Deeds 13:66-68). This money helped him to lease and purchase additional land in Val Verde County.

Keyes Fawcett inherited the bulk of his Aunt Virginia Fawcett's estate, probated in 1882 in St. Charles, Missouri (Probate Records; Blanco County Deeds). The following year (January 1883), George Washington Ames--the nephew and attorney of Keyes' Aunt Jerusha B. Fawcett (the widow of Willis Fawcett)--hired Keyes for $15 a month.

Keyes worked for Richardson & Ames for 10 years (1883-92). He and some other young men (Eugene Buck, Pat Bowens, John M. Gray and three unnamed Mexicans) under Ames' direction bought up sheep in DeWitt County and drove them to the Devils' River in Val Verde County. They may have originally planed to drive the sheep to California. Many of the 3000 sheep driven from Yorktown were probably from Willis' flock. They left Yorktown in February 1883. They herded the sheep by way of San Antonio, Castroville, Sabinal, and Del Rio. In places the grass was knee high. Keyes passed his 18th birthday en route and only weighed 90 pounds.

At some point along the route, the party split up, agreeing to meet on the Devils River at a specified date. Keyes' party reached the San Felipe Springs at Del Rio in late June. They traveled up the Devils River to the mouth of Dolan Creek, which they reached on July 24, 1883, 7-10 days past the rendezvous date. The other party (Richardson?) was still not there because he had become lost. He was saved from dying from thirst by a rainstorm, during which he collected water upon his slicker. The lost man wandered into camp a few days later (West Texas News [WTN] 9/10/1930; Note: Some later sources incorrectly attribute this event to E.K. Fawcett). Near the confluence of Dolan Creek and the Devils River they made their home in a cave (1883-84), writing their names on the wall. Wagons could not reach this location at that time.

For a year in this lonely camp, Keyes would get up before dawn, cook over an open fire, ride all day, and turn in after sundown. Wildcats were plentiful. Sometimes he would awaken to find bears feeding within a stone's throw of his camp. After several of these mornings he rode into Del Rio with G.W. Ames to buy his first gun, a pistol (about a year after his arrival, or in July 1884). When meat was needed, he would shoot a deer or turkey. Keyes often said "most people dig their grave with their teeth"--referring to their diet. He personally ate a large breakfast, a very heavy lunch, and only a light supper. He maintained that "you have to get steam in the boiler before you can get the engine going." He never drank tea and limited himself to one cup of coffee per day. Soda water, what he called belly wash, also was banned, along with sugar and tobacco.

E.K. Fawcett spent the next three and a half years (July 1884-January 1886) without seeing anyone else except an occasional sheepherder like himself. George Ames then took his sheep and moved elsewhere (Comstock?) in about 1893. E.K. Fawcett used his savings and a note ($9000) to purchase cattle (Carrizo Springs Javelina 9/25/1930).

Eventually a log cabin was built between Dolan Creek and the Devils' River of sycamores growing along Dolan Creek. By 1933 the only living members of the original party were Keyes Fawcett and John M. Gray, formerly of Del Rio but then living in Georgetown. They were the first sheepmen in what was then cattle country.

As sheep raising became more profitable in the 1890s many ranchers turned to raising them instead of cattle. Sheep were shorn by hand twice a year. The wool was shipped by train to Corpus Christi. Later San Antonio became a shipping point with T.F. Frost becoming the largest wool commissioner in Texas. Raw wool sold for $0.15 per pound.

Keyes went broke twice trying to raise cattle before switching to goats and sheep. He leased most of his grazing land from the State Land Office, and did not begin to purchase much land until about 1900.

E.K. Fawcett built his first sheep pens of dry-laid rocks, before trying cedar post and wire. His hand-dug well was the third in the county. Eventually there were 30 wells on his 64,000 acre ranch, most powered by windmills that his sons maintained. He also was the first rancher in the area to fence his range. Most of their wool was shipped on the wagons of Charles Schreiner of Kerrville.

In early April 1890 E.K. Fawcett visited Del Rio (Del Rio Record 4/5/1890:4). In the early years, he only came to town once or twice a year.

Keyes served as a Justice of the Peace (Precinct #4: 11/6/1894-11/3/1896; Precinct #6: 1886-11/6/1894, 11/3/1896-1906; Precinct #2 approx. 1917-37), and as a County Commissioner (1886-87; Precinct #4: 11/6/1894-11/3/1896). His backward L cattle brand was registered in 1898 (County Brand Records). That same year Keyes tried to organize a Tax Payers Association to oppose the existing political machine that operated in Val Verde County.

Keyes was also having trouble with his herders at this time, and this may have encouraged him to hire his nephews, Oscar Y. and Willis A. Fawcett to help as managers from about 1895 through 1901.

At his ranch on Dec. 21, 1899 E.K. Fawcett prepared his first will to be used until he married. He appointed his friend, Robert W. Prosser of Comstock, and C.S. Broadbent, as his executors. He estimated that his estate was then worth $20,000, and it was to be distributed among his relatives: Mrs. Brancie Carson, F.S. Fawcett, J.C. Fawcett, R.M. Fawcett, Keyes Fawcett Carson, Maggie B. Carson and Tina Carson of Gonzales County, and Willis A. Fawcett of Val Verde County. The only non-relative to share in his estate was Thomas B. Gobble of Val Verde County.

E.K. Fawcett is listed among the sheep ranchers at Juno in 1900 (Muenzenberger 1900:35-37). He was reelected County Hide & Animal Inspector (11/8/1898-1902? [Muenzenberger 1900]). The next year (1901), E.K. Fawcett acquired lot 1 of block 25 in Del Rio where he eventually built his home (416 Spring St.).

Keyes' nephews (Oscar and Willis) left in about 1902, and were replaced by Keyes’ brother, Robert M. Fawcett, who moved his family to Val Verde County from Cheapside by November 1902 (Letter EK Fawcett to F Baker 11/5/1902). Bob continued to work on the ranch into the 1910s, before moving to Comstock to establish his own ranch with Keyes assistance and supervised the water works for the Southern Pacific railroad.

Erasmus Keyes Fawcett "A well-known ranchman, of the Juno country, was in Kerrville yesterday" (Kerrville Mountain Sun 6/7/02:5). He occasionally visited Kerrville to arrange for bank loans and supplies with the Schreiners, and also visited San Antonio for similar reasons.

During the fall of 1902, Keyes worked with some carpenters to build a new ranch house at what became known as the Headquarters (41VV860/1154). The house must have been more substantial than a cabin, since lumber was involved and the interior, at least, was painted (Letters EK Fawcett to F Baker 11/5 & 11/1902).

On November 26, 1902 Keyes married "Frankie" Francis Eliza Baker at Baker's Crossing on the Devil's River. His brother, Robert, may have been the only other Fawcett at their wedding. It is uncertain whether they then moved into the new stone ranch house or lived in the smaller cabin, now located behind the house. Either way within a few years they moved into the larger house, to which additions were made over the years. Eventually the Headquarters included workers’ houses, a school, cemetery, commissary, truck garden with raised plots, smithy, shearing pens, dip tank, barns for pigs, cattle and wool (Turpin and Davis 1990:7). Outlying water control dams and structures (41VV1080, 1100, 1106, 1125, 1234were also recorded in 1989 (Turpin and David 1990:24).

On January 6, 1905 E.K. Fawcett and family returned to their ranch near Juno after several days of shopping in Del Rio. He was also trying to get telephone lines strung ($0.14/mile) out to his and other rural ranches (Val Verde County Herald [VVH] 1/6/1905:5). Between October 20 and November 3, 1905 E.K. Fawcett and family traveled to Cheapside by way of San Antonio to visit his relatives (VVH 10/20/1905:3; Del Rio Daily News 11/4/1905:2).

In the 1910 Census, Keyes' occupation is listed as stockman, and he employed as laborers Felix Saprovi (born in 1873 to Mexican and French parents, and who spoke Spanish) and Henry Gobble (a Texan of Georgian and Alabaman ancestry, born in 1888). He lived in precinct 6 with Frankie and their children (Bransonia, Horace, Elmer and Walter [Val Verde Co TX 131, ED141, sheet 135).

In 1912 Jesus Diaz came to work at the ranch. He built all of the concrete structures at Headquarters including the banrs, workers’ houses, raized garden plots, and the outlying dams. After E.K. Fawcett’s death (1941), Frankie Fawcett lived in Del Rio and Jesus Diaz retired from ranch work, but continued to live with the family until his death. His name was given to Jesus Canyon, a tributary of Dolan Creek (Turpin and Davis 1990:24).

When the Texas Sheep and Goats Association was organized at the Princess Theater in Del Rio on October 16, 1915 E.K. Fawcett was an active participant. Later (1923-24) he served as President.

In 1917 the Fawcetts moved to 416 Spring Street in Del Rio, so their children could attend school. E.K. Fawcett, Frankie, and their children (Brancie, Horrace, Elmer, Walter, Emma, and Lee) are listed there in the 1920 census (Val Verde Co TX 164, ED 211, Pct 2, sheet 22, line 56, household 304/430). Their house was completed in 1928. E.K. Fawcett was active in the local Rotary until the late 1920s, when he shifted his efforts to Scouting.

When two Goat Raiser Associations in Texas met together in Kerrville on October 10, 1920 to resolve their differences, Keyes was an important participant in the meeting. A banquet for them was held that evening at the St. Charles Hotel (Kerrville Mountain Sun 10/15/20).

During the 1920s oil leases were developed on his ranch. From 1927 on he was an elected member of the Board of Directors of the First National Bank of Del Rio, and became more actively involved with Boy Scouts, and especially Del Rio Troop 20. In the meeting of the Southwest Texas Area Council on January 23, 1928 at the Henson Hotel in Del Rio, E.K. Fawcett was elected President (WTN 1/17 & 24/1928; Zavala County Sentinal [ZCS] 2/3/1928). The Executive Council met at Eagle Pass in late March (ZCS 3/30/1928). As President, on May, 29, 1928 he met with other members of the Executive Board of the Southwest Texas Area Council at Fort Clark (Asherton Tribune [AST] 5/18/1928; WTN 5/15/1928). E.K. Fawcett led another meeting of the Executive Board in the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce Office in early June 1928 (WTN 6/15/1928). In mid-July he and other Executive Board members met at the Valentine Hotel in Rocksprings before they traveled to Barksdale to inspect Camp Fawcett. A 30' deep well was dug by the people of Barksdale. He personally selected the location for the camp hospital and drew the plans for it on the back of an old envelope. He always camped and ate with the boys, staying in a tent just like them. E.K. Fawcett returned to Del Rio by way of Laguna and Brackettville (WTN 7/17/1928). The Camp was used for the first time, August 1-14, 1928, under the supervision of E.K. and Elmer Fawcett. Lee Fawcett was among the participating scouts (WTN 7/31/1928).

During 1929 E.K. Fawcett coordinated the negotiations to buy the land at Camp Fawcett (WTN 1/15/1929; Stovall 1959:349-350). At the annual Council meeting was held at Carrizo Springs on January 24, 1929, E.K. Fawcett was reelected President of the Southwest Texas Area Council (WTN 1/15 & 29/1929). He lead another meeting of the Executive Council at Hondo on April 18 to plan the Boy Scout Week (April 27-May 1) parade in Del Rio (WTN 4/19/1929; ZCS 4/26/1929). For Parent's Day the Boys Scouts took over the administration of Del Rio with the guidance of E.K. Fawcett (WTN 4/6/1929). During August 7-15, 1929 E.K. Fawcett attended the camp with 225-230 other scouts (AST 6/28/1929; ZCS 6/21/1929). On December 26, 1929, E.K. Fawcett investigated a possible site for a Scout Cabin on Southern Pacific Railroad land on the Devil's River, 12 miles west of Del Rio (Del Rio Evening News [DREN] 12/27/29).

The 4th annual meeting of the Southwest Council was convened by President Fawcett at the Uvalde Court House on January 23, 1930 (AST 1/31/1930; DREN 12/31/1929). At that meeting E.K. Fawcett was reelected for a third term as president and he donated ($100) more funds than any other contributor toward the purchase of Camp Fawcett (DREN 1/24/1930). The first 30 acres were purchased in February for $6000 (Stovall 1959:561). In late March he attended the Scout Executive Regional Meeting in Fort Worth with 300 other delegates (WTN 3/31/1930). The Executive Council (including E.K. Fawcett) met at the Camp on May 20, 1930 to determine the dates for that year's camp, to accept the deed for the camp property, and to plan the safety and health building, camp headquarters, well and pecan trees (DREN 1/30/1930; ZCS 5/30/1930). The four-hour business meeting was followed by a chuck wagon steak dinner (WTN 5/14 & 28/1930). San Antonio Portland Cement donated 528 sacks of cement for construction projects on the 300-acre camp. Council President E.K. Fawcett presided over a Court of Honor in Del Rio in early June (Carrizo Springs Javelina [CSJ] 6/5/1930).

In early July 1930 E.K. Fawcett visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. At the local Scout Council meeting upon his return he urged scouts to also visit the caverns (WTN 7/16/1930).

On July 24, 1930 the local Boy Scouts traveled to E.K. Fawcett's ranch at Dolan Falls for a day of fishing, swimming, hiking to Fawcett Cave, and a 3-goat barbecue at which he recounted the history of his arrival in Val Verde County (CSJ 9/25/1930; ZCS 9/19/1930). A similar affair took place again at the ranch on the same date the following year involving 15 cars carrying 50 scouts (WTN 7/21,24 & 25/1931; ZCS 7/24/1931).

E.K. Fawcett attended the camp (August 4-22, 1930) along with 114 scouts who also lived in tents. Inspection was at 8:30 a.m. each day. Food was prepared by negro cooks in the new mess hall. A gasoline-engine pumped water from the well for the newly installed sanitation system (AST 8/1 & 22/1930; CSJ 8/14//1930; WTN 8/11/1930; ZCS 7/11/1930).

Another picnic for Scouts from Del Rio was held at the E.K. Fawcett Ranch on September 11, 1930. E.K. Fawcett returned from vacation on the 9th, and immediately set to work organizing the picnic for more than 30 scouts (Eagle Pass Daily Guide 9/17/1930; WTN 9/4 & 16/1930).

E.K. Fawcett attended a meeting of the Del Rio Rotary Club at the Hotel Roswell to inform them more about scouting (WTN 10/29/1930). On November 11th he led a Court of Honor at which his son Lee became a Star Scout (WTN 11/12/1930). In early December 1930 the Executive Council under the leadership of E.K. Fawcett met at the Lion's Club and District Court Room in Brackettville, Texas. They plan to create a cement lined a swimming hole at Camp Fawcett (WTN 12/10/1930; ZCS 12/12/1930).

On May 19, 1931 E.K. Fawcett lead an Eagle court of honor at the Del Rio Senior High School (West Texas News 5/19/1931). The Executive Council again met at the Camp along with President Fawcett in early June 1931 (AST 6/5/1931; CSJ 6/4/1931). Camp Fawcett operated August 5-13, 1931, making use of the new engine-powered well (AST 6/19/1931; CSJ 6/18/1931). E.K. Fawcett and 25 Scouts attended from Del Rio. He was presented with a chair made by these Scouts (WTN 8/13/1931). That fall (10/17/1931) the V.A. Brown mess hall was dedicated.

The Executive Council met under the direction of E.K. Fawcett at the Hotel Roswell on January 1, 1932. Although E.K. Fawcett continued as President of the Southwest Area Council through 1937, less is known about his later activities.

When the Del Rio Bank collapsed during the Great Depression, he personally took responsibility for some of the losses. For many years he was on the board (President [1941]) of the Del Rio Park Board, leading a campaign to plant pecan trees around town. Keyes chaired the local relief committee handling funds of the Reconstruction Finance Committee in 1933. In January 1934 he was elected president of the Del Rio Wool and Mohair Company.

The Silver Beaver award was conferred on E.K. Fawcett by the Boy Scouts in 1937 at the St. Angeles Hotel in San Angelo.

During July 1937 E.K. Fawcett was driven by Orville Finegan, and Hillary Doran to the Boy Scout Jamboree on the Mall in Washington, D.C. (June 29-July 9; Jamboree Journal). E.K.Fawcett always consulted with Frankie, whom he called Mamma, about all important decisions, including attending the Jamboree. E.K. Fawcett and the boys drove there by way of 12 state capitols. They visited Mississippi, Alabama, and the Shenandoah Valley and other parts of Virginia (Del Rio News 7/27/1937), possibly seeing the places where Keyes was born and the ancestral sites that he knew about. His cousin, Joseph Willis Fawcett, made a similar trip east from Texas seven years earlier than Keyes.

During mid-August 1937 E.K. Fawcett and other trustees visited Camp Fawcett (Camp Fawcett News 8/13/1937). The following year he was elected Honorary Vice President (1938-41) of the Southwest Texas Council (later the Concho Valley Council) of Boy Scouts.

E.K. Fawcett was an Odd Fellow. At other times he was also President (1939-40) and Second Vice-President (1926, 1937) of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce (Dallas Morning News 5/18/1939) and South Texas Chambers of Commerce (1939-40). He also served as President of the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce (1926-40). When the West Texas Chamber of Commerce convention was held at Big Springs (1939), it coincided with the Scout camporee. E.K. Fawcett led an informal delegation to visit the camporee one evening.

By the 1940s the E.K. Fawcett ranch included 150 miles of line and cross fence of woven wire, ranch buildings, barns, quarters, and corrals on 68,000 acres. He grazed more than 20,000 sheep and goats and no other cattle at that time. Each year both live animals and wool were marketed in Del Rio. Beginning in the 1940s, E.K. Fawcett also began to cultivate 100 acres of irrigated land adjoining the town of Del Rio. During the 1940s he also built a new $30,000 home on the site of his original (built in 1917) residence in Del Rio. Overgrazing increased the magnitude of floods of 1935 and 1948, stripping away the dense stands of sycamore, oak and pecans that lined the Devils River and Dolan Creek. Prior to this massive erosion, E.K. Fawcett could walk the entire length of his ranch along these streams without stepping out of the shade (Turpin and Davis 1990:3-4). The grass was once so high that sheepherders had to drag a log between two horses to flatten it before the sheep would enter to graize (Turpin and David 1990:24).

The children of E.K. and Frankie Fawcett are Brancie Elizabeth Fawcett (Finegan) (1903-89), Horace Keyes Fawcett (1904-69), Elmer James Fawcett (1906- 88), Walter Robert Fawcett (1909-85), Emma Frances (1911-92), and Lee Baker Fawcett (1915-79). Erasmus Keyes Fawcett died at Williams Sanitarium in Del Rio, Texas on Sunday, September 21, 1941 at 8:30 p.m. following three heart attacks suffered during the last week of his life. He entered the hospital on Saturday, and rallied under an oxygen tent.

Two Boy Scouts watched his body while it lay in state at his home. His funeral service at his home at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 23 was officiated by Revs. F.C. Rufle (Rector, St. James Episcopal Church, Del Rio) and Rev. F.H. Stallknecht (Rector, Bellville). Uniformed Scouts at every street corner saluted his funeral coach on the way to the cemetery. There 12 Scouts recited the Scout law, while others played taps. Keyes was buried in the Westlawn Cemetery (Section P, Block FT3, Lot 1 [Coleman 1993]) by H.B. Doran of Del Rio (TX Certificate 43873; San Angelo Weekly Standard 9/26/1941:4; Kerrville Mountain Sun 9/25/1941:12). A Scout badge and Silver Beaver are inscribed on his tombstone. The Concho Valley Council BSA gave the book, The History of Scouting, to the Del Rio Public Library in his memory.

Frankie Baker Fawcett lived on for almost 20 more years, until September 5, 1961, at their house (416 Spring) in Del Rio. Approximately 300 friends and relatives attended the centennial picnic on the Fawcett Ranch on Dolan Creek on Saturday, July 25, 1983. A grandson of E.K. Fawcett, George Bales Whitehead read a letter written by Keyes describing his journey from Yorktown to the Devils' River in 1883.

Parts of the E.K. Fawcett ranch are now included with The Devils River State Natural Area, managed by Texas Parks & Wildlife, and the Texas Nature Conservancy’s Dolan Falls Preserve (Parent 1997:14-16).




From A History of the Fawcetts and Related Families in America by William Bloys Fawcett. Used by permission of Dr. Fawcett.

This book was first published in 1996 and some of the information is quite dated. If you find errors or want to add updates, contact me, and I will add notes to the page.

Copyright © 1996, 2007 by William Bloys Fawcett, Jr. All rights reserved. No copies may be made of this document through any electronic, photocopying or other means without permission of the author.

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