A Cross Plains Tragedy

I came across this sad story on a genealogy website. Howard doesn’t mention this tale of an afternoon outing gone horribly wrong in his letters, but it does present a snapshot of life and death in Howard’s hometown.

It Happened at Cross Plains
(May 29, 1933)

We were out in front of the house loading the car for a highly anticipated fishing trip to Pecan Bayou when we heard the scream. Looking toward the source of the sound, we saw Annie Tate running toward us from her house three quarters of a block away. Her arms were flailing wildly for attention and she continued to wail as she ran. Following close behind her was young Jack Preston who lived in the house between us and the Tates. Mrs. Tate franticly explained to Dad that Jackie had just told her that her youngest son, Delton Ray, had fallen in a pond about a half mile out the then-highway toward Pioneer. Dad immediately told her to get in the car, but she implored, “No don’t wait for me, just go.” As he pulled away Dad instructed me to get to the garage in town to tell Annie’s husband, Arthur, and I quickly took off on the six block run.

When I eventually arrived at the pond, a good sized crowd had gathered. Dad was on his hands and knees on the pond’s bank with Delton’s small body draped over his back. Someone was performing a version of what was then called artificial respiration. This continued with other people taking Dad’s place until a rescue team from Lake Cisco arrived with a mechanical device called a pulmotor. It was used for a lengthy period of time, but to no avail. It is certain that Delton was already dead when Dad brought him from the water.

The chain of events had started the day before. I and my cousin, Le Doyle Lancaster, who grew up with me, had gone up to the two side by side ponds to catch crawfish to use for bait on our planned fishing trip. The two younger boys had seen us when we returned, talked with us, and decided the next day to go to the ponds themselves without, of course, telling anyone. Someone, likely the Bryan twins, Roland and Nolan, who lived in the house by the ponds, had built some small rafts to play on and they were on the bank. Le Doyle and I, busy crawfishing the day before, had paid little attention to the rafts, but Jackie and Delton had decided to try them out. They may have been wading already, for at some point they had decided to remove all or most of their clothing. Out some distance from shore the raft overturned and both boys went into the water. Neither of them could swim, so whether Jackie thrashed his way ashore or just lucked out and landed on the shallower side was never determined, but he made it to safety. (He would later survive a number of hazardous patrols as a WWII submariner.) Nor can it be known if Delton might have been saved had Jackie aroused the surrounding neighborhood.

As I mentioned, there was a house right by the ponds, and Rev. Jackson and his family lived just across the road. Bob Young’s home and barber shop were a short distance to the east, and most likely there were customers and visitors there. Back toward town at the crest of the hill was a service station, plus dwellings on both sides of the road. But the little fellow simply put on his own clothes, gathered Delton’s, walked out to the highway, past the houses and service station and down the long hill to the Tate home. When Annie came to the door, he said, “Mrs. Tate, here’s Delton Ray’s clothes, he drowned.” It was then that we heard the first anguished scream.

Dad (Ike Kendrick) didn’t have to swim to make the recovery. The water was only deep enough to dampen the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Before hope was finally given up, the crowd at the scene had become huge, with people coming from many miles away. A rare appearance in Cross Plains was that of a Texas Highway Patrol car and officer. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram even had a story the next day, one that led to my lifelong reluctance to put complete trust in what I read in the papers. It named the drowning victim as “Peldon” Tate.

Our fishing trip abandoned, Le Doyle and I released our crawdads in a smaller pool at an old well site nearer town.

 It was not a time for fun.