Vern & Margaret Renz
1933 - 1999
Vern Renz was one of the most important and notable characters in that six-month long drama we fondly call the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. Vern served as the pacesetter for the train and was one of only two mounted riders to make every step of that historic 3,250 mile journey. We Texas trail riders owe Vern a debt of gratitude for the example he set.
Vern died Monday evening, April 12, 1999 at his home in the Indian Creek community in Brown County, Texas. He is survived by Margaret Louise Myers Renz (known to us as Maggie), his wife and partner of 43 years, daughter Janice, son Scott, two brothers, one sister, and five grand children. He was buried at the Indian Creek cemetery in a service attended by folks from every walk of life - a testimony to the number of lives this man touched.
Vern was born Nov. 16, 1933, in Rush County, Kan., to Otto Herman Renz and Freida Hemken Renz. He was a rancher most of his life. He served in the Army and was discharged June 12, 1953.
1938 - 2004
by Donn Barnes
We buried another one Monday - another piece of the unique history puzzle of the great State of Texas. On Thursday evening, January 29 2004, Margaret “Maggie” Renz of Indian Creek slipped quietly from this world with the family that meant so much to her by her side. She was 66 years old.
Over the past few years we have lost quite a few modern Texas pioneers. Floyd Bagwell, Tom Scott, Vern Renz, Hogg Jones, Verba Lee Auldridge, Dub Crisp, J.W. Jines, Chap Paulson, Hallie Stillwell, Elmer Stockton, Janine Cunningham, Jim Asbill - we’re losing them fast and Texas is the poorer for it. These are bold and proud folks who did so much to make my life worth living, and Maggie is the reason I knew any of them.
I met Maggie in Brownwood in 1984. She had the morning shift waiting tables at the old “Pass the Biscuits” restaurant (the building Humphrey Pete’s now occupies) and I was working nights and getting off about 5:00 every morning. For the longest time I was Maggie’s first customer of the morning. Over coffee and fried eggs we became friends. We talked of the world around us, our lives, our families, our hopes and our fears.
One morning in early ’86 Maggie informed me she would be leaving soon and be gone for six or seven months. When I enquired, she told me she was going on a Wagon Train. A Wagon Train, I asked? What the heck is that? She explained, and cast the dye changed my life.
She showed me the various documents and bits of paper she and her husband Vern had received. The Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train would depart Sulfur Springs in June, take a circuitous route around the state and arrive in Ft. Worth six months and 3,250 miles later. Maggie and Vern planned to make it from beginning to end, even “closing the circle” by continuing on back to Sulfur Springs.
Maggie was not a horse woman so this was going to be a real stretch for her. The first few days of the train Vern kept a lead rope attached to Maggie’s pony and led them down the trail. Before it was over Vern was out front setting the pace and Maggie was the outrider for the WBAP wagon. They made every step. None that knew them was surprised.
The Wagon Train kind of symbolized the type of people Maggie and Vern were. Tough, polite, resourceful folks who did things the old way – the Cowboy Way. They bought that little patch of ground out in Indian Creek and built a home with their own sweat. They worked for a living, raised a family and didn’t ask for any handouts. They had the can-do attitude that epitomizes the Texas cowboy culture, and they rued the subtle changes in society that they feared spelled an end for that old spirit.
When Vern died in 1999 Maggie did what we all expected she would. She just kept on keeping on. She would do what she could to hold the line on a society increasingly becoming faceless. She still met everyone with a look in the eye and a smile, and as she drove down the back roads she still waved at every passing pickup whether she knew the driver or not. She would be friendly and respectful to the end. It was the way she was raised. It was her way.
So Monday afternoon as I traveled south on Austin Avenue with the funeral procession I spent some time pondering the life and death of my friend Maggie Renz. I thought of the way she lived and the way she taught her children to live. I thought of how she lived a life others might only dream of. I thought of how she lamented the loss of that way of life as “civilization” marched relentlessly on. I thought of how different my life would be had I not had the good fortune to know Maggie.
On this day I observed the vehicles pulled to the side as our procession passed. Most pulled over, some did not. Some even attempted to pass us. No respect. Many contained passengers oblivious to the drama that rolled slowly past them. Not all though. I noticed a Texas Parks and Wildlife pickup at the curb, the driver holding his hat over his heart. Then we passed a U.S. Postal Service truck, the driver with his ball cap in his hand and his head respectfully bowed. An older gentleman walked slowly down a driveway, stood at the side of the road with his hat clutched in gnarled old hands, his graying head bowed.
I was appreciative of the respect these folks showed, but couldn’t make myself be too impressed for these are folks of which I would have expected no less. They, like Maggie, were raised in a different time and in a different culture. She grew up in a world where respect was important and she lived life like she was supposed to. Her parents and her life instilled those values and she would not have had it any other way.
What did impress me was the shiny red Mustang pulled to the curb with the three high school age young men sitting inside – all with caps doffed and heads bowed. This is a degree of respect I no longer expect to see. I would like to know the parents of these young fellows. I’d like to thank them for raising those kids the old way; and to tell them… Maggie would have been proud.