The City of Brady calls itself the “Heart of Texas,” based on its location, just a few miles from the geographical center of Texas. From what I observed during my thoroughly enjoyable “research” for this story, this little town deserves the label in a totally different sense: the history of the town and the accomplishments of its people epitomize the “heart” of Texas. Brady was not one of the Hill Country’s earliest settlements, although there were a few pioneers in the area during the 1850s and McCulloch County (named for Indian fighter, Texas Ranger and Confederate general Ben McCulloch) was formed in 1856.
The population of McCulloch County in the 1870 census was 173 (not counting Comanches; the area was inhabited for centuries and “McCulloch County is absolutely covered with Indian artifacts,” according to former museum president Bert Striegler) and extensive settlement of the county did not begin until the 1870s. Brady itself was named county seat in 1876.
Brady is on the western edge of our Hill Country map, far enough from any of the state’s major cities to stand on its own as a self-sufficient (albeit small) city. It serves as a commercial center for several surrounding counties. Its situation seems to have fostered a spirit of independence and self-reliance that has encouraged extraordinary achievements from many of its citizens. The new town was called “Brady City” after Peter Rainsford Brady, who had accompanied a surveying party in 1847, and whose name had already been assigned to the creek running through the town site. Peter Brady served in the U.S. Navy and Army, worked as a surveyor, then joined the Texas Rangers before eventually settling in Arizona.
He retired from his distinguished career in 1898 as the oldest member of the Arizona Territorial legislature. The economy of early McCulloch County was almost entirely agricultural, and several communities flourished as business and social centers for local farmers and ranchers. In 1880, the census reported 1,553 citizens, with 12,437 sheep, 12,264 cattle and 1,144 hogs on 87 farms. The population more than doubled during the 1880s (to 3,217 in 1890), and a new courthouse was built (at the cost of $33,000!) in 1900, but it was the arrival of the railroad in 1903 that brought real growth and prosperity to Brady, Texas.
Brady was incorporated as a city in 1906, as the economy boomed. Cotton and poultry became major industries, as the number of farms passed 1,500, and cattle production continued to grow. The county’s population more than tripled (to 13,405) during the first decade of the twentieth century, and the city grew to a population of 2,669. Retail business boomed and banks were formed as the city became a major commercial center for the area. Perhaps in deference to the problems which often accompany such rapid growth, the county built a new jail in 1910. (but it was one of the fanciest jails ever; the striking building serves now as the Heart of Texas Historical Museum.)
During the 1920s, McCulloch County billed itself as the “Turkey Center of the Universe,” and attracted national attention by driving huge flocks of the domesticated birds around the square in an annual “Turkey Trot.” In the meantime, wool and mohair became a major source of income.
While the Great Depression forced some county residents to give up their farms and move away, the city itself continued to grow. In 1940, Mayor Harry L. Curtis proposed a site north of town (now Curtis Field, the municipal airport) as a training field for the air force. As many as 500 students were enrolled at a time, and some 10,000 pilots graduated between 1941 and 1945. As the war progressed, Brady also became the site for a 200-building prisoner-of-war camp, and nearly 3,000 “trouble-makers” (many of them SS or Gestapo) from camps across the country were interred here.
Brady produced many outstanding achievers during the early years of heady growth. Perhaps the most notable of these was G. Rollie White, whose parents came to Brady from Missouri in a covered wagon in 1875 before he was even one year old. White made his first cattle drive in 1887 when he was 12 years old. He started gathering steers when he was barely a teenager and sold his first herd for $600 when he was just 16. After graduating from Texas A&M with an engineering degree in 1895, he went into the cattle business with his father. He was amazingly successful!
Buying thousands of acres of land at prices as low as $1 per acre, White soon became known as the “Steer King of Texas.” At one time, he and his father were running 35,000 steers, 85,000 sheep and 20,000 goats in five counties. They also owned rangeland in Oklahoma and Kansas.
White and a partner started Brady’s first water and light company around 1900 but sold it to the city after just a few years. “We were in the cattle business,” White recalled. “I didn’t like the water and light business.” He launched the Commercial National Bank in Brady around 1907. In 1926, Governor Dan Moody appointed White to the board of directors at Texas A&M; he served as a director until 1944, when he became president of the board, a position he held until 1955. In 1954, A&M named their largest building the G. Rollie White Coliseum. A dormitory building also bears his name.
G. Rollie White loved race horses, and his horses have run on major tracks all over the country. He helped finance the race course in Brady, which is known as the G. Rollie White Complex. It provides the city with an excellent venue for rodeos, stock shows, and other events.
James Earl Rudder was another local hero. He was born in Eden (just west of Brady) in 1910, and he also graduated from Texas A&M (in 1932). After graduation, he became a teacher and football coach at Brady High School, as well as accepting a commission as second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. When the U.S. entered World War II, he was called to active duty and became one of the most decorated soldiers of the war. His most famous exploit was the capture of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, when he led his Second Ranger Battalion in storming the beach and scaling 100-foot cliffs, under heavy fire, to silence the strategic German gun batteries. The casualty rate was more than 50 percent, and Rudder himself was wounded twice, but his Rangers won the battle and held off fierce counter-attacks to establish a beachhead for the Allies.
Rudder eventually rose to the rank of major general. In the meantime, he served as mayor of Brady, state land commissioner, and president of Texas A&M. In 1967, he was given the nation’s highest peacetime service award, the Distinguished Service Medal, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
More recently, the Hurd family has distinguished itself. Descendants of a Swedish immigrant with an unpronounceable name (shortened to Dan Hurd), the family settled in East Sweden (just east of Brady) and became solid Texans, participating in cattle drives, etc. Two of Dan’s grandsons, cousins Wayne and Norman Hurd, capped successful real estate careers by developing the world-class resort of Horseshoe Bay, on Lake LBJ in Llano County. Norman’s sister, Francis Hurd King was an accomplished painter and sculptor, who until quite recently ran a gallery in the renovated railroad depot when she was not displaying her art at Santa Fe or Taos, New Mexico. None of these local achievers was born to money; each showed an impressive combination of dreams and determination.
I.G. Evridge came to Brady in 1932 at the age of 18 and worked as the manager of Perry Brothers until 1937, when he opened Evridge’s 5 & 10 store in a storefront purchased from the aforementioned James Earl Rudder. In 1940, I.G. met and married Claire Carter; the couple had four children ( Joe, Susan, Mary, and Grant). While I.G. served in the U.S. Army during World War II, Claire ran the business. The Evridges added an appliance store to the operation in 1952, and by 1955, they closed the 5 & 10 store to concentrate on the appliance business. All four of their children went off to college, but all returned, with fresh ideas, to join the family business. New departments were added, and more buildings were purchased to house the expanding business. The Evridge’s now own twelve buildings on the Brady square, and their amazingly eclectic department store occupies six adjoining buildings. Shopping here is an adventure!
The Ricks family is another with a long tradition as forward-thinking merchants in Brady. A.J. and Eva Virginia Ricks opened a small service shop for radios, refrigerators and electrical appliances in the pre-television days of 1935. Their business prospered, and soon they were selling appliances and furniture on the square. They even ventured into the automobile business, selling Chevrolets for a few years in the 1950s before deciding to focus on furniture and appliances. They built a new store ten blocks south of the square in 1967, but outgrew that within three years and built an innovative multi-level warehouse in 1970 which won Mr. Ricks recognition from national furniture publications. He was elected president of the Southwest Home Furnishings International Association in the early 1970s, and traveled the world extensively as an industry representative. His grandson, Jim, carries on the Ricks tradition today.
For a city of only 6,000 people, Brady offers an amazingly wide array of goods and services (including excellent lodgings and plenty of good restaurants). But there’s a lot more to the city than just shopping. Two of the most intriguing places to visit are museums: the fine historical museum in the old jail just west of the square, and a unique museum dedicated to memorabilia of country and western music. The Heart of Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is the brainchild of local DJ and country music promoter Tracy Pitcox (see “Country Classics live on in Brady,” Summer 2005), who has collected many items with historical significance to country music fans. The most striking is a 1950s-era tour bus that belonged to Jim Reeves! Other items include autographed instruments, posters, hats and costumes from the golden age of country, most donated by the stars themselves.
There’s Brady Lake, where more than 100 racing boats compete in the Heart of Texas Thunder Drag Boat Races each summer.
If you enjoy golf, Brady has a fine, 9-hole municipal golf course, just west of town. For shooting sports, there’s the Kenneth Madlock Gun Range at Brady Lake. (Incidentally, that’s the site of the Texas Muzzle Loaders Championship Shoot, where 150 enthusiasts from all around Texas compete for the state crown in June.)
The McCulloch County July Jubilee includes a parade from Richards Park to the Courthouse Square, a street dance, free watermelon feast, a concert by the Heart o’ Texas Jubilee Band at Brady Lake pavilion and a gigantic fireworks display at Brady Lake.
Then there’s Richards Park, a city-owned facility featuring 150 primitive camp sites plus 45 full hook-ups for RVs. It has numerous baseball fields, a soccer field and a playground available. That’s where Brady holds its annual World Championship Goat Cook-off each Labor Day weekend. This spectacular event includes Arts & Crafts exhibits, kids games, horseshoe and washer pitching, and many other activities. It attracts more than 125 cooking teams from across North America.
Hunting is a big deal in McCulloch County; there are seasonal opportunities for hunting whitetail deer, Rio Grande turkey, doves, quail as well as year-round hunting for feral hogs and various exotics. Call the Chamber of Commerce at 325-597-3491 to confirm dates and details or visit this website: www.bradytx.com.
Whatever your interests, there will be plenty of good reasons to visit Brady. And if you enjoy exploring Texas, you’ve got to visit this little town that so embodies the Heart of Texas.