Mason County Courthouse, downtown, Mason, Texas.
Fred Gipson's Texas Hill Country
by: Bobby McDonald
Fred Gipson's "Old Yeller" statue, in front of the Mason County
Library, Mason, Tx.
Growing up on a ranch in Mason, Texas, Fredrick Benjamin "Fred" Gipson, was born on February 7, 1908, and passed from this life, in his beloved Texas Hill Country, on his ranch in Mason, on August 14, 1973. However, in the meantime, he left a legacy of poignant and classic children's books, that continue to inspire youth, today. As one literary critic adroitly stated, "If you haven't read Old Yeller, you need to go out and buy it today, and understand what we're talking about, and if you have read it, isn't it about time to re-read it again, just for old times sake!"
Reared among the harsh realities of ranching life, Gipson was the son of Beck and Emma Gipson, and loved the country surrounding his native Mason County. Following high school graduation from Mason High School, in 1926, Gipson encountered a number of farming and ranching jobs, and decided to enroll in the University of Texas at Austin, in 1933. There he wrote for the Daily Texan and The Ranger newspapers. He left college, just short of graduation, to become a newspaper journalist for The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, in 1937. A year later he joined the staff of the San Angelo Standard Times, and even briefly worked for the Denver Post. However, it was his submission of stories to pulp fiction Western magazines that would determine the fate of his writing career. He sold stories to Liberty and Look, and it was some of these short stories that would eventually become his beloved book-length manuscripts, that became so popular and found their way to become Walt Disney movies.
His first full-length book was "The Fabulous Empire: Colonel Zack Miller's Story," that was written in 1946, and was moderately successful, with some 25,000 copies sold. But, it was his second book, Hound-Dog Man, written in 1949, that would establish him is one of America's reputable writers. The book sold over 250,000 copies and was made a "Book-of-the-Month" selection. Some literary scholars claim to this day that the book was Gipson's best work, but Gipson himself would write another novel that would become his own favorite.
In 1950, Gipson wrote The Home Place, that would eventually be made into a film about his native Hill Country, entitled Return of the Texan. And, in 1952, he wrote Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story and in 1953, he published, Cowhand: The Story of a Working Cowboy. It was The Trail Driving Rooster and Recollection Creek, that were published in 1955. And, it was 1956 that Gipson joined artist Bill Leftwich, in publishing The Cow Killers, an illustrated account of the Hoof and Mouth Disease eradication process in Mexico.
In what Gipson felt was his most powerful work, it was in 1956, that he wrote Ol' Yeller, the story of a Hill Country youth, named Travis, who was only 14 years old, when his father had to leave, to take the ranch's cattle on a cattle drive, and leaves him in charge of the family and ranch. The setting is soon after the Civil War, when times are tough and the Hill Country was newly settled. Travis must "become a man" and protect his family's "foothold" in the Texas Hill Country and brave the frontier dangers, as he's aided by an ugly looking dog, that shows up at the place, threatening to steal meat and provisions. However, Ol' Yeller redeems himself, when he saves Travis' little brother, Arliss, from a brutal bear attack, and wins the heart of Travis. Ol' Yeller becomes the family protector, saving lives, running the coons out of the corn, and herding the cattle on the ranch. The most "heart rendering" scene, that tests the "metal" of young Travis, is when Ol' Yeller is bitten by a rabid wolf.
Ol' Yeller was made into a Walt Disney movie, and it premiered in nearby San Angelo, Texas, in 1958, to great acclaim, and the book won the prestigious Newberry Award for Fiction. The book and movie continue to be childhood favorites, and have become classics. The book had sold over 3 million copies in 1973, when Gipson dies, and continues to sell in English and a number of foreign languages.
Gipson penned the sequel to Ol' Yeller, Savage Sam, in 1962, to add even more to the story of the Hill Country boy and his family. Savage Sam was also made into a movie, that premiered in the Odoen theater, in downtown Mason.
The Art United Methodist Church, outside Mason, going toward Llano.