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16 JOHN ROGERS STARED DOWN INTO the dark Guadalupe County soil, holding his hand where the rattler had just sunk its fangs. Working the field clearing rocks, he never saw the coiled snake until it struck. Now as it slunk away the teenager kicked a chunk of dirt in its general direction, turned and strode calmly but briskly back to the barn. As he walked he pulled the sweaty kerchief from around his neck and wrapped it around his wrist just above the two red marks, pulling it tight with the ends of the cloth in his good hand and clinched between his teeth. When he reached the vicinity of the corral he made his way deliberately into the throng of chickens that pecked away at their morning feed scattered on the hard ground. His arm throbbed and a slight discoloration had already appeared on the back of his hand. The young man reached down and grabbed the nearest hen and deftly twisted its neck, killing it in one swift motion. John pulled the knife from his pocket and slit the dead chicken at its gullet. Blood spilled out onto the feathers as he untied the tourniquet and tossed it aside. He cut a similar slit across the back of his hand, wiped the knife on his pants and put it back in his pocket. Then he thrust his wounded hand deep inside the warm carcass. CHAPTER 2 Colorado City Ranger Colorado City Ranger 17 ★ As John leaned casually against the corral’s rail fence, the old remedy for snakebite worked its magic. The chicken carcass turned a deep blue, then charcoal black as the rattler’s poison spent itself from John’s hand. Several more minutes passed. John felt lightheaded but not enough to fear fainting. When the slight dizziness had passed, he tossed the blackened chicken into a gulch behind the barn, wrapped a clean cloth around his hand, gulped some water down from the pump, and went back to work in the field. John intended to be the best farmer in Guadalupe County. To do that meant going to agricultural school to study the latest technology —tools, crop rotation, irrigation, and so on. Thirty-five miles southeast of his home, in DeWitt County and just a few miles from Cuero, the ten-acre campus of Concrete College sat along Coon Hollow. The small school had been established nearly twenty-five years earlier and had a local reputation for its agrarian classes as well as its religious disciplines. Presbyterian Reverend John Van Epps Covey currently served as the school’s president. John was accepted to the school in the fall of 1880, and attended only after the crops had come in. No more than a long day’s ride on horseback from home, he would stay in the tiny dormitory for awhile and often commute back home to help with the farming responsibilities . Professors Hueber, Woolsey, and Bonney taught most of the courses there, including business and commerce. President Covey taught a required Bible course. Adjacent to the college campus lay a broad field expressly for the purpose of experimenting with the latest farming techniques. Here John and the other students learned what they would need for their future careers. John also found himself fascinated with, and perhaps convicted by, Reverend Covey’s Bible studies. This may have been a beginning for the strong Presbyterian discipline that would rule and guard the rest of his life. In later years Rogers never spoke of a single “conversion experience ,” but rather that “Christianity came to me quietly and gradually after much study of the question. Years of religious reading,” he continued in a 1928 interview with Harry Van Denmark, “gave me the conviction that Christianity should dominate a man’s life, no matter in what occupation he might be engaged.” Here, then, was its start.1 Chapter Two 18 ★ During the winter break that extended into January, 1881, however , the financial situation of an already struggling Concrete College finally came to a head—the school would have to be shut down. Whether John Rogers had planned to return for a spring session now became moot. School was over. What with the new activities and excitement brewing in Guadalupe County that spring, it may be that Rogers never intended to return to DeWitt County anyway. Ahead there lay a whole new world—and his own future—and it was in west Texas. Three ingredients led to the opening of west Texas...


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