Belize trip 1973

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this is based on a journal i wrote in may of 1973 when my dad and i went to belize on a fact finding trip. my dad wanted to buy a ranch and run cattle on it. hope you enjoy it!

Submitted: July 16, 2017

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Submitted: July 16, 2017




by Fourth Coates

This is a journal I kept of the trip I took with my dad in May of 1973. He was considering buying land in Belize aka British Honduras and basically homesteading it and raising cattle. We were on a fact finding trip to determine if this was a feasible endeavor.

My dad was a pioneer at heart having come from a long line of pioneers who moved to Texas in 1852 as cattlemen or stockmen as they were called. They “drifted” their cattle as this was the time before the invention of barbed wire and Texas was all open range. My great, great grandfather William Duval Coates left Mississippi in 1852 moving lock, stock and barrel to Fort Gates, Texas now known as Gatesville in Coryell County. From there they moved west to the frontier to a little town called Buffalo Gap near present day Abilene in Taylor County. His son was named Pollard Hickman “Kern” Coates after William Duval’s father.  Rather than calling him the second they just started over and he was called senior. That means my grandson, Pollard Hickman Coates, VI is really the seventh one in our line to have that name.

My great grandparents, Pollard Hickman “Kern” Coates, Sr. age 22 and his young bride of fourteen years of age, Sicily Summer Jayroe were the sixth couple married in Taylor County. From Buffalo Gap they drifted their cattle to the west and Kern would go on “cow hunts” along with the other stockmen of that area who worked their cattle together.  These “cow hunts” would usually last three or four months! I’m sure his young bride, Sicily or Sis as they called her wasn’t too thrilled about that! They would match the cows with the calves and brand the calves with each man’s mark. The larger steers were either sold or were sent on a cattle drive to the rail head located far to the north of Texas back in those days. Kansas City, KS; Abilene, KS and Dodge City, KS were the destination for their steers.  In the late 1800s they left Buffalo Gap in search of open range as barbed wire had changed the ranching industry by that time in the populated areas. They and their family made the trek to far West Texas in the Guadalupe Mountains in a wagon train of thirteen covered wagons. They trailed about 1,000 head of cattle as well. They laid over at “the big lake” in what is now Reagan County. My great grandmother Sicily fell in love with the area and wanted to stay there.  It had been raining and the lake was full with all types of water fowl, antelope, elk and deer coming in every day to water. She called it a “paradise”.  They pushed on to the “Warloups” as they called the Guadalupe Mountains and lived in a dugout at Pine Springs. They would gather pinon nuts off of the pine trees to eat. Often they would encounter Native Americans doing the same thing.  After a seven year stay in the Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border they moved their cattle to Reagan County, Texas near the present day town of Big Lake where they had camped on their journey west. My grandmother named their ranch “Paradise Ranch”.  This is where my dad grew up and now his brother Steve Wayne Coates along with his son Stephen continue to ranch the Coates Family Ranch to this day.

My dad had pioneer blood coursing through his veins and could not be satisfied until he made his mark at a pioneering venture.

Thursday May 24, 1973:  Left Uvalde 5:30 A.M. Got to S.A. almost missed plane. Took off at 7:50 A.M. Arrived at New Orleans 9:00 A.M. Waited for “Taca” flight to leave at 1:30 P.M. central standard. (There was an oyster bar in the airport and my dad loved them. That was the first time I ate raw oysters!) Arrived Belize City, B.H. at 2:15 P.M. (flying time 2 hrs. 15 minutes) Took taxi to Ft. George Hotel got cleaned up & took a dip in pool.  Ft. George is only Hotel in Belize with a.c.  I met a girl “not too hot” from Madrid Spain. I met the Mexican Consultant (Belize), his name is Alonzo. Learned quite a bit.  He said people are lazy, police force is inadequate but no murder, rape, armed robbery because of death penalty (hanging).  He has been here 2 years.  At the pool I saw huge black birds flying (name unknown) & pelicans.  Met Ronda Rogers on plane from S.A. to N.O. she is the minister of Health’s daughter in B.H.  She is going to nursing school at St. Mary’s in S.A. she is black & very educated & charming.  Ate dinner after a bath & rest at Ft. George & went out to see Mr. & Mrs. Bevis.  We sat & talked about Belize & B.H.  Their friends Mr. & Mrs. Scott were there, they have been in B.H. for 20 years.  He is in shipping. Came back to Ft. George by taxi, driver had ear split in two several day’s previous but had been operated on (plastic surgery).  Met a boy by the name of Phillip in the bar, he is from London & is in the British Army. He has been here 3 months & has three more to go. He was mostly interested in Texas rodeos, cowboys, ranching, etc. (When we first met he said, “You sound just like John Wayne!” I laughed and responded, “Well partner, you sound just like Winston Churchill.” I think I was the first Texan he had ever met.) He said he had a local girlfriend, a black one. He said the Guats (Guatemalans) would give a week’s warning before attacking, some deal between the U.S.A. & Britain.  The U.S.A. supply’s guns, ammunition, etc. to Guatemala & B.H. is a British colony.  This is a weird set up.  Went to bed about 9:30 P.M. B.H. time.  Met a man from San Salvador, he was drunk & offered me a job at $5 U.S. a day clearing jungle. He owns land in San Salvador.

Friday May 25, 1973:  Arose about 8:00 A.M. (B.H. time), ate breakfast, a delicious meal of pancakes, eggs, orange juice, coffee & watermelon & then left in Land Rover for the Bevis “Big Falls Ranch” which is about 20 miles out of Belize City on the Western Highway.  Big Falls is a unique operation for B.H.  It is highly mechanized in a primitive country.  They have a rice mill that separates the chaff from the grain & then the broken pieces from the whole.  It is then sacked & ready for shipping.  Most or all of the seeding is done by airplane this was going on while we were there.  They also use D-8 Cats to clear the jungle and dig the irrigation canals.  (The D-8s are equipped with a large slanted front dozer blade called a KG Blade). The irrigated water is pumped out of the Belize River by four large pumps.  We ate lunch with Mr. Bevis & his son Chuck who runs the farm & then we drove on to Belmopan, the new capital city of B.H. On the way we picked up four of the Bevis’s workers & took them to Roaring Creek.  At Roaring Creek I met up with a Black who obviously was familiar with the American hippie.  He had a “fro” haircut & asked me if I wanted to “turn on”.  I told him I was from Texas & Texans don’t ‘’turn on”, after that he left me alone. We drove on to Belmopan & waited about an hour to talk to the Land Commissioner.  It seemed the wait took a day as the weather was very hot & humid.  The land from Belize City to Belmopan is mostly jungle with swampland marshes around Belize City. Some of the land is cleared for cattle grazing but cattle are of the rough Brahma type, very poor, breaking (Corrientes).  They need quite a bit of up breeding until choice beef can be produced.  We learned in Belmopan that very little or no Crown Land was for sale in the northern part of the country including the Pine Ridge area which is mostly a forest reserve.  The soil is an alkaline type or hard packed sand which is red in color.  The most encouragement for the sale of Crown Land seemed to be for the Southern end of the country.  The main thing in purchase of land seemed to be according to Mr. Edgely (Land Commissioner) is a good story to sell to the Minister.  He did tell us there were many nationals with applications in for land.  We left Belmopan at about 3:30 P.M. and drove on to the Central Farm (the agricultural experiment station of B.H.) & spent about one hour looking at different grass plots & talking to a man named John Le Gear who mostly worked with legumes.  He was quite a bit of help & furnished us with a great deal of information.  We were told to contact a Dr. Silvas (Central Farm Vet.) & a Rodney Neil but they weren’t in the locality.  Pangola seemed to be the most bountiful grass, also African Star & one strain of Buffel grass.  We then looked at Frank Norris Smith’s Harvest Green Chop Silage Tank which Mr. Bevis called a monument to American salesmanship.  We then turned around & headed for Blancaneaux Lodge our destination.  On the way we saw a bunch of 14 sheep which came as a surprise to us. We stopped & talked to the owner, a man of about 70 years & he said the sheep did fine in this country which was rather mountainous.  They seemed to be about ½ Rambouillet & ½ Barbado.  The wool which they had a lot of was of poor quality.  We then drove on the Blancaneaux Lodge a distance of about 15 miles.  Blancaneaux is in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest. At Blancaneaux the people are very friendly & the food delicious.  We met four men from Jamaica there who were also looking for cattle land that came to the same conclusion we had. Clear the jungle & work like the Devil.  That night I died.

Saturday May 26, 1973:  Dad got up about 5:30 A.M. & I got up about 7:00 A.M.  We had a grand breakfast & then looked around the Larson’s Blancaneaux Lodge. (I left my cutoffs hanging in the window, I have a picture of the lodge and you can see them it.)We had a lunch packed & headed out.  We drove to 1,000 Foot Falls & looked them over. They are very, very beautiful!  After that we drove on into the mountains to the forest fire lookout station & talked to 2 British soldiers from Liverpool. They had been there a fore night (whatever that is) & were sunbathing, seemingly having nothing else to do.  From the fire station we could see the open unattainable sheep country which is probably the only open country in B.H. excepting that which has been cleared.  We then drove on toward the Guatemalan border & stopped at the Golden Orange Lodge & Restaurant at San Ignacio & bought a gallon of fresh orange juice.  We then drove on about ten miles & got to the Xunantunich Mayan Site after crossing a one vehicle ferry across the Belize River which was cranked by hand on a cable. It was here I saw a rather large lizard looking animal green in color & about three feet in length.  I believe it was an iguana or an alligator. I am more inclined to think it was the latter.  We drive on to the Guatemalan border & filled up with gasoline at a Shell Station in Fallabon, B.H.  We then crossed the border into Guatemala and purchased several brightly colored panchos & shirts for gifts in the village of Melchor de Mencos. This was about 2:00 P.M. & the weather was unbearably hot.  We then crossed back into B.H. & gave the British immigration officer a lift into town.  In Melchor we met a German couple going into Guatemala.  We then headed back to Belize City on the same road which was very rough.  On the way back we gave several native Blacks lifts to their destination.  We stopped in Belmopan & reserved a room at the Ft. George.  In Belize City we were held up by two funeral processions.  The cars, station wagons that carried the caskets were decorated with brightly colored flowers and the pall bearers would walk behind the casket.  There were from 9 to 12 pall bearers in each procession.  Some of the people would walk & others would ride in cars.  Every man wore a black suit with a white shirt & black tie, the women a black dress & black hat.  This was all very uniform looking as they all had black skin to match.  We arrived at the Ft. George & spent the first 2 hrs. waiting on a room.  We met a Mr. Johnson & a Dr. Hendrickson from New Jersey.  They had flown down in a Bonanza on a fishing trip.  They were very friendly & interested in our findings of the cattle industry in B.H.  They were about 60 or 65.  I then called the Bevis’ who were at a party at the Gregg’s house. Jim & Mike (Jim Bevis & Mike Dishman) had arrived & I talked to them.  They are planning to go tarpon fishing tomorrow & asked me along.  Mike said he wished he had flown.  We then ate supper; fried shrimp, potatoes, vegetables, apricot milkshake & a piece of fish our friends from New Jersey gave us.  We went to the room & showered & are now ready for bed.

Sun. May 27, 1973:  I woke up at about 7:30 A.M. ate breakfast and took a swim.  Dad talked to a man at the pool that was the ex-president of Barbados.  They talked politics mostly which seems to be the main topic in B.H.  Jim arrived at about 9:30 A.M. with three friends of his, a young married couple, David & Holly Isles & their 7 month old baby girl, Shelly. (David’s family owns the Isles Caterpillar Dealership in Belize.)  We followed Jim out to Big Falls Ranch & picked up David at the Lagoon.  We drove down a jungle road and fished for about 30 minutes until David lost our only lure in a tree.  We started for the house & Jim was walking down the road loaded down with the rest of the gear.  He looks like a Mennonite which is a group of farmers that have settled in B.H.  Most of them have beards & live very primitively.  They are a very religious group & are hard working.  We got to the trailer house which was air conditioned! We sat around and talked & waited for the chicken Bar-B-Que.We ate with Rick, Ann and their two sons, John & Tom. (I didn’t catch their last names) (It’s Norbert as I now know).  Ann is Jim’s sister.  Rick is from Alaska (he’s a native Eskimo).  After we ate we all went for a swim in the Belize River and met Eric King who is E.W. King’s son the minister of agriculture.  He had several friends with him two of which I caught their names, Gail and Michelle.  After our swim we went back to the lagoon & fished some more.  By this time it had cooled off.  We met some people who are members of the Audubon Society & chatted with them for a while.  We didn’t catch any fish but got several bites, the mosquito type!  We then came back to the house & unloaded & Dad & I headed back to town.  This was about 6:30 P.M.  On the way in it was dark & the people walk out in the middle of the road.  We almost hit several needless to say. We arrived at the Ft. George and almost lost our room because they failed to get our name on the registration list.  We ate supper and talked with our friends from New Jersey.  We are now having our boots polished by the hotel shoe shine boy.  We called Mike & he is planning to go to Stann Creek with us tomorrow.  Today he was laid up with Montezuma’s revenge.  It is now 9:00 P.M., Night, Night.

Monday May 28, 1973:  Arose at 7:00 A.M., took a shower, went to dining room and ate breakfast with our friends from New Jersey.  Mr. Johnson I discovered is a Sigma Chi from Pennsylvania, Pi Pi Chapter.  We met a man from North Carolina a Mr. Landon, he had his family with him.  We also met Mr. John Robertson whom used to work for Bull Run Cattle Co in B.H. for 12 years & now lives at Central Farm.  Mike & Jim came in the room.  We went out to get groceries, ice, etc. while Dad talked to Mr. Ford Young about land.  We got food; they had a pretty good selection & picked up Dad at Isles Caterpillar Place.  Mike & Dad & I started out the Western Highway to Stann Creek Town.  Nothing exciting seen between Belize City & Belmopan.  We picked up a hitch-hiker on the Hummingbird Highway by the name of Ramon  Garza, a black.  He was a guided tour in itself! We learned the names of towns, rivers, people, etc.  We stopped & ate at a beautiful spot by a river with clear flowing water. The country was beautiful along the Hummingbird, mostly mountains with thick bush & some jungle.  The jungle looked like good cattle land.There are large citrus farms along the road closer to Stann Creek.  Stann Creek is a primitive town mostly populated by Blacks with a few Chinese & a number of Indians.  We stopped at the Pelican Beach Hotel & checked out their accommodations & drove on down the Southern Highway towards Punta Garda & the Toledo Dist.  We took a side road & Dad caught a Tarpon which later turned out to be a Bone Fish.  Good only for bait.  We then started back to Stann Creek & spotted a Cessna 150 tied down at a strip along the road. We drove on to the Pelican and showered & ate supper.  The British Army was camping near there & we learned quite a bit from a boy named Tom & a boy named Stan about the Toledo Dist. & the San Antonio Indians.  The S.A. Indians are a hard working bunch but live under very primitive conditions.  We also talked about Texas & Ireland & England.  Well it’s Sleepville for me!

Tue May 29, 1973:  Mike & I got up about 7:00. Dad at 5:30 A.M.  It was lightening off the coast last night but no rain.  We ate breakfast & looked at the Spider Monkey & parrots and filled up with gas at Mr. Bowman’s Texaco. He was helpful & told us about 90,000 acres a man in the Toledo Dist. had for sale.  We headed back to Belize City on the Hummingbird Highway & took them (hitch-hikers) to Roaring Creek. Trip was uneventful, same country we had been over previous day.  We got to the Ft. George, ate dinner, the hamburgers were terrible! (Due to the inferior local beef I’m sure.)  We then checked on flights to U.S. & decided to leave for N.O. on Taca at 7:15 P.M. this evening. We took Mike back to the Bevis’s & chatted with Mrs. Bevis.  Mr. Bevis is in Miami & won’t be back until tomorrow.  They had planned to have us over for supper tomorrow. The reason we are leaving today is there are no flights out of B.H. on Wed.  It is now 3:00 P.M. & I am fixing to go to the room and shower.  We sat around the hotel for about 2 hrs. & Jim & Mike drove us to the airport.  They just left and kidded me about having a date with Kathy tomorrow night. I hope I do! (I was engaged to Kathy Hoefs and head over heels in love with her.) Yesterday Jim had two flats on his Dad’s pickup as he was going to the ranch.It is now 6:30 P.M. & the flight from N.O. is just getting in.  We leave at 7:15 P.M.  Planes from N.O. for us are undetermined (Departure time undetermined).  B.H. is a great country in my opinion. It’s underdeveloped but has potential in any field desired except central heating! The people are very friendly & very happy although there is quite a bit of poverty.  They have plenty to eat and do little work.  The vegetation is magnificent, beautiful trees & flowering plants everywhere!  True modern conveniences such as large shopping centers, super highways, communications, etc. are lacking  but so were they in the pioneer days of the American West when cattle was king & money was to be made & land was to be had. In B.H. there are vehicles, communications & some modern conveniences but they do cost to attain. Lift off in five minutes and fifteen seconds from Belize City British Honduras, a Grand Country in the sunny Caribbean

As they say, “Hind sight is twenty, twenty!”  My Dad did try to buy land in British Honduras. He had a tract of jungle under contract to buy.  He actually bought one D-8 Cat dozer down there and shipped another one from the U.S. in a container. He cleared some of the jungle and attempted to plant and raise pineapples!  Not his first plan but you had to be flexible in Belize!  Originally he wanted me to move down there and run his operation for him after I graduated from college. I had two and a half years left until I graduated and wasn’t too keen on moving down there.  After many attempts to secure title to the land he thought he purchased he decided to cut his losses and sell out. His desire to be a pioneer was fulfilled.  Looking back we should have gone out to the Cays just off the coast of Belize and bought an island and then developed it into a resort.  That is exactly what has happened in Belize now and is one of the most sought after destination resorts around. As my friend and dad’s friend Jack Fletcher advised me, “Think Big!”  We just didn’t think big enough to venture outside of our comfort zone which was being the descendants of generations of ranchers!

I have friends in Belize who own Mountain Equestrian Trails as seen in “1,000 Places to see Before You Die” and is a certified Belize Ecotourism Jungle Lodge offering adventure vacations.  Marguerite Fly is a friend of mine from Uvalde. She married Jim Bevis of the Belize Big Falls Ranch mentioned in my journal. They own Mountain Equestrian Trails.  From what I’ve heard they run a “top notch” operation. My next trip to Belize will definitely include a stay at their lodge! Who wants to come with me?

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