Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Returning to her roots after 85 years

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In her heart, Barbara Hale Harrison always had the desire to return to the land of her birth and walk across the ranch where she was born and recall fond childhood memories.

Harrison enjoyed a magical childhood on the Liljeblad Ranch near the Ames community where her father, Hoyte Hale, served as the ranch foreman. The Liljeblad family, although not related to Barbara, became like family to her, and she often referred to them with endearing terms such as uncle, aunt, and Gran.

Following her birth on the ranch, the Liljeblad family became very fond of young Barbara. As a child, she remembers “Uncle Charlie,” as she called him, putting her on his shoulders and his wife, Allie, making a small playroom for her under the beautiful staircase in the grand two-story ranch house.

In 1939, when she was seven years old, her parents, Hoyte and Pearl Sellers Hale, pulled up stakes and moved to Abilene where her father purchased and operated a gas station.

Life has a way of taking charge. Following her marriage to John Ray Harrison, Barbara had little time to think about coming back to Coryell County. She became the mother of seven children and was also very supportive of her husband’s political career. John Ray Harrison became a member of the Texas House of Representatives and served as Judge on the 113th Judicial District.

After hearing his mother’s stories about the Liljeblad Ranch, one of Barbara’s sons, Kip Harrison, began researching in earnest to locate the ranch and find anything he could about his mother’s birthplace. He was diligent in tapping into every source possible to find the exact location. He contacted resources at the courthouse, the tax office, and The Gatesville Messenger, among many others.

Last year, during his research, Kip Harrison said, “I found that researching was extremely rewarding. Mom has seven children, and all are very excited to continue this journey. As a whole family, we are just energized.”

Last week, on the event of her 92nd birthday, Barbara Hale Harrison’s life became complete after 85 years of being away from Coryell County. Her dream came true when she and her children arrived in Gatesville on January 26. She had not been “home” in 85 years.

She was feted at Rancher’s Steak House with a birthday supper where she was greeted by Coryell County Judge Roger Miller. She was pleasantly surprised when Judge Miller presented her with a proclamation. Miller stated, “Barbara Hale Harrison has returned to Coryell County to celebrate her 92nd birthday and to visit the ranch where she was born and lived during her early years. Now, proclaimed by the county judge of Coryell County that January 26th shall be recognized as the Barabara Hale Harrison Day to honor and celebrate her return to the place of her birth and to pay tribute to the Liljeblad family for their instrumental years in Barbara’s life.”

Judge Miller continued, “When I first read Barbara’s story in The Gatesville Messenger, it really resonated with me. It’s a different generation. This proclamation is a very small token about how I feel about the history of our county and its development.”

The following day, Barbara and her children gathered at the Coryell County Museum and Historical Center where they met several members of the Esparza family who also worked on the Liljeblad Ranch at the same time Barbara’s father worked there.

Manuel Esparza, now age 103, was on hand to share with Barbara his memories about ranch life when she was a child and stories about her father, Hoyte Hale. Manuel was eleven years old and working on the ranch with his family when Barbara was born.

Following their meeting at the museum, Manuel Esparza and his son, Stan, took the Harrison family on a guided tour of the Liljeblad Ranch and were able to show Barbara the exact location of the home site where she was born. “This is home. I never thought I’d be back. This is a dream. I never really expected to get back here again and to do this with my family. I’m just so overwhelmed about being back here again,” Barbara Harrison said.

With tears in her eyes, she said, “I had a very happy life here and I’m so very glad to be back home again.”

Barbara Hale Harrison and her children all said they would like to make trips back to Coryell County in the future and to share this with future generations of their family.