Gertrude Patterson


ca. 1901 - January 3, 1987
Role: Ranch Cook

Gertrude was a true one of kind. Time with her and her stories was always a great joy, eagerly anticipated. "My people come from Africa way back when. They wound up in Louisiana as slaves and farmers. They farmed on "halfsies", the tenant farming system of sharing half of the crops with the landowner. My mother was a Christian who raised seven children and I never heard her cuss an oath in her life.” “My mother was born after The Freedom, but she remembers all about that Ku-Kluxin’. It was rough back when I was young in Louisiana. Seemed like they wanted to put us back in slavery – they used to call us “monkeys.” That’s why I decided to come to Texas. Here we are all like one. There never was no problem on these ranches about race." “I always heard them talkin' about Texas and I wanted to see what it was. I came down here to see the ‘hookin' bulls”. I'd never seen a prairie or a ranch before, and I didn't have any idea I was bein' hired to cook for a bunch of cowboys. I couldn't fill them up; but, at the same time, they was complainin' about my food. So, I just finally had to lay religion on the shelf and tell them how it was goin' to be in my kitchen. I was goin' to run that kitchen and they was goin' to follow my rules.” Truth was Gertrude’s guiding light. Never ask her a question you didn’t want answered honestly. She wore wonderful costumes such as striped socks and a pair of panty hose on her head and delighted in bringing out her collection of wigs to add to the magic. She was a collector of handmade objects many of which she made herself. Gerturde’s control over her kitchen, her rowdy cowhands, and, if truth be known, Jim Welder, was one of the legendary tales of Coastal Bend ranching.

Introduction to Gertrude

Louise S. O'Connor
Voice of Gertrude Patterson
Gertrude Patterson - Well I come to Texas in June of Depression, when ole Hitle and Kaiser and Mussolini, when the times was tough. People hoboing, and oh Lord, it was tough then! It ain't tough now. It was tough. Always did want to come to Texas. I don't know I just always did…even when I was a child. I'd hear so much about Texas and I'd tell 'em all, "My mother listen(?) and she'd whup us. Whup us, she listen(?). I said, "That's alright," I said, "When I get grown and get along on my own," I said, "I'm going to Texas where they're hookin' bulls." 'Course, I hadn't ever seen a prairie. I didn't know what a prairie was till I come out here. I didn't know about no prairie. nor about no ranch. And when they all come into dinner, it was all colored people. And I never cooked for a bunch of colored folks. I said, "Oh my God, as I got to be worried with headless(?) children. I'd fix dinner, had that… Mr. Welder… had that table as long as both of these two rooms. And woman, I'd have it lined up from one end to the other, and that table over in another room, I'd have it lined up full. And I held that kitchen eight years by myself. And I tell ya, I really…they would give me so much trouble, sometimes I just almost ready, wanted to quit. And I'd look at 'em, but I'd go on and put up with 'em. Fuss with 'em, put up with 'em. And they said, "Oh, I sure hate to see Miss Gertrude quit." Honey, I got in there and I straightened them out! I just thought 'em was nuts! I just thought they were nuts! Cause I told them, I'd say, "I wouldn't do like y'all do for nothing in the world." On Sunday, when they didn't work, they was breaking horses. Oh child! They used to have a time out there with 'em. But I enjoyed it. I really did!

Documents

“Finally I got them in line because I wasn't scared of nobody. By the time I left here I loved this ranch and I loved my cowboys. It got to be home and family.”

Cryin' For Daylight: Ranching Culture in the Texas Coastal Bend