Wilma Nelson Copeland


May 8, 1910 - April 21, 1989
Role: Foreman's Wife, Ranch Employee
Maiden name: Nelson

Wilma was born during Haley’s Comet. There was terrible weather and it took the doctor three days to finally arrive, having to ford the swollen creeks. Her mother nearly died of blood poisoning. Wilma went to high school in Gillett, Texas where she grew up, but since it only went to the tenth grade, she stayed with her mother’s sister in Seguin so she could finish high school. After graduation she entered Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos where she went to school every summer until she got her degree. Her father owned two cotton gins and a grist-mill. He was also a blacksmith. Both sides of her family were master farmers. Wilma taught school on the O'Connor River Ranch. Wilma was the wife of O’Connor Duke Ranch foreman, Orville Copeland. After her husband died she became the ranch manager for the O’Connor Duke Ranch. “When I came to this ranch (Duke Ranch) it was pioneer days and only forty years ago (1943). The roads were terrible and there was no electricity. There wasn’t even any butane or propane. I was raised in a German family and we were taught to be clean and work hard, so ranch life didn’t bother me at all. I even lived through the seven-year drought when the whole ranch was on my front porch. Life here was a challenge – it was going to be our home. It still is in my heart.” Wilma was a true original. She was a robust, hardy woman with a great love for the land and whatever work she was doing, including being a ranch foreman. Her German upbringing made her frugal, tough and understanding of the land and animals. Greatly respected by all, her work was never done.

Introduction to Wilma Copeland

Louise S. O'Connor
00:01:40
Voice of Wilma Copeland
00:01:21
Wilma Copeland – And he went to work on the first of February in '46, and I went down in September of '46, you know. And I know that Orville, when they would do roundups. He had to furnish his own horse and saddle, and a brown bag lunch. They weren't even furnished anything to eat for fifty cents a day. And they worked from daylight until dark. That was before..when we moved out there we were pioneers! No electricity, no paved roads, no butane. We had no telephones. Oh, and that house was cold because it was built so high off of the ground, it didn't have any underpinning around it. Oh my Lord, it was cold! I tell you, there were very few women that liked that ranch life.

Milam Thompson – Ain't it the truth.

Wilma Copeland - I tell you, you were out there stuck in the mud!

Milam Thompson – I know what you mean! Did you like the ranch?

Wilma Copeland – You know, I didn't mind it. I liked it. But, my goodness, I thought it just rained…especially in the winter time. It just rained all the time. But after the drought, I quit saying anything more about rain. Oh that was seven years, my lands sakes. Because the drought was what, from '50 to '57, wasn't it?

Milam Thompson – Yeah it was in the 50s, I know that.

Wilma Copeland – When the ranch was always on my front porch. Sweep it off and then it come from the other direction. Oh my gracious!

Documents

“1 once told Milam (Thompson), ‘When I die, please put one of your pot roasts in my cofiin. ’ Many people came out to the Duke Ranch just to eat Milam Is cookin’. Eventually, even the sheriff's deputies would come out to the ranch to eat his food. ”

Milam's Revelation Cookbook: A Legacy of Food and Knowledge from the Black Culture of the Texas Coastal Bend

“When I came to this ranch it was pioneer days and only forty years ago. The roads were terrible and there was no electricity. There wasn’t even any butane or propane. I was raised in a German family and we were taught to be clean and work hard, so ranch life didn’t bother me at all. I even lived through the seven—year drought, when the whole ranch was on my front porch. Life here was a challenge — it was going to be our home. It still is in my heart.”

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