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In the mid-'70s, The Nature Conservancy planned to start a major program in Texas. I was director of The Conservancy's land acquisition staff in those days, and we realized that setting aside acreage in Texas was not going to be easy. Residents of the former Republic of Texas don't appreciate anybody telling them what to do with their land.
The strategy we decided to use to get the program started was to find a single influential Texan and sell him on our brand of conservation, rather than a general solicitation drive among owners of desirable sites. As land-acquisition director, it was my task to find that Texan.
It took me only a few phone calls to identify the person we wanted. He was big, even by Texas standards. He had inherited one fortune and made another. He supported habitat-preservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Boone and Crockett Club, and Safari Club International. Apparently nothing concerning conservation in Texas was undertaken without his approval. He was not a member of The Nature Conservancy.
When I called him, he seemed receptive. In fact, he invited me to go hunting. "Come down after the first of the year and we'll get some snows," he said. "Provided you ain't opposed to hunting?" He was testing me, obviously.
"That would be fine," I told him. "I enjoy hunting." Which was the truth. I did enjoy the one time in my life that I went hunting. Professional conservationists do not get many invitations to go hunting.
"Good. We'll go up to Eagle Lake," the Texan said. "Goose capital of the world. You've never seen anything like it."
Right after the New Year, I flew to Houston. Eagle Lake was about 50 miles west. My Texan met me at the airport. For the sake of this story, and my health, let's say he went by the initials, T.H. He was wearing big boots, a big hat and a big belt buckle and was smoking the biggest cigar I had ever seen. His big four-wheel drive was parked right in front of the door. It was filled to the roof with camouflage clothes, gun cases, boxes of shells and racks of decoys. A dog cage was nestled in the middle. Its door was open.
As soon as I got in, a young, enthusiastic Lab jumped into my lap and started licking my face. "That's Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis," T.H. told me. "I'm just breaking him in. I had his daddy for 12 years. Best retriever in all of Texas. I had to put him down last year, but this here dog, he's going to be even better." T.H. must truly have high hopes for this dog, I thought. Lt. Col. William Barret Travis commanded the Alamo, and his name is not bestowed casually in the state of Texas.
"Remember the Alamo!" I said, scratching Trav's ears. "You can't beat a good dog."
"Ain't that the truth," T.H. said. He floored the big vehicle, cut off a taxi and barreled out of the airport.