Some who had watched Perry’s political ascent recalled their reaction to the name on the rock and their worry that it could become a political liability for Perry.
“I remember the first time I went through that pasture and saw that,” said Ronnie Brooks, a retired game warden who began working in the region in 1981 and who said he guided three or four turkey shoots for Rick Perry when Perry was a state legislator between 1985 and 1990. “. . . It kind of offended me, truthfully.”
Brooks, who said he holds Perry “in the highest esteem,” said that at some point after Perry began bringing lawmakers to the camp, the rock was turned over. Brooks could not recall exactly when. He said he did not know who turned the rock over.
Another local who visited the property with Perry and the legislators in those years recalled seeing the rock with the name clearly visible.
“I thought, ‘This is going to embarrass Rick some day,’ ” said this person, who did not want to be named, fearing negative consequences from speaking on the subject.
The hunting camp was simple in the 1980s, just a cabin with a long table for cleaning fish and deer, a few bunks and a porch set along a riverbank in Throckmorton County. There was a sprawling pecan tree and a water tank for showers, an arrangement that got more elaborate as the years went on.
The camp is secluded, situated on a vast, 42,000-acre ranch that reaches into three counties and is owned and managed by the Hendrick Home for Children Trust. Various parcels of the Hendrick ranch, as it is known, have been leased out over the years for grazing cattle, oil drilling and, since the mid-1970s or so, hunting. All sorts of people have been on the winding, rocky ranch roads over the years — cowboys, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, oil workers, power company workers, wildlife biologists, real estate agents, tax assessors, surveyors, locals and outsiders who have visited the hunting camps that dot the property.
This story is based on interviews with more than two dozen people, including residents, hunters, ranchers, government officials and others who live in Haskell County, where Perry’s boyhood home of Paint Creek is found; in neighboring Throckmorton County, where the hunting camp is located; and elsewhere in Texas. Ray Perry did not respond to numerous attempts to reach him for comment. The campaign declined a request to make him available.
Most of those interviewed requested anonymity because they fear being ostracized or other repercussions in their small community. Some are supporters of Perry, whose parents still live in Paint Creek. Others, both Democrats and Republicans, are not. Several spoke matter-of-factly about the hunting camp and its name and wondered why it held any outside interest.