Longtime hunters, cowboys and ranchers said this particular place was known by that name as long as they could remember, and still is.
“The cowboys, when they were gathering cattle, they’d say they’re going to the Matthews or Niggerhead or the Nail” pastures, said Bill Reed, a distributor for Coors beer in nearby Abilene who used to lease a hunting parcel adjacent to the Perrys’. “Those were all names. Nobody thought anything about it.”
When Rick Perry returned to Paint Creek from the Air Force in the late 1970s, Ray Perry, a county commissioner at the time, was determined to introduce his son to people who could bolster a future in politics, Reed said. Ray Perry once borrowed Reed’s hunting lodge, which was big enough for large groups, to host a party for 75-or-so people in the late 1970s or early 1980s, an event Reed described as a political coming out party.
“He was bringing in political leaders, important figures, business leaders . . . big-money people out of Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, where all your big money comes from,” Reed said.
He and others said that the Perrys used their own cabin for smaller gatherings and that some who went there may not have been offended by the property’s name.
“You know, Texas is a little different — you go where it’s comfortable,” Reed said. “. . . It would have been one thing if they had named it, but they didn’t. So, it’s basically a figure of speech as far as most people are concerned. No one thought anything about it.”
Rick Perry was elected to the state legislature in 1985. Soon after, he began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.
Perry was a Democrat serving on the appropriations committee at the time. He was also in the process of forming relationships that would lead to his switch to the Republican Party when he ran for agriculture commissioner in 1989. In two interviews, Brooks, the former game warden, said he could not recall who came.
“One year there’d be four or five. The next might be eight or 10, something like that,” Brooks said. “They’d cook, fish, might kill a wild hog and eat it. They’d just go there to relax and enjoy themselves. He was a very gracious host and, in my opinion, well thought of.”
Brooks said he saw the rock laid down flat by the gate soon after Perry began bringing lawmakers there. Brooks could not recall exactly when. He did not know who moved the rock.
The other local who visited the ranch with Perry during those years recalled the rock standing upright with the name visible. He said it was painted over years later; he was not sure exactly when but recalled remarking about the change with friends.
“We kind of laughed about it,” recalled this person, who said he would probably vote for Perry if he wins the Republican nomination. “My recollection is that it was several years ago. We were laughing because he had it painted. Because it had always been there. You couldn’t miss it, right there at the gate going in. We laughed about, ‘Rick’s covering his tracks.’ ”
Perry estimated that he hunted on the property “about a dozen times” between 1983 and 2006. As he rose through the ranks of Texas politics, the rustic camp was renovated, according to people who saw the place in recent years. A second story was added to the old cabin, along with brown wood siding and an outdoor staircase. A bathhouse was added, and power lines, and a low pipe fence was built around the cabin. A new sign had been posted. It read, “Perry’s Camp.”
The rock remained by the gate, the name brushed with a thin coat of white paint. The paint was slightly faded, according to the person who saw it recently.
“That’s something that sticks in my memory,” this person said. “It was kind of a sloppy job. It wasn’t doing what it was intended to do.”
As recently as this summer, the rock was still there, according to photographs viewed by The Washington Post.
In the photos, it was to the left of the gate. It was laid down flat. The exposed face was brushed clean of dirt. White paint, dried drippings visible, covered a word across the surface. An N and two G’s were faintly visible.
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Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.