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Pillows Courts adds to history of Bandera

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

When the Courier did a feature story on an antique Pontiac that had been found in Colorado advertising Gilbert's Ranch Motel, local history buffs began trying to track down the background. It was generally acknowledged that the Gilbert's Ranch Motel was located in the area currently occupied by the River Oak Inn and Brick's restaurant on the northwest end of Main Street.
Native resident James Duff said no one seemed to have any recollection of the Gilbert's and he concluded that they didn't stay in town for long.
The financial difficulties that led to Mr. Gilbert abandoning the Pontiac in Colorado because he couldn't pay for gas and repairs may be a clue that the business was not a success.
However, Duff contacted a former Bandera High School classmate, Penny Pillow Bell of Conroe, and she shared some history about the lodging establishment prior to the Gilbert's ownership.
Bell's letter to the Courier read:
"I thought you and your readers would enjoy some history that preceded Gilbert's Ranch Motel.
My parents, Ned and Anna Pillow, little sister Gail, and I moved to Bandera from Houston around 1944, intent on building a "tourist court" where the River Oak Inn now stands. I think the Pillows Courts was opened around 1945, when I was six.
The furnishings in the "refrigerated air" cabins were made by a pair of local craftsmen, Dove and Dollarhide.
Our donkey, Molasses, kept the grass mowed, but Momma insisted that we give him to Dad Hudspeth because he kept scratching his back on the white-washed corners of the buildings.
It was my parents' great pleasure to introduce our guests to the Mansfield Park rodeos and western dances at the Cabaret. Daddy was an organizer and first president of the Bandera Tourist Association, which had its offices in the replica Judge Roy Bean Courthouse on Main Street.
It was then that the annual Bandera Stompede began. The men grew beards, the women wore bonnets. Momma always rode in the parade on her red scooter with her little chihuahua, Feather, perched on a cushion in front.
Daddy's heart problem was incurable back then, and he died in 1950. In 1953, Momma sold the courts and we moved back to Houston. I'm not sure when Mr. Gilbert bought the courts, but I know the cabins were torn down and replaced at some point.
Bandera will always have a warm spot in my heart. It was a great place to grow up."
According to an advertising flyer Bell provided, rates at Pillows Courts were $4 single, $6 double. Rooms with kitchen were ranged from $7 to $9. Weekly rates were also available. The flyer noted there was swimming, a recreation room, fishing and recreation for the children, including swings.
The Courier ran a couple of features in September about the 1928½ Pontiac rescued in Colorado and brought back to Bandera by Scott and Debra Slate, owners of Bandera Beverage Barn. The Slates continue to gather historical information about the unique vehicle that flaunts an advertising message on it sides: Gilbert's Ranch Motel, Bandera Tours, $1.
The motel and Ray Gilbert were featured in the July 1961 issue of The Dude Wrangler Magazine, published by Billie Crowell from the Dixie Dude Ranch for many years. The magazine promoted dude ranches in the area.