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2011-04-21

Policarpio Rodriguez, Bandera County Legend

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff writer

Bandera County proudly lays claim to one of the most accomplished and colorful Texas pioneers.

José Policarpio Rodriguez grew up one of 10 sons. Similar to the family of boxer George Foreman, all carried the same first name, taken from their father. Called by his middle name, Rodriguez was familiarly known as "Polly."

He wrote a most intriguing autobiography called "The Old Guide," that details his adventurous life.

He dictated his story to the Rev. DW Carter during various times from 1892 to 1897.

The story was published by an arm of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Polly was only 15 when he went on his first surveying job where he "received the wages of a man - one dollar a day."

At 20, he traveled with Lt. WHC Whiting and his party westward from Fredericksburg to establish a road to El Paso and to find locations for forts along the way. He served the party as a guide and scout.

West of the San Saba, the group suffered greatly from lack of water, going three days without any at all.

Whiting, who became a general in the Civil War, wrote in his diary, "This boy Policarpo is one of the most valuable members of my party - a patient and untiring hunter, an unerring trailer, with all the instinct and woodcraft of the Indian combined with the practical part of surveying which he has learned ... moreover a capital hand with the mules." The harrowing trip to El Paso, and then back to San Antonio, took about three months.

On a hunting trip to Bandera County with a friend, the pair killed "several deer, a number of turkeys and one bear, and cut several bee trees."

The pair chased after a wild cow and finally killed her with 20 shots, emptying their pistols and rifles.

In another incident, Polly drowned a wounded panther that attacked had his dog and fallen into the Medina. He kept swimming in circles, holding up the cat's tail, keeping the head under water until it died.

While tracking some camels that had escaped from Camp Verde, Polly followed the trail from the Medina River up Privilege Creek. He and eight soldiers killed a bear, several deer and some turkeys. He liked the place so well he determined to find out who owned the property and buy it.

At 23, he married Nicolasa Arocha and the couple moved to Privilege Creek in 1858 to the 360 acres he had bought from John James, the founder of Bandera, for 50 cents an acre.

After 12 years of service with the US military, Polly's army career ended with the Civil War. He refused a commission of captain with the Confederate forces and instead returned to Bandera County and joined the Home Guard under Captain Bladen Mitchell.

Following the war, he built up his land and learned as much as he could about agriculture, winning the top prize two years in a row at the San Antonio fair for farm products.

When Albert Maverick of San Antonio traveled to Privilege Creek and the sturdy two-story home of the Rodriguezes shortly after the Civil War, Polly taught the 13-year-old boy how to track wild animals, how to find water and bee trees, how to build a fire without matches and how to catch fish without a hook.

One day, Polly had an encounter with a preacher that led to his conversion to Protestantism.

"My conversion made a great sensation among my neighbors and friends; and I was so completely changed, the report that I had gone crazy was believed by many," he said.

Among those who thought he had lost his mind was his wife, who didn't sit at the table with him for a year.

Eventually, his wife and children all converted as well.

Polly later felt called to preach and received a license to do so from the Methodist Quarterly Conference meeting in Bandera. He then preached all around south and west Texas for over 20 years.

A friend living in San Antonio reported that during a visit, Polly rose very early every morning and stood on the second story porch and sang "hymns in a very loud voice."
His family also recalled this early morning hymn singing habit.

In 1882, he built the stone chapel on Privilege Creek that bears his name.

The community-minded man also donated land for a school to serve the area children. The school stood at what is today the intersection of Privilege Creek Road and Bear Creek Road.

After years of being a widower, in 1903, at 74, he married Anastasia Salinas who was 15 at the time. He had four children who lived to adulthood with each of his wives.

Polly closed his story with chapters about his conversion and his sharing of the Gospel message with others, and this prayer: "I hope this true record of how I was brought to Christ may lead many to believe in him.

Perhaps it will preach the gospel when I can no longer do so."

Polly Rodriguez died in 1914 at Poteet, Texas and is buried at Polly's Cemetery near the chapel he built so long ago.

His tombstone describes him as "The Old Guide, Surveyor, Scout, Hunter, Indian Fighter, Ranchman and Preacher." Had the stone been bigger, the carver could have added singer, gunsmith, honey finder, panther killer, interpreter, trainer of a deer-hunting horse and camel tracker.

Pictured: Texas historic landmark Polly's Chapel needs some TLC.

A fundraiser set for Saturday, April 23, will help defray the cost of renovating the front doors and windows of the sacred site off of Privilege Creek Road.