But there is a very interesting story about two little girls who grew up on the ranch that still covers thousands of acres over the South Texas Desert Plains. A story that starts years before the movie set was built and before hundreds of people, horses and cattle filled the streets of Alamo Village. A story of two sisters, now well into their 80's, one of whom still runs a working cattle, sheep and goat operation.
In 1927 Elisha and Frannie Webb, then living in Rocksprings, Texas, bought land deep in the Southwest Desert just 40 or so miles from the Mexican Border. Elisha and Frannie brought their two young daughters, Sara, 7 and Virginia, 9, to the vast open space of South Texas. These two little girls grew up without close neighbors and other children, so they spent their young days on horseback. Riding so much, the girls came to know every inch of the large Rock Springs ranch. They rode to town sometimes twice a month, the distance being measured by gates. There were nine. They had a governess 6 months out of the year and got to ride to school in a car, but when their governess was working at a neighboring ranch, the girls rode a horse to school. On the way to school, younger Sara rode in front guiding the horse into town. He wasn't in any hurry to be hobbled all day and poked along quietly. However on the way home he was raring to go, so Virginia rode up front to keep the horse in check. They never had much trouble except when it came to saddling the horse to come home; they simply weren't big enough to do it. There was one boy in school that if they would play marbles with him, and let him win, he would saddle the horse. However, if he lost or the girls wouldn't play, he'd just go on home. To saddle the horse one girl had to climb a tree as the other led the horse up and passed the bridle and saddle up to the treed sister. How patient that horse must have been to have a kid in a tree reaching for him and banging him with a saddle, but when these two little girls had a will, they always found a way.
Once the family moved to the ranch in Brackettville, the girls were sent away to St. Marks Baptist Academy, only to return because their parents felt they were too far from home. As teenagers, Virginia attended Incarnate Word and Sara attended St. Mary's Hall. Accounting at Baylor followed for Virginia and Sara attended college "only because she had too."
Their father Elisha was the first person to introduced sheep into the old cattle country, having to run miles of fence against wolves. Elisha went on to bring Angus and Longhorn cattle into the territory. They were the first longhorns in the territory and Elisha kept them hidden in a back pasture so he wouldn't be laughed at for spending money on the rangy beasts. It was thought back then that you were losing your mind to buy longhorns. Elisha passed away in 39' leaving a very capable Frannie to carry on their livestock operation. She and the girls faired well and Sara and Virginia grew up learning the business of cattle ranching.
Virginia married Happy Shahan some years later who continued raising the Angus and Longhorn Cattle on the ranch. . Happy saw how well the tough long horned cattle weathered drought and went on to build one of the largest herds in the state. Happy was the instigator and went on to be the president of the Texas Angus Breeders Association, raising the best of the best in registered Angus.
In the mid fifties nearby Fort Clark's 5th Calvary Post was relocated to El Paso which resulted in the neighboring Brackettville became a ghost town. It was devastating to the local townsfolk. Happy was the kind of man that spent his whole life helping other people. Somebody just happened to dare him that he couldn't do movies. Happy packed his bags and headed west to Hollywood to see what he might find. On his 10th and last day there as he stood in yet another Hollywood office that happened to be Disney, he asked the secretary to hear him out. She could then kick him out, but just hear him out. When he finished telling her his idea, she asked him to hold on a minute and left the room. She returned with a man that was in the Air Force that knew a man that knew a rancher that lived in the Brackettville area. His name was Louis Hoggs. It was enough of a connection to get John Wayne's set built for the epic movie THE ALAMO on the South Texas ranch. Construction started in September of 1957 and filming began in 1959. Wayne also brought in a large herd of longhorn cattle for his movies and spent a couple of weeks at a time throughout the following years at the Alamo Village.
Now in this year of 2002, Virginia has decided to sell the Alamo Village Movie set. Not nearly ready to retire, the sisters, now in their eighties have another agenda to attend. Cattle, sheep and goat ranching will continue on the HV (Happy Virginia) Ranch. The rewards of ranching are something Virginia holds close to her heart. "It's being outside. Being with animals. Being able to breath. Being able to look at the sky. I thank Him everyday for being on a ranch. I have eight grand children and seven great grand children. They are the joy of my life." Virginia goes on to say the rewards of the movie business has been being able to help other people, that it was the only reason Happy got into it, and to help Brackettville, it's given people throughout the state opportunities. The timing was right.
Virginia hopes that the new owners, who ever they may be, will have a love for the Alamo Village, and that they will keep it going, and take it to a higher level. The 500 acres with a life size replica of the Alamo and old west town is on the block for $6,500,000, including the museum loaded with John Wayne's "Alamo" memorabilia that goes along with the Village.
You can learn a lot more about Alamo Village at www.alamovillage.com, or just drive on out to Brackettville, you might catch a TV or film production in progress and the sets are never closed. Take Highway 90 West towards Del Rio, follow the signs, or you can call 830-636-2580.
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