Dr. Amy Freeman Lee, an educator, lecturer, artist and author, is the niece of the Freeman brothers. She was raised by her grandmother, their mother. She was quite close to her Uncle Harry. She knows a good deal of the Freeman family history, as well as how the idea originated to pass the ranch to SWT.
After her mother dies in the "infamous 1918 Asian flu epidemic," her Grandmother Freeman raised Dr. Lee. The maternal part of the family is from New Orleans and from France before that. According to Dr. Lee, the family became established in Seguin, Texas around the turn of the century with land, a grocery store, dry goods and a horse and mule barn.
"After Grandfather passed, his eldest son, Joe, at sixteen years of age, became head of the family," said Lee. Harry Freeman was around fourteen at the time and the brothers carried on with the family business and expanded it. While the main house was in Seguin, the family maintained a residence in San Antonio as they began to make more and more business connections.
Joe Freeman, as many people will attest, was a shrewd businessman. Generally, he was acknowledged as the "idea man," said Lee, while Harry Freeman put those ideas into action. They expanded their business and holdings through cotton. Not only did Joe Freeman own cotton farms of his own, but he also bought cotton from hundreds of people. The reason he did so well in cotton is that he was an expert in cotton sampling.
Dr. Lee said, "I used to watch him at the old compress in Seguin . . . Let's say he had five hundred bales. He would try to determine the quality of the cotton through spot-checking. He would take a knife and hack through the bale and pull the fiber out. The manner in which he pulled and separated the fibers would determine the quality." By determining the grade of the cotton quality, he would know how much the cotton was worth. Knowing this helped him to buy low and sell high.
Another lucrative business for the Freeman brothers in the early days was founded on pecans. Pecans mostly grow in river bottoms, such as you would find in the Seguin and Central Texas area. At one time the Freemans had the largest pecan shelling business in the world. At another time they managed to corner the pecan market.
These businesses, in addition to the Chevrolet dealership they later opened in San Antonio, and oil concerns, among others, build the Freeman legacy. But according to Dr. Lee, the Freeman Ranch "meant more to Harry Freeman than anything he ever had. Because he would say, 'I can go out there, away from the telephone and away from everyone pulling me in forty directions, and be at peace.'"
One of Dr. Lee's favorite humorous memories of the ranch is of her grandmother's one and only overnight visit there. When the brothers were deciding upon the dimensions of the ranch house, their mother wanted a two-story design. This, however, did not fit in with Joe's plans, and they built a typical one-story ranch house. Their mother did not like to sleep on the first floor of any building.
"She didn't feel safe on the ground floor," said Dr. Lee. "So she just absolutely, positively, unequivocally, refused to spend the night out there. But one night they persuaded her to stay."
When Mrs. Freeman returned home the next day, her chauffeur, Lee Scott, looked very tired. When Dr. Lee asked what was wrong, Scott responded, "You know Mrs. Freeman isn't going to sleep on the ground floor. She had me sit outside her door with a shotgun in my lap all night."
But Mrs. Freeman did enjoy visiting the ranch during the day, especially when the goats were kidding. Her sons liked the place a great deal more.
Harry Freeman, the younger brother, would spend three days a week at the ranch, going early in the morning on Wednesdays, while Joe liked to spend many weekends there. The ranch was used for leisure pursuits such as hunting and horseback riding, but also to entertain business associates.
Before he became President, Lyndon B. Johnson was a fairly frequent visitor; the Freemans knew him from the time when he was a teacher in Cotulla.
For a number of years, the brothers hosted an annual party for the FBI on the premises, as you will discover if you read the inscription on the flagpole in front of the ranch house. The inscription commemorates the 20th annual FBI hunt and the friendship shared between the FBI and the Freeman brothers. It reads, "Presented to Mr. Joe and Harry Freeman in grateful appreciation by their FBI friends on the occasion of the 20th Annual FBI Hunting Party, November 1967."
Mr. Harry worked - not just visited - at the ranch until his ninety-fourth year. Dr. Lee recalled how she would frequently receive worried telephone calls from the ranch manager, telling her that "Mr. Harry's up on the barn again."
She'd answer, "Get him down."
And the manager would respond, "You want to come and get him down? I've got a wife and children to support."
Harry Freeman did not just go to the ranch to ride horses or hunt; he loved to work on the land and be a part of ranch operations. And when he got older, his obvious concerned niece tried to get his doctor to admonish this man of independent spirit, but she instead got an admonishment herself: "I want you to get off his back," the doctor said to her. "Let him do what he wants. If he falls, we'll patch him together the best we can." Perhaps his secret to longevity was staying busy for so long.
When Harry Freeman was nearing the end of this life in his 90s, he told his niece that he was depressed and worried. When she asked why, he said, "No young people are going into agribusiness at all. No one wants to go into farming or ranching."
Dr. Lee said, "Well, you can do something about that . . . You could give the ranch to an educational institution in perpetuity."
At first he was skeptical. He was not about to simply give away something he loved and worked so hard for, but the idea had staying power. About ten days later, he informed his niece that he had completely changed his mind. While he originally wanted to give it to Texas A&M, they wanted it with no strings attached, probably to sell the property once it was received. He wanted the property to have an educational purpose. Southwest Texas State University was the better choice because it agreed to fulfill this purpose and was located nearby.
In Dr. Lee's opinion, the gift "gave him more peace of mind than anything he ever did. And the beautiful part of it is that he lived long enough to be a part of the dedication." Dr. Lee believes that her Uncle Harry would have been pleased with the ranch's improvements. The educational goals that he wanted for the ranch are continuing today.
--Taken from an interview on May 11, 1998.