That disruption you felt in the force a few weeks ago might have been the news that Murry Burnham, a legend in Texas hunting and fishing circles, died on April 20.
Legend isn’t a strong enough word to describe the impact Murry’s life had on Texas. Add to that his brother Winston, who passed away many years ago, and you’ve come across a bloodline whose roots date back to the Texas Revolution and who have brought the wonder of the outdoors to generations of Texas. Not to mention the two men who made varmint call a sport in Texas when they developed their line of animal calls.
Murry was born in 1929 and 11 years later, using a homemade bow and arrow, he killed a bobwhite quail. Later, he won state archery competitions and launched an outdoor career that lasted into the early twenties of this century.
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I met Murry in the late 1980s after moving to central Texas to work at the American-Statesman. For some reason, perhaps to help me improve my knowledge of guns and animals, etc., he seemed to take an interest in me.
I visited him several times at the old family home south of Marble Falls, where he and Jolene lived in the plantation-style house built on an Indian mound. Water from a spring that gushed from a hill behind the house provided the family with all their needs, including the garden where they grew vegetables and spawned the occasional arrowhead.
Murry had an incredible understanding and affinity for animals and regaled me with stories of those he had caught and seen in his lifetime. Everyone who entered the store the Burnham brothers had in Marble Falls stopped to check the rattlesnakes that were in the front window.
On my first visit to the old place, he took me upstairs and led me out to the balcony that surrounded that floor to show me the nest that a mallard hen had built on the porch and a roadrunner he had caught like a chick and tamed. live around the house. “He was pecking at the window when he was ready to come in. He was drinking from my tea glass,” Murry said.
He would go out at night as a child and walk to a nearby oat field and see how close he could get to the deer feeding there. “I got to where I could get close to them,” he said.
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One of his best stories was about the turkey gobbler he caught and trained into the front seat of his pickup truck. “I was going down the road and getting some weird looks from people who saw him in the front seat of that truck,” he said.
Although it wasn’t strictly legal, Murry kept this gobbler and trained it to act as a kind of feathered decoy when hunting turkeys. One day, Murry’s gobbler started talking with a wild bird, who came out of the woods and decided he needed to establish his dominance over the tame bird.
“Of course he came to me to protect me and brought this other gobbler right into my lap,” Murry said. “He nearly beat me to death before I could get away from him.”
Murry loved going out to the ranch he owned near Langtry. The Rio Grande ran along the southern border, and he dragged me there to offer me to take his old johnboat upriver to spend the night on one of the islands. Sleeping on the floor was his plan.
I always had a reason why I couldn’t make it that night, but we were still pushing through the candy rods on the bank of the river and casting a line under the bank to catch the catfish. Most people wouldn’t eat these fish, but Murry insisted they were safe and clean.
We’d come down in daylight and catch enough for breakfast and bring them back clean. Murry did something I had never seen, which was to remove a fillet from one side of the smaller fish and let the skeleton crisp up while the other side was fried. These are some of the best breakfasts I have ever had, very close to the ones we shared on the banks of the Sabine River during my youth in Panola County.
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Many times I have returned home after a day out to find a message on my machine. When I pressed play, I knew it was Murry because it sounded like he was 20 feet from the phone, usually saying, barely audible, “Mike, it’s Murry.” I’m going up to Hamilton at that place up there to fish, and I wanted to invite you. Call me back. Murray.
I kept one of these messages for years, but lost it when switching from tape recorders to cellphone messages.
I knew it was going to happen but I dreaded it terribly. Like so many people in Texas, I adored Murry and always admired his dedication to animals and the knowledge he carried with him.
Once, he gave me all his memories because I showed interest in them. I just couldn’t accept this – guns, a civil war musket with bayonet, thousands of arrowheads, cameras and tapes of his many travels with legends such as Fred Bear and many more objects – but I asked if he would be willing to donate them to help start some sort of state collection.
He agreed and I tried for years to find someone to take him back to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I imagined rotating collections for mounted heads and the like on the walls of the TPWD headquarters. Nobody wanted to bite, and now he’s gone, along with others of his time like Big Roy Hindes, Graves Peeler and now Bill Carter, pioneers in hunting and management.
Maybe in the next generation, after I’m gone.