By Dana Delgado
Milton Lee Pogue cradles his waking stick like an old friend.
And he has every reason to.
About a year ago, Pogue fashioned the smooth, varnished stick from a five-foot-long branch he cut from a cedar tree on his property. He had meticulously removed the bark immediately after harvesting the branch and then went about chiseling and sawing the limbs until it was bare. Sanding came next and finally the varnish.
His face speaks volumes about his pride in his work.
Although not an easy task for the rather fit and alert 92-year-old Liberty Hill native who now suffers from bursitis in his wrists, he was up to the challenge.
“I just like to work with my hands,” Pogue said as he sat on a folding chair facing his makeshift workstation with all his tools.
From that spot under the carport at his rural home in the northern outskirts of Liberty Hill, he has crafted out eight, maybe 10, more walking sticks. And right next to him a few more cut branches wait like soldiers in formation for their new mission.
A misstep in July, however, sent the craftsman tumbling to the ground causing fractures in his foot. Hobbling and in pain, the normally active Pogue found his walking stick to be a constant companion. Although, still sporting a brace on his foot six weeks later, he is getting around much better.
On a recent visit to the dentist, people expressed interest in his walking stick.
“Someone offered me $35,” said Pogue, appearing surprised but proud of the attention.
Others have shown interest in his work and now family members particularly grandson Justin Pogue are encouraging him and assisting with the project. Justin’s wife, Annie Pogue, has begun to sell the walking sticks at Malhon’s Jerky in Liberty Hill.
“I’m just a country boy,” he said. “I love the freedom of roaming the hills and valleys.”
But the agile and modest man has been much more than just a “country boy” over the 92 years of his life. To know Milton Pogue is to know that he is a master craftsman by trade, an innovator ahead of his time, a passionate preacher, and a greater thinker coupled with a lifetime of experience and a long list of successes.
He was born in 1921 just north of Liberty Hill on his grandparents’ farm near his parents’ home, which was purchased by this father around 1906. During his mother’s labor with him, the family especially older brother Steward, anxiously awaited the arrival of the town’s doctor. The only one that arrived was a newborn who was pegged as “Doc” by his older brother who confused his new brother with the doctor.
As a youngster, he loved to fish at nearby Clear Creek. He helped his father with the farm by picking cotton and tending to the corn crop.
“It was hard work,” Pogue recalls, “but we sure slept well.”
He enjoyed going with his father on fox hunts around Liberty Hill.
“My Dad was a fox hunter,” Pogue said. “We’d get up and run down the fox with the dogs. A tree dog eventually chased the fox up the tree and held him there with his barking until we came.”
Trips into a bustling downtown Liberty Hill were few and quite brief lasting only about 15 minutes. There was only time to get groceries at one of the several stores in exchange for crops they would bring in and to visit with a few friends there. Pogue said it was a treat to see the Model T automobiles in town.
Pogue attended elementary school at the Concord School, a three-room and three-teacher school near Bear Creek. Each teacher handled two grade levels up to the sixth grade. History and Math were his best subjects, but recess was his favorite, he said. During recess, they played ball, marbles and a pocket knife challenge game that pit students against each other to determine who could get their knife to stick in the ground the most.
Pogue remembers having to walk the line with one teacher in particular, Mrs. Mildred Penell. The upper grade’s teacher kept a switch handy to keep the students in check.
“She sure was strict,” Pogue recalls with a bit of a shutter.
The school, which was located at the intersection of County Roads 200 and 202, is long abandoned and unknown to most residents.
“It breaks my heart to see the old school and how it is now,” said a sadden Milton Pogue over nature’s reclamation of his former schoolhouse. Pogue was instrumental in having a historical marker placed there.
In high school at Liberty Hill, Pogue and his brother Steward had the fortune of driving to school in style in their very own Model A Ford. In his last two years, Pogue competed on the school’s baseball team. He was the catcher while his brother was the pitcher — a playful but likely tandem from the way Pogue described his experiences.
With a senior class of only 14 students, it was hard to field a team but they managed and got a lot of playing time. Leander and Florence were the big rivals then and the playing field was usually a rocky cow pasture or cotton patch. Pogue remembers venturing into Austin, a country town then, with his coach one time to purchase some uniforms for the team. Another time in Austin, they went to see the University of Texas play the New York Yankees. Those were the days before professional teams had minor league teams. After completing eleventh grade 1938, Pogue graduated from Liberty Hill’s old red brick high school. In his day, Pogue said the school only went up to the eleventh grade.
In 1942 at age 21, Pogue along with his older brother whom he would later buy out, purchased 110 acres along County Road 204 that included a dog-trot limestone and wooden house from the Civil War era, circa 1867. The property was just up the road from his family’s home and his birthplace. A 1990 article in The Independent chronicled the history of the house.
Over the years, he painstakingly but conscientiously replaced the aging wooden portion of the historic house with additions that replicated the look of the original stone house.
At Grand Prairie, he worked for North American Aviation assembling aircraft wings for about two years. A supervisor tagged him “Red the Riveter” for his reddish locks.
Pogue served two years in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He trained in aviation ordinance as a gunner and bombardier, he recalls being a bit dismayed that he was “put on ship and set out to sea,” instead.
He obtained a degree in Bible Studies from Abilene Christian College in Abilene where he also met and married, his beloved Edith, a Gainesville native who passed away in 2004.
“She was a wonderful woman,” Pogue said, “and a big influence on my life. We were married for 50 plus years.”
“Grandpa was such a devoted husband to his wife Edith and he was her primary caretaker when she got sick,” said grandson Justin Pogue. “They were just soul mates who had a very special relationship.”
In addition to his marriage, bible studies and his faith would be the guiding force that would chart his life and shape his character.
After World War II, Pogue returned to Liberty Hill to help his parents with the farm, but found himself preaching when the opportunity arose. This would be his first of many opportunities. He preached in Liberty Hill, Leander, Granger, Rockdale, Bangs and Fort Stockton in west Texas, Las Cruces in New Mexico and in Minden, Louisiana.
A longtime member of the Liberty Hill Church of Christ and preacher by trade, Milton Pogue added that church and faith truly affected him and that he always has tried to live the kind of life he preached.
“I really enjoy helping other people,” he said. “I encourage them to follow the truth through their faith.”
In Bangs and Fort Stockton, the couple would adopt a two-year-old boy named Dan Brian and three young girls, all sisters. Pogue and his wife traveled to El Paso that year to pick up their newly adopted daughters, Marilyn, Alice and Reba. Pogue said he and his wife decided to adopt after losing a child at birth.
Pogue preached for 10 memorable years during the 1960’s in Taylor.
“I just fit in with that rural congregation,” he said.
Grandson Justin calls his grandfather “a very religious man, a messenger of God whose character is solid as an oak and never wavering and who is respected by everyone because of who he is.”
Now in his nineties and still very active — including service on the Liberty Hill Cemetery Association’s Board of Directors — and after a life journey that has led him to countless places, Pogue said that he always knew where home was.
“Liberty Hill is home to me,” he said. “This is where I was born. But oh the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done and the people I’ve met.”
After nine decades, the soft-spoken Milton Pogue shook his head slightly from side to side and said that since he graduated from high school in 1938, Liberty Hill hasn’t changed very much at all. And yet, Liberty Hill has changed thanks to the wisdom, foresight, devotion and compassion of Milton Lee Pogue who never lost his way.