Fighting against time, Liberty Hill’s Fort Tumbleweed showing signs of age

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The Bryson stagecoach stop was built in the mid-1800’s by one of the earliest settlers of Liberty Hill. It provided comfort and supplies to travelers passing through to western outposts. The house is in Fort Tumbleweed. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

The Bryson stagecoach stop was built in the mid-1800’s by one of the earliest settlers of Liberty Hill. It provided comfort and supplies to travelers passing through to western outposts. The house is in Fort Tumbleweed. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

Built over two centuries ago by one of Liberty Hill’s earliest settler families, the Bryson Stagecoach Stop’s notched logs and square nails mark it as a typical cabin from the pre-Civil War period. It’s owner, Leonard Kubiak, believes it might have once hosted Sam Houston and General Custer on some midnight journeys to Fort Croghan in Burnet and other western outposts.

Sitting a few yards over, separated by a wall of overgrown cacti, the old Round Rock bank once held the dubious honor of being targeted by the bandit Sam Bass and his gang. They planned to rob it in 1878, but a shootout with the Texas Rangers proved a fatal interruption.

Then there’s the country store from Andice, the gambling saloon, the horse carriage, the barns and outhouse, cabins, cisterns and water wells.

Though the original Liberty Hill church and school across the road have long vanished, Kubiak, 76, has piece by piece re-settled 12 old bits of Central Texas’ history to make a Wild West town of his own — Fort Tumbleweed.

Kubiak used to guide historical tours through the stagecoach stop and other buildings located on State Highway 29 just west of town, which held hundreds of old West antiques he had collected through the years. People used to throw parties, play concerts and hold photoshoots out there. No other venue in the region was quite like it. The sagging wood cabins and fence-to-fence cacti lent it a uniquely historical atmosphere, and Kubiak had even secured its status as a historical site on both the state and national registries.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the stagecoach served as a trading post for antique vendors on the weekends. From 1981-86, Kubiak ran a barbecue restaurant there.

But for now, the 16 acres of Fort Tumbleweed sit largely unused except to catch the eye of drivers speeding out of town on Highway 29.

Walking with Kubiak through the site’s clearings, he pulls from a deep knowledge of Texas history to explain the significance of every little detail in sight— even which kinds of grass were newcomers to the area.

The tall wooden posts, he explains, were once part of a fence from a farm to the south of Liberty Hill. Some are assembled into the frame for a teepee.

A chieftain of the Tonkawa up in Oklahoma came to visit once, he explained.

“He talked about his ancestors living in the region. Sure enough, as I did research over the years I discovered there were hundreds of thousands around here,” Kubiak said.

Kubiak invited the tribe, and they visited twice over the years.

“Thirty to forty of them both times,” he said. “A good little group.”

The Round Rock bank, he says, was once condemned by the city in the early years of the 20th Century, long after Sam Bass and his gang had planned their heist. By 1910, it was uprooted and moved a few blocks down. A house was built around it. Kubiak bought the structure in 1980, moved it again, and tore down the outer house.

“You couldn’t even see the bank in there before, but there it was, still intact as one solid piece,” he said.

Continuing behind the bank, the log barn (now covered in tin sheets) was built by the Brysons as “practice” in their first year in the area, he says. “I went out and measured it, and it’s exactly the same proportions as the house.”

He points to another building, almost indistinguishably wooden and sagging from the others.

“The lumber came from a cedar break down in Bastrop, as they were coming in from Washington County. They spent a year on the Brazos River, raising a crop with friends so they could arrive with food and hay,” he said.

Around the same time, the Brysons bore their first child in the region. They named her “Texana.”

Their house doubled as the stagecoach stop, for which it is more commonly known, and helped cement the original Liberty Hill. Across the road was the town’s church and school. A little to the west stood the post office of William Spencer, the man who first suggested the name “Liberty Hill.”

Kubiak and his wife, Lynda Kubiak, once had plans to open Fort Tumbleweed up as a historical site open to the public, as recorded in a 2010 Austin American-Statesman article anticipating its launch. They cleared brush, arranged some of the antiques stored there for display, and even started writing historical plaques.

But health issues soon got in the way, Kubiak explained.

“And we were even right in the middle of planning a big musical event, too,” he said.

The buildings he transplanted here testify to the many lives of Fort Tumbleweed as much as they do their original history.

By the old saloon, Kubiak dug a wide depression for a pond. He anticipated that a restaurant could buy the site and run a barbecue operation like the one he did in the 1980s. A sign from that time, reading “Water’n Hole – BBQ and Drinks,” still hangs above a boarded window.

But then churches moved in, on both sides, and that would kill any attempt to get a liquor license, Kubiak said.

“I was really hoping a restaurant could come and buy these buildings up, and preserve them for a good while. But now I don’t see that happening,” he added.

The pond stayed dry, and eventually became overgrown with cacti.

Kubiak, who retired from a nearly four decade career of technical writing, still comes out several days a week to mow the grass and perform simple maintenance on the buildings. He still operates the website advertised by a sign out front, “FORTTUMBLEWEED.NET,” where he sells antiques, jewelry and American Indian crafts.

He said he and his wife are looking, however, at opening the actual location back up for some trade days. Or another musical event. It’s not done yet in any case, he said.

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