Liberty Hill celebrates life of Pete Kauffman, the last great till farmer
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
Even a car speeding down State Highway 29 could have heard the traditional Christian hymns for a moment while passing the Liberty Hill Cemetery, where a large crowd gathered Saturday before an open coffin. Friends and distant family, leather-faced ranchers and farm hands, old veterans and uniformed police — all paid tribute to the deceased.
One could have guessed this was the funeral of a great patriarch or historical figure, and Pete Kauffman was both.
Saturday was the funeral for the last great till farmer of old Liberty Hill. A reception and lunch was held afterwards at his property near the intersection of SH 29 and the newly constructed Ronald Reagan Boulevard, which county officials have named “Kauffman Loop.”
The graveside service marked not just the passing of a man, but the twilight of an era. Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield gave the eulogy, which began with a recording of the theme from “Gunsmoke,” Kauffman’s favorite television program, an old Western drama.
Family members shared memories of a man now usually only seen in those old Westerns — “tough as nails,” alluring even through smelling of manure, unflinching in the face of terrible injury, perpetually chewing a cigar — only to the family, friends and community who knew him, Kauffman was all too real.
Their stories were light-hearted and occasionally dirty, like Kauffman, but the tears revealed a sense of loss.
“I would curl up in his lap as a boy and think that if I laid there long enough, I could become a cowboy like him,” said grandson Judson Kauffman. “Of course, it would help that every half hour he would hand me his Coors Light and say, ‘here, finish this.’”
Even though almost a dozen surgeries in his later years, including a heart valve replacement that left him “part horse,” Kauffman never complained, family said.
Al Kauffman, the late Kauffman’s son, shared a revealing story of his own upbringing.
“I didn’t talk until I was 3,” he said.
His mother wanted to take him for some professional help, but “Big Pete”, as he was called, said no — he could get by in life “just pointing to things and grunting.” Later, his first words came out as a complete sentence. “Mama, I’m gonna freeze to death.”
Kauffman, as many born in 1921, developed frugal spending habits early in life. He came of age during the Great Depression, poor and living off what little the shallow soil in Liberty Hill would provide. The average life expectancy for men born that year barely tops out near 60 years, and so Kauffman’s passing leaves one fewer than the already few who remember a much different Liberty Hill.
He learned as a boy on his father’s farm to read the pecan trees and night sky for signs of when to plant and harvest the corn, maize and cotton. He tilled first with a mule plow, and later a tractor, but plowing the soil never got much easier, Al Kauffman said.
“The rocks would bounce up and hit you in the face,” he said. “Men of that generation were all like that — tough.”
Kauffman’s granddaughter, Abigail Pfiester Rue, recalled a “secret soft side” to the man who was known to not speak for hours at a time. He surprised everyone, even his wife, when he sang happy birthday to her “in his little old voice.”
At the service, ranchers dressed in bolo ties and shiny crocodile boots recalled a great business partner of many years. Kauffman, who traded cattle into his 90s (he stopped farming in his 80s), worked closely with Central Texas’ many ranches. Old-timers from Kauffman’s “coffee crew” who met every day before noon at a local convenience store, remembered him as a quiet wellspring of wisdom.
All called him the last great maize farmer of Williamson County.
Al Kauffman said he and the rest of the family are still deciding what to do with the historic Kauffman property. Far from the remote farmland it once was, the daily traffic count around it is nearly 71,000 vehicles, according to a promotional video produced by the limited partnership Kauffman’s children created. The Kauffman Loop around the property is nearly complete, and along it two master planned communities are being built, with another two nearby.
The video also includes an interview with Kauffman, who would have been in his final months.
“I never dreamed it would be like this,” he said. “It’s moving up, one step at a time. Looks to me like this’ll be like a city.”