All community schools have ways of exhibiting their pride and spirit through rituals and traditions. Across Texas there are only a handful of schools that display their devotion to their school by constructing an emblem on the side of a hill or mountain. Of course, this is partially due to locale, because the right terrain is essential to this practice. McCamey is blessed with magnificent mesas nearby, and one of these great mesas has come to embody the Badger spirit. Mr. Bill Little was the visionary high school principal who led the school faculty and student body in the construction of this symbol that continues to represent the strong will, pride, and spirit of McCamey. Without a doubt, McCamey High School's 'M' on the Southwest Mesa dwarfs other school emblems of similar construction.
In 1964 when Bill Little was appointed McCamey High School Principal, several students told him about a letter 'M' on the side of a hill north of town. Mr. Little was unable to find it, so some of the students took him out to the site. The rocks piled in the shape of a rather small 'M' had been scattered by the students of a nearby rival school. He felt that if McCamey High School was going to have an 'M' on a mountain, it should be made where everyone could see it. Southwest Mesa, a large mesa southeast of McCamey, seemed like a more suitable location.
Southwest Mesa, or Blue Mountain as many residents call it, was chosen as the location for the new 'M' because of its large size and prominent position southeast of town with an open plain between the mountain and town. It was a coincidence that it also lined up perfectly with the Crane highway. Crane High School happened to be the arch rival of McCamey High School at that time, and it was thought that Crane students destroyed the original 'M' north of town. Another factor that made the southeast location desirable was its inaccessibility due to a lack of roads, while the mountain is also on private ranch property with locked gates. Thus, it was less likely to be destroyed by a rival school, but the inaccessibility would make construction difficult.
Before construction could begin, a route to
the base of the mountain and the visibility of the site had to be
assessed. Rex Dean, a McCamey High School science teacher, Mr. Little, and
students, John Wheat, Terry and Scott Little made several scouting expeditions
out to the mountain trying to find the best route to the base of the
mountain. They found that the best way to get there was to travel east
from Highway 305, while following a high-line right-of-way, which was very
rough. Prior to construction, they went out to the mountain with a roll of
white butcher paper. They unrolled a strip of paper about fifty yards long
in the area where they planned to construct the 'M', which was just below the
rim rock on the steepest area of the mesa. When they got back to town,
they could see the paper clearly, so this location was chosen.
The construction of the 'M' began on a Saturday morning in early September 1965. Most of the high school students and faculty along with several volunteers made the rough journey to the foot of the mountain to begin the project. Using binder twine, they laid out the outline of the 'M' using a large boulder as the midpoint. The legs of the 'M' are approximately seventy yards long, five yards across, and fifty yards from side to side. The workers rolled and threw rocks of all shapes and sizes into the area marked off by the twine. An unknown number of Saturdays and afternoons of hard work were spent in its construction. The 'M' was completed October 17, 1965, two weeks before homecoming.
In order for the 'M' to be seen clearly from town, the rocks had to be whitewashed with lime and water. That proposed another challenge for the faculty and students because of the rugged terrain. To whitewash the rocks that formed the 'M', five gallon cans of water and sacks of lime had to be carried up above the 'M' to a fifty-five gallon barrel, where they were mixed. The mixture was sprayed on the rocks using a hose. Through the years, it has been determined that the 'M' needs to be rewhitewashed approximately every three years. Fortunately, several years after the 'M' was constructed, oil field exploration on top of the mesa led to the construction of a road. This road made it possible for the water and lime to be hauled by truck to a site above the 'M' on the top of the mesa, which made this task easier.
Later, it was determined that the "M" should be lit at homecoming. This presented a new challenge to the students and faculty. It was decided that they would need about five hundred coffee cans. Through the years different strategies have been used to insure a plentiful supply of coffee cans stuffed with cardboard. Competitions between classes, can gathering parties, and later, recycling the cans at the site of the 'M' have all been successful methods. Rolled up cardboard wicks were placed in the cans, along with kerosene, a slow burning fuel. All of the cans and kerosene had to be carried by hand up the mountain, until the oil field road was built several years later. The equipment and supplies are now hauled by truck to the top of the mesa, and lowered down to the 'M' where the cans are arranged on the rocks that form the 'M'. They are then filled with kerosene, which is pumped from a fifty-five-gallon barrel through hoses from the top of the mountain. The coffee cans of kerosene are ignited with torches just before game time. The lighting of the 'M' prior to every homecoming game is a highly regarded tradition that has continued through the years.
Photo by Joe Neill
The 'M' project has become a tradition that is fully supported by the whole community. The construction, whitewashing, and lighting of the 'M' was, and still is made possible by the students, faculty, parents, volunteers, local businesses, Upton County commissioners, and ranch owners, who generously donate their time, energy, money, supplies, tank trucks, and access to the site. West Texas Utilities has furnished the lime for the whitewash over the years, while R. R. Kennedy Trucking (later K& S Trucking), and Upton County have furnished trucks to haul the supplies to the top of the mesa. Through the years, Curtis Thomas, David Glass, Curtis Winfield, and Carrol Bolen, along with many others, have furnished kerosene and other supplies needed to maintain the 'M' and its lighting. Ranch foremen, Floyd Harper, and later Shannon Branham allowed access and helped in many ways. The visibility of the 'M' is amazing. It can be seen many miles away, and is a well-known landmark on aerial maps. The 'M' has been featured on television, as well as, in newspapers, and stands as a positive symbol of cooperation for the community and school.
Photo by Luann Stricklin Elliott
Notice the Wind Turbines to the right of the "M"
The mesa that features the 'M' has also become a sign of prosperity, modern technology, and the diversification of McCamey's economy with the construction of the Southwest Mesa Wind Energy Project. In 1999, 107 wind turbines were constructed on the mesa by the Florida Power and Light Group Inc. to generate electricity for the Central and Southwest Corporation to distribute to its electric utility customers. It is currently one of the largest wind generation facilities in the nation, and there are plans to expand wind generation facilities to other nearby mesas. 'M' mountain will continue to be a symbol of spirit and pride for McCamey High School and the community of McCamey, past, present, and future.
(A large portion of the information for this article was obtained from an article written by Mr. Bill Little for the October 1989 edition of the McCamey Independent School District's "Badger Tracks" newsletter.)
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