BALLINGER — The Charles Noyes Memorial stands tall as it overlooks Ballinger on Runnels County Courthouse lawn. A symbol of the spirit of the Texas cowboy and the symbol of a good son, strong family and a life cut too short by tragedy.
There are many legendary Texas characters, real and fictional, who were larger than life and whose reputations are a mixture of tall tales and real life adventures, such as Billy The Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Pecos Bill, Slough Foot Sue, The Lone Ranger, Sam Bass, Bonnie Parker, and many others.
While Charles Noyes is not as famous as the some of the people in aforementioned group, he is a hero to many here in Runnels County. His reputation wasn’t built on killing men in gunfights or lassoing tornadoes, Charlie is a hero because he was simply a good son, good big brother and a cowboy who worked hard and cared for his family. His memory still inspires many people.
Gus Noyes was 40 years old when he married Lula Noyes (nee’ Kitchens of Menard), in 1893. Charlie was born two years later in 1895. Charlie was the only son of the couple and was raised on their ranch that they had built out in Menard. Gus was originally from Maine. After coming to Texas and building his ranch from the dirt up, he turned it into one of the most successful ranching operations in the state. Gus was a successful farmer, rancher and capitalist. Gus is credited with helping secure and develop the water supply that served Menard for many years. Gus was known for his successful ranching and business practices throughout Menard, McCullough, Concho and Runnels counties. In addition to Charlie, the couple later had a daughter named Aileen that Charlie doted over. From all accounts, Charlie was a good big brother to Aileen and many of his friends considered him their big brother as well.
Gus soon owned three ranches and was continuing to build his empire. On that mid-winter Friday afternoon, Feb. 9, 1917, Charlie, now a strapping young man at 21 years old, standing as tall as Texas at 6-foot-4 and weighing a solid 195 pounds, was moving cattle on his father’s ranch in Melvin, the way he had done his entire life. The ranch was located midway between Eden and Brady, 17 miles from each town. When one of the cattle broke from the herd, Charlie was quick to action and took off after it on his trusty steed at a full gallop. The calf suddenly turned unexpectedly and caused Charlie and his horse to collide with it. The horse’s momentum was such that when it collided with the calf, the horse summersaulted in the air and did a complete flip. Charlie was still in the saddle when the horse landed upside down on him. The pommel of the saddle caused severe internal injuries to Charlie. The pommel did not cause the most severe of the injuries, they were caused by the shear weight of Charlie’s 900-pound horse landing on him and crushing him. Charlie suffered severe head trauma and a broken neck.
After the fateful accident, Charlie was alive but he was unconscious. The nearest hospital back then was in Brady so they transported him there. The doctors were able to perform surgery on him but the injuries were too severe and Charlie passed away sometime during that cold, winter night. Gus, Lula and Aileen were grieving when they held his funeral, which was attended by over 1,500 people. In 1917, 1,500 people was an incredible number attending the funeral, considering that people were spread out much more 100 years ago and transportation was not what it is today.
Gus, in addition to the farms and ranches he owned was also president of The First National Bank in Ballinger. He closed the bank on the day of the funeral to allow employees the opportunity to attend the service. Marvin Hunter, who was the publisher of Frontier Times gave the eulogy. Part of the eulogy Hunter delivered included:
“Here lies our boy — and hope. The heart that once beat with love for all is forever silent. The cold grave is open to receive all that is mortal. He believed in no church creeds, but he knew that there was some great, Supreme Power. He believed that it was the noble deeds that make up the Christian life. Our boy is dead. Go ask acquaintances and companions what his life has been — ask all who knew him in life if his deeds and conduct did not point to the highest morals.”
The great question to the aching heart is: Is there a life beyond, where we all meet again? The silent grave gives no answer--no dead returns to tell us if there is life, but how warmly we embrace that hope and love that there is a land where the family circle will never be broken and we once more will meet our boy. But better an eternal sleep than a future life of misery.”
Hunter also penned a poem in the eulogy:
“A rose without its perfume,
A child without its play
A song that tells no happiness
A spring without its May,
A hope without fulfillment,
A sky without its blue—
So were [sic] each hour that passes by,
Without its [sic] thought of you.”
Shortly after the funeral Gus contacted world famous sculptor, Pompeo Coppini, to commission him to create a memorial sculpture dedicated to Charlie. Coppini would later work again in Texas, creating the Cenotaph located across from the Alamo’s chapel in San Antonio.
At the time Coppini was contacted by Noyes he was at his studio was in Chicago.
Coppini traveled to Menard County by train and met with Gus and Lula at the Noyes’ home. Coppini would later write, “The unshaved, sad-looking face of Mr. Noyes…the old man sat by the fireplace, with no fire in it, gazing as if there was a flame, and saying nothing, and asking me no questions.”
During his stay at the ranch Coppini slept in Charlie’s room, the room that contained all of Charlie’s worldly belongings, including the saddle he was using that fateful day. Coppini later wrote, “I tried to see him in my imagination and could not sleep all night.”
Coppini had decided that the lowest amount of money he could create the statue for was $25,000 but he did not say anything at the time because they were going to ride out to the spot of the accident. When they arrived at the location of the accident, Coppini was deeply touched when Gus collapsed in grief. Later that night after they got back to the house Gus asked Coppini what the cost would be. Coppini still feeling the impact of seeing Gus’ grief at the spot of the accident told him that he would build the monument for $18,000. Gus did not hesitate in accepting the deal and shook hands with Coppini. He told Coppini that he had been prepared to pay twice that amount.
The memorial would be placed at the exact place where Charlie was killed. Later, Gus and Lula purchased land along the bluffs near where the Indian pictographs are located, close to Paint Rock. They decided to put the statue out there but it took Coppini two years to complete the work. There were only three photographs of Charlie and they were of poor quality, so what Coppini had to work with was limited. Due to the poor quality of the photographs, Mr. and Mrs. Noyes traveled to Chicago when it came time to sculpt the face. After a few adjustments on the cheekbones and jaw Mr. Noyes reportedly said to Coppini, “Please do not touch his face again, for that is our Charlie.”
Later, Gus and Lula, grew tired of the constant reminders of their son through the familiarity in the area and sold most of their holdings and moved to Florida. Friends in Ballinger approached Gus before he moved and he agreed to donate the statue to be placed on the courthouse lawn. The statue was unveiled in 1919.
Gus passed away on Jan. 30, 1923, a mere six years after Charlie’s death. Lula lived until Nov. 12, 1946. Aileen, Charlie’s little sister that he adored so much, passed away on Dec. 5, 1979 at the age of 76. Lula is buried in Orlando, Florida, and the rest of the family are buried in the Melvin cemetery.
Why does a statue of a rancher’s 21 year old son still resonate with the people of Runnels County, almost a century after his death? The official title of the statue is, “The spirit of the Texas cowboy.”
Charlie seems to have embodied the spirit of Texas. He was a true cowboy, a fine son by all accounts, had a strong work ethic and loved his family. His statue is a memorial to the Cowboy Way and a symbol of strong character and a solid work ethic.
Recently on a Facebook post, Barbara Bilbrey Tillman wrote, in part, “The Noyes statue represents the cowboy spirit and the pioneer spirit. This, if you only stopped to see the statue. Then when you know the story, it represents how much you had to lose and the heartbreak of settling this place we love, Ballinger, and Texas in general. The heartbreak of a parent who lost a child also [sic]. It’s our own historic piece of art… It’s our treasure… It’s so much more than a statue of a cowboy.”
Mrs. Tillman is correct, it is more than just a statue of a cowboy. As with all great works of art, it holds a different meaning to each person that sees it and cares to read the history of it. The building of a state, the spirit of settling a land, the loss of a child, the rewards of hard work, the cowboy spirit, all of this and more are what the statue holds. The statue stands there proudly on the courthouse lawn, and rightfully so, with a young Texas cowboy named Charlie Noyes, and his faithful horse looking off to the west, the same direction many cowboys and pioneers looked to when they were setting out to build their legacies. Charlie Noyes may not walk among us now but he still lives here, and will forever remain here as he represents Runnels County and the spirit of Texas.
The facts in this article were researched and the information compiled from several history-related websites including the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History.