GATESVILLE — Fern Cockrell Belknap was born on Cowhouse Creek not far from Sugar Loaf Mountain in 1933.

Her grandfather, Samuel Altum, owned property on both sides of the Cowhouse and ran a grocery store at Brookhaven.

“He lent groceries to so many people during the Depression, he had to close the store,” Belknap said.

Brookhaven also had a church, a cotton gin, a post office and a two-room school where Fern attended first grade.

“My grandfather’s dream was to have a place where all his children and their families could live around him,” she said.

Nine of Altum’s 11 children survived the influenza, and most settled near the old home place along Cowhouse Creek.

Fern was one of the grandchildren who explored the environs while their parents worked the land.

“There was a mill dam on the creek at Rock Bluff,” she said. “There were still some remnants of it last time I was there. It is a good fishing hole.”

Family in the fighting

In 1942, Fern’s family had to move off the old home place to make way for Camp Hood, a sprawling Army post that needed room for a testing and training ground for tank destroyers that could take on German tanks during World War II.

“What was done was duty to country,” Belknap said of the relocation. “It was needed for our country, to get our boys home.”

There were no protesters waving signs, she said. Most of the families had sons and brothers in the fighting “or trying to get there.”

Before the fighting was over, one of her brothers and two brothers-in-law were in uniform and one of her uncles was killed at Normandy.

“They served their country and never complained,” she said.

The family relocated to nearby Flat, where she graduated from high school. She lived in Dallas for a while then moved to Temple.

Camp Hood had become Fort Hood when Fern met an Ohio soldier, Doran Belknap, at a USO dance in Killeen.

The couple married and their family has settled on a new home place near Coryell Creek.

Contact Tim Orwig at

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