Betty Jean (Cadena) Muyres is one of those good Catholics who doesn’t mind raising a little hell when it comes to protecting the environment and the rights of property owners, and trying to preserve what precious little Hill Country dirt remains unscathed by the developers’ blade. Lately, that seems to call for bigger Bibles, faster sneakers, and the patience of Job: The Hill Country is being “cherished” to death by fervent admirers, hucksters, shysters, passionate tree-huggers, retirees, urban refugees, and cowboy wannabes; there’s no practically no hair left on that dog for a small tick to get friendly with.
Betty may not be descended from the actual San Antonio Canary Island pioneers, but she certainly married into the clan. She and her husband of 59 years, engineering consultant George J. Muyres, reside on the still-bucolic Scenic Loop Road, just outside Helotes. They purchased 30 acres in 1964 and four years later built a home where they raised their two daughters, Maria and Lisa, in a pastoral environment that Betty refers to wistfully as “pristine.”
In addition to being an accomplished sculptor, a member of the San Antonio Professional Tour Guide Association, and an avid environmentalist, Betty is one of the few people who can actually say they used to lunch with Norma Jean Baker when they were both budding models in southern California after the War.
As we toured the ruins of the old stone 1840s stagecoach stop — complete with root cellar — that sits like an abandoned English folly behind her home on the banks of Helotes Creek, Betty reflected on history, change, growth, and progress from an 80-year perspective.
“My great-great grandfather, Don Maximo Cadena, built a homestead in the 1840s in what is now the San Antonio subdivision called Parkwood `near 1604 and Bandera Road`. The house sits today on 20 acres surrounded by tract homes. My grandfather, Louis Cadena, kept the remaining part of the ranch at 1604 and Prue Road, and I remember very well going dove hunting with my father and grandfather on what is now the pond of an apartment complex there. My father used to say to me, half joking, ‘You better be nice to everyone out here.’ Traditionally the Latino families that settled the northern part of Bexar County — the Morales, Sanchez, Torres, Madla and others — they were all pretty much intermarried way back there. You couldn’t afford a lapse in courtesy to any stranger. My grandmother had a home just a few miles up the road from me here. I can remember when Grey Forest was actually a “gray forest.” There were long, billowing curtains of Spanish moss hanging from every tree.
“I think my first ‘activist’ moment was back in the ’80s when the powers that be decided it was time to widen Scenic Loop into a four-lane highway and start condemning adjoining property from I-10 to Helotes. That was a huge wakeup call for people out here who’d always ‘gone along to get along.’ Neighbors got organized, and with the help of the mayors from Leon Valley, Helotes, and Grey Forest we got Scenic Loop declared an Historic Thoroughfare, which of course it always was since it was one of the original stagecoach routes heading west from San Antonio. What I learned from that experience is that County Commissioners in Texas have very little jurisdiction over what transpires in the outlying areas — they’re strictly the maintenance crew.
“About two years ago I was informed they were going to run sewer lines down the middle of Helotes Creek — a few yards from my back door. They were going to blast solid rock and theoretically bury the lines in the stream bed because, ‘It’s cheaper than building expensive pumping stations.’ I asked why this was even necessary, and I promise you the response I got was, ‘Well, all the growth is heading out your way and the developers can’t make enough money on their subdivisions with just individual septic tanks.’ Our only source of water out here is a very good shallow well `from the Glen Rose aquifer` that’s virtually on the banks of the creek. I said, ‘Over my dead body you’ll be laying sewer lines on my property.’
“My husband and I are asked on a regular basis if we’d like to sell our land for development. What good is money without quality of life? Exactly why the developers can’t seem to grasp the concept that you can readily kill the thing that attracted you in the first place is something I’ll never understand.
“I’ve been a professional tour guide for over 20 years and I take lots of kids around to see our historic treasures in Bexar County and the surrounding area, and it amazes me how uninterested they are in their own history. Kids are notorious for self-absorption, but today, with iPods, the internet, WiFi — there’s no room for anything else beyond the superficial. I overheard a bunch of boys leaving the Alamo after a breakneck tour yell out to some friends that were entering, ‘There’s nothing to see in there, just a bunch of junk. It sucks!’
“I lived in Los Angeles for several yearsduring the late ’40s, early ’50s ... I started doing a little modeling with a commercial agency in college to help with expenses and that’s when I met Norma Jean. This was well before she became ‘Marilyn.’ She had a real funny, off-beat sense of humor. I remember we laughed a lot. My middle name was Jean and her middle name was Jean and we both hated it. She’d already started dying her hair back then, but it was more of a golden blonde. She didn’t turn platinum till later. She had a manager at the time, and we’d all go to lunch together. The first time I saw her in a movie, I thought, goodness, they’ve really made her up and changed her hair. Where’s Norma Jean? Hollywood was so different back then. You could walk down the street and see practically every star. For some reason I used to run into Abbott and Costello a lot.
“You know Texans have a very strong tradition of being independent-minded and of doing our own thing, which served us very well when we were a growing frontier. But today, the ‘every man for himself’ mentality is largely untenable. Somehow we’ve got to find a way to thrive together without sacrificing the many for the benefit of the few. I know we can do it — there’s really no other choice in the matter.”
The Great Eccentrics of SA appears the second Wednesday of every month. You can find Volumes I-V online at sacurrent.com. If you’d like to nominate someone you know for the series, email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.