“My mother and sisters and I decided a long time ago that this ranch would be a children’s home.” — Oma Bell Perry
Oma Bell Perry, with her mother and two sisters, came to settle the Upper Frio Canyon, where the Frio River begins, in 1928. Oma Bell was 15. The family would ranch the rugged canyons, carving out a living raising goats and cattle, for 75 years. None of the daughters married, and before their mother died in 1970, they agreed on a plan to give the land for a children’s home. Oma Bell’s two sisters both died in 1986, and Oma Bell was left to fulfill the family dream.
Oma Bell spent ten years visiting various organizations throughout the U.S., finally choosing the son of another hill country ranching family, Gary Priour, who had founded Hill Country Youth Ranch 50 miles away in 1977, to accept the challenge. The year was 1996, and Oma Bell would live long enough to see children playing in the river and studying in the charter school, experiencing the healing qualities of the beautiful land for which she had spent her life caring.
The first children’s residence, Davenport Homestead, was completed in 1998 on a flat beside a spring-fed draw, on the very site of the first European homestead in 1896. Now, young pioneers of the 21st Century call the spot home. Today, there are eight children’s residences designed to house 56 children. The Ranch is also home to the award-winning Ed Brune Charter School.
The Ranch maintains a cattle operation, teaching young people the rigors and rewards of roundups, livestock shows and caring for animals. The horse program is a favorite with residents, and trail rides to remote areas provide unforgettable experiences.
Many Texans know of the Ranch through its nickname “country of 1100 springs”, made famous in the 1970s by a TV advertising campaign featuring the falls and river. To be sure, there are few places on earth that can match its breathtaking beauty. The Ranch existed for centuries as home to Native Americans, and eventually to the European pioneers who came to homestead. Its most recent purpose is a tribute to the visionary who saw its possibilities for children.
Miss Perry, great grandniece of Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas, believed that history would prove that the health of a civilization depends on the quality of its investment in its children. She has certainly made her contribution to that cause.