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Florida guard Chris Chiozza (11) drives the baseline past Baylor guard Tyson Jolly (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. Chiozza scored 20 points, including 13 straight late in the first half, and No. 20 Florida used a barrage of 3-pointers to beat Baylor 81-60 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.. (AP Photo/Ron Irby)

Flores backs White House immigration proposal, hopes for deal by March

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, is backing a White House immigration framework that calls for a $25 billion trust fund for a border wall and a path to citizenship for almost 2 million people living in the United States without legal permission.

The four-term congressman representing Waco voiced the party message in interviews with the Tribune-Herald on Thursday and Friday, emphasizing the four elements Republicans seek in immigration legislation: border security, protection for unauthorized immigrants under an Obama-era program, reform for family-based migration and reform for the diversity visa lottery.

“As long as we don’t have a lot of outside, what I call ‘flame-thrower activities,’ that distract us from (a bipartisan solution), we should be able to do something,” said Flores, the former chair of the Republican Study Committee.

President Donald Trump’s immigration framework released late Thursday called for a wall at the United States’ southern border alongside an increase of technology and personnel.

“When he says the term ‘wall,’ what he means is integrated border security,” Flores said, adding he is confident Trump understands that. “So you’ll have barriers where it’s appropriate to have barriers, you’ll have technology, you’ll have boots on the ground, you’ll have aerial assets, whatever it takes to build a fully-integrated comprehensive border security system.”

Analí Looper, a Waco-based immigration attorney with the nonprofit group American Gateways, said the situation along the border is not as dire as Republicans depict.

“Customs and border patrol is already along the border,” Looper said. “I know that they employ things like drones and monitoring stations all along the route. It’s really quite secure as far as an international border goes.”

Flores predicted the White House will have little wiggle room on Trump’s signature campaign promise and border security as negotiations continue.

Flores said increased border security must be included in a final immigration plan if some 700,000 people protected by the program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are to retain their work status. The White House proposal includes a 10-12 year path to citizenship for another 1.1 million DACA-eligible immigrants.

If the program expires in early March, the 700,000 would lose their ability to work legally and will “be forced to leave the country where they’ve grown up, or join the informal work sector where people are paid under the table and their rights are being violated,” Looper said. “It’s going to be a horrible situation.”

Flores said Congress has “a shot” at passing legislation by the March deadline and guessed Trump may extend the program if a deal appears close. The Supreme Court has also indicated it could consider Trump’s decision to end DACA this spring.

McLennan Community College President Johnette McKown said she hopes Trump considers the path to citizenship through a long-term deal, one that is “a human solution and more than just a political decision.”

“Part of the reason I’m pretty sympathetic to them is I’ve met some of them over the years,” McKown said of people with DACA protection. “I’ve seen their faces. I just know that our community and technical colleges are the doors of opportunity for them because they don’t qualify for federal financial aid, so they have to find their own resources to pay for school.”

Trump’s plan to eliminate the family-based migration system and the diversity visa lottery bothered moderate Republicans and Democrats, The New York Times reported on Thursday. And U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rejected the path to citizenship.

“I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally,” Cruz said on Thursday, Bloomberg reported. “Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”

Flores, who said he would prefer Trump adviser and immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller out of the White House, supports a path to citizenship for DACA recipients but said he would hold off on the stipulation only if it would kill the bill. There are an estimated more than 100,000 DACA recipients in Texas facing down the March deadline.

“The Senate has been squirrelly this Congress,” Flores said. “So it’s hard for me to know where they’re going to come out. But I think what the president proposed is a solution that addresses the concerns of the Democrats and moderate Republicans and also deals with the concerns of the conservative part of the Congress. I would hope each can say, ‘I’m willing to give up a little bit in order to get something good done for the country as a whole.’ ”

Surveyor cracks mystery of 'Witch's Castle' near Cameron Park
Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Local historian John Kamenec (left) and Ranch at Cameron Park manager Trent Dougherty stand at the remains of the front gate of the Witch’s Castle, which was actually a small cottage that was built in 1912 and burned in the ’60s.

Rack family photo  

Visitor Milton Kuschke (center) with his wife, Ruby (right) and sister, Lillian, pose at the stone gate outside Elmore Rack’s cottage in the cedar brakes. Kuschke was a relative of Rack’s from Temple.

A spoiler alert for those who thrill to tales of an evil hag who lured the unwary to her stone castle in the woods around Cameron Park.

Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” a retired Waco surveyor has some cold water to throw on that witch story.

John Kamenec has compiled a briefcase full of deed records, genealogies and old newspaper accounts of the so-called “Witch’s Castle” property at the end of Adeline Drive. His conclusion: No witch, no castle, just a humble cabin that burned in 1961, leaving the ruins of a stone gate and retaining walls.

Kamenec said he suspects the stories of the witch sprang up in the fevered imaginations of teenagers who would slip away to the secluded spot to drink beer and try to scare one another.

“There’s a witch’s castle everywhere,” he said on a chilly morning visit to the site, which is now part of the Ranch at Cameron Park mountain bike course. “There’s a lovers leap, there’s a witch’s castle, there’s catfish below the dam. Urban legends just go crazy.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Ranch at Cameron Park manager Trent Dougherty points out a retaining wall at the old house site known as the Witch’s Castle.

Kamenec, who serves on the McLennan County Historical Commission, usually turns his research skills to weightier topics such as World War I’s Army base, Camp MacArthur. But he became intrigued by the Witch’s Castle site some years ago when he was working on cemetery research at the county clerk’s office. He ran into then-owner Coy Weber, who told him the legend.

“I’m intrigued by everything,” Kamenec said, adding that he didn’t mind spoiling a perfectly good piece of local folklore.

“I deal in facts: numbers, facts, verifiable articles,” he said.

But Kamenec was not content to debunk an urban legend. His painstaking research has uncovered an intriguing non-paranormal history of the site dating back 150 years, including a long-vanished African-American church site and cemetery and an infamous Waco madam who once owned property next door.

Trent Dougherty, manager of the Ranch at Cameron Park, said Kamenec’s history is more interesting than the folklore, anyway.

“The lore draws you in, the myth draws you in, but it’s the history that really got me interested, which is why I was glad when John called,” Dougherty said. “The first time I ever saw these ruins I thought, ‘I wonder who did this?’ I was looking past the junk and thinking this was really cool. When I got John’s letter it was really a godsend. I had wondered about these things but didn’t have the time and skill to look it up.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

The remains of the front doorway of the Witch’s Castle — actually, an old vacation cottage — is now part of a bicycle trail.

Dougherty and volunteers from the Waco Bicycle Club have been transforming the brushy backcountry just west of Cameron Park into a mountain bike course connected to the park’s trails. Waco businessman and cyclist Todd Behringer bought 28-acre site for recreational use in 2014, and it is open to visitors who sign a liability waiver available at

Before the restoration started, the site was littered with broken bottles and overgrown with invasive ligustrum. A stone arch marking the entry to the old homesite was defaced with graffiti. Still, the rocky ruins, shaded by tall cedars, had a certain spooky charm.

The house was elevated on a foundation with retaining walls several feet high, made of limestone and concrete rubble. Around the site are old brick house piers and a ruined two-seater outhouse.

“It shows you she was a witch of a normal nature,” Kamenec deadpanned.

Kamenec said the old house site was once called “Eagle Rock” and is the highest point in the Cameron Park area, once offering views of the Brazos River valley up to Lacy-Lakeview before trees and brush grew up. The hardscrabble landscape, between the Waco Center for Youth and Cameron Park Drive, is dominated by old-growth juniper in limestone caliche soil. It was known since the 19th century as “the cedar brakes.”

The original cottage, sitting on a three-acre tract with an official address of 3613 Greenwood Drive, was constructed in 1912 by Barnes Lumber Co. for one Thompson Dillard. It was no castle: It was built of wood, 20 by 40 feet in size, with a screen porch and tin roof and apparently no water source.

Rack’s cottage

But visitors can thank Elmore Rack for the romantic ruins they see today. A downtown merchant and civic leader, Rack bought the cottage as a getaway cabin in the 1930s, and he added the retaining walls and stone arch entrance, according to a Feb. 15, 1942, article in the Tribune-Herald. He raised the cabin up several feet on new piers and brought in decorative egg-shaped boulders he collected from the Falls of the Brazos near Marlin.

Rack family photo  

Elmore Rack (left) stands with his relatives, Ruby and Milton Kuschke, outside his cottage that has since given rise to lore about a Witch’s Castle in Cameron Park.

Rack family photo  

Owner Elmore Rack (left) stands with Milton Kuschke, a relative from Temple, at a stone wall whose ruins have given rise to lore about Cameron Park’s Witch’s Castle.

He spread pecan hulls as mulch to improve the soil and blasted holes in the rocky soil in a failed attempt to grow poplar trees.

Kamenec tracked down Rack’s son, John Elmore Rack, who recalled that the family called the property the “Monkey Ranch” because it was a place to monkey around.

The cottage was later a rent house and was vacant by March 29, 1961, when it went up in flames. The fire department stretched hoses from blocks away, but the house was a total loss. Elmore Rack, who died in 1988 at the age of 91, left the property to his son, John, who sold it to Coy and Virginia Weber in 1995. By then, the site’s spooky reputation, witch and all, was already well established and its real history obscured.

It took Kamenec to piece together the history of the cedar brakes area, digging all the way back to the post-Civil War era.

He discovered that a widow named Mary Augustus Wilson, who owned 100 acres between Mouth of the Bosque and the stone arch, sold off that property in four- and five-acre tracts after the Civil War.

One of the buyers was Armstead Ross, a former slave who had built the first house in Waco for the Shapley Prince Ross family. Armstead Ross, a drayman by trade, would amass more than 35 acres in what is now the Cameron Park area. When he died in 1883, prominent civic leaders served as his pallbearers, and a local newspaper said his holdings were worth some $10,000, which would be about $230,000 in today’s economy.

After the Civil War, a small African-American community emerged in the cedar brakes. Those residents established Lovers Leap Baptist Church at the edge of a ravine in 1883, moving a few years to another site close by and ultimately to its current site at 301 Bosque Blvd.

The church in the cedars also included a cemetery, now vanished. Kamenec has tracked down the identity of three of its deceased denizens, buried between 1900 and 1915. One is Nathan Hodge, 80, buried in 1900. An 1878 article refers to a tragic house fire in the cedar brakes that took the lives of two sons of Hodge, a “crippled” black man known as a farmer and apple vendor.

Into the 20th century, the cedar brakes were known as a haven for moonshiners. In 1912, a famous Waco businesswoman bought nine acres next to the Witch’s Castle site. Mollie Adams, who was the leading madame of the Reservation red-light district in downtown Waco, apparently had a house there on Adeline Drive, which was then part of Bosqueville Road.

The U.S. Army shut down the Reservation in 1917 as a condition to building Camp MacArthur here. As it happened, the edge of the vast Army encampment was just across the street from Adams’ house in the cedar brakes. Whether she plied her trade at that property before she sold it in April 1918 is lost to history.

Ghost stories about Cameron Park showed up as early as the 1920s, but folklore about the Adeline Drive site is of more recent vintage, said Bradley Turner, a McLennan Community College associate professor and author of “Cotton Bales, Goatmen and Witches: Legends from the Heart of Texas.”

“Of all the legends I’ve heard, virtually none of the older legends involve that archway,” Turner said. “It’s all been since the 1960s.”

A forerunner of the Witch’s Castle story involves a woman who went mad with grief after her son died in World War I, leaving her to haunt the cedars of Cameron Park. In some versions, the Cameron Park witch is merely an eccentric recluse, but after the 1960s, she becomes a malevolent figure out of a B horror movie or “Hansel and Gretel,” luring people to her castle to kill and eat them.

Turner said his interest is in how these fictional stories change over the decades and get adapted to particular times and places.

“I love studying social memory and culture,” he said. “I approach a legend the same way you would an Aggie joke. You just listen to the punch line. I couldn’t care less if they’re fake or true.”

Even the dogged researcher of the cedar brakes has to make a concession on that point. Kamenec, too, calls the old Elmore Rack place the Witch’s Castle.

“Sure, why not?” he said. “It’s got 57 years of history since it burned. I’m all for it.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Local historian John Kamenec holds historical photos as he stands at the Witch’s Castle site. The front entrance of the “castle,” actually a small cottage, now serves as part of a mountain bike trail.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Old photos of the property and its owner sit on a retaining wall that was part of the Witch’s Castle. The “castle” was actually a small cottage that burned in the ‘60s, and a stone gateway arch still stands.

Amid turmoil, Trump seeking a reset with State of the Union

WASHINGTON — Beset by poor poll numbers and the grind of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump will look to reset his term with his first State of the Union address, arguing that his tax cut and economic policies will benefit all Americans.

The theme of his Tuesday night address to Congress and the country is “Building a safe, strong and proud America,” and the president is looking to showcase accomplishments of his first year while setting the tone for the second.

Aides say the president plans to set aside his more combative tone for one of compromise, and to make an appeal beyond his base.

Trump often engages in hyperpartisan politics, and his tax overhaul has been criticized for disproportionately favoring the wealthy. But he will try to make the case that all groups of people have benefited during his watch, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to preview the speech for the record and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The annual address is a big set piece for any president, a prime-time window to address millions of voters. Every word is reviewed, every presidential guest carefully chosen, every sentence rehearsed. The stakes are enormous for Trump, hoping to move past a turbulent first 12 months in office.

Trump is giving the speech “with the lowest approval ratings of any president in his first year in the history of presidential polling, and can point to the least number of legislative accomplishments,” said Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University. “Every month that goes by in which Trump fails to increase his support works against him because voters’ negative impressions of him will just solidify.”

She said the address “could turn that around if he strikes a bipartisan conciliatory tone and makes it more about the country than about himself.”

Five themes are expected to dominate: the economy and the tax overhaul, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and terrorism and global threats.

Selling the GOP’s tax plan is an election-year project as Republicans look to retain their majority in Congress. The tax changes are billed as essential to powering the ambitious projections of economic growth, and Trump is expected to cite the benefits to the public that proponents envision.

Trump also plans to outline a nearly $2 trillion plan that his administration contends will trigger $1 trillion or more in public and private spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects.

On immigration, he will promote his new proposal for $25 billion for a wall along the Mexican border and for a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the United States as children and now here illegally.

Trump’s trade talk will reflect what he discussed at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Friday: a preference for one-on-one deals instead of multilateral agreements.

The public should get an update on the fight against terrorism and an assessment of international threats, including North Korea. The senior administration official said Trump probably would avoid the taunts of “Little Rocket Man” for Kim Jong Un and “fire and fury” that he used before.

The White House says one of Trump’s guests for the speech will be someone who has been touched by the opioid crisis.

The address comes at a critical point for the president. He wants to move past the government shutdown that coincided with the anniversary of his inauguration and prepare for a grueling election season that is shaping up as a referendum on his leadership. Trump and members of his Cabinet are expected to travel in the days after the speech to drive home its themes.

Critics wonder why the president will show the resolve to stay on message.

“The most capable White Houses use the State of the Union as an organizing moment to set agenda for the whole year, from both a messaging and legislative perspective,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for President Barack Obama. “I don’t think this White House is capable of that kind of discipline. So even if he gives a good speech, it is unlikely to have any staying power and transcend his broader problems of not being able to drive a coherent agenda or generate support for himself beyond his core supporters.”

90-home subdivision planned in Bosqueville area

A new subdivision called Saddle Creek will bring 90 homes to the bustling Bosqueville area, with a real estate agent developing acreage along China Spring Highway bought from McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara.

Chad Hanson, owner of Lake Country Real Estate, said homes will carry prices from $230,000 to $300,000, a range that has become scarce in the Greater Waco market, according to local real estate agents.

“We expect to break ground on the development in 30 to 45 days, meaning we will be building homes this summer,” Hanson said.

He has entered into agreements with four local builders who now have exclusive rights to place homes in Saddle Creek, he said.

Those chosen to participate include Russ Davis Homes, Peavy Homes, Morton Construction and Michael Dutschmann Homes. Hanson has listed information about the builders at

“We will have a variety of homes there, but more than anything, I wanted to create a quality neighborhood,” Hanson said. “I had not worked with all these builders before, but I’ve been talking with them the past seven months and I feel good about the group I’ve assembled.”

Hanson said he bought 24 acres along China Spring Highway near Parker Springs Drive last summer and has submitted plans to the city of Waco for 90 homesites developed in roughly 30-home phases, as demand dictates.

“We wanted to phase construction out over a couple of years because we did not want to put undue pressure on the school district,” he said.

The site is in Waco city limits and the Bosqueville Independent School District.

“Bosqueville is really an up-and-coming district, but there are very few homes available there,” Hanson said. “It is in high demand from students wanting to transfer from outside the district, but limits exist on those.”

McNamara, who is serving his second term as McLennan County sheriff, said the land he sold to Hanson is part of a larger tract his grandmother, Ina Rose Scott, lived on for years.

“I believe the Scott family came to Central Texas in the 1860s, and the McNamaras got over here a little bit after that,” he said. “There are members of the Scott family still living in Bosqueville and China Spring.”

Fifteen years ago, the site northeast of Waco Regional Airport “was nothing but mesquite pasture, but now we have Bush’s Chicken, McDonald’s, Sonic and a pizza place nearby,” McNamara said. “This subdivision certainly will support the businesses there and those to come. He’s talking about nice houses, and I don’t see any adverse impact at all.”

Growth in the area has prompted the Texas Department of Transportation to widen China Spring Road from two lanes to four lanes between Wortham Bend Road and Steinbeck Bend Road at a cost of $27.8 million, according to figures provided by the highway department.

Scott Bland, a local builder and president of the Heart of Texas Builders Association, said would-be homeowners continue to clamor for new homes priced between $250,000 and $350,000. Any subdivision addressing that need, including Saddle Creek, should prove inviting, Bland said.

He said comparably priced houses will occupy Creekside, a 750-home subdivision proposed by veteran builders Fred Dewald and Richard Clark in far West Waco, near Castleman Creek Elementary School and in the Midway Independent School District. Homes there will sell for $200,000 to $400,000, and add $250 million to McLennan County appraisal values, Dewald said in a press release announcing the venture.

Also under development is the massive Park Meadows subdivision on the western outskirts of Waco, near Hewitt, where D.R. Horton and Stylecraft hope to place 1,500 homes priced at $168,000 to $212,000.

Saddle Creek “would be great,” said Kathy Schroeder, who oversees residential services at Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors.

“Bosqueville ISD is popular among those who think other districts are getting too big,” Schroeder said. “That site is convenient to downtown, to Baylor University, to industries on the east side, and not so far out residents could not travel to the west side.”

Hanson said Parker Springs Drive near the Sonic restaurant and a clinic operated by Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest will serve as the main entry to Saddle Creek. He declined to say what he paid for the acreage, but land for residential development in that area is fetching $10,000 to $20,000 an acre, according to his sources in real estate.

Luke Morton, with Morton Construction, said he has become familiar with the nuances of the Bosqueville and China Spring markets, having built homes in China Spring and now going up with 10 duplexes in the Foxborough Addition near Tree Lake Drive and China Spring Road.

Morton said he plans to build eight homes during the first phase of Saddle Creek. They will run 1,800 to 2,200 square feet and include four bedrooms and up to three baths. Exteriors will feature touches of brick or stone, and each home will include fireplaces, security systems and lawn sprinklers, creating what he described as a turn-key package.

Morton said he expects to price his offerings at $130 a square foot, meaning a 2,000-square-foot home would fetch about $260,000.

Jason Peavy, with Peavy Homes, said he expects to build five to 10 homes during the first phase of Saddle Creek, and he welcomes the opportunity.

“There should be plenty of demand at the prices we’re shooting for,” said Peavy, a veteran of homebuilding in the China Spring area.

Firetruck pull

Although cancelled due to rain Waco firefighter Alex Adamson and several other participants in one mile and kids marathon take on the firetruck pull at the 2018 Miracle Match Marathon to benefit the National Bone Marrow Foundation.