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Crawford embraces Bush, not protesters

Things used to be pretty quiet around Crawford, Texas — downright uneventful — until the new folks moved in about five years ago on a ranch just northwest of town off Prairie Chapel Road.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Things used to be pretty quiet around here — downright uneventful — until the new folks moved in about five years ago on a ranch just northwest of town off Prairie Chapel Road.

The ranch hadn't changed hands outside the family that first settled it more than a century ago, but local people have adopted the new owners as their own.

"I'm a Democrat and proud of it," Keith Lynch, 67, said while taking a break from trimming the brush around the flagpole in front of his 600-acre ranch "about a mile and a half as the crow flies" from President Bush's spread.

"But you're got to respect your country, you've got to respect your flag, and you've got to respect your president."

Residents want protesters out
Lynch and others around the town of 745 people believe that respect hasn't been around the past couple of weeks as Crawford, about 95 miles south of Dallas in Central Texas, has been invaded by more than a hundred people protesting Bush and the Iraq war.

"Like the circus, it needs to pack up and go," said Kim Williams, a 41-year-old mother of two.

Cindy Sheehan did leave Thursday, but not because she got what she'd been waiting for on the shoulder of Prairie Chapel Road just outside Bush's ranch since Aug. 6. The California woman who lost a son in the Iraq war and spurred the influx of protesters who joined her anti-war encampment left when she got word that her mother had had a stroke. But dozens of her supporters remained behind in their tent city while Bush continued a monthlong vacation at home.

Sheehan's mother is stabilized, Mimi Evans, one of the demonstrators, said during a news conference in Crawford on Friday. She offered no additional details.

Sheehan hopes to return to Texas
On her daily blog, Sheehan wrote that she hoped to return to Crawford before the end of August. She originally had planned to stay until Bush met with her or returned to Washington from his monthlong Texas vacation on Sept. 3.

About 150 protesters marched two miles down the road to the checkpoint outside Bush's ranch Thursday with letters urging first lady Laura Bush to persuade her husband to meet with Sheehan.

Meanwhile, a conservative California-based group, Move America Forward, has produced a national television commercial saying Sheehan does not speak for military families. Group founder Deborah Johns, whose son is a Marine and is featured in the ad, said she believes Sheehan's crusade discredits U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

"Cindy Sheehan certainly doesn't speak for me, our military families or our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," Johns says in the ad.

Regarding the protesters, Crawford resident Kim Williams said, "They have every right to speak their mind and say their piece, but they've just kind of taken over. I just wish they'd go home. It gets old."

Old was what Crawford looked like when Bush, while still Texas governor in 1999, bought his 1,600-acre ranch from the Engelbrecht family, whose ancestors were pioneers here in the mid-1800s.

Business boom in Crawford
"All these buildings were boarded up," said Larry Nelson, who helps run a shop called Crawford Country Style. "Main Street was a ghost town. It's been exciting to see business come back."

None of the protesters has stopped by to purchase Bush memorabilia, or anything else.

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion," Nelson, 59, said. "Part of the American way."

As for the war, he backs Bush.

"Freedom and liberty," he said, describing the accomplishments in Iraq. "I don't see them as a bad thing."

Many of his neighbors in the area feel the same way. McLennan County, which surrounds Crawford, voted for Bush over Democrat John Kerry 65 percent to 33 percent in the 2004 presidential election. The Democratic mayor was replaced this year with a Republican.

Kay and Bill Bregan thrill when the presidential motorcade drives past the big eagle carved out of wood that sits out front.

Personal connection with the president
"We stand over here, and he waves at us," Kay Bregan, 65, said of her encounters with the president as his motorcade passes the eagle her woodworker-husband made.

"One day (Bush) drove by after he got a hamburger, rolled down the window and gave my husband a thumbs up," she said. "He was thrilled to death."

Bregan supports the president.

"Of course I hate to see all the boys and girls killed there," she said. "But I think to pull out of this war would be the worst mistake we could ever made... We didn't get to be free without fighting for it. It doesn't come easy. I pray everyday the killing will end in Iraq, but I don't agree with wanting to pull out."

Just past the Bregans' home and short of the Crawford Pirates water tower near the junior high is Prairie Chapel Road, narrow, winding and bumping toward the Bush ranch. Many residents are retired, work in the local school system that Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have visited or in Waco, about a 20-minute drive to the east.

For those still ranching, it's rolling country that works as grazing land for sheep and goats and some cattle.

‘Rough country’
A rattlesnake or armadillo winds up as roadkill. Coyotes are frequent predators and ranchers report the occasional cougar.

"This is rough country," Lynch said from under a straw cowboy hat, a red neckerchief soaked in sweat.

Recent heavy rains have left everything vibrant green, unusual for this time in August, when the incessant temperatures in the upper 90s normally parch everything.

As Sheehan's group held a religious service Sunday, nearby landowner Larry Mattlage fired his shotgun twice into the air. "I ain't threatening nobody, and I ain't pointing a gun at nobody," he said. "This is Texas."

Most of the dozen or so ranching families living close to the Bush property appear to have had enough of protesters and reporters and traffic. Those without closed ranch gates to their property have put up ropes, yellow plastic tape or "No Trespassing" or "No Parking" signs to keep others away — and next to U.S. flags or banners of support that read, "For Our Commander In Chief."

"It's kind of embarrassing," said Lynch, who with his wife, Boo, raised three children on land that's been in his family for 158 years. "I'm sure it's embarrassing to President and Mrs. Bush.

"He'll probably be glad when his vacation is over."