GUN BARREL CITY, Texas — Sandra Ward is met with a calm but steady wind as she opens the screen door to head out to her garden.
“This is our all-around favorite plant that we planted,” Sandra said. “It is a pink shavon althea.”
Just beyond her garden are a row of homes where Eastwood Island meets the bank of Cedar Creek Lake. When her late husband Thomas "Buddy" Ward moved to the area in the '60s, Sandra says he and his father decided to build just off the edge of what would become the Cedar Creek Reservoir. It was still under construction at the time.
“Eastwood Island had no homes. This is the first home in Eastwood Island,” Sandra said. “But this is after four add-ons.”
Sandra Ward says her husband had a Ben Franklin store in Oak Cliff at that time. Rather than continue commuting to Dallas, he decided to open a store along Gun Barrel City’s most famous street, Gun Barrel Lane.
“Due to the fact it was one of the number one stores in the Ben Franklin chain, Sam Walton came down to see what’s in this store,” Sandra said while pointing at the old building which now houses a furniture store.
Anyone who grew up in Gun Barrel City knows Sam Walton would open a store down main street and eventually a Walmart Supercenter right next to it. Sandra says it’s proof of her husband’s economic legacy in Gun Barrel City.
It’s likely one of the reasons Tom Ward is said to be one of the "Dirty Dozen," according to legend - 12 people influential in the incorporation of Gun Barrel City.
Tom Ward served on city council from 1984 to 1986. He founded and was the first president of the Economic Development Corporation and was part of an effort to buy 40 acres of land.
“There was a lot of controversy over that because we’re still out in podunk, Texas. Why do we need 40 acres?” Sandra Ward said.
The Gun Barrel City fire and police departments now sit on that land along with a city park and a helipad.
After suffering a heart attack in 1987, Tom Ward thought Gun Barrel City needed a helipad, so he along with others raised $14,000 to build it.
“He went out all around Cedar Creek Lake to all the different towns looking for money,” Sandra Ward said.
Gun Barrel City’s website references the story of the Dirty Dozen and says the town was incorporated on May 26, 1969. Prior to that, the town was known as the Old Bethel Community.
“Gentleman called it Gun Barrel Road because it was as straight as a gun barrel and that’s how the city got its name,” Mayor David Skains said.
Mayor Skains is referencing what is now Gun Barrel Lane. With a city flag featuring a long rifle and the slogan "We shoot straight with you," it’s normal for people to think Gun Barrel City was founded during the era of the Wild West. The city logo is nothing short of iconic in Texas terms, featuring two six shooters intersecting with a star in the middle.
“I usually see someone at least once a week outside City Hall taking pictures,” Skains said.
Despite the ever-present guns in Gun Barrel City, Skains says the city isn’t all about firearms. Even after a non-binding resolution passed in 2013 which encourages citizens to own a firearm with some exceptions, such as those convicted of a felony or dealing with mental or physical disabilities.
That was before Skains was mayor.
“I’ve been mayor for three years and lived here for eight,” Skains said.” The city is more about being a retirement, resort community than it is about guns.”
While Skains says the city has plenty of 2nd Amendment activists, he made the point he’s only seen one gun demonstration in his time living in Gun Barrel City. And a main focus among residents right now is finding common ground on the usage of golf carts. After receiving several complaints, the police department posted to its Facebook page it would begin enforcing Texas law prohibiting golf carts from being ridden on public roadways.
“I actually have a councilmember who owns a business that deals with the American Disabilities Act who is working with our city attorney to draft an ordinance that will allow people to still allow some people to use the golf carts in the street,” Skains said.
The mayor has scheduled a workshop for the end of June on the issue and says he’s gearing up for a big announcement he can’t share just yet.
Mayor Skains couldn’t verify another story behind the incorporation of Gun Barrel City which says the residents didn’t want to leave the area to buy alcohol.
Dick Bramblitt, a man known as a historian for neighboring town Mabank, says Gun Barrel City was founded because Mabank proper wouldn’t allow alcohol sales. Constituents came together and asked if they incorporated Gun Barrel City would they allow alcohol sales. The one condition was that there would be no property taxes and today, Gun Barrel City still operates without property taxes.
Sandra Ward was with her husband for 30 years. Tom Ward passed in 2015 from cancer. She spends her days working in her garden, volunteering with Friends of the Animals in town, and keeping her husband’s memory alive by sharing his stories.
“It is what he started,” she said “He’s proud of it.”