CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) – 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.

Then came the dozens of protesters who started camping out near President Bush’s ranch this month, led by a California mother who lost her son in the war and insists on speaking to the president. Their reception has been anything but warm.

“I’m a Democrat and proud of it,” Keith Lynch, 67, said while taking a break from trimming the brush around the flag pole in front of his 600-acre ranch near the Bush spread. “But you’ve got to respect your country, you’ve got to respect your flag, and you’ve got to respect your president.”

Lynch and others around the town of 745 people believe that respect hasn’t been given amid the protests in Crawford, about 95 miles south of Dallas.

“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 for reasons unrelated to the protest. She returned to California to be with her mother, who suffered a stroke, but dozens of her supporters stayed behind in their tent city while Bush continued a monthlong vacation at home.

“They have every right to speak their mind and say their piece, but they’ve just kind of taken over,” Williams said. “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.

“All these buildings were boarded up,” said Larry Nelson, 59, who helps run a shop called Crawford Country Style. “Main Street was a ghost town. It’s been exciting to see business come back.”

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 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 love it when the presidential motorcade drives past the big eagle carved out of wood that sits out front.

“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 is rolling country that provides grazing land for sheep and goats and some cattle.

Rattlesnakes and armadillos wind 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.

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.

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.” But later, Mattlage’s distant cousin, who is against the war, allowed the protesters to use his land, letting them get closer to Bush’s ranch.

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 American flags or banners that read, “For Our Commander In Chief.”

“He’ll probably be glad when his vacation is over,” said Lynch.


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