The Not So Happy Campers
For more than seventy years, Camp Mystic has been a sparkling oasis in the Hill Country for Texas girls to escape the heat and learn archery, kayaking, etiquette, and sisterhood. But rising land values, old rivalries, and lawsuits have now hurled the camp’s owners into a four-year, multimillion-dollar family feud that is viciously pitting siblings, cousins, and even former campers against one another. What will become of this fairy-tale summer paradise?
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include three corrections: (1) George and Philip Stacy did not sue Dick and Tweety Eastland in January 2007, as previously reported. (2) Stacy Eastland and Nancy Leaton did not get any additional interest in other Eastland properties to compensate for Dick’s getting more of Camp Mystic, as originally stated. (3) Stacy alerted the IRS to the family’s potential problems with the Bass deal in October 2009, not November 2006.
There is a point on the long drive to Hunt from Dallas or Houston or even San Antonio where the cities and suburbs fall away, and the limestone hills dotted with cedar and mountain laurel reveal the emerald-green Guadalupe River. Pass through Kerrville, turn south on Texas Highway 39, and follow the river until you see, on your left, the iron gate with the initials “CM,” the entrance to Camp Mystic. Here, on about 725 acres, the sky is an almost blinding blue, flecked with red-tailed hawks; herons nestle in the cypress trees by the water. Atop Sky High, one of the camp’s highest points, you can see for miles and miles while your horse nibbles the grass. The river on scalding afternoons is warm on top and a cool plunge below. At night it’s chilly enough to need a blanket and bright enough to read by moonlight, and a girl lying in her bunk in Hangover Cabin might see, written on the ceiling above her, the name of her mother or aunt or grandmother.
Ask almost any woman who has attended Camp Mystic for her memories of summer, and she will respond with, well, mystical joy. For those whose recollections of camp involve bullying and blood-sucking insects, this may be a baffling sentiment. But for the generations of females, aged eight to seventeen, who have crowded the unair-conditioned cabins of the girls-only camp since 1939, Mystic is a haven. There is fried chicken every Sunday. The cabins have names like Wiggle Inn and Chatter Box. The word “Mystic” is emblazoned on Sky High with jury-rigged lightbulbs. The meanest thing someone can do is put Saran Wrap over the toilet seat. And there is always someone to listen, and to figure out what makes a particular girl tick: Even if she can’t shoot a bow and arrow or pull the team to victory in War Canoe, she might, at the end of session, be chosen Most Improved.
The camp has always served as a near-flawless training ground for archetypal Texas women. For the current fee of $4,375 for a thirty-day session, Mystic girls learn to shoot rifles, ride horses, catch bass, hike in the August sun without complaint, and face down a rattlesnake or two. In blistering tribe competitions—campers are divided into Kiowas and Tonkawas—they learn the value of teamwork. A long line of notable alumnae reveals the kind of girl that Mystic attracts: Mary Martin, who famously played a sprightly, tirelessly cheerful boy, was the first celebrity camper; she was followed by the daughters of governors Price Daniel, Dan Moody, and John Connally. LBJ’s daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters attended; James Baker sent a daughter and a granddaughter. Laura Bush worked as a counselor between terms at Southern Methodist University. Mystic girls say their camp days prepare them for the real world: They become executives for Neiman Marcus, dance with London’s Royal Ballet, own a Gymboree franchise in the former Soviet Union, or marry well and become the kind of intensely focused volunteers who would probably be happier as CEOs.
But most important, Mystic girls make friendships that last forever. Not only do they form a “Mystic mafia” that stretches all over the world, but they also help one another get into Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Texas, the Junior League, and, if need be, a clinical trial at MD Anderson. These bonds are forged in no small part by the history and ethos of the camp itself. The current incarnation of Mystic was founded on the eve of World War II by Agnes Stacy and has been owned by the same family for three generations. There’s a legacy of strong women: Campers remember how Agnes swam nearly a mile each morning in the Guadalupe; or how her successor, Inez Harrison, insisted that “the spirit of Camp Mystic is love”; or how Tweety Eastland, who has operated the camp with her husband, Dick, since the eighties, comforted them when they were homesick. And then there is a pervading sense of togetherness: Dick’s brother, Stacy, has helped guide the camp’s legal decisions over the years; his sister, Nancy, was once a counselor. Three of Dick and Tweety’s four sons now work at the camp, as do two daughters-in-law.
There are other, equal ly famous camps in Tex as, for boys as well as girls. Camp Waldemar, Camp Longhorn, and Camp Champions, to name a few, all welcome the seasonal migration of heat-addled city kids. But for those women most attached to Mystic—and there are a lot of them—theirs was a primeval oasis that offered the time, love, and space to find themselves. “I don’t care where my goddaughter goes to college, but I do care where she goes to camp,” Mystic alum Catherine Jones told me. The camp motto, “Be ye kind, one to another,” embodied its timeless values. Summer to summer, Mystic was always there, a simple, peaceful realm in a complicated and strife-ridden world. The same buildings, the same river, the same hills, and the same people running the show. You could count on it.
And then, suddenly, you couldn’t.
Anyone who visited the Kerr County courthouse this past winter and spring would have witnessed a trial characterized by anything but Mystic love. Upstairs, in a sun-washed courtroom, spectators chose their seats like guests at a wedding in which the groom’s family had cooties. On one side, the benches were nearly full to bursting, crammed mostly with well-turned-out middle-aged women who whispered, clucked, gasped, or violently shook their heads, depending on the testimony. These were former Mystic campers, loyal friends of Dick and Tweety Eastland, the plaintiffs. When the women weren’t comforting the couple during breaks in the trial, they were praying or fasting or forwarding email chains to other ex-campers, urging them to do the same. Tweety, a petite, pretty blonde who is usually as animated as her name suggests, looked grim and fragile, trussed into a high-necked, ruffled blouse. Dick, an affable balding and burly man, sat hunched forward and glum, barely acknowledging the supportive pats from his sons in the row behind him.
The other side of the courtroom was nearly empty. In the front row was Stacy Eastland, a prominent Houston estate lawyer turned wealth management expert for Goldman Sachs. A trimmer version of his younger brother, he sat hunched over too, his hazel eyes doleful. Several out-of-town attorneys in well-tailored suits, along with a few paralegals, filled a few more spots, as did family cousins George and Philip Stacy, big men who sprawled broadly in the otherwise vacant pews. Stacy’s wife, Tara, sat behind him, as vigilant as a Doberman. In a navy suit and muted makeup, she was as plain as Tweety was adorned. Behind her sat Nancy Leaton, Dick and Stacy’s sister. Normally as energetic as a Camp Mystic hummingbird, she kept her head bowed and her lips pursed. (During hearings, she knitted large multicolored prayer shawls for members of her church so that, she told me, she wouldn’t have to see “anything I don’t want to.”) From across the aisle, Dick and Tweety’s son James shot glances at his aunts and uncle, his expression a combination of longing and disgust. By the end of every day, the courtroom felt as if it might implode from all the suppressed emotion.
On its face, the case of Camp Mystic, Inc., Richard G. Eastland, Willetta (“Tweety”) Eastland, and James Eastland v. S. Stacy Eastland, Nancy Eastland Leaton, and Natural Fountains Properties, Inc. was, as Dick’s lawyer, Bill Arnold, put it, “a third-generation problem.” The Eastland siblings were once partners, but as the camp and the land it sits on increased in value, they began quarreling over the usual things: money and power. “When the parents are not alive to keep things in line, many times it all goes to heck,” said Arnold.
That is an understatement. The case has raged for four years and has cost the parties in excess of $6 million in legal fees. It involves accusations most people would never dream of hurling at a sibling: fraud, malpractice, and, especially, greed. Hanging in the balance are Dick and Tweety’s reputation as the financial and ethical stewards of a Texas institution—what they call “the mission and the ministry” of Mystic—and Stacy’s reputation as one of the country’s finest trust and estate planners. Not to mention the future of Camp Mystic itself. “The whole group of ’em ought to be taken into the woodshed and spanked till they come up with a settlement,” one longtime Kerrville attorney told me.
But while most family battles take place in private, this one has become decidedly public, thanks to the thousands of Mystic alumnae who have joined the fray, an extended camp family that is just as desperate about the outcome. They know that if Mystic goes—and it might—a piece of Texas will go with it.
If, in fact, it isn’t already gone.
Tweety Eastland’s famous cookies are an enticing combination of chocolate chips, oatmeal, cinnamon, vanilla, and enough white and brown sugar to give the entire town of Hunt a buzz. Campers get them as rewards, and the mere mention of a Tweety Cookie sends former campers into a Proustian swoon. On a day I visited the camp this spring, a batch was just out of the oven. The sweet, seductive aroma filled the Eastlands’ sunny home, also known as the Ranch House. Like Dick and Tweety, the place is comfortable and tasteful without being too showy. It overlooks Cypress Creek and is filled with family photos—of everyone, lawsuit or no—and inspirational signs, like “Family Is Forever.”
One photograph, taken in the seventies, is of the couple when they were cheerleaders at Houston’s Lee High: Dick kneels beside his then high school sweetheart, grinning, while Tweety shakes pom-poms with her outstretched arms. The image speaks to another era, when wholesome, gorgeous, churchgoing white kids ran the world, or at least Texas. Over the years, the two have put all that natural enthusiasm into Mystic. Dick waxes rhapsodic when he talks about his grandfather building the sign on Sky High or when he recalls how J. C. Mattox, the camp’s senior supervisor and longtime handyman, took him on his first successful hunting trip when he was eight. He and Tweety never see just hills or a creek at Mystic: They see Chapel Hill and Cypress Creek. The infirmary isn’t the infirmary; it is Heaven Can Wait. The library, with its complete set of Nancy Drew mysteries, is Ag’s Attic. It’s as if Dick and Tweety are the protectors of a magical kingdom. Only when Dick points out Stacy’s camp quarters—a sprawling mini-mansion more befitting Santa Fe—does he become slightly less jovial.
Although they have been upgraded over the years, most of Mystic’s buildings date to its earliest days, when Dick, Stacy, and Nancy’s grandmother Agnes Doran Stacy owned the camp. One of the few things the siblings agree on is that “Ag,” as she was known, was “a character.” The debutante daughter of a prominent Dallas banker and the youngest of ten children, Ag demanded that her father send her to college instead of finishing school, but he refused. In turn, Ag displayed the kind of resourcefulness Mystic girls would become famous for: She went to one of her father’s competitors for a college loan. Her father was so mortified that he paid the note and allowed Ag to attend the University of Texas at Austin in 1915, where she distinguished herself as a great beauty and as one of the school’s first physical education majors. Women, Ag believed, missed out by being excluded from sports. They never got physically strong or learned to lead and compete in healthy ways.
Ag got to test her theories when Anne Morgan, the daughter of J. P. Morgan, invited her to France to help with efforts to rebuild the country after World War I. Ag developed a program to heal shell-shocked children that combined physical education with gentle competition. Around this time, the camping business was taking root in Texas. Two things contributed to its success: the popularity of the automobile and the oppressive summers in Texas cities. Wealthy families escaped the heat by driving to the Hill Country, where they built weekend homes on the rivers. Camps for children soon followed. Returning from Europe in the twenties, Ag taught PE at UT, then took a job at a girls’ camp. When the camp’s owner died in a hunting accident, she and her husband, an Austin real estate developer named Gillespie Stacy, sold everything they owned, borrowed the then enormous sum of $50,000, and bought the place. The property’s name, Camp Mystic, was inspired by the mist that came off the Guadalupe in the early mornings.
Ag’s curriculum, geared to daughters of the River Oaks, Highland Park, and ranching aristocracies, included everything from riflery to “correctives” (posture). Along with jodhpurs, campers were urged to bring “all fancy dress costumes that they possess” for dances with nearby boys’ camps. Ag posted nurses in the dining hall to monitor campers who were under- or overweight. Her goal was to encourage emotional and physical self-reliance. A brochure from that time explains: “By close contact with girls their own age, Mystic aspires to develop in its campers loyalty, open-mindedness, and tolerance of individual differences. . . . The give and take of camp life tends to offset overindulgence at home.” The “Prayer of a Sportsman” appeared on the back of every Mystic catalog (“And if I should lose, let me stand by the road / And cheer as the winners go by”).
After the Depression hit, Ag saved the camp by leasing it to the federal government as a rehabilitation center for soldiers wounded in World War II. But her troubles weren’t over: In 1942, Gillespie died of cancer at 51. A brokenhearted mother of two, Ag needed help running Mystic. Relying on her UT connections, she eventually came into contact with Inez Harrison, a former schoolteacher from South Texas. Inez and her husband, Frank, arrived at Mystic in 1948 and stayed for the next 56 years.
Among Mystic alumnae, “Iney” and Ag inspire the kind of hero worship usually reserved for Eleanor Roosevelt. Ag was sophisticated and sharp-tongued—“Ann Richards as a gym teacher,” one former camper suggested. Ag had been all over the world and knew how to decapitate a rattlesnake with a hoe. Her favorite song was “My Man,” which she performed a cappella for her girls, and in the sixties she bullied LBJ into getting off the phone when it looked as if he was going to be late for one of his daughter Luci’s camp presentations. “To say she had any inhibitions would be overstating it,” Stacy told me. Iney, who had no children of her own, was by contrast the wise, loving grandmother who possessed an abundance of common sense and patience. She could bring a girl into line with a simple shake of the head and the phrase “That’s not Mystic.”
Together, Ag and Iney created a place where bad behavior simply wasn’t tolerated. As one former camper put it, “If mean girls showed up at Mystic, Mystic loved the mean out of them.” By the seventies, however, Ag, who was nearing eighty, was more interested in globe-trotting, and Iney too was aging. Ag’s children, Bill and Anne, did not seem likely Mystic heirs; Bill showed little to no business acumen, and Anne, who had married a prominent attorney, Seaborn Eastland, was too involved in her social and political life in Houston. Ag’s sights turned to Anne’s three children—Stacy, Nancy, and Dick—who had all spent summers and holidays at Mystic. Though each one claims to have been asked to run the camp, Stacy opted to follow his father into “the other family business,” while Nancy soon had her hands full with her own children. That left Dick, the youngest and most outgoing of the siblings. He was a student at UT at the time, and his career prospects were unclear. Tweety, whom he had married during his junior year, was not a Mystic girl, but that could be explained: Her father paid for her sisters to go and then ran out of money.
At first, Ag tried the soft sell, promising Tweety all her jewelry if she and Dick moved to Mystic after graduation. When Tweety stalled—she was contemplating graduate school—Ag grew impatient. She pounded her cane on the floor at Dick and Tweety’s apartment. “Goddammit,” she thundered. “I didn’t buy that camp for nothing.” Finally, in 1976, when Tweety was pregnant with their first child, she and Dick moved to Mystic. The couple bunked in a tiny frame house called Sugar Shack. Though meddlesome in-laws could be a challenge (“The Queen Bee has locked her door!” Agnes declared once when Tweety tried to get some privacy), campers and counselors loved the young Eastlands from the start. By 1987 they were Mystic’s directors.
While Dick credits “our team, faith, and God” with their success, he also acknowledges Tweety’s importance. “I was a very shy little person,” she told me of her Houston childhood. You’d never know that now: Charismatic, she looks nearly ten years younger than her age of 58. Her makeup is always fresh, her hair is sun-kissed, and her girlish voice is tempered by a wry sense of humor and a nasal Hill Country twang. She evinces a can-do confidence but is also a little loopy, sometimes flailing her arms in a way that suggests she’d be good at skits. In other words, if you are a little girl, Tweety might seem nicer, prettier, and funnier than your real mom—but if you happen to be a real mom, you’d feel safe leaving your daughter in her care. “Tweety’s the master,” Dick told me proudly. “Every time a girl’s in tears, she asks, ‘Where’s Tweety?’ ”
Of course, it takes more than sweetness to keep a 72-year-old institution thriving today. The Eastlands have succeeded largely by changing as little as possible. Yes, Mystic has a website and a Facebook page. Tweety and the counselors she supervises deal with twenty-first-century issues like drugs, alcohol, divorce, and eating disorders. But Mystic still offers the classic Hill Country camp curriculum—swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, archery—and stresses the ideals established by Iney, who drew on a prayer by Saint Francis: (1) Be a better person for being here, (2) let Mystic bring out the best in you, and (3) grow spiritually. Leadership and sportsmanship are still emphasized. War Canoe, the final water race between the Tonkawa and Kiowa tribes, remains a last-day-of-camp ritual. Campers still attend religious services and wear white on Sundays. There is still no air conditioning. “When we got to camp, Dickie said, ‘The things you never change are the traditions,’ ” Tweety told me.
Camps do reflect their directors, however, and Tweety’s priorities are clear. She got rid of the increasingly unpopular baton twirling and replaced it with lacrosse. She changed the charm class to a course she calls Beauty Inside and Out, in which campers learn, among other things, to paint their nails as a distraction from biting them (one hearty shade of red is available at the camp store). The girls are taught how to change a tire, wash a car, write thank-you notes, and send letters to soldiers in the Middle East. Tweety also built a kitchen and started a cooking class, in which campers have made everything from bruschetta to Helen Corbitt’s Fudge Brownie Fingers.
Perhaps Tweety’s most significant influence has been to make faith a central part of Mystic. Like most Hill Country camps, Mystic is Christian in its roots, but in the past, religion was taught in a God-is-all-around-us kind of way. Tweety and Dick bumped things up a notch, describing Mystic as a ministry. “Through their relationships, they learn so much about God,” Tweety gushed about her campers. “We’re not here to indoctrinate anybody but to show the love of God.” She added a Bible study course to the curriculum and offers input on the devotionals that counselors lead before bedtime. An entire wall of her office is lined with her collection of crosses.
Near the end of the first day we spent together, Tweety and Dick showed me Chapel Hill, Mystic’s lovely outdoor church. Under the oaks, Tweety grew pensive, pointing out the stones she’d placed in a memory garden in honor of deceased campers. Then we picked our way down some rough-hewn steps, a path that provided a nice view of Mystic’s golf course. When I remarked, as I had several times, on the beauty of the place, Tweety pulled me close. “This,” she said, “is what we’re fightin’ for.”
Times have changed for camps. Personal injury lawsuits, summer vacations shortened by state governments, and increased competition (bike tours to Bangkok, summer school at Harvard) now threaten their very existence. Many of the oldest institutions are family businesses that have seen the land value of their attractive locations skyrocket; it is not unusual for long-established places to falter as descendants push to break up the land and cash out to developers or to zillionaires in search of ever-larger weekend homes. Texas camps have not been immune. About three miles down the road from Mystic, Camp Arrowhead—where Farrah Fawcett was once a camper—shuttered its doors after more than fifty years, its demise due to family squabbling that erupted after land values started outstripping camp revenues. Instead of featuring summer activities, Arrowhead’s website now recounts the tragic circumstances of its closing. (“Greed does horrible things to people,” reads one statement.)
Stacy Eastland once hoped to protect Camp Mystic from that fate. He, like Dick and Nancy, grew up pitching in with the family business, working summers at the camp. He remembers a happy childhood with wonderful parents: The Eastland home, just outside Loop 610 near Memorial Park, was a place where discussions about current events were favored at the dinner table over TV. And though competition was valued—they were, after all, a camp family—the siblings were mostly tight-knit. Growing up, Stacy and Dick hunted and fished together, went to the boys’ camp Rio Vista, and met up to watch UT games. While their mother used her political acumen to boost Mystic’s cachet around the state, their father did the legal work for Mystic, a role Stacy eventually inherited.
Stacy and his wife, Tara, now live in an understated Georgian-style home in an understated part of Houston. He is well known in law circles as the expert on the family limited partnership, a legal instrument that helps wealthy families save or eliminate inheritance taxes. His mastery catapulted him from a partnership at Baker and Botts to a managing directorship at Goldman Sachs, where he lectures nationally and advises the representatives of even richer people on estate planning. He is one of those people to whom the word “brilliant” is often affixed as a modifier. Tara has her own reputation: She grew up on a family ranch outside Carrizo Springs and was frequently honored as a camper at Mystic for her athletic gifts. (She was a Cup Girl, one of the camp’s highest honors; so were four of her five sisters.) Stacy met her while working as an errand boy for the camp—as a counselor, Tara had to serve the boys’ table—and the two fell into discussions on topics like how to field-dress a deer. (“I thought, ‘This is not a conversation I’ve had with my high school girlfriend back in Houston,’ ” Stacy told me.) Tara used to be a Mystic representative in Houston, and she still scours eBay for Mystic memorabilia. A row of silver loving cups adorns a mantel in the living room.
Where Tweety and Dick are gregarious and huggy, Stacy and Tara are ironic and reserved, though no less likable. When I asked Stacy how a family quarrel had turned into Armageddon, he scrupulously avoided particulars but told me what he often tells his clients: “Sometimes, in family disputes, people are more interested in what other folks are getting than what they are getting.” There are a few clues to future resentment buried in the past—Dick seemed to find more comfort with Tweety’s family than his own, Stacy’s brilliance was a frequent family topic—but by most accounts, the trouble seems to have started sometime after Dick and Tweety became Mystic’s directors. After Ag died, in 1981, they renovated her house, moved in two years later, and began touring the state as something of a branding campaign. Charming and devout, they became extremely popular. Demand for slots at Mystic grew so fast that they instituted a third session in 1983, bringing in even more income to the family.
The camp had been incorporated in 1956, its stock distributed among Ag, Iney and Frank, Anne, Bill, and the Eastland and Stacy children. But in the seventies Bill suffered financial reverses—“Everything he touched went down the gutter,” a relative recalled—and had to sell his shares to raise cash. Anne allowed Dick to buy in. Some time later, Dick asked his father to insert a provision in his and Anne’s wills that would give him 51 percent of Mystic stock upon their deaths. After discussing the matter with Stacy at a lunch in Houston, Seaborn did just that. He also created a family board, as a check on Dick’s powers.
The Eastlands put a high premium on two things: making money and avoiding taxes. By the mid- to late eighties, camps across the nation were confronting the very expensive problem of personal injury suits. Suddenly a camper accident—or, worse, a camper death—could spell ruin. Something had to be done. When Seaborn died, in 1990, finding a solution fell to Stacy.
Stacy’s goal was twofold: protect the camp from any devastating legal judgment and maintain the family’s shared income. (Anne insisted that she get at least the $200,000 in dividends she’d been receiving every year.) By 1998 he had devised a solution. He created a holding company that would own the camp’s assets, including the land and the buildings, to be called Natural Fountains Properties, after some springs on the grounds. NFP would be run by Anne, Stacy, Nancy, Dick, and the cousins, with Dick as president. Stacy also created Camp Mystic, Incorporated, which would be owned and operated by Dick and Tweety. Essentially, NFP was the landlord and Mystic was the tenant. To establish a fair rent for the family—and to keep those dividends coming— Stacy created a mathematical formula based on the idea that land values and camp revenues would grow at the same rate. Every year, Dick was to add the cost of replacing all the buildings to the land value, then multiply that number by a designated factor.
It looked as if Stacy had created a win-win deal for everyone. Anne was happy because the family business and her dividends were assured. Stacy and Nancy were happy because they too wanted the camp’s continuity, and they were still getting payouts of about $32,000 a year. Dick was happy because, after 22 years, Mystic was his. He was 44, and whatever he and Tweety made above the rent requirement was theirs to keep. As the president of NFP, he also got the same dividends per share as his siblings. (He even got a little more in camp stock: Anne owned 42 percent of Mystic shares, and Dick owned 38 percent.)
Most likely, no one noticed the seeds of a future misunderstanding. In Dick’s mind, he was being rewarded with more earnings because he was taking the greater risk—he and Tweety, after all, could still be sued. The rest of the family probably saw it differently: By creating a new corporation, they were actually lessening Dick’s risk. Yes, the camp could be sued, but never to such an extent that Dick and Tweety couldn’t begin again. Stacy had only one warning for his brother. Make sure, he told Dick, that you get regular appraisals on the land and the building values. Dick couldn’t just pick a rent and work the equation backward, as they had done to set the formula the first year.
In 1999 everyone sat at Dick and Tweety’s glossy dining room table for a board meeting, happily accepting Dick’s checks for their portion of the rent, which totaled $390,000, up $10,000 from the previous year. He enclosed a nice, affectionate note, just as he would in years to come. Dick and Tweety did all right too. That year they made about $337,000 in salaries, bonuses, and dividends—more than double what they’d made before the reorganization. Hard work and Stacy’s formula had paid off for everyone. Camp Mystic was secure.
One day this spring I met Denise Cartwright, one of Mystic’s Houston representatives, at a Starbucks. Denise is 53, with large blue eyes, a sharp, stylish pageboy, and the same dry, assessing humor I’d noticed in other former Mystic campers. Denise had bet me that we’d be unable to sit at the coffee shop for long without encountering other alumnae. She had hedged her bet a little, having picked a Starbucks near Tanglewood and River Oaks—prime Mystic stomping grounds—and making herself a target by wearing her many Mystic charms on a necklace and displaying a pillowcase her mother once emblazoned with her camp patches. (Denise, a Kiowa, was a Cup Girl.) Yes, to those who hated camp, Denise’s enthusiasm could suggest a personality disorder. “My goddaughter went to Waldemar, and I didn’t speak to her mother for a year and a half,” she joked—I think.
“It was utopia,” she continued. “I don’t know who I’d be today if I hadn’t gone to Camp Mystic.” In the years since her girlhood summers, Denise has become bound to the camp more than ever: Her daughter, Mary Liz, who was once a camper herself (a Tonkawa), married Dick and Tweety’s son Edward, who is currently the camp’s business manager. Mary Liz is now the camp’s nurse. There is a long precedent of intermarrying between Eastlands and Mystic girls: Stacy met Tara at camp, of course; his cousin Philip met his wife, Jeanne, when she was a head counselor and he worked there; and Nancy met her husband, Barry, when she was a counselor and he worked as an accountant in the camp office. (If you suspect this pattern is part of the problem, you could be right.)
As Denise had predicted, it was only minutes before a Mystic alumna, a stunning young woman named Marion Hayes, sauntered in. Nineteen years old and willowy, with long, blond hair and extremely white teeth, Marion had excellent posture and poise. “I was signed up when I was born,” she told me proudly. Sitting in a chair Denise had draped with a chain of Kiowa tribe letters—she eschewed the Tonkawa chair—she praised, unprompted, Camp Mystic, Tweety (“a good example of what a lady and a woman should be”), the Mystic friend she had seen a few days before, and the Mystic friend she was seeing later that evening. “At Mystic we learned how to be the ideal Texas lady,” Marion told me. “We keep it classy.” Denise, who attended Mystic with Marion’s mother and aunt, beamed.
It is safe to say that, among the extended Camp Mystic family, Dick and Tweety are winning the PR war. They are, after all, rock stars: Texas’s most socially ambitious helicopter parents cultivate them, honor them, and praise them, partly because they are good company and partly because the camp has a waiting list that rivals Brown University’s. (The first session this summer, which can accommodate 360 girls, took about 60 new campers, most of whom had been languishing on the waiting list for years.) When word spread that I was writing about Mystic, strangers called and emailed to offer unsolicited opinions, as in “Dick and Tweety are living proof that there really are still good people in the world.” Tweety’s alacrity in running to the bedsides of desperately ill campers is often cited, as is her ability to graciously deliver difficult news when a camper’s family has experienced tragedy.
Conspiracy theories about the Eastland family battle abound. There’s the “bad brother versus the good brother” hypothesis, in which coldhearted Stacy set out to wrest control of the camp and its profits from kindhearted Dick. Then there are rumors about former campers who have lain in wait for decades to take over: Jeanne, who worked at Mystic for five years as a counselor and almost seventeen in the camp’s office, and Tara, whom Tweety acolytes have never been fond of, in part for seeming a little too proprietary of the camp. Those on Stacy’s side—they are less vocal—believe the problem is Dick and Tweety’s sense of entitlement. The couple, they say, got swelled heads, got greedy, and forgot their financial obligation to the rest of the family, as their parents’ wills had stipulated. (“And Tweety was never even a camper!” stressed one lawyer for the defense.)
The infighting over Mystic has in fact created the kind of nasty gossip that is anything but classy. One Iney-era camper explained her agony this way: “It is not that we don’t know Mystic is a for-profit enterprise. It is the fact that something so precious to us ended up in court and seems to somehow be made crass by it. No one tells you to be nice anymore; no one shows you how that pays off or why you don’t burn bridges or why you make those connections. Outside the camp gates, you go back to the real world. Camp is different and sacred. My mother used to say it was the best therapy she ever paid for.” The more mud slung about in pleadings, depositions, and plain old backbiting, the hollower the treasured Mystic mottoes had begun to sound.
By the late nineties, Mystic’s fourth generation was coming of age. Stacy and Tara had two children, Nancy and Barry also had two, and Dick and Tweety had four. While the kids were certainly an occasion for joy, they were also an indicator that camp dividends would eventually be shrinking for everyone.
This overcrowding had a physical manifestation. On visits to Mystic, Stacy and Tara got tired of bunking with Anne at Cypress Hollow, the family cabin, and in 1999 they decided to build a weekend home of their own. Anne and, begrudgingly, Dick gave permission. The new house, which Stacy and Tara christened Up the Creek (the children’s wing was Without a Paddle), was not exactly on a scale with Sugar Shack: It cost $700,000 and totaled five thousand square feet. Worse, it was perilously close to a spot many campers considered sacrosanct, Natural Fountains. Dick and Tweety referred to it routinely as “the rent house.”
It was, in one way. Stacy didn’t want to own the house outright; he wanted to rent it for forty years and then revert full possession to NFP. Always scrupulous about consistency, Stacy asked Dick for a lease similar to the one he had created for Camp Mystic. Dick balked. “I have read most of the lease, but I must admit I’d rather take a simpler approach,” he wrote his brother. “We just want you to trust us that as long as you live and beyond, you and yours will be able to use that house. . . . Stacy, the only way you would ever lose access to that house would be for the directors of Natural Fountains to vote you out, and frankly . . . that ain’t going to happen on my watch!” Stacy never got a lease. Dick in turn appeared to grow warier of his siblings, trying in 2003 to buy more of his mother’s NFP stock. Stacy advised against it, citing—yes—tax reasons. The sale never happened.
Hostilities eased a year later, when Dick was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He and Tweety soon found themselves shuttling to MD Anderson, in Houston. Stacy used his connections to find him excellent doctors, and the two grew close again. Jeanne ran the camp in their absence, and Dick and Tweety’s sons—Richard, Britt, James, and Edward—helped with the camp cooking, finances, and overall management. James, who left a job with a local insurance agency to modernize the camp’s operations, showed particular interest in Mystic’s future. A 23-year-old with a recent engineering degree from UT and a lovely young girlfriend, he was positioned, as his father had been a few decades earlier, to invest himself in the camp long-term. While Dick was recuperating, father and son began to revive an old idea of expanding Mystic, maybe even creating a new camp for children with cancer.
They began by applying for a loan to finance their project, but first, the bank told them, they needed an appraisal of the existing property. Before long, news of their potential expansion had reached a Camp Mystic neighbor: Lee Bass. A member of the Bass oil and ranching dynasty and an owner of significant acreage near Hunt, Bass, who was obsessive about his privacy, had taken to buying any property within range of his estate as a way to prevent its development. (It was Bass, in fact, who had unwittingly precipitated the collapse of Camp Arrowhead: Half the family owners had wanted to sell to him, the other half hadn’t, and lawsuits and havoc ensued.) Bass contacted Dick about altering his plans: He offered around $10,000 an acre to buy the land designated for the expansion and $5,000 an acre for additional land to create a buffer zone.
It was an intriguing proposal—Bass’s figures were well above the norm—but it was soon eclipsed by other pressing family matters. There was much to celebrate: James was planning his wedding, and Dick’s cancer went into remission. There was also much to mourn: In a matter of days, three deaths took place. Bill died on January 12, 2005; a few days later, Iney went; and on January 20, the day of Iney’s funeral, Anne passed away. Dick and James never got around to mentioning Bass’s offer to the rest of the family.
Anne’s death left Dick and Tweety indisputably in control of the place they loved. Not only did the couple own the camp, but they also owned 51 percent of NFP stock, while Dick’s siblings each owned close to 22 percent and his two cousins each owned 2 percent. Dick, as the majority stockholder of NFP, could set the agenda for the family business and remove and install board members at will. Under his and Tweety’s leadership, Camp Mystic was thriving. Their new full-color brochure contained uplifting sentiments like “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is” and “Forgiving makes the fighting stop.”
Maybe Stacy and Nancy had trouble adjusting to their baby brother’s role as camper in chief. Maybe Dick and Tweety, who had never really worked anywhere but Mystic, weren’t receptive to outside ideas. Either way, by the middle of 2005, communication was not exactly prized. On their own, Dick and James picked up negotiations with Lee Bass, who was now putting forward several offers: He could buy the entire property and an interest in the camp for a total of $13 million, buy pieces of land, or pay Dick to restrict the use of the land. (As one lawyer put it, Bass didn’t want a bunch of screaming teenage girls within earshot.) According to Dick and James, all Bass offers were disclosed to their family; according to Stacy, he was never shown any that did not include the new camp. (As proof of his veracity, Stacy’s lawyers would point out that had Stacy seen every Bass proposal, he would have written his brother a ten-page memo on the tax ramifications of each.) Regardless, by the winter of 2005, Dick had secured an offer of $8.5 million for a limited amount of land and restrictions on the use of about one hundred acres more.
Not surprisingly, when family members finally got the news, they were interested. Except for one thing. Dick thought 50 percent of the money should go to Camp Mystic and 50 percent to NFP. He suggested at one point that this was fair; he and James had done all the work on the deal, and the camp should largely benefit. But it did not take a math major to figure out the implications: In reality, Dick would get 76 percent of the money, because he owned half of NFP. After careful study, Stacy told Dick that he would be violating the lease if he went through with such a deal; it would be like the tenant, Camp Mystic, negotiating a lease instead of the landlord, NFP. And if they didn’t follow the lease, a plaintiff’s lawyer could use that failure against them in a lawsuit and possibly take all of NFP’s assets.
Dick did not respond to Stacy’s calls or emails. Instead, Stacy heard from Bill Arnold, the lawyer for NFP and Mystic. As Stacy would later testify, something about the phone call made him think that there might have been more proposals from Bass than the ones he’d seen. He asked Arnold to send him all the Bass offers. Arnold never got around to it. Then, in May 2006, Nancy and Barry threw a graduation party for their son, Josh, at their home, in Brenham, and invited the entire family. After the festivities, Dick and James took Nancy aside to lobby her on the $8.5 million Bass deal. Dick needed a majority on the NFP board to go forward, and Nancy, with whom he had always been close, seemed a likely ally.
Nancy slept on it. She then sent Dick a seven-page, double-spaced letter. She reminded him that Camp Mystic was a ministry first and foremost, nothing less than a gift from God (“What a blessing to be . . . a conduit of His love and mercy”). Bass’s offer, she noted, was certainly another gift. But, she wrote, there were rifts in the family that needed mending before they all went forward—specifically the tension that had resurfaced over Stacy’s house. “You all never get together recreationally, for fun, because of the pain of betrayed trust. . . . Don’t you miss him, Dick? Anger is a poor substitute for love.” He needed to model forgiveness to his boys, Nancy told him, and build trust with Stacy before completing the Bass deal.
And by the way, no, she didn’t think his proposal was fair. “If I understood your deal, you are taking 4 1/2 million dollars off the top, then another 2 1/4 million [his share from NFP]. Plus no proceeds [for NFP] from the new camp operation for 20 years. All the tax liability in the hands of the property owners . . . there is a strong possibility this [will] all end in more pain, shouting and throwing out the baby with the bath water.” God was testing them, Nancy warned: “Camp Mystic has a potential for losing everything.”
Throughout the summer, the siblings continued to email one another, their normal good humor evaporating. Dick wanted to start construction on the new camp and, without the Bass cash, considered applying for a bank loan again. Stacy pressed him to borrow the money from NFP instead, which would be cheaper by $2 to $3 million; Dick and James countered that Stacy wanted a higher interest than the bank. Stacy also expressed liability concerns. When James then called him to suggest a side deal between Camp Mystic and NFP that might allay his liability worries, Stacy became furious. Such a proposal, he would later testify, was fraudulent. Further, Dick and James felt that borrowing money from a bank meant they shouldn’t have to pay additional rent to NFP. To Stacy, this too was patently unfair—a new camp might compete with the old camp, reducing the rest of the family’s dividends.
Near the end of his tether, Stacy raised his concerns with Nancy and his cousins in July. At Nancy’s suggestion, the two siblings drafted a letter stating that, unless the issues involving the new camp were resolved, Camp Mystic’s lease would not be renewed when it expired, in 2009. The letter wasn’t sent. (He and Nancy, Stacy later testified, “just wanted to see what it would look like.”) Meanwhile, Dick had stopped speaking to his siblings, letting Arnold, a onetime prosecutor for the infamously ruthless Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade, do the talking. (By this time Arnold no longer represented NFP.) Cousin George begged for a family meeting. “This goes against everything our predecessors ever set up!” he wrote in an email to Dick, to no avail.
Finally, in November, everyone agreed to go to mediation. Stacy wasn’t taking any chances: He had a lawyer file suit against Dick in Harris County. He suspected Dick was self-dealing, and as he would later tell the court, he wanted a judge to weigh in. He didn’t tell Dick he was suing him and delayed serving papers; they might, after all, resolve their problems in mediation. But he did send Dick a letter stating that the Bass deal, as structured, could be in violation of the shareholders’ agreement and thus threaten NFP’s tax status. There could be IRS problems, he warned.
The proposed mediation, after a few postponements, occurred in March 2007. Nothing was resolved. And something about Dick’s behavior—his secrecy about the camp’s finances, his opinions on how the Bass proceeds should be allocated—made Stacy suspicious. Though Dick and James had land appraisals, they had never shared them with Stacy, so Stacy decided to get his own. He had an inkling that Dick wasn’t following the rent formula he’d devised in 1998. Sure, the rent had gone up almost every year, by exactly $10,000. Stacy and the other NFP members had gladly cashed their checks, no questions asked. But when Stacy got numbers back, his fears were confirmed: Land values and construction costs had gone up significantly in the Hill Country since he’d created the formula, but the rent payments had increased only 2.5 percent per year.
Dick hadn’t used appraisals to calculate his rent, as Stacy had long ago instructed him; instead, he’d picked a rent number based on the first year of the lease arrangement and simply added $10,000 more each year. In other words, Dick and Tweety had been underpaying rent while paying themselves ever higher salaries. In 2006, for instance, they brought home almost $1 million combined. Stacy was stunned. His brother, it appeared, owed at least $2.8 million in back rent.
Stacy and Nancy sued Dick for $2.8 million in January 2007, alleging, among other things, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. In March Dick countersued, accusing Stacy of malpractice. Dick claimed that he had not known the true value of the land—there were appraisals in several amounts—and, besides, he had followed Stacy’s instructions for calculating the rent. Hadn’t Stacy drafted the formula and then approved the payments, year in and year out? He was furious, fearing in part that the litigation would jeopardize his talks with Bass.
Nancy continued her letter writing. She suggested to Dick that they forget the Bass deal and finance their own camp. “Consider this,” she wrote. “Mr. Bass does not buy into the mission of Camp Mystic . . . quite the opposite.” Dick, again, did not respond. “I think we all had lawyers at that point, and the proper method is, you go through the lawyers,” he told me. When I asked him whether he felt torn between his siblings and his wife and sons, he seemed perplexed: “I did what I thought was best for continuing the camp and following what my parents wanted. That was my goal. My heart was to continue this place on this land forever.”
In late summer, Dick called a meeting of the NFP stockholders and fired everyone from the family board, including himself, claiming it was time for “disinterested” management. He reduced the size of the board from seven members to three: Judge John Hutchison (Stacy and Nancy’s choice), John Genung (a lawyer and Tweety’s former brother-in-law), and Cynthia Allen (one of Tweety’s closest friends). Around that time, he also began changing the gate codes to the camp every month, which forced his relatives, who had once had unfettered access, to request permission to enter. Dick and Tweety believed that Tara and Stacy were retaliating the day they played golf during camp services at nearby Chapel Hill and when their tree trimmers toiled during nap time.
With stress and legal fees mounting, Dick—without consulting his siblings, who were still shareholders—agreed in 2009 to give his new NFP directors a raise. They now got $1,000 instead of $100 for attending board meetings in town and $2,000—up from $500—for official out-of-town meetings, as well as $1,000 for attending proceedings like depositions for the lawsuit. This prompted another missive from Nancy, who accused the new board of damaging the financial health of the family business. (NFP directors’ fees and expenses had exceeded $132,000 in 2008 alone.) In turn, Genung sued Nancy for defamation. The board also proposed a new lease limiting the family’s visitation rights to Mystic to just a few times a year. (As Dick would explain in court, “We wanted to make sure we were informed in case there were accidents.”) Nancy began exchanging emails with George about finding another couple to run Mystic. She had the perfect one in mind: Philip and Jeanne.
As the fall of 2009 approached, negotiations with Bass recommenced. He was now offering Dick a $10 million package. With Camp Mystic’s three-year lease with NFP about to end, Dick felt he needed a long-term lease to make his position stronger; Bass might otherwise wait to see if family strife produced a more amenable tenant. Surprisingly, Genung refused to give Dick what he wanted. No new lease would be granted, he said, until the lawsuit was resolved. In October, Dick again fired everyone on the NFP board. That same month, Stacy alerted the IRS to the family’s potential problems with the Bass deal.
By the time Eastland v. Eastland went to trial, in January 2011, there had been more than fifty hearings, several unsuccessful mediations, and three judges who had recused themselves. The malpractice claim against Stacy had been thrown out. His lawyers also won a motion to keep the fact that he worked for Goldman Sachs from the jury—they feared that his Wall Street connection would be a negative in Kerrville—but that probably didn’t matter. Word about the trial spread so quickly that, on opening day, former campers mobbed the courtroom in support of Dick and Tweety. A three-year-old could have figured out where the community was putting its chips.
Bill Arnold’s defense of Dick was as fervent as an evangelist’s: In his opening statement, he used the words “ministry” and “wholesome Christian atmosphere” at least six times in the space of an hour. Stacy, he posited, wanted control of the camp to break it up and sell it. Stacy’s lawyers, by contrast, focused on the numbers. If Dick had only followed the rules, they said, this whole mess could have been avoided.
The testimony was a family therapist’s dream. On the stand, Dick claimed that he had done only as Stacy had told him to; besides, he was entitled to more of the money because he had done more of the work. And besides that, God had blessed them with success. Stacy repeatedly insisted he simply wanted to find a business solution to what was a profoundly emotional problem. Both brothers professed to have honored the camp’s legacy: Stacy had trusted Dick to abide by his formula and give him the inheritance his parents wanted him to have; Dick had trusted Stacy to let him keep the camp, as his parents had wished.
Just about everyone wept. Tweety held up best, with never an unkind word for anyone, by name at least. When it was all finished, in February—eyes glazed over as the trial dragged on for nearly a month—the jury deliberated for about half a day and found for Dick: There had been no fraud and no breach of fiduciary duty. Afterward, several of the jurors jumped up to hug Tweety. They all had a good cry.
But the drama was far from over. Several weeks later, at an April hearing, the defense argued for a new trial, insisting that the jury had disregarded the facts and the law. “This is a dysfunctional situation, and unless we resolve it, we’ll be coming back here again and again,” one of Stacy’s attorneys, Dan Bitting, told the court. Judge David Peeples, a white-haired, careful jurist who had been imported from San Antonio, was inclined to listen, and he begged the parties to settle out of court. Otherwise, “some judge is going to say how it’s going to be,” he warned. “If I were everybody, I’d be talking.”
The defense’s solutions—to put NFP into receivership, split up the property, or arrange a buyout—must have struck terror into Dick’s heart. His lawyers countered by asserting that they had won the trial and saw no reason to compromise now. Peeples requested a meeting with all the parties privately, trying to find common ground. He asked Stacy and Nancy what they wanted most. Stacy wanted his inheritance. Nancy wanted to visit Mystic at will. Dick and Tweety refused the judge’s invitation, on the advice of counsel. (They have since met with the judge.)
A new trial is now set for October, with the camp’s future again at stake. Stacy and Nancy want NFP put into receivership to oversee the family finances, though they are happy for Dick and Tweety to still run the camp. Dick, in turn, refuses to budge financially but doesn’t want a divorce from his siblings. Both sides seem heedless of the judge’s earlier warning that “no court can make siblings be a family again.”
Somewhere along the line, becoming a family again ceased to be the point.
In mid-May, Denise Cartwright hosted a new-camper party at her Memorial-area home in Houston. About fifty or so moms poured in with their supremely well-behaved daughters, most of whom looked to be eight or nine. Most of the mothers had long, straight hair, pert faces, and toned bodies. White capris and Tory Burch accessories proliferated. The daughters’ ribbons, flowers, and hair bands coordinated impeccably with their outfits. To put the girls at ease, Denise had laid out a spread of candy, cookies, and popcorn. The decibel level was high, with the kind of oohing and cooing evocative of rush week.
Settling everyone in the den, which was decorated with the heads of white-tailed bucks, Denise, with the help of two eleven-year-old veterans, went through a checklist: what to pack, what not to pack, the required lice check. Fellow Mystic representative Christy Heno, another ebullient former Cup Girl, described activities that sounded like fun: horseback riding, swimming, Big Sis and Little Sis night. And, of course, there would be Tweety Cookies. The girls looked dubious. They worried about doing without cell phones and having to dance with boys during the party with Camp Stewart. One girl choked on a gummy bear. Several mothers jumped up to administer the Heimlich maneuver.
The most fun of all, Christy said, was the night you joined your tribe, a tribe you’d be in for the rest of your life. There’d be a big drawing to choose sides, and then “the big girls come and grab you, and then you start cheering with your tribe!” Christy exclaimed. The mothers who had gone to Mystic—most of the women there—smiled wanly at the memory of that time, when choosing sides had been a game, and at least one place always, always stayed the same.
“Yeah!” Denise agreed.
“You’re in, right?” Christy asked the crowd. “You’re in!”