Texas Standard » Stories from TexasStories from Texas are written for and recorded for the Texas Standard radio program. They're written by W.F Strong and edited for broadcast by Texas Standard producers.Texas Standard airs Monday through Friday on more than 20 public radio stations across Texas. Visit texasstandard.org/listen to find when it airs where you are. Texas Standard is hosted by David Brown, and infrequently by Laura Rice from KUT Radio in Austin, and Lauren Silverman from KERA Radio in Dallas.
Stories from Texas are written for and recorded for the Texas Standard radio program. They're written by W.F Strong and edited for broadcast by Texas Standard producers.Texas Standard airs Monday through Friday on more than 20 public radio stations across Texas. Visit texasstandard.org/listen to find when it airs where you are. Texas Standard is hosted by David Brown, and infrequently by Laura Rice from KUT Radio in Austin, and Lauren Silverman from KERA Radio in Dallas.More from Texas Standard » Stories from Texas »
The other day I was trying to pull out on U.S. Route 281, and the traffic was so steady that I had to wait about three minutes for an opening. As I was waiting, my father's voice came into my head and said, "Somebody left the gate open down there." Dad's been gone 30 years now, but those sorts of metaphors still live in my head, as they do for a lot of us Texans. We may have mostly moved from farms and ranches to cities, but our language is still peppered with these expressions of pastoral life. As T. K. Whipple, the literary historian pointed out, we live in a world our forefathers created, "but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, what they lived, we dream." You cannot have the influences of the frontier or country life disappear in just a generation or two. It hangs on in interesting ways, in our myths and in our language. One place that we can witness it with some vibrancy is in the farm and ranch expressions or metaphors that survive in our digital age. Here are twelve I've rounded up for you. "I wouldn't bet the ranch on it." It's used to infer the poor likelihood that a given investment or prediction will come true. "Well, yes, Congress might decide to work together for the greater good, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on it." "To mend fences." It means to make peace. "You might want to mend fences with Jayden. You're likely to need his friendship one day." "Dig in your heels." When cowboys were branding calves and roped one, they had to pull hard against them and were told to dig in their heels. Now, the phrase is used for any act of taking a tough stance. "We're diggin' in our heels on this contract." Similar to "sticking to our guns." "Take the bull by the horns" is a good one. Face your troubles head on. Yet a similar saying warns against careless assertiveness: "Mess with the bull and you get the horns." That expression was made particularly popular in classic films like The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful. "Don't have a cow!" Bart Simpson made it world-famous. Of course, he added "man" at the end. It is about anti-empathy. I can't validate your over-reaction. The earliest known printed use of "don't have a cow," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was found in the Denton Record-Chronicle in 1959. The phrase appeared in quoting someone who said, "He'd 'have a cow' if he knew I watched 77 Sunset Strip." Proud it showed up first in Texas. "Till the cows come home." That means a long time, long time. It's almost as bad as waiting for "pigs to fly." "Until the cows come home," perhaps originated in the Scottish highlands. They let cows out to wander lush pastures in the spring and it would be a long time before they would make their way home. It also refers to cows coming home to be milked in the early morning hours. "Maverick" is well-known. It is used to brand someone as a non-conformist. It is named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan who allegedly didn't brand his cattle. That isn't the entire truth, but that is what many have come to believe, and so that version of the story has stuck. "All hat and no cattle" is one of my all-time favorites. I used it recently in a conversation with a teenager and he said he had never heard it before and didn't know what it meant. I explained that it was similar to "all bark and no bite." He didn't get that one either. I guess trying to teach ranch metaphors to a teenager is like "herding cats." In fairness, I didn't understand his saying that I seemed "salty" either. "Riding shotgun." This started as means of naming the guy who rode on the stagecoach next to the driver, generally holding the shotgun to ward off bandits. It's still being used 150 years later. Even modern teenagers still yell "I got shotgun!" as they run to the truck. "Hold your horses." Just wait a minute. Let's think about this calmly before we jump right in and regret it. "Hold your horses, Jim. I can't buy your truck until I talk to my wife, first." I also like that we still measure engine power in "horses" – 400 horsepower. "I'm on the fence about it." Taking that new job in the oil patch in Odessa? Not sure. Still on the fence about that. I guess the most popular metaphor of all from ranch culture is "BS," meaning "nonsense." It's difficult to accurately trace its origins and attempting to do so leads us into a thicket of art form itself. I used the word recently while giving a talk in the state Capitol building. I was asked afterward if I thought that was an appropriate term to use in such august surroundings. I said, "I imagine the expression has been used more than a few times here in the legislature, and probably, even more often, impressively illustrated."
At Christmas time each year I like to tell the story about a great gift given to Texas. My favorite Christmas stories of this kind concern seeds planted long ago that are still producing abundant harvests today. You may not know the name D.H. Snyder, but you will certainly recognize his influences on Texas history. Like many young men of his time, in the 1850s, he was already out and about making his mark in the world when he was just 22. He was hauling apples from Missouri and selling them in Texas. From apples, he went to trading horses and from horses, to cattle. He once walked 100 miles from Round Rock to San Antonio to buy horses. He had only $200 to spend. Someone asked why he didn't just buy a horse in Round Rock and ride to San Antonio and his answer was "more horses." The horse market was much cheaper in San Antonio and his money would go further. So he walked. His great grandson, Charles Snyder, told me that D.H.'s trading mantra was always this: "You make your profit when you buy, not when you sell." He drove cattle to Kansas, to Colorado, and was the first to drive cattle from Texas to Wyoming and Idaho. He was one of the first to drive cattle 90 miles from the Concho to the Pecos, without water in between. Beforehand, he rested the herd for a few days, watered them well, and even skipped slaughtering the calves (as was customary, because it was believed they slowed the herd). Then, he drove them all day and all night for 70 hours straight until he reached the Pecos. The calves did just fine. The mamas did better, too, having their babies with them. Sound familiar? Woodrow and Gus were inspired by cattlemen like Snyder and Goodnight to make a similar run in Lonesome Dove over 100 years later. Snyder had surprising rules for his drovers. They were these: You can't drink whiskey and work for us. You can't play cards and gamble and work for us. You can't curse and swear in our camps, or in our presence, and work for us. You don't usually think of cattle drives as having such rules, but D. H. Snyder was a devout Methodist. He ran a disciplined, virtuous camp. Sometimes he even brought a minister along to conduct Sunday services. He, his men and the cattle rested on Sundays. His method worked. All the ranchers knew that if you wanted your cattle delivered to market on the day promised, without losses, without fail, D.H. Snyder was your man. So where's the gift you ask? We're coming to it. Snyder got rich driving cattle and became a successful rancher himself, with hundreds of thousand of acres of land in his operations. He settled in Georgetown, along with his brother and business partner, John Wesley Snyder. D.H. gave land for the building of the First Methodist Church, which is still there. John gave land for the high school. They both endowed Southwestern University with multiple, generous gifts over the years, though neither went to college. D.H. served on the board for 27 years and gave the fledgling university the benefit of his business sense. He served as the treasurer for 22 years, free of charge, giving the arguably oldest university in Texas the solid financial footing it needed to become the world-class university it is today. His money went from cattle to chemistry and composition, from ranching to research. Charles Snyder, D.H.'s great-grandson, told me that D.H. lived to be 88. In his latter years, he lived in a modest home near the university. He became legally blind. But he lost his sight, not his vision. Not long before he died, someone asked D.H. if he regretted giving most of his money to the university, which forced him to live on a meager budget compared to the rich life he once enjoyed. He had no regrets at all. In fact, he said, "I see that investment every day as the students pass by the house on their way to class."
If I could have any wish I would choose to be a time-traveler. Some say time travel will be possible one day, and some say it is the stuff of fairy tales. So, I guess until Elon Musk invents that mythical machine, books will have to do. Books give us the next best thing. They can help us understand how people lived and thought and talked long ago, especially when the books were written by people who consciously sought to catalog such things in the time they lived. Frederick Law Olmsted left us such a book about his travels through Texas in the 1850s. It's called "A Journey Through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier." With his brother, he traveled several thousand miles around Texas, on horseback, chronicling his experiences for The New York Times – today, we'd call him a blogger. His book is a gem, an absolute treasure, a priceless time-sensitive ethnography. It is more than a snapshot; it is an intricate mural of Texas and Texans a decade after becoming a state, while the entire country headed toward civil war. Before I share a few of his observations, let me tell you who he was. He was a farmer and eventually he became the most famous landscape architect in America. He designed Central Park in New York and Niagara Falls State Park, as well as the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. A contemporary said of Olmsted, "He paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills; with mountainsides and ocean views." These achievements would come later but they give us an idea of his rare aesthetic sense and farmer practicality when he came to Texas. He arrived in Nacogdoches in January of 1853 and then meandered on horseback all over Texas. He explored the Piney Woods, the Hill Country, the Coastal Plains, Southwest Texas and even rode a ways into Mexico. Frederick Law Olmsted wrote often of the famous Texas northers because he was several times caught out in open country with sudden fierce winds and rapid drops in temperature. He wrote that a norther hit them on the prairie west of the Brazos. The wind kicked up mightily and the temperature dropped 12 degrees in 12 minutes, from 67 to 55. He wrote, "In five minutes, we had all got our overcoats on and were bending against [the wind] in our saddles." By 6 p.m. that evening it was 40 degrees; the next morning it was 25. Olmsted said he couldn't get his horse shoed that day because the blacksmith said he wouldn't work as long as the "damned norther lasted." The Bastrop paper wasn't published that day either because, the editor explained, the "printing office was on the north side of the house." Seems reasonable. When he arrived in Austin, population 3,000, Olmsted stayed at what was supposed to be the best hotel, but found it dirty and the food inedible. He was also dismayed that there was not one bookstore in town. Nice to see that 170 years later those shortcomings have been impressively remedied. He loved Neu-Branfels – loved with a capital L. The German communities and natural magnificence of the lands along the Guadalupe River were so impressive to him that he almost stayed in Texas. He was enchanted by the springtime wildflowers in the Hill Country and he fully embraced the German saying that "the sky is nearer in Texas." Riding out west to Eagle Pass, he killed an enormous six-foot rattlesnake. A man came by and told him he had just killed an even bigger one up the road a ways. Olmsted worried in the daytime that his horse would get bit, and at night he worried that a rattler would snuggle up with him in his bedroll. On this part of his journey he saw his first horny toads and so loved the little creatures that he shipped some back home to New York where he kept them as exotic pets for a couple of years. In San Antonio, it was the river he fell in love with. "We are so struck by its beauty," he wrote. "It is of a rich blue and pure as crystal, flowing rapidly but noiselessly over pebbles and between reedy banks." But it was still the Wild West. He wrote of the near weekly gunfights in the plaza. "As the actors are under ... excitement, their aim is not apt to be of the most careful and sure; consequently, it is, not seldom, the passers-by who suffer." Though Olmsted didn't arrive in the south as a staunch abolitionist, he saw the contrast between slave-based economies and those that relied on paid labor, and found the latter far more successful. He said that a monopoly on cotton and devotion to a one-crop economy left no room for the progress that only economic diversity could bring. He objected to slavery on moral grounds as well, but found that pro-slavery advocates responded best to arguments based on pragmatics rather than righteousness. Take a horseback ride through Texas with Olmsted. It's the best option in time-traveling now available.
How Moms Use The Legend Of La Llorona To Keep Their Kids In Line
By W. F. Strong La LLorona (the crying woman) is a Mexican legend that is at least 500 years old. It no doubt arrived in Texas with the earliest Mexican settlers and La Llorona has haunted our rivers, lakes and streams ever since, particularly in the border regions. There are dozens of versions. Here is one. La Llorona was a poor girl in a small village. She was extraordinarily beautiful with raven black hair and large almond eyes. One day when she was getting water from the town well, a handsome man on a fine horse rode up and asked her for a drink. She had never seen such a perfect man or felt so wonderfully nervous in the presence of one before. He felt the same way about her. They fell in love on the spot. He could not marry her, though, because she was a poor village girl and he was from a the richest, most prominent family in the region. But he could not live without her so he bought her a big home and showered with jewelry and gifts and gave her two children. He came to visit often and adored playing with their children. It was not perfect, but she was happy because she loved him so much. After a few years a period of time came when he did not visit at all. She was worried about him and did something she had never done. She went to the big city to visit his mansion to see what was wrong. When she arrived she quietly asked a servant if he was there and she said, "Oh, no, today he is getting married to a famous princess from Spain." La Llorona was so angry that she wanted to do something to hurt him. In that jealous rage, she went straight home and took their two children to the river and drowned them. When she regained her sanity she was plunged into such despair over what she had done that she died of grief right there on the river bank. As she attempted to enter the afterlife, an angel asked her where her children were. She said she didn't know. She was told she must find them before she could rest. So she was forced back to earth and condemned to wander rivers and lakes and streams looking for her children forever. If you go out near water at night you will sometimes hear her crying, "Mis hijos, mis hijos." My children. They say if she sounds near she is really far away, but if she sounds far away, she is very near you. Those who've seen her say that she wears a moldy shroud and has jet black hair, but no nose and no mouth, only luminous violet eyes that are horrifyingly red-streaked from her eternal crying. If you see her thrashing around the middle of a creek or river, don't go in to try to save her because she will drown you. You should also never let your children stay out late near a river or creek or lake – or even a backyard swimming pool because La Llorona may think they are her children and steal them away from you forever. So La Llorona is a legend, a cautionary tale and the boogie man (coo-cooey) all in one. Particularly Hispanic mom's have used her to enforce good behavior for centuries. "Come inside now or La Llorona will get you." "You come straight home from David's house. Don't wander. La Llorona is always looking for lost children." And some even say that La Llorona makes children respect their mothers. She has appeared to children who have left their homes angrily, saying bad things to their mothers as they've left. La Llorona finds them walking in the dark and says, "I'll let you go this time, but go back to your mother and be good to her." Excellent advice for Halloween and all the other days of the year. I'm W. F. Strong. These are stories from Texas, via Mexico. Some of them, are true.
How Moms Use The Legend Of La Llorona To Keep Their Kids In Line
The highest natural point in Texas is Guadalupe Peak at 8,751 feet. The tallest building is the JPMorgan Chase Tower at 1,002 feet. But that is not the tallest manmade structure in Texas. In fact, it's only half as tall as the tallest structure in Texas, the Liberman Broadcast Tower in Era, which is 2,000 feet – one third of a mile high; 200 stories. And there are brave workers who climb such towers as part of their daily work: Imagine how hard it is to walk up 200 flights of stairs. Now imagine climbing a ladder – straight up, in oppressive heat and strong winds. One such man who climbs these towers is Jesús, last name omitted at his request. I met Jesús at random this summer. I just fell into a conversation with him and became fascinated by his stories about climbing the tallest structures in Texas. They could be even taller, but the FAA limits them to 2,000 feet for the safety of airplanes. Jesús told me that the 2,000-foot towers, of which there are several in Texas, are called "two-screamers" because you can get in two long screams before arriving at your destination. Gallows humor seems common among "tower dogs," as some climbers refer to themselves, just as it is among other dangerous professions like test pilots and bomb squads. In fact, in 2012 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that tower-climbing was the most dangerous profession in America – 10 times more dangerous than construction jobs. I asked Jesús if the towers swayed at the top. He said some have a minor sway of maybe 2 to 3 feet or so, but on the whole, they're quite stable. I said that "minor" sway he referred to would be a major problem for me if I were up there. He said, "You know what I feel when I'm up a tower like that?" I said, "An urgent need to get down?" "No," he said. "I feel privileged. If I'm on a tower on top of a Houston skyscraper, I think about how privileged I am to see Houston as few people ever will. When I've been on the Liverpool radio tower overlooking Chocolate Bayou and the Gulf beyond, I've thought about seeing Texas as only a privileged few ever have. And once on a tower near San Jacinto, I was higher than the monument but could see it against the backdrop of the bay, and I felt privileged to see it that way." I was moved by Jesús' unexpected perspective. I expected comments about excitement and thrills and the love of an outdoor life. I didn't expect reverence. I said, "Well, I guess people do see those sights from planes sometimes." He said, "Not the same. They're moving. I'm still and it's quiet, except for wind." He later sent me something he wrote in his journal after climbing the Liverpool tower, south of Houston: "The morning sun, mild and languid, hovered a full eight fingers above the horizon. A large bird – an osprey – dove into the molten sphere effortlessly and emerged on the other side where the cool blue sky rounded the edges of the Texas sun. To the southeast, the waters of Chocolate Bay spilled inland from the horizon. The Gulf winds buffeted me on the tower, though the woods nearly 1,200 feet below – an amalgam of oaks, cedars and other coastal brush – remained largely unaffected. The air felt moist and heavy upon my skin. It rushed in from the Gulf tinged with a subtle saltiness, weary from its long journey across the open waters to reach the Texas shore. But perhaps the saltiness was just the sweat on my lips." I've found that those people who live close to the soil and within the earth's elements have the greatest connection to its beauties. The cowboys, the tower- climbers, the fishermen, the miners – they often see and feel deeply what we office-dwellers miss. Jesús told me that climbing the towers is only part of the danger; there are also huge yellow jackets and bees' nests. One must quietly pass by them; nowhere to run, after all. And then the bird poop that accumulates on the ladder, when wet, is slippery as ice, and when dry, kicks up a disgusting dust. Angry mama birds will dive bomb you. You also have to watch out for your fellow climbers accidentally dropping tools. A hammer dropped 200 feet above you moves at well over 100 miles an hour – hard hats are a must. And then there's lightning. "If you hear thunder," he said, "get off the tower." I asked him what question he was most asked and he said, "Like astronauts, we're asked most often about how we go to the bathroom. Believe it or not, OSHA has a procedure for that. We refer to it as a 'golden shower from the tower.' You must warn others below to shelter in place." I'm glad Jesús and his buddies are up on those towers keeping people like me on the air. If it weren't for him and the thousands of courageous souls like him, you wouldn't be hearing these words right now. Gracias por todo, Jesús. Mucho cuidado. Be careful up there.
Texans Have A Funny Relationship With The Letter 'R'
Texas Monthly once described the joke I'm about to tell you as THE TEXAS JOKE because of its staying power over many decades: A married couple from out of state were driving across Texas and saw a sign that said "Mexia 22 miles." They got into a bit of an argument over how to say the name of the town. He said it was likely "Mex-ee-ah" and she thought it was pronounced more like the country "Meh-ee-co" and would thus be "Meh-hee-ah." The argument persisted and he said, "We can't settle this. Tell you what. First place we come to in town we'll pull over and ask them." So they did. They pulled in at the first place and went up the girl at the counter and he said, "Can you tell us how to say the name of this place? And say it slow so we can hear it clearly." The girl thought the request was crazy but she leaned forward and said, "Day-ree-queeeen." That's an old joke, I know, but I use it as a segue to get to where I'm going. Of course nobody says "Meh-hee-ah" or "Mex-ee-ah." "Muh-hay-ah" is common but so is "Muh-hair." That's right, many people around those parts call it "Muh-hair." Don't know why. There's no "r" in the word, but in Texas there's something about an "r" that we adore. We do this to Refugio, too. Again, there is no second "R" in Refugio. It's a Spanish word, Refugio, meaning refuge, but we find it dialectically comfortable to exchange the "g" for an "r." There's a well known and much traveled street in Houston that everyone pronounces as "Kirk-in-doll." There is no "r" in the word at all. We could send in crack troops on a search and rescue mission and they'd never find an "r". We just throw one in there for the hell of it, I guess. And if we are not adding an "r" we simply move it to where it's more convenient for us. In the Hill Country, it is a river named the Pedernales River. Again a Spanish word, Pedernales. It means flints. We could just anglicize it to Pedernales but we find that "r'' to be inconveniently located so we move it up front where we can keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn't get away from us. We say, "Perdenales." Go on down south of Refugio about 100 miles you will come to Riviera. Well, that's the way it ought to be pronounced because it is spelled just like the Riviera in France, for which it was named — perhaps just an attempt at good marketing. True, it has a few million less people, no rivers, no film festival and no world class beaches. But it's not pronounced the same either. It is pronounced "Ra-veer-ah." So the "r" is still there but we get rid of that annoying detour caused by the unwanted "i" and replace it with an "e" to compliment that other "e" – to streamline our way to the "r." Much better. Otherwise we might sound French. It's a confusing adjustment because mostly we Texans have never met a diphthong we didn't like, but in this case we seem in a hurry to get to the "r" so we straighten out the approach. Though not a place, we do something similar with "Brahmer." It's Brahman, of course, technically, but we like the aesthetics of the word better if we exchange the "n" for an "r": "That's a beautiful Brahmer bull you got there." And we must include "Whataburger," too, often pronounced "Water-burger." Gotta get in the extra "r". And many of us do it with prostate, saying prostrate cancer instead of prostate cancer. Extra "r" slipped in. I think that "r" is borrowed from the notion of lying prostrate. Yes, something about an "r." We put 'em where they're not. We move them within the word. We streamline our way to them and make exchanges that better suit our Texas style, irregardless (there's another one) of what may be thought of as formally proper.
Texans Have A Funny Relationship With The Letter 'R'
About a month ago, my son went off to college with my Jeep, and I needed to get another vehicle. I had been truckless for a few years – a rare condition in my life – and I decided I wanted to fix that right away. For a long time, I had wanted a King Ranch Edition Ford pickup, with those fine leather seats, carrying the classic brand of the ranch I hunted on as boy. So now, I had the chance – and the reason – to buy one. With two kids in college, it was no time to splurge on a new one, but I thought I might find a previously-owned truck that would satisfy my longing. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to search for just what I wanted: a one-owner vehicle in near-mint condition being sold by an owner who had elaborate maintenance records and a pristine Carfax report. I found what I was looking for in San Antonio, 300 miles from where I live down in the Valley. So I contacted the owner and we made a gentleman's agreement as to price over the phone, and I headed up to look at it. I loved it – beautiful truck, dark brown with tan trim. Meticulously maintained. I said, "Let's do it." So, he pulled out the title to begin the paperwork and I was surprised to see that his name was William B. Travis. I said, "I guess you know, you're kind of famous." He said, "Yes, I do have a famous name. And I have the whole name, too. I'm William Barrett Travis and I'm also a descendant." I was astounded by the coincidence. I thought, "Here I am, a specialist in Texas lore and legend, about to buy a King Ranch pickup from a descendant of the commander of the Alamo, and he still lives in San Antonio. How cool is that?" In the favorite word of my teenage son, "Awesome!" We finished up the paperwork and payment, and he walked me out and gave me a detailed tour of all the unique features of the truck and directions on how to get back to the expressway to head home. I could tell he was a little sad to let go of the pickup. They'd had many good years together. I said, "I promise I'll take good care of her." So, I drove my new truck (new to me, anyway) back to the Valley. It was good to be riding high in the saddle once more, driving into a blustery coastal wind without breaking a sweat. In fact, I drove my King Ranch Edition pickup with its Alamo lineage, back through the actual King Ranch, while eating a Whataburger and listening to Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again." I have just have one thing to say: "Out-Texas Me That!" The only thing that would have made it better is if a Southwest Airlines jet had done a flyby at 200 feet and given me a wing salute.
They other day I was looking over a list of those who died at the Alamo. The one thing that struck me about the list was that the men who gave their lives there were, collectively, incredibly young. I saw John Wayne's film, "The Alamo," when I was a kid and for years I had in my mind that the men who fought there were mostly in their 40s and 50s. Legends like Crockett and Bowie who dominated the film, and dominated the actual siege, too, were rightfully played by actors who were about their age. Crockett was 50 in his last days at the Alamo and John Wayne was 52 when he played him. Bowie was 39 and Richard Widmark was 46. And many of the other actors who surrounded them on screen were also over 40. But the reality was something quite different. Well over half of the defenders of the Alamo were under 30. Fourteen were teenagers. 14! Two 16-year-olds died for Texas' liberty there. The typical Alamo fighter was 26 years old, which was the age of their commander. That's right, William Barret Travis was just 26 years old and the sole commander of the Alamo, at least in the last days. Bowie was originally a co-commander but he was so very sick – bedridden from typhoid or pneumonia – and that left Travis fully in charge. Eighty percent of the men at the Alamo were 34 and under. Today we would consider folks their age millennials. And the gift they gave was all the more precious because they knew in the last days, when Santa Anna raised the pirate flag, that no surrender would be accepted. They had to win or die. And as they looked across the prairie at a force ten times their size, they knew these were likely their last days. They could have left. There were chances to get out under the cover of darkness. But they stayed, knowing that they were giving up not just their lives, but all the long years that generally awaited young men. There were even men from Gonzales who actually fought through the Mexican lines to join their brothers in arms in the Alamo. Astonishing. And the Alamo men came from all over. Numbers can be tricky with this history, but here's what we know based on the Alamo's official website, 32 were from Tennessee, 15 each came from Pennsylvania and Virginia, and 14 were from Kentucky. Eight were Hispanic -– born in Mexican Texas. And Europe was involved, too: ten came from England, ten from Ireland, four from Scotland, two from Germany. Santa Anna was enraged that the Texans were rebelling. His plan was to launch a massive military campaign to crush the rebellion and make the Texans pay for it. I'm not making this up. The great historian T. R. Fehrenbach pointed out that Santa Anna planned to make the Texans pay for the military operation they caused by taking all of their lands and giving it to his soldiers and other Santanistas. Meanwhile, William Barret Travis, though very young, wrote the most famous letters of the revolution. One letter, addressed 'To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World," asked for immediate reinforcements. He specified that his situation was dire. If they were not victorious, they would all be "put to the sword." But he vowed he would "never surrender or retreat." The letter was signed, "Victory or Death." Another that Travis wrote to the Texas government, which was more significant for what it prophesied, said this: "the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse for him than a defeat." And indeed, Santa Anna lost a third of his troops, about 600, which greatly demoralized the rest. This was followed by a forced march of 300 miles to San Jacinto, which so exhausted Mexican soldiers that they were actually caught napping when General Sam Houston attacked. The Texans' victory over Santa Anna after the fall of the Alamo and Goliad was so unlikely that it was similar to the odds of a baseball game in which the home team is down 29 runs to nothing. It's the bottom of the 9th. Two outs. It's a full count. Houston at bat. Against those kinds of odds, the Texans rallied and crushed Santa Anna's forces so decisively that it was all over in 18 minutes. Some say ten. Without the men at the Alamo softening up, demoralizing and exhausting Santa Anna's forces, it is unlikely that Houston's army would have enjoyed such a resounding victory at San Jacinto. That is why we should always "Remember the Alamo," and the mostly very young men who gave their lives for Texas' freedom.
By W. F. Strong Tom Hanks in the movie "Cast Away" was stranded all alone on a deserted pacific island. He was the lone survivor of a plane crash. The seriousness of his situation sunk in as he did the math in his head. He explained radial geometry to Wilson (his Volleyball friend) as he illustrated their predicament on a stone wall. He concluded, impressively, that since they went 400 miles out of their way to circumvent the storm the search area would be (400 miles squared x pi) 500,000 square miles. And he thought a moment and added, dejectedly, "it's twice the size of Texas!" Texas is often used as a unit of measure like that – in movies and in the real world. Exactly 30 years ago this week, Texas Congressman Mickey Leland's plane disappeared over Ethiopia. It took a week for a massive search to find the crash site. During that week people around the world couldn't believe that they couldn't find the plane, despite dozens of aircraft looking for it. A frustrated Search Commander explained to the media, "We are looking for a needle in a haystack. The haystack is half the size of Texas." More recently many a news report warned about the growing environmental disaster of a floating island of plastic trash out in the Pacific, which is twice the size of Texas. And this is not just for U.S. consumption. Worldwide it seems to be a comparison that provides clarity for people because most people around the world know at least one thing about Texas – it's BIG. Even Alaska uses Texas to explain its size. "We're more than twice the size of Texas," they say. Of course one of those Texases is mostly snow and ice. Just kidding Alaska. As far as states go, we're brothers. BFFs. People have a good deal of fun on the Internet laying Texas over other countries and regions of the world. It's bigger than Spain, bigger than France, bigger than Germany, twice the size of England and bigger than Japan. Texas was even used as a unit of measure in relation to Pluto. When Pluto was kicked out of the Solar System (as a planet anyway) and demoted to a dwarf planet, there were people who said, as justification, "It's smaller than Texas!" That was truly an exaggeration. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in 2015, Pluto is has almost twice the diameter of Texas, if you use the state's widest point, which is north to south, and Pluto is 24 times larger than Texas by land area. Still, interesting that was used as a unit of measure even way there in space, or 4.6 billion Texases away. Even we Texans like to use Texas distances to illustrate things and amuse ourselves. We enjoy noting that El Paso is closer to the Pacific Ocean beaches of San Diego than it is to Beaumont. Brownsville is closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas. Reminds me that a friend from Chicago once had a conference in El Paso to attend. He decided to take that chance to get a good look at Texas. He flew into Dallas, rented a car and enthusiastically started driving to El Paso. He said I knew it would be long drive," but after driving about 3 hours I got to Abilene and was immediately depressed by the sign I saw there: El Paso 444 miles." We Texans know that the first day of a driving vacation to anyplace outside of Texas will be devoted to getting out of Texas. Maybe our version of the Chinese saying should be, "A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a long drive to the border." We do have fun finding all the ways that border cities are closer to Chicago or Denver or Nashville than they are to other parts of the state, which is why we measure distance in hours more often than miles. And most Texans think we are closer to heaven than most anywhere else – we're God's Country, they say. This time of year, though, it often feels like we are closer to – Well I'm out of time. Gotta run. I'm W.F. Strong and these are stories from Texas. Some of them are true.
The Armadillo's Texas Roots Reach Back To Ancient Times
On these warm summer nights, I see them often as I drive home on FM 803. They sometimes stop, frozen for a few seconds, their eyes reflecting my headlights in an eerie red – and then they dash off into giant clumps of prickly pear, where predators can't follow. The Spaniards named them armadillos – "the little armored ones." It was a term of affection and all who have lived in this land called Texas ever since have been fond of them. To me, they are the small animal version of an armored-up Humvee. And they are truly armored. A man in east Texas shot one with a .38 caliber pistol and the bullet ricocheted off the armadillo's thick plating and hit the man in the face. He recovered. The armadillo could not be found. They are impressive survivors. In fact, in the land before Texas, four million years ago, their distant relatives roamed the earth. The original armadillos, called glyptodons, reached a weight of two tons, about the size of a white rhino. Plus, they had club-like spiky tails. If they were running around Texas today, we wouldn't have roadkill, we'd have car kill. We'd call them armadigantes – armored giants. We'd need thick steel fences for them, probably electrified like those in the original Jurassic Park movie. Not sure you'd want to go home with the armadillo in such circumstances. Speaking of Jurassic Park, scientists, perhaps inspired by a scene from that film, compared the fossil remains of ancient glyptodons, to our modern armadillos. In 2016, two geneticists analyzed the ancient DNA of a glyptodon, comparing it with that of modern armadillos and found evidence that they are directly related. Why the original was so large or why its descendants became miniaturized is an unsolved mystery. In Texas, the nine-banded armadillo is the most common, and down in South America they have what we now call "giant armadillos." But they're only six feet long if you include the tail, and weigh 70 pounds. Still, if I saw one of those around here, I think I would go the other way. At the other end of the scale is the fairy armadillo, also from South America. It is only about four inches long and pink. You could hold it in the palm of your hand. Though our Texas armadillo can't roll into a perfect ball, like the Brazilian three-banded one, it does have this special ability: the females give birth to four identical quadruplets every time, producing as many as 16 pups in a lifetime. Bet they're glad they don't have to send them all to college. The Texas armadillo – the nine-banded one – has certainly worked its way into iconic status here. There are armadillo t-shirts, tattoos galore, armadillo lamps (no armadillos hurt in the making of the lamps), armadillo campers and trailers and armadillo restaurants that don't serve armadillo. However, during the Great Depression, an era many blamed on President Herbert Hoover, food was scarce, and many people in Texas hunted and ate armadillos, calling them "poor man's pork" or "Hoover hogs." Later on, people blamed leprosy in Texas on armadillo meat. No doubt, the best-known armadillo business, open from 1970-1980, was the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. The nightclub was named after the armadillo in order to commemorate the fact that it was located in the old National Guard Armory. Though long out of business, the Armadillo World Headquarters helped lay the foundation for the world-class live music scene that thrives in Austin today. To properly honor all the positive influences of the armadillo's mystique in Texas, the 1995 legislature declared the nine-banded armadillo the official State Small Mammal of Texas. The law reads in part: WHEREAS: ...The armadillo, is a hardy, pioneering creature that chose to begin migrating here at about the time that Texas became a state; and WHEREAS: The armadillo possesses many remarkable and unique traits, some of which parallel the attributes that distinguish a true Texan, such as a deep respect and need for the land, the ability to change and adapt, and a fierce undying love for freedom; and; WHEREAS: [The armadillo is] a proud and indomitable as the state from which it hails. RESOLVED: That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby . . . designate(s) the armadillo as the official Small State Mammal of Texas. The Texas Longhorn was made the Official Large State Mammal in the same legislation. And then we also have the unofficial honoring of the little armored ones in a famous song written by Gary P. Nunn. So the Armadillo is distinguished by legislation, protected by law, and immortalized in song. Is Texas a great country or what?
The Armadillo's Texas Roots Reach Back To Ancient Times