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.
The navigation apps so accessible in our cars and on our phones are to me, magical. Siri, Google Maps and the like save us collectively from hundreds of thousands of lost hours each day by saving us from, well, being lost. Siri also may have saved a few relationships by sparing couples from arguing about whether or not to ask for directions. In simpler times, the all-perceptive woman might say, "Just admit it, David, you're lost – been lost for an hour. Driving faster won't get you unlost. Stop, please, ask for directions." Then the man would say, "Just hold on and let me concentrate, Martha. Two more miles up here and I believe I'll know where we are." Yet for all that Siri offers in real time efficiency and guidance, there are things she can't do for you. She is not infallible. All of us have had the experience of being told "we have arrived" at our restaurant or hotel only to be welcomed by curious cows staring at us from a vast empty pasture. The other thing we have lost with these apps is the splendid, colorful conversations we used to have with random strangers we'd ask for directions, such as the gas station attendant, the woman walking her chihuahuas down the street, or the slightly drunk guy mowing his lawn. Siri and company are economical communicators, giving you the minimum information you need for maximum clarity. Most of your random direction givers over-communicate. They give you far more information than you need. For instance, I once asked a Deputy Sheriff, who happened to be giving me a ticket for alleged speeding, how to get to Highway 71 to Austin. He said, "Oh you don't want to go to 71 from here. Go back two miles and take that FM road west and it'll take you to Austin eventually. The best thing is it'll take you by Peggy's Cafe – just a ramshackle hut at a wide spot in the road – best peach cobbler you ever had in your life. Bucket list cobbler for sure. Take a bit of the sting out of this here ticket." See? Siri doesn't have that kind of empathy, or, passion for cobbler. Another example is when years ago, I stopped to ask a farmer on some country road near Abilene how to get to Highway 277 to San Angelo. He said, "Oh, just go down to that green house on the corner there and turn left. Go straight 3 miles, you'll hit it." I replied, "That house you just pointed to is actually yellow, not green." He said, "Yeah, well it was green for 30 years. They painted it recently. We ain't got used to it, yet. Most of us don't care for the yellow." As I was about to thank him, he leaned his arms on my passenger door and said, "That house there is the Miller house. Three generations of the same family lived there and farmed that acreage. Jimbo and Carolyn after 30 years farming sold out last year, moved to Alpine and opened a bed and breakfast out there. Young couple, McGees I think, bought that house and painted it yellow. Bad decisions all around in my opinion. But not my business. Irregardless, I'll wager right now that ten years from now that'll still be known as the Miller house. Well, you best get goin' 'fore the sun sets on you." You see? Siri can't give you that kind of local, social history with such authentic flare. Finally, Siri doesn't offer you the "gone too far" landmarks. She'll tell you to turn around for sure, but she won't say, "If you come to a rise in the road and see a Texas Flag gate on your left, you've gone too far." Or, "If you pass over a creek, you've gone too far." Or, "If the pavement turns to dirt, you've gone too far, but don't try to turn around down there – with all the rain we've had you'll just slide off into the bar ditch and you'll need a wrecker to pull you out. No, just keep going till you get to the frontage road and circle back and try again." Siri doesn't offer those kinds of extra, nuanced details.
When some people first arrive in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas they often ask, "Where are the mountains?" It's natural. Generally a valley is between mountains or at least hills. But the Rio Grande Valley is most accurately a delta region, as level as Lubbock. The highest roadway point is the 80-foot summit of the causeway bridge that goes to South Padre Island. So how did a delta become the Valley? Marketing. Back in the early 1900s when developers were selling beautiful orchard acreage to northerners in New York and Chicago, they found that naming the area the Rio Grande Valley was a powerful selling strategy. It was also marketed as "the Magic Valley" – and I have no problem with the magic part. After all, there are dozens of varieties of exotic birds and butterflies that migrate through here each year. Some species winter here, too. The vibrantly colored birds and butterflies do make it a magical. And there are the crops, too. Early on, visitors saw that sugar cane and cotton and citrus orchards, irrigated with plentiful Rio Grande water, grew like magic in the Magic Valley. The strategy worked. Hundreds of thousands of people came to the RGV from northern states last century for the subtropical climate and relaxed living. Some came just for the mild winters they were called "Winter Texans" (and still are). "Winter Texan" was another successful PR term that seemed much more warm and personable than the slightly pejorative, "Snowbird." From the point of view of a Texan, there could be no greater compliment than to crown visitors a "Texan" for the time they are here. The Rio Grande Valley is comprised of many small and medium-sized cities. Many have interesting name origins. South Padre Island translates to "Father Island." It was named for a catholic priest – Padre José Nicolás Ballí. He inherited the island from his grandfather who received it as a land grant from King Charles III of Spain in 1759. Brownsville could have been called Texasville if the original fort built there had kept its first name, which was Fort Texas. The makeshift fort was quickly constructed in 1846 to lay claim to the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas. The Mexican army bombarded the fort and Major Jacob Brown, originally of Boston, was killed. He was the first casualty of the Mexican-American war. So the fort was renamed Fort Brown in his honor and the town that grew up around the fort was named Brownsville. Harlingen was named for the town of Harlingen in the Netherlands. Its founder, Lon C. Hill, thought the town's river, the Arroyo Colorado, could be a commercial waterway to the sea, and Harlingen a city of canals, similar to its namesake in Holland. It's pronounced differently. The Harlingen in Holland has a different "g" – Harlingen. Weslaco is almost an acronym. It was founded by W.E. Stewart, owner of the W.E. Stewart Land Company, which was a real estate development company. So you take Stewart's initials and the first letters of "land" and "company" and you get "Weslaco." Edinburg was named for Edinburgh, Scotland. Well, technically named in honor of John Young, a businessman from Edinburgh, Scotland. Both are university towns, but are spelled differently and pronounced differently, too. The Edinburgh in Scotland has somewhat of a silent g and h at the end. The one in Texas has no 'h" but does pronounce the "g." Edinburg. Don't know the reason for spelling and saying it differently, but this is Texas – it's what we do. We take the names and make them our own.
One of the best books I've read this year is "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI." I was late to this literary party. This nonfiction work has been a super-bestseller for well over a year now. It has been on the Paperback Nonfiction bestseller list for 49 weeks. Dave Eggers writes in his New York Times Book Review that author "[David] Grann has proved himself a master of spinning delicious, many-layered mysteries that also happen to be true. ... It will sear your soul." I won't spoil this book for you by revealing any part of the whodunit. I'm more interested in the who pursued 'em. You have three levels of tension here. First, there is the Osage tribe – the richest people per capita on Earth at the time, around 1920. They were the only tribe that owned mineral rights to the worthless land they got from the federal government as their very own reservation in Oklahoma. Why not? It was worthless scrub-brush land that was mostly sandy and rocky with random clumps of grass. When oil was discovered, though, they became, collectively, unfathomably rich. J. Paul Getty, for instance, was in a bidding war Harry Sinclair for Osage oil leases. Soon after the money started piling up, the Osage started dying, mysteriously, and in large numbers. The second level of tension is that they were being murdered, seemingly randomly. "Serial killer" was not yet a term in the crime lexicon, but as a reader, you arrive at that conclusion quickly. You feel it must be a serial killer. But not one singular method was used. Some Osage were shot, some poisoned, some blown up in their homes with dynamite. Sixty had died by the time that J. Edgar Hoover took the case for the feds. It was up to him to find the killer or killers. Here's the third level of tension. Hoover was just acting director of what was called the Bureau of Investigation at the time. He was only 29 years old. The case was a blessing and a curse. If Hoover could solve it he could elevate the this new agency to a formidable and powerful national police bureau. If he failed, he would be pushed out; his career hung in the balance. Hoover was wanting to create an FBI that was modern, full of smart college graduates skilled in the use of the latest scientific techniques like fingerprinting, but the last agents sent to solve the mystery either made no headway, or were themselves killed. To solve this case, Hoover needed to send to Oklahoma the kind of agent he wanted the agency to shed. Now, at this point you might be saying, as my dear sister-in-law said to me when I told her this story, "Why are you, Mr. Texas, talking about Oklahoma?" I'll answer you as I did her: "Hold your horses, I'm fixin' to get there." Hoover had to bite the bullet and bring in the cowboys. He sent for Tom White, his bureau chief in Houston, who was an ex-Texas Ranger, to take charge of the case. As Hoover said, "He needed a man who could handle men." It wasn't exactly a "one riot, one ranger" situation, but it had elements of it. Grann describes him this way: "Tom White was an old-style lawman. He had served in the Texas Rangers near the turn of the century, and he had spent much of his life wandering on horseback across the Southwestern frontier, a Winchester rifle or a pearl-handled six-shooter in hand. He was 6 feet, 4 inches and had the sinewy arms and eerie composure of a gunslinger. Years later, a bureau agent wrote that he was as "God-fearing as the mighty defenders of the Alamo. He was an impressive sight in his large, suede Stetson. ... He commanded the utmost in respect and scared the daylights out of Easterners like me." Of course, it was a white Stetson he wore. Hoover explained to White that he needed him to direct the investigation without a hint of scandal, and as quietly as possible. He told him there could be "no excuse for failure." Hoover told him to call in as many agents as he needed, and so White called in those men that Hoover considered the cowboys (two were ex-Texas Rangers) – men who were good at "infiltrating wild country, dealing with outlawry, shadowy suspects, going days without sleep, maintaining cover under duress, and handling deadly weapons if necessary." So there you go. The plot is set. The characters are in place. A great Texas story awaits, even though it's set in Oklahoma. If you don't care to read the book just now, you can wait for the movie, which, rumor has it, will be directed by Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio. De Niro is said to be in talks for a role as well. I'm W.F. Strong. These are Stories from Texas, by way of Oklahoma. Some of them are true.
This is the story of what was luckiest letter ever mailed in Texas. It took about six months to reach its destination, which was Louisiana. But to say it was mailed is a bit of a stretch. It was handed to some people to be given to others and it bounced around a while, sat idle for months at a time and then miraculously moved on. Texas was, at the time, under Spanish rule, but the letter was written in French. It was a Hail Mary mailing. Truly an act of desperation. The fact that it arrived at all was a miracle within a miracle, and it saved the sender's life. François Simars de Bellisle was just 24 when he left France to come to America in 1719. He was headed for Louisiana on a small ship. As was often the case in those days, his captain overshot their destination. He missed Louisiana entirely and ended up near present-day Galveston where the ship ran aground off Bolivar Peninsula. But the captain thought they were relatively close to Ship Island near New Orleans, a little error of 300 miles. What Google Earth could have done for these early travelers! Bellisle and four other French officers took meager supplies — biscuits, guns, minimal ammunition, swords — and went ashore to determine their location and seek help to guide their ship to port. They slept well that first night and when they got up the next morning their ship was gone. They had been abandoned. They walked east and made it to what was likely the mouth of the Sabine River where they could go no further because of deep mud. They headed back the way they had come. Though they had some success finding oysters and killing small birds — they even killed a deer — they began, one by one, to succumb to starvation. Within two months, Bellisle had buried all of his friends. He was alone and hungry in this new land and, naturally, desperately depressed. Bellisle believed he was living his last days. He was on the west side of Galveston Bay, out of bullets and reduced to eating boiled grass and worms out of driftwood. Then, one clear morning he saw the first Native Americans he had seen since being stranded. They were Akokisa and his only hope for survival. The Akokisas greeted him by taking all of his goods and stripping him of his clothes, leaving him naked – a state he would remain in for over a year. The only good thing that happened that day is that they fed him. But he was enslaved, ordered about mercilessly, beaten regularly and used as a beast of burden. How ironic that his name Bellisle meant "beautiful island," but that is not what he found that day. They took him west with them toward the Brazos River to hunt buffalo. He had to walk, naked and barefoot, carrying their supplies. But he did record later that, despite his wretched condition, he couldn't help but marvel at the beautiful prairies they passed through for over 150 miles. He wrote, "This is the most beautiful country in the world. The earth is black. Grass grows there to a prodigal height, and in abundance, which is a certain sign that the earth is good." Upon returning to the bay, he realized that his situation was dire. He would die if he stayed. So he retrieved one of the few pieces of paper he had in his belongings and wrote a letter. He asked his hosts give it to the white chief they told him was rumored to live to the east. He had nothing to write with so he carved a crude pen out of wood and made ink out of charcoal and water. He wrote a letter begging for rescue from anyone who would might receive it. A couple of his tribe took the message east but never attempted to find the rumored white chief. They just passed along this strange artifact to other tribes as a curiosity. It went from tribe to tribe, perhaps traded for one thing or another, but all the while moved northeast. Then the miracle occurred. Members of the Hasinai Native Americans, which had close ties to the French, happened to see the letter and knew that it was something the French would like to see. So they took it to the commander of the French garrison at Natchitoches, Louisiana, a week's journey away. The commander, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, wrote a letter in return, and ordered the Hasinais to bring the castaway back, whether dead or alive. When Bellisle's rescuers reached the Akokisa camp, they gave Bellisle the letter that informed him that the Hasinais would escort him to Natchitoches. His captors didn't want to let him go, but they feared the Hasinais and so they relented. Bellisle said the final night in camp waiting to leave the next morning was the longest of his life. It still took him months to get to Natchitoches, but at least he was free. He had sent what was the land version of a message in a bottle, and it had caught the best currents and washed up on the perfect shore. His literacy, and luck, saved him. The source of this story comes mostly from Bellisle's memoirs, published in part by Henri Folmer in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Oct. 1940), pp. 204-231.
Over the past decade I've seen more breathtakingly beautiful photographs of Texas than I saw in all the decades before, combined. This is thanks to social media where many photographers share their exquisite work online daily. I've made it a point to befriend these great visual artists so I can enjoy Texas in all its resplendent glory from mountain to sea, from high plains to the tropics. I will share with you the names of some of my favorites so that you can see Texas through their gifted eyes. Now this is just MY list, work I've come to know somewhat at random. Many of your favorites I will no doubt miss, but perhaps you can add mine to your list of favorites, and you can add yours to mine at the end of this commentary. In no particular order, here we go. Wyman Meinzer is the official State Photographer of Texas. He was given this honorary title by the 1997 Texas Legislature at the request of Governor George W. Bush. They wanted to recognize his extraordinary body of work that captures the varied landscapes of Texas and the people who work the land. I love his titles: Between Heaven and Texas, Windmill Tales, and Horses to Ride, Cattle to Cut – among the more than 20 books he has published. They say he has "traveled to every corner of this great state... in search of the first and last rays of sunlight in its magnificent sweep across the Texas landscape." Find him at www.wymanmeinzer.com Jeff Lynch left his heart in West Texas. His photographs of the soft cotton clouds floating above the Davis Mountains on a summer's day, or his pics of the shadows of those clouds roaming across the vast vistas of West Texas, will make you fall in love with that region just as he has. See his work at Jeff Lynch Photography on Facebook and Instagram. Carol M. Highsmith is what I call a photographic philanthropist. She has donated her entire body of U.S. photographs (including hundreds of Texas photos) to an online collection viewable anytime for free at the Library of Congress website. You can search her Texas Lyda Hill collection with simple words like "longhorns," "cowboys," or "Big Tex." Her photographs are downloadable and royalty free. She is a visual documentarian. Her Texas work celebrates landscapes, cityscapes, small-town life, and the diverse cultures of the Lone Star State. Here is her web Library of Congress address: https://www.loc.gov/collections/carol-m-highsmith/about-this-collection/ My favorite coastal photographer is John Martell. He says, "Texas is a photographer's paradise." Every day, it seems, from his base of operations in Rockport, he posts an awe-inspiring photo of a sunrise or sunset over Aransas bay. He says, "Texas is a rich treasure trove for nature lovers. As a photographer I want to capture the essence of these jewels. That always seems to be about the light, which translates into sunrises and sunsets." Find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JohnMartellPhotography/ Tim McKenna is to me the consummate photographer of Big Bend. In fact, he was commissioned to provide all the photos for the 2018 Big Bend National Park calendar. He can make a cactus flower in the desert look as delicate as a Tyler rose. He puts you in the moment of being bathed in the pink hues of an Emory Peak sunrise or enjoying the soft grey light of the desert after a rain – so real, you'd swear you can smell the musky tones of the damp creosote bushes around you. His work assures you that the desert is a place of infinite life. When he was a young man he hunted with a rifle. Now, he hunts with a camera. You can find him here: https://www.facebook.com/tim.mckenna.31 Larry White loves trains and old cars and trucks and hill country wildflowers. His photographs of a freight train rumbling through ancient East Texas forests or old trucks sitting in forgotten fields will stir your heart in new ways. His photograph of white horses grazing silently at sunrise in a field of bluebonnets is one of his best. No one is better at photographing wildflowers than Larry White. I think he was born with a camera in his hand. You can find his work at https://www.facebook.com/larrywhitephotography/ Also, www.larrywhitephoto.com If the stately nature of the King of Beasts, or the grace and beauty of tigers peaks your interest, then David Pine's work will inspire you. His aim is to depict the essence of an animal in a still shot. "Still photography," he says, "is the art of capturing a fleeting moment that can express the gamut of emotions not otherwise seen. You want to capture the soul of a creature through its eyes." Many of his photos come from zoos and rescue zoos in Texas. https://www.facebook.com/DavidPinePhotography George McLemore is an incredibly artistic photographer of life in Texas (Texana), but most importantly to me – he has been the visual chronicler of my social circles for several decades now. For most of his life, he has preserved on film and online, the social gatherings and special events for all who have been in his orbit, and he has done it mostly for free. Thirty years ago we found his covert clicking unnecessary. But now, for many of us, we realize that we would have no record of that time if it weren't for him. And we are grateful for the treasures he shares with us often from his labyrinth of negatives and digital files. To all the McLemores of the world, I raise my Shiner Bock to them – those visionary souls who recognized the Kodak moments of our lives that we seemed blind to. www.mclemorephotography.com
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.