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 »
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
Pink Cadillacs And Lucky 13: How Mary Kay Ash Built A Billion-Dollar Business
We have had dozens of rags-to-riches stories in Texas. These Horatio Algers had hardscrabble beginnings but built fortunes worth hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. But unfortunately – at this point, anyway – most of them have been male. So the women who did it were all the more impressive because they had headwinds to fight that others didn't. They had higher mountains to climb. Makes me think of Ann Richards' famous line: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." Mary Kay Ash was one of those women. Mary Kay already had a highly successful career with Stanley Home Products before beginning her empire, but that success was not recognized or rewarded. Twice, she was passed over for promotions in favor of men she had trained. Salt in the wound for sure. So she retired early, at 45, and went home to write an advice book for women in business on how to survive in a world of men. About halfway through that book she had a eureka moment. She realized that she had written a remarkable business plan. So with her husband and $5,000 in savings, she decided to launch Beauty by Mary Kay. Sadly, just a month before the grand opening, her husband, George Hallenbeck, died. It was then that most all the men in her life – banker, minister, relatives – told her that she should forget about the business idea. Too risky. But she said no. She believed in her concept. It would work. So on Friday the 13th – September 1963 – with the help of her son Richard, she opened Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas. From that day on, Mary Kay considered 13 her lucky number. Now that's staring down superstition. The Mary Kay World Headquarters is 13 stories tall. It has 13 elevators and Mary Kay's office is on the 13th floor, where it remains as she left it when she passed away in 2001. Mary Kay built a company of, by, and for women. She wanted to create a business that would enrich women and help them achieve genuine success, to reap unlimited rewards, and to enjoy meaningful recognition for their excellence. Many women of her time, she said, "had not had any applause since they graduated from high school or college." She would change that. Meaningful recognition was not an "atta girl" on the last line of a corporate memo. She wanted women to feel the joy of being recognized and celebrated. She wanted them to have their own businesses, to be independent consultants. And when they were successful, they would be rewarded with loud ovations at corporate conventions, diamond-studded tennis bracelets, all expense paid trips to Paris where they'd stay at the Ritz and be chauffeured to the Louvre, and at home they would drive their own shiny pink Cadillacs. And if they were in Germany, it would be a pink Mercedes. I made a pitch for Pink Pickup Trucks or Pink Suburbans for the Texas Consultants. They're thinking about it, but I doubt seriously. May Kay believed that the best way to empower women was to enrich them. But she wasn't talking only about money; she meant emotionally and spiritually as well. Anne Crews, who is a Mary Kay Vice President for public affairs and a board member of the Mary Kay Foundation, told me that when you would sit and talk with Mary Kay, you were the only person she saw. She looked you straight in the eye. It didn't matter what was going on around her. She never talked to you from behind her desk, but would sit with you on her couch. She was warm and personable and genuine, seeing in you what you perhaps did not see in yourself. Her central belief was that there were unlimited opportunities to reach inward and achieve more. That is why her corporate symbol was the bumblebee. "The bumblebee is aerodynamically incapable of flight," she often observed, "but someone forgot to tell the the bumblebee." This fit with her personal prime directive: "to help women see how great they really were." Mary Kay had perhaps an unusual mission statement, for a corporation. It was quite simply Matthew 7:12 – the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." She believed that if everyone followed that rule, from top to bottom, in and outside the company, success would certainly follow. She frequently told the Independent beauty consultants to put that rule to work every day with their clients. So what started small in Dallas, Texas, grew bigger than Dallas. Bigger than Texas. It grew all over the world to over 3 million independent beauty consultants in Russia, China, Norway, Peru – nearly 40 countries – doing over $3.5 billion dollars of business a year. What started small in Texas changed the world. That is why Mary Kay Ash was chosen by Baylor University as the Greatest Female Entrepreneur in U. S. History. And her work for women has continued since her passing. She established the Mary Kay Foundation in 1996 to work on finding cures for cancers affecting women. The mission, says Anne Crews, has since expanded to prevent violence against women and children. Since 2000, the Mary Kay Foundation has made gifts of nearly $50 million to domestic violence shelters across America, including dozens in Texas. Mary Kay said that she wanted to live her life so that in the end, people would say "she cared." Given the phenomenal number of women whose lives she's enriched, I don't know how there would be any other conclusion.
Pink Cadillacs And Lucky 13: How Mary Kay Ash Built A Billion-Dollar Business
Like millions of his fans, I was stunned to learn that Anthony Bourdain had left us so soon last week. I was sad because he had such a genius for expressing his brilliance: and, I believe, had so much more to teach. I've spent half my life trying to teach students at the university to embrace new cultures with respect and enthusiasm. Compared to Anthony Bourdain, however, I've been a mere theorist in this struggle. I was an analyst; he was in the trenches. He was so refreshingly eloquent in teaching people to bury the tourist within them, suppress their ethnocentrism and release the traveler. He taught us that it wasn't enough to walk in another man's shoes. You must dine at his table, learn his rituals. When you embrace another man's food, you embrace his culture. He particularly loved Mexican food and culture. Having lived most of my life in the Hispanic world, he and I shared that love, as do most Texans. To honor him, I will read part of his poignant essay on Mexican cuisine: "Under the Volcano." It starts like this: Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people – we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, and look after our children. "If I'm an advocate for anything," says Bourdain, "It's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. It's a plus for everybody." This has been a tribute to Anthony Bourdain, using his own words. Catch up with you one day Tony, in Parts Unknown.
A couple of weeks ago I read a book called "The Lion the Living Room," which was about how our domestic cats are just little lions. I thought, 'that's nothing. I grew up with dinosaurs in the alley.' They looked for all the world like little dinosaurs – at least to us kids they did. When you'd get down on their level, lying on the ground, seeing them eye to eye, they looked prehistoric and formidable. You had to be careful, being eye to eye that way, because they could shoot blood out of theirs. You also couldn't stay on the ground too long because the little dinosaurs' favorite prey would soon be all over you – big red ants – harvester ants. They'd eat 100 of those red ants a day. The dinosaur I'm talking about, so plentiful in my boyhood, was the horny toad. They were also called horn frogs or horned lizards, and we considered those the scientific names for them. We were wrong, though. The truly scientific name is Phrynosoma Cornutum. Where have all the horny toads gone? When I was ten, I could walk out in the back alley, a landscape of caliche and goat heads, and you could find dozens of horny toads in just a few minutes. Even though we were barefoot much of the summer, we never went out there barefoot. Stepping on a Lego barefoot is almost imperceptible compared to the attention stepping on a horny toad will command. It will certainly focus your mind as few things can. Goat heads, too, have earned no small share of respect in this regard. Many people theorize that horny toads, officially listed as endangered in Texas since 1977, have disappeared because of pesticides or the arrival of the fire ants. "As always, it isn't one thing," says Bill Brooks, a founding member of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society of Texas. He told me that "it's a combination of things" that created a perfect storm of bad news for horny toads. Brooks said these include the "destruction of habitat, over collection by us humans, feral cats, blue grass taking over, reducing hiding spaces, pesticide use, and yes, also the invasion of fire ants." The first challenge for horny toads was the crazy promotions run by businesses, particularly movie theaters and gas stations back in the '60s. You could get a free or half-priced ticket at some movie theaters by just showing up with a horny toad. Sometimes gas stations would give you a free gallon of gas for a horny toad. I have no idea what they did with them. Perhaps they sold them by putting ads in the back of comic books, the Ebay of that day, and shipped them up north where no doubt their days in some eight year old's shoe box were numbered. The lion in the living room may have been involved. Bill Brooks said that he has seen coyotes try to eat them, but rarely successfully. The horny toads release a foul-tasting chemical from their eyes and the coyotes drop them. They are also quite good at puffing themselves up and looking quite menacing which gives them some added protection against coyotes, and snakes, too. And then the fire ants drove out the red ants, which the horny toads won't eat. Having been bit by both, I understand their reluctance. Sadly, the horny toads are fighting a losing battle for survival. You can find them where people are not. There are still a good number on remote ranches. "Around Kenedy," Bill told me, "there are healthy numbers." Just sad to hear of their plight. I do miss the little guys. To me they are as Texas as rattlesnakes, longhorns or Willie Nelson, which is why they are the Official Texas State Reptile.
Andy Warhol summed up our modern, technology-driven world: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." But Barbara Jordan turned this idea on its head. In 15 minutes, she delivered a speech that gave her lasting, worldwide fame. She was only 38 when she, on national television, argued for the indictment of Richard M. Nixon for high crimes and misdemeanors. Surrounded by more senior members of the House Judiciary Committee, mostly men with far more experience in government and law, Jordan gave a speech that was so brilliant, she stunned the committee and mesmerized those watching on television. Here is how she opened: "Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: 'We, the people.' It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that 'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in 'We, the people.' Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution." Jordan's Watergate speech is flawless in its eloquence. Few people ever reach these persuasive heights – you find it in Lincoln, and Kennedy and Martin Luther King. And you find it here in Barbara Jordan, a rare talent for setting logic on fire. She was persuasive because she was anchored in the Constitution rather than anger or political posturing. Many worried at the time that agreeing to file articles of impeachment was the same as throwing Richard Nixon out of the White House without due process. She opens the constitution and teaches: "It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn't say that." Jordan had a beautiful blend of legal and common language, a style that the man on the street can follow and be moved by. She tried to allay these fears by explaining, in Constitutional terms, that all the House can do is vote for impeachment, which is an indictment. The Senate must have the trial and decide guilt or innocence – and punishment. She again follows the technical explanation with a simpler one: "The framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judgers — and the judges the same person." She follows this razor-like rationale, guided only by the Constitution, to this conclusion: "Has the President committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That's the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision." Nixon resigned a few days later. I don't think he cared to face this inquisitor. And it wasn't just Jordan's infallible logic that supporters admired and opponents feared. It was her divine voice and impeccable diction that animated that logic, seeming to place it beyond rebuttal. I have a friend, Dr. Juliet Garcia, who served on a bank board with Jordan. She says Jordan "could read the agenda and make it sound profound." When Barbara died in 1996, having devoted her life to serving Texas, Ann Richards remembered her this way. "There was simply something about her that made you proud to be a part of the country that produced her. And she forever redefined what it meant to be a Texan in the eyes of this nation." Jordan's life was truly a succession of firsts: first African-American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, first African-American Texan elected to Congress, first woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, first woman to have a statue erected in her honor at UT Austin, and – this makes me smile – even in death she achieved another first. She was the first African American to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery. I do miss her. We sure could use her voice, and her logic, today.
About six months ago, I took a look at songs about Texas towns – "Amarillo by Morning," "Galveston," "La Grange," "Streets of Laredo," "China Grove," etc. Now I figure, why not just do Texas? Let's talk about songs that show their love for Texas in a Texas-sized way – paying homage to the whole state and her irresistible charms. So this would leave out songs like those already mentioned, and also those that have Texas in the title, but are either primarily instrumental songs or have no specific lyrics of Texas praise or adoration. Much as I love Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Texas Flood," it doesn't qualify here. Neither does "The Yellow Rose of Texas," since it is a song about loving one incredible Texas woman, but not the state. We must begin, I suppose, with our official state song, "Texas, Our Texas," written in 1924, by William Marsh, a British immigrant from Liverpool. Another early classic would have to be "Deep in the Heart of Texas," written in 1941 and first recorded by Perry Como. But probably the best-known version is this one by Gene Autry. Just a few years later, Ernest Tubb gave us another classic that could have been used by The Texas Travel Bureau as their theme song; "There's a Little Bit of Everything in Texas." Willie Nelson covered it in 1993. In 1975, The Charlie Daniels Band released its Texas anthem simply titled. "Texas," on the album "Nightrider." Sometimes we show how much we love something by how much we miss it – by how much we long for it. That's what George Strait did in "Can't See Texas From Here," from his 1982 album, "Strait from the Heart." And I believe it was. Gary P. Nunn gave us "London Homesick Blues," which is hard not to put on the list. But from the same 1984 album, "Home With the Armadillo," we get "What I Like About Texas." That's dead solid perfect. Bet Gary hadn't had to pay for a Beltbuster or Blizzard since 1984. I first heard the song "Texas" by the British singer Chris Rea while driving across west Texas in 1989, appropriately under a big yellow moon, on Highway 90 south of Van Horn, a road that goes on forever. And you certainly know "God Blessed Texas," which has been ubiquitous since its release more than 25 years ago, believe it or not. It's by Little Texas. Vince Gill sang "I'll Take Texas" in 1998. And his song did indeed take Texas by storm. We wrap up our list appropriately with Miranda Lambert, with "Texas Pride," from 2001. And that's an ideal title, because her first professional singing gig was with the Texas Pride Band. That's my list. What's on yours?
The Worst Land Survey in U.S. History By W. F. Strong You can never underestimate the value of a good friendship forged early in life. If not for such a friendship, Texas would be nearly 1,000 square miles smaller. Before I get to the friendship, come with me up to the northwest corner of the panhandle where Texas meets Oklahoma and New Mexico. If you were looking at a map you would see that the border between Oklahoma and New Mexico doesn't meet up exactly with the border between Texas and New Mexico. The line makes a jog to the left. It goes 2.3 miles left before heading straight south. That jog is the result of a survey error that some have called the worst survey error in U.S. history. But it isn't just a two mile error – that error gets bigger as it continues south 310 miles to the bottom Texas-New Mexico corner, where it turns west and heads for El Paso. All total the mistake amounts to a 942 square mile error, a land mass bigger than Houston, though long and skinny, like a gerrymandered voting district. In truth, that land should have gone to New Mexico. That was what was supposed to happen when Texas sold off its northern and western territories for ten million dollars in 1850. The border between Texas and the New Mexico Territory was to be exactly along the 103rd Meridian. When the official survey was undertaken, almost ten years later, there was a problem with water,, Indians, stars, algebra and math, which all contributed to the error that ended up a blessing for Texas. Naturally, there's quite a good long story behind the mistake. It is far too complex for these few minutes. I will give you the "cut to the chase version." A man named John H. Clark was hired to do the survey and plant the monuments along the 103rd meridian. He started from the south and surveyed northward until he ran out of access to water. So he stopped and said, "I'll just go up to the north end of Texas and come down." So he did. Clark started again northwest of present day Dalhart and headed south until the native Americans frightened him off. Though he was about 70 miles from connecting his two lines, he figured it was good enough and turned in his work. His two lines wouldn't have intersected anyway. The problem was his northern starting point was about 2.3 miles west of where it should have been and his southern corner was nearly 3.8 miles west of where it should have been. Consequently, that border slides imperceptibly 1 ½ miles ever so gently southwest over a distance of 310 miles. Pull up a google map on your phone and align the southeastern corner of New Mexico with your left straight-edge phone border. You will see that the border slants off to the right up at the top. That's the error. It amounts to 603,348 acres. About ¾ the size of the King Ranch. Well, nobody knew it was wrong and so the bad survey based on poor calculations was certified by the U.S. in 1891 and it became the legal boundary. By the time New Mexico was about to get statehood with the Enabling Act of 1910, it had become aware of Clark's error and slipped into the statehood law a clause saying that the eastern boundary would be the true 103rd meridian. New Mexico would get its land back. All was going well and nobody was paying attention to the land grab except for John Farwell, who was an original investor in the XIT ranch. Those were the same investors who essentially built our state capital in Austin. Well, he realized that the XIT would lose hundreds of thousands of acres (and mineral rights) if the New Mexico plan went through as it was. He couldn't get any legislators to listen and so he did what we all do in times of trouble: he said, "Who do I know?" Just so happened that he knew President William Howard Taft. They had been good friends during their college years at Yale. So he went to see his old buddy, Howard. He explained the predicament and Taft immediately summoned powerful men to his office and told them that the Clark border would be the legal border when New Mexico was made a state or it wouldn't be made one. He said that since the boundary had existed for more than fifty years, and had been certified 20 years before, it had to be grandfathered in. Otherwise, people who believed they were Texans would suddenly be in New Mexico and litigation over land titles would never end. And that is how a survey error, and an old friendship ended up making Texas almost a thousand square miles bigger than it was supposed to be. Once again, it's all about who you know. A final note of interest. There is a town out in the Panhandle called Farwell, Texas. It's just a few feet on the Texas side of the border with New Mexico. It is named after John Farwell. Had he failed to convince Taft to keep the old border line, the town named for him would have become Farwell, New Mexico. Sources: Brock, Ralph H. "Perhaps the Most Incorrect of any Land Survey in the United States" Southern Historical Quarterly, April 2006, pp. 431-462. Haley, J. Evets. The XIT Ranch of Texas and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado, University of Oklahoma Press, 1953. Hoover, Mike. "The Southeast Corner of New Mexico." The Texas Surveyor, May, 2015, pp. 16-23.
We have many endangered species in the world. Among the better-known at-risk animals are snow leopards, Asian elephants and orangutans. In Texas, we have the gray wolf and ocelot as endangered animals, among others. Endangered reptiles here include the Texas indigo snake and the horned lizard. But that's not my focus today. That's just a segue to talk about something else that's on my mind, and that's endangered words. They are words that, through lack of use, or through use seemingly restricted to the more senior of us Texans, run the risk of dying out when we do. Now "y'all" and "fixin' to" and the like are safe. They have vast popularity. They have even been observed migrating up north. My endangered list is comprised of words that are becoming scarce and may disappear altogether, only to be seen caged up in old dictionaries in the future. I want to make sure to clarify that I'm not claiming the following words are endangered for everyone. Many Texans still use them daily. I'm just claiming that they are becoming far less common than they once were. Mosey is one such word. It used to be quite popular and still is used often among octogenarians. But you never see it or hear it venturing out among those under 40. Often when you do hear it from someone under 40, it is used in caricature. Reckon is another word I reckon is headed for true scarcity in the next few decades. That would be a shame because it does have a wonderful place in the linguistic ecosystem. It fills a niche and is not easily replaced. One can say "I guess," or "I suppose," but neither have the beautiful contemplative nature of "I reckon," when said with eyebrows raised and tipping your hat back. It is the pronouncement of agreement reluctantly concluded. Supper. This used to be the dominant word for the evening meal. Dinner was at noon. But as we've become more urban, supper has been pushed out by dinner. Ice house and ice box. Ice house used to be a common expression for running to the convenience store or making a beer run: "Gonna run over to the ice house a minute." Ice box is a synonym for the fridge: "Martha, we got any Blue Bell in the ice box?" Yonder. "It seems that yonder is most popular out yonder in the country." To make sure I was on the right track, I conducted a survey on the net and found a few more words folks agreed seemed to be endangered: Britches refers to pants, of course: "Get your work britches on and let's get goin'" Britches is still used among those over 60, but not so popular among the under 30 crowd. Cattywampus for catty-cornered. Cattywampus is one word and catty-cornered is hyphenated. Both are spelled with two t's and neither has anything to do with cats: "The flower shop is cattywampus to the Exxon station." Cotton pickin.' "Just a cotton pickin' minute!" There could be lots of reasons for this. Many Texans over 50 or so, have memories of pickin' cotton. Even though combines mostly took over decades ago, the expression remains. "In high cotton," too, hangs on. It means "having it easy." Dreckly – sometimes said "di-rectly" – has nothing to do with direction or going straight to something. It is about time and in Texas, has the meaning of manana in Spanish. "Yeah, I'll be gettin' to mowin' that lawn dreckly," which may well mean in a few hours when I "finish watchin' the Astros play." Sam Hill. "What the Sam Hill is going on here?!" My father said it so often I thought Sam Hill was a relative I'd never met, but I hoped to. Seemed that he lived an exciting life. But it was just a euphemism for "hell." It's used in place of "What the hell is goin' on here?!" and since I can now say hell on the radio, you can see why Sam Hill is endangered. Fair to middlin' is interesting. It's fading away as a common expression but perhaps finding a second wind by means of its malaprop. Some Texans have taken to saying "fair to Midland," which makes sense if you are driving from El Paso, or maybe from Abilene. Fair to Midland, rain in Odessa. And some words that many people said they believed were dying out – and sadly so – were these: Please and thank you. I hope not. I'll do what I can right now to help. Thank you for listening. Please stay tuned to The Texas Standard.