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.
One of the most fascinating Texas Rangers of all time was Samuel Hamilton Walker — no relation, we should say right off the bat, to Chuck Norris' fictional character Cordell Walker. Many Ranger aficionados rate Sam Walker the second-most-important Texas Ranger of all time, behind Jack Coffee Hays, with whom Walker rangered. Now that's a dream team. Samuel Walker arrived in Texas six years after Texas had won its independence. In five more years, in 1847, he would be dead. But in those five years he would defend San Antonio from Mexican forces, invade Mexico four times, escape from a Mexican prison and help design one of the most famous guns in history, the Colt Walker six-shooter. Walker's first foray into Mexico was part of the ill-fated Mier expedition, which was for the purpose of punishing Mexico for its illegal incursions into San Antonio. Walker was not yet a Texas Ranger. He was with a group of men who believed they would repay Mexico for their illegal incursions into Texas. His group was attacked by a much larger army of Mexican troops who engaged them in defense of the Mier. 180 Texans were taken as prisoners. Santa Anna ordered them all shot, but cooler heads in the Mexican government prevailed and a decimation instead: one in 10 would die. The Texans were ordered to draw a bean from a pot. Among the 159 white beans were 17 black ones. Those who got a black bean would be executed on the spot; those who drew white beans would live. Sam Walker got a white bean. The prisoners were marched 800 miles across Mexico's brutal deserts. Walker mentioned in his journal of the Mier Expedition that he would not trade Texas for 100 Mexicos. He was however, impressed with the fine architecture he encountered in the churches of San Miguel de Allende, which remains true for the many expatriate Texans who live there today. Once in the capital, some of the prisoners, including Walker, was imprisoned at Tacubaya, suburb of Mexico City, and some were marched another 100 miles and incarcerated in the infamous Perote Prison. Walker's group was forced to do road work, including building a road from Mexico City to Santa Anna´s summer villa, which further enraged Walker. This amounted to a lot of salt in a deep wound, and he nurtured his loathing for Santa Anna — indeed, for all Mexicans — all his life, so much so that his friends called him "mad Walker." There is a much-shared myth about Walker's time imprisoned in Mexico. The story goes that he was ordered to dig a hole for a flagpole and raise the Mexican flag. According to one version of the legend, he put a dime at the bottom of the hole and vowed to return one day, reclaim the dime, and raise the Texas flag. Several years later, the story goes, he retrieved his dime when he returned with American forces to occupy Mexico City. It's a good story, but probably not true. Walker never mentioned it in his journals. Also, the flagpole in the various versions of the myth is always in Perote Prison, in the state of Vera Cruz, and Walker was never incarcerated there. He was, however, part of Winfield Scott's invasion force that sacked the prison in 1847, and that may well be where the legend has its origins. Walker eventually escaped from the Tacubaya prison — a story that would make a good novel in itself — and made it back to Texas. He joined up with Jack Hays and the Texas Rangers in 1844 and fought in many of the most famous Indian battles. When General Zachary Taylor sent out a call in 1845 for volunteers to scout for his federal troops, Walker immediately signed up. He ran messages through the Mexican lines to keep Fort Texas (soon to be Fort Brown) aware of Taylor´s plans for invading Mexico. Walker led the charge in the battle for Monterrey. It was after Taylor's forces had secured Monterrey, in 1846, that Walker took a brief furlough and traveled back east. There he gave Samuel Colt some ideas for improving Colt's earlier model of his revolver called the Paterson pistol. Colt, in gratitude, named a special, very heavy model of his new six-shooter after Walker. Walker next joined up with General Winfield Scott's campaign to pacify Mexico City. Though he was officially made a U.S. soldier, everybody still thought of him as a Texas Ranger and called him Ranger Walker. Scott's army invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz and advanced from there toward Mexico City. On the way, they sacked Perot Prison, released the prisoners and turned it into a fort for the American forces. But Walker would not live to make it back to Texas. He was to die a few months later, fighting the army of his old nemesis, Santa Anna, at the town of Huamantla, where Santa Anna had positioned his forces to stop the U.S. troops' march to rescue the American garrison under siege at Puebla. Walker led his company, which was ahead of the main U.S. force, into battle there. His men fought fiercely until the main force arrived to defeat Santa Anna, but Walker didn´t get to enjoy the victory. He lay dead; his prized Colt Walkers at his side. He was 32. In retaliation, his men went on a wild rampage, sacking, looting and pillaging the town. Walker's body was returned to San Antonio; eventually it was interred in the Odd Fellows Cemetery next to the unidentified remains of the defenders of the Alamo. It's said that Walker was not a man you would much notice in everyday life. He was of average size, and quiet. But in battle he was a lion. In his Notes of the Mexican War 1846-1848, J. Jacob Oswandel observed of Walker that ''war was his element, the bivouac his delight, and the battlefield his playground." Walker lived more in his short life than your average ten men live in their long lives combined. He is the Walker, Texas Ranger, that should be most remembered.
When I was fifteen, weighed down by concerns about high school – algebra tests, term papers, girls – there was no better spot in the world to silence the mind than on top of a 35 foot windmill at my uncle's farm. In the spring, it was heaven up there on that platform. To the north I could see hundreds of black angus cattle dotting the new grass of irrigated pastures, a scene fitting for Van Gogh's brush. To the south, way south, there were citrus orchards. The southern breeze blew in the sweet smell of orange blossoms. In the brushlands of south Texas, that was the second harbinger of spring. The first I could see to the west, the new sheen of emerald green covering miles of mesquite. The huisache trees, too, were adding their bright golds to the mix. Just a few days before it had been a bleak, brown landscape, but overnight, nature turned on her lights and from the platform high above it all, as birds sang with greater enthusiasm, and butterflies fluttered among the bluebonnets far below, I could witness the world being born again. And the windmill turned and squeaked. I think a windmill squeaking may be the only squeaking in life that is comforting. It's soothing somehow, perhaps because it is the sound of life itself being pumped from the ground. We used to keep metal coffee cups on hooks down by the water tank so we could get a fresh drink of water, delivered pure and cold from deep in the earth, whenever we wanted. I think photographs of windmills are the pictures Texans seem to love most of all. There is something romantic about them. The giant turbines are not loved like windmills, perhaps because they are so enormous they overpower rather than blend with the landscape. And windmills stand alone, never in groups of twenty of forty. Windmills seem independent and solitary, historically symbolic of the Texas character. They have a unique place in our heritage. They transformed much of the land from arid to vibrant. This reminds me of a poem by the great cowboy poet, Mike Moutoux. He makes this point about windmills far better than I can. A FITTING MONUMENT by Mike Moutoux In the dry land stands the monument of a dreamer It is a testament to hope; to years of yearning Standing tall above the grasses, rocks and scrub oak Below a cloudless sky and sun so brightly burning No babbling brooks cross here, just silent sand arroyos Few linger here at all; fewer still would stake a claim Only fools and dreamers could love this barren land It does not suffer fools; dreamers love it just the same 'Twas the Homestead Act that brought him here to dream and sweat It was the solitude and grass that it made it feel right But there were months when precious rains were non-existent Each cloudless day brought another worried weary night All that changed when the Aermotor windmill was delivered The well was dug, the tower raised; each rod and gear in place The wind blew as always, but now it turned a shiny fan And both the cowman's heart and dreams begin to race The cowman would talk about that day for years to come How the blades spun, the rods creaked, how he paced and paced And then water, precious water, poured from pipe to trough Giving hope a thing a man could actually taste Within weeks trails appeared around the water trough As thirsty critters, one by one, found the water there of course Not just cows, but the antelope, fox and deer drank there The tower, a beacon, led them to their water source The story of the dreamer is old but not forgotten The tower still stands although its working years are spent A testament to one man's hope and all those years of yearning For a dreamer and cowman, a most fitting monument. For more of Mike Moutoux's work, go to www.mikemoutoux.com
As I was watching the Olympics, I began thinking about all the great athletes who have come from Texas and gone on to be the best in the world. Though not an Olympic champion, I thought of one Texan who stood unexpectedly at the pinnacle of his sport for an impressive number of years. He was born and raised in Galveston. His life seemed defined by an incident that occurred when he was quite young. When he came home from school he would often avoid a bully who had once attacked him in the street. That bully was older and larger so he thought it best to stay out of his way. But Jack's sister saw this and got angry. She insisted that he fight the bully. "In fact," Jack remembered, "She pushed me into the fray. There was nothing to do but fight so I put all I had into it... and finally whipped my antagonist." Jack's reputation as a fighter was born. Later, working on the Galveston shipping docks, the vigorous work strengthened his muscles and toughened his body. He learned boxing from the stout men on the docks and began fighting in amateur matches, winning most all of them. This was the 1890s. When he could learn no more in Galveston, he hopped a train out of there, hoping that would take him to a storybook future. In many ways it did. Over the next decade, Jack became known in boxing as The Galveston Giant. The son of freed slaves, he worked his way through all the black boxers and some of the white ones, too, to get a shot at the World Heavyweight Champion, James Jeffries. But Jeffries wouldn't fight a black man. He claimed it was not something a champion should do. So rather than risk his title, he retired, undefeated. Tommy Burns became the champion and Johnson chased him all the way to Australia and finally got a match. It would be in Sydney. Burns would get $35,000 and Johnson would get $5,000. Burns' manager would referee the fight. It went fourteen rounds and it was stopped before Burns got knocked out. Johnson was declared the winner. He wrote in his autobiography, "The little colored boy from Galveston had defeated the world's champion boxer and, for the first and only time in history, a black man held one of the greatest honors that exists in the field of sports..." Jack London, the famous novelist, covered the fight for The New York Herald. He wrote, "The fight? There was no fight. No Armenian massacre could compare with the hopeless slaughter that took place today. The fight, if fight it could be called, was like that between a pygmy and a colossus... But one thing now remains. Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden smile from Jack Johnson's face. Jeff, it's up to you! The White Man must be rescued." And that is where the notion of The Great White Hope came from: Jack London. The World Heavyweight Champion, Jack Johnson, accepted his victory with a contrasting humility. He recalled: "I did not gloat over the fact that a white man had fallen. My satisfaction was only in that one man had conquered another and that I had been the conqueror... The hunt for a 'white hope' began, not only with great earnestness and intenseness, but with ill-concealed bitterness." So people started sending telegrams and letters to Jim Jeffries, begging him to come back and take the title from Johnson. He initially repeated what he had said before: "I have said I will never box a colored fighter and I won't change my mind." But money can work magic on prejudice. For the guarantee of $120,000 from promoter Tex Rickard, for the fight and the film rights, Jeffries signed on to what was billed as "The Fight of the Century." It was held in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910. It was well over 100 degrees at fight time – 2:30 in the afternoon under a cloudless sky. Johnson said the "...red hot sun poured down on our heads. The great crowd was burning to a crisp." The betting was heavily in favor of Jeffries – about 2 to 1. A reporter from Palestine, Texas, wrote that when Johnson was asked how he felt about that, he said, "I know I'm the short ender in the betting and I know why. It's a dark secret, but when the fight starts we'll be color blind. I'm going in to win." And he did. He knocked out Jeffries in the 15th round. Johnson said, "Whatever possible doubt may have existed as to my claim to the championship, was wiped out." Jack London agreed. He had called out for the great white hope himself and wrote that Johnson had decisively defeated the white champion. London doubted that Jeffries, even in his prime, could have defeated this "amazing negro (boxer) from Texas." He said he knocked down the man who had never been knocked down and knocked out the man who had never been knocked out. "Johnson is a wonder," he concluded. "If ever a man won by nothing more fatiguing than a smile, Johnson won today." The film of the fight was considered an immoral display and banned in many states and cities. Governor Campbell of Texas cited those grounds in saying he would discourage authorities from showing it Texas and would convene the legislature to "promote this end." Muhammad Ali, who was often compared to Jack Johnson for his unshakeable confidence and easy-going banter in the ring, had enormous admiration for Jack Johnson. He said, "Jack Johnson was a big inspiration for what he did out of the ring. He was so bold. Jack Johnson was a black man back when white people lynched negroes on weekends. This man was told if you beat a white man we're going to shoot you from the audience and he said well just go ahead and shoot my black butt cuz I'm going to knock him out. He had to be a bad, bad black man cuz wasn't no Black Muslims to defend him, no NAACP in 1909 no MOV or any black organizations, no Huey Newton, no Angela Davis, no Malcolm X. He was by himself... He was the greatest. He had to be the greatest." My special thanks to my good friend James Dennis who suggested this topic as especially worthy of the Stories from Texas series.
At 60, I didn't expect ever to fall in love again. I thought that sort of euphoric madness that comes with infatuation was all in the past – reserved for younger people. But I was wrong. When she came into my life, the world stopped – and changed forever. I first saw her in photographs. Someone showed me pictures – black and white – grainy photos. She was interesting, but the pictures didn't do her justice. When I met her in person, I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. I was mesmerized. She was 7 ½ pounds and 19 inches of perfection. At 60, she was my first girl. Perhaps not a bonafide miracle, but for me she was. My eternal valentine. We named her Scarlett. And Paloma-Maria after her two grandmothers. That very night I began keeping a journal for her. I wrote: You are just a day old now. You are my ONLY girl, which makes you precious beyond measure. I will keep this little journal of our first years together. I will tell you what amazed you and what delighted you. Your first words will be here. Your first steps. I will do all I can, as will your mama, to make sure you are exposed to all the influences that will make you an extraordinary woman – one who is intellectually curious, adventurous, brave, full of self-confidence, but also empathetic and kind, a woman who is strong, and gentle, too, both a warrior and a poet. Three years have passed now. People have started asking me how raising a girl, at least for me, is different from raising boys. I say, "Don't know much, but let me tell you what I didn't know." Until I had a girl, I didn't know about spontaneous politeness and gratitude. Returning from the beach she said: "Thank you for taking me to the beach." Until I had a girl I didn't have a child who thought I had super powers. She handed me scissors and a paper and said, "Can you make me a bicycle?" I said, "How about a rectangle?" Until I had a girl I didn't know you had to dance to the opening theme song of Dora the Explorer and Elena of Avalor. Scarlett's motto is never miss a chance to dance. Until I had a girl I sang the lullabies. But she's not pleased with the way I sing them so she often takes over. Until I had a girl I didn't know that when you took her for a walk around the neighborhood in her big stroller, you had to take her dolls, too. I didn't know that dolls left behind would be "sad." Until I had a girl I wasn't awakened this way, singing Happy Birthday. I couldn't have been any more moved if it had actually been my birthday. Such technicalities don't matter to her, though. People need to celebrate their birthdays at least once a month – to appreciate the simple joy of just being alive. Until I had a girl I didn't know there were so many colors in the world. She has 300 around her easel. She likes to paint vermillion crocodiles. To me they are just collages of triangles and squiggles, but I put them on the fridge anyway, and brag about her Picasso-like potential. Until I had a girl I never got my nails painted. One day she got her mom's polish and wanted to give me a manicure. I resisted. My wife shot me that "Don't be a Neanderthal" look. I said, "Okay, one hand." I forgot about it and later that afternoon I suddenly realized I was likely the only guy at the gun show with autumn mist nails. A man there noticed and said, "Next time – go camo." Until I had a girl I never had a child so empathetic. She wants to know how I'm feeling, if I'm happy or sad, or if my anything hurts and if I might need a doctor – and lucky for me, she happens to be one. Until I had a girl I didn't have a child so young so self-aware. I asked her if she was mama's girl and dada's girl. She said, "I'm Scarlett's girl." Gotta love that. Until I had a girl I didn't know that Valentine's Day was so important. It's her favorite holiday, along with Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and July 4th. But truly with her loving heart, Valentine's was made for her. It's a week away, but she's already popped the question: "Dada, will you be my Valentine." Yes, always and forever. And your mama's, too. After all, she did give me you.
When settlers first came upon Jacob's Well near Wimberley around 1850, they did not encounter a swimming hole. They discovered a magical fountain of beautifully clear water, 12 feet in diameter, sometimes spouting four or five feet above the surface. They named it Jacob's Well because of its Biblical magnificence. Over the next 70 years, thirsty central Texas pulled water from the Trinity aquifer that feeds the artesian fountain. It was slowly tamed but it is still wildly beautiful there. You can jump off outcroppings rising 10 to 15 feet above the well, into eternal 68-degree waters. Quite an arctic blast in the middle of a Texas summer. My focus here is not, however, on the idyllic surface world of Jacob's Well. I'm interested in what lies beneath. Far, far beneath. In Stephen Harrigan's novel "Jacob's Well," he says it is "like a portal from another dimension, a world of unnatural vibrance and mystery." Harrigan logged over 20 dives in the cave more than thirty years ago. The well takes an initial plunge through 23 feet of well-lit water to an apparent bottom, but then it veers off into a descent of increasing darkness. I visited with Gregg Tatum who has logged over 250 dives there. He says it is no place for a novice. Only cave certified divers with substantial experience in cave diving should go deep into Jacob's Well. He says, "It gets so dark you can taste it." Novelist Harrigan describes his character's response similarly: "He turned off his light and felt the darkness rush in... exquisite blackness like a weight. If he had been on Mars he couldn't have felt farther from the familiar world above him." Eight or nine divers have lost their lives in Jacob's Well. It is difficult to get an exact number – could be more. For that reason, Jacob's Well is known as one of the most dangerous diving spots in the world. Tatum, however, bristles at that description. He says that the Well is only dangerous if you "don't know what you are doing." Still, Tatum says that there is no room for error. He takes at least two, and sometimes three of everything – two knives, two tanks, three lights. Lighting is sometimes more important than air. It is likely that some of the doomed divers ran out of air because they first ran out of light. Another hazard is the silt on the bottom. It is easy for the novice to accidentally stir up the silt so he cannot tell up from down or which way is in or out. The Jacob's Well Exploration Project, of which Gregg Tatum is the director, has mapped the cave system. It plunges to 140 feet at its deepest point; 14 stories underground, underwater. There are two tunnels, A and B. A is 4300 feet long (three-quarters of a mile) and B is 1300 feet long. It takes five hours round trip to get to the terminus of tunnel A. Tatum believes that if one had time to work at the terminus, there might be a way to gain access to more of the cave. There is a strong flow, too, which divers must struggle against to get down into the depths. Authorities once tried to seal off the cave. They welded a steel grate at about 70 feet in. Within months it was removed by rogue divers who left a note saying, "You can't keep us out." A particularly interesting feature of the cave is called the "Birth Canal." This two-foot square portal is found at the rear of a fairly large underwater room, 75 feet from the surface. The Birth Canal is situated at the top of a long, steep, gravel-floored slope which is notoriously unstable. At the base of this slope, divers encounter a narrow restriction that, depending on conditions, can be as tight as 15 inches in height. Negotiating this restriction sometimes requires divers to push rocks and gravel out of the way, pull forward a few inches and then repeat the process several times. Once past the restriction, the cave widens considerably, but the ceiling remains only 2 to 3 feet high. Clearly, this is not a place for the claustrophobic. Gregg notes that divers occasionally find that gravel that was pushed aside to gain entrance has been replaced with more material from higher up the slope, making the opening appear to close shut behind them. Even for an experienced cave diver, this event can give one pause. Divers now use side-mounted tanks to lower their profiles and make them more streamlined as they slide through narrow passageways with less risk of getting stuck. And it is a sublime underwater world. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, but there are impressive limestone walls of many colors, vibrant and muted. There are no bats, of course, but there are catfish, perch, turtles – at the beginning of the cave – and then deep in, there are blind Texas salamanders to keep you company. You can't scuba dive there without a special permit from Hays County, and the only entity that has one is the Jacob's Well Exploration Project. However, you can go along with them, so to speak, by video, on their website, Jacob's Well Exploration Projectg. You will be diving deep into the heart of Texas in no time. As for me, I couldn't dive there, even with training, and I'll tell you why. When I was six years old my mother took us to swim in a pool at her friend's house. It was unusual for a residential pool. The deep end was exceptionally deep. You couldn't see the bottom because of the shade that the big trees cast over it. My older brother, Shep, who was a practical joker extraordinaire, told me that it was 100 feet deep there and dared me to swim across it. Though I was a good swimmer already, I would not risk it. The idea that it was possibly bottomless and that strange creatures might be lurking down there, kept me in the shallow end. There is a name for this fear: bathophobia. It is not a fear of being clean: it is a fear of deep water that may hide unknown horrors. Fast forward 30 years: I went swimming at Jacob's Well in central Texas. When I learned that eight or nine people had drowned scuba diving in that cave system, my bathophobia was triggered. Just the thought of going down into those depths was to me the stuff Stephen King novels were made of. I stayed on the surface or near it, enjoying the well lit waters. But that was not so for everyone. Whereas I was disenchanted with the depths, the free divers and scuba divers were seduced, and still are, forever attracted to what lies beneath.
A Handy Guide To The Most Texas-Loving Pages On Facebook
Back when Facebook was new on the net, in order to spur participation on the platform, Facebook made a page for every state and issued a challenge: "Let's see which state can get to a million likes first." Texas won and won handily. It wasn't even close. Given Texas's galactic reputation for state pride, the only surprise would have been had Texas not come in first. California and New York were much more tech savvy and digitally connected at the time and should have at least come in second and third, but they didn't. Colorado took second place, probably because the state was proud that it was once part of Texas. I say that with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Since that time, Texas pride pages have proliferated on Facebook. Most have sister sites on Twitter, but I'm choosing to focus exclusively on Facebook for today. So here are ten pages, of the hundreds in existence, that you might enjoy "liking" and seeing their posts in your news feed – I certainly do. I'm leaning away from the strictly business, news, political or government pages in favor of those that are mostly about celebrating Texas as a beautiful land and culture. The order is random and the choices are mine. Traces of Texas shares fascinating photos from Texas history, recent and distant. Most are high quality black and white photos. Traces of Texas followers send in never-before-seen-by-the-public photos from old family albums and library collections. Traces of Texas is an online museum of Texas history – created by Texans, for Texans. Texas Humor has a huge following because – I figure – most people like a good laugh as often as they can get one. They don't publish jokes in the traditional sense. Their humor is largely visual, comprised of Texcentric memes that are all the more funny if you're Texan. For instance, you will see a picture of wind turbines with the caption: Texas is so hot we've installed fans outside. I Love Texas is perfectly named. It focuses on celebrating Texans' love for their state, in breathtaking photos of Texas landscapes, cityscapes, and historical stories in short form. They have a sister page called I Love Texas Photographs which is certainly worth following. I Love Texas greets you every morning with a stunning photo that says, "Good Morning from the Great State of Texas" and signs off every night with a prayer for those in the military serving overseas. Texas Hill Country is likely the granddaddy of this genre, with nearly a million followers. It has been around since before Facebook, as a site devoted mostly to exquisitely beautiful photos of the Texas Hill Country. Now it still has the photos, but has added nostalgia, music, historical stories, humor, etc. THC also has a companion page named simply Texas. Texas Highways is a publication of the Texas Department of Transportation. It is one of the few older publications that has successfully migrated onto the net and gotten better. I enjoyed Texas Highways as a kid for their photographs and enjoy it even more today on Facebook for the same reason. But is more than photographs. It is, in their words, "the official travel magazine of Texas and the ultimate guide to the Lone Star State." Texas Back Roads is, like the title suggests, a backroads travel page. They say that, "From Abbott to Zunkerville and Antiques to Ziplines, we are letting you know what there is to see and do in Texas." TBR also provides a good deal of historical stories. Texas Storm Chasers is the premiere Texas weather page on Facebook. It further proves that the weather in Texas – and in general – is an everlasting subject for discussion. Started by two high schoolers in 2009, their aim is "to provide weather information in the evolving digital age and to share our professional storm chasing content." Here you will find unsurpassed video and photographs of extreme weather. Texas Country Reporter is the Facebook companion to the TV show where you'll get links to the stories and additional Texas-centric posts that they think you'll enjoy. Texas Monthly is another of the classic Texas publications that has adapted to the digital age quite well, where they remain the "indisputable authority on the Texas scene," from arts to food to travel. Now, I said I wouldn't mention any business pages in the list but I must include the largest following in that category by far. With 65 million "likes," it is – drum roll please – Texas Hold'em Poker. Yep. 65 million people learning when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. The Honorable Mentions, which you can find by searching Facebook: Best of the West (West Texas) Texas Farm Bureau (Splendid Photos) I AM A Texan Texas Pride Images from Texas Texas Pride Texas Mountain Trail Region (West Texas) Vintage San Antonio Flashback Dallas The Texas Observer 100% Houston El Paso Historical Society Landscapes of the Texas Hill Country (Superb photos by master photographers) The King Ranch Schumacher Cattle (Texas Longhorns) Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch Stories from Texas My Favorite Texas Landscape Photographers: Wyman Meinzer (State Photographer) Carol M. Highsmith Tim McKenna Jeff Lynch Larry White David Pine Rob Greebon Travis Yust George McLemore Matt Sklar John Martell Srini Sundarrajan
A Handy Guide To The Most Texas-Loving Pages On Facebook
With 2018 upon upon us, let's look 100 years back at 1918, and let's make some guesses about the coming year. In 1918, there were fewer than 250,000 vehicles on the road in Texas. No driver's license was required, by the way. Given that there were only about 5 million of us back then, we had one vehicle for every 20 people. That made getting to the family reunion a tight squeeze. Today there are 22 million vehicles on the road in Texas – sometimes I think all of them are in the I-35 corridor when I'm there. There are 28 million Texans. Subtract the children and you have damnear one vehicle for every Texan of driving age. Since 1918, cars and trucks have proliferated far faster than Texans. We've seen a twenty-fold increase in vehicles and only a 6-fold increase in people. We're adding cars and trucks faster than we're making Texans. In 1918, World War I ended. Incidentally, it was called The Great War then. It didn't become WW I until we had a WW II, which created the unique war labeling. Many people have been talking about WW III for some time but fortunately, nobody has been able to produce it yet. A million Texans registered for the draft and 200,000 fought in the Great War. Texas volunteerism was high, perhaps because Germany had offered Mexico a deal in the Zimmermann Telegram. They said that if Mexico threw in with Germany, Germany would help them get Texas back. 5200 Texans died during the war. About a third of them died from the other devastating event of that year, the influenza pandemic, better known as the Spanish Flu. It was particularly sad that we had soldiers survive four years of unholy trench warfare and mustard gas only to come home to die of the flu. The Spanish Flu was unusual in that 20-40 year old adults were most at risk rather than children and old people. A common story of the time was of four healthy women who played bridge late into the night. They went to bed and the next morning, three were dead. Children who survived the flu that year, some believe, went on to live healthier lives than most because they developed powerful immunities. My mother had the flu when she was eigh years old. She lived to be almost 102. She was in good company: Walt Disney had it, Woodrow Wilson had it, and so did Texas novelist Katherine Ann Porter, who later wrote a novella based on the epidemic called "Pale Horse, Pale Rider." A study by Vanderbilt University in 2008 found that people like my mom still had the Spanish Flu antibodies, working hard 90 years after they had the flu. Texas cities like El Paso were particularly hard-hit, partially because of Fort Bliss, the military base there. 600 people died in El Paso, almost 1 percent of the population, and many more, of course, survived the flu. Today, we have the flu vaccine, which was invented by Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis in 1933. So though a pandemic of the 1918 variety is not impossible, most experts feel it is highly unlikely. But we cannot say the same for World Wars. It always seems one surprise assassination of an obscure archduke away. Turning to the future, what will Texas look like in 100 years, in 2118? All one can do is look at trends and guess. As Peter Drucker said, "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights on while looking out the back window." So with that warning, let's try anyway. If we go by the futurists at Google, we can predict that there will be fewer cars on the road, per capita, than now. We will have many types of public transportation such as self-driving buses and cars. Fewer people will own their own cars and trucks in the future. Experts believe we will simply hail self-driving taxis using some future version of smart phones which probably won't be called phones anymore. I wonder if we will have taxi pickup trucks, nicely lifted, with an occasional set of longhorns strapped to the front, just for nostalgia. I asked former official State Demographer of Texas, Steve Murdock (everybody's go-to guy for the future of Texas) what the Texas population would look like in 2118. "If Texas continues to grow as it has in the recent past, one would expect it to increase its population to more than 80 million by 2118. This assumes that Texas will obtain technology and other factors to increase the water supply," he said. From this number, we can see that this would put us in the neighborhood of present-day Egypt for size and population. Murdock also said that in the 2050-2060 decade, Texas will be about 55 percent Hispanic and 20 percent white. It's hard to predict trends beyond that point. He said we need very much to ensure educational opportunity for all or we will not have the success in the century ahead that we enjoyed in the last one. My personal guess is that Texas will be incredibly urban in 2118, as compared to today, particularly east of I-35. DFW, Houston and San Antonio will be super cities. Austin may well be a kind of giant suburb of San Antonio. It's quite possible that San Antonio and Houston will fight over city limit signs. If the big tech giants have the future properly envisioned, our cities like Dallas and Houston will be more people-friendly – pushing vehicles out of our streets and reclaiming many as green spaces for walking and biking and sports. And we will all have artificial intelligence robots. I just hope the robots say things like "howdy" and "fixin'to" and "while I'm up, can I get y'all a beer?"
By W. F. Strong As it is Christmas time I got to thinking about the great gifts, money and property, given to the State of Texas over the years. I'm going to tell you about three such gifts that led to a priceless fourth. In 1926, a bachelor banker died in Paris, Texas... a rich bachelor banker that is. His estate was worth about 1-point-2 million dollars. Today, that would be about $17 million, enough to buy a Whataburger for everybody in Dallas and Houston, with enough left over to What-a-size the fries. In his will, the banker left 90 percent of his money to The University of Texas to buy a telescope and build an observatory. The banker's name was William Johnson McDonald. No relation to the McDonald's hamburger chain. Well, as you might expect, Mr. McDonald's relatives didn't like him leaving all that money for a telescope. They believed that anyone who would do such a thing must be, by definition, a bit crazy. So they sued. Fortunately, Mr. McDonald had shared his telescope dream with his barber. He said that astronomy was a young science of great potential if it had the right funding, and hoped that, "one day a telescope would be built that would allow astronomers to see the gold-plated streets of heaven." He was also well-known as an amateur scientist – so the jury had little trouble believing that his wish was the product of a sane mind. Upon appeal, his relatives got more than Mr. McDonald had left them, but UT ended up with about $800 thousand dollars, which is still 11 million in today's dollars. Once UT had the money, they had to go shopping for a mountain to put the observatory on. That must have been fun. Mountain shopping has got to be something that you get to do only once or twice in a lifetime. Lucky for UT they were located in a state that had West Texas in it, with some of the finest stargazing potential in the North America. After driving several thousand miles around the region, inspecting various sites for altitude, dark skies, cloudless nights and poor prospects of rain, they found what they were looking for out by Fort Davis. It had no official name but the locals called it Flat Top Mountain. It was part of a ranch perfectly named for that region: The U up and U down ranch. President Harry Benedict of UT wrote a letter to the owner of that mountain, Mrs. Violet McIvor. He told her of McDonald's gift and of the university's great need for a mountain to put the observatory on. Benedict wrote that her mountain was ideally suited for such an observatory, that "optical tests already made showed that the Davis Mountains region was the best in Texas, perhaps the best in the United States, for astronomical purposes." He asked her if she might consider giving her mountain to science. I think Violet surprised him when she did just that. She wrote back almost immediately and gave UT the entire top of the mountain, 200 acres. She also gave UT the land to build a road to the summit. The resulting highway, Spur 78, is to this day the highest highway in Texas. UT built the observatory and named it for William Johnson McDonald. The mountain was officially named Mt. Locke after Violet's grandfather, G.S. Locke, from whom she had inherited it. Violet wrote to UT and said she was delighted "to have her grandfather's name perpetuated in the Davis Mountains." She said, "He would have been pleased to leave his name among the mountains which he had known and loved so long." Anyone with a scientific leaning can't see the name Mt. Locke without thinking of the British empiricist, John Locke, who believed that the best science was one steeped in observation. I asked Mrs. Julie McIvor, who, along with her husband, Scott, still live on and operate the U up and U down ranch, why her grandmother-in-law, Violet, would have simply given away such a valuable piece of real estate, one that would be worth millions today. She said, "That generation was different. They believed in giving back.They were building a great state and a great country. She loved that she could do her part to empower a better future for Texas – and America." As gifts inspire gifts, only five months after Violet gave her mountain to UT, the estate of long time Fort Davis Judge Edwin H. Fowlkes, donated the adjoining mountain, known as little Flat Top. The Fowlkes estate donated a total of 200 acres and that mountain was formally named Fowlkes Mountain in his honor. Sheri Eppenauer, who is the granddaughter in law of Judge Fowlkes, said that he was a civic minded man and always did what he thought was best for the people of Fort Davis and the region. Three gifts to Texas. An observatory and two mountains. These collectively gave us a fourth gift: one of the world's leading centers of astronomical research – in fact, these gifts gave us the heavens themselves, as McDonald predicted. *I want to thanks Mrs. Julie McIvor and Mrs. Sheri Eppenauer of Fort Davis, family descendants of the donors of Mt. Locke and and Mt. Fowlkes respectively, for their kind assistance with this commentary.
Texas has produced and nurtured a great number of colorful characters, but none more colorful than the prismatic Judge Roy Bean. He squeezed many showy lives into one lifetime. In fact, he didn't become the Judge Roy Bean that Paul Newman immortalized on film until he was almost 60 years old. This proves my favorite maxim: "The greatest mistake in life is thinking it's too late." In his earlier years, he was living in a poor area of San Antonio named for him. It was called Beanville. He tried and failed at many things, mostly for, ironically, running afoul of the law. He failed at selling firewood because he cut down trees that didn't belong to him. He failed as a butcher because butchering other people's maverick cows before you've bought them is frowned upon. He failed at selling milk because he watered it down. One customer complained that he found a minnow in his milk. Bean defended himself by saying, "That's the last time I let that cow drink out of the creek before I milk her." He eventually had some success when he opened a saloon in Beanville, but he sold out when he heard that there were rare opportunities out in west Texas where they were building the railroad. It was in the lawless railroad camps that Bean's vast knowledge of people, his bilingual fluency in Spanish and English, and his unique persuasion skills became prized. The Texas Rangers liked his style and recruited him to become Justice of the Peace in those parts. And he took to the role like he was sent there from central casting. Bean made it known that he was the "Law West of the Pecos." He was actually playing on an older saying that went like this: "West of the Pecos there is no law; west of El Paso, there is no God." So at least, now, there was law west of the Pecos. He hung out a sign saying so. Bean was also famous for saying, "Hang 'em first and try 'em later." Though it certainly worked as a deterrent, the truth is he never actually hung anybody. It's true. There was no jail in Langtry, so Judge Bean would often keep accused criminals chained to a mesquite tree outside until he could have a trial. On a few occasions he would sentence a young man to hang for some generally unhangable offense. The night before the hanging, Bean would leave the lock open, allowing him to escape. The young criminal would never be seen in those parts again. In time, Bean opened his famous saloon there in Langtry on the right of way of the railroad. He was actually just squatting there, but the railroad, because they liked him, eventually created a legal arrangement so he could stay. He named his bar the Jersey Lilly in honor of Lillie Langtry, of England, one of the world's most beautiful women at the time. Bean wrote to her and asked her to visit Langtry, Texas, which he claimed was named for her (it wasn't). She did come to see him, too, but she had to visit him in his grave. She was ten months too late. But that's another story. The trains would stop at the Langtry depot for water and all the passengers would get down to have a drink at the Jersey Lilly. When Judge Roy Bean served customers in his saloon, he never had change. So if a customer paid for a 25 cent beer with a dollar, he wouldn't get back the 75 cents. If he complained, the judge would fine him 75 cents for disturbing the peace. Stories about the abusive Judge Roy Bean got out in the world, and rather than drive people away, everyone on the trains wanted to stop and get harassed by the irascible Bean. You could say Bean's Jersey Lilly was a precursor to Dick's Last Resort in today's world. He had a law book called the "1879 Revised Statutes of Texas0." He liked that one. Even though the legislature sent him new books every two years, reflecting new laws, he burned them. He said he liked the old book better and he like those laws better, too. As a justice of the peace, he could marry people. He had no legal right to divorce people, but he did that anyway. He believed that if he made the mistake of marrying them he should be able to correct the mistake by setting them free. Bean also officially pronounced people "dead." He merged his duties on occasion. He would use his official pronouncement of death as the last thing he said at a wedding: "I pronounce you man and wife. May God have mercy on your souls." The Jersey Lilly was also where Judge Bean held court. And so, naturally, you couldn't be on a jury if you didn't drink. Right in the middle of happy hour, you might say, he would assemble a jury and swear them in. The case would be presented, verdicts arrived at, and sentencing pronounced, all within an hour or two. Often the sentence for misdemeanors was to buy a round of drinks for the jury. He was very patriotic about Texas, too. He often preceded sentencing with words like: "You have offended the great state of Texas by committing this crime on her sacred soil... " One of his most famous cases had to do with a dead man who fell off a bridge there in Langtry. Bean found $40 on him and a pistol. He fined him $40 for carrying a concealed weapon. That was enough to get him buried. Bean rose to international prominence when he promoted the World Heavyweight Championship prizefight between Fitzsimmons and Maher. Believe it or not, prizefighting, back then, was illegal in Texas. It was considered uncivilized. At first, the fight looked like it might be held on the sly in El Paso, so the Texas governor sent 25 Texas rangers over there to make sure it didn't happen. Then, it seemed like it might be held in Juarez, but such fighting was illegal there, too, though only a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, the governor of Chihuahua sent troops to Juarez to make sure the fight didn't happen there, either. Finally, in steps Judge Roy Bean. He sent a telegram to the promoter saying they could have it in Langtry, right across the river on a Rio Grande sand bar. Technically, Mexico, yes, but miles from any authority that would be able to stop it. So the whole menagerie of unlikely associates, boxers, gamblers, Texas Rangers, high-rollers from the East, and spectators of all stripes, boarded a train bound for parts unknown because the destination was kept a secret. Bean met them at his rail-side saloon, sold everybody beer at the exorbitant price of a dollar each, and then escorted them across a pontoon bridge to the Mexican side of the river. The Texas Rangers watched from the Texas side, satisfied that they had no jurisdiction in the matter. The fight ensued, and before the spectators could get settled in for a good, long match, it was over. Fitzsimmons knocked out Maher in the first round. The fight lasted 95 seconds. But the big winner was Judge Roy Bean. He sold a lot of beer and his name went out over the wires worldwide as the clever man who made the fight possible. Judge Roy Bean lived his life in ascendancy, saving the best for last. Had he died twenty years earlier, you never would have heard of him. I wouldn't be talking about him. His fame is still bringing some 40,000 visitors a year to Langtry, over a century after his death. Not bad numbers for a dead man. As a lifelong showman, you can be sure he's grinning in his grave.
The first word uttered on the moon was "Houston." That was the first word of the longer phrase uttered by Buzz Aldrin: "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." I know there are those who say that there were other jargon words uttered first in the process of landing such as "contact light," but that's a mere technicality. The words that matter are those that officially announced the safe landing of The Eagle on the moon, and of those words, the first one was "Houston." Another way to put it is the first phone call from the moon was placed to Houston. But this is not the centerpiece of our story today. This is just a lead into a more fascinating connection between Texas and the moon landing. The fact that Houston was so central to the success of the achievement was prophesied, in a way, 100 years before, by Jules Verne, in his novel, From the Earth to the Moon. This is the same Jules Verne who wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days. He is often considered to be the father of modern science fiction. Well, his book, From the Earth to the Moon, concerns a moon shot. And it was actually a moon shot because in the book, characters attempt to build an enormous cannon and fire a huge "bullet" at the moon. Now, the bullet looks amazingly like the Apollo Capsule. It has room for three people in it, just like the real lunar capsule that would come 100 years later. Even the physics of Verne's moon voyage were impressively correct for his time (except for the intolerable g-forces that would have been experienced by the people in the bullet capsule). So how does Texas factor into this prophecy? Well, Verne calculated that the best place from which to launch such a shot at the moon would be either Florida or Texas. It would have to be below the 28th parallel. He discusses Brownsville as a possible launch site (interesting that Space X is now locating a launch facility there). Corpus Christi is discussed as a possible site, and so is Galveston Bay. Also, Verne names one site in Florida as an option – "Tampa Town." The real life Tampa is across the state from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, where the Apollo moon launch eventually came from. Remember, Verne's novel was written 100 years before the actual moon landing. Verne even named the launch cannon The Columbiad. The command module for the moon landing was The Columbia. The other accurate prophecy came in the way of politics. Verne has a wonderful section in From the Earth to the Moon on Florida and Texas each flexing their political muscle and persuasion skills to win the business of the space launch. The same thing indeed happened 100 years later. The debate was settled by Lyndon Johnson, Texas' native son. He, through political maneuvering, gave the launch site to Florida and the command center to Texas. Still, it is fascinating to read the arguments each state advocated in Verne's novel. The Texans claimed a greater population: 330,000 to Florida's 50,000. Texas had the finest cotton, the best iron ore, the purest grade oil and coveted green oak for ships. Tampa said they had the best bay from which to bring in supplies. Texans said, "You mean a bay clogged with sand! Galveston Bay can hold all the navies of the world." And then Florida dropped the big one – the space launch should go to the state that is truly American. Texas got red-faced and said, "Scandalous – wretched little strip of country like Florida to dare to compare itself to Texas. Texas didn't sell herself to the union for 5 million dollars. She won her own independence at San Jacinto when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and drove the Mexican armies from the state. Only then did we voluntarily annex ourselves to the U.S. Anyway, that little strip of land called Florida will be ripped apart by the forces of the moon launch." Florida said, "Not so. And Galveston Bay is slightly below the 29th parallel and Tampa Bay is right smack on the 28th parallel," perfectly positioned for the moon shot. And so Florida won that argument. And 100 years later Florida got the launch site, too. But in real life, I figure Texas got the best deal with the command center (and the budgets). And, it got the first word. The first word of consequence uttered on the moon was "Houston." And it was this space connection that gave us a team called the Astros, the WORLD CHAMPION ASTROS, I might add. *Special thanks to Dr. Jack Stanley who told me about this book and its unique connection to Texas.
I was looking at a list of honorary Texans recently. It is quite a long list. Only about a tenth of them would be known to most Texans. John Wayne – no surprise there. The only surprise is that it took until 2015 to make him one. Chuck Norris, born in Oklahoma, was made an honorary Texan a few months ago. Gov. Rick Perry made many of his favorite political allies honorary Texans: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck, for example. George W. Bush made Bob Dylan an honorary Texan. Ann Richards chose Don McLean, Bob Hope, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among many others. Alan Shivers made General Douglas MacArthur an honorary Texan. The one case that stands out to me as the most astounding in this honoring business – and to my mind, the most deserving – is when Gov. John Connally, in 1962, awarded honorary Texan status to thousands of men simultaneously. He made the entire 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, C divisions of the U.S. Army for World War II, honorary Texans. As this year's Veteran's Day is fast approaching, I thought I would tell you how this came to be. We must begin our story with the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment comprised of the Texas National Guard. Their nickname was the "Alamo Regiment." In 1944, they were at the lead of a push to drive the Germans out of France. The battalion had a large supporting force during their campaign but they pushed ahead so fast in the Vosges Mountains that they found themselves cut off and surrounded behind enemy lines. They became known in World War II lore as "The Lost Battalion." The only good thing for the Texans is that they were on top of a mountain and so they had the classic advantage of high ground and line of sight. But they were still pounded by German artillery. It was foggy, rainy and very cold. They quickly dug fighting positions in the wet, muddy soil and covered themselves with tree limbs, rock and dirt. They did everything they could to provide cover from the splinters of tree bursts and shrapnel from exploding shells. They were also out of food and water. Exceptionally courageous pilots were able to fly through the rain and fog and airdrop small supplies of water purification pills, c-rations and ammunition to sustain them. Even Hitler became aware of the Texans' situation and he issued orders that they were not to slip away. They were to be killed or captured at all costs. The Army redirected its push to the Rhine to focus on first, saving the 1st Battalion from the Germans. American forces pounded the German lines with their artillery, but the forest was so thick they weren't having much effect. So they had two different infantry battalions try to break through the German lines and each was repelled by horrific hailstorms of bullets from the German machine guns called "Hitler's buzz saws." This is when the 442nd and the 100th Infantry combat regiments were called in. Battle-hardened, they had a reputation for succeeding in just these situations. Their motto was "Go for broke." It took them five days of brutal, close-quarters combat on muddy terrain in bone-chilling weather to reach the Texans. They fought tree to tree and yard by yard to reach the top of the mountain. The 442nd started out with 3,000 men and took 1,000 casualties. 800 wounded and 200 killed in action. By the time they reached the Texans, they, too, had been fairly decimated. The Texans had lost over 20 percent of their force – they had been killed, wounded and captured. It is said that the first soldier of the 442nd to reach them merely walked up to their commander, Lt. Marty Higgins, and nonchalantly pulled out his Lucky Strikes and said, "Cigarette?" Higgins gratefully accepted. After almost a week, they were freed from the German onslaught. What makes this an even more surprising story is not just the ferocity with which the 442nd fought, or the casualties they took to save their brothers in arms. The real surprise is that the 442nd was a Nisei regiment, comprised of second-generation Japanese-Americans. Most of them, along with their families, had been put into internment camps at the beginning of the war. These men, however, asked if they could fight, rather than sit out the war. And they were extraordinary fighters. The 442nd was called the Purple Heart Regiment because they received more purple hearts than any other unit their size in WWII. Over the course of the war the 442nd was awarded 5,200 Bronze Star medals, 588 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, seven Distinguished Unit Citations, and 21 Congressional Medals of Honor. The late Sen. Daniel Inouye was one of the Nisei who fought to rescue the Texans, and later earned his Medal of Honor when he lost his arm taking out a German machine gun nest in Italy. When the 442nd returned from Europe, President Harry Truman said, "You have fought not only the enemy, but you have fought prejudice – and you have won. Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win – to make this great Republic stand for just what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all the people all the time." Many years after the war, President Bill Clinton upgraded a good number of the military awards for the 442nd. Some of the Nisei had not received their due because, sadly, they were Nisei. Clinton said, "Rarely has a nation been so well served by a people so ill treated." And that is why Gov. Connally, too, paid tribute to the 442nd and 100th Battalion by making them all honorary Texans. It was his way of demonstrating to the these soldiers, and their descendants, the solemn gratitude of the Great State of Texas. We will always be grateful for the supreme sacrifice they made in saving our men. Much of the background for this commentary was provided by Scott McGaugh's book, "Honor Before Glory."
What's the best Whataburger you ever had? That's a question a friend of mine likes to ask everybody. Seems a strange question, but in Texas it isn't. When he first asked me I told him I could not tell him about the best Whataburger I ever had until I first told him about the time I most wanted one. Many years ago I took a job in Africa for the period of a year. While there, I just couldn't find much to eat that I liked. I lost about twenty pounds in six months. I was so thin the local Care guys joked that they might have to send me a package. It was at this point of mild starvation that a friend back in Texas, Don Love, sent me a two-by-three foot poster of a Whataburger. Ten times life size. Hot cheese, mustard and onions cascading seductively down the sides. Food porn. That is exactly what it was. I think it was the cruelest thing my former friend could have done. There I was in Whataburger-less Africa, staring at that poster every day. He had me Whataburger-dreaming for months. After a year in the African hinterland, I flew back into DFW. Though it was midnight, I hailed a taxi and said, "Take me to the nearest Whataburger." I got a double-meat double cheese, with chopped jalapenos. I whatasized the fries and the Coke and chased it all with a chocolate shake and an apple pie. Now that was the best Whataburger – indeed, the best meal – I ever had. I am not alone in having such priorities. Soldiers on leave from posts around the world often go straight to Whataburger when they get home. I tell you, If the Pentagon would make MRE Whataburgers, it would lift morale. Some people who live in Whataburger-less states will drive a couple of days to get a Whataburger. They don't even check into a hotel. They just eat one, take one to go and drive back home. So you see, there are only two kinds of states in America – those who have Whataburger and those who wish they did. In the Whataburger states, there are connoisseurs who feel that there is a particular restaurant that makes the best Whataburger of all. They will drive 60-70 miles in this Holy Grail-type-quest to get what they feel is the Whataburger of Whataburgers. Whataburger is a Texan chain, born as a food stand on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, back in 1950. It was the brainchild of a burger visionary named Harmon Dobson. His goal was simple: in a time of small burgers, he wanted to make one so big it would take two hands to hold it, and so good that with one bite people would say, "What a burger!" And it was so. When my mom used to take me and my two brothers to Whataburger when we were just little boys, she would first spread newspapers across our laps in the back seat of the cavernous old Buick sedan. Then she would cut the burgers in half and serve them to us that way, one half at a time, so we wouldn't "make a mess" of her protective plastic seat covers. Three things I loved about the early Whatsburgers: 1. The triangular buildings that looked like the orange table tents everybody takes as souvenirs today. 2. The smell of burgers and onions that permeated the air within half a block. 3. My mother saying, "If you finish all of that, you can have a shake." Today there are 810 Whataburgers across the Orange States of Whataburger Nation, from Arizona to Florida. Texas remains the capital, of course. All of these Whataburgers are open 24/7 – proving every day that everything is bigger and better in Texas.
Anytime I hear someone say something like this: "Y'all 'bout fixin' to head out?" I think it's highly likely that they are from Texas. You have y'all and fixin' to in the same sentence and a couple of contractions. We do love our contractions, which, if you don't recall from your halcyon days of grammar school, are words squeezed together to make shorter ones, with apostrophes standing in for what's missing. "Y'all" of course, is our most famous contraction. But we have even extended its usefulness by placing "all" in front of it to form "all y'all." It is well known that y'all describes two or more and all y'all could mean five or 500. And we even use all y'all possessively as in "y'alls's." I heard this sentence at a barbecue two weeks ago: "Y'all need to move all y'alls's trucks so Carlos can leave." Now that y'all have heard this, I know y'all are gonna start wanting to practice your possessives, but try to wait till the lesson is finished. I'll let you go in two minutes. We can also use an interesting contraction for something that is owned by at least two people. "Whose dog is this?" "Oh, that yorkie is our'n." Our'n is a contraction of our own. It's our'n. The expression is a bit archaic – on its last legs, so to speak – but still around if you listen carefully. The king of contractions I believe is y'all'd've. It has three apostrophes in it. Three! You have to admire the muscular nature of that contraction. y'all'd've. You all would have. And here's how you use it: "y'all'd've loved it if y'all'd've come." Now just stand back and take in the magnificence of that sentence. 12 words reduced to six! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very soul of linguistic efficiency. Cousins of y'all'd've are she'd've and he'd've. She would have or he would have. "I figure she'd've married him if he wudn't such a ne'er-do-well." Or, for a more modern take, "He'd've already lost 20 pounds, if he'd've stuck with that low carb diet." I'm sure you've heard of "would've, could've, should've" as a kind of mantra of regret over what might have been. My father was fond of it. It was his way of teaching me that I could not change the past, but the future was quite pliable. Similar to a contraction is a hybrid word, or as my friend and linguistics professor Lars Hinrichs calls them, portmanteau words. These words are comprised of two words. "tumped" is one such word. "I tumped over my coke." It is a combination of tipped and dumped – tumped. I don't say it myself, but it is common in Texas and throughout the South. "Spanglish" is a portmanteau word. It combines the words Spanish and English to describe the tendency to merge the two languages with expressions like mandar un mail (send an email) or googlear – to google something. Hangry is a modern portmanteau, combining, of course, hungry and angry. "I'm mighty hangry for a Whataburger." Certainly a useful word. Chillax, too, is quite in vogue these days. And for a more Texcentric take on these hybrids we have: "texplain" – to explain Texas to others; "texpatriate" – one who lives outside of Texas but still longs for home; and "texcellent," which needs no explanation. That's our linguistics lesson for today. Y'all'd've liked it a lot more if y'all'd've been listening instead of repeating everything for your immediate amusement, but that's okay. As long as all y'all had a good time.
Uncle Dale was the first grownup to come home in the afternoon. He wasn't our real Uncle – we just called him that. Back then, it was considered rude for a child to call an adult only by their first name, so we had lots of aunts and uncles. Uncle Dale got up when it was still dark and walked a mile to work, where he put in hard days at the Halliburton yard. At 3:30 in the afternoon, he would, as the poet Appleman put it, "follow his shadow home to grass." And there he would sit, in his law chair, under the gauzy shade of a mesquite tree, and watch over us as we played baseball in the street. It was a caliche road – hard and dusty in dry times and it turned to cake-like mud when it rained. Home plate and second base were in the middle of the street. First base was in the Garcias' yard and third base was in Uncle Dale's yard. Uncle Dale was our umpire. He would sit there drinking coffee from a big white mug, smoking one cigar after another. We could smell the sweet tobacco drifting through the infield. Even now, I can smell it as it drifts across the years to where I sit. Uncle Dale ruled on close calls from the comfort of his place in the shade. "That was a foul," he'd say. Or he would coach: "Two hands while learning, RJ!" He also served as traffic cop: "You boys get out of the road before that truck runs over you!" I can only remember his getting out of his chair one time. We were having our own little baseball draft, the way we always did: hand over hand up the bat – you remember. Well, Mrs. Anderson came over and suggested we draw numbers out of hat – making one team out of the even numbers and the other out of the odd numbers – to spare the feelings of those often chosen last. Uncle Dale would not stand for these progressive ideas. He was a purist. He got up and he waved her off, saying, "If a boy is struggling, he needs to know it early so he can do something about it." One day we came home from school, and we saw Uncle Dale on a huge Halliburton bulldozer in the brush down the road. We went down there to watch him because, like all boys, we were fascinated with anything that could topple trees and reform the earth. After about thirty minutes, he shut down the dozer, hopped off and said, "There's your new baseball field boys! You're off the streets." "Well, don't just stand there," he said, "Get your gloves. Let's break her in!" Never again was the crack of a bat muffled by a car horn wanting to drive through our infield. Uncle Dale's baseball field cost him a few phone calls and three hours of his expert labor. But it gave us and the boys that followed us years of immeasurable joy. It was the greatest gift we ever got, really – the gift of a beautiful boyhood and the lifelong memory of it.