Retail Therapy n’ Woes

With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?

Crazy Texas BootsOh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio. When we first met her, the thrift shop was on the main drag in the historic part of town, and benefited from an enormous amount of walk-in traffic because it was on the main drag – although in a cramped three rooms and a teeny bathroom which doubled as an overflow storage room. But Kay was a pro when it came to management, coordinating unpaid volunteer workers, in attracting wonderful donations, and she used social media like a champ … I swear, many of the most enticing donations which came into the shop were pre-sold almost at once. Yes, a charity thrift-shop, of which there are are already a few in the town of which we speak, but this particular one stood head and shoulders above the competition. The goods on display were often of an amazingly-superior quality and the pricing was reasonable. It’s a truism familiar to those of us relatively-poor people with high-end tastes; the very best pickings are to be had in charity thrift-shops in upscale locations. When my parents went to re-fit their own retirement house—burnt to the ground in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire—my mother often preferred shopping in such thrift stores. They could pick out things roughly similar to what they had lost; of superior quality and lightly used, at a reasonable price. Such things fitted their lifestyle and pocketbook; where is it written that those on a budget must settle for cheap cr*p, anyway?

So we loved the little shop which Kay ran, and brought home many fine things for a mere pittance – items like my vintage Ariat cowgirl boots, and a set of unused quality bedding – matching bed-skirt, quilted coverlet, pillow shams and boudoir pillows that originally retailed for nearly $1,000 all told. Alas, after five years of operation, the shop had to close around mid-summer. The historic building which housed it was being renovated – and the three rooms which housed the shop were no longer available to the charitable organization, nor was any equivalent premise available at a price which said organization was willing to pay. Still, we rejoiced with Kay was hired to run another charity shop in the same town, benefiting yet another and somewhat similar charity. Superficially, all was as it had ever been and at first seemed like even better; the shop was now in a larger space, a quaint Victorian cottage where there was now more room to suitably display the wide range of items which Kay attracted from the same kind of donors. Alas, there were two flies in the new pot of ointment; the cottage was a little off the beaten track when it came to walk-in traffic – and never underestimate how miserably hot it can be in a Texas summer, even in the Hill Country. But Kay’s regulars and volunteers loyally followed her to the new place, and when the monthly open market was held – there was a good turn-out. With the coming winter, and a number of special events in the town where the shop is located, there was a hope of business returning to something like the same level as in the old location.

The other fly was the peskier one; Kay now answered to a manager – an absentee manager in another state, who had very definite ideas on what the shop should accept and market – ideas which turned out to be a radical change. The take-in from the shop was unacceptable, said the absentee manager. It was simply not enough. So, henceforward, the absentee manager dictated, the shop would only carry collectables, high-quality jewelry (costume and otherwise) and original art. Everything else – shoes and clothing, household items, knickknacks and sports equipment had to go, immediately. Items should be labeled with a little price tag on a string, and be priced competitively – and none of this accepting just any old donation. Only quality stuff in a few limited categories, even if it had to be obtained from estate sales and auctions … no word on how this kind of activity would be funded, or who would be doing it, or researching the market-value of the select inventory. And the town of which I speak is thick with antique shops, collectable shops, and art galleries, most of which seem to be run by either entrepreneurs and paid professionals. At this juncture, Kay handed in her two-week notice. They let her go after a single week – and now, apparently, the shop will be run entirely by volunteers.

So, without knowing any of the economics – how much was the lease on the shop, how much it actually cost to run vis-à-vis the intake, and how much Kay’s personal connections with the donating and volunteering community contributed to the shop – I can only look at it from the outside, and what it all looks like to me as a consumer. Essentially, this one shop dominated the retail niche it occupied. It was open every day but Mondays – which put it ahead of the other shops, and Kay’s on-line marketing through social media made out-of-town shoppers well-aware of what was available. The goods were attractively and tastefully arranged by a professional. Oh, sure, some of them were the usual sort of junk which gravitates to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but taken overall – it was a far superior shopping experience, in quality and aesthetics. And now, under the dictates of the absentee manager, it will be just another boutique in a town full of them. My daughter and I agreed – we likely won’t be able to afford anything in it, and it will only last about six months before the charitable concern running it pulls the plug.

It Never Rains …

American Gothic - Texas-style

American Gothic – Texas-style

But it bloody pours. Here I am, starting the marathon of book events for my own stuff and for Blondie’s origami art, which runs from early October until well into December, (Lord willing and the Ebola don’t rise) and suddenly all the Tiny Publishing Bidness clients who have been languidly considering their potential books – some of them from last year or this summer and one of them from out of the clear blue sky – want to move ahead with their projects. Now, if not a day or so ago. It should have been a warning to me that the business bank accounts were all at low ebb … that’s when something happens to fill them all up again. It never fails – something always appears, just in the nick of time. There was the written-content job of so many chapters for a publisher of study guides who found me through the milblog; they wanted someone with military experience who could also write to order and somehow stumbled onto little ol’ me. That project upheld the lifestyle at Chez Hayes for nearly half a year; I was in two minds about committing to it, but closed my eyes and plunged in away. Then there was the document transcription project … again, good for maintaining the lavish Chez Hayes lifestyle for most of a year, when taken in together with the other writing projects and sales of my own books.
I had a lovely book event in Fredericksburg early this week – a local book club contacted me through my website; would I come to their social, and more importantly – do a guided tour of the spots in Fredericksburg which featured in the Adelsverein Trilogy? One private tour for the club members, and another the following day for the general interested public? As it was mapped out, the tour comes out to a shade less than three miles, to cover it all – from the town cemetery and that little church building which served the black community in the mid-1840s, all the way to the Marienkirche, which served the Catholic community from the earliest days. Good thing I suggested that everyone wear comfortable shoes … and that there were plenty of stopping places with shaded benches, and that at the point of two-thirds into the tour we were at the old established town square, where there is a very clean and well-maintained public lavatories and some picnic tables in the shade. The ladies of the book club were enormously welcoming, and hospitable, having secured us a room for one night at the Sunday House – which we fell upon with gratitude, being completely exhausted by the tour and the evening meeting. Yes, I will try to come to book-club meetings which have read the Trilogy or any of my books, as long as such are in a commutable distance from San Antonio. I am not such a big-name author that I can be snotty about such invitations.
Fredericksburg was blissfully uncrowded on a Monday, and Tuesday morning, and a two-hour long walk, plus some evening socializing let us catch up on all the local gossip, and note some changes in the town: a wonderful and theatrical 1920s Spanish Colonial style house on Austin Street has been torn down, to the regret of all; an apparent victim of black mold and extensive termite damage being found upon a new owner commencing renovations. But a classic German-Texas style house on Adams – which was under renovation for as long as I can recall has finally been finished very charmingly as a day-spa. There are now little bed and breakfast accommodations all over the historic part of Fredericksburg, tucked behind old houses; one of the club members told us that there were 350 B&Bs in town now, not to mention several good-sized hotels. And there is a new museum going in – a Ranger museum, next to historic Fort Martin Scott. That makes four museums in a single small town, which must be some kind of record. Alas, the yearly Comanche pow-wow used to be held on the land where they are building the museum – and the pow-wow is banished to the Gillespie County fairgrounds.
Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who was a considerable mover and shaker in Fredericksburg and was kind enough to read the Trilogy in manuscript and approve of it all with extravagant enthusiasm passed on last year. I had kind of expected something had happened to him, as he was not in the best of health the last time we were in touch, and he dropped off Facebook entirely … still, I wish that I had known in time to go to the memorial service.
Finally – one of the walking tour participants told me that the corner plot which I allocated in fiction to the Steinmetz family was actually his family’s town plot, and that they held onto it until the 1940s, when they sold it to the church which presently has their activity center on the site. He’s a Luchenbach, and an old friend of Monroe Behrend, the master of the fast armadillo. Small towns – you have to love them, but also be careful, because everyone knows everyone else, or they are related to everyone else. So, that’s my week – and I’ve written this between doing up a couple of contracts and estimations for the new projects.

And The 2014 Winner for Sycophantic Drooling Is ..

obama-drone-paltrow-sabo(You know, I thought I might loosen up before a weekend of book-stuff by taking aim at Gwyneth Paltrow, a legacy movie actress who I have always suspected to be close to a total blithering moron in real life, but now know it for sure, in addition to being one of B. Obama’s the most appalling sycophants. Gwynnie, sweetie, I suspect that your acting career – at least in enormously popular blockbuster movies – is now at and end. I’d have done a right proper Sgt. Mom rant, but commenter Drumwaster at Protein Wisdom beat me to the punch with this blast of ranty goodness.)

Gwyneth? Gwynnie, hun? I know you aren’t ever going to read this, because it is neither a script with a multi-million dollar-paycheck made out to you (and your agent), nor a fan magazine story kissing your cellulite-laden heiney, but maybe someone who cares about you will read it to you…

Pay attention, now.

SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU HYPOCRITICAL BINT. You are an example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood and none of which is right with this country. You are the spoiled brat scion of worthless parents who brought you up to believe that Fame – Wisdom, and have surrounded yourself with people who believe the same thing. That is no way to go through life, dearie.

Your Dear Leader had two years of damned near veto-proof majorities in both Houses, and the only thing he managed to get passed were trillion-dollar deficits and the ruination of the Health INSURANCE industry, while doing absolutely nothing at fixing the problems with the Health CARE industry. Not to mention the elimination of any kind of real credibility the US might have once had before he took office, any kind of Full Faith and Credit the American citiznes might have once had with their government, what with abusing the IRS to punish “his enemies” (who were also American citizens, remember), the NSA to spy on the rest of you, gutting what protections the Constitutional Amendments may have once offered (such as the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Fourteenth, et alia), selling guns to the drug gangs south of the border, refusing to admit there actually IS a southern border, abandoning our allies, encouraging our enemies, and demolishing what little value the currency has left.

He may be “so handsome”, but he is as worthless as you are, with the added fact that he can’t even deliver a valid speech without a teleprompter, while you have the (not-at-all-rare) ability to memorize words written by people better and smarter than you. So if you really want to make the world a better place, take the money you would have given him, add in all the money you get from selling all those fancy clothes, expensive cars and that craptacular box you live in, and donate it to the nearest actual charity. If you need a place to live at that point, go rent an apartment and live paycheck to paycheck like all of the people you say have it easier than you do with those “14 hour days” you work. (ProTip: You wanna know what the rest of us call a “14 hour day”? Normality, but without the chance to get a do-over when a mistake is made.)

So It Begins

… I think. My crystal ball is out for re-calibration so I cannot be absolutely certain, but I’ve been expecting a crisis or bundle of intersecting catastrophes for some time now. There have been murmurings for the last year regarding the probability of Ebola spreading out of Africa. And now it has happened – a person sick with it has exposed lord only knows how many other people on his way back to Dallas from a visit to Africa. Which is horrific enough, but just getting started. Meanwhile, an enterovirus which attacks the respiratory tract and in some instances has an effect very like that of polio has been here for some months, sickening children – especially those who have respiratory difficulties. It has already killed five – this ailment which was rare in the US heretofore but apparently fairly common in Central America. The supposition is that it was carried into the US with the government-assisted influx of child illegal immigrants earlier this year. Were I the parent of a school-aged child in a public school and exposed to this virus – as many children doubtless have been – I would be furious, or even more furious than I am; that third-world diseases are being casually dispersed throughout communities in the United States for some .deliberate purpose; a Cloward-Pivening of the system, to pack the Democrat party voting rolls, undermine the labor market, or perhaps just to crash those local communities where the illegals have been parked. (Yes, illegal immigrant – I’ll say so and be damned, sir!)

For two years and more I’ve been expecting race-riots in those American cities hardest hit by the double-blow of single-party machine politics and the complete inability of the Obama administration to actually meet any of the sky-high expectations of him held among the black underclass. So, they got to feel good about themselves for a couple of years, before realizing they are worse off than ever. Can’t be Obama’s fault, of course; it must be all that white raaaaacism. St. Louis looks to be ground zero – again – at this point in time. The race card is about played out with me, having known too many good, hardworking and patriotic citizens of color – but I am about to the point of getting that bumper sticker that says, “I wish my ancestors had picked their own damn cotton.” Of course, my American ancestors didn’t grow cotton, and were in fact fiercely abolitionist Quakers. I suspect even the most racially tolerant among them would be loosing patience with the black thug underclass these days. I know now that many of those who comment on various blogs – about the only source on incidents of the knock-out game or flash-mob lootings – are loosing patience as well. So much for content of character, rather than color of skin.

And the Middle East is well-afire now, with ISIS/ISIL/The New Caliphate gleefully pouring more gasoline on the bonfire, and posting regular videos on social media of beheadings and mass executions, recruiting wanna-be-jihadis from across the United States and from Europe. Meanwhile, the Kurds and the Israelis stand nearly alone, while it seems that it is more important that American troops be sent to Africa, either to assist local governments in fighting the Ebola epidemic or to catch it themselves and bring it back to the stateside military units and their families. Hard to tell what the intent of the Obama administration is, these days; one hesitates to attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence or stupidity.

One is reduced to eying the actions of the federal government with wary suspicion these days. After this – and other actions, to include Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, the NPS deliberately barricading national monuments and the ongoing disaster that is Obamacare – who besides those who serve, enable and benefit directly from it can claim with a straight face that our federal government is not motivated by greed and outright malice towards us?

Discuss.
(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Gypsy Retail in the Autumn

My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.
Stock - 2
This includes New Downtown Bulverde, not quite so unobtrusive, and a few miles farther north at the intersection of Hwy. 281 and FM-46 West. This is where is where the schools are, as well as the fire department – newly built and lavish, the shopping center with a huge HEB Superstore. Bulverde is what my daughter terms as one of San Antonio’s bedroom slippers – once distant and separate communities now in commutable distance from the big city. The other bedroom slipper is Boerne, which boasts a more definable, scenic and historic downtown. Physical evidence of a wealthy yuppie demographic contingent is strong in Boerne – wineries, gourmet grocery stores, chichi designer boutiques retailing everything from country furniture, clothing, jewelry, baked goods and coffee – not so much in Bulverde. Boerne has a monthly community market; Bulverde has them twice yearly, spring and fall. Boerne’s is on the historic downtown public square, or what our readers in England might call a common – a half-acre square of lawn, edged with mature pecan trees and adorned with a Victorian-style bandstand. Bulverde’s community market is – as said – in the parking lot of Beall’s, in New Downtown Bulverde and organized by the Bulverde/Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce. A friend of ours, who was part of the planning committee, told us that every single slot was filled – all 135 of them, a substantial increase over the spring market in May. But of course, Christmas is coming.

Our day began at 5:30. Not to beg any pity over that, but we did have to eat breakfast, scroll though our regular news sites and email accounts, walk the dogs and water the garden, before pulling out for the half-hour drive to Bulverde. We had already packed Blondie’s Montero SUV the night before; the pop-up pavilion, the necessary weights for it, the tables, folding chairs, the necessary racks and display items – and of course, the plastic tubs with all the stock; my books, her origami art. Blondie calls this exercise ‘Automobile Tetris’ – packing in everything which we will need. The bulkiest item is the wheeled rack to display her origami earrings – a repurposed and repainted soft-drink rack. The heaviest is the pop-up pavilion, which takes both of us to carry – and to put up. We had to be set up and ready to go before 10:00, when the market opened – and hopefully before then, for the Montero had to be out of the way and parked in the designated vendor lot. Having the pavilion, the chairs and the tables saves us a fair amount of money – some other market venues offer them for rent for vendors. The practice is for regular vendors to have all their own market furniture – not just the pavilion and tables, but things like display racks and signage – and a trailer to haul it all around. One little local boutique maintains a vintage Airstream trailer as their portable premise. Many of the regular stalls in local markets are run by hobbyists who have a full-time regular job and do gypsy-retail on weekends; artists in metal, beadwork, fabric, wood and pottery, small truck farmers and producers of small-batch soaps, candles and skin-care products, or artisan gourmet foods. Sometimes they scale up to a permanent location, or already have a permanent location and do the local markets to build awareness of their products. Our immediate neighbors, by the way, were a crafter who did bead jewelry (we remembered her from the spring market) and Miss Scarlett’s Texas Homegrown – organic produce. Which was quite good, and reasonably priced, too; Miss Scarlett’s owners are a young couple with a two-acre plot in rural Bulverde, where they intensely cultivate a wide variety of vegetables – and bees. We came away with half a dozen yellow squash and zucchini; he runs the farm, she does the weekly markets.

Blondie has a unique inventory – origami paper jewelry. She does mostly earrings; miniscule cranes and tulip flowers, which astound people for their tiny size, with a side-line in hair ornaments, pins and magnets. The crane earrings were a particular hit at this market, since they are priced to be readily affordable, and in practically every imaginable color. There was a lot of foot traffic, pleasingly constant for all the six hours that the market was open. That there was a good retail turnout is reassuring, in the light of current events. The day was fair, clear and warm, with a regular cool breeze that beat back the heat until about 3:00. Blondie had more sales than I did, dollar-wise, but many people took away information about my books – another thing to keep in mind for something like this: business cards and postcards. Quite often, there is an uptick of sales of my books on Amazon in the week or so following an event, from having handed out information. For both of us, the more that we are out and about at the markets – the more shoppers know about us. This is much more important for Blondie, since it may be harder to sell her origami items where people can’t actually look at and handle them in real time. I had a nice time, and several nice talks with readers; especially with a young student, all of eleven years old named Lorena, who picked out To Truckee’s Trail when I said it was the book of mine most suited for her age – although Lone Star Sons is intended as YA, it’s not available until mid-month and the only copy I have was for display.

This was our booth at the spring market - everyone wanted to know where we got it - Amazon, of course.

This was our booth at the spring market – everyone wanted to know where we got it – Amazon, of course.

The last hour of a market usually drags; the numbers of shoppers begin to drop, and while the vendors are committed by agreement with whoever is managing the market to stick around until the official closing, there is usually some surreptitious packing-up going on leading up to that point. Everyone is tired, bored as the crowds diminish, and more than ready to pack up and go home. The Chamber asked that we take down and pack up completely before bringing our cars and trucks into the area, which is a reasonable request – the gridlock is horrific, otherwise. We had everything broken down and packed in the Montero in twenty-five minutes, and were dropping with exhaustion by the time we got home. We’ll be doing this or something like it almost every weekend until mid-December – Ebola, or not.

Home Grown Jihad

I think that I shall never hear a phrase more heavily loaded with skeptical sarcasm than the bromide of “Islam is a religion of peace.” It’s even more heavily loaded than the Soviet-era convention of client states calling themselves the “People’s Democratic Republic of Whatever.” I also will never see anything rhetorically speedier than those self-elected community Islamic community leaders who briefly note some horrific and murderous act committed by a member alleged to be in good standing in their community and then commence to whine about how they will be hurt (Hurt, I say, deeply hurt!) by the resulting (nearly always non-existent) anti-Islamic backlash on the part of the general public. Strong word – whining, but no other expression quite hits the spot when it comes to self-centered self-involvement. The implication which comes across is that blowing off the legs of runners at the Boston Marathon, knocking down the Twin Towers, opening fire on a bunch of Army troops at a post processing center, or beheading a middle-aged female office worker while screaming Allah Akbar is more wrong because it makes Muslims look bad, not because it is mutilation and murder, mass or otherwise.

This whole ‘anti-Muslim backlash’ concept is richly ironic, considering how militant Islamics in the Middle East and in Equatorial Africa (by whatever name they go by) are working overtime with the social media, in putting out pictures and videos of beheadings, mass executions, mass kidnappings, boasting of these and encouraging adherents to greater efforts. Islam would seem to need very little help in looking bad, brutal and murderous.

Now – after a summer of very well-publicized beheadings of Westerners in the Middle East, we have the beheading of a Westerner in the middle-west, although bless their hearts, the mainstream media combine is doing their very best to call it workplace violence, stamping their tiny feet and squeaking “Workplace violence! Workplace violence, I tell you!” By an ex-convict jailhouse convert, who had just been sacked for proselytizing and scaring the heck out of his coworkers, who immediately went to the administrative offices of his workplace with a big knife and where he would expect to find – not burly warehouse workers and truck drivers – but female office workers, and where he expended a great deal of effort in beheading one of them, all the while screaming Islamic slogans, until righteously dropped by a company c-level executive who happened to be a reserve deputy sheriff. Meanwhile another self-identified Muslim in Oklahoma has been charged with a terrorist offence in threatening to behead a co-worker – at the very least, bad timing, and very bad taste if meant as a joke, as the co-worker apparently first thought it was. Alas, it seems that we are all loosing our sense of humor regarding the “religion of peace.” Are we now at the point where we begin to play cowboys and Muslims?
Discuss.

(Cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net)

The Last of her Ilk

I was going to write about another mildly notorious woman – an imperishably ladylike and competent professional gambler who was a figure of note in her day on the Texas frontier – for today, but I noted the departure of Deborah, known to her family as Debo, the last of the notorious Mitfords, from this mortal plane. Yeah, it was in the Daily Mail website, but they had a number of lovely archive pictures of her, taken throughout her life – which through no particular fault of her own – was spiced with notoriety. Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – which sounds like a made-up title for one of those horrible regency romances – was privileged and burdened, I think – in about the same degree.

That she bore that burden with a fair degree of graceful competence – and added to that – wit, insouciance, and that indefinable quality called ‘class’ and remained stalwart under it for all of her life – is something that bears contemplation. She was home-schooled, as it seems, eccentrically under the rule of a very eccentric father. She and her sisters were only expected to marry well, into the peerage if it all possible, and be ornaments to their husbands various careers, much as Englishwomen of their class had been schooled to do since time immemorial. But unexpectedly, she and her sisters – all attractive, intelligent and charming – also turned out to be fairly strong-willed and wildly independent in thought. In the hothouse of the 1930s, that meant political thought. This led three of her older sisters down some very strange political and social paths; two into notoriously enthusiastic sympathy verging on the treasonous with the Nazis in the lead-up to and during WWII and one – a dedicated Communist – into eloping with her second-cousin and going with him to report on the Spanish Civil War. One older sister became a writer of considerable note, penning historical biographies and several popular novels based on Mitford family life, the dedicated Communist sister ventured into journalism and civil rights, while another married into relatively respectable obscurity … just as Deborah herself did in 1941, to Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of a duke. Likely they had also expected lives of relatively respectable obscurity, although that could not entirely be depended upon, due to their bonds of kin- and friendship with any number of newsworthy people on either side of the Atlantic.

Such expectations were shattered by the wartime death of Andrew Cavendish’s older brother, the expected heir to the honors and property, along with the responsibility and the crippling tax burden. Within another handful of years, they took it on; the huge, crumbling stately manor of Chatsworth, which had been neglected for many years. Together they worked to open it to the public, to restore and revive an architectural and cultural treasure. It took, according to the linked account, nearly a quarter of a century to pay off the death duties on the Devonshire estates. She and her husband were also keen gardeners, and the grounds of Chatsworth are at least a much of a work of living art as the house itself. Always a prolific letter-writer, and with the example of two of her sisters to inspire her, she also turned to writing books – chiefly to do with Chatsworth, but also a memoir of her husband, her own memoir of growing up Mitford, and a collection of letters between herself and Patrick Leigh-Fermor. Many of the comments attached to the linked story mentioned encounters with her in person; a gracious, charismatic and quietly formidable woman, and one of a sort that we will likely not see again.

Tommy In Service – Conclusion

(Wherein I meditate upon the relationship between military members and veterans, and the commander-in-chief – present and most recent last.)
I was not a voter especially enamored of establishing a ruling class, so I was not all that enthused about Bush 2. In the 2000 elections I was considerably annoyed that it was an unedifying choice between the scions of two long-established political families. I thought it was not a good omen, redolent of hereditary politics and an established aristocracy – and that there was not that much to choose between them. At this point Al Gore had not displayed anything of his hypocritical and self-serving fixation on so-called ‘global warming’ – and I basically flipped a coin. But as it turned out, post 9-11, my daughter’s commander in chief was Bush 2, and as it also turned out, his respect and consideration for the troops in wartime was a rock of constancy. To quote the line from the TV series Sharpe’s Rifles, “There are two kinds of officers, sir: killin’ officers and murderin’ officers. Killin’ officers are poor old buggers that get you killed by mistake. Murderin’ officers are mad, bad, old buggers that get you killed on purpose – for a country, for a religion, maybe even for a flag.” Bush-2 was the second sort – he might get you killed, but it would have been for a serious purpose. (Since this is a discussion of how our presidents appear to, or appeared in the past to relate to successive commanders-in-chief, I will not be drawn into a sidebar discussion regarding the wisdom of making war in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2002.)

My daughter and I both had the same opinion of Bush 2 with regard to the military; one of affectionate and mutual respect, which he has carried on in his private life. I suppose one of the best examples of that was on the occasion of his surprise visit to Baghdad in 2003 – when he appeared, the roar of applause and cheers was unforced and spontaneous. (No, it was not a plastic turkey.) One still reads now and again of Bush 2 and Laura B. still quietly coming to meet returning troops at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, or hosting disabled soldiers at private events and marathon mountain bike rides at the ranch, and mention is made now and again of their quiet and relatively unpublicized visit to Fort Hood after the Hassan shooting spree.

Which brings us to the present commander in chief, a man who has perfected the fine art of returning a military salute with a Styrofoam coffee cup in his saluting hand. I’d join in the outrage over this, but really – the man is only behaving in the manner that we have come to expect from him in regards to the military. He appears to like the perks, the toys such as drones and Air Force 1, the deference and being able to whistle up a uniformed rent-a-crowd at any moment, but he doesn’t possess the least particle of understanding of or respect for military tradition. One gets a sense that it’s a perfunctory effort – and that military people really aren’t quite real to them; just automatons, all dressed alike, to be dispatched to Africa because of an Ebola epidemic, to Benghazi to not defend the consulate, or to hold an umbrella … whatever. While he has bestowed honors for valor on individuals at White House ceremonies, and Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden have now and again made a stab at a show of support and concern for dependent family members, the sense is inescapable that the Obama administration is just going through the minimum motions required for a favorable photo op.

Although Obama has made a superficial good showing with military-oriented events, they seem to be scheduled less and less often. I suppose it is a bit of a thrill for the junior troops come through a base and have a meet’n’greet with them. As indifferent as I was to Jimmy Carter way back then, I would have appreciated a visit from the commander in chief – I might even have been rather thrilled to do an interview for FEN, if it had been allowed. More telling, I think is the reception that Obama got, at a speech last month before attendees at the American Legion convention. That was an audience of veterans of all vintages – and the largest portion of them all but sat on their hands and listened with stone-faced courtesy. One might almost feel sorry for a speaker whose presentation meets with such a cold reception, but … well, his is the administration whose Department of Homeland Security head had to walk back from a report which painted disgruntled veterans as likely recruits for terrorist organizations, and was reported to have briefly considered John Kerry, of Winter Soldier anti-Vietnam war protest fame as Secretary of Defense. That such a nomination was even considered sufficiently enough to make it into the Washington paper of record should be proof enough of the veiled contempt in which this commander in chief holds for the larger part of those citizen-defenders who make up the US military.

Tommy in Service

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees! – R. Kipling

I started my first stretch in the military as Jimmy Carter was elected and sworn into office. I did not think anything of him, particularly – either pro or con, although being a bit of a snob, I did think it was distinctly juvenile of him to be known as Jimmy, rather than James. Boys are called by the diminutive; men ought to go by their proper names. The one big issue that I did hold against him for most of my first hitch in the military was when he declined a military spending bill which would have provided for the rebuilding of the Misawa AB high school, which at the time of my assignment there was housed in three pre-WWII buildings which had once been Imperial Japanese Army stables. On hot days, those buildings still smelt faintly of horse, and the students had to use the base gym for their PE classes. I recollect that there was grumbling resentment among the senior NCO cohort (and likely among the officers , too) whose teenaged dependents attended the school, to the effect that that Amy Carter did not attend classes in 70+ old shacks that smelled of ancient horse-shit. The Iran hostage situation and his limp-wristed response to it didn’t develop until later. And Carter – that bundle of mind-numbing sanctimony and anti-Semitism – was gone by the time I was done with that first tour, having pretty much disappointed everyone who assumed that having been a wartime Naval Academy graduate and serving USN officer would have been good for something when it came to being a commander in chief.

There was Ronald Reagan. Whom, I must confess, I did not at the time totally appreciate. The massacre of Marines in Lebanon weighed on us all, and the whole Hollywood-B-movie actor thing was a bit of am embarrassment. Not as much as the election of a dilettante Chicago community organizer would be, but then I am getting ahead of myself. So– save for that one incident – RR pretty much left the military community unscathed, if I recall correctly. He made all the right gestures and speeches, and a fair number of what we only later came to recognize as smart moves. He appreciated the military, in a rather understated way. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 – that unforeseen miracle was in a large part his doing. The cold war menace seemed to dissolve, like mist in the morning, and everyone in the military heaved a sigh of relief. I’d guess there were at least two generations, maybe three, who had expected to see the Russian Army come through the Fulda Gap, and had standing arrangements to see their dependents evacuated from Western Europe in that event. I was one of them.

And so we came to Bush One; a comrade that I served with in Korea had come straight off the White House/Presidential protection element. He adored the senor Bushes, especially Barbara, and to hear him tell it, the senior Mrs. Bush was a fond grandmotherly figure to the agents. She even called him “Timmy” – rather rich, considering that he was one of those six-foot tall built-like-a-concrete-traffic-bollard guys. It turned out that peace did not descend at once, although bases in Western Europe closed right and left. Bush One – he struck us generally as a decent old stick, a for-real combat veteran. I guess that we could say that he did well by the military, as my friend Timmy could attest.

So – on to the Clintons; Timmy good a good look at the whole clan early on, thought they were trashy, and applied for a reassignment. There were stories in print and through the grapevine that Hilary was snotty beyond belief towards the uniformed military. The original Sgt. Stryker – who worked as maintenance crew on the presidential flights during the Clinton administration – allowed on one occasion long afterwards that the only two people associated with it who appeared capable of gracious courtesy towards the Air Force-2 staff were Tipper Gore and Louis Freeh. I myself never had the privilege or pleasure of coming anywhere near Washington DC, or the Pentagon during my time in active service. I had retired the year that the Lewinsky scandal broke, but I was still in touch with friends who still were on active duty. Most of those friends –mid-to-senior NCO ranks, and a handful commissioned officers – were all disgusted; more than disgusted – embarrassed and simmeringly angry. I recollect reading a story in the Air Force Times regarding a number of senior officers being reprimanded for commenting on Bill Clinton’s sexual morals – or lack of same – at a dining-in. A person of senior rank having a sexual relationship with a very-much-younger subordinate would and has gotten a good few military members disciplined or sacked. Seeing the commander in chief get away with it … well, nothing more calculated to drive home the lesson that there is one set of standards for the ruling class, another for the ruled. And in this present time, the military of whatever rank are the ruled.

(to be continued with Bush 2 and the current C-in-C. Also – crossposted at chicagoboyz.net)

O Tempora O Mores

Early this month, my daughter and I clubbed together and bought a DVD collection of Mel Brooks movies for our evening TV-watching pleasure. I think we already had Blazing Saddles on DVD, and maybe The Producers and Young Frankenstein on VHS – but the plain fact is that we didn’t have any of the rest, and I only dimly recalled seeing many of them on original theatrical release, most usually at tiny AAFES movie theaters in various overseas locations. Seriously, it took years to get over expecting to stand up for the national anthem before the main feature, along with the usual wits shouting “Play ball!” as soon as the last strains and the flapping flag in slow-mo mistily faded from the screen. My daughter hadn’t seen any of them, save the aforementioned two, and so … we’ve been happily entertained, by working our way through the collection. It’s often noted, by no less than Mel Brooks himself that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today. Oh, let me count the ways, from the non-stop use of the n-word, gleeful use of national stereotypes, the campfire scene, the breaking of the fourth wall, the campy and screamingly gay movie director… yep, the professionally aggrieved would be screeching to high heaven.

Young Frankenstein doesn’t hit on quite so many social sore points as Blazing Saddles … but History of the World Part 1 certainly does. That’s another one which probably would send the professionally aggrieved on fire. As for Silent Movie, that was kind of a one-joke sketch fattened out to feature movie length. My daughter didn’t know that Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were married, or that Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman had ever looked so very young. High Anxiety was funny enough, as a pastiche of practically every movie Alfred Hitchcock ever made. So – on to The Twelve Chairs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights in the coming week. Don’t know how those two will manage to offend the easily offended, but I have hopes. It is kind of dispiriting, when I remember funny, slapstick and anarchic humor like Mel Brooks, or those movies like Airplane and Top Secret! Produced by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, or mockumentaries like Spinal Tap and confections like Ghostbusters … and then consider at the great earnest blocks of concentrated dullness coming out today. There are comedies still being produced of course … this is a list of what is currently available on Netflix, but scrolling through it, I just don’t fell much like watching any of them. Quite honestly, most of them just don’t seem like all that much fun.

9-11-2001+13

This year is not one of those significant anniversaries – the year-marks that end in zero or mark a quarter or a half of a century, but for a couple of reasons, this one seems to weigh more heavily on me than any of the others, save possibly the one-year-after mark. It had only been a year after a perfectly shattering, unimaginable event, quite the equal to me of what Pearl Harbor had been to my parents. Without a whisper of warning – oh, if you had an abiding interest in the matter, or were a particularly imaginative secret squirrel, you might have seen it coming – a fissure the size of the Grand Canyon suddenly split the normal, day-to-day world, and after it, everything was different. On September 12, 2001, the world looked superficially just as it had two days before, save for maybe a few more American flags, and having to get to the airport hours before your flight, not to mention the gaping hole in the skyline of lower Manhattan. But it was the new normal, and kids in middle-school or starting high school have never known anything else. What I recall from ‘before’ is as remote and faraway to them as the Dust Bowl, or the splendors of the Edwardian era. That was then, this is now.

This is the now, with ISIS, or ISIL or whatever they wish to call themselves, recruiting volunteers across Europe and the Middle East, to establish a new Caliphate in the Middle East. What our armed forces bought in blood in Iraq has been essentially given away by this administration as carelessly as if it were a no-longer-fashionable shirt put into a plastic bag and dropped off at Goodwill. The southern border is made of wet tissue paper – and this administration has essentially contrived to swamp working-class communities with illegal aliens … who at the very least are innocent of the ability to speak English, and at worst are unrepentant gangsters. It can also be assumed that just about all of them are unvaccinated against diseases both common and uncommon which are also extremely communicative. Yes, well done.

Those same borders are also open to Islamic terrorists of the same stripe as those responsible for 9-11. It is likely only a matter of time before an atrocity every bit as horrific strikes a major American city … just as it is only a matter of time before certain of our inner city black underclass breaks out in city-killing riots. The present of Detroit may very well be the tomorrow of certain other cities. The working and middle-class flee, and if the city is glamorous enough, the rich and the very poor remain behind. If it isn’t glamorous enough, only the very poor remain. Many of our cities seem to be hanging by a thread – especially the older, old-industry ones. It is only a matter of time …

And so, we wait for the other shoe to fall. And it will fall – there is no doubt on that, just as there is no doubt regarding this current administration’s ability or willingness to rise to the occasion.

Under the Radar

I guess it must matter to the elite class who seem to manage and report in our established American national main-line media – that no one notice the very ugly and violent racial war which is breaking out. Unless, of course, it is a case of a white, or nearly white, or almost-sort-of white in a confrontation with a member of the black thug class; there, I said it – the black thug class. This is a totally different class from the striving and generally hardworking and patriotic black middle and working class. And this I know very well, as a veteran, and through residence in a working-to-middle-class Texas suburb; a fellow military veteran once quoted to me something which one of his military comrades had said – “There is black and there is white, and then there is just trash.” The comrade was black, and he was quoting his grandmother, a lady of certain years – years sufficient to permit a degree of blunt honesty regarding matters racial. There is black, and there is white, and then there is trash.

The elite class appears to believe that anyone of Anglo pallor who points this out must therefore be a racist, especially if in reference to the unsavory, thuggish habits of the black variety of trash. As if looking away and keeping silent would make it all go away. But the trouble is, there is just too much of it, too many incidents before and after the Zimmerman case, the riots in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, flash mobs or small groups or individual black youths playing the knock-out game with random innocent citizens, elderly people attacked and robbed in their homes and cars … it all makes the local news for a day or to, websites and blogs for a day or two more, and then such reports and the racial makeup of the perpetrators and victims are dropped like a dirty Kleenex … until the next time.

The statistics of black-on-white, black-on-black and white-on-black crime paint are skewed to the complete opposite of how such occurrences are covered in the mainstream media. The relatively few incidents of white-on-black murder or rape are national headlines for weeks, whereas black-on-black and black-on-white violence is quickly shuffled away from the front pages and the lead story. It’s almost as if the national media is embarrassed by such occurrences, and considers them unseemly. As a commenter at Samizdata remarked, in relation to the Rotherham abuse scandal, it’s as if they don’t want to say anything for fear of setting off white riots, or something. Which is a pretty insulting assumption, and does no one – black or white or otherwise – any favors at all. Existing pathologies in the black culture which glorifies and rationalizes thug behavior cannot be dealt with, if it isn’t even open for discussion by anyone. The white victims of black criminals – or their next of kin – are left to simmer at being relegated to being non-persons, or insultingly lectured about white privilege. And the establishment press and media dribbles away a little more credibility, every time it tempers coverage of a story depending on the colors of the perpetrator and the victim. Discuss.

(Cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net)

One Thing After Another

As the garden looks on Labor Day weekend

As the garden looks on Labor Day weekend


It seems that Autumn, that taunty b*tch, is determined to delay her arrival in South Texas until the last possible moment. She might rightly collide with Winter in the very same weekend, but … well, this is the place that I have chosen to live, and anyway as long as it isn’t cold enough to kill the vegetables in pots, I am satisfied. I’d love to be able to shepherd the peppers, the eggplants, the okra into another season. But as always – I still desire to turn off the AC and open the windows to casual breezes and night-time temperatures in the 60s. Even if it does put nothing aurally between me and the basset hound next door, who can hear a mouse fart in a high breeze three houses away, on those nights when he is outdoors. And yes – his owner does know that Chester can be a noisy PIA … but the owner is a good neighbor to us, and Chester ensures that no perv will ever be able to climb over the fence into the backyards on our street without about half the neighborhood knowing … and considering that you could likely fit out the army of a small European country with the arms-related contents of this neighborhood alone… well, we are inclined to be indulgent about Chester. He is either an early-warning system or a discourager-of-pervs.
I’ve been sorting out the remains of heat-killed plants, and moving those things which have survived and thrived in pots to cluster around the steps of the shed, or the newly-reclaimed back porch. No, I will not have to get new pepper, okra or eggplant starts next spring. I swear that one of the things that the garden shops deliberately keep from backyard gardeners is the fact that pepper plants are multi-seasonal. If the darned things don’t get frozen, they will go on bearing, bearing and bearing, summer after summer. The garden presents a rather pleasing aspect, given that the pepper plants are doing very well with their second wind, and I will get a nice crop from them; banana peppers, hot red cherry peppers, cayenne and jalapenos … that is, if I can beat back that wretched rat who also has a taste for peppers and their leaves…
The Back Porch - Reclaimed

The Back Porch – Reclaimed


But enough about my garden and weather woes; I have about four projects for Watercress coming up, but not until late this month or into October, so I have taken the opportunity to finish off the book for this year – the YA collection of adventures which were inspired when I tried to figure out a way for the Lone Ranger franchise to recover itself. The more that I thought about it, the more fun that it seemed, especially as it seemed to me that what was key to a ripping good yarn depended on bagging the whole mask, silver bullets, noble white steed tropes, and the generic cardboard setting of the post-Civil War west. Just about everything to do with those is heavily copyright protected, of course. But wrenching the whole concept out of the standard and threadbare conventions, starting all over with the two characters – a young volunteer Texas Ranger and a Delaware Indian scout, setting it in the Republic of Texas years – which were stocked plenty with fresh and unused concepts and characters … I scribbled out the set-up adventure and five more episodes, leaving scope for a good few more, and that’s my book for this year, just in time for the Christmas marketing season. It’s a totally YA and male-friendly adventure, by the way; Blondie has pointed out that the middle-school-age male of our species has been left sadly underserved since the conclusion of the Harry Potter cycle. All that is left to them in popular literature are sparkly vampires in the forest and dystopian fantasies … why not go for something positive, affirming the cowboy way?
Why not, indeed? As soon as I have the cover near to final, I’ll be taking orders – and Blondie and I have been working at sorting out the calendar of our fall and Christmas marketing events.
New phone. Complicated. This is why she is my personal assistant.

Sunset Empire

Between my English and Scots-Irish-English grandparents, a deep and abiding love of English literature and history, a fair number of English friends, and two long-ago summers sojourns in Britain doing the youth hostel and Brit-Rail Pass, I’ve always looked on the place as my metaphorical second country. I know it about as well as any American could and not actually be in residence there, and I’ve always kept in touch – through English magazines, newspapers and yes, in recent years through websites. Yes, and I score sufficiently high on any number of those quizzes testing American knowledge of British slang to say, with perfect truth, that I speak fluent Brit. (Although I can’t place British regional accents … something to do with acquiring most of this knowledge from the printed page rather than the spoken word.)

So, ever since I happily discovered The Internet, and began following more news than was available in the local newspaper and mainstream print publications, I’d been reading English news sites – starting with, I think, The Times of London and The Spectator – before they put the good stuff behind a pay-wall, and moving on to the Telegraph. I had a print subscription to the Guardian Weekly, for years – and occasionally checked out their website before the burden of wading through waist to neck-deep oceans of political-correctitude got to be too much of a chore. Now my guilty tabloid pleasure is to scan the Daily Mail; I know, in the eyes of the grand and the good, this is about one step above the Star or the National Enquirer. But the Mail and the Enquirer have of late begun to commit regular acts of non-partisan journalism – especially when it comes to the American political scene, in contract to the supposedly more respectable publications.

So, I was already aware of the horrific and ongoing scandal of native English girls – many barely into their teens – being groomed, raped, gang-raped and sex-trafficked by British-born Pakistani men, in Rotherham and elsewhere. The release of an especially damning report on a formal inquiry into the matter has even rattled the cages of bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club – and no wonder. The most horrifying aspect isn’t just that girls were routinely raped on a wholesale basis, or that many were blackmailed by threats to their family into cooperating in their own exploitation. Even worse is that the police forces, social workers, and local politicians also knew – but refrained from doing anything about it because they did not want to be accused of racism. It seems that the national media outlets also looked away, for as long as they could. As commenter Andrew X, at this discussion thread explained: The media lying is due to a combination of fears – fear of being called racist, fear of Muslim fanatics, and above all a fear of the public. The establishment sees the working class as ignorant racist morons so they’re afraid to say anything that might give the mob an excuse to go on the rampage. It’s not just the rape gangs that see British people as “white trash”.

Wrap your mind around that, if you please – that those bureaucrats, politicians and investigators whose profession and mission is to protect and defend their fellow citizens, especially the most vulnerable among them – hesitated to act because they were afraid of being called racists, which would be a career-limiter, in these present days. They might get a letter of reprimand, or a tough question or two from local media and a certain degree of heat from the diversity-loving intellectual set. That many of the girls victimized were from working-class families or the English equivalent of trailer-trash, or from troubled backgrounds anyway just adds a dimension of particularly ugly snobbery. In order to maintain the benign mask of multicultural toleration and diversity in place, the ruling managerial and political class essentially sacrificed the children of the ruled class to a sexual Moloch … and kept quiet about it for years. How badly the ordinary British citizens are being served by their ruling class, these days! (Nearly as bad as as Americans are being served when it comes to black on white crime, but that’s a rant for another occasion.) My grandparents would be appalled, and horrified at what has become of the country that they immigrated from 100 years ago, but still held in affection.
Discuss.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

This and Data – August 2014

Another week at Chez Mom’s – here in Texas it’s been over a hundred every day for the past two or three weeks. Yes, August in Texas has been unfavorably compared to Hell by wits and commentators since Phil H. Sheridan. Probably before him as well, but in any case, I say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessings to the Jon Wayne HVAC folks, and to the nice lady who bought the California property a year ago next month. Her payment for the property meant that I could have the HVAC in this house done as it should have been by the original builder. Funny that my chronic cough let up round about that time; the deity only knows what kind of mold or crud was in a lot of those ducts and interchange boxes.

Moving right along … because of the heat and probably other things – the flea problem this year is pretty intense. This necessitated a bath with flea shampoo for all the dogs. No, we didn’t try and bathe the cats – what, do you think we are insane? Although it was a bit of a risk with Nemo, who hates water unless it’s in a bowl for him to drink; water from a hose, standing water that he needs to wade through? His detestation of the element is obvious and long-standing; one of the reasons that we think he might have been a cat in a previous life. Anyway – he got the bath with flea-killing shampoo, and although it did take both of us to administer it in the kitchen sink, he did not try to bite or nip. So – progress.

On the sad side – the cat-herd is diminishing. This is due to age, rather than accident, but we were never very certain how old that Wubbie, the fluffy confirmed escape artist was. He was an adult cat when he turned up, dripping wet one afternoon when the next-door neighbors’ grandsons were playing with their new super-soakers. They are good boys, really they are, but they were much younger then, and poor Wubbie was sitting on the hood of the car, stunned and drenched in ice-water. We took him inside, and he never left, save for brief excursions when he whipped between our ankles and ran out to a particular place in the next-door front yard to chase away any interlopers. We did briefly consider asking the neighbor if we could bury Wubbie there, since it was a place he was so fond of … but re-considered.

My newest new toy; a Cuisinart multi-griddler, which was one of the newer models, offered at a considerable discount on Amazon last week, along with a set of waffle plates – also at a considerable discount. We nearly bought a previous iteration a couple of months ago, seeing it for a marked down price at a local high-end HEB, but a total stranger, seeing that we had it in the cart, came up and freely told us what a total disappointing dog it was to her. She really unloaded about all the unfortunate features … most of which seemed to have been remedied in this version. The good thing is that this new toy allowed me to get rid of an electric grill (a nice one, but too hard to clean and never really got hot enough, even as it smoked out the kitchen), an electric griddle (which was a cheap model, heated erratically across the surface, a hand-me-down from a friend) and a George Foreman griddler which we got for nothing, but which was missing a griddle plate which proved to be impossible to replace. So – space cleared in the kitchen, one for three!

We’ve done waffles in it already, and grilled sausage patties on one side and fried eggs on the other, and so vary, everything has come out well; it heats thoroughly and evenly … and cleanup is a breeze.

And that’s my week? Yours>

Two White Comanches

(To make up for a slow posting week, this history post is extra-long! Yes, my refuge from current events this week is the 19th century. As far as I know, this is not illegal, yet. Incidentally, both these people are walk-on characters in the next book – excerpt here.)

As I have often noted before, the past is a vastly more complicated and more human place than the watered down history textbooks would have us believe. Yes, complicated and curious, and not nearly as bigoted as those who foment pop culture would think. Kipling might have been more right than he’s been given credit for in the late 20th century when he wrote, “…But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
A pair of men from 1840s Texas – the time of the Republic of Texas illustrates this point obliquely, although I don’t have any evidence that they ever met face to face. They possibly might have – Texas was a small place then – and practically everyone knew each other.

Late in October of 1837, a Comanche war party descended on a small farm near modern-day Schulenburg, Texas, owned by a recent arrival in Texas, one James Lyons, who worked the farm with the aid of his wife, four sons, a married daughter and her husband. The youngest son was Warren, then about eleven or twelve years old. James Lyons and Warren were milking cows in the early morning when the Comanches came; the other family members hastily barred the windows and doors and escaped harm. But the raiders killed and scalped James, snatched Warren and half a dozen horses and vanished with the boy and livestock into the vast hunting grounds to the north and west. His mother never gave up hope for her son, although the other members of the family sorrowfully resigned themselves that he was gone – since all efforts at locating and ransoming him were unsuccessful.

Warren was spotted at least twice over the next ten years, first by another captive who was later ransomed – he was at least thirteen or fourteen by then, and had already made his preference plain. He was, she said, in and out of the camp where she was held – participating in raids, although probably not as a full-fledged warrior, but rather as an auxiliary, minding the horses. An Indian agent met with a camp of Yamparika Apache on the upper Washita in 1846, and tried to convince Warren to return with him. But Warren did not want to return, apparently believing that the rest of his family had also been killed. The next year, a party of surveyors working near present-day Mason encountered a band of Comanche whom they were certain were about to kill them all. But one of the warriors was Warren, who overheard the surveyors discussing their apprehensions and told them they weren’t in danger. They would be let go the next day. The surveyors – one of whom was an acquaintance of Warren Lyons’ mother – tried to convince him to come with them. Again – he refused to leave the Comanche. But the next year, a party of Comanche came to either Fredericksburg or to San Antonio to do some peaceful trading. The story varies in several sources. Since this occurred during the period of a truce brokered by John Meusebach on behalf of the German settlers in the Hill Country, the Fredericksburg version sounds likelier – but San Antonio was a larger and more cosmopolitan place, the economic hub of the region and not on the edge of the far frontier at the time. By coincidence, two neighbors of the Lyon family were there, recognized Warren, and approached him, pleading that he should return – at least, visit his mother. The third time was the charm, apparently – even though he claimed that he had two wives among the Comanche and did not wish to leave them. But the friend of his mother presented him with a pair of fine red blankets, and Warren gave each wife a blanket, telling them that he would return.
If he did, the stay was brief, for upon returning to the Lyons farmstead, Warren was overcome with emotion on seeing his mother again, although she did not at first recognize him. His family and the little community which had grown up nearby – now called Lyonville – welcomed him back, joyful and generous.

One of his older brothers convinced him to stay in the white world, by talking him into serving as a Ranger, in the contentious borderlands between Texas and Mexico. Doubtless this served two purposes by allowing him to fight another party than the Comanche who had lately been his comrades, and to provide a substitute for the free-roving and untrammeled life he had become accustomed to. Some time later, though, Warren was in a Ranger company led by Edward Burleson and did participate in a bitter skirmish against the Comanche, so hard-fought that the Rangers were certain they were about to be overrun. No, said Warren – who had been listening to the Comanche warriors shouting to each other – the Comanche were giving it up, and withdrawing. Relieved, the Rangers packed up their dead and wounded. Doubtless, having gotten this out of his system, Warren Lyons resigned from the Rangers, and settled down in Johnson County. He married one Lucy Boatwright in 1848, raised a family of children and prospered quietly, although he did retain certain eccentricities of behavior – as in preferring moccasins to boots when it came to a fight, during his Ranger service. Warren Lyons died at a relatively young age in 1870.

As for the second of the white Comanche adoptees – he was never a captive, but came along willingly. Robert S. Neighbors was a native Virginian, born in 1815 and left as an orphan at the tender age of four months by the deaths of his parents. He was raised and educated by a guardian, and like many another restless youth of the time, sought adventure and fortune in Texas in the fateful spring of 1836, when he was just twenty-one. He found adventure, all right, serving in the Republic of Texas’ tiny professional army as quartermaster. When his hitch was done, he gravitated to San Antonio and another kind of military service as a member of Jack Hays’ volunteer Ranger company. When the Mexican Army under General Adrian Woll made a lighting-fast raid on San Antonio in September 1842, Bob Neighbors had the ill-luck not to be out on patrol. Instead, he and more than fifty other Anglo men – either local residents or in town for a session of the civil court – were taken captive and packed off into Mexico for a stint of imprisonment in the San Carlos Fortress – Perote Prison. There he spent two years, before being released and returned to Texas. Presumably a quiet life operating a hotel in Houston was a little too quiet; within a short time he was off again in another service to the Republic of Texas; as an Indian agent with primary responsibility for the peoples of two tribes noted for volunteering as guides and combatants with the Rangers – the Lipan Apache and the Tonkawa. Both these tribes were traditional enemies of the Comanche – peerless and brutal warriors who had swept down from the Rocky Mountains once they acquired mastery of the horse and made the Southern Plains their own. He developed one rather unusual practice as Indian agent – he went to the various tribal villages and dealt face to face with leaders there, rather than wait for them to come to him at the agency headquarters. Neighbors developed a fluency in the various languages, a grasp on the subtleties of tribal cultures – and more importantly, the friendship of many. It was said that no white man in Texas had more friends or a greater influence among the Tribes.

One of his field visits to a Tonkawa camp coincided with a visit by a Comanche war party on their way into Mexico to raid for horses. For once the Comanches were in a rather more friendly mood towards the Tonkawa than usual – demanding only hospitality in the form of food for themselves and their horses and some entertainment for the evening. Fearlessly, Bob Neighbors asked for an introduction to their leader, Mopechucope or Old Owl, which was granted. Old Owl admired Bob Neighbors’ fine coat, and knowing that was expected, Bob promptly took it off and gave it to Old Owl. Strangely enough, Old Owl took an immediate liking to Bob Neighbors; instead of Bob making a civilized man out of him, Old Owl suggested – he would make a good horse thief out of Bob and adopt him, if he came along with the war party. Bob Neighbors didn’t hesitate, this being an invitation that few Texans would ever be offered and even fewer would consider accepting. He went with the raiding party, returned safely and departed from Old Owl’s camp with gratitude and with his scalp intact – the only occasion where an official in the service of the Republic of Texas went on a raid with a Comanche war party.

The friendship with Old Owl and the Penateka paid off in the years immediately following. Bob Neighbors was one of the negotiators at the peace conference which led to a peace treaty between the Penateka Comanche and the German settlers who arrived on the Texas frontier through the auspices of the Mainzer Adelsverein.

When Texas was finally admitted as one of the United States, Bob Neighbors was one of those assisting in the negotiations between the US Indian commissioners and representatives of those tribes living in Texas – and received a federal appointment as an Indian agent. In the spring of 1849, he was tasked by Major General William Worth, commander of the 8th Military Department to explore, survey and establish a wagon route to El Paso from San Antonio. He led a mixed command of Rangers (including Robert Salmon “Rip” Ford) and US Army troops, as General Worth correctly figured that Bob Neighbors was about the only man in Texas who could venture into Comanche lands and return again to tell the tale. In fact, the expedition traveled with the good-will and for a time the presence of Buffalo Hump, a prominent Penateka war chief. The expedition was a success in mapping out a route eventually used by the Butterfield Stage lines in the following decade, and by the modern highway. In between these bouts of public service, Neighbors found the time and inclination to marry, and establish a home on the Salado Creek, for his wife and children.

The position as federal Indian agent was a political patronage job, and the election of a Whig administration late that year brought an end to that duty. But Neighbors served as a state commissioner and in the state legislature, and there he sponsored a resolution to establish – with the concurrence of the federal government – reservations for those Indian tribes with a presence in Texas: not just the Penateka Comanche, but the Caddo, Shawnee, Anadarko, Tonkawa and a handful of smaller divisions. With another national election in 1853, Bob Neighbors was back to work with a federal appointment as supervising agent for the Texas reservations; one on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River, the other on the Clear Fork. And one would have thought it would have been clear sailing for Neighbors, as a stout champion of his Indian friends and their welfare, as well as being respected in his own right as an explorer and Ranger. Alas, he had become hated by white settlers for his championship of the Indians. Those tribes which had settled on the Brazos reservations were often and vociferously blamed for continued raids on white settlements. Those Indians – especially Comanche who continued to range freely – held the reservation Indians in grand contempt, and often deliberately routed their own raids on white communities so as to implicate the Reservation Indians in the atrocities committed.

John Baylor, who had been one of Neighbors’ sub-agents in spite of his detestation of Indians, became one of Neighbors’ most bitter enemies on being dismissed from that position, and never missed the opportunity of inciting the anger of white settlers against the Reservation Indians. At one point, Bob Neighbors had to call on federal troops stationed at Camp Cooper and Fort Belknap, to protect the Reservation against a Baylor-led attack by white vigilantes. By late 1859, Neighbors came to realize that his Indian charges were no longer safe in Texas. He organized the evacuation of the Brazos reservations. With four troops of federal soldiers and Robert Neighbors himself as escorts, nearly 1,500 Reservation Indians were conveyed to a new federal reservation in present-day Oklahoma. He achieved this without any loss of life, but on his return to Fort Belknap to file his final report as the superintendent of Indian affairs, he was assassinated – shot down from behind, in retaliation for his friendship and championship of the Indians. He was buried in the Fort Belknap cemetery. In the space of the next year, Texas seceded, joined the Confederacy, and federal troops were withdrawn from the frontier – creating a whole new war along the frontier. But that is another story.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz and at my Celia Hayes website.)

Top of the Slide

Forty years after the fact is a fine time to wonder if maybe that murderous freak Charles Manson had a point, after all. This is a savage disappointment to me, having been carefully schooled in racial tolerance since about the time that my mother nearly kicked off an epic family fracture when she requested that my paternal grandfather please tone down his expressions of racial denigration in front of us kiddies. She might also have asked the same of Dad, back in the day – he was, after all, raised by Grandpa Al, who – by his talk – couldn’t abide Negro-Black-African-Americans, or whatever the current socially correct term is – and Grandma Dodie, who couldn’t stand Jews. That their favorite entertainer of all time was Sammy Davis, Jr., was just one of those amusing ironies – that and the fact that they were always perfectly cordial to those of my parent’s friends and mine who were Jewish, and/or not by any stretch of imagination white Anglo-Saxon protestants was another one.

I optimistically assumed that more than half a century of civil rights being the law of the land had put an end to Charlie Manson’s sweaty fantasies of racial war. I honestly did … in spite of knowing that there were neighborhoods in most large American cities where a person of Anglo pallor like myself did not want to be caught, alive or dead, in broad daylight or the dark of night. I also knew at a remove of the existence of a university sub-culture of grievance studies and residual pools of racial resentment lovingly maintained like rare orchids by professional race-mongers (yes, I am looking at YOU, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson). My generally optimistic assumptions regarding race relations were based on personal experience and first-hand observation in academia and the armed forces, despite the occasional lapse – say, after the OJ verdict and the riots after the Rodney King beating. I served with commanders and first sergeants who were black – and finer, more decent and patriotic people could hardly be found. I served alongside others, some who were close enough and good enough friends that we could speak honestly about black/white relations and the general history of race relations in America. I also had friends who were partners in interracial couples – in all possible combinations and variants. Indeed, some of my own daughter’s regular dates would have had Grandpa Al revolving in his grave like a Black and Decker drill. This is supposed to be the ne plus ultra when it comes to judging racial tolerance – in that “Would you want your daughter to marry one?” Content of character came way ahead of race for me, every time.

And then there came election of The First Black President Evah! Such was my happy state of innocence in 2008 that I assumed that a page had been turned; the one positive development leading from the election of a completely inexperienced local community organizer was that we might confidently expect to have heard the very last of the USA being the most raaaaacist nation ever! Alas, even that small hope has been cruelly squashed over the six years since – chiefly because this administration’s public affairs branch, or the traditional print and broadcast news outlets as we used to call them – mostly insist on attributing any objection or doubt regarding Obama’s legislative or administrative goals as being motivated by racism. This is as tiresome as it is untrue, but the absolute and unvarying insistence has taken a toll. What is even more dispiriting is the knowledge that black racism is more overt, more in-your-face and more threatening – witness the ongoing riots in St. Louis; it’s as if the election of Obama unleashed something malign, rather than putting it away like an outworn security object. Discuss.

(Cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net)

Schrecklichkeit

It’s a German word – it means “frightfulness“ – and it was used, if memory serves and a brief internet search conforms – it was a sort of shorthand for the reprisals exacted by the German Army against civilians during both wars. If not an actual German military field policy in WWI, it had certainly become one by WWII; brutally persecute, torture and execute civilians, and make certain that such horrors became well-known through extensive documentation within the theater of operations, and outside of it. To encourage the others, as the saying goes, but on a grand scale – to make war on a civilian population, once all effective military have departed the area – in hopes of cowing everyone who sees and hears of what brutality has been meted out on the helpless, and especially the helpless.
Was it an explicit policy of the German armies to apply the principle of schrecklichkeit – by that name or another – in the field in those wars?

Whether or not dictated from the highest levels, it did have the desired effect of discouraging armed resistance … at first, anyway. Acts of extreme cruelty against civilians were definitely committed, beginning in Belgium in 1914 – and had a short-term effect in that Belgian resistance to the German juggernaut was, to put it mildly, discouraged with Teutonic efficiency. However, the long-term result was a black mark against Germany, in its conduct of that war which resounded for years and was revived again with the record of Nazi atrocities in the second.

Which brings me to reports of the horrors being committed by the Islamic radicals of ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they are calling themselves, as they sweep into Mosul and proclaim the establishment of a renewed caliphate. I have not seen much of this reflected in the mainstream media yet – but the worst excesses are seeping out, through minor publications, blogs and social media. Of course, without all those layers of editors and fact-checkers, such excesses could be really happening, or the work of propagandists of varying degrees of sophistication … but for the fact that ISIS/ISIL make no bones about boasting of what they are doing, and sharing the pictorial and video evidence. This link was posted on Samizdata by M. Simon – and if you have a low nausea threshold, don’t go any farther than a couple of pictures. I post the link only so that readers will have an idea of exactly how horrible this situation has become. I await for the inevitable lefty-luvvie comparison to Abu Ghraib, of course.

There are likely two rationales for practicing the 21st century Islamic version of schrecklichkeit in Northern Iraq; the ISIS/ISIL fighters are extreme sadists with the blessings of an ideology which encourages them to do what they enjoy most – torturing and murdering infidels – and bragging about it. And secondly, this demoralizes those unfortunate enough to be in their way, and discourages resistance. For a time, anyway. But schrechlichkeit has a short shelf life, once those whom it is practiced on realize that there is no way out, and only one way to fight back. Eventually, as the Allies discovered in the Pacific in WWII – there comes the understanding that those who have so relished inflicting cruelty on the helpless deserve no mercy at all, and will receive none, once the tables are turned upon them. Surrender is not an option at this point – and in future neither will mercy.
Discuss.
(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Sum-Sum-Summertime

The Magnificent Shed

The Magnificent Shed

I’m in a bit of a lull at present – having wrapped up a couple of books for Watercress in the last week or so, and it will be another few weeks before some of the others come up to the point where I have to set aside everything else to work on them, full-tilt. There will actually be three and possibly four. Two of the four are … high-value clients, the other two returning clients, so … yes, I am doing the happy dance.
I have finished the first draft of the next book, which was inspired by a light-hearted blog post regarding the crash’n’burn of the recent Lone Ranger movie, the one with Johnny Depp and a dead crow on his head. Yeah, that one; I began kicking around ways that the franchise could be re-booted, first as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more fun it looked like – of course, not the Lone Ranger per se. That’s all under copyright, and I understand that the copyright holders are ferociously protective. But what about a narrative bearing a suitably distant likeness to the original premise – that is, a young Texas volunteer soldier-ranger in the time of the Republic of Texas, sole survivor of a massacre, with his good friend and buddy, an Indian scout, wandering around pre Civil War Texas on missions of goodness and niceness? Nix the mask, the silver bullets, the horse named Silver – indeed, just about every other telling detail – and make it more or less a historical, although with a looser grasp on the straight historical record than my other books. Believe me, there was enough strange stuff going on in Texas during that time, and certainly enough in the way of real historical characters and incidents to generate any number of adventures. I scribbled out six initial historical romps, my daughter suggested that I aim it toward the YA audience, especially boys who have nothing since the final Harry Potter tome and aren’t interested in the adventures of sparkly vampires … and there it is – gone to some alpha readers recruited through the Ace of Spades Sunday morning book thread for critique and analysis. I will incorporate their suggestions, plus any additional additional inspirations that their suggestions spark … and the book will be out in late October, likely. Just in time for Christmas shopping.
So – that’s done. Until I hear from the alpha readers (or really, anyone who wants to check out the adventures posted at my Celia Hayes website and drop me a line), that project is on the back burner.

As the garden looked earlier this year

As the garden looked earlier this year


August has descended on us – traditionally the hottest month of a Texas summer – it’s been over 100° every day for the last week or so. So, my enthusiasm for doing anything outdoors is pretty much under control. Walk the dogs, water the garden, that’s about it. This week, though – we finally got the antique Chambers stove moved off the back porch and into the shed. This chore had to wait until the shed was actually built, and we could round up two willing and strong neighbors to help us shift it the fifteen or twenty feet. Yes, the darned thing is heavy – when it was built in 1941, they made them to last. Eventually, we’ll have to remodel the kitchen to accommodate the Chambers. So – aside from starting the fall garden, I’ll also be revamping the back porch, once things cool off just a titch.. There was more than just the stove kept on the porch – and now it has all in the shed – so that I intend to reclaim the porch for when the cool weather returns.

Poppies

Supposedly the red corn poppies that grow all over fields in Europe grow particularly well in soil that has been plowed, dug up, or otherwise extensively disturbed. There were many small fields around the outskirts of Zaragoza, and the little village of Garrapinillos where poppies grew, in some seasons and fields so thickly as to show nothing but red.

Most experts are certain that the association between WWI and blood-red field poppies was established because of the poem by John McCrae, which begins, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…” and which became almost immediately popular upon being first published in the second year of the war. Well before the end of the war, the visual of red poppies was inextricably bound to the notion of wartime service and sacrifice in Canada, Britain and the United States. At the end of the war, it was adopted by the American Legion as a symbol of remembrance, Frenchwomen sold silk poppies to raise money for war orphans, and the British Legion adopted the practice of wearing red poppies during the period leading up to Remembrance Day. To this day, the sale of artificial poppies benefits various programs to support veterans and active duty military in England, Canada and the United States.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war, and one of the most eye-catching temporary memorials is an installation at the Tower of London, where the dry moat will be filled with 800,000 ceramic red poppies, spilling down from one of the outer tower windows – one poppy for every Commonwealth casualty over four bitter years of blood and sacrifice. There are only about an eighth of the total installed so far … but the pictures are riveting. The installation – called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will be finished by Remembrance Day – November 11.

The Movie Narrative

I see, from a brief news release, and the subsequent minor bloggerly hyperventilating about it, that the story of the 60 Minutes-Dan Rather-faked TANG memo is going to be made into a movie, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchette as Mary Mapes, his producer. If it were a cautionary tale about what happens when those who report our news content so desperately desire items of dubious provenance to be the genuine article and so skip merrily past every warning signal in their hurry to broadcast a nakedly partisan political hit piece on the eve of an election … well, I might be tempted to watch it. No, not in a theater – are you insane? I might opt to pay a couple of bucks to stream it through Amazon and watch it at home … but alas, likely I will give it a miss, altogether. It’s going to be based on Ms Mapes’ own account and defense of the indefensible, and frankly I am not all that interested in someone engaged in a lengthy justification of their own gullibility and/or willingness to wink at obvious forgery in service to a partisan political cause.
Continue reading

The Lady and the Cavalier of Valle de San Jose

(I have been sidelined this week, working on a chapter of The Golden Road, and discovering about the place where Fredi and the herd of Texas cattle would have finished in California. The current political situations, national and otherwise are so dire that … can you blame me for taking to my favorite refuge – the 19th century?)

California marked the high tide-line of the Spanish empire in the New World. The great wave of conquistadors washed out of the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth century looking for gold, honor, glory and land, roared across the Atlantic Ocean, sweeping Mexico and most of South America in consecutive mighty tides, before seeping into the trackless wastes of the American Southwest. Eventually that tide lapped gently at the far northern coast, where it dropped a chain of missions, a handful of military garrisons and small towns, and bestowed a number of property grants on the well-favored and well-connected. There has always been a dreamlike, evanescent quality to that time – as romantic as lost paradises always are. Before the discovery of gold in the millrace of a saw-mill built to further the entrepreneurial aims of a faintly shady Swiss expatriate named John Sutter, California seemed a magical place. It was temperate along the coast and perceived as a healthy place; there were no mosquito-born plagues like malaria and yellow fever, which devastated the lower Mississippi/Missouri regions in the 19th century. Certain parts were beautiful beyond all reasoning, and the rest was at the least attractive. The missions, dedicated primarily to the care of souls also had an eye towards self-sufficiency, and boasted great orchards of olives and citrus, and extensive vineyards. The climate was a temperate and kindly one in comparison with much of the rest of that continent; winters were mild, and summers fair.

It was a rural society of vast properties presided over by an aristocracy of landowners who had been granted their holdings by the king or civil government. Their names still mark the land in the names of towns, roads and natural features; Carrillo, Sepulveda, Verdugo, Vallejo, Dominguez, Pico, Castro, Figueroa, and Feliz, among many others. They ran cattle or sheep on their leagues – the hard work was mostly performed by native Californian Indians; those who had survived such epidemics as were brought inadvertently by Europeans and who were amenable to being trained in useful agricultural skills. These vast estates produced hides, wool and tallow; their owners lived lives of comfort, if no very great luxury. From all accounts they were openhandedly generous, amazingly hospitable, devout … a little touchy about personal insult and apt to fight duels over it, but that could said of most men of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Carrillo Ranch house - circa 1929

The Carrillo Ranch house – circa 1929


One of the notable estates was that which lay around the present-day hamlet of Warner Hot Springs. Besides being a very fine property, it was also located the southern emigrant trail – that which ran through south Texas and New Mexico territory to Yuma, at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers, and terminated in Los Angeles. Eventually, the Butterfield stage line would follow this trail – and the ranch at the place where the road to San Diego diverted from it became a stage stop. The property also was the object of considerable legal wrangling – it was inadvertently granted to two different claimants; Silvestre de la Portila in 1836, and transplanted Yankee, John Joseph ‘Juan Jose’ Warner eight years later. Juan Joseph Warner built an adobe house on the property, and conducted ranching and trading operations until an uprising by local Indians drive him out in 1851. In the meantime, Silvestre de la Portila had deeded the property to Vincenta Sepulveda, the daughter of a long-established and important local family. Eventually, the powers that be decided in favor of Dona Vincenta, who at the age of 21 had married another scion of a well-to-do ranch family, Tomas Antonio Yorba, who was more than twice her age. Yorba and his wife set up first at his family property at Santa Ana, in present-day Orange County, where they ran cattle for their hides and tallow, and operated a small general store, trading all kinds of general goods, groceries and luxuries. Their house was a rather splendid one; they impressed many visitors with not only the generous nature of their hospitality, but order and luxury of their house – better adorned and furnished than the usual hacienda. After ten years of productive and apparently happy marriage Tomas Yorba died, leaving his wife the residence, large herds of sheep and cattle, considerable jewelry and the care of their four surviving children. She continued managing the property, her household and her business; a wealthy, attractive and able young woman. She did not remain a widow for very long; she married again, to Jose Ramon Carrillo, of San Diego, who had managed a large property in northern California. Romantically, they met at the wedding of Dona Vincenta’s niece to an office of the Mexican army. Jose Ramon Carrillo had a reputation for physical courage, which was not based solely on his experiences as a soldier. (He had engaged in several skirmishes between Californios and the Anglo members of the Bear Flag party, or during the Mexican War and in fighting with hostile local Indians, which was pretty much what had been expected of a man of his age and class.) But his most famous fighting exploit wasn’t with other men at all – it was with a bear.

When out riding with friends in the Sonoma foothills some time before his marriage, the party spotted a bear, at some distance. Carrillo proposed (and there is no evidence that liquor was involved in any) that he fight the bear … on foot and alone. He took a mochila from his saddle – a flap of leather used to attach saddle-bags and wrapped it around his left arm – and a large hunting knife with a keen blade in his right. When he advanced on the bear, it charged him; Carrillo shielded himself with his left arm, and thrust with the knife into the bear’s torso. Within a very short time, the bear lay dead before him. On another occasion, Carrillo attempted to lasso another bear, from horseback. In the heat of the chase, bear, horse and rider fell into a five or six foot deep chasm, hidden until that very moment by dense brush. The abruptness of the fall removed all fight from the bear – and it tried to scramble up the steep side of the pit. Realizing that there was no scope for fighting the bear in the ditch and that discretion might be the best part of valor, Carrillo braced himself under the bear’s hindquarters and gave a good push with all of his strength. The bear scrabbled at the edge of the pit, got over it and promptly ran away.

By the mid-1850s, Dona Vincenta had clear title to the former Warner property; she and her new husband moved there, built an even grander house – an establishment which also served as a stage station, and on the eve of the Civil War, Don Ramon Carrillo applied for the position of post-master … the rancho was also a post office. During the war itself, he also served as a spy and scout for the Union Army in the Sonora. There were shadows falling on him, however; a political and business rival was found dead, shot in the back by person or persons unknown late in 1862. He was interviewed under oath by a court in Los Angeles, and released – the court having found nothing to charge against him.

Dona Vincenta and her family in the 1890s (She is the elder lady in the center)

Dona Vincenta and her family in the 1890s (She is the elder lady in the center)

Two years later, Don Ramon also fell to an assassin’s ambush. The murderer – again – was never identified, and at the age of 51, Dona Vincenta was again a widow. She continued to manage the ranch, with the aid of her grown son for another five or six years, before moving to Anaheim, and to a long retirement in the house of her married daughter; Dona Vincenta lived to the age of 94. The ranch property was sold in the 1870s, continuing as a profitable sheep ranch for the remainder of the century and into the next. The site is now a museum, and open to the public.