Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

03. October 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front, Old West

So that was a fun Saturday, although exhausting as it always is to pack the Montero, drive a certain distance, unpack the Montero, find a good spot, transport the canopy, tables, the tubs of books and the tub of table dressing and giveaway materiel, and the two camp chairs to it, and set up, ready for business. Then – four to six hours of face-to-face direct sales, broken by a sandwich from the HEB deli (No, lunch is a chancy thing at these events. There may be a food truck or a concession handy with something that we’d want to eat and don’t mind paying for … or not. We have wised up. We bring HEB deli sandwiches, and an insulated bag of bottles of drinking water.)

This is the second year for the Boerne Book Festival – last year there were about twenty of us, spaced out in a back room in the main building. If records and memory serve, we did sell a handful of books, but mostly, us authors were reduced to looking at each other after a certain point in mid-afternoon. I did have a table across from a local historian, Jefferson Morgenthaler, who did a very good book about the German settlements in the Hill Country – a book that I absolutely recommend, as he covered the same territory in non-fiction the same ground that I did in fiction. He is one of those local authors that I knew of, but had not met until that point – so last year’s event was not a totally wasted effort.

Neither was this year’s; they set us up on the landscaped grounds of the library, under the trees where a winding paved path went down to an amphitheater which was the venue for a couple of scheduled events, starting with a children’s ballet company performance: the mini-dancers performed as various forms of sea-life to the music of Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals”. This was the most-well attended segment of the presentations in the amphitheater, I will have to admit, although the later presentations/discussions did have an audience. One of the authors wrote zombie thrillers and was of sufficient celebrity as these things go to have the local Barnes & Noble store with a representative sample of his books.

There were about thirty-five authors present, plus Alan of the Texas Author’s Association, who had a booth filled with books by members of the association. One of them was Clay Mitchell, who was a client of Watercress Press. Alice and I had done some substantive and line editing for his book, Amid the Ashes and the Dust, which is a terrific and evocative read, set in East Texas. Another was John Keeling, who has started a western series about cattle ranchers in Texas; the first book is called Take ‘em North: The 2E Brand Begins. We had a brief chat about writing about the post-Civil War long-trail cattle drives; always go back to the primary sources, we agreed. Just about anything about that enterprise that you saw in a movie or a TV show during the Golden Age of the Western (say from 1930-1970)  is liable to be howlingly inaccurate.

Boerne is one of those towns just about commute-distance from north-side San Antonio; with a very distinct identity, and a well-established historical district. The ambiance is one of very substantial proto-yuppie prosperity. A couple of new developments on the outskirts of town have sprouted up in the last few years, and the various businesses in the historic downtown have – for as long as we’ve been visiting – been very, very upscale. It is, in a word – a prosperous place.

My daughter and I did venture by turns into the used-book store, which is an outgrowth of the Patrick Heath Public Library; a lovely building on the grounds, with a two-level terrace at the back, and a beautifully-arranged selection inside. Seriously – this is a library used-book outlet, which was as well-sorted and set out as any high-end retail book store. My daughter bought Alison Weir’s bio of Henry VIII and I found a copy of the Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook, which I bought for sentimental reasons. And yes – I can’t resist cookbooks of a certain sort. I really used to love that company when they had an outlet in North Star Mall, across the street from the office building where I had a job, some years ago. Sadly, the Crabtree & Evelyn outlet vanished, seemingly between one week and the next. Eventually, there was nothing left in that mall which I was interested in, on my lunch hour, save maybe the Williams-Sonoma outlet. It all became high-end designer clothing, makeup and jewelry. I commiserated with the volunteer cashier at the bookstore about that. She was leafing enviously through the cookbook during the time it took for me to go back to our tent and get my purse. ‘Hah!’ I said. ‘You had your chance!’

So – a very good and reassuring start to the last-quarter-of-the year selling season. One of the readers that we sold a set of the Luna City Chronicles to, stayed for a while to lament about how her widely-geographically-spread friends visualized Texas … in a most unflattering way, of course. My daughter has marveled at how her English FB friends seem to think that we all live in little desolate towns, where tumbleweeds roll through deserted unpaved streets, and everyone lives in tumbling-down shacks with outhouses out at the back and gunfights in the streets on a regular basis.

No, it’s not like that – not anything like that at all… But perhaps we want to keep that quiet, because then everyone would want to move here, and that would quite wreck the place. Say, did I mention how hot it is in Texas during the summer? It’s boiling hot, miserable-hot, fry-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. For five whole months, and sometimes six! No, stay away, stay away!

Anyway, the Daughter-Unit and I are planning out the next market events on our schedule; Johnson City and Blanco are a go for their markets, and Saturday morning at the New Braunfels Sophienburg’s Christmas marked in November at the New Braunfels Civic Center. Dates to be posted as soon as confirmed.

30. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

David Smith Terry was truly a man of his time and place – Texas and California in the early to mid-19th century. He possessed a large portion of the same intelligence, ambition, and physical courage which distinguished many of his contemporaries, as young men in tumultuous times. Alas, such qualities were offset by a pig-headed conviction of his own righteousness, a boiling-hot temper readily provoked to violence, and one more weakness, which would eventually prove fatal to David Smith Terry; he was all too ready to act on impulse without regard for consequence.
He was of a generation born into a relatively new country, with no memory of colonial rule by Britain, or the revolution itself, save perhaps for passed-down recollections of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, who had both fought in it with distinction. David S. Terry was the second of four sons of Clinton Terry and Sarah Smith Terry. The Terry marriage does not appear to have been a particularly successful one; they separated in 1835, when David Terry would have been about eight years old. Sarah Terry must have been a woman of spirit and determination, for she moved with her four sons to Texas in that same year, apparently hoping to retrieve some portion of respectability and income which had been lost through her husband’s mismanagement – mismanagement which must have been on a fairly epic scale to leave her in possession of their remaining property and custody of their sons. She and her sons established a plantation west of the present-day city of Houston, where they planted cotton and waited for prosperity to bless them once more. Instead, Sarah Terry died, shortly thereafter, leaving her sons – the oldest, Benjamin being fifteen, and David thirteen – essentially orphaned in the war and rebellion which followed.

David, large for his age and already impetuous, enlisted in Sam Houston’s army of Texans at Gonzales, following the fall of the Alamo. Reputedly, he fought at San Jacinto with considerable distinction. When Texas won a shaky independence by Houston’s victory, David S. Terry returned home to the cotton plantation – but not for long. He took up the study of law in the office of a relative by marriage, was admitted to the bar and practiced in Galveston for some years. He was described as a tall, handsome gentleman, solidly built, with steel-grey eyes under heavy brows, and sandy hair brushed back from a high forehead. He sported chin-whiskers but no mustache. Naturally rather reserved, he could be animated in conversation when the topic interested him, and very good company. He identified passionately as a man of Southern sympathies and as a Texan; to that end, he usually carried a sheathed hunting knife of the design made popular by Jim Bowie.

He went soldiering again, in the Mexican-American war, serving in Colonel Jack Hays’ regiment of Rangers. He participated in the battle before Monterrey, and upon returning to Galveston at the end of that war, became interested in politics. In 1847, he ran for the office of district attorney for Galveston and lost. This defeat may have been felt in a stinging fashion; two years later, he joined together with some of his Ranger comrades and followed the Gold Rush to California. He tried gold-mining for a brief time, didn’t care for the experience, (as did most men with a more readily-profitable trade who did not immediately strike it rich) and set up practicing as a lawyer again in Stockton, California. There he dabbled in running for local office, this time as mayor. Just as before, in Galveston, he was defeated, and thereafter for a time returned to the practice of law. He prospered sufficiently over the next few years that he could afford to return east and marry a distant cousin-by-marriage, a Miss Cornelia Runnels. She was educated, well-mannered; the perfect gentle Southern belle, twenty-three to her husband’s twenty-seven. She is supposed to have influenced him greatly, and as the decade progressed, David Smith Terry went from success to success. Sadly, of their six children – all sons – only three survived to adulthood; of those, one died as a teenager in a hunting accident and the other at the age of thirty or so.

As for David S. Terry’s professional prospects, in 1855 the laurels of high political office finally descended on his noble brow in the form of a position on the California Supreme Court. But controversy dogged his footsteps; in a tense interlude during San Francisco’s second bout of organized Vigilante activity, he lost his temper. He was not a supporter of the Vigilance Committee, which had been created by otherwise sober and law-abiding citizens in the wake of what appeared to be flagrant abuse of the law by elected and appointed authorities. Being one of those elected and appointed authorities – although personally incorruptible – Judge Terry did not approve of other parties interfering. An altercation ensued, when he and others who objected to amateurs taking the law into their own hands paid a visit on the Vigilance Committee. When a posse of Vigilance Committee members led by Sterling Hopkins attempted to arrest two members of Judge Terry’s group, Judge Terry most intemperately stabbed Hopkins in the throat with his Bowie knife. Arrested in turn himself, he must have had a nervous couple of days, waiting to hear if Sterling Hopkins’ wounds were mortal. Fortunately for both men – they were not. Alas, in coming years, Judge Terry’s temper remained as uncontrolled as ever.

The matter of slavery – whether it was to be allowed in prospective new states of the Union and under what conditions if any – roiled California every bit as deeply and violently as it did elsewhere. There, the established Democrat party in California split into pro and anti-slavery factions. Not entirely unexpectedly given his origins and background, Judge Terry was vociferously on the pro-slavery side. Given that, and his intemperate nature, he was bound to clash with the anti-slavery side, personalized by his former friend and now US Senator David C. Broderick. Inflammatory accusations were exchanged, deep offense was taken … and a formal duel agreed on by the aggrieved parties. On September 12, 1859, they met in a place which is now a city park, but which then was outside San Francisco’s city limits. Judge Terry won the coin toss, allowing him to select a set of dueling pistols … which had hair triggers. Supposedly, Senator Broderick was warned of this by the neutral party who examined the pistols – but as the two men squared off, Broderick’s pistol accidently discharged. This left Judge Terry to take his own sweet time in taking aim at Broderick.
Mortally wounded, Senator Broderick fell; he died three days later – a martyr to the anti-slavery cause. Judge Terry was charged, but acquitted. His career in public office – although not his profession as a lawyer – being pretty well trashed, in the eyes of indignant anti-slavery partisans and perhaps those who disapproved of dueling, or of a duelist taking savage and unsporting advantage of a hair-trigger misfire – remained relatively untarnished. He returned to that practice for a time, but on the outbreak of the Civil War, picked up his sometime occupation as a soldier, in which practice an affinity for dealing out sudden fatal violence was – if not more acceptable – conceded to be more generally useful.

Returning to Texas, he proceeded to join the Confederate Army – for which his older brother Benjamin had raised a swashbuckling cavalry regiment official known as the 8th Texas Cavalry, and popularly as Terry’s Texas Rangers, which served valiantly throughout the war in the west of the Appalachian theater. Benjamin Terry was killed in nearly their first skirmish, late in 1861, another Terry brother perished at Shiloh and David Terry was wounded at Chickamauga. He finished the war as a colonel, lay low for a time in Mexico, as did certain other die-hard Confederates … but in 1865, he returned to California and the practice of law as if nothing had ever happened. Time and experience appeared to have chastened him, or at least taught him to rein in the temper, for by the end of a decade after his return, he was a respected member of the California Constitutional Convention, revising the original state constitution.

And then, fate played the femme fatale card on David Terry, jurist, judge, colonel of cavalry and man of the world. He took on a client of the type usually termed as an ‘adventuress’ in the 19th century and a gold-digger in the early 20th, terms which usually hint at a degree of daring and amorality – a woman bent on playing high-stakes poker in the grand game of life. She was Sarah Althea Hill, an orphan of a respectable and prosperous family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1871, when she was twenty-one, Sarah Althea and her older brother came to San Francisco to live with relatives. Sarah, in the parlance of the time, was ‘fast’ and in the next decade, she burned through the inheritance from her parents of $20,000 dollars. (From modern calculations, this would have been anywhere from a quarter to over half a million.) Sometime around 1880, Sarah Althea made the acquaintance of a very, very rich man – William Sharon, a ‘49er, financier, silver-mine magnate, real-estate tycoon, hotelier, and for two terms, US Senator representing Nevada. He was at that time in his sixties, a widower … and as noted, filthy rich. They became attached, to which precise degree became a matter for spectacular and scandalous legal wrangling in various courts for the next five years.

Seriously, the courtroom antics would have made a spectacularly tacky real-world TV series, beginning when Sarah Althea Hall had William Sharon arrested on charges of adultery, and proceeded to sue him for divorce, demanding alimony and a generous share of his property due her as an aggrieved ex-spouse. The resulting legal wrangling enthralled the readers of tabloids across the nation. Sarah Althea insisted they had been secretly married and she had a signed contract to prove it – secrecy necessary because he was running for reelection at the time, and wished to keep it all quiet lest his other mistress hear about it and create an embarrassing scandal. William Sharon insisted, indignantly, that Sarah Althea had merely been his generously compensated mistress and any such contract alluding to a marriage between them was a forgery. After a year of bitter legal wrangling, a judge ruled in favor of Sarah Althea, declaring her to have been William Sharon’s legal wife, and to have a right to such of his wealth accumulated since their presumed marriage. Coincidentally, Cornelia Terry, David Terry’s long-suffering wife died at the same time.

The appeals and countersuits commenced immediately, continued by William Sharon’s son and son-in-law after his death a year after the judgement. Meanwhile, the presumed Mrs. Sharon married her now-widowed and very much older lawyer, and together they zestfully embarked on another round of legal hearings on whether William Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill had been truly and legally man and wife … only the next time, the circuit judge hearing the case – Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field, of the US Supreme Court – appeared distinctly unsympathetic. Sarah Althea, in a breach of court etiquette, loudly accused Judge Field of having been “bought” by the Sharon interests in the case. A fracas ensued, with David Terry drawing his Bowie knife in her defense. Both Terrys scuffled with US marshals, were forcibly removed from the courtroom, arrested and slapped with jail sentences by Judge Field, who thereafter earned the bitter enmity of the pair. The threats against him by the Terrys were taken so seriously, that when next Judge Field ventured to California in the late summer of 1889, he was accompanied by a US marshal as his dedicated body-guard.
Whether it was coincidental or not, Judge Field and his body-guard, David Neagle, were traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco train, on August 14th, 1889. Coincidentally, the Terrys had also boarded that train, somewhere along the way. When the train stopped for breakfast at the station restaurant in Lathrop (a town a little south of Stockton), the Terrys discovered the presence of the judge … although perhaps not his bodyguard; a fatal omission, considering subsequent events. But given the hot and irrational tempers displayed throughout the lives of both David Terry and Sarah Althea, this was absolutely guaranteed not to end well or without bloodshed. David Terry approached Judge Field, peacefully eating breakfast, and without warning, slapped him across the face.

Marshal Neagle – who had previously been a town marshal and deputy sheriff in the rowdy municipality of Tombstone, Arizona, during it’s the wildest and most wooly stage – leapt to his feet and drew his own weapon as David Terry reached inside his own coat. Marshal Neagle shot David Terry twice – dropping the former judge dead in the middle of the railroad restaurant. So ended the life of a man who otherwise might have been better known for nobler things – save that he had a wicked and impulsive temper, and fell for a woman who had even more problems with violence and impulse-control than his own.

The post-script? There was a resulting US Supreme Court case, which decided that yes, the Attorney Genera of the US did have the authority to appoint US Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices. Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry – who it might be inferred – had substantial mental health issues, was eventually confined to an institution, where she died of natural causes some forty years later. She was buried in the Terry family plot, in a cemetery in Stockton, California. A granddaughter of David S. Terry came forward and approved, at the time of her death.

25. July 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Old West

To further the current work in progress (which will feature the heroine being in Galveston during the hurricane of 1900), I am re-reading Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm – a gripping and almost novelistic account of the hurricane which struck the Texas Gulf coast city of Galveston on Saturday, September 8th, 1900. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist in Galveston for the U.S. Weather Bureau – who paid a devastating price – the loss of his heavily pregnant wife when his house was swept away at the height of the storm – for miscalculations made; miscalculations made both by himself and by the Weather Bureau headquarters policies in far-distant Washington DC.

That 1900 storm still stands as the single deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States, with a death toll equal of all later storms combined; at least 6,000 in Galveston alone – a quarter of the population at the time – and along the Texas coast. The storm surge went for miles inland, and may have carried away another 2,000, whose bodies were never found – and never reported missing, as there was no one left to do so. Galveston Island – a coastal sand-bar, little more than eight feet above sea level at its highest point – was a busy and strategic port. At the turn of the last century, it was the largest city in Texas; a center of commerce, transportation hub and port of entry for immigrants coming into the Southwest by sea. Galveston was connected to the mainland across a normally placid lagoon by three railway trestles. Although the rival port city of Indianola, farther west along the Gulf Coast had been wiped out by a pair of hurricanes fifteen and twenty-five years before, generally the citizens of Galveston were complacent, comfortable in the belief that any storm – and they had easily weathered many of them – was readily survivable. And after all – this was a new century, one marked by unparalleled technologic and scientific advances! So a sea-wall proposed by certain concerned citizens was never built; indeed, Isaac Cline had written an article for the local newspaper in 1891, arguing that such a wall was not necessary; it was impossible for a storm of sufficient destructive intensity to strike Galveston. And he, of course, was an expert.

And so were the U.S. Weather Bureau experts – and fiercely proud of it, although telegraphic reports of weather phenomena upon which authoritative forecasts were based tended to be spotty – especially when ocean-going ships and foreign countries were involved. For fear of the “crying wolf” effect the Weather Bureau also frowned on what they held to be overuse of terms such as “hurricane” or “tornado” lest those in the path of a project event be panicked unnecessarily – or to become blasé about such warnings. By the first few days of September, 1900, Isaac Cline’s office in Galveston began to get warnings regarding a tropical storm system moving in a northerly line over Cuba – but forecasters at the bureau believed the storm was moving in a curved, northerly line which would take it across Florida, up the east coast and then out into the Atlantic again. They disregarded predictions by weather observers in Cuba who insisted that the storm system would continue westerly, impacting against the Texas Gulf coast.

The weather was warm, as it always is at this time of the year in Texas – the waters of the gulf were as warm as bathwater. And those existing yet relatively unnoticed conditions were enough to boost the tropical storm to lethal strength. On the morning of Saturday, September 8th, weather conditions seemed like nothing special; partly cloudy skies and heavy if not particularly frightening swells along the outer edge of the island. Perhaps at that point, no one was particularly worried, although in hind-sight, some residents did own to apprehensions. The movie director King Vidor, then just six years old, later wrote of how the water of the lagoon and the sea appeared to mound up on either side of the town by mid-morning as if Galveston were at the bottom of a bowl and the water about to spill over the rim.

And then it began to rain – at first much welcome – the temperature dropped and the winds picked up. Still no one worried, very much. Children were entranced by how the water in streets paved with wooden blocks began to fill with water, which lifted and floated the paving blocks, a sea of bobbing corks. They splashed happily in that water, but by mid-morning, if anyone had begun to be frightened, it was already too late. Water from the gulf-side and the lagoon began flowing in the main streets, sheeting over the raised sidewalks in downtown Galveston. Heavy waves were already falling on the sand shore of the outside of the island, where protective dunes had been scraped away to fill in and level the rest of the island. Gusts of wind began slamming against storefronts with brutal force. Around midday the bathhouses, small restaurants, and souvenir stores along a boardwalk along the Gulf shore known as the Midway began disintegrating under the assault of the surf. People were a bit nervous at seeing the water in the streets rise so swiftly, at the destruction of the Midway – but for most residents, it seemed as if this was just another tropical storm, of which Galveston had weathered so many.

Until the collapse of Ritter’s Café and Saloon, a popular eatery in the heart of Galveston’s commercial district. The café was on the ground floor of a substantial two-story building which housed a print-shop in the second floor. A particularly violent gust of wind ripped off the roof; the sudden decompression apparently bowed the second-story walls sufficiently for the floor beams to pop loose … and the heavy printing presses, beams and fittings of the print-shop crashed down on patrons of the café below. Five diners died instantly, another five injured so badly that the café’s owner sent a waiter for medical help … and the waiter drowned in fast-rising water. The morning train from Houston arrived, with considerable difficulty, inching across the railway trestle that spanned the lagoon, passengers watching nervously as the water washed back and forth under the rails. One of those passengers was David Benjamin, a senior executive of the Fred Harvey Company, who had business to do in town – where Fred Harvey maintained one of their popular rail-station restaurants; Mr. Benjamin had an appointment in town and went to make it, although to his exasperation, the man he was to meet did not. Mr. Benjamin returned to the Harvey House – considerably sobered by the sight of the body of a dead child, washing into the railway station.

The second scheduled train, from Beaumont City, never even got that far, being stymied on arrival at the ferry landing, where a barge would carry the entire train; engine, coaches and all – from Bolivar Point across to the Island. The water was too violent for the captain of the ferry to dock and run the train onto it. The train reversed, going back the way it came, until stranded by rising water near to where the Point Bolivar Lighthouse stabbed a lonely finger into the sky. The inhabitants of Point Bolivar – all two hundred of them – had already taken refuge in the lighthouse, crammed two and three onto the narrow spiral staircase inside that stout tower. Ten passengers from the train braved the winds and increasingly higher waters, slogging the quarter mile or so in the flat open plain to join them, saving their own lives thereby, for the storm surge eventually overwhelmed the train; the remaining passengers and crew all were lost.

By the middle of afternoon, anyone paying attention already suspected that things were about to get very, very bad. One of Mr. Benjamin’s fellow passengers taking shelter in the railway station had a pocket barometer in his luggage, and commenced to take readings, as his barometer – and that at Isaac Cline’s weather station on the roof of the Levy building began to fall, and fall, and fall even farther, to the point where some observers began to think the instruments must be defective. Long afterwards, weather experts estimated the winds to have blown at 150 miles per hour with gusts reaching 200. There was no way to be certain, as the Weather Bureau’s anemometer and rain gage were blown off the top of the Levy Building and destroyed early in the evening. The sky turned so dark that it seemed to some as if dusk had already fallen. The wind whipped slate tiles as if they were shrapnel. At about two in the afternoon, the wind shifted from a northerly direction to the northeast; over the next hours, the water came up and up, higher and higher, driving people into the second floor of whatever they had taken refuge in – assuming that they had a second floor. The streets and gardens of Galveston became seas, studded with wooden flotsam and wreckage … and just short of seven in the evening the water came up four feet in as many seconds. The meticulous observer Isaac Cline noted the rise of water against the dimensions of his own house, calculating that it was now over fifteen feet deep and still rising. But he was certain that his house would withstand the storm, constructed as it was on deep-driven pilings.

Unfortunately, he had not considered the effect of the storm – wind and water between them driving an irresistible moraine of debris into the residential area where his house stood – lumber and wreckage from other houses, reinforced with heavy timbers from the destroyed Midway, iron street-car rails, and uprooted trees. Every fresh wave pounded that mass farther and farther inland, a leviathan grinding up and adding more wreckage to the mass, until it towered almost two stories tall and stretched across the middle of town. Eventually, it overwhelmed the Cline residence, throwing Isaac, his wife and three daughters and his younger brother who also worked at the Weather Bureau into the turbulent water. They all survived, save Mrs. Cline, whose body was unearthed three weeks later. The merciless waves also destroyed the orphanage a little north of town, run by the Ursuline sisters; smashing the range of buildings, as the ten nuns herded the children into the upstairs dormitory farthest from the seashore. Each sister had lashed seven or eight children to themselves with clothesline, all in a line like ducklings after their mother, in a vain attempt to keep them together and safe, but the sea came into that last refuge and the only orphans to survive were three older boys who managed to scramble into a tree. At least 3,600 buildings were smashed, leaving those fortunate enough to survive without much shelter when Sunday morning came – a calm and mild day, considering the fury of the night before.

The bridges to the mainland were gone, the telegraph lines destroyed, it took a small delegation of local men, traveling in one of the few ships in port which had survived the storm to limp across the bay and travel up to Houston, from where they could send telegrams to the governor, and the president of the US. Residents of Houston had already surmised the need for help, and sent rescue parties to Galveston. The first train to try reaching Galveston could come no closer than six miles from shore, reporting that the coastal prairie was strewn with debris and corpses, and a large steamship stranded two miles inland.
Galveston did rebuild, of course. The seawall first suggested and rejected after the destruction of Indianola was constructed; sand was dredged from the bay and used to raise the level of the island nearly twenty feet. With a great deal of trouble and effort, 2,100 of the surviving buildings were elevated. All of this proved their worth when another hurricane struck dead on in 1915, with comparatively minor casualties. But dredging of the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate ocean-going ships spelled doom for Galveston as an important player in commerce and shipping. It’s still a nice seaside town, historic as all get-out, and with a pleasing situation – but not half the place it was on September 7, 1900.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

Exactly a hundred years ago, an enterprising gentleman named James Edward Ferguson took office as the Governor of Texas. He was of a generation born long enough after the conclusion of the Civil War that hardships associated with that war had faded somewhat. The half-century long conflict with raiding Comanche and Kiowa war-bands was brought to a conclusion around the time of his birth, but he was still young enough to have racketed around the Wild West as it existed for the remainder of the century, variously employed in a mine, a factory making barbed wire, a wheat farm and a vineyard. Having gotten all that out of his system, he returned to Bell County, Texas, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and married the daughter of a neighbor, Miriam Amanda Wallace. Miriam Amanda was then almost 25, and had been to college. James Ferguson and his wife settled down to a life of quiet prosperity in Belton, Texas. There he founded a bank and dabbled in politics as a campaign manager, before running for and winning the office of governor in 1914 – as a Democrat, which was expected at the time and in that place – and as an anti-prohibitionist, which perhaps was not. Two years later, having not done anything in office which could be held against him, James Ferguson was re-elected … and almost immediately walked into a buzz-saw. A quarrel over appropriations for the University of Texas system and a political rival for the office of governor – ensconced among the facility as the newly-anointed head of a newly-established school of journalism – eventually blew up into such a huge ruckus that James Ferguson was impeached, with the result that he could not hold public office in Texas again – at least not under his own name.

With the hindsight of extreme cynicism regarding the press when dealing in personalities and matters political, one can wonder how much of the ruckus concerned his actual conduct in office, and how much was created by the state press. His erstwhile rival owned one, had connections with others, and had the backing of the intellectual elite of Texas as it was then. He was also generally anti-Prohibition, which lead to dark whispers that he was in the pockets of the brewing industry. Rather than continue being politically active as a ‘behind the scenes fixer’ James Edward Ferguson came up with a brilliant solution: put his wife out there as a gubernatorial candidate in 1924. Yes, Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson, likely rather brainy (being that she had married rather later than one might have expected of a woman of that time, and indulged in education well beyond high school) but in personality rather retiring, hit the campaign hustings with her loyal hubby ever at her side. Her campaign slogan was “Two Governors for the Price of One,” or alternately “Me for Ma, and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa,” Her husband put on the folksy touch of calling her “Ma” and himself “Pa” – as he was ever a strong advocate of rural farmers and would have their undying support for most of the rest of their joint careers. Miriam Ferguson asked for the votes – and of women especially – as a reaffirmation and support of her husband.

And she was elected, likely to the horror and consternation of her husband’s political foes. She was the first elected female governor of Texas and the second elected female governor in the nation – although there is not much contention that “Pa” Ferguson was the real power behind the chair, as it were. She ran for office again in 1932 – winning a second term. Although she and “Pa” campaigned as folksy, down-to-earth populists, they were in no sense ‘rubes’; teetotalers both, they fiercely opposed Prohibition. “Ma” Ferguson was also generous with the pardoning authority of her office; over the course of two terms, she exercised it some 4,000 times – mostly, it should be noted – for violating various prohibition laws. Rumors did persist, then and rewards that many such pardons were in exchange for cash paid to the governor’s husband. One rather amusing but apocryphal tale had it that a man began walking through a door at the same time as Mrs. Ferguson: “Oh, pardon me,” he said, as the manners of the time required, and Mrs. Ferguson answered, “Sure, come on in – it’ll only take a minute or two to do the paper-work.” She has also (along with a great many other personalities held by their so-called betters to be ignorant and backward) credited with the remark to the effect that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.

And the Ferguson team also came out against the Klu Klux Klan, then very much a powerful force in the rural South and Midwest. In Texas, the Klan’s activities were not so much racism, as it was nativist and wedded to a certain kind of moral authoritarianism, prone to punishing people suspected of adultery, gambling, sexual transgressions, bootlegging and speaking German in public. This tended to excite disapproval among thoughtful citizens who professed to uphold the rule of law. While the Klan could and did control certain elections, especially at the local level – there were organizations just as vehemently opposed to their activities; various influential urban newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the Chambers of Commerce, the Masons, the State Bar Association, and a number of citizen’s organizations. As part of her first campaign, Ma Ferguson promised an anti-mask law, targeting the Klan, making it illegal for any so-called secret society to allow members to appear masked or disguised in public. KKK membership in Texas dropped precipitously and continued to drop; whether Team Ferguson’s activities had anything to do with it, or they were shrewd and farsighted enough to see the trend and get aboard is a matter of contention for specialist historians. Still – for a couple who were and probably are still dismissed as a pair of rubes, they chose to oppose one of the stupidest but most well-meant popular social efforts of the early 20th century, and one of stupidest and most brutal organizations as well.

(The Fergusons essentially retired from politics in the mid-1930s. Pa died in 1944, but Ma lived until 1961. They are buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.)

06. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Memoir, Old West

Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
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He was the entrepreneur who came up with the bright idea to bring fine cooking and peerless customer service to the rowdy far West, and do so on a grand scale … and as a sidebar to that feat, also supplied thousands of wives to settlers in an otherwise female-deficient part of the country. He was a Scots-English immigrant from Liverpool named Fred Harvey. He arrived in New York at the age of 17, early in the 1850s. He took up employment washing pots and dishes at a popular restaurant of the day, and within a short time had worked up the kitchen ranks to waiter and then line cook. He only remained there for a year and a half – but in those months he had learned the restaurant business very, very well. He gravitated west, but only as far as St. Louis, where he managed a retail store, married and survived a bout of yellow fever. The restaurant business called to him, though. On the eve of the Civil War, he and a business partner opened a café. Which was successful, right up until the minute that his business partner, whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, took all the profits from the café and went South.

Nothing deterred, Fred Harvey went to work for the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, which eventually was absorbed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. He rose as swiftly in the corporate structure of that railroad as it existed in those freewheeling days as he had in that New York restaurant. His work necessitated more or less constant travel; he was in a way of speaking, an early ‘road warrior’. As such, he couldn’t help but notice that customer service in station restaurants was almost non-existent and the food available usually explored those limits between completely inedible and totally vile. The Western road food experience had not appreciably improved in the fifteen years since Mark Twain had so memorably described it in Roughing It.

“The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table- cloth and napkins had not come—and they were not looking for them, either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup, were at each man’s place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that had seen better days … The station-keeper upended a disk of last week’s bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employees … Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slum gullion,” and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.”

Fred Harvey suffered along with every other traveler – but as it turned out, he was the right man, with the right background, in the right place, and with the right friends to be able to do something about it. In the Centennial year of 1876, he struck a handshake deal with the superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad to open and manage restaurants and lunch counters at AT&SF stations. The AT&SF would not charge Fred Harvey rent, or haulage for necessary supplies. Originally chartered to connect Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, to the settlements in Kansas, the AT&SF cleaned up in hauling Texas cattle to the stock yards of Chicago. They would eventually connect reach the Texas gulf coast, reach into Mexico to the port of Guaymas on the Gulf of Carpentaria, connect up Albuquerque and El Paso, and service Los Angeles over the route which had been favored by the ante-bellum South when the prospect of a transcontinental railroad was first suggested.

And Fred Harvey’s restaurant establishments were everywhere that the AT&SF ran. There would eventually be nearly 50 Harvey House restaurants, fifteen resort hotels and thirty dining cars, attending to the needs of the traveling public. Harvey establishments were spotlessly clean, the food expertly prepared and served by staff trained to the highest standard … or else. Fred Harvey was a hands-on manager; he was noted for whipping out the tablecloth of a badly-set table, sending the plates and silverware crashing to the floor and leaving the chastened wait-staff to re-set the table correctly. But he was also passionately interested in hiring and training the very best personnel available, promoting the able and the loyal, and in providing for their welfare.

Another Fred Harvey innovation – and likely the best-remembered in the 20th century – was the wait-staff force itself; all-female, generously-remunerated, and strictly chaperoned. The Harvey organization was a respectable institution, and wanted no breath of local scandal attaching to female employees, many of whom worked in towns geographically-distant from their families. It was a sad reality that quite often in Western boom towns, those single women who came to work in eating establishments and dance halls were suspected (often with good cause) of being prostitutes or just promiscuous with their favors. Fred Harvey wanted none of that. He was going to run respectable, middle-class places. It was one of his site supervisors who first suggested hiring young women. It seemed that many of the waiters at his location were black – and too many customers who were white and Southern males were picking fights with the staff, absconding without paying for their meals and otherwise wreaking havoc. This would not do; it was bad for staff morale, hell on the profit side of the ledger and hard on the furniture.

So Fred Harvey opened an office in Chicago to interview potential employees, and advertised widely in the eastern and mid-western newspapers: young unmarried women between the ages of 18 and thirty, who would sign a contract to work for a set period of time (usually a year). They would have to be literate, well-spoken and accustomed to hard work – and willing to go west, to wherever they were needed. Some estimates have it that over the next thirty years, 5,000 women worked as Harvey Girls, everywhere from Kansas to California. Their working uniforms were plain black dresses with narrow white collars, black shoes and stockings, with white aprons, and their hair tied with a white ribbon. They were not allowed to wear makeup – which likely only became a real trial in the 1920s. Fred Harvey paid wages of $17 monthly; generous indeed at a time when laborers were lucky to earn $11 a month. The Harvey Girls lived in company-provided dormitories, their uniforms were often provided to them, and they were entitled to perks like free transportation on the AT&SF, and after a period with the company could request a specific location. Seniority in the Harvey organization could be accrued – unless a Harvey Girl chose to marry, as many did – she could work her way up to senior waitress or even manager.

(to be continued.)

19. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, Old West

Yes, I’m still here – and working hard at stuff, which is why I have had to let the intertubules go for … a couple of days. A week, maybe … what am I, a public blogging utility? I had work – serious paid work to perform, either for the Tiny Publishing Bidness, or through the required paperwork to do the sales taxes due to the State of Texas for my retail activities for the past year. Which – since Blondie and I had a full schedule of sales events during the last quarter of 2014, and I had two other book events earlier in the year … I had to sit down with a calculator and the printouts from the Tax Collector of the Right Noble State of Texas, and figure out what portion of the states tax due on retail sales during the past year were due to which city, school/library/transportation district, county, et cetera … depending on where those sales events event took place. This works out to amounts from between .85 cents to 5.00 due to bodies like the Bulverde independent school district, the city of Goliad and Kendall County as-a-whole. Really, I hope that they do not fritter away my tiny contribution to their yearly budget on frivolous stuff … likely not, since this is Texas where fiscal sanity (outside of certain …ahem … rather more bluish districts) tends to rule. It is unlikely that I will ever have much of a sales presence in deeply indigo-hued locales so I can rest in the assurance that my my own microscopically small contribution to their local economies will not be frivolously squandered.

The other project – the big book project for which I cleared my work calendar so that I could work on it undistracted – is finally within sight of being done. This is the biography of the well-to-do South Texas rancher, who actually had us come down to Brownsville in October to sign the contract … and for us to get an idea of what he wanted for his book. Which finished up having way, way more pictures than originally expected … and it has turned out to be a very elaborate design project. Much more complex in lay-out than I have ever done before, what with all the pictures; many of them had to be re-touched, or scanned in, converted from color to black and white. It took me about three times longer than I expected, and I could only work on it for three or four hours at a stretch without getting twitchy. There’s a lot riding on the client’s satisfaction with the overall look of the project – but so far, he is quite pleased. And I am on schedule as far as getting the book out there, too.

I set my own writing aside in mid-November, because of this and the press of doing all those seasonal market events. I had seven solid chapters of The Golden Road completed, and visualize another fourteen or so, incorporating certain plot twists … and then I had an idea for yet another adventure. This was sparked by reading another writer blog – she does historical romances – and she posted a bit about the Harvey Girls; how the transplanted Englishman Fred Harvey had the radical notion of providing excellent food and sublime service to railroad travelers in the far West … a time and a place where up until then, the fare available pretty much covered the ground between execrable and disgusting. He also had the radical notion to staff his restaurants with female wait-staff, pay them well, and treat them otherwise generously. The Harvey chain provided many an adventurous, middle-class eastern girl with an opportunity to go west – and the more I thought on that … well, I had already ‘done’ the notion of being a school-teacher in a frontier school.

Way back when I was working on Daughter of Texas, I mentally made a note of a leading character having had another family, back in Boston … and that some day, I might have a means to work out one of his descendants coming west. Inspiration works in weird ways. The entire plot and the characters involved sprang into mind, almost fully-fledged – what might lead a respectable young lady of Boston to chuck it all and go west as a waitress in a railway station restaurant? It turned out her reasons were pretty horrific … so now I am back to working on two books simultaneously. This worked very well for me once before; when I got bored or stuck with one, I could work on the other.

Blondie was out in California in January, helping Pippy and Alex sort out Mom and Dad’s house, and getting Mom herself settled in a good assisted-living situation in a place a short distance from Pippy’s house. She’s heading back tomorrow, with Mom’s two cats, to be rehomed with us, some oddments from the house which no one else wanted. And that’s been the tale of my last two weeks. Oh, and the chapter of the newest venture is up at my book website.

WCBrannIf ever there were a 19th Century journalist more deeply wedded to the old mission statement of comforting (and avenging) the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with energy and fierce enthusiasm, that person would have to be one William Cowper Brann. In the last decade of the 19th Century, he possessed a small but widely-read newspaper called the Iconoclast, a reservoir of spleen the size of Lake Michigan, and a vocabulary of erudite vituperation which would be the envy of many a political blogger today. Born in 1855, in Coles County, Illinois, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Upon losing his mother when barely out of diapers, he was placed with a foster family. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from the foster home and made his own way in the world, armored with a bare three years of formal education. He worked as a hotel bellboy, an apprentice house painter, and as a printer’s devil, from which he graduated into cub reporting. He and his family – for he did manage to marry – gravitated into Texas, settling first in Houston, followed by stints in Galveston and in Austin, working for local newspapers as reporter, editor and editorialist, and attempting to launch his own publication – the first iteration of the Iconoclast – terming it “a journal of personal protest.” For William Cowper Brann had opinions – sulfurous, vituperative and always entertaining, even for a day when public discourse not excluding journalism was conducted metaphorically with brass knuckles – and he despised cant, hypocrisy and what he termed ‘humbuggery’ with a passion burning white-hot and fierce.

The first launch of the Iconoclast failed, but nothing discouraged, Brann sold the name and the press to another writer – William Sidney Porter, who much later became well-known under the nom-de-plume of O. Henry. Brann knocked around between big-city Texas for another couple of years, which makes one wonder if a) his wife ever entirely unpacked the Brann household goods, and b) what she said in private to her peripatetic spouse at hearing of yet another move. At the start of 1895, Brann – now working as chief editorialist for the Waco Daily News – re-launched The Iconoclast as a monthly periodical. Eventually, he had a subscription list for it of over 100,000, a fair portion of it national and even international. Which is quite understandable, given his talent with a well-turned phrase and a savagely telling choice in description; in this century he would have been a blogger, and a very well-read one at that. A selection of his pieces (linked here) are readable and highly entertaining, very much on par with luminaries like Mark Twain, in my opinion. (He had written a couple of plays, and at the abrupt end of his life was working on a novel.)

Brann had his list of favored targets – and in what his near-contemporary Mark Twain termed ‘The Gilded Age’ (and Twain did not mean that as a compliment, but rather as something cheap and nasty, all tarted up to look rich) he was rather spoiled for choice in the targets of his broadsides. His remarks on one of the signature social events of the decade – the notorious Bradley-Martin masquerade ball are one of the most savagely-slashing preserved.

Mrs. Bradley-Martin’s sartorial kings and pseudo-queens, her dukes and DuBarrys, princes and Pompadours, have strutted their brief hour upon the mimic stage, disappearing at daybreak like foul night-birds or an unclean dream—have come and gone like the rank eructation of some crapulous Sodom, a malodor from the cloacae of ancient capitals, a breath blown from the festering lips of half-forgotten harlots, a stench from the sepulcher of centuries devoid of shame. Uncle Sam may now proceed to fumigate himself after his enforced association with royal bummers and brazen bawds; may comb the Bradley-Martin itch bacteria out of his beard, and consider, for the ten-thousandth time, the probable result of his strange commingling of royalty- worshiping millionaire and sansculottic mendicant—how best to put a ring in the nose of the golden calf ere it become a Phalaris bull and relegate him to its belly.

In a word, he detested Europeans, particularly British, the new rich of America, vulgar excess, excess of every sort, the deviousness of cows, cant and hypocrisy of every stripe, and Baptists – of which last he opined, “I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough.” (It has to be admitted here that he detested blacks and didn’t think much of women, either.)

Since he was living and working in Waco – the home of Baylor University, which Brann described as “that great storm-center of misinformation” – and thus a kind of Vatican of Southern Baptists, these openly expressed and published remarks regarding Baptists did excite considerable local comment and resentment. Brann paid a price, personally – in being occasional apprehended and assaulted by partisans. His popularity, locally and elsewhere, soared, however. Local anger became especially marked when he published accusations that college administrators and their family members had imported orphaned female child converts from missions in South America … and not only exploited them as domestic help, but sexually as well. I am given to wonder if this didn’t hit Brann in several personal ways, having been given up by his own father, the Presbyterian minister, into the care of people who cared so little for him that he ran from their tender care the minute he was able to do so. But Brann was just getting warmed up. Next, he alleged that male faculty members were pursuing female students sexually. Any father contemplating sending his daughter to Baylor as a student was putting her at hazard of being raped; the university was nothing but – in his words, “A factory for the manufacture of ministers and magdalenes,” – magdalenes at that time being the socially acceptable term for ‘whores’.

A Baylor supporter – the father of a female student there, one Tom Davis who dealt in real estate in Waco and the surrounding country – took personal insult from Brann’s choice of words, simmered over it … and rather than writing a fiery letter to the fiery editor, took his own gun, emerged from his office on downtown Fourth Street, and ambushed Brann as he walked past with a friend in the late afternoon of April 1, 1898. Davis shot Brann in the back, mortally wounding him. The sound of bullets sent newspaper vendors, passing innocent citizens, street musicians and trolley-car motormen, policemen and simple citizens going about their business on a busy Friday evening darting for cover. First escorted to the local police station and then carried home by his friends, Brann died the next morning. He was buried in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery; the monument marking his grave is a square dark stone pedestal with his profile in white stone and the word “Truth” engraved on it, topped with a Brobdingnag-sized stone lantern … which since appears to have been stolen, if the comments on Find a Grave are anything to go by. The publication of the Iconoclast itself was in the hands of Brann’s long-suffering wife, who subsequently sold it … again. The new owners removed the publication to Chicago; likely it sank shortly thereafter, since it was Brann himself whose corrosive genius in print carried it all on his back.

And what of Tom Davis, who chose to ambush and shoot his bete noir in the back? He didn’t last any longer than William Cowper Brann … who in the best tradition of the Wild West – upon being shot in the back and holed through his left lung, drew his own personal Colt revolver and emptied all six shots into Davis … who fell into the doorway of a tobacconist’s establishment. Back in the day, the city fathers insisted that Waco was the Athens of the West … but the locals all called it Six Shooter Junction, for the disagreement between the newspaper editor and the real estate man was only one of many.

24. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

There is a Lady, sweet and kind
Was ne’er a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by…
Thomas Ford 1580-1648

Her name was Lottie, probably short for Carlotta, and she was a lady. She was usually described as a gorgeous red-head, who arrived in the wild frontier ‘ville that had formed around the military outpost of Fort Griffin, west of Fort Worth, in the years after the Civil War. She was intent on making a fortune for herself … but not in the way that bold, pretty, enterprising and unescorted women usually intended to earn it on arrival in a wide-open frontier town. Or anywhere in the barely-tamed far West, come to think on it. She was not an investor in some chancy enterprise, a mail-order bride or an enterprising whore or brothel madam. She stopped clocks and hearts … but never a poker game.

That was Lottie Deno’s profession – and supposedly, she was good at it; very, very good, with ice-water in her veins instead of blood. One legend has it that one night in the saloon in which Lottie was at the poker-table (likely skinning a green-horn, an unwary cowboy, soldier or drummer of all the coin and valuable property on him) when a sudden exchange of lead civility broke out, and everyone not immediately involved hit the deck. When they rose up from the floor, it was to see Lottie, calm and perfect to every curl of red hair and ruffle on her elaborate dress, saying, “Gentlemen, I came to play poker, not roll around on the floor.” She came by the alias she was best known by after an evening of marathon poker matches in which she had won every hand, when an appreciative and well-likkered-up onlooker with a command of Spanglish whooped, “With winnings like that, you otta call yourself Lotta Dinero!”

She was the older of two daughters of an imperishably respectable and formerly well-to-do Kentucky family named Thompkins, educated in an Episcopalian-run academy for young ladies. Her father had business interests in farming tobacco and hemp … and breeding and racing fine thoroughbred horses at his plantation at Warsaw on the Ohio River. Mr. Thompkins traveled widely – to New Orleans, mostly but also north, to Detroit and apparently to Europe at least once. He reveled in those pleasures of life available to a man of wealth – including gambling, at which he was immensely skilled – or lucky. And for some reason – perhaps because he had some inkling that the future was uncertain and that his daughter might just need a useful skill or two – he taught Lottie to play cards, and to play them very well. Or it just may have been that it amused him to have an able opponent on those evenings at home, before television and the internet.

When the Civil War broke out, Lottie was 17. Kentucky, a border state with strong ties to both North and South remained in the Union. But within a short time, her father had volunteered for service in the Confederate Army and fallen in battle. The fortunes of the family declined precipitously, along with the health of Lottie’s mother. Neither Lottie, her mother, or her younger sister seemed equal to the task of running their property or the late Mr. Thompkin’s business interests, especially not in the middle of a war. The solution as the Thompkins relations and advisors saw it was that Lottie should marry a rich and able man to take on that responsibility – and she was dispatched to Detroit, three hundred miles north of Warsaw, accompanied by her maid and former nanny – a tall and formidable black slave named Mary Poindexter – to achieve that end. Perhaps Lottie was not very keep on the idea to start with, perhaps she ran out of money, or maybe the man who she did strike up an amiable friendship with in Detroit – a man named Johnny Golden, who had ridden her fathers’ horses as a jockey – was unacceptable to her remaining family. Johnny Golden was also a gambler – and within a very short time, Lottie and Johnny, with Mary Poindexter as an attentive chaperone, duenna-and-body-guard combined – were working the professional gambling circuit. Another legend has it that a brash young Union soldier accused Lottie of having cheated him in a game on a riverboat. He started for Lottie, but Mary Poindexter stepped in, and launched the soldier overboard into the river.

Before the war ended, Johnny and Lottie had split up … and Lottie, with the ever-vigilant Mary in attendance … went west. Some say she told her mother and sister back in Kentucky that she had married a wealthy cattleman. Lottie and Mary arrived in San Antonio in 1865, and Lottie took up a job as a dealer in an establishment called the University Club. She was immediately popular, even though the permitted no drinking or cursing at the poker table over which she presided – and Mary Poindexter sat on a stool at her back, just to remind the punters of the respect due to her mistress, who was always elegantly dressed, cultured and the very soul of Southern belle-hood. Very soon she was known as the Angel of San Antonio. The University Club was owned by a man named Frank Thermond; soon, he and Lottie were in love, and Mary Poindexter had soon decided to go her own way. When Frank got into a fight with another gambler and killed him with his Bowie knife, he had to leave town fast. He wound up in New Mexico, while Lottie worked as a professional gambler in various raw settlements in West Texas, where she earned her reputation as the queen of the paste-board flippers.

The end of the story? Not quite what you’d expect. By 1882, she and Frank Thermond were reunited – and married – and living quiet respectable lives in Deming, New Mexico. He went into business – real estate, mostly – and was vice-president of the local bank. Lottie also was an upright pillar of the community, helping to establish an Episcopal church in Deming. She died in 1934, outliving her husband by 26 years, but not a certain legend. It is commonly said that she was the model for the character of Miss Kitty, in the old Gunsmoke radio and television series.

23. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Old West

(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.)

We wanted a bit of a holiday, and to get away from the house and the usual jobs for a bit. My daughter wanted to hit up Herweck’s in downtown for some specialty paper for her origami projects. Herweck’s has a lovely stock of interesting papers; in large sheets, which may be cut to size for her origami art projects. I wanted to take some pictures downtown, and we both thought positively of a late lunch at Schilo’s Delicatessen and then … well, to whatever curiosity took us. We were tempted at the outset by a ere was a huge anime convention going on at the HBG convention center, which counted for the large numbers of … interestingly dressed people wandering around. As my daughter somewhat cuttingly remarked, after observing a herd of costumed anime fans, “Too many freaks, not enough circus.” Still, having acquired a taste for this sort of thing when we used to go to the science fiction convention in Salt Lake City when I was stationed in Utah, we thought we might check out the convention, if the price of entry was not too much out of budget. It was too much, as it eventually turned out, and neither of us was into anime sufficiently to properly appreciate the experience … But after walking back from Shilo’s along Market Street, we happened upon the Briscoe Western Art Museum, which was housed in what used to be – so we were assured by the young woman manning the desk – the old downtown public library building.

This was a wonderful construction of 1920s Moderne, newly spiffed up, and the foyer was marvelous. This was a two-story confection with a deeply coffered carved wood ceiling and a band of designs resembling the buffalo and Indian-head nickels around the walls just below the ceiling – all marvelous and detailed. A visit to a building like this once again reminded me of how much I detest and despise the horrid brutality of modern design for public buildings – lean and spare and square, with windows that can’t be opened, no ornamentation of any sort at all, save a stark open square with a concrete turd in a fountain in the middle of it. No, my detestation of modern architectural design of the Bauhaus steel-and-glass-box or concrete-n-glass variety remains undimmed and burns with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns … and as it turned out, the entry fee to the Briscoe was a relative pittance, and further reduced by a veteran discount. So – there was a far more economical use of funds and time.

The art on display is of course oriented to the west – lots of scenic vistas, longhorns, cowboys and the like, but leavened with a series of Curtis photographic portraits of Indians, some scenic vistas of border towns, and of the construction of Boulder Dam. As for big-name Western artists, the Briscoe has a small C. M. Russell bronze, and a couple of minor pieces by Frederick Remington, which to my mind is not very much at all, as far as the classic Western artists go. Most of what is there is in the way of art seems to be on loan from local donors and collectors – and it is a rather newish museum after all. Many exhibits are – not strictly speaking – art, but rather historical relics; a classic Concord stagecoach in one gallery – and a renovated chuck-wagon in another. The third-floor galleries had the most interesting items – antique saddles, including one adorned with silver rattlesnakes; once the property of Pancho Villa, and another which once belonged to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City. There is also a gallery dedicated to the Alamo – which is only to be expected. It is dominated by one of those elaborate models of the moment when the Alamo was overwhelmed by General Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces – about which I had a small quibble, and another item which raised more questions than the duty guard could answer. (The poor chap is probably curled up in a corner somewhere, quivering.)

This item is a Victorian hair brooch, one of those peculiarly Victorian things – a small lock of hair, made unto a piece of jewelry – usually woven into a pleasing pattern, and preserved under glass in a small setting. They were most often done in order to memorialize a deceased loved one … and this one was supposed to have been … well, the card next to it was singularly uninformative. OK, first of all – was it James Fannin’s hair? Several different alternatives; yes, his – a brooch left with a dear one, after his taking up the position of commander of the Goliad in late 1835. Likely. But his, post-mortem, after the massacre of his company and done after his body lying where it had been left for weeks and weeks? Ooooh – no, don’t think so.

Anyway, we had an interesting time discussing this with the duty guard; it’s true that docents and guards often know rather interesting things about the galleries where they are stationed, often because everyone is always asking them, and being able to give a good answer must be a kind of self-defense. Apparently, he and some of the other guards believe that the Alamo exhibit room is haunted. My daughter says that if any object in that room has the ability to haunt, it would be the gigantic iron 18th century cannon, which was supposed to have been in the Alamo, although if it had any part in the siege, no one knows. It looks like an 18-pounder, and was found buried on private property sometime in this century, so the guard says; the man whose property it was just set it up pointing at his mailbox. We speculated for a while on how it could have finished up buried in the ground, a thing which would have taken at least three ox-teams to move. At the time that the Alamo was the main Spanish presidio in Texas, it was supposed to have had the largest collection of artillery west of the Mississippi and north of the Rio Grande. After Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, likely the Mexican garrison left to hold the place bugged out with everything they could carry with them. We thought it likely that this particular cannon was dumped, either immediately or after a short distance. The information card at the exhibit offered very little detail – so we had our amusement from speculation.

And that was my bit of a summer holiday – yours?

This would appear to be the new theme song for the Fed-Gov’s Bureau of Land Management – that bane of ranchers like Cliven Bundy – as well as a whole lot of other ranchers, farmers, loggers, small landowners, and owners of tiny bits of property on the edge of or in areas of spectacular natural beauty, west of the Mississippi and between the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Yes, indeedy, folks – the maw of the Fed-Gov appears to be insatiable, although it is veiled over with the rationale of wanting to protect endangered species – many of which do not seem to be endangered so much any more – and miles and miles of unique old-growth Western forest. Some of these old-growth forests are so well-protected that they have burned down to the roots in catastrophic fires of late, as local environmental groups went into fits of spastic pearl-clutching, at the very suggestion that … well, pine-bark-beetle and drought-killed trees needed to be cleared away, and so did the duff and accumulation of flammable trash-brush. (The nature of many Western ecologies meant that being burned over every couple of decades was required for the good health of the ecology generally. Well-meant intervention seems to have made the situation worse. But never mind, say the environmentalists…)

This raises the natural suspicion among those of us who have been paying attention, as well as those who have had to make a living in parts of the West lately, that quite a lot of the endangered-species, famously-unique-old-growth-forest, and spectacular-unique-bit-of-landscape legislation which was passed a good three decades ago are now being used for other than their stated purposes. That they are being misused in the service of some international plot (Hello, Agenda 21!) to move us all into urban concrete Stack-a-prole apartment blocks where we can be observed and controlled by the functionaries of the Outer Party, 24-7 … well, I am not quite ready to order my tinfoil chapeau … but I am to the point of becoming concerned, shading to somewhat worried. I can see – rather clearly – that the ostensible care of establishment environmentalists has been used – and the degree of knowledge and malice aforesaid may be debated – in order to close off public lands to any economic use at all, even recreational use, if it is the wrong sort of recreation and by the wrong people. This has all has the whiff of a royal forest being established, for the use and recreation of the small numbers of the anointed, and the lesser orders – the ranchers, hunters, hikers and campers (or cabin-owners) being strictly forbidden on pain of death.

I cannot begin to guess how serious this latest threat to land along the Texas side of the Red River from the BLM is. Likely it will not go very far, now that the Texas AG has drawn a line in the sand. Maybe it is just a feint or even a campaign strategy by Mr. Abbott … but given recent history, and the resentments of all kinds of small-property ranchers and land-owners it’s a shrewd one. The state of Texas, in a handy turn of fate retained ownership of public lands upon becoming a state, instead of the Fed-Gov taking over and retaining vast tracts of wilderness. To this day there are only a couple of national parks within Texas, plus military bases – and for the BLM to even think of appropriating privately-owned lands on the Texas side of the Red River – is breathtakingly ill-conceived. If the BLM is serious in doing so, I guarantee that they will be resisted, furiously. It would make the brouhaha at the Bundy ranch look like a kindergarten playground squabble. It appears at this point, though, that the BLM has backed away, piously disavowing any such intent. For now, anyway, say I, cynically. Five years ago I might have written such a step up to ignorance rather than malice. Five years ago I wouldn’t have thought the IRS would be turned loose to harass political opponents of the Dem Party machine, either.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

The feud between the Suttons and the Taylors was one of those epic Texas feuds which convulsed DeWitt County in the decade following the Civil War. It might even have begun earlier in a somewhat more restrained way, but there is nothing besides speculation on the part of contemporary journalists by way of evidence. Both families originated in South Carolina, both settled in DeWitt County … and in the hard times which followed on the humiliating defeat of the South and the even more humiliating Reconstruction, they squared off against each other. The feud lasted nearly a decade, at a cost of at least 35 lives. Participants in it included the notorious John Wesley Hardin, who was related by marriage to the Taylors. Some historians have described the feud as a bitter continuation of the Civil War, between die-hard Confederate partisans and those roughly aligned with the forces of Reconstruction law and order.
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(I spent Friday and Saturday at a book event – the Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, at the conference center in New Braunfels, for the launch of The Quivera Trail. So – barely time to post this thrilling frontier adventure until now. The details and the quotes are taken from Walter Prescott Webb’s history of the Rangers, which is so powerfully testosterone-laden that I have to keep it sectioned between a couple of … milder-themed books which have a sedating effect.)

After the debacle of the Civil War, the Texas Rangers barely existed as an entity – either in Indian-fighting, or law-enforcing. The Federal government would not countenance the organization of armed bodies of volunteers for any purpose. Combating Indians or cross-border bandits was the business of the regular Army; interested semi-amateurs need not apply. But a Reconstruction-Republican governor, E. J. Davis, did institute a state police force in 1870, the existence of which was lauded as necessary for the preservation of law and order – such as it was. The state police under Davis was relatively short-lived and unadorned by laurels during its brief term, being dissolved at the end of his administration – but one of their officers had such a sterling reputation that when the Texas Rangers were formally reorganized, he was charged with heading one of the two divisions. One was the Frontier Battalion, dedicated to the Ranger’s traditional mission of fighting hostile Indians. The other – the Special Force – was charged with generally upholding law and order, shortly to become the Ranger’s modern raison d’être. Leander Harvey McNelly served for only a brief time in the interim of the change from Indian fighting to upholding law and order – but his leadership inspired many of those Rangers who took note of his personal example to heart.
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(Since The Quivera Trail is launching next weekend – at New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt, no less – I have begun research for the next historical adventure, that picaresque California Gold Rush adventure which I have always wanted to write. This research takes the form of reading every darned history and contemporary account that I have on my shelves, or can get my hands on. One of these books is The Shirley Letters from the California Mines 1851-1852, by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith ‘Dame Shirley’ Clappe.)
Cover - Shirley Letters

Louise Amelia – better known by her pen-name, Dame Shirley – was an irreproachably Victorian lady, possessing a lively intellect and observant eye, which the education typically given to girls at that time did nothing to impair. Conventional expectations for upper-class women of her day seem hardly to have made a dent in her either. She was born around 1819 in Elizabeth New Jersey and orphaned by the deaths of both parents before out of her teens. She had a talent for writing, encouraged by an unexpected mentor – Alexander H. Everett, then famed in a mild way as a diplomat, writer and public speaker. He was twice her age, and seems to have fallen at least a little but in love with her. She did not see him as a suitor, but they remained friends and devoted correspondents. Eventually she was courted by and consented to marry a young doctor, Fayette Clappe – who even before the ink was dry on the registry, caught the gold fever. Fayette and Louise Amelia were off on the months-long voyage around the Horn to fabled California. The gold rush was almost overwhelmingly a male enterprise – wives and sweethearts usually remained waiting at home, but not the indomitable Louise, who confessed in one of her letters to her sister Molly, “I fancy that nature intended me for an Arab or some other nomadic barbarian, and by mistake my soul got packed up in a Christianized set of bones and muscles.”
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Travels of Jaimie McPheetersIt was said to me so long ago that I really can’t remember who or when they said it – that being a writer is like drawing words from a cistern; you have to keep replenishing the store in the cistern by reading – and reading even more than you write. Was it Mr. Terranova, the whirlwind 6th grade teacher, or maybe the elderly gentleman who came to speak to a school assembly at Vineland Elementary when I was in about the 2nd or 3rd grade? He was blind, with a seeing-eye dog named Rosie whom he let off duty long enough for her to run down the center aisle in the auditorium for a good petting. Our teachers told us that he was an Enormously Famous Published Author – for some reason I thought for years that he was William Prescott, the author of The Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of Peru, never mind that William Prescott would have been dead for a little over a hundred years by then. Yes – Mr. Terranova had us read excerpts of The Conquest of Mexico and Peru, which should give an idea of how eccentric and bloody brilliant he was as a teacher. The Enormously Famous Published Author with the seeing-eye dog named Rosie did give us one bit of authorly good advice, using ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’ as his example; telling us to show them going up the hill, describe the hill, and why Jack and Jill did so, and what they saw and felt. Show, not tell, in other words. But enough of my early influences in writing, such as they were.

I have to limit myself when working on a book project; nothing by other fiction-scribblers working in the same area or time-period. This is because there is a danger for me of inadvertently taking an idea for a character, or an incident or accident of plot from someone else’s visualization, so at this time, all fictional accounts of Gold Rush-era California or the various trails and journeys towards the Ophir of the far west are strictly off the table. I have this totally bird-witted habit of seizing on certain things as I read about them, as if they were bright and shiny objects, and thinking, “Ah-ha! This has to be in The Book!” Other things just grab at me, and I come back to them again and again. In Adelsverein – to give just two small examples – it was the concept of the children, taken by Comanche Indians, who were returned, but never returned in spirit, and the massacre of the Texians at Goliad.

So, now I am faced with doing the episodic and picaresque Gold Rush adventure that I have always wanted to write. I grew up with this, because it was the event that I think made California what it was, for better or worse – and in the brief blink of an eye, as far as time goes. It was a sleepy agrarian backwater with a wonderful climate and spectacular scenery, a paradise to those who lived there at that time, a lost Eden to which they looked back on later with considerable nostalgia. And in the space of two or three years – the whole world piled in. The sleepy port of Yerba Buena became the muddy, lawless, brawling town of San Francisco, from hundreds of residents to thousands in mere months. The empty bay was suddenly forested with the masts of hundreds of abandoned ships. The properties of entrepreneur John Sutter were swamped with squatters, rogues and gold-seekers, the pristine rivers and streams in the foothills all alive with more men, looking for gold. Gold from the mines of California – and from just over the border in Nevada – kept the Union from going under entirely, so say some … and I have always wanted to write about it.

The next book, (after the bagatelle of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw, in the days of the Republic of Texas) will follow the adventures of Fredi Steinmetz, the younger brother of Magda Steinmetz-Becker, from the Trilogy. I’ve noted in other books that he went out to California as a cattle drover in the 1850s … and he returned, thinking not very much of the place, for a variety of reasons.

So, that’s why I am reading, and not writing and posting quite so much. I know the main character, one or two of the secondaries, and the rest will suggest themselves in time. The overall and relatively episodic plot will come out of what I am reading now; Maryat’s Mountains and Molehills, Dame Shirley Clappe’s Letters, Captain Gunnison’s history of the Mormons in Salt Lake City, Randolph Marcy’s 1859 advice to transcontinental travelers, William Manly’s account of his journey through Death Valley … and at least a score or more of others as they take my butterfly interest. Some of them are on my own bookshelves, some as eBooks or PDFs stashed away in my computer file … but shusssh … I am reading now.

Did you know that William Tecumseh Sherman and Edwin Booth were in California at the very time of the window for Fredi Steinmetz’ adventures there?

So, I have been fiddling around with the next book – well, the next two, anyway. The joking suggestion regarding re-booting a certain popular western serial adventure as a straight historical, after filing off a number of readily-identifiable and no-doubt-ferociously-protected-by-cast-iron-copyrights elements … well, it started to have considerable appeal, especially after Blondie suggested making it a YA adventure and focused toward boys – tweens and teens. Look, it works for Harry Potter, so … why not?

I’ve had a go with four chapters so far; relocating the time-frame to Republic-era Texas, and drawing on a number of historical characters. It’ll be more of a light-hearted romp than the Trilogy and the other books set in that period … which have gotten rather dramatic of late.

Without further ado – Chapter One, and Chapter Two, in which a young volunteer Texas Ranger is the only survivor of a treacherous encounter with a handful of renegades and a mysterious wagon …

And Chapters Three and Four, wherein young James Reade, Esquire and the Delaware Indian Scout Toby Shaw attempt to forestall a famous Texas feud before it even gets started …

Enjoy. I’ll be doing that Sarah Hoyt does – that is, posting the first draft of chapters as I write them. The finished adventures will be edited, polished, added-to and re-written for eventual publication as a print and eBook.

(So, I know the suggestion started as a joke on my part – about the only hope for the Lone Ranger being a complete and total reboot, defaulting back to a more or less historically correct version, set in pre-Civil War Texas… but when Blondie suggested that I make it also a sort of YA chronicle and aimed for boys … well, I liked the idea. So without further ado – the set-up chapter. I don’t have a title yet, so any suggestions are welcome.)

Chapter 1

A dark winged shadow sailed on motionless wings. Jim Reade lay on his back in the desert dust, incuriously watching that ominous shadow circle, lower and lower until every finger-like dark feather became distinct against the burning sky, aware in a tiny corner of his mind that he should do something, should move. But he hurt in every bone, from his head down to his fingertips, and all the way to his booted toes. There was something flint-hard under his shoulder, unyielding, the sun had blazed on his exposed face and hands for many hours, and there was a slow crawl of blood oozing from his forehead, running back into his sweat-matted hair. It took a great deal of concentration and will to move his right hand, dropping the object clenched in it with a brief metallic clatter. The dark-winged shadow veered abruptly away. That sight recalled him to a sense of danger. Turkey vulture. Dropping down on something freshly – or not so freshly dead. What had happened? Jim willed his eyes and his memory to focus.

There … within sight and reach – a dapple-grey form which loomed as tall as a cliff not a hand-reach beyond, as still as death, it’s neck and head laid out at an unnatural angle, nostrils already being crawled over by a trail of industrious ants; Jim felt a twinge of regret and remorse – his horse, that he had paid twenty American dollars and the task of writing out a proper deed of sale for fifteen acres of land on Salado Creek for to the man who sold him the horse. Well, that was a waste of a good horse and a small part of his time … but Daniel had insisted. If he was to ride with Daniel’s Ranger company, he had to have a good horse, a good Sharps and a pair of good Colts. That tall and tow-headed sergeant of rangers – Captain Jack Hay’s right-hand man – had looked over Jim’s equipment and horse presented for inspection and nodded a silent assent. Daniel had clapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Thanks, Dutch. Now, let’s ride, little brother!’
But I’m a lawyer, Jim had said to Daniel, when they met at Daniel’s little house in Bastrop, after Jim came hastening all the way from Galveston in answer to Daniel’s message. The Mexes have taken Bexar, Daniel had said in his message. They took every white man prisoner there, including Daddy – and dragged them back to Mexico in chains. Captain Hays, he’s already gone to follow them, with every man he could muster.
So is Daddy a lawyer, Daniel answered, white with suppressed fury. And those bastards took him with all the others there for the district court. The judge, the recorder, the district attorney – all the defense attorneys, the clerk and every one of those who had suits to be judged or came as witnesses. They brought their whole damned army to invade … again – and took them prisoner just for doing their civil duty. You’re a lawyer, little brother – but what happens when the law don’t do you no good at all? You put down your law books and you pick up a Colt. Else the law don’t mean anything at all. Join my company, pick up your trash – that which you can hitch to your saddle, and let’s you and I go rescue Daddy.

And that’s what Jim had done. Packed all four duodecimo volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries in his saddle-bags, bought a pair of patent Colt revolving pistols – and the horse to carry them, since they made a not-inconsiderable burden, taken together with his Sharps rifle, the necessary tools and bullet-mold and metal powder-flask, and swore into Daniel’s company of ragged and ill-dressed Rangers … they did it in the plaza in front of the crumbling old chapel and the ruined presidio which surrounded it on the outskirts of the old town of Bexar. It didn’t look like the brief occupation of General Woll’s Mexican army had done any good to the old place. But they hadn’t done much harm, either. Colonel Caldwell and Captain Hays had lured the invaders away to the banks of the Salado, a piece a good bit north of town. And there had been a battle, and General Woll had gathered up his troops and skedaddled … stealthily, of course. For the Texas militia and mounted Ranger companies were assembling…

Jim Reade gathered up his scattered thoughts again. What had happened to him? Where was Daniel, and the other four Rangers who had gone out on long scout at Cap’n Hay’s orders? He couldn’t remember, which worried him. It cost him some pain to turn his head – the blue sky, the turkey-vulture floating lazily in it, the dappled body of his dead horse – all swam together. He pressed his eyelids tight together, waiting until the pounding of his heart stopped sending scorching patterns of light against them. Now Jim squinted against the blinding sun, falling almost parallel across the rolling desert scrubland and flat-topped hills along the Nueces. There were shadows, stretching out … and the tumbled still forms of men, laying in the unnatural positions in which sudden death had found them. They sprawled like rag dolls, and horribly splotched with blood already gone the color of dark red morocco leather, at throat, back or breast. The nearest to him wore a dark blue hunting coat, just like his brother – his hair the same light brown, and that was Daniel’s plain straw planter’s hat, hanging from a branch of mesquite shrub, tossing in the light breeze.

“Dan! Dan’l … Cap’n Reade!” Jim croaked. He attempted to rise, by rolling onto one side and levering his elbow against the ground, but unbearable, searing pain exploded in his shoulder and the black darkness descended again. After a time, that darkness receded. Jim blinked, hardly believing what he saw. The shadowy form of a man loomed over him, a young and weather-burnt face with a quizzical expression on it. Dark Indian braids hung over the young man’s naked shoulders, and three lines in red ocher painted across his cheeks. Comanche – he was done for, surely, Jim decided in despair. The shape he was in, he wouldn’t last long, under whatever torture the Comanche had in mind – and with any luck at all he should be unconscious almost at once. The other Rangers – and every settler in Texas, Anglo and Mexican alike – they all had stories of the sickening tortures which the Comanche inflicted on their live captives.
“Sorry … to deprive …you of … your fun,” Jim whispered, with the last of his wavering strength, and he almost thought he heard a reply in perfect English. “Wait until I set your arm, Ranger. That is all the amusement that I will need…”

The next time Jim swam up to the surface of life, he was in a place that was dark, but dimly lit with moving shadows – a fire, a little distance from him. The sharp object under his shoulder was gone. It seemed that he lay on something relatively soft, inside the shelter of a shallow cave. He still hurt all over, but the pain was a lesser thing now, in his shoulder and arm, and in his head, which ached fiercely when he turned it to look in the direction of the fire. There was someone sitting beyond it, in the mouth of the small cave, silhouetted against a darkly-starry sky above, and a thicket of those spiny, thick-leaved cactus plants – the ripe red fruit and tender young leaves of which the Mexicans in Bexar relished very much. Jim struggled to focus his eyes and attention. He must have made some involuntary movement or a noise, for that someone stood, swift and almost noiseless, and padded around the fire with a plain tin cup in hand – the young Indian.
“You are aware,” he remarked, in good humor. “Good. This is sage and willow-bark tea. Very healing properties.” The young Indian knelt next to the rough pallet of blankets on which Jim lay, raised his head and held the cup to his lips so that he might drink easily.
“Who are you?” Jim gasped, when he could speak. “Where am I? And where is … where are the others? What have you savages done with them?”
The young Indian gently laid Jim back upon the blanket, and sat back on his moccasined heels. “They are all dead,” he answered without heat. “You speak rashly, Ranger. I – my people – did not kill them. I am of the Lenni Lenape, the True People, whom your folk call the Delaware. My mother’s Eldest Brother is known to them as James Shaw. I am called Toby Shaw, but my friends among the Tonkawa call me the Long Walker – the Tireless One.”
“I am sorry. I spoke rashly,” Jim answered, abashed. “I am James Reade, Esquire. I am pleased by your acquaintance, Mr. Shaw… and also grateful for the consideration.” Jim realized belatedly that his arm – the one which had pained him with especial agony – was splinted and bound. And that his head was roughly bound up – the blood from that wound washed away from where it had crusted over his eyes. “I did not intend insult, Mr. Shaw.” He swallowed painfully against his grief, wondering why he was moved to speak with such odd formality. Before he was ten years old, he had lost two little brothers and and older sister – and now Daniel – Daniel, his oldest brother, stubborn, fearless and daring, who had fought with Houston on the field at San Jacinto, not six years ago. Daniel left a wife and three little children in Bastrop. The Reades would never leave Rebecca, the boys and their little sister to beggary – but if Jim survived this mad affray into the wilderness, he would be the one to bring the news to Rebecca. His heart sank at the prospect of that errand.
“I have buried them,” Toby Shaw answered simply. “I marked each with a pile of stones and a cross of saplings. I was taught well your customs. And because I did not know who killed them … or why they died … I made six graves. There was a man of the Eye-Rish I knew, who used to say in jest that the soul of a fortunate man should be safely in the Fortunate Place some time before the Evil Spirit who ruled in the underworld of the souls of the wicked and condemned even knew of his death. So,” he shrugged. “I thought to confound the Evil Spirit and make him think you were dead. The bones of a deer is all they should find in the sixth grave. It was a lot of work,” he added, with a grimace. “I think you should avoid venison, James Reade Esquire – lest you offend its spirit, gone ahead of you in decoy.”
“There is something wrong,” Jim answered helplessly. “I cannot recall … but there is something wrong. Daniel … that is my older brother, among the dead.”
“I am sorry,” Toby Shaw arranged himself more comfortably at the side of where Jim lay, crossing his legs and setting the tin cup aside. He leaned forward, looking at Jim with a most earnest expression. The firelight at the mouth of the cave now fell sideways across his face and shoulders. Jim realized that Toby was quite young, not much above his own age, for all the weathering of his face; a wiry, long-faced youth with the high-cheekbones and straight line of lips so often seen among the tribes of people which Jim had knowledge of. Toby wore a tattered black frock coat against the coolness of early evening, a coat which pulled across his shoulders and left his brown wrists bare, for lack of shirt-cuffs. “There is indeed something wrong. I do not know why, not in words you would understand. My uncle said I should follow the setting sun, where the men of General Somervell’s army were going. It was a test, I think. There are tests among the People. He said I should wait for dreams … a vision given to me by the Elder Spirits who would guide me.” His expression was totally without guile, honest, open, and puzzled.
“A vision?” Jim coughed, rackingly. It hurt his broken arm and broken head. Toby Shaw gravely proffered the tin cup again and waited with all courtesy for him to continue. “Why did you stop where you did? Come to find me, bury my … bury my brother and the others?”
“I was waiting,” Toby Shaw answered. He settled back with the unmistakable air of someone about to tell a very long story to an appreciative audience. “I made my camp here, four nights ago. Uncle said that I should neither eat nor drink, but wait for … something to find me. On the third night – six days ago, I saw a white flame in the sky, as if something fell to earth from the sky overhead. I thought – maybe one of the stars came loose, like a shining pebble or a spark, glued to the sky at night. But I was told by a teacher in the white school that was not possible. The stars that shine in our sky are like the sun, only many times farther away, so that they are dim and small as a speck of dust. But I still saw it fall to earth … so I marked exactly where it might land, and at sunrise I went to look for it. I wanted to know who was right, my people or the white school – and to know what a star fallen from the sky would really look like.”
“Did you find it?” Jim asked, drawn into Toby’s tale, in spite of himself. “How did you know where to look?”
“I have a very good memory, James Reade Esquire. I need only to close my eyes and call up to mind anything that I have ever seen. I marked where it fell among the distant hills … and in the morning I went out from here in a straight line, and found it. A small thing, the size of a pecan nut on the tree, yet heavy like iron, but looking as if a child had made thumb-prints in clay … it fell into a small bowl in the earth and set some small bushes on fire.” Toby drew out from the front of the ragged coat a dark globular stone hanging on a buckskin thong around his neck. There was a natural hole in the dark stone, which served to thread the buckskin through. “Which is how I found it without trouble. I took this as my … talisman,” he spoke the word as if it were something which tasted unfamiliar in his mouth. “I thought – this star-iron must be what I was supposed to see. But I saw dust rising from the valley beyond. Being alone, I hid myself and watched. I saw six men – your comrades, I think – in the valley below me. Following a trail made by a wagon track, six days ago, I think.” Toby frowned, obviously deeply puzzled. “It was an old trail and a small wagon, but the ruts were very deep. Also – someone had tried to hide them, by brushing the dirt with a branch. But not very well,” Toby appeared rather smug. “A puzzle, but nothing to me.”
“It was a baggage cart, from Woll’s train,” Jim coughed, and coughed again, rackingly. He was beginning to recover his memory. Yes. That was it; the puzzle of a single cart, deviating from the churned trail of General Woll’s extensive baggage train. “We … we saw the track, too. Capn’ Hays, he would have thought nothing of it, save that maybe some of the Mexes had decided to desert an’ go home their own way, but Bigfoot Wallace an’ some of his, they caught up to and tangled with a dozen Mexican cavalry troopers, a fair distance off the trail. They were heading west by north … not towards Mexico. It looked to ol’; Bigfoot as if they were following the wagon trail.” Toby Shaw held the tin cup to his lips and Jim drank again.

The memory of it came clear, sharp around the edges as a shard of glass, the one thing he could recall of the last few days. Bigfoot Bill Wallace, a mountain among Hays’ Rangers, exuberant about returning victorious in the clash with the Mexican troopers – he and Captain Hays, Daniel and some others, gathered around the evening fire, listening to Bigfoot tell the tale, of pursuit and clash, and leaving the surviving Mexican troopers dispirited and on foot in the harsh desert, limping south toward the Rio Grande.
“What were they doing, Bill – so far from the baggage train an’ Woll’s company?” Captain Hays asked. In the firelight he looked as untried as a mere boy, gentle-spoken and modest, but Jim had already learned not to underestimate the Ranger captain. He might have looked as if he were hardly older than Jim himself, but Jack Hays had the heart of a lion, an iron will and a sense of daring which stopped the heart of other men – but inspired them to follow him wherever he led. Bigfoot, Daniel, Chief Placido of the Tonkawa, and proven fighters twice his age – all followed where Captain Hays led, without question.
“They wouldn’t say … but they were serious about that wagon. The sargento, he scowled something fierce at the others, when we asked. I think he was the only one with a clue.” Bigfoot scratched his bristly cheek thoughtfully. “He said he was following the Gen’ral’s orders. Me, I think there was something valuable in it, even if only ol’ Woll’s winter drawers and extry boots.”
“There’s something queer about that wagon,” Captain Hays mused. He looked into the fire, and said, “Dan’l – you take five of your men in the morning at sun-rise. Follow the tracks of that wagon – I want to know what was in it worth sending a squad after.”
“What do you think, Jack?” Daniel had asked, and no one thought it the least insubordinate in seeming to question an order – or as near to an order as Jack Hays ever gave.
“That wagon – or cart – had something heavy in it,” Jack Hays put a small twig into the fire, and used it to light his pipe. Drawing on it, he looked directly at Daniel. “A mighty lot of gunpowder, guns, and lead, is what I think. Ol’ Santy-Anna, he has no love for Texians, and you couldn’t go wrong betting that he won’t pass up a chance to do us dirt. Pass off weapons to the Comanche, tell them they have a free hand in killing us? In a heart-beat. Bribe the Cherokee into making war instead of walking the path of peace? Santy-Anna hisself, he’d smile and smile, all the while waiting to slip a knife into your back, like he walked back on the Velasco treaty the minute we let him go. I b’lieve there’s devilment in that wagon, and I don’t want any but us to have it.”

“And did you find that devilment?” Toby Shaw asked. Jim shook his head, an involuntary gesture which redoubled the pain in it, almost to the point of vomiting up the herb-tea.
“No … at least, I do not remember if we did.” He thought, very carefully, rummaging through that errant memory of the morning when he and Daniel had ridden out, following Bigfoot’s directions on where they could pick up the trail left by Woll’s stray wagon. “The last thing that I remember was the wagon-tracks were clearer, as if they were in haste and didn’t want to bother with trying to hide them any more. We were following at a good rate, since the trail was so plain…” Yes, that was it. The tracks were pain, Jim recalled now. Gouged deep into the soft sand, leaving a line of broken brush between and on either side. The hoof-prints of mules – at least three teams of them, and pulling hard. Jim racked his memory. Nothing came, save the ghost of a memory of Dan’l shouting, his voice cut off abruptly. “What did you see, then,” he asked. “What manner of men ambushed us, and how many?”
“It was hard to see from where I watched,” Toby answered, without hesitation. “But I think … three or four. I think they were white men … not of the Enemy, or of the Other Enemy. They would have done … things. Counted coup, taken scalps. Made certain of you, James Reade Esquire, before fleeing. Instead – they hit hard, and having done that, rode fast, taking all the live horses but one. I am not certain it was an ambush at all, James Reade Esquire … three of your friends were knifed, two shot at close range, so close that they were burned. Your horse fell, I think … they left you, thinking you were dead or would soon be.”
“They did for us, I expect,” Jim answered, in a tone as bitter as alkali dust. “But I cannot understand how they could have caught Dan’l by surprise … unless …”

A tiny seed of memory, a mere thread, took root. Now Jim could see in the crystal of memory a brief and tiny picture, the place where they stopped for a rest, and a mouthful of cold bacon and hard-tack. They had picketed their horses … and yes, built up a small fire. Dan, hunkering on his heels, drawing a map in the dirt with a stick, and saying with a smile, as Jim impatiently saddled his own horse. “Don’t worry, little brother. They may have a lead on us, but they can only have gotten a hundred miles or so in four days. We can catch them up in another day…” Dan stopped, suddenly alert. “Someone coming,” Jim answered. From the saddle of his horse he had a better view of their back-trail. “Looks like some old friends,” he added. “I guess Capn’ Hays thought we needed reinforcements…”

“You knew them?” Toby demanded, suddenly alert.
“I recognized them,” Jim answered, racking his memory again. “They were rangers, all four of them, but in another company. I saw them in Capn’ Hays’ camp. Their leader is a man named Gallatin, J. J. Gallatin. Dan’l knew him from the war, when we took Bexar the first time. He was at the fire, when Bigfoot talked about the wagon. I think he wanted to come with us at the start … but Cap’n Hays gave the order to Dan’l. They came up to us, laughing … they were chaffing Dan’l for lagging behind. They came up on us and dismounted and then … I can’t remember.” Try as he could, Jim could bring up nothing from that memory crystal but the sound of a gun-shot going off like a cannon. Toby nodded, with the look of a man who had solved a puzzle.
“Not an ambush,” he said. “They came among you as friends and turned as a snake strikes, swiftly. They killed your horse, lest you escape and bear witness, and thought they had killed you as it fell, James Reade Esquire. Then they killed your other Rangers and took their horses – all but one, which I found wandering before I found you.”
“Damn them,” Jim whispered, sick at heart, grieving and horrified. He, and Daniel and the others – they had been betrayed, betrayed unto death by someone they thought a friend and a comrade. “They will pay for this, Toby Shaw. I swear it. I will bring them to justice before the law … even if only to Capn’ Hays. He would not countenance this, I swear…”
“The law?” Toby shrugged, “What does it matter, the law, James Reade Esquire? Why not just follow the trail of this … Gallatin and his friends, and pay them back in kind?”
“Because that is not the rule of law,” Jim answered, as a feeling of great weariness fell over him. “To take vengeance personally for a wrong … that is the rule of men, which varies among men according to ability and whim, and so falls unevenly. But the rule of law … the rule of law falls across the shoulders of all men, alike. Rich or poor, no matter their education or property. I live by the law, Toby … I can’t countenance private vengeance, no matter how justified it is.”
“You are a fool, James Reade Esquire,” Toby Shaw answered, in mild exasperation. “But I think that I will follow you … even if only to know that devilment is in that wagon.”
“Thank you,” Jim said, strangely grateful. And then the dark sleep took him under again, somewhat broken by uncomfortably vivid dreams.

For no good reason that I have ever been able to figure out – the figure of the cowboy remains about the most dominant figure in our mental landscape of the Wild West – the version of the 19th century American frontier that the public usually knows best, through novels, movies and television. The version of the Wild West which most people have in mind when they consider that period is post-Civil War as to time frame and available technology, and most often centered on aspects of cattle ranches, cow-towns, and long-trail cattle drives – and the hired men who performed the grunt work involved – or those various forces arrayed against them; homesteaders, rustlers and assorted other stock baddies. The long-trail drives actually took place over a fairly limited time; about ten or fifteen years, but those few years established an undying legend, especially in the minds of people anywhere else or at any other time. The realities of it all, of course, are a bit more nuanced, a bit more complicated, and perhaps a bit more interesting.
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He was of an old-and well-respected Hispanic Californio family, was Tiberico Vasquez; born in Monterey, the capital of what little government burdened the far-flung Spanish and then Mexican province which is today the state of California. (And such a state is in, these days, too – but I digress.) He was born sometime between 1835 and 1840; his family home in Monterey is now part of the local historical district. He was handsome, well-dressed and well-educated. He could read and write, had charming manners, and a touchingly gallant way with the ladies … which eventually spelled his doom, if the Mexican-American War and the Gold Rush had not already end the idyllic isolation in paradise for the old Californio families. They had lived lives of casual comfort, such as it was, a life based on cattle ranching and a profitable trade in hides, of bountiful hospitality among the great land-owning families and their friends, rounds of celebrations, of grand balls and fandangos, and genteel amusements such as bear-and-bull fights, and flirtations in the shade of the olive and citrus orchards planted here and there.

No more of that; by the time Tiberico Vasquez was in his teens, everything had changed; the old aristos were no longer in charge. And he might have withdrawn, in the manner of old aristocrats everywhere, to the comfort of those still-intact communities and those properties still held, ignoring the vulgar and thrusting foreigners who had taken over … but for a public dance in a saloon/theater/dance hall in Monterey which ended in a near-riot and the death of an American lawman. Perhaps the young Tiberico was only involved in being present at the ruckus, but he fled the scene in company with another man, Anastasio Garcia, who had already notorious locally as a thug and bandit. Garcia proved to be an apt mentor; soon Tiberico Vasquez established his own reputation, mostly as a horse-thief. He was caught and convicted a couple of times, served a few stretches in the state pen, and half-heartedly attempted to go straight, but never quite made it. He claimed to be a dedicated Mexican patriot – but in fact, was ecumenical in his robberies, being at least as likely to take from the Californios as well as the Anglos. His gang’s usual MO involved tying up the victims after taking whatever money and items of value they had on their person, and ransacking the immediate premises for anything else of value.

But in 1873, Tiberico Vasquez succeeded in making his usual haunts in Northern California too hot to hold. The robbery of a general store in Tres Pinos, a little hamlet near present-day Hollister resulted in the murders of three Anglo bystanders; all of them unarmed and gunned down by the Vasquez gang. The resulting reward offered by the state was substantial. Vasquez, two of his most trusted gang members, Clovido Chavez and Abdon Lieva, Lieva’s attractive young wife, and a number of stolen horses fled for relative safety in Southern California. They hid out for a while in a canyon somewhere in the San Gabriel Mountains … and all would have been well, save for Vasquez’ having an affair with Abdon Lieva’s wife. Furious, Lieva swore that he would revenge himself for having been made a cuckold; he left the camp, surrendered to the law and sang like a demented canary, spilling everything he knew – including the location of the hideout. Vasquez and Clovido Chavez escaped by the skin of their teeth, and established a new hideout, farther back in the rugged and brush-covered San Gabriels. Recruiting a new gang, Vazquez set up shop again; robbing stages, stage stations and the occasional local rancher/farmer known to have large amounts of cash on hand. One of their regular hideouts was in the Chilao-Horse Flats area, another in a rock-strewn stretch of badland near Soledad Canon, which is still known as Vasquez Rocks. Very likely you will have seen that particular tract – a very distinct set of angled layers of rock – on television and in movies, as it was and still is used frequently for location shoots.

By the next year, the reward offered for Tibercio Vasquez had risen to $8,000 captured alive and $6,000 dead. The sheriff of Alameda County was authorized to recruit a posse and put forth every effort to capture Vasquez. In this, Sherriff Harry Morse had the cooperation of his fellow county sheriff, William Rowland. If Tibercio Vasquez knew of this development, he did not care, for he and his crew emerged from the hills and began a new round of depredations. After all, he had spent two decades evading the law and tweaking the noses of Anglo authority. He had every reason to assume that his luck would hold out indefinitely, although cooler heads had tried to convince him to take refuge in Mexico. But the robbery and capture of a local sheep rancher set off another close pursuit. Vasquez fled into an area of step canyons and near-impassible brush, now the Angeles National Forest. He narrowly escaped, but lost his horses’ saddle and one of his pistols – found decades later by a boy hiking a wilderness trail.

But during the following weeks and months – no one knows who – told them exactly where Vazquez and his gang were hiding. They were sheltering at a small ranch in what is now North Hollywood, owned by Yorgios “Greek George” Caralambo. Decades earlier, Greek George was one of the camel-drovers hired in the Middle East for the US Army’s experimental Camel Corps. When the experiment didn’t work out, Greek George settled in California, married a local girl and started his ranch. It had prospered; the original flat-roofed adobe house had been enlarged by frame additions. Perhaps it was Greek George who informed the authorities when he discovered to his horror that his hospitality was being taken advantage of, as he was an otherwise respectable and law-abiding citizen. One of Vasquez’s present or former gang members may have talked, for a reward or as a plea-bargain with the law. It was even speculated that his own relatives might have informed on him; for having made romantic overtures to his own niece, having moved on from the former Mrs. Abdon.

A young deputy sheriff disguised himself as a drifter looking for work, and after days of hanging around Greek George’s place saw and recognized Vasquez. Hurriedly – and under cover of darkness, a carefully selected posse of six Los Angeles lawmen assembled and departed in secret. But they did take a newspaper reporter along with them. Sheriff Rowland was not in the group; being well-known in town, and known to be one of those in pursuit of Vasquez, he feared that his absence from his usual rounds would be noted – and Vasquez warned. But how to approach the ranch without letting Tiberico Vasquez that the jig was up? The posse had a bit of luck around sunrise when they intercepted two local men, on a regular trip into the nearby foothills to cut firewood – the woodcutters would pass by Greek George’s place. The reporter and the law officers hid in the back of the empty wagon. Vasquez had noticed the wagon, as he and one of his men were about to sit down to breakfast in the ranch’s kitchen, but he recognized the woodcutters, and paid them no more mind.

Four of the posse arranged themselves under cover, cutting off all escape routes, while two of them crashed through the front door, weapons in hand. Vasquez leaped out the nearest window – and straight into range of a lawman with shotgun, coming around the corner of the house. Wounded in a blast of buckshot, Vasquez surrendered. Property stolen in recent robberies was found in the house, along with a veritable armory of weapons. Taken to San Jose to stand trial for the killings at Tres Pinos committed by his gang, Vasquez insisted that he himself had never killed a man, he was only defending the rights of his people, and that he was an honorable man. The jury didn’t buy it, and despite appeals for clemency, and having acquired then (and ever since) a degree of dark celebrity, he went to the gallows in March, 1875.
Earlier this year, he had an elementary school named after him; needless to say, it was a controversial decision.

(Crossposted at www.celiahayes.con and at chicagoboyz.net)

Well, the early critical reviews are out and the knives are in: the latest movie remake of The Lone Ranger looks to be tanking like the Titanic,(the original ship, not James Cameron’s movie fantasy) although the some of the reviews posted at Rotten Tomatoes are favorable, most of them are entertainingly vicious. Jerry Bruckheimer again goes over the top from the high-dive with a half-gainer and a jackknife on the way down, all with the noisy special effects, Johnny Depp was promised that he could wear bizarre hair and a lot of makeup and it appears as if the ostensible lead character is just there…

There have been so many iterations of The Lone Ranger, on radio, television and in the movies, and each one added its conventions, characterization and images that now it has become a creaking tottering edifice built of clichés. No more growth is possible, just a recitation of the same old verities. I believe that we can do better by the old Wild West, and so I propose a very, very radical solution; to reboot the Lone Ranger by amputating it from the post Civil War never-never-land of mid-20th century imagining and transplanting it squarely back in pre-Civil War Texas, with forays perhaps into Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, and to New Mexico – perhaps even as far as California. John Reid would be the sole survivor of a ranger unit ambushed and wiped out by – oh, whoever would be the villainous gang of the time; a scalp-hunting gang, villainous Comancheros, cattle and horse thieves from the Nueces Strip. Really, any sufficiently well-organized gang of baddies from the period would serve. He could even be a survivor of the Mier Expedition, escaped from Mexican custody and found near-death in the wilderness by Tonto … who could be a Lipan Apache or Tonkawa scout.

And thereafter, the two would roam the southwest as it was at that particular time, with attention to actual historical figures and facts. They could do all the fighting of evil-doers and injustice that the plot would require; a pair of fearless and adventurous friends. (Ix-nay on any suggestion of gayness, mostly because I’m damned tired of that particular character development.) Keep the horse named Silver, though. But lose the silver bullets, the white hat and the mask. Sorry – but the first is impractical, given the weapons of the time, second given the custom of the time … and in the days before wide circulation of photographs, you could be a total stranger once you were five miles away from where you lived and worked. One didn’t need a mask – in fact, in the real Wild West that would have made the lone Ranger even more noticeable. “Hey, who was that masked man? Did you ever see the like? Oh, I heard tell of him …” Whereas, sans mask: “Hey, who was that guy? Oh, just another saddle tramp, passing through; don’t pay him no mind…”Keep the sense of honor, though – the chivalry, the sharp-shooting and the unwillingness to kill, unless there was no other way. I know this seems radical – and loosing the mask might be seen as heretical – but the situation calls for radical steps. Look, this latest version had Tonto with a crow squatting on his head, so I believe we have reached the point where something must be done to resuscitate our popular cultural heroes.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net at at www.celiahayes.com)

The last words of the final chapter of The Quivera Trail were written Tuesday evening at about 6 PM. And is it a load from my mind, to have it done in mid-June, leaving the time from here until November for final polishing, shaping, editing, tweaking and otherwise fine-detail work.

I hope to have The Quivera Trail rolled out officially at Weihnachtsmarkt in New Braunfels, on Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23rd, but it will be up on Amazon and B & N (and as an eBook in Kindle and Nook versions) by then for people who just can’t make the trip to New Braunfels.

An explanation of the title is here. The relevance to my story is that the plot concerns a number of characters who are all looking … looking for something; for love, acceptance, security, a future in 1870s Texas. I’ve described it as ‘Mrs. Gaskell meets Zane Grey.’ It might also be seen as a sequel to the Adelsverein Trilogy, as it picks up with Dolph Becker’s marriage to the very English Isobel Lindsey-Groves … a marriage not of convenience, but of pity and desperation. He feels sorry for her; a plump and rather awkward girl, bullied by her domineering mother until she is absolutely desperate to marry … anyone at all. But Isobel does have qualities which might serve her well in Texas. On her journey to her new home, she brings her personal maid, Jane Goodacre … whose own talents and ambitions are suffocating under the limits and expectations of someone from a lower social class in Victorian England.

There’ll be some historical characters wandering in and out – although not as many as there were in Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, which was rather a literary Grand Central Station of famous early Texans. A lot of scenes are set in San Antonio itself, which is a switch from previous books, in which I took my characters practically everywhere else. I have tried as much as possible to make each of my books free-standing, so it is not required to read all of them in sequence to make sense of anything – but those readers who have read my other books will find appearances by characters who are old friends; Magda, Liesel and Hansi, Peter and Anna Vining, Hetty and Daddy Hurst, Jemima-Mary Fritche and Don Porfirio.

King William - Steves Mansion_smaller

That was a concept that I was reminded of Sunday afternoon, as Blondie and I drove away from the King William historical district – those witty and cutting remarks that you only think of later; in the staircase, or as happed with us, after we merged into traffic from the onramp from Commerce Street.

Our trouble was not that we didn’t think of appropriately witty and cutting remarks at the time and place; it’s just that what we immediately thought of to say would have been rude, even slashingly cruel, and totally ruined the popular image of Southern (and Texan) courtesy and hospitality to guest, even clueless ones. I don’t know from how far out of town this family group came, who chose to wander around King William on a Sunday mid-day; their accents were non-specific American … but from what they did say – rather loudly – upon wandering into the parking area behind the Steves mansion, I would guess that They Are Not From Around Here.
I would also judge that their knowledge of local history was conspicuously lacking, which most immediately offended me, straight off – and might have led to me saying such cutting things, or delivering a furious parking-lot lecture of at least twenty minutes in length … but even Blondie was angry, and it was more to govern her tongue that I told her to just leave it, and drive away. Even if she rolled down the passenger window on the Montero as we backed out of the parking lot; no, neither of us delivered a parting shot.
The overheard remark which so raised our ire was – as this extended family wandered within earshot and regarded the outbuildings at the back of the Steves Homestead was, “That’s the slave quarters.”

The slave quarters.

Jesus jumping everlasting Key-rist on a pogo stick; it’s as if every big mansion south of the Mason-Dixon Line built before the mid-20th century had slave quarters as a matter of course.

Perhaps we should have said something, which is what we agreed on as soon as we were on the highway. I write my books to amuse and educate – and there went a chance to educate a party in the direst need of it that I ever saw in the flesh. Except that my own first remark would have been along the lines of, “I assume you must be a graduate of our finer public schools.” No, not a good start to a lecture on the history and background of the various families who established fine houses in King William … in the decade after the Civil War and well after slavery had been abolished. Lately I have begun to doubt any graduates of our finer public schools are acquainted with the details of abolitionist sentiment in Texas; or are even acquainted with the exact dates of the Civil War, any of the other nuances involving that war, or anything much to do with the peculiar institution itself, other than the immediately obvious.

So here was the thing – which I would have liked to have been calm enough to pass on to the family of visitors: the Steves Homestead was built in 1876 in a very showy French Second Empire style for one Edward Steves, whose family had originally settled in Comfort. Mr. Steves owned an extremely profitable lumber company, and the complex or buildings behind the house included an indoor pool, since Mrs. Steves loved swimming, a wash-house, to process laundry, a carriage house, and a small building which provided housing for the gardeners and the stable hand. Mr. Steves was prominent in city government during his life, and also in the many doings of the substantial German community, and contributed to the construction of the True to the Union monument in Comfort. In fact, two of the Unionists dead in the Nueces fight included Edward Steves’ brother and brother-in-law. So, no – the Steves and their friends and family were most emphatically not slave owners – and the casual assumption that they were struck us as insulting and ignorant in the extreme.
True to the Union

And that’s why we didn’t even begin to calm down until we got to the highway. Sigh. I missed a clear opportunity there to shed enlightenment. But I just didn’t think I could have held on to my temper. Which is why I could never have been an academic – I just don’t have that kind of patience.

Pretty well, actually – I finished a chapter Saturday afternoon, and tallied up what I have so far; a little over 300 pages, but only about another three plot twists and set-piece scenes to go. I’ll do my best to bring it at or around 400 pages. A severe re-read and edit will probably shave it down some, at least I hope so. Brevity is the soul of wit and economical story-telling and characterization is a goal devoutly to be aimed for. It has not escaped my notice that Truckee is my shortest book, and also my best-seller over time. Back to basics, eh? Truckee covered the space of a single year, and had a fairly simple, straight-forward plot and a relatively small cast. My subsequent books were a lot more complicated, but it’s pretty clear that elephantiasis of the narrative is not widely appreciated, although there are exceptions. I will do my best to restrain myself.

This next book is supposed to focus on the next generation of the characters from the Adelsverein Trilogy; Dolph and his English Isobel, of Sam and Lottie Becker, and Lottie’s suitor, Seb Bertrand – all of whom were babies, children or just very young adults by a point halfway through the Trilogy. Time for them to pick up the chore of carrying on the plot, in and around the Centennial year of 1876 – although some of the older characters, heroes and heroines of the earlier narrative make occasional appearances now.

1876; a little more than ten years after the end of the Civil War, which I think was a great scar across the American psyche – as 1914-18 was for Europe. Everything was different, afterwards, although many of those things that made the difference so marked had already been put in train before that marking point. Many who had been rich, or even just well-to-do before the war were impoverished afterwards. But many who had been impoverished before were well-to-do or rich after it through mining, wholesale ranching, transportation, manufacturing and developing new and useful technologies. That very technology made the post-war world a different place; the telegraph brought far places closer, the railway brought them closer still. Before the war, it was pork which had been the favorite meat on American tables; ham, salt pork, bacon. Afterwards, beef from western ranches and shipped to the stockyards and slaughterhouses in the mid-West began to predominate.

Before the war, it was a wagon-journey of six months to get to California from the mid-West, or a long, bone-cracking stagecoach ride of twenty-four days. When the transcontinental railroad was completed – a traveler could go from Council Bluffs to Sacramento in about a week, and in relative comfort. Should the traveler possess a parlor car and sufficient funds and connections, the journey could even be done in considerable luxury – instead of the dangerous and difficult trek it had been a mere three decades before. I worked in this transition for the last chapter of Truckee; an elderly man who had been a small boy on the emigrant trail in 1844 traveled east over the route that his family had followed – and noted that it wasn’t have the labor and adventure it had once been. The steam engine brought Europe closer to the US; now it was possible to travel relatively easily, and comfortably. Regularly scheduled steamship packet lines transformed a miserable, cramped journey of a month or six weeks (or even more) to barely a week from New York to Hamburg, or Southampton. I pointed up this transition again, in the Trilogy, comparing the hardships suffered by Magda’s family on their journey from Germany on a on a sailing ship – and how, thirty years later, it was only a week on a steam packet from New York to Hamburg. And in the new book, there is a chapter of the Richter and Becker clans traveling across Texas in their own parlor car; think of the change this represented to those who lived long enough to see and experience it! But there was a shadow over all of this; the shadow of the war.

Another author in the IAG has reminded me of this – that someone visiting the United States ten years later would have noted effects of it, most especially in the South. There would have been the ghosts of the dead from a thousand battles haunting the living with their memories; the badly scarred and disfigured, the chronically ill – and the chronically criminal. Even more visible were those amputees with their crutches and empty sleeves, the widows wearing black, and the young women who never married at all because the boy they loved was buried in the Wilderness, at Gettysburg, or Shiloh. Progress came at a price; and although one can’t say one caused the other, it made the handy demarcation point of a life that for most Americans had been rural and agrarian.

And that’s what I am working around, in The Quivera Trail … then there is the difference between England and Texas, which one has to admit, is still pretty market. There is a reason that I am describing it to readers as ‘Mrs. Gaskell meets Shane.’

This affray did not happen in Texas, but in New Mexico in 1884. It did have all the classic Western elements; rowdy cowboys, a small town fed to the back teeth with their destructive and abusive antics, and a single local lawman determined to up hold the rule of law and order. Here, however, ends any resemblance to High Noon, Tombstone, Stagecoach, Shane or any other classic Western movie. In this case, the single resolute lawman stands out in the annals of Western law enforcement for several reasons; first for sheer, stubborn crazy-brave courage, secondly for being barely 19 years old at the time, a tough little banty-rooster of a guy barely five-seven in boots… and thirdly for being native Hispanic in a time and in a place where anti-Mexican bigotry fell very severely on the non-Anglo population of any what class or income.

His name was Elfego Baca – and there was one more difference to him. Although he had been born in Socorro, New Mexico Territory, he had spent most of his life in Topeka, Kansas, where his parents had sought work and an education for their children. This resulted in Elfego Baca being more fluent in English than Spanish at the time of his returning to Socorro and working as a clerk in a general mercantile owned by his brother-in-law. He had another notable skill; facility with a six-gun. Very much later in life he claimed he had been taught to shoot by Billy the Kid … either William McCarty-Antrim-Bonny, or some other adolescent shootist with the same moniker in New Mexico Territory around that time.
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Scott Cooley, who lived for revenge on those who had a part in the murder of his foster-father, Tim Williamson, made a kind of headquarters with his violent and disreputable friends in Loyal Valley. George Gladden had a place there – he, like many other participants in the feud – was a small rancher with a reputation as being handy with a gun. A few weeks after the murder of Deputy Whorle, Cooley’s gang targeted Peter Bader, who was reported to have been in the lynch mob who ambushed Tim Williamson on the road between the Lehmburg ranch and Mason, and had fired the final shot killing Tim Williamson. Unfortunately, Cooley and Johnny Ringo hit Peter Bader’s brother Carl, instead – gunning him down in his own field where he had been working. Whether this was deliberate or a case of mistaken identity is a matter undecided – but by committing this murder, Cooley had thrown a rock into a hornets’ nest. The Clark faction responded by attempting to draw out the Cooley gang to Mason. Sheriff Clark convinced – or hired – a local gambler named Jim Cheney to try and talk the Cooley gang into coming to Mason.

Cheney was only able to find George Gladden and Mose Baird; whatever he said to them convinced them to set out on the road between Loyal Valley and Mason. The two of them had just reached John Keller’s general store on the river-crossing just east of Mason – and there they spotted Sheriff Clark waiting, just outside the store. Clark’s men opened fire on the two from behind a stone wall. Both of them badly wounded, they still managed to escape a little way up the road, with the ambushers in hot pursuit. But Mose Baird died of his wounds and Peter Bader – whose brother had been murdered by Cooley and Johnny Ringo – wanted to finish off George Gladden. John Keller, the storekeeper, refused to countenance this, and store he’d kill anyone who’d shoot the wounded man. Peter Bader contented himself by merely cutting a gold ring from the hand of the dead Mose Baird. Perhaps this brief incident best illuminates the bitterness of the Hoodoo war; that some men on either side fully embraced savagery, while others drew back, horrified.

By late September, the situation had degenerated to the point where a company of Rangers was dispatched to Mason, under the command of Major John B. Jones, to restore order. By that time, there was none to speak of in Mason County. Sheriff Clark and a good number of his allies had forted up in Keller’s store, after rumors that Cooley’s band was intent on burning out the German settlers of Mason. Cooley and his band were already in Mason, too. They had tried to intimidate an Irish storekeeper, David Doole, into helping him. Armed with a shotgun, Doole refused; he was on good terms with many of the local Germans. Rebuffed, Cooley and his friends holed up a short distance down the street in Tom Gamel’s saloon on the west side of town – that Tom Gamel, who had been part of that first rustler-hunting posse early in the year, and who had broken with Clark and recruited friends of his own. In the meantime, Johnny Ringo and another of Cooley’s band paid a visit on Jim Cheney, who had led George Gladden and Mose Baird into the ambush at Keller’s store. Cheney invited them to share breakfast with him, apparently certain that his part in the matter wasn’t known. Johnny Ringo shot him down.

Gunfire also erupted in the streets of Mason: Dan Hoerster, the elected brands inspector, his brother-in-law, and third man were shot at, while riding down Main Street towards Gamel’s saloon, although they had been warned of the presence of the Cooley gang. Dan Hoerster fell, and the other two took refuge in the local hotel and fired back, to the horror of guests. Major Jones and his Ranger company arrived in the aftermath of this latest outrage, and began searching for Cooley and his friends. The major had his own problems; he had no cooperation from either side, with Anglo against German, each convinced that he was sympathetic to the other side. Worse still, a number of his own Rangers were former comrades of Scott Cooley – and finally the major called them to order and issued an ultimatum. Any who couldn’t find it in themselves to hunt for Cooley would be granted an honorable discharge from service. Three of the Rangers accepted the offer. The hunt for Cooley and the others continued – and in December, Cooley and Johnny Ringo were taken captive by the sheriff of neighboring Burnet County. Hearing that friends of theirs might break them out of the Burnet County Jail, the sheriff wisely sent them to custody in another and more secure jurisdiction.

With the apprehension of Cooley, the violence tapered off, although there was one last vengeance murder; that of Peter Bader. He had been hiding out in Llano County, but early in January of 1876, George Gladden and John Baird ambushed him on the road between Llano and Castell. With grim satisfaction, John Baird cut his brother Mose’s gold ring off Peter Bader’s hand.

By the end of that year, the Hoodoo War was over, save in memories and nightmares for those who had participated in it or were merely witnesses. Those participants with the bloodiest hands found it expedient to leave Mason County for good. Sherriff Clark, indicted on charges of complicity in the disappearance of suspected Cooley gang members, resigned his position after the charges were dropped and vanished without a trace. Johnny Ringo, charged and acquitted in the murder of Jim Chaney, and John Baird also both departed at speed, and turned up in New Mexico, where they both came to violent and unhappy ends. Scott Cooley, who had suffered a mysterious and chronic illness which medical authorities of the time called ‘brain fever’ died very suddenly from a bout of it, in the fall of that year. The only man convicted by a court of law in any of the Hoodoo War murders was George Gladden, sentenced to prison for the murder of Peter Bader.

And there it all ended, although many prominent and otherwise respectable men had doubtless been part of the masked lynch mobs. The Mason County courthouse burned, early in 1877, destroying just about all the written records associated with the feud. A long-time Mason resident and descendent of early settlers told me that upon the burning of all the records, the city fathers decided mutually to draw a line under the whole matter and call it a day. I am fairly certain, though – that no rustler or honest rancher – took a casual attitude towards absconding with Mason County cattle for a long time afterwards.