History

Wed
10
Dec

Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963

I remember only a couple of times when I saw my granddad excited in a way that will be hard for many people to understand.
He had spent much of his career as a newspaperman, and decades after last typing “30” at the bottom of a piece of copy on deadline, he still felt an adrenaline rush when a big story broke.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, I was sitting around the swimming pool at a motel on South Padre Island, reading a copy of True, a long-since defunct men’s adventure magazine.
Granddad, portly but still in pretty good shape for a man of 66, shot out of our motel room and yelled: “Somebody just filled Oswald full of lead!”
Only in the ninth grade, and cool as I thought I was, I didn’t get it.
“What?” I asked.
“Somebody just shot Oswald!”
At the time, I did not comprehend exactly how Granddad felt, but I do now.
He had been a reporter and editor in the Fort Worth-Dallas

 

Wed
03
Dec

Thanksgiving Claims of Texas and Others

On April 30, 1598, the members of Juan de Onate’s expedition had every right to be thankful.
For 50 days, his 500-person entrada had endured the Chihuahuan Desert. It rained almost constantly during the first seven days of their trek north from Mexico.
Then the desert returned to normal and the expedition soon began suffering from lack of water.
Forty-five days into the trip, the Spaniards ran out of both water and food.
Finally reaching the Rio Grande at what would become El Paso, man and animal alike rushed to quench their thirst in the river – a stream running fast and fresh from melted mountain snow in what is now New Mexico.
Two horses died from drinking too much, two others drowned.
It took 10 days at the Pass of the North for the expedition to recover from the hardships of the journey.
On the 11th day, at Onate’s order, the Spaniards celebrated a day of thanksgiving.

Tue
25
Nov

Somervell County’s moonshine past

Covering only 192 square miles, Somervell County is the second-smallest of any of Texas’ 254 counties.
In addition to its compact size, in the 1920s the county also ranked as the second-poorest in Texas.
But with the advent of national prohibition, Somervell County reigned as one of the state’s top moonshining venues.
A lot of folks of otherwise modest means suddenly had full pockets.
By 1923, in the estimate of Jeffrey J. Pruitt, who wrote a book on Somervell County native Ernest T. Adams, the lawyer and lay archeologist who had a hand in discovering the county’s famous dinosaur tracks, the illegal production and selling of alcoholic beverages ranked as the county’s top industry.
If the way the map had been drawn left the people who lived

 

Wed
19
Nov

Meteors over Texas

State Highway 71 goes from Austin to I-10 via Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange and Columbus.
This segment of the highway sees a lot of traffic, since it is one of the two basic routes from the Capital City to Houston.
Headed back to Austin from Houston, we were between La Grange and Ellinger when in my peripheral vision I saw a sudden change in light to the northwest.
Instinctively, I turned to look in that direction just in time to witness the brightest, most colorful meteor I have seen in six decades of living.
An exceptionally large, greenish

 

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Wed
12
Nov

Sunday Drives

When an old-time Texan saddled his horse or hitched a team to his wagon, he usually had a destination in mind.
Maybe he needed to ride to the county seat to vote, check his mail or see a public hanging.
The reason to go somewhere varied, but most of the time in early-day Texas, it had to do with necessity.
At some point, as living in Texas segued from a preoccupation with survival to relative prosperity and a wider range of lifestyle choices, riding for the pure pleasure of it became more popular.
The tradition probably dates to the latter horse and buggy era, but the development of the horseless carriage made it easier to ride for fun — especially after cars started coming from the assembly line with starters instead of cranks.
Purposeful traveling also increased with the advent of the automobile, but as the state continued to urbanize, riding merely for the joy of it became more common.

Wed
05
Nov

Houdini in Texas

In 1886, after slipping away from his family’s apartment on New York’s East Side, 12-year-old Ehrich Weiss sent his mother a postcard.
“Dear Ma,” he wrote, “I am going to Galveston, Texas and will be home in about a year. My best regard to all…Your truant son.”
The young Hungarian immigrant’s intention to find his fortune in the Lone Star State got derailed when he hopped the wrong freight car.
Instead of the Gulf coast, he ended up in Kansas City.
It took him another 37 years before he finally got to

 

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Wed
29
Oct

Fort Clark Barely Misses Being Start of Civil War

If the odds had been a bit more even on that March day in 1861, the first battle of the Civil War would have been at Fort Clark, Texas, not Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
The history books accurately report that the opening shot of the Civil War came with a pre-dawn muzzle blast on April 12, 1865, when Confederate artillery began shelling Federal forces in Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor.
But relations between the U.S. Army and forces supporting the South had been deteriorating well before that April morning in South Carolina.
Halfway across the continent in Texas, federal troops occupied a string of frontier forts intended to protect travelers and settlers from hostile Indians.
One of those posts was Fort

 

Wed
22
Oct

Sheppard Auditor Stopper

Anyone who has ever dealt with an officious bean-counter will appreciate a story D.B. Wright used to tell.
It happened in Venezuela in the mid-1950s, but it just as easily could have played out in Houston, Port Arthur, Midland or some warehouse in the Eagle Ford production in South Texas.
And even though this story took place in South America, Texas-based oil workers filled the key roles.
The tale came in the mail about 25 years ago. Wright, who went by his nickname of Buckley, had “adopted” me as a pen pal.
For a fellow who had made his living getting his hands greasy, Buckley liked to read, especially Texas-related books.
He also made a pretty fair hand as a correspondent and storyteller.
Buckley had seen newspaper photos of assorted old tools no one seemed to have a name for.
While he could only guess about the mystery items, he did know certain types of tools very well – drilling equipment.

Wed
15
Oct

El Paso’s 1943 Yearbook

At first glance, the old high school annual looks like any vintage yearbook.
In the traditional style of secondary school publications, it has a puffed, embossed cover.
The rope-like typeface, once gilt-covered, says “Round Up.”
The Western motive continues with an artful image of a saddled horse bowing its head as if nosing a high-crowned cowboy hat.
Nearby is a campfire with red flames.
Everything matches what you might expect from an annual produced in El Paso, which is about as western as you can get in Texas.
But then the eye catches a fainter image above the campfire – the silhouette of a young serviceman wearing a dress uniform cap.
Finally, in a font left over from the Art Deco days of the previous decade, is the year this publication covers: 1943.
Any browser who

 

Wed
08
Oct

Naked Lawyers in Paris, Texas

Every Monday morning in Texas’ larger communities, parking around courthouses is hard to find as another wave of prospective jury members respond to their summons.
But in early Texas, the judicial system performed its necessary work on a much-less regular basis.
When district court convened, an event that sometimes only happened once every few months, it was a big deal.
When a court date approached, a county seat town filled with lawyers and litigants, prosecutors and defense attorneys, witnesses in both civil and criminal causes, potential jurors, the

 

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