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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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.


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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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



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.


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



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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Memories of Little Walnut Creek

On the topo map, the name says Little Walnut Creek, but to me and my friends back in the late 1950s, it was simply “the creek.”
All these years later, the creek is still there, but it is not the stream that still flows through my memory, a young boy’s adventure-rich, temporary haven from an abusive step-father and a mother who willingly or not let him get away with it.
To me, that modest waterway, which empties into Big Walnut Creek and eventually flows into the Colorado River, ran as wide and deep as any river.
The area along its banks seemed as wild and remote as any national park.
Our part of the creek, not far from the long-vanished Travis County community of Fiskville, started at a small pond full of bream, crawfish and turtles.
A low water bridge carried Georgian Drive across the stream at that point.
Periodically over the years,



Old Stone Fort could have been oldest Texas structure

Likely more energized by being out of the classroom on a field trip than thrilled about where they were, the third graders waited as patiently as is possible for nine- and 10-year-olds to begin their tour of Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches.
One of the boys managed to escape his teacher’s surveillance long enough to slip out of line and trace his hand along the rough red rock exterior of the rustic two-story building on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus.
At this late date, former museum curator Carolyn Erickson has no idea why the boy felt the need to check out the


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The 1939 Martin County Explosion

Nearly six years before Hiroshima, a tremendous explosion shook the earth and briefly turned dark into light near the West Texas town of Stanton.
Well, it’s a bit overblown to compare what took place on the morning of Sept. 29, 1939 with what happened in Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, but the 1939 event likely still stands as the biggest bang ever heard in Martin County.
The explosion in Texas claimed no lives, but it did play a role in the beginning of a new life.
Since the 1920s, when oil production first went wild in and around the Permian Basin, the DuPont Co. operated was what known as a shooting station about two-and-a-half miles west of Stanton.
In the oil patch, “shooting” described the technique involved in coaxing



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