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



James Garner, poker and life

Who is the tall, dark stranger there?
Maverick is the name.
Ridin’ the trail to who knows where,
Luck is his companion,
Gamblin’ is his game…
Riverboat, ring your bell,
Fare thee well, Annabel.
Luck is the lady that he loves the best…
Livin’ on jacks and queens
Maverick is a legend of the west.
Like many songs, the magic’s in the singing, not the words.
The lyrics come from the theme song of “Maverick,” a black-and-white TV western based on the adventures of brothers Bret and Bart Maverick, a pair of itinerant Texas gamblers.
In addition to entertaining millions, the show kept alive a venerable Texas surname that had long since become a noun.
Samuel Maverick (1803-1870), whose biggest gamble had been signing his name to the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, made a living and a reputation off Longhorn cattle.


Ghost Turkey and Hitchhiking Spirits

Old-timers around Elkhart call it the Brush Arbor.
“It’s a stretch of country nobody lived in,” is the way retired railroad man James A. “Toodler” Rials put it.
Unoccupied land, especially when the trees stand tall and thick and only thin light filters through, tends to attract spooky legends like hen houses do chicken snakes.
This still-forested spot in Anderson County, according to local lore, provides habitat for wildlife and the occasional ghost.
Apparitions reported are both human and animal, Rials said.
Far better known in this part of East Texas simply as Toodler, Rials died Aug. 4, at his home near Elkhart at the age of 72.
They buried him in the Myrtle Springs Cemetery, not far from the Brush Arbor, three days later.
A good storyteller, who would



The Wreck of the Steamer New York

From the distant perspective of more than a century-and-a-half, it’s hard to imagine what the master of the New York must have been thinking that afternoon when he ordered his deck hands to cast off the lines and make for San Luis Pass.
Since it would be another decade before Galveston had a telegraphic connection to the outside world, chances are Capt. John D. Phillips had no inkling he would be steaming straight into harm’s way.
With 30 passengers and 23 crew members, the 160-foot steamer crossed the sand bar at the mouth of Galveston Bay


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"In the cool, cool, cool of the evenin'"

“In the cool, cool, cool of the evenin’, tell ‘em I’ll be there.
In the cool, cool, cool of the evenin’, better save a chair.”
“In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” 1951, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Hoagy Carmichael.
Those who have never been lulled into an afternoon nap by the hum of an oscillating fan may have trouble understanding what follows, but Texans have not always been able to cool off by simply adjusting a thermostat.
In the long ago, when Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman recorded “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” for Decca Records during the Eisenhower


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Cowboy boots’ role in Texas culture

Dead tired and waiting to check in to the last room available, I watched an equally tired young man walk into the lobby.
This was Kingsville, so he could have been a King Ranch cowboy or someone who aspired to be.
One thing for sure, he was not an aviator newly assigned to the naval air station there. More likely, given the wild Eagle Ford Shale boom, he was an oilfield worker.
If so, he must have been a pipe truck driver or in some other career track not subjec


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How Austin became Texas’ capital

All elections are important in a democracy, but early-day Austinites participated in two elections that could have turned their city into a ghost town.
At stake was whether Austin would remain Texas’ capital.
Though President Mirabeau B. Lamar had chosen what would become Austin as the site of the Republic of Texas’ capital in 1839, that decision had never been 100 percent popular.
Sam Houston, for one, considered the city named in his honor much more suitable for the role.
But despite an ill-fated attempt


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Cattle was big business in Texas

Before barbed wire crisscrossed Texas, the general roundup was a fundamental part of the cattle business.
Every fall during the free range days, cattlemen pooled their resources and rode out to gather their stock.
Cowboys checked each steer’s brand, cutting out each head that belonged to his outfit.
After that, ranchers either drove their cattle farther south for the winter, or shipped them to market.
One of the biggest spreads in


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