Read an Excerpt
Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society, 1909-2009
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 2009 Jane Roberts Wood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHOOKED ON TEXAS by Clarence Jay Faulkner
* * *
[The postcards used as illustrations for this article, as well as those used for "filler pages" and division pages between chapters throughout this book, were collected by Clarence Faulkner and, as he states in his article, donated to the Texas Folklore Society for its archives. We greatly appreciate this contribution, as the postcards display a unique perspective of collectible Texana over the last century.-Untiedt]
Being a proud native Texan born in 1949 not far from the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers, (and raised in east Waco), a survivor of the devastating tornado of May 11, 1953, and a lover of Dr. Pepper and Moon Pie, I remain hooked on Texas even though I am currently far away in the Pacific Northwest.
In recent years, the hook has taken a stronger bite as I've embarked on a serious study of all things Texas. I scan everything for tidbits on Texas and my memberships/subscriptions include the Texas Folklore Society, Sul Ross State's Center for Big Bend Studies, Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, and Marfa's Big Bend Sentinel weekly newspaper. I've even found Texana in the New Yorker and Los Angeles magazines. One of my neatest and most unpredictable sources of information is from my collecting of old Texas-themed postcards. Let me tell you how that all came about.
About six years ago I was invited to attend a weekly Toastmasters meeting where twenty-five to thirty men gather to practice public speaking and, more so, to shoot the breeze. I decided to attack my lifelong fear of public speaking and took on the challenge of becoming a Competent Toastmaster, with the first-level project of ten speeches to develop basic speaking skills. I began with the introductory "ice breaker" short speech, giving some biographical and personal background, and then moved on to the other projects emphasizing eye contact, gestures, use of props and aids, a convincing speech, and a story/folktale. For the props/ visual aids speech I displayed a variety of Texas postcards I had begun collecting through my new hobby of postcard collecting, more formally known as "deltiology."
It worked so well I decided my story speech would be about a funny event that happened in the early 1950s, when as a kid I often trekked from east Waco to the Brazos River and across the old rickety but now famous Suspension Bridge on Saturdays to attend the weekly movie matinee at the Waco Theater about seven blocks past the river on Austin Avenue. The story was easy to ad-lib, as I simply passed around my postcard of the bridge and told of how when crossing it one Saturday morning with my brother and sister in tow, we looked down into the water and noticed a bunch of half or silver dollars shining in the shallow water. We had been warned not to go down to the water or mess up our clothes, but during the movie I decided that on the way home I would gather my treasure, and I couldn't wait for the western movie to end.
When we got back across the bridge I hiked down through the Johnson grass and through the stickery brush, getting my clothes messed up and though fearful of quicksand I was committed to wading out to gather the coins. Well, to spare you a long-winded speech, when I reached down and pulled up the first coin I found it to be the end out of a frozen orange juice can. We trudged home and it was no fun facing grandma Pearl Grusendorf disheveled and treasureless.
The men loved the story and I was tagged "Texas Storyteller" and enlisted to speak regularly and to fill in for last minute no-shows. I moved on to tell of the tornado, adventures in "hobo jungle" by Paul Quinn College behind our house in east Waco, my travels and oilfield work in West Texas, and summers on Padre Island.
I never dreamed a few postcards could be such a great personal assistant, garner me new friends, and propel me to aspire to becoming a proficient and interesting Texas storyteller. I obtain mixed lots of Texas-themed postcards from the various postcard eras (pioneer, postcard, white border, linen, chrome, and modern), and especially enjoy those that have been written on and mailed because, aside from the Texas picture, they each preserve a bit of Texas history and record through vignettes of daily life. For example, I recently obtained a card mailed shortly after the turn of the 20th century in San Antonio, and coincidentally about the time of the founding of the Texas Folklore Society. The card was sent by a sixteen-year-old young lady who wrote of moving to the city and working in the dry-goods department at Joske's.
I really enjoy the cards I call "Texas exaggeration," which feature Texas' biggest this or that, and I've donated many to the TFS in hopes they may be preserved and/or used in the annual book. I search for the cards and use them to develop, illustrate, and supplement my repertoire of Texas-themed stories. I think there is a lot of Texas history, folklore, culture, humor, exaggeration, and Texana in general that can be preserved and shared through collecting and preserving Texas postcards.
I hope you might consider collecting postcards-or any other items-as a means of preserving bits of Texas history and lore that may otherwise be discarded, and maybe you too will become "hooked on Texas."
BEWARE OF FOLKLORE ADDICTION by Scott Hill Bumgardner
* * *
Texas. Texan. Mentioning either of these words engenders strong reactions regardless of where they might be heard. Throughout the world many people will recall some of our great Texas history from the era of western movies. Many a self-professed civilized urban dweller might stick his nose up in the air and comment about the uncouth rednecks that live here. Surely, some of these same people might make remarks about Texans being gun-toting cowboys. Our neighbors in Louisiana have a much better idea of who we are, but they are likely to sneer at us as a bunch of loud-mouthed braggarts. Even here at home you can find a wide variety of reactions to a question such as, "What defines a Texan?" I believe the best answers are contained in the Texas Folklore Society's publications. But, beware friends-this folklore can be addictive. It may lead you down strange new paths.
Texans are an amazingly diverse group. We have our uncouth rednecks, in the worst sense of the words, as well as our good red-necked hard-working folk. Many of us are armed and ready to protect our realm. No doubt about it, many have embraced the cowboy image, but the real thing is a little harder to find. Do we brag? You bet. The stories of our diverse peoples have been derived from Vietnamese boat people, Mexican peons, healers, oilmen, and more. But for me, the addiction began with the Society's editor, J. Frank Dobie. Dobie brought the history and lore of Texas to life.
Suddenly a new world opened for a Texas boy, stuck in Louisiana. The world of cowboys and Indians from my television and movie-inspired dreams came to life. History that had been terribly dry and boring took on new meaning. Lowly creatures crawled off the pages to take form. Texas Longhorn cattle no longer just ate, fertilized the land, and fed us; they walked the pages to explain the western mystique. The Texan in me sprang up and craved more.
Boots and cowboy hats soon took the place of tennis shoes and ball caps. I now studied on my own to learn more about my land. Drawn as by a magnet, God's land called for me to return. After college I finally escaped Louisiana, the land of yaw-hee, to begin life as a Texas lawman in the land of yee-haw. Working in the big city of Houston was no deterrent to embracing the Texas way. Surrounding myself with Society publications and like-minded friends, I scratched this addiction's itch. Before long my partner and I had even emblazoned our business cards with the phrase, "The law west of Cullen," indicating our patrol area's eastern boundary.
Dobie may have been the key, but the Texas pathway toward my cravings was well paved by a number of other writers and editors, such as Boatright and Abernethy. The addiction led me into the horseman's world, which I guarantee sure required many an extra hour of work to pay for. Twelve hundred pounds of horse flesh rolling around on top of me eventually gave me the leisure time to begin writing my own stories and cowboy poetry. This recuperative leisure time opened new chapters and new doors. Physical recovery was complete, but the addiction to Texas and its stories grew.
Yes friends, as happens with addictions I have now become the pusher. For nineteen years now, I have been pushing this Texas drug to school children and adults alike. Promoting the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo through their Speakers Committee and later as a professional storyteller, I found the access needed to pass on folklore and original tales to the unwary. The spark I have planted will kindle into a bright flame in a few of the victims of Texas' addictive story.
But life seems to come full circle, and I have recently taken a shot of that earliest of Dobie's drugs, the Texas Longhorn. As my addiction continues to grow to overshadow all of my life, I can sit on the porch and watch my Texas cattle graze. Their horns sweep out, as the Texas sun shines down, sparkling upon those massive horns and illuminating their colorful speckled hides. These cattle represent a strong breed that helped to shape the land and peoples of early Texas.
Stories constantly flow though my mind because of the addictive nature of the many resources we have been handed. Our story is often not unique, but the totality of those stories has given our state a unique flavor. Thanks, Texas Folklore Society, for this wonderful addiction.
MCDADE AND ME by Vicky Rose
* * *
The first time I attended a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, it brought back vivid memories of my hometown. As I sat listening to others talk about different folklore from around the state, I remembered the coolness of Aunt Stell's grape arbor, the sound of gravel crunching under my feet as my sisters and I walked along neglected railroad tracks, and I smelled once again the musty odor of a general store time forgot.
McDade, while I was growing up there, had a population of about 350 people. Situated in Central Texas, thirty-three miles east of Austin, outsiders deemed McDade on the far side of the moon from modern civilization. Most of the people who lived there could be described as either "Dutchmen," meaning those of German extraction, or "Americans," which meant a mongrel race which could be made up of anything, but was mostly Scotch-Irish. Because of their hard work and determination, the Germans were usually wealthier than their American neighbors, owning their own land, building solid houses, and having tidier farms. However, because they were isolated and clannish, they had tended to inbreed, and it caused much more physical and mental defects among them than the healthier Americans.
Although many German Americans fought with valor in both World Wars, there were a few holdouts who still pledged alliance to the fatherland, and this caused friction. Family legend has it that my grandfather, after hearing one man brag about what "the Kaiser's boys" would do to the Americans soldiers, went into the general store and bought an axe handle that he proceeded to take outside and use upon the heretic. By the time I came along, World War II was long gone; the younger generations of "Dutchmen" became sensitive to the problems of marrying family members, and "Americans," like my father, worked hard to escape the poverty of the sharecropper. While relationships in and around the community improved, the rest of the world still looked at us askew.
Neighbors farming on rich, black gumbo fifteen miles up the road laughed at the deep, infertile sand around McDade. The McDade School only went to the eighth grade, and we had to ride the bus to nearby Elgin to go to high school. Phone calls between the two towns meant long distance rates, putting a deterrent on making friends. McDade had been too small for a band program, so we could not participate in that activity in high school, but because our boys had a reputation as rough hillbillies, the coaches loved them for sports. Two families of Mexicans lived in McDade, and later, two young black students joined our little school when they came to live with their grandparents, the only negroes in McDade. Although we had our prejudices, we got along fairly well, and all of us were dismayed when we began a high school where racial tensions ran high. While most people were kind, we were always aware that we were the outsiders, ultrasensitive at being thought of as poor trash, or as inbred.
The thing that saved our dignity was the folklore that surrounded us. Once known as Tie Town because of the railroad ties cut from local lumber, McDade had been a thriving city with saloons, blacksmith stables, and a millinery shop among other businesses. Indians had stopped for generations at nearby Paint Creek to obtain red dirt they used for body painting, camping by the water and burying their dead on a rising hill flanking the creek. For years, men searched for gold supposedly buried by Spaniards just before being attacked by Indians near that creek. Close to McDade, another stream, the Yegua, ran on heavily wooded land from small hills known as "the Knobs." Sam Houston, along with his family, would visit sympathetic friends in the Knobs, often staying for days at a time.
After the Civil War, the Knobs became a hideout for bad men. Gangs like the Notch Cutters robbed and plundered. A deputy sheriff was sent in to investigate, but he was killed and no more dared to come. Men went everywhere armed. As good men continued to be murdered and robbed, a few of them began to take justice into their own hands. After a series of rustlings, hangings, retaliations, and more killings, violence peaked at what became known as the "Christmas Hangings." On Christmas Eve in 1883, men belonging to The League for Law and Order apprehended one outlaw on the streets of McDade, then swept through the old rock saloon and gathered two more. They took them dragging and kicking to a nearby tree and hanged them. Such vigilante justice, although perhaps necessary at the time, caused the other citizens of Bastrop County to further look with distain at wild and wooly McDade. An ancient gnarled post oak stands across the street from the old rock saloon, and in McDade, it became affectionately known as the hanging tree, although old timers insisted that the actual hangings took place a mile out of town on a hickory tree.
We were poor and we were backward, but we knew we were special. We had tales of Indians and Spaniards with fabled gold. We had stories of Sam Houston stomping around our hills, visiting with our people. We had fierce outlaws and gangs of men so bad, they ran off real lawmen and could only be dealt with by the iron-willed men who lived within our community. When old men laugh and tell me my uncles were so rowdy that they had "blood on their hats" from all the fights they got into, I shake my head and grin. The folklore of my town and the folklore of my family have provided me with a rock to cling to when the opinions and abuses of the rest of the world sometimes threaten to overwhelm me.
In the early days, no one came to McDade, or to Texas, because they wanted to. There are better places to live-lands with higher fertility and more moderate climates. They came because trouble and poverty drove them to it. The folklore they surrounded themselves with made what had been forced upon them by circumstances not only bearable, it gave them pride and self-respect.
The Texas Folklore Society continues to do this, providing a rock to stand upon when tribulations try to pull us down. By promoting and preserving a unique part of our heritage, The Texas Folklore Society defines and uplifts all Texans of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Being a part of it is like coming home.
Excerpted from Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society, 1909-2009 Copyright © 2009 by Jane Roberts Wood . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.