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In a collection of essays about Texas gathered from his West Texas newspaper column, Lonn Taylor traverses the very best of Texas geography, Texas history, and Texas personalities. In a state so famous for its pride, Taylor manages to write a very honest, witty, and wise book about Texas past and Texas present. Texas, My Texas: Musings of the Rambling Boy is a story of legacies, of men and women, times, and places that have made this state what it is today. From a history of Taylor’s hometown, Fort Davis, to stories about the first man wounded in the Texas Revolution, (who was an African American), to accounts of outlaw Sam Bass and an explanation of Hill Country Christmases, Taylor has searched every corner of the state for untold histories.Taylor’s background as a former curator at the Smithsonian National Museum becomes apparent in his attention to detail: Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, artists, architects, criminals, the founder of Neiman Marcus, and the famous horned frog “Old Rip” all make appearances as quintessential Texans.
Lonn Taylor’s unique narrative voice is personal. As he points out in the foreword, it is the stories of Texans themselves, of their grit and eccentricities, that have “brought the past into the present . . . the two seem to me to be bound together by stories.” People—real Texans—are the focus of the essays, making Texas, My Texas a rite of passage for anyone who claims Texan heritage. There are just a few things every good Texan “knows,” like the fact that it is illegal to pick bluebonnets along the highway, or that the Menger Hotel bar is modeled after the one in the House of Lords in London. Taylor points out with his usual wit that it is not, in fact, illegal to pick any of the six varieties of bluebonnets that grow throughout our state, and that few Texans would know that the bar is modeled after the one in the House of Lords, as few Texans are Lords. These are just a few examples of Taylor’s knowledge of Texas and his passion for its citizens.
|Publisher:||Texas Christian University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
LONN TAYLOR is a Texas native who has had a distinguished career as an author, columnist, and museum curator. Taylor’s books include Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880 (with David Warren, University of Texas Press, 1975); The American Cowboy (with Ingrid Marr, Library of Congress, 1983); New Mexican Furniture, 1600-1940 (with Dessa Bokides, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1987); The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem (Harry N. Abrams, 2000), and The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of a National Icon (with Kathlenn Kendrick and Jeffrey Brodie, Smithsonian Books, 2008). He writes a weekly column about Texas called “The Rambling Boy,” for the Big Bend Sentinel. Taylor has retired to Fort Davis, Texas, with his wife Dedie.
Read an Excerpt
Texas, My Texas
Musings of the Rambling Boy
By Lonn Taylor, Barbara Mathews Whitehead
TCU PressCopyright © 2012 Lonn Taylor
All rights reserved.
FORT DAVIS: PLAZA OR SQUARE?
EVEN THOUGH it has a population of only 1,160 people, Fort Davis can be a difficult town for strangers to find their way around in. This was brought home to me one day when a houseguest managed to get lost walking from our house to the courthouse, which is only four blocks away and whose clock tower is clearly visible from our back porch. The problem, as our embarrassed guest explained, is that several of our downtown streets intersect each other at forty-five degree angles, and a careless turn can put a pedestrian several blocks off course. These angles result from the fact that Fort Davis was originally laid out on two separate but adjoining grids. Those grids open a window into the two cultures that shaped our town's and the Big Bend's history.
The two grids are the result of competition between Fort Davis's two leading businessmen in the years just after the Civil War, but they also reflect two competing ideas about urban landscape, one Catholic and Hispanic and one Protestant and Anglo-American.
Daniel Murphy was an Irishman, born in County Cork, who immigrated to the United States in his teens, served in the army during the Mexican War, and ended up in San Antonio, where in 1852 he married Susan Hennesy, a native of County Antrim in Ireland. When the young couple arrived in Fort Davis in 1855, there was nothing here but the fort, which had been established the year before, and the San Antonio-El Paso road, which the fort was built to protect. Murphy took up land across the road from the fort, where the Dirks-Anderson Elementary School is now, and built an adobe hotel, saloon, and mercantile store. His customers were travelers on the El Paso road and soldiers at the fort. He prospered, and by 1860, at the age of thirty, he was the second-wealthiest man in Fort Davis, with real and personal property valued at $11,500.
The Murphys retreated to San Antonio during the Civil War, and Susan Murphy died there, leaving a son and five young daughters. Daniel Murphy married Susan's widowed sister, acquiring five more children, including four stepdaughters. The combined families returned to Fort Davis in 1868 and Murphy reopened his businesses. The Murphy home became the social center of the fort and four of the Murphy daughters married army officers.
The Murphys were devout Catholics, and in the 1870s, as the town of Fort Davis started to grow, Daniel Murphy donated the land due east of his home and store for a Catholic church and school. At about the same time he laid out a residential subdivision stretching five blocks southwest from his store, with the main street, now Davis Street, paralleling the El Paso road. He must have envisioned Fort Davis developing as a typical Hispanic town, like San Antonio or Presidio del Norte or the towns he had seen in Mexico, with the Catholic Church and the principal businesses fronting on a plaza. When that happened, Murphy's store and saloon would be on the plaza, across from the church, and the lots that he had laid out would increase in value due to their proximity to the plaza.
But things did not work out that way. Murphy's business rival in Fort Davis was Whitaker Keesey, a Yankee from Ohio who came to Fort Davis after the Civil War as a civilian employee of the army. Keesey also realized that the town was growing, and in 1874 he and his bother Otis homesteaded an eighty-acre tract of land a mile south of the fort, more or less in the middle of nowhere, and built a store on it. A year later the Texas legislature created Presidio County, which included Fort Davis, and Keesey immediately donated the block of land due west of his store for the county courthouse. Keesey knew that in Ohio courthouse squares, not churches, were the centers of towns, and he gambled that Fort Davis would develop in the same way, although he hedged his bet by donating another lot just south of the courthouse to the Methodist Church. Keesey's gamble paid off and he became an extremely wealthy man. His store prospered and became the largest mercantile enterprise between San Antonio and El Paso. He expanded the building several times after the courthouse was built across the street, and today the large rock structure he built in 1906 serves as the Jeff Davis County Public Library. You can still see his name, W. Keesey, carved in stone over the front door.
Whitaker Keesey had a friend, William Lempert, who came to Fort Davis at about the same time as Keesey and worked as a civilian clerk at the fort. Lempert was the stepson of an Eighth Infantry officer who had been stationed at the fort in the 1850s and he knew a good thing when he saw one. He acquired 160 acres adjoining Keesey's land north of the courthouse by the simple expedient of marrying Paula Ponce de Leon Robinson, the widow of the original grantee, in 1874. He built the Lempert Hotel, now the Veranda Bed and Breakfast, on his land in 1883 to accommodate citizens attending court, and then laid out a subdivision north and west of the hotel, now called the Home Addition. The Home Addition's main streets ran due north and south, parallel to the lines of Lempert's and Keesey's land grants. They intersected those of the Murphy Addition at forty-five degree angles, producing the confusion that caused our houseguest to get lost a hundred and twenty years later.
Whitaker Keesey sold his store in 1908 to a consortium of ranchers who formed the Union Trading Company, and today old-timers refer to the building as "the Union." In 1911, the Union Trading Company built the Limpia Hotel on a lot just northwest of the Union, and in 1913, the same group of ranchers incorporated the Fort Davis State Bank and built a handsome rock building to house it southwest of the Union. Those two buildings, along with the new courthouse built in 1910 and Keesey's Union building, produced a courthouse square as fine as any in Ohio. Murphy's plaza never materialized, and tourists still get confused trying to navigate between the courthouse and the fort, and possibly between the two cultures that coexist here.
November 12, 2009CHAPTER 2
LOS CIBOLEROS IN THE PANHANDLE
MOST TWENTY-FIRST century Texans would probably be surprised to learn that long before the Texas Panhandle was famous for cattle and oil, in fact long before the boundaries were drawn that made it the Panhandle, it was Far Eastern New Mexico to the Hispanic settlers along the upper Rio Grande. In the early 1700s, men and women from Taos, Santa Cruz, Chimayo, and other villages north of Santa Fe began to venture out onto the eastern plains each year to hunt buffalo and occasionally trade with the Comanches who lived there. They were known as los ciboleros—the buffalo-ers—and the more sedentary settlers to the south thought they were absolute wild men. A ballad from the early 1800s describes "the people from Chimayo with their braided hair, who have left their looms ..."
The ciboleros wore wide-bottomed knee-length leather pants, high leather boots, leather jackets, and peaked leather caps with feathers in them—there is a painting of one on a door from Santa Cruz at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe—and they carried eight-foot-long lances with foot-long iron tips as well as bows and arrows. Every fall, after the crops were harvested and when the buffalo were fat and the wool was thick on their hides, the ciboleros went out onto the plains on horseback, accompanied by ox-drawn carts which carried the dried meat and hides back to the settlements.
A single party of ciboleros might include 150 men and women, 500 horses and pack mules, and 50 carts. Some of the nineteenth-century ciboleros who survived into the 1930s told Federal Writers' Project interviewer Lorin Brown how the hunt worked. The men elected a leader, a comandante, who was in absolute charge of the group. When they spotted a herd of buffalo, the comandante called all the men together and had them recite the Apostles' Creed. Then he gave the order to charge by shouting "Ave Maria Purisima!" and the hunters fanned out across the prairie, with the fastest horses and the most skilled hunters on the flanks. When the killing was over, the women helped to skin the buffalo and cut up and dry the meat. They frequently got as far as the Canadian River in the Panhandle and brought back an astonishing amount of meat and hides; an 1812 report estimated that the ciboleros killed 10,000 to 12,000 buffalo each year.
Sometimes the ciboleros brought back more than meat and hides. One of the more colorful characters around Santa Cruz in the nineteenth century was a man called El Guero Mestas, who died in his eighties about 1890. El Guero had blond hair and blue eyes—thus his nickname—and he had been brought to Santa Cruz as an infant by some ciboleros who had traded buffalo meat for him with a band of Comanches they had met in the breaks of the Canadian River. The Comanches had killed his parents and were taking him back to adopt into their tribe. Instead, he was adopted by a family named Mestas and grew up to be a prosperous farmer and prominent man in Santa Cruz, famous for his poetry, his practical jokes, and his piercing blue eyes.
The ciboleros didn't always get what they went after. Vicente Romero of Cordova told Lorin Brown about a trip he made to the Texas plains. He and his companions met up with a group of Comanches and camped with them to do some trading. The wife of one of the Indians turned out to be a young Mexican girl from San Antonio, Texas, who had been taken captive a few years before. She pleaded with Romero to rescue her, and Romero considered the sensation it would cause at home if he brought the beautiful captive back as a bride. But the comandante told him, "No, it can't be done. Any effort to free her might destroy our whole party." When Romero's friend Anaclete Mascarenas continued to argue with the comandante, he was seized and bound until he promised to obey the leader's orders in everything. "So," Romero concluded, "the pobrecita stayed there with the Indians, perhaps for life. Asi le toco [thus it happened]."
As the buffalo herds diminished, the ciboleros turned to trading with the Comanches, taking salt, tobacco, Navajo blankets, strips of iron, dried fruit, and sacks of a hard bread called pan de Comanche out on the Texas plains and coming back with horses, stolen cattle, and, sometimes, captives like El Guero Mestas. Santa Fe trader Josiah Gregg met a group of these traders on the plains in the 1820s and claimed that they spent so much time with the Comanches that they pointed at objects with their chins, like Indians, instead of with their fingers. By the 1850s and '60s comancheros, as these traders were called, were meeting with Comanches at springs and creeks all over the Panhandle, and some people were unkind enough to say that they even accompanied their trading partners on raids to ranches in the Cross Timbers and the Hill Country so they could pick out the cattle they wanted.
In 1876 a former comanchero from Mora, Casimero Romero, decided to settle permanently in the Panhandle, and he brought his family, 100 servants, and 5,500 sheep to Atascosa Creek in Oldham County, where he built a big adobe house, dug irrigation ditches, and gathered several other families from Mora and Las Vegas around him. He and his neighbors prospered as New Mexican sheep ranchers in Texas for a few years, but then cattlemen began to crowd them out and they pulled back across the plains to New Mexico and left the Panhandle to the cattlemen, who are still there. But the next time you drive to Lubbock, think not about ranchers and wildcatters, but about the ciboleros from Chimayo with their braided hair and leather jackets and lances.
September 14, 2006CHAPTER 3
THE PAYNES, BLACK SEMINOLE COWBOYS
NOT LONG AGO I was talking with Nora Payne Geron, an Alpine native who now lives in Pecos. She was telling me a little about her father's family, who, like many people in the Big Bend, came to Texas from Mexico in the early years of the twentieth century. Geron grew up on a ranch outside of Alpine and spoke Spanish as a child. "In fact," she told me, "I didn't know there was any other language until I started school." But there was something different about Geron's family. Her father, Rocky Payne, was descended from the Black Seminoles.
The Black Seminoles are a people with a proud and unusual heritage. Their eighteenth-century ancestors were black slaves who escaped from plantations in South Carolina and found refuge among the Seminole villages of Spanish Florida. When the United States acquired Florida and deported the Seminoles to Oklahoma, the Black Seminoles, as they came to be called, went with them. But in the 1840s, fearful of being sold back into slavery, a group of Black Seminole families left Oklahoma and made their way into northern Mexico. The Mexican government gave them a land grant near Musquiz in return for military service against the Apaches and Comanches, and many of the men married local women. In 1870, when the US Army made them the same offer, some crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. The army's offer of land evaporated, but two generations of Black Seminoles served valiantly as members of a unit called the Negro Seminole Indian Scouts, stationed at Fort Clark, near Brackettville. Although they never received their promised land grant, the army allowed them to build cabins for their families on the Fort Clark reservation. Then, when the unit was dissolved in 1914, they were expelled from Fort Clark, their cabins were razed, and they were told to fend for themselves. Some scattered over West Texas, the men often taking jobs as cowboys.
Two who came to the Big Bend were Geron's grandfather and great-uncle, Monroe and John Payne, both of whom had been born at Fort Clark in the 1870s, the children of Scout Nato Mariscal and his wife, Dolly Payne. The Paynes were an important family among the Black Seminole, probably related in some way to the Florida Seminole chief known as King Payne, and Nato Mariscal's children took the name Payne. When Mariscal took his discharge from the scouts, he took his family back to the Black Seminole settlement in Mexico, and his sons grew up there and married local women. Monroe Payne came to Brewster County in 1904 and his brother John came in 1914, after having served for a while in one of the revolutionary armies in Mexico. Both became legendary cowboys, as did their sons. Monroe Payne was foreman of the Lou Butrill Ranch in the Rosillos Mountains for several years. He eventually acquired a considerable amount of property and moved to Marathon, where he ran a freight business and engaged in a number of other business enterprises. Even though he was considered "colored" by his neighbors, he is remembered as a man of great personal dignity who deferred to no one. He once pistol-whipped a white cowboy who insulted him and suffered none of the consequences that would normally have devolved on a black man in Texas at that time. He died in 1952.
Monroe Payne's brother, John, worked for several South Brewster County ranchers after he came across the river and eventually became foreman of the legendary Combs Ranch near Marathon, a job he held for the rest of his life. His son, Blas Payne, also worked for the Combses and succeeded his father as foreman. He is remembered by many who worked with him as the best cowboy they ever saw, a man who had an instinctive way with horses. Monroe Payne's son, Rocky, Nora Geron's father, was also widely known for his ability with horses. He worked for the Gage Ranch and the 06, and eventually became foreman of the Que Decie outside of Alpine. He was also known for his sense of humor. Ted Gray of Alpine tells a good story on him. They were hunting wild cattle together on the 06, and Gray saw a young bull emerge from a thicket dragging a rope. When he asked whose rope it was, Rocky Payne said, "It's his'n. I gave it to him over in that brush thicket. He can keep it now."
There have been many African American cowboys in the West, but few have been bearers of such a complex heritage as the Paynes, and few have risen to such positions of responsibility in the ranching world.
September 15, 2005CHAPTER 4
"AN UNFORTUNATE ADMIXTURE OF AFRICAN BLOOD"
I RECENTLY FOUND myself thinking about Samuel McCulloch. Samuel McCulloch was the first man wounded in the Texas Revolution. He was in the company of volunteers that stormed the Mexican fort at Goliad in the pre-dawn darkness of October 9, 1835, and he got a musket ball in the shoulder that troubled him the rest of his life.
As a result, he received a special bounty grant of one league of land—4,400 acres—from the Republic of Texas under a law that rewarded wounded veterans of the Revolution. As a settler who came to Texas before March 2, 1836, he was also entitled to a head- right grant of an additional 4,600 acres, or a total of 9,000 acres. But McCulloch had a problem. He was part black. As he put it in one of the petitions he filed with the Texas legislature in his repeated attempts to get his land, he "had an unfortunate admixture of African blood." Because of this, even though he had fought for Texas's freedom, he was not permitted to own land in or even reside in the Republic of Texas without the special permission of the Republic's Congress.
Excerpted from Texas, My Texas by Lonn Taylor, Barbara Mathews Whitehead. Copyright © 2012 Lonn Taylor. Excerpted by permission of TCU Press.
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.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword, by Bryan Woolley,
I. TEXAS PAST,
1. Fort Davis: Plaza or Square?,
2. Los Ciboleros in the Panhandle,
3. The Paynes, Black Seminole Cowboys,
4. "An Unfortunate Admixture of African Blood",
5. Heat, Dust, and Boredom,
6. The Epic of Henry O. Flipper,
7. Charlie Siringo and the Pinkertons,
8. Noah Smithwick, Blacksmith and Memoirist,
9. Teddy Roosevelt in Texas,
10. The Liar's Skill,
11. Sam Bass Was Born in Indiana,
12. Muy Grande Rifles,
13. The Texas Signers,
14. The Villain of San Jacinto,
15. Ferdinand Lindheimer, Frontier Journalist,
16. Real Cowboys Don't Have Time to Sing,
17. Roy W. Aldrich, the Erudite Ranger,
18. Wigfall Van Sickle, the Sage of Alpine,
19. The Mexican Revolution in Texas,
20. How Leighton Knipe Left His Mark on Marfa,
21. The Dead Man's Springs,
22. Jack Hoxie and Hollywood in Fort Davis,
23. Stanley Marcus, Civilized Texan,
II . TEXAS FAMILY,
24. Family Sagas,
25. My Grandmother Taylor,
26. Uncle Will,
27. Aunt Bessie,
28. My Dead Grandfather,
III. TEXAS PRESENT,
29. Fort Worth Bars,
30. Beatniks on Camp Bowie Boulevard,
31. Willow Way,
32. Joe Frantz, Raconteur,
33. The San Antonio River Walk,
34. Texas-German Christmases,
35. Bill Dodson, Candelillero,
36. Luis Jiménez, Artist in Fiberglass,
37. Desert Rain,
39. King William Street,
40. Tigie Lancaster's Mules,
41. The Seven Timmermann Sisters,
42. Czechs and Polkas,
43. Fayette County Fourth of July,
44. Billy D. Peiser, El Indio,
45. The Paisano,
46. Rube Evans and Polo,
47. Bear Cages and Santafees,
48. Two Jumps and Old Folks,
49. Horny Toads,
50. They Didn't Take Paper Money During the Revolution,
51. "Texas, Our Texas" and Other State Symbols,
52. Too Many Bluebonnets,
53. Our Town,
About the Author,