Texas People, Texas Places
More Musings of the Rambling Boy
Publication Year: 2014
Texas People, Texas Places is a story of men and women and places that have made this state great. From a small-town radio host to tight-fisted West Texas ranchers, and even to Taylor’s own family members, Taylor’s subjects paint a profound and dynamic picture.
Lonn Taylor shares anecdotes that will appeal to any Texan, in a voice that is as personal as it is unique.
Published by: TCU Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
In far west texas, where Lonn Taylor lives, there’s a saying that if you ask someone a question, they’ll tell you a story. And out there, no one tells stories quite like Lonn. That’s no brag, just fact....
I have always been attracted to eccentric people and small towns. In high school my best friends were not the athletes or the beauty queens but the shy girls who wanted to be artists and the quiet boys who played chess. As an undergraduate, even though I majored in history and government, I hung around with theater...
I. Texas People
1. Travels With My Father
I cannot go on a long road trip without thinking about my father. He was a highway engineer, a member of the first civil engineering class to graduate from Texas A&M that studied highway construction rather than railroad construction. That was in 1924. He went on to have a long career with the US Bureau of Public...
2. Uncle Kit the Drifter
There is a sentimental ballad from the 1870s called “The Little Rosewood Casket,” about a dying woman who wants a package of old love letters read to her. The chorus goes: In a little rosewood casket / Sitting on a marble stand / There’s a packet of old letters / Written by a cherished hand. I opened a packet of old letters the other day. They were not in a rosewood casket and they are not...
3. A Love Story
The plymouth colony had Priscilla Mullins and John Alden (“Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”) and Jamestown had Pocahontas and John Smith, even though Pocahontas married someone else and went to England and had her portrait painted wearing a funny neck ruff, but Texas has no great love story among...
Two weeks ago I drove to San Antonio to say goodbye to my friend Figgi Rosengren, whose memorial service was held on May 5. Figgi was eighty-three when he died, and he led the fullest of lives, but his death diminished the lives of everyone who knew him because being around him was so much fun....
5. Rachel on the Radio
Rachel Osier Lindley introduced me to Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and His Quarts of Joy and changed my life, or at least the Wednesday evening portion of it. Lindley hosts a radio program called Old Timey on KRTS, the public radio station in Marfa, every Wednesday night from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. I have started...
6. The Lady Librarians
My friend Michael Baskin from Denver was in town not long ago and dropped by our house to visit. Mike is a lawyer and a bibliophile. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, he worked for Miss Katherine Blow in the Humanities Reference Library, so it was natural that our talk turned to the...
7. Amelia Williams, Cotton Farmer and Scholar
Last weekend I had a brush with the past—my own family’s past and Texas’s past, too. My wife and I drove over to Cameron, a county-seat town northeast of Austin, for a ceremony honoring Amelia Williams. It seems that a local foundation in Cameron, the Yoe Foundation, selects half a dozen or so distinguished natives of...
8. Thoroughly Modern Mojella
Mojella Moore of Alpine is a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and beautiful woman of eighty-one who lives in a ten-room, ranch-style house north of town. Her living room has wall-to-wall carpeting and is furnished with comfortable easy chairs, couches, and a flat-screen television set. Her ample kitchen is equipped...
9. Frugality Was a Virtue
Most of the first generation of big West Texas ranchers, the ones who built the mansions that lined Summit Avenue in Fort Worth when I was growing up there, had gone through the hard times that followed the Civil War. Many of them were notoriously close with a dollar. My grandmother used to say that some of them would skin a flea for the hide and tallow....
10. Apache Adams
Apache Adams is not a typical Big Bend cowboy, but he is the quintessential Big Bend Cowboy, having an excess of the qualities that turn a good cowboy into a superlative one. He is a fine horseman, a superb roper, and he has no back-down, to use his own phrase (which he employs about someone else, not himself)....
11. Ted Gray
The big bend lost a unique citizen when Ted Gray of Alpine died on March 14 at the age of eighty-eight. Whenever a person of Ted’s age and stature in the community dies, someone will always step forward and say that the deceased was the last of his breed. Plenty of people are saying that about Ted Gray. He was...
12. Carry Huffman and Joe Sitter, Border Lawmen
Not long ago, I spent a morning at the Marfa Sector Headquarters of the Border Patrol talking with Carry Huffman, who is the Deputy Chief Patrol Agent there. On the surface, Huffman (who pronounces his first name KO-ree) would appear to be the ultimate modern law-enforcement officer. He has been...
13. Two Viejos at a Kitchen Table
I spent a Friday morning a couple of weeks ago doing what I enjoy almost more than anything and don’t get to do often enough. I sat at a kitchen table in Marfa with a couple of gentlemen in their eighties drinking coffee and listening to them trade stories. Jack Brunson and Doc Whitman have been friends for...
14. Alan Tennant and the Rattlesnakes
There are no rattlesnakes in England, so when the first English colonists came to North America rattlers made a big impression on them. One of the oldest American ballads is a song called “Springfield Mountain,” written in the 1760s about a young man who is fatally bitten by a rattlesnake while mowing a meadow....
15. Colonel Crimmins, the Rattlesnake Venom Man
In July 1926 a young man named Jesús Ramirez and a friend were walking down the highway from Asherton, Texas, to Eagle Pass, hoping to find work in the border town. The two men stopped to rest for a minute, and Ramirez was bitten on the arm by a rattlesnake. His companion flagged down a car and they were...
16. Two Governors for the Price of One
Not long ago, my wife and I were in Austin and decided to have dinner in the dining room of the Driskill Hotel, an Austin landmark since its opening in the 1880s. The dining room is hung with portraits of famous Texans, and when the twentysomething- year-old hostess directed us to a table under a portrait...
17. Pappy and the Light Crust Doughboys
The other day Michael Baskin, who knows that I like such things, dropped by the house to bring me a campaign card extolling the virtues of W. Lee O’Daniel, a former Texas governor who was running for reelection to the United States Senate when the card was printed in 1942. I was delighted to have it. Not only...
18. The Two Garcias
Two Texans named Garcia led the fight to end discrimination against Mexican Americans in Texas in the years after World War II. One of them received the Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan and is honored by a nine-foot-high statue in Corpus Christi. The other died an alcoholic in the San...
19. The Lark of the Border
One of my Christmas gifts from my wife this year was a small retablo dedicated to the Mexican American singer Lydia Mendoza. It is a decorated wooden shadow box, painted pink and Virgin Mary blue, surmounted by a cross and containing a tinted photograph of a very young Lydia Mendoza holding a twelve-string...
20. Albert Alvarez, Secret Historian
I sometimes write about the secret history of the Big Bend and the people who have recorded it. By secret history, I mean the history of the Spanish-speaking people of the region, which has been omitted from most published histories of the Big Bend....
21. Mary Bonkemeyer and the Grits Trees
Not long ago at a party in Marfa, I heard a woman behind me say, in a broad Southern accent, “When I was in college there were some very gullible Northern girls who wanted to know about the South, so I told them that I had grown up on my father’s grits plantation, and that every morning my job was to take...
22. Gene Miller, Ranch Wife
For Gene Miller, the hardest years of her life as a ranch wife were the years she had to live in town. Gene, who is my neighbor in Fort Davis, grew up as a city girl in Vancouver, British Columbia. She met her husband, Fort Davis cowboy Roe Miller, during World War II. He was a US Navy flier, stationed at...
23. Russell Lee, Photographer
Some time back I wrote about two New Deal agencies, the WPA and the CCC, that left a lasting mark on the Texas landscape. There was a third agency, the Farm Security Administration, that also left a legacy in Texas, but it was a legacy of photographs rather than buildings. The FSA, which was created in 1935 as the...
24. Bill Leftwich, Artist
Last week nearly two hundred of Bill Leftwich’s friends gathered at St. Joseph’s parish hall in Fort Davis to pay a final tribute to him. Bill, who died in Fort Worth on April 27, was not a Catholic, but the parish hall was the only building in town that could hold the number of people who wanted to be there. One of...
25. The Propeller Man of Marfa
We all know that Marfa is a center for the visual arts and that people come from all over the world to see the minimalist installations at the Chinati Foundation. Most of us know that several important films have been shot in Marfa, starting with Giant in 1954. Many people are aware that Marfa is a gliding and...
26. Small-Town Journalists
The death in December of former Pecos journalist Oscar Griffin Jr. reminded me once more of the importance of freedom of the press in this country, and the American tradition of smalltown newspaper editors and reporters standing up for what is right in the face of community pressure to sit down and shut up....
27. Lee Bennett and Marfa's History
In Japan, they declare people with special talents national treasures. If we did that in the Big Bend, my first nominee would be Lee Bennett of Marfa. I first heard of Bennett when I worked for the Texas State Historical Association in the 1960s. The Association ran a program for high school students called the Junior Historians, and the director of that program was Ken...
28. Jack Jackson Rewrites Texas History
Have you ever wondered why every Texan over forty knows the details of the Texas Revolution by heart, and can tell you at the drop of a hat about the cannon at Gonzales, the Goliad massacre, Travis and the line in the sand at the Alamo, the Mier prisoners and the drawing of the black beans and the white beans,...
29. Myrrl McBride, Prisoner of War
This Saturday, April 9, will be the sixty-ninth anniversary of the fall of Bataan. The names of Bataan and the island fortress of Corregidor are fading from memory now, in the same way that the names of the World War I battles of the Meuse- Argonne and Belleau Wood had lost their power by the time my...
30. Some Texas Confederates
The civil war is a watershed event in American history, one that still resonates with us. My generation is the last generation that will have known people who knew people who fought in it. I come from a Southern family. Three of my four great-grandfathers were in the Confederate army and the fourth was on his way from...
31. The Jacksons of Blue and Other Texas Chairmakers
Back when I watched television my favorite program was Antiques Roadshow. It gave me a delicious sense of Schadenfreude— pleasure in the misfortunes of others—when the appraiser, a suave, supercilious Sotheby’s type, would say to some grandmotherly lady who had brought in an old cane-bottomed chair,...
32. A Bunch of Cowboys Trying to Build an Airplane
I had a visit the other day from Lionel Sosa of San Antonio and his wife, Kathy. Sosa is a highly successful businessman, a partner in the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the United States, a consultant to presidential candidates, and an accomplished portrait artist. But that is not what this column is about....
33. Amon Carter and Fort Worth
A recent visit to Fort Worth made me realize once again how much I love that city, my father’s hometown and mine, too. Much of what I love about Fort Worth has to do with Amon Carter. On this trip we visited one of his legacies, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, dedicated in 1961, six years after his...
II. Texas Places
34. Dark Corner and High Hill
I probably owe my affection for country cemeteries to my grandmother Taylor, who could not pass one without stopping. When I was a small boy she would take me on drives in her Studebaker Commander along the country roads around Fort Worth, and whenever a cemetery would come in view she would...
35. County Courthouses
Probably because I grew up in Fort Worth, county courthouses have always fascinated me. In fact, I will admit to being a courthouse freak; I will drive miles out of the way to see a really good courthouse. Fort Worth does not have just a good courthouse; it has a superb one, a vast red granite pile topped by a two...
36. Snooping Around Historic Houses
I have always been a fan of historic houses, perhaps because I am a born snoop. It is very difficult for me to pass a sign that says “Historic Smedley Jones House, 1840” without stopping to see what kind of stuff the Smedley Joneses had. There are about five thousand historic houses in the United States and sometimes I feel as though I have been in at least half of them....
37. Juneteenth Belongs to Texas
Last month I was rambling around the Hill Country, working on a research project that has occupied most of my spring and summer, and stopped for breakfast at the Bowling Alley Café on the square in Blanco, a small town on US 281 between Johnson City and San Antonio. Taped to the door of the café was a handbill...
38. Christmas in Anson
There are two poems that every Texan of my parents’ generation knew by heart and would recite at the drop of a hat. They are Frank Deprez’s “Lasca” and Larry Chittenden’s “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.” Not long ago I ran into Chuck Finsley, retired curator of paleontology at the Dallas Museum of Science,...
39. There Was Nothing for Us to Do But Run
The green, rolling, oakstudded country between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers below Austin and Waco is one of the most beautiful parts of Texas, but in the wet spring of 1836 it was the setting for some of the darkest days in Texas history. During the weeks between March 6 of that year, when the Alamo fell, and April 21, when Santa Anna was defeated at San Jacinto, the...
40. San Antonio's Cement Sculpture
Visitors to San Antonio sometimes comment on a peculiar bus stop shelter on Broadway just north of its intersection with Hildebrand, in front of one of the gates to the campus of Immaculate Word University. At first glance it looks like something out of a Mexican jungle, a thatched roof supported by three...
41. The Flying Boat on Medina Lake
The new year always makes me think of Aggie Pate and his calendars. A. M. “Aggie” Pate Jr. was a Fort Worth businessman who had an interest in the history of transportation and in the 1960s founded the Pate Museum of Transportation, a collection of automobiles, helicopters, airplanes, and even a homemade submarine. Pate had a healthy ego. For a number of years his company,...
42. Dance Halls and Honky Tonks
I spent a recent weekend at a symposium on the preservation of Texas dance halls, held at the James Dick Festival Institute in Round Top, Texas, and cosponsored by Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc. I learned a lot. I learned, for instance, that it is hard to distinguish what is a dance hall and what is not. If you made a graph of dance halls as a series of concentric circles, there...
43. Fidel in Wharton
Fidel Castro has made two trips to Texas. On the first, he went away with money; on the second, with a horse. The second visit was the longest and most public, and it won Fidel the temporary good will of a covey of wealthy Houston businessmen. It was part of a two-week trip that the Cuban premier made to the United States in April 1959, just three months after his revolutionary army...
44. Adventures in Albany
Several weeks ago I went to Albany to speak to the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner there. I do not mean Albany, the capital of the state of New York, but Albany, the county seat of Shackleford County, Texas, a town of two thousand people about thirty miles northeast of Abilene. I went there at the invitation of...
45. The West Texas Town of El Paso
In the summer of 1879, a forty-six-year-old ex-Confederate colonel named George Wythe Baylor started out from San Antonio on horseback to take a new job in El Paso. The job, which paid $75 a month, was a lieutenancy in the Texas Rangers. Baylor later wrote that as he had a family and “had been about two years on scant rations and no pay,” he was glad to get it....
46. Bryan Woolley's Wonderful Room
I cannot remember exactly when I first encountered Bryan Woolley’s writing. I do remember that when I was working for the Dallas Historical Society in the late 1970s he was on the staff of the Dallas Times Herald, and that we met once or twice. I moved away from Texas in 1979, and a few years later Woolley moved over to...
47. Austin 1962, Fort Davis 2011
During the summer of 1962, I lived in a small garage apartment behind a big house on Nueces Street in Austin. I was ostensibly taking a crash course in German at the University of Texas so that I could pass the German translation exam then required of all PhD candidates. My next-door neighbors up the alley were a group of people my age who inhabited a much larger...
48. A Killing in the Big Bend
Old troubles in the Big Bend are like the pearl in the oyster. The simple fact of a man’s being killed in a dispute is the irritating grain of sand; then layers of narrative build up around it until the story is a polished pearl, handed down from generation to generation as a community treasure, even though it has its beginning in tragedy....
49. Marfa's Fort D. A. Russell
A few miles south of Washington, DC, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, is an imposing stone fortress called Fort Washington. It was built in 1824 so that the British fleet could never again sail up the Potomac and menace the national capital, as it had in 1814 when the British burned the city. Its construction was a classic case of locking the stable after the horse is gone....
50. The Ronquillo Grant
Some aspects of Texas history can best be understood in terms of the deeply rooted human tendency to believe that all land acquired cheaply will inevitably increase in value. Nothing so well illustrates this as the story of the Ronquillo Grant, a chimera that shimmered over a large portion of the Big Bend for fifty years, enriching several middlemen and, in the end, leaving a Chicago millionaire nearly five million dollars poorer....
51. The Food Shark
Twenty-five years ago the Irish novelist Roddy Doyle published a hilarious book called The Van about the misadventures of three working-class Dubliners who purchase an old van and try to sell fish and chips from it. In Doyle’s novel, everything goes wrong that possibly can, and the entrepreneurs end up driving...
52. The Highland Hereford Rough Riders
Every American has heard of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, the volunteer cavalry unit that Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood took to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, but how many people have heard of the Highland Hereford Rough Riders? I certainly had not, until I started reading old issues of the Big Bend Sentinel in the Marfa Public Library in connection with...
53. The Road to the Mine
Historians use many gateways to enter the past. Some study treaties and diplomatic history; some wars and military history; some, agriculture and trade and the evolution of settlement. Some even study the development of roads and highways. This past month I joined that last group and spent a good deal of time in the Marfa courthouse looking into the history of roads in...
54. The Secret History of the Big Bend
The Big Bend has two histories. There is the official history, enshrined in books like Carlysle Gram Raht’s Romance of the Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country; Clifford Casey’s Mirages, Mysteries, and Reality: Brewster County, Texas; Ron Tyler’s The Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier, and Cecilia Thompson’s two-volume History of Marfa and Presidio County, which has just been reprinted and of which a third volume is in...
55. Tony Cano's Marfa
Several weeks ago I wrote a column about the Big Bend’s secret history, the story of the Spanish-speaking communities here, and I mentioned a couple of recent books that threw some light on the history. Now Tim Johnson of the Marfa Book Company has called my attention to a third book, Tony Cano’s autobiographical...
56. The Sandia Springs Wetlands
In the fall of 2010, Ellen Weinacht of Balmorhea went on a birding trip with some friends to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. As she was watching hundreds of sandhill cranes feeding in the wetlands along the Rio Grande, she thought, “I want a place like this at home.” Now she has one. It is called the Sandia Springs Wetlands, and I spent a day last week visiting...
57. After the Fire
I am hesitant to write about the fire that swept through Fort Davis the evening of April 9, destroying twenty-four homes, because I was not even there when it hit. My wife and I were returning from a trip to New Mexico that Saturday, and we were stopped at a roadblock in Balmorhea. A state trooper told us that we could not go to Fort Davis because the town had been...
About the Author
Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2014
OCLC Number: 879024266
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Texas People, Texas Places