Texas, My Texas
Musings of the Rambling Boy
Publication Year: 2012
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.
Published by: TCU Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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I grew up in the preelectronic age in Fort Davis, Texas, a tiny village isolated from the greater world beyond the mountains and desert that surrounded us. During my growing up, in the 1940s and '50s, we had automobiles and telephones and electric lights and indoor plumbing. During the day, we would listen to one radio station, KVLF in Alpine, twenty-six miles away. ...
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I CONSIDER MYSELF a Texan, even though I was born elsewhere. My father was born in McKinney and grew up in Fort Worth. My mother was from Jacksboro. My father's career as a highway engineer for the United States Bureau of Public Roads took my parents away from Texas in the 1930s, first to South Carolina, where I was born, and then to Washington, DC, and finally to the Philippine Islands before they moved back to...
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1. FORT DAVIS: PLAZA OR SQUARE?
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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...
2. LOS CIBOLEROS IN THE PANHANDLE
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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...
3. THE PAYNES, BLACK SEMINOLE COWBOYS
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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...
4. "AN UNFORTUNATE ADMIXTURE OF AFRICAN BLOOD"
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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...
5. HEAT, DUST, AND BOREDOM
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SINCE EVERYONE in Fort Davis volunteers for something, I decided shortly after we moved here to put my training as a historian to good use and volunteer at the fort, which is a National Park Service Historic Site. The historian there, Mary Williams, put me to work indexing the microfilmed documents in the library. I worked on the daily records of the fort for the 1880s, microfilmed from the originals in the Library of Congress. If you were ever in the armed forces, you...
6. THE EPIC OF HENRY O. FLIPPER
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ONE OF THE PLEASURES of living in far West Texas is the series of readings given by the Lannan Foundation's resident writers at the Marfa Book Company on Saturday nights. Several weeks ago the reader was the poet Marilyn Nelson. Nelson is an African American woman in her early sixties whose totally unlined face radiates an inner joy when she reads; listening to her...
7. CHARLIE SIRINGO AND THE PINKERTONS
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THERE ARE HUNDRED S of books about cowboys—I've even written one myself—but the very first, and maybe the best, was written by a native Texan, Charles Angelo Siringo. He wrote it when he was only thirty, in 1885, but he started cowboying at the age of fifteen, so he had a lot of experiences to pack into it. Siringo called his book A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony. ...
8. NOAH SMITHWICK, BLACKSMITH AND MEMOIRIST
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A FEW WEEKS AGO, a friend of mine who teaches a Texas history course at TCU sent out an Internet request for suggestions for supplementary reading for his students. Most of his respondents suggested scholarly monographs that were in-depth explorations of subjects that were touched on lightly in the textbook, which is what most college course supplementary reading is, but for some...
9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT IN TEXAS
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THE BAR of the Menger Hotel in San Antonio is a vaguely Gothic oak-paneled room that, for many years, was presided over by a dour coffee-colored man named Freeman. Freeman once bought me a cold Pearl and lent me five dollars when I stopped in on my way from Nuevo Laredo to Austin with nothing but a Texaco credit card and a dollar bill in my wallet. According to the...
10. THE LIAR'S SKILL
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WE ALL KNOW the type: the garrulous older gentleman who has been everywhere and done everything and is full of unwanted and usually ineffective advice. Homer pinned him down perfectly 2,700 years ago in the character of Nestor, who was fond of regaling the Greeks besieging Troy with long narratives of his own youthful successes in war and sport. Each of us knows...
11. SAM BASS WAS BORN IN INDIANA
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AN OLD TEXAS folksong says, Sam met his fate at Round Rock, July the twenty-first I They filled poor Sam with rifle balls and emptied out his purse. This past July 21 marked the 131st anniversary of the death of the outlaw Sam Bass after being mortally wounded in a failed bank robbery in 1878 at the little town of Round Rock, just a few miles from Austin. The song about him was written a few years later, supposedly by John Denton of Gainesville. My grandmother Taylor...
12. MUY GRANDE RIFLES
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THE OTHER DAY Glenn Moreland, Bob Miles, and I were standing in front of the Fort Davis State Bank, passing the time of day, when the subject of the Confederate cannons buried in Limpia Canyon came up. Both Miles and Moreland share my interest in the Big Bend's past, so it was a natural topic for us to be discussing. Moreland said that he and some other men were...
13. THE TEXAS SIGNERS
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I CANNOT LET the month of March go by without mentioning the fifty-nine men who came together in a drafty, unfinished building at Washington-on-the-Brazos 173 years ago this month to declare Texas an independent republic. In the seventeen days that they met together there, they also wrote a constitution for the new republic, organized an ad interim government, and appointed one...
14. THE VILLAIN OF SAN JACINTO
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THIS SATURDAY will be the 171 st anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, the eighteen-minute fight that gained Texas her independence from Mexico. That battle created Texas's most enduring hero, Sam Houston, a larger-than-life figure whose larger-than-life statue (it is sixty-seven feet high) towers over Interstate 45 at Huntsville. But what about the man who lost the battle, Antonio...
15. FERDINAND LlNDHEIMER, FRONTIER JOURNALIST
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EARLY IN DECEMBER, I found myself in New Braunfels, Texas, for the first time in about thirty years. The last time I was there, New Braunfels was a quiet little town where you could still hear people speaking German on Seguin Street on a Saturday morning. Now it has a population of over fifty thousand and is a suburb of San Antonio. One thing that has not changed, however...
16. REAL COWBOYS DON'T HAVE TIME TO SING
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I EXPERIENCED my first great disappointment in life at the age of seven, when I went from Washington, DC, to spend the summer at my great-uncles' ranch in Texas and discovered that none of the cowboys there could sing. I had learned all about cowboys by watching the Saturday afternoon movies at the Shirlington Theatre, and I knew that a guitar was as indispensable to their...
17. ROY W. ALDRICH, THE ERUDITE RANGER
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NOT LONG AGO I was prowling around the shelves of the Wildenthal Library at Sul Ross State University, which I often do when I have gone over there to look something up and have some spare time on my hands, and I stumbled on a whole clutch of English fox-hunting memoirs, books with titles like Trencher and Kennel: Some Famous Yorkshire Packs, published in London in...
18. WIGFALL VAN SICKLE, THE SAGE OF ALPINE
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JUDGE WIGFALL VAN SICKLE of Alpine was not only a distinguished jurist with a preposterous name, he was an accomplished raconteur and is responsible for many of the Big Bend's best-known tales. For example, the story about the steer branded "murder," which found its way into half a dozen books including J. Frank Dobie's Longhorns, seems to have started with Judge Van Sickle. According to Barry Scobee's pamphlet, The Steer Branded Murder...
19. THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION IN TEXAS
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EVERYONE IN TEXAS knows stories about the way that the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1930 spilled over the border. These stories are usually about raids across the river that resulted in bloodshed on this side, such as the Glenn Springs raid in 1916 and the Brite Ranch raid in 1917. My own mother lived in Kingsville as a girl and vividly remembered her terror when news came one...
20. HOW LEIGHTON KNIPE LEFT HIS MARK ON MARFA
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VISITORS TO MARFA this past year (and there have been a lot of them) always comment on the four particularly handsome buildings along the west side of Highland Avenue: the First Christian Church, the Paisano Hotel, the Brite Building, and the Marfa National Bank. The Paisano was designed by the wellknown El Paso firm of Trost & Trost, but the other three buildings...
21. THE DEAD MAN'S SPRINGS
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LAST WEEK I found myself at a weirdly beautiful place with one of the more sinister-sounding names in the Big Bend, El Muerto Springs. It is not only sinister-sounding (the name means "the dead man"); it is isolated. I reached it by a dirt road that runs for twelve miles across two ranches north of Valentine, and when I was there, the only landmarks I could see were Sawtooth...
22. JACK HOXIE AND HOLLYWOOD IN FORT DAVIS
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THE FILM fever that seized Marfa last summer, when two movies were being shot in town simultaneously, was old hat to the citizens of Fort Davis. It all happened there years ago, so long ago that most residents have forgotten about it or never knew that it had happened. But if you had been in Fort Davis in 1929 or 1930, you might have thought that you were only a few blocks from the...
23. STANLEY MARCUS, CIVILlZED TEXAN
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THE HALL OF STATE in Dallas is a monumental and lavishly decorated art deco building at Fair Park, constructed to house the State of Texas's history exhibit at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. It is now the home of the Dallas Historical Society. Against the wall of its semi-circular entrance hall are life-size bronze statues by Pompeo Coppini of six Texas heroes: Stephen F. Austin...
II. TEXAS FAMILY
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24. FAMILY SAGAS
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ONE OF THE SESSIONS I went to at the Texas State Historical Association's meeting in Austin last month was devoted to the folkloristic notion of the family saga, an idea developed by the University of Texas English professor Mody Boatright in the late 1950s. Boatright was a West Texan who had spent a lot of time as a boy sitting on front porches listening to his elders tell family stories, and as an adult, he pondered what these stories...
25. MY GRANDMOTHER TAYLOR
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MY GRANDMOTHER Taylor was a woman of strong character and certain unshakable convictions. Her character was formed early in life. She was born in 1877 in Round Rock, Texas. Her father was a former Confederate soldier who came to Texas after the war and started a freight business, hauling goods in ox wagons from railheads to West Texas; her mother was the daughter...
26. UNCLE WILL
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IN MOST Western European cultures there is a special relationship between uncles and nephews. Fathers discipline sons and set their feet on the path to manhood, but uncles ease their nephews' way along that path by teaching them things that it would be inappropriate for fathers to address. Usually these things have to do with alcohol, tobacco, and sex, but my favorite uncle...
27. AUNT BESSIE
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WHENEVER my cousins from Wharton County and I get together, we invariably start telling stories about Aunt Bessie. Aunt Bessie was actually my great-aunt, my grandmother's little sister, and she lived most of her life on a ranch outside of Hungerford, Texas. Aunt Bessie had inherited some oil and gas income from her husband, who died when she was still a relatively...
28. MY DEAD GRANDFATHER
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WHENEVER I hear someone talk about grandfathers I feel deprived because both of mine died before I was born. It is my grandfather Taylor that I most regret not having known because he was an adventurer. My grandfather Wood was a small-town druggist and a good man, I am sure—at least my mother thought so—but my grandfather Taylor, whose name was the same as mine, was...
III. TEXAS PRESENT
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29. FORT WORTH BARS
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ERNEST HEMINGWAY has a lot to answer for. He may have been the best American writer of his time, but he had a baneful influence on the health and deportment of a whole generation of young men who grew up wanting to be writers in the 1950s. I was one of those young men, and my aspiring-writer friends and I were convinced from reading Hemingway that if we wanted to write...
30. BEATNIKS ON CAMP BOWIE BOULEVARD
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MY FRIEND Dink Starns called me from Fort Worth the other day to remind me that the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Black Beret was coming up on March 29. No ceremony is planned and no historical marker will be unveiled, but the Black Beret deserves at least a footnote in the cultural history of Texas, and this essay will be that footnote. The Black Beret was...
31. WILLOW WAY
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I WAS IN San Antonio a couple of weeks ago and saw a notice in the paper about an estate sale at Willow Way, the former home of architect O'Neil Ford and his wife, Wanda, so my wife and I drove out there and spent the morning wandering around the old stone-and-brick house and its grounds, picking our way among boxes of Mexican pottery and tables full of knick-knacks. It was a bittersweet visit. ...
32. JOE FRANTZ, RACONTEUR
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JOE FRANTZ was a professor of history at the University of Texas in the 1950s and '60s, and was my boss at the Texas State Historical Association when I worked there in 1969 and 1970. He was also my friend until his death in 1993. He was the most entertaining man I have ever known. His friendship was rewarding simply because he was so much fun to be with. Frantz loved people and his manner showed it. Gene West of Marfa once described someone...
33. THE SAN ANTONIO RIVER WALK
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I WAS NOT ABLE to attend the meeting in Marfa at which the Texas Tech architecture students presented proposals for rebuilding Marfa, but I enjoyed reading James Tierney's account of it in the Big Bend Sentinel. Had I been there, I would have risen in the interest of historical accuracy to correct a statement made by Midland architect Mark Wellen, who was quoted as saying in...
34. TEXAS-GERMAN CHRISTMASES
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WHEN I LIVED IN Round Top, over in Fayette County, Christmas was an explosive event. Round Top was a German community and Germans, at least in Texas, like to hold on to old customs. When I moved there in 1970, even though my neighbors' forebears had come from Germany to Texas in the 1850s, I was the only person in town who had not grown up speaking German. ...
35. BILL DODSON, CANDELILLERO
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THE OTHER DAY I sat at a kitchen table in Alpine and talked with a man not much older than I am who grew up in the nineteenth century. By this I don't mean that he was born before 1900—in fact, he was born in 1936—but that he grew up in the same conditions that prevailed in the Big Bend in the 1880s. His name is William Dodson, and he is the father of Presidio County...
36. LUIS JIMENEZ, ARTIST IN FIBERGLASS
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FLAGS WERE FLOWN at halfmast all over New Mexico last week to honor a Texan, which was odd because Texans are not generally held in great esteem in New Mexico. But the artist Luis Jimenez, a native of El Paso, was an exceptional Texan and an exceptional man. His death on June 13 will be mourned not only by everyone who knew him but by everyone who saw and was...
37. DESERT RAIN
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SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, a couple of hours before sunset, my wife and I were driving from Fort Davis to Marfa. The sky in the west had been full of threatening black clouds all afternoon, and when we came over the Divide we looked out over the Marfa Flats and saw a great sleeve of rain off to our right, what in Mexico is called a manga de agua. It was a semi-transparent white, almost...
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THE SUMMER AFTER I graduated from high school, I got a job as a rodman on a Texas Highway Department survey party and I started learning about life. I did not exactly have a sheltered childhood, but it was definitely a middle-class one, and I had never met anyone like the men I worked with on that survey party before. I earned $110 a month, which in 1957 was pretty good for a seventeen-year-old kid...
39. KING WILLIAM STREET
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THERE IS A tree-shaded street just south of San Antonio's business district that is only five blocks long, but there is more history packed into those five blocks than most Texas towns can boast of. It has a flour mill at one end of it and a little park with a bandstand at the other, and in the 1870s it was named King William Street after King William of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm's grandfather. ...
40. TIGIE LANCASTER'S MULES
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LAST YEAR AT THE St. Paul's Episcopal Church ice cream social in Marfa, a woman with a ruddy compelexion, short gray hair, and very blue eyes drove up to the church in a rubber-tired buckboard pulled by a mule. She asked a small boy standing at the curb to go in and get her a dish of ice cream, and then sat in the buckboard and ate it. Her name is Tigie Lancaster, and she has...
41. THE SEVEN TIMMERMANN SISTERS
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THE COMING of Christmas always makes me think of the seven Timmermann sisters of Geronimo, Texas, except that I think of them with initial capital letters: the Seven Timmermann Sisters, like the Three Fates or the Nine Muses. The sisters—Willie May, Estella, Mellita, Wanda, Meta, Hulda, and Thekla—became famous in the 1950s for the Christmas decorations they...
42. CZECHS AND POLKAS
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A FEW WEEKS AGO, at a dinner party in Fort Davis, I met Stephen Zetsche from Wharton, Texas. Zetsche's father was the Disciples of Christ minister in Marfa in the 1950s, and Zetsche was revisiting the sites of his youth with his lady friend, Ricki Boyd. Since I have a lot of cousins in Wharton County, we got to talking about some of the things that have happened there, and suddenly Zetsche was telling me about the El Campo Polka War. ...
43. FAYETTE COUNTY FOURTH OF JULY
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YESTERDAY was the two hundred and thirty-first Fourth of July to be celebrated in the United States since bells rang out in Philadelphia to celebrate the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776. Actually, those first bells rang out on July 8, because although Congress passed the Declaration on the evening of the fourth, it was not...
44. BILLY D. PEISER, EL INDIO
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BILLY D. PEISER OF MARFA is the master of a profession that most people think disappeared with Daniel Boone. He is a tracker, and during his twenty-five years with the Border Patrol here, he was so good that he was known all over northern Mexico as El lndio. When the Border Patrol caught up with a party of illegal immigrants out in the brush, one of the immigrants would...
45. THE PAISANO
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THE OTHER NIGHT my wife and I had dinner at one of our favorite Marfa restaurants, The Blue Javelina. We had just been seated at a table by the big plate glass window and had picked up our menus when I glanced out the window and saw a roadrunner standing on the gravel surface of the patio, not six feet away. He had a lizard clamped in his beak, his feathers were ruffled, and his...
46. RUBE EVANS AND POLO
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ALTHOUGH we tend to think of polo as an Eastern sport played by millionaires with names like Harry Payne Whitney and Devereux Milburn, it was introduced into Texas in the 1890s by the army and was avidly played by cavalry officers in San Antonio and at posts across West Texas. From those posts it seeped onto neighboring ranches and was taken up by cowboys who did not...
47. BEAR CAGES AND SANTAFEES
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SEVERAL YEARS AGO I WAS enjoying a cool Saturday afternoon beer in a Fort Worth bar when a somewhat bleary-eyed old boy on the next stool began a rambling account of his adventures the night before. "I was driving home on the Weatherford Highway," he said, "and damn if I didn't hit a bear cage right in the middle of the road and went into the ditch." ...
48. TWO JUMPS AND OLD FOLKS
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MY FRIEND Jim Bratcher of Bulverde and I have been carrying on an e-mail conversation about whether the West maintained its distinctive cultural characteristics through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, or whether they were completely eroded by the mass culture of post-World War II America. I am contending that one piece of evidence of the West's continued...
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WHEN I WAS ten years old and living in Washington, DC, one of my West Texas cousins sent me a horned toad through the mail. It arrived in a perforated box, and I took it to a Cub Scout meeting, where it disappeared under the den mother's sofa, never to be recovered. I wrote my cousin and he said never mind, his mother's yard was full of them. Now they are a threatened species, ...
50. THEY DIDN'T TAKE PAPER MONEY DURING THE REVOLUTION
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EDMUNDO NIETO is ninety years old, but he still goes to work every morning in the store that his father, Miguel Nieto, founded in 1913. He lets the clerks do most of the work, but he answers the telephone and greets the customers in Spanish as they come in. He has known most of them all of their lives. "We used to get most of our business from Mexico," he told me, "but since NAFTA, ...
51. "TEXAS, OUR TEXAS" AND OTHER STATE SYMBOLS
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NEARLY ALL Texans know that the bluebonnet is the official Texas state flower, and that there is a hefty fine for picking bluebonnets on the highway right-of-way. Almost as many probably know that the mockingbird is the state bird, the pecan the state tree, "Friendship" the state motto, and "Texas, Our Texas" the state song. These are what we might call the Big Five among our...
52. TOO MANY BLUEBONNETS
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SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I wrote about some of Texas's fifty-five official state symbols, and I said that the bluebonnet, our state flower, had so many permutations and that its history was so complex that it deserved an essay of its own. This is that essay. First off, I have to correct a statement that I made in the earlier piece. My friend Joe Cole of Weatherford has pointed out that even though I wrote that "every Texan knows" that it is against the...
53. OUR TOWN
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EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING after breakfast my wife and I take a two-mile walk around Fort Davis. There is no better way to savor life in a small town than to take a slow walk through it every day. You see the same things on each walk, but you learn to look at them closely and think about them. Looking and thinking is something we don't do enough of in this century. Maybe we...
About the Author
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LONN TAYLOR is a historian and writer who retired to Fort Davis, Texas, with his wife, Dedie, after twenty years as a historian at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. He received a BA in history and government from Texas Christian University in 1961 and did graduate...
Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012