publisher colophon

LEAVES OF MESQUITE GRASS

By DONALD DAY

I

ONE OF THE MOST PLEASANT experiences of my life was an excursion made several summers ago into the realm and time of early Texas through the medium of her early newspapers. It was no slow train but rather a pokey oxcart that creaked past an unfolding panorama of life geared to the tempo of a siesta one moment and of a swift moving horse urged on by a Comanche war whoop the next.

Here in a microcosm life was pictured without censorship but with the prejudice of splendid haters who were not afraid to die for their principles because they knew how to live with their liquor; here was a drama of men with its Ahabs and its Stubbs in the raw; here was a Houston that no speculative writer yet has been able to re-create; here was Lamar giving Texas a New Deal with all the immortal chicaneries tied into its futile promises; and, here was a merchant advertising raw whiskies and a new shipment of elegant calicos and fine chinas.

Prairies carpeted by flowers (called gardens by newcomers) meandered by; I smiled at the editor who said of Houston that “Many of the eastern despots have built up flourishing cities in the desert, but it has been left to the experiment of a modern adventureer to build up a city to perpetuate his name in a mud hole”; I sat on a drygoods box beside raw-boned men whittling their Republic in the Congressional shanty; I heard the whine of a bullet on its mission toward the heart of an Indian; I saw the puzzled look on the face of the old Indian fighter as he read his Bible and it occurred to him that the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” might mean a Redskin; and I knew that newspapers were men in those days and not just syndicated propaganda.

In truth here was a press edited by as cosmopolitan a group as was ever assembled to instruct, amuse, damn and cajole a people. It numbered among its members a Catholic priest, a Canadian firebrand, a shrewd fugitive from justice together with his shrewder wife, the future inventor of condensed milk, a highly educated Frenchman, a Harvard scholar, a writer and legal codifier, land sharks and speculators, and soldiers of fortune from many states and foreign lands. Theirs was not always an easy life. Mark Twain's story on Tennessee journalism could have been about Texas journalism. And no great hope of riches was theirs. One editor supposed, in announcing the marriage of another, “that an editor has a good a right to starve some man's daughter as any one else.” And they had their own idea of what constituted news. To them this did: “An old lady was bitten on the end of the nose by a rattlesnake. The old lady recovered, but the snake died. Coroner's verdict, poisoned by snuff.” No wonder that the picture was varied and that I thought, “Thank God for a vigorous morsel alien to the mush-mouthed gasps of a standardized and money-throttled press.”

I came looking for the key to the early literature of Texas and I found the key to all of Texas, perhaps to most of life. I wondered what held all of this together and when I saw these lines and thought of Walt Whitman sprawled all over and through lives of the people I had the answer. Here it is right out of an early paper:

The live-oak trees grow here and thar,

The mezquit grass am every whar

Yes, it is the blades of grass that hold the soil of the earth together and make life on this earth physically possible. It is the “leaves of grass”—things of the spirit, be they homely or be they lofty—which make life above the level of the soil livable. In Texas the blades of mesquite (also spelled mezquite and muzquite) grass constituted one of the early civilizing factors. Perhaps you would like to share with me some of the “leaves of mesquite grass” found in these early newspapers. But a distinction should be made. To people of that time greatness meant “a man who was careful of his clothes, don't drink spirits, can read the Bible without spelling the words, and can eat a cold dinner on wash days, to save the wimmin folks the trouble of cooking.” Few of them were great, however, mostly they were just human. And a warning is necessary also.

Pioneer expression is like roasted buffalo sides before a fire in the woods; literature is like a meal prepared by a French Chef and served on a Chippendale table under a crystal chandelier. Pioneer expression is grub; literature is viands. If you don't like grub don't set your teeth into this roasted buffalo meat; it's tough! It is dished out without knife or fork by the men who actually ate on buffalo chips, who took a horn because it made them whoop, who breathed deeply because life was exuberant, and who were not afraid to be enthusiastic because of 18th century precepts and of scholarly warnings not to make unguarded statements. They had a “Texas Title” to what they wanted to say and that is: “A cabin and yourself in it, with a six-shooter. If the title needs confirmation, blow somebody's brains out.” That went for what they had to say, also.

II

People are inclined to think their own troubles are unusual. In 1841, the outcry was, “Well, now this is the Republic of Texas, and by and by, it will be the Republic of Taxes.” I have often thought we should have a Taxes, Texas, and although that 1841 complainer was thinking about the immediate future perhaps his deeper prophecy was for a century later.

Mesmerism was the fad of the day in 1856. About the time that the Know Nothing Party was a power over the land mesmerism was used to take a peep into the future by a contemporary individualist who was

Wild and wooly, full of fleas,

Never been curried above the knees.

What he saw caused him to break forth in a wild outburst. “Hush,” was the mild remonstrance, “such language will cost your head.”

“Is this not a free Republic?”

“No, it is a dependent principality.”

And prohibition in the 1850’s was no more successful than in the terrible Twenties. “Our county,” said an editor in 1854, “voted against the license law two to one, but it's no more trouble to get a brandy toddy or a whiskey cocktail now than it ’used to was’.” Nor was human nature in general different. One 1840 paper quotes from Major Jack Downing:

In the matter of fighting, there is one thing I always keep my eye on; and that is, to depend less on folks who say they are “ready to shed the last drop of their blood,” than on the folks who are ready to shed the first drop. Give a man eight dollars a day to make speeches in Congress, with the right of free postage, and you hear enough of the “last drop” matters; but when it comes to camp duty, and raw beef, and stale bread, and bagnet (bayonet) then the “first drop” folks have to stand the racket at eight dollars a month.

Life was hard during the pioneer days and belly-laughs had to be different then, for bellies were steel-hooped and not keg-jellied. People lived close to a soil and to a Nature that had to perform or else. When such things as a drought did come—as in 1855—belts were tightened and an editor wrote:

The book of Job is in reason, and Jeremiah's Lamentations increase in pathos…The man who sells cabbage, sells little heads. Hens lay bluebird eggs and all the hogs are pigs. Horses have dwindled down to colts and the cattle to calves. The loads of wood headed to town are crows nests and scarce any person can afford more fire than a single lucifer match a day. Farmers are going out to sell pop corn for large Tuscarosa. Whiskey venders deal out pond-water for rot-gut. Doctors never get a more complicated case than belly ache; and attorneys think themselves lawful children of Fortune if an eastern house sends them 6½ cent claims for collection.

And when the drought got worse and the farmer's pigs got so lean they would crawl through the cracks in the fence, he stopped that by “tying knots in their tails.”

Bolstering up the laughter was the ever-present doggery or grocery with its plentiful supply of different kinds of liquors, although, if contemporary evidence can be believed, it all came from the same barrel. When Uncle Sol had let the Yankee dentist inveigle him into having his teeth pulled, he said,

“I'll sell out, and go to the cross-timbers. I'm tired of settlements. I ain't got nothin’ but gums an’ it makes no difference, for one good swaller is worth two sets of teeth, anyhow.”

But mostly droughts did not come and this new land produced lushly, and with right good will the farmers bragged on their crops. One of them, living on the Trinity River, said,

“I have two fine boys who worked hard for this crop. I was in hopes when it was laid by, ther'd be some rest for them…” He looked away wistfully. “I reckon I was mistaken. When we send them for corn and I see them staggering under the weight of an ear, one at each end of it, I can't keep but feel sorry for them.”

In other places the ears grew so large they extended over the fence and stray stock ate off the ends. The farmer in Fayette county had a champion crop. His land was so distressingly rich that:

…his whole crop of corn withered in the early part of the season, because the ears, unluckily, commenced growing on so large a scale, that every stalk snapt off at the roots before the corn half matured. The farmer gathered his crop, but although the grains had shriveled up to half their original size, they were still so big and so hard that his horses and cows could neither bite them nor swallow them whole, so he turned in and built a stone fence out of them. The fence is still standing, and bids fair to become petrified in the course of time.

Other crops were in proportion. Captain James Lambright raised a gourd that was “sixty and one-fourth inches in circumference” and J. S. Ham counted 249 gourds on a single vine. When a South Carolina paper bragged about a stalk of cotton raised near Camden which has 220 bolls on it, the report was sneered at. Bexar County came back with the claim of 920 bolls on a mammoth stalk over six and a half inches in circumference.

But when it came to cabbages the claimant was treading on dangerous grounds. When the editor of the Nacogdoches Chronicle claimed a unique cabbage stalk (the description of which sounds like brussels sprouts, the editor of the Texas Monument freely admitted his rival was “the enviable possessor of the largest cabbage head in the State.”

And those who marvel at the Dionne quintuplets should read the early papers when people were both hardy and prolific. An 1851 Texas paper tells of a woman who had given birth to quintuplets only eighteen months after having twins. The Leon Pioneer of October 11, 1854, has the following:

A Litter of Babies.—A German woman passed through Dayton, Ohio, on the 1st, having with her six children, all born at the same time. They were six months old, small but sprightly. It is supposed that this case is almost if not quite unprecedented.

Boasters didn't always get away with their stories. Here is one example:

“I once saw a line of crows a mile wide, 25 miles long, and they was so thick you couldn't see the sun.”

“How long did you say that flight of crows was?” asked an unbeliever, very broad shouldered and pugnacious looking.

“Twenty-five miles, sir.”

“Don't believe it.”

“Well, now, look here,” said the crow man, as he looked at the huge proportions of the unbeliever, “you're a stranger here, and I don't want to quarrel, so rather than fight, if you are satisfied, I'll take off half a mile from the thinnest pins.”

Some of the tall tales had practical uses. This way to catch mice is one of them:

The Galveston Times says: to catch mice swallow a large piece of cheese, just at bed time, and go to bed with your mouth open. Soon the mouse you wish to catch, finding you asleep, will venture down your throat and feast on the cheese. When full he will be too bulky to get out without crowding, which will cause you to wake up in time to catch it with your teeth.

And some of them are informational:

The Star says that the Monitor has a notice of a Mexican woman being fried by some Americans, and afterwards eaten. This is said to have taken place in Tacubayo, from which place the head was sent to the Governor of the District. The Star is enquired of for information in relation to the matter; the editor says, “we cannot say that any Mexican woman has been fried, but we have incontestible proof that unos Americanos have been burnt.”

People who laughed like this and drank so heartily, could be expected to fight in the same way. Expressed in poetry, though it is, here is a typical fight:

They fit and fit,

And gouged and bit,

And struggled in the mud,

Until the ground,

For miles around,

Was kivered with their blood;

And a pile of noses, ears and eyes,

Large and massive, reached the skies.

Yes, this was a man's world and no mistake. Little Johnny Keen gave his version in 1853:

The Keen family, of the State of Texas, consisted of three girls and a boy—the latter only four years old. They were all setting round the fire one evening engaged in telling how far back they could recollect. One of the girls recollected when she had “a doll that winked with both eyes.” Another recollected when she was “a little baby at the breast, and Nancy tickled her feet.” Johnny Keen, who was the last and least of them, said he recollected “wuss than that!

“How wuss?” said all the girls in unison.

“Oh! I recollect three weeks before I'ze born, and how I cried all the time for fear I'd be a girl.”

But the girl had her side, too. When the Texas girl was asked, by the boy, after kissing her, why she was so sweet, her reply was,

“Oh, you see my father's a sugar planter.”

Backing up this regard for women, the Texan, when asked his opinion of a jug of whisky, said:

“It's like the juice of women's tongues and panther's hearts, for after drinking it I can talk forever and fight the devil.”

But other women were not so pleasant to their men. The Brownsville Galaxy of March 7, 1830, has this curious advertisement:

Whereas Fanny Morton, alias Kerr, has, without cause, left my habitation, and is floating on the ocean of tyranical extravagance, prone to prodigality, taking a wild-goose chase, and kindling her pipe with the coal of curiosity; to abscond and abolish such insidious, clandestine, noxious, pernicious, diabolical and notorious deportment, I therefore caution all persons from harboring or trusting her on my account, as I will pay no debts of her contracting from this date, unless compelled by law.

The man who complained that Texas had “more roads and harder ones to follow than any other country” he had ever seen, was sent unerringly on his way by these road directions:

“You see that road thar.”

“Yes, I see it.”

“Well, that road will take you right straight down, and narry fork, to Aunt Sall's, and she kin tell you the road to Uncle Bill's, and Uncle Bill kin tell you the way to Gran Dad's, and Grand Dad kin tell you the road any whar.”

He unquestionably would have recognized a Texas town by this description:

They have a little town in Texas which appears to have been overlooked by Dickens and other English travellers, and which is “all sorts of a stirring place.” In one day they recently had two street fights, hung a man, rode three men out of town on a rail, got up a quarter race, turkey shooting, a gander pulling, a match dog fight, and preaching by a circus (sic) rider, who afterwards ran a foot race for apple jack all around, and, as if this was not enough, the judge of the court, after losing his year's salary at single-handed poker, and whipping a person who said he didn't understand the game, went out and helped to lynch his grandfather for hog stealing.

And he certainly would not have been startled by the leave-taking of this man:

“Boy, run up stairs and bring down my baggage—hurry! I'm about moving,” said a tall Arkansas meat-axe looking fellow to one of the porters in a Texas Hotel.

“What is your baggage, massa, and whar he at?”

“Why, three pistols, a pack of cards, a Bowie knife, and a shirt. Yu'll find them all under my pillow.”

But then, when the landlord put him in the same room with this critter, nobody could blame him for sleeping in the stable:

“Wal, stranger, I've no objection to your sleeping with me, none in the least; but it seems to me the bed is rather narrow for you to sleep comfortable, considering how I dream. You see I'm an old trapper, and generally dream of shootin’ and scalpin’ Injuns. Where I stopped night afore last, they charged me five dollars extra, cause I happened to whittle up the head board in the night! But you can come, stranger, if you like, I feel kinder peaceable now; I think you'll get off in the morning with your scalp on, if you happen to keep your head.”

III

Perhaps these bits of early Texas humor may have created a taste for a fuller meal. If so, here are a few samples.

Love was as potent in pioneer days as it is now. When Jake Short cracked down to write Jemima his heart-pangs, “a love letter, as is a love letter” resulted. Unfortunately, he lost it between Austin and Georgetown, and a heartless ruffian found it and sent it in to a newspaper for publication. “Millions yet unborn,” as the editor said, may profit by reading it but poor Jake departed in shame for “Californy.”

Delicious Miss Jemima: What have you done to me! Ever since the “corn shucking” when I had you for a pardner for two “hoedowns” and a “double-shuffle,” I hain't had one good night's rest. Just as soon as I lay down and git the heading all fixed to my notion, and the kivering nicely tucked in, I begins right straight to think of you, an’ it ’pears to me I ken see you just as plain with them are black eyes of yourn, and them plump round cheeks, and soft pulpy lips, as if you was right clost to me sure enough. This makes me restive an’ oneasy, an’ I kicks an’ tumbles about till I gits into a cold sweat, an’ then when at last I do go off into a cat nap, I'm sure to wake up immediately with the kivering rolled up in a hard knot round my neck, an’ my nose stopped as tight as a bottle, an’ all the next day I am going about the house sneezing like a dog that has had his head hilt over tar and feathers for the distemper. I have gone off my feed entirely, and look as lean as a shad after spawning time. Even middling and white head cabbage (of which in gineral I am oncommon fond) aint nigh so satisfactory as they used to be afore I knowed you. Oh Jemima, Jemima, what have you done to me? Only this mornin’ Mammy made a whole lot of buck wheat cakes for breakfast, an’ as I'm powerful fond of ’em, I smeared a pile about as big as a hatters block with fresh butter and honey, but arter I had got ’em all fixed to my notion, I thought of them ar’ soft pulpy lips of yourn, an’ I couldn't have tuck a bite if it had been to save me. I tell you what, Jemima, when I leaves hot buck wheat cakes an’ honey without a considerable scuffle, you may depend ther's something or nother the matter with me sure. The other day my Mammy says to me, says she,

“Jake, I wish you would go to the cowpen an’ rope a gentle cow, an’ bring her to the door, as I want some warm milk right from the cow to give the baby that's teething.”

Well, off I goes, thinking of nothing but you all the time, an’ after a while I got back and out comes Mammy to milk the cow, but she stopt all of a sudden an’ says she,

“Jake, what on airth do you mean by bringing up that great beast here?” Sure enough when I turned round there stood the old work ox looking as innocent as if he had been used to give a gallon at a milking every day of his life. Only this very morning Mammy asked me to go in the truck patch an’ weed it out a little, so off I went, thinking of you all the time, and commenced slashing away among the beets and carrots and flower beds, when all at once I heern Mammy a screechin’ out like a sand hill crane; an’ sure enuf when I come to myself rightly, I found I had cut up all the old womans yarbs, allecimane and tansey, and every sprig of sage which she had been countin’ on strong for making sassenger at next hog-killing time.

“I do declare to goodness,” says Mammy, “if the boy hain't got the mazes, worse than when he had the fever an’ ager, an’ used to sit all day long on the sunny side of the house a flipping flies with a splinter.”

But I know it aint the mazes, for it all come to you, Jemima, an’, oh, Jemima, do tell what you have done to me!

I suspicioned strong at one time that you had gin me “love powders,” an’ so a few days ago, I went straight to Dr. Jimisons the Pothecary that lives at the corner, with the big blue bellied bottles in the winder, an’ I told him right up I wanted something to carry off the love powders somebody had give me. Well, he give me two bolusses [pills] about as big as malagy grapes an’ a good deal like ’em, an’ told me to take ’em just as I was going to bed and he be bound they'd give me easement. That very nite I tuck ’em both accordin’ to directions, an’ if you had give me love powders I'm sartin they must have carried ’em off, for every thing else was, an’ they made me so orful sick, that I'm free to confess I never thought of you onct till next morning arter my stomick had settled agin.

The only thing that ’pears to do me any good at all now a-days, is to loll about the shady fence corners round your daddy's farm, an’ watch you an’ your sister Sal a rompin’ in the yard, an’ when I see you skippin’ up an’ down like a young fawn an’ them ar’ beautiful curls of yourn streamin’ out behind, it does ’pear to me, if I was sure nobody was lookin at me, that I could knuckle right down an’ kiss the very tracks you make in the sand; an’ arter you goes back inter the house, it seems to me I haint got no strength to move, an’ I ginerally sits for a long time listening to the partridges an’ turtle doves a cooin’ an’ singin’ in the thickets (dod rot it, it used to be heap more fun to pop at ’em with my old double barrel) an’ the wind a moanin’ among the long leaf pines just like bugle horns an’ fiddles playing ’way up in the sky.

Oh, Jemima, do tell what you have done to me! Last night I dreamed to see myself a sittin’ with you in a nice hewed double log cabin, with a big gallery in front, all kivered with woodbine an’ clapboards, an’ a nice yard with a well in it, an’ a long sweep for the children to ride on, an’ a big ash hopper in the corner, an’ a tall pole with gourds hanging all ’round it for the martin to lay in, an’ you may depend I felt good; but when I woke up an’ found ’twant nothing but a dream, I bumped my head agin the wall till the floor was literally kivered with the daubin’, I jarred out the cracks. Ever since I seed you last Sunday walking arm an’ arm with Bob Sikes (the fust time I catch him I'll beat him till his hide won't hold shucks) it ’pears to me I don't care ’bout nothing—I don't care if the bay filly does lose her foal an’ gits beat the next quarter race she runs into the bargain—I don't care what becomes of the sow an’ pigs; an’ if the meat all spoils at hog killin’ time, ’twont make a red cent's difference to me—I don't care if the measles does get among the children an’ hooping cough to boot—an’ for two dimes I'd jest as soon cut stick an’ split for Californy as any other way.

Yourn till death,

JAKE SHORT.

The Texas Rangers deserve all that had been written about them. Here is a little sketch published in 1853 about this gallant band.

It is an exciting scene to witness a squad of old Texans show off their skill with Colt's repeater. Mounted on shaggy mustangs, or Spanish horses, or American nags, they will start from some point, fifty yards or so from the mark, which is generally a small tree, dash by it at full gallop, and raising the pistol, very frequently at arm's length, with the muzzle pointing upwards, bring it down with a peculiar jerk, which, as the rider's thumb is on the cock, aims the pistol, and almost at the same moment it is discharged, very rarely, indeed, without the object aimed at being struck, and on any spot that may have been previously selected. The horseman cocks, aims and fires this deadly weapon in this manner with singular rapidity and with an accuracy that is wonderful, considering how swift and irregular is his movement, and how brief the time he has for aiming.

Away he dashes, wheels, comes back at full speed, shouting and whooping, half leaning over his fiery steed's neck; the blue barrel points upward, down it comes with a rapid jerk; a sharp, rifle crack! and the tree is again perforated.

Each armed with one of these pistols, the old Texan Rangers fearlessly dashed in amid a troop of wild Comaches, armed with lances, bows and arrows and buffalo shields. A strange, thrilling sport would ensue. The Texan went at full speed, shouting and whooping and springing his horse from side to side, leaning over him so as to leave as little as possible of his own body exposed. The blue barrel glanced up and down and moved from right to left with dazzling swiftness—each Indian dodging, throwing up his shield, hanging to his horse's side and shooting arrows from under the animal's neck. The Texan never gave him time to stop to aim, or to aim properly while galloping on in this hurry-scurry group and skirmish. The Indians never could bear the sight of that long, slender steel barrel jerked suddenly at them. They knew by fatal experience how sure was the aim of the hand that held and eye that guided it. And if one did not know it, a sharp crack, over he went; and the lesson was taught, while the bearded ranger, with a loud shout, wheeled rapidly and darted at another victim.

It was by this sudden attack that the old Texans so often escaped defeat and obtained miraculous victories. Or in the melee, Colt's pistol ensured the command of the day. They then used principally the “five shooter,” as they termed it, the barrel of which was much lighter and longer and the cylinder smaller than those of the large, heavy “six shooters” now generally adopted, and which were first made by Colt for Hay's regiment of Rangers, during the Mexican War with the United States.

An amusing anecdote is related of a well known Ranger, who, in a desperate conflict that took place in the early days of the Republic between a small party of Texans and a large one of Comanches, was seen to careen boldly about the field on horseback, keeping in continual and rapid motion, now dashing at one Indian, then at another, yelling and whooping, lowering his “five shooter” right and left but never firing. The Texans finally gained the victory and the Indians “vamosed,” after suffering a severe loss.

Said the commander of the Rangers to our hero: “Billy, what in the d—–I were you doing, cavorting around, kicking up such a big splurge, and never hurting anything?”

“I was just bluffing, captain—that's all.”

“Bluffing?”

“Yes. You see, my ammunition give out, and I know'd the blasted red skins would find it out cussed soon if I didn't keep up a d—–I of a conbobberation. So I just run into every one of the blasted critters, and every time they see'd my five-shooter pointed at ’em, didn't they dodge under their horses’ bellies and throw up their shields. And may be I wasn't out of that chap's way in no time. He'd a seen I was doing nothing worth bragging about and I'd have had an arrow into my gizzard in a jiffy. So I just bluffed ’em, Captain.”

The phrase has become proverbial in Texas. The true, regular, far-famed Texas Ranger is a being fast becoming apocryphal. There are scores of individuals in the State who are called Rangers, but they are not of the original, genuine stamp. Three-fourths of them are “green-horns”; the others mostly “riff-raff, tag-rag, and bobtail.” The true Texan Ranger—he of the old sort—has resigned his honors, and retired to a peaceable life on his little farm. He was quiet, reserved, polite, well-informed, cool. Brave?…he could not have been otherwise. The modern Ranger is generally half-ignoramus, half-desperado. There are exceptions, of course. Here and there, scattered about in quiet nooks, you will come across the men of the olden time, of the time of hair-breadths escapes, bold forays, daring adventures, chivalrous combats, almost incredible feats of hardihood, skill, courage and endurance. They never “brag” of what they themselves have seen or done in those perilous days; but if you prove to be worthy of the honor, they will after a while relate to you what they have heard others tell and do. Now and then, you will find in some prominent planter, merchant, legislator, lawyer, or State officer, a relic of the old Ranger. But the race—a unique one—is disappearing. Death is conquering these buckskin costumed heroes and worthies.

Then there was that inevitable teller of anecdotes who always followed “every little ravelin that stuck out from the main thread of the discourse.” Here is one you'll enjoy.

“I say, Bob, did I ever tell you about our fight with the Ingines over on the Llano?”

“No,” said I, “I never heard of it.”

“Well! you see, it was in the last quarter of the moon, (Ingins most always commit their deviltries in the last quarter of the moon) in the year, let me see, yes it was the year 1838,—I know it was in 1838, because that was the year of the great overflow in the Colorado, I mind it well, for Uncle Thomas had nigh onto a hundred head of cattle drowned in the bottoms. You know Uncle Thomas don't you? He was one of the first settlers in this country—came out with Stephen F. Austin, and cut down the first stick of timber where the town of ’Nip and Tuck’ now is. ’Nip and Tuck’ you know is about thirty-five miles below here, and in my opinion is one of the likeliest towns this side of the Brazos. The people of that town, too, are mighty clever and sociable and I must say there is less friction among ’em, than you'll find in most of our cities. Everything goes on quiet and smooth, and take my word for it, Bob, ’Nip and Tuck’ is going to be (with the exception of ’Buck Snort,’ where I ’spose you know I own two lots) the largest city in the State of Texas. How queer, Bob, the ’State of Texas’ sounds to us old settlers, after hearing it called so long the ’Republic.’ Ah! well, I was in favor of annexation myself but still I can't help wishing for those ’good old times’ agin. Times, to be sure, are prosperous enough now, but then they aint half so lively as them used to be. Then it was first a bout with the Mexicans, then a bufferlo hunt, then a little scrape with the Injines, and then a…“

“But look here,” said I, “what about the fight with the Indians over on the Llano?”

“Oh, yes! well you see it was the last quarter of the moon, in the year 1838, I mind it well, for it was the same year of the big overflow of the Colorado, when a party of Comanches, so it was said, but for my part, I ’blieve they was Tonkewas, came down into the settlements on the north prong of the ’Stinking Blue,’ and stole every horse, mule, and colt there was on the diggins, (except one horse Jo. Sykes had locked up in a corn crib) and him they shot so full of arrows thru’ the cracks, that when he was hauled out on the prairie, nearly all the buzzards in the neighborhood put their eyes out picking at his carcase. Did you ever notice, Bob, how curious these varmits carry on, when they find a dead horse or ’cow brute’ on the prairie? They don't ’pitch in’ at once as an eagle or a wolf do, and eat what they want and be done with it, but they'll set for ever so long on the critter, moping and hanging down their heads, as if they was grieving for its death, but they ain't, for all at once you'll see ’em take a sly dig at the fellow's eye, and then shuffle off a few feet with a sort of ’half hammon hop’ as if they was ashamed of themselves, for doing it, (as of course they ought to be.) They never appear to me to take their meals with the least appetite (and no wonder neither) because…”

“But what,” said I, “about the fight with the Indians over on the Llano?”

“Ah yes! well you see, as I was saying, it was the last quarter of the moon of the year 1838, when a party of Injins came down into the settlement on the north prong of the ’Stinking Blue,’ and stole every critter they could lay their paws upon (except one they killed) and put off for their wig-wams in the mountains. I suppose they call ’em wig-wams, because they generally have so many sculps hanging up in ’em, that they look like a wig-maker's shop. Well, you see as the Injins had left us no horses to ride, some fifteen or twenty of us went over to Johnsing's settlement on ’Big Muddy,’ not far from where the town of Doe Bleat now is, and borrowed as many as would mount us tolerably well, and arter that it warn't long afore we were on the trail of the Injins. Did you ever foller a trail, Bob? No, well I can tell you it takes a cute feller to do it, just as sure as you are born. But I've often thought that some men have a ’natural turn’ for that sort of thing and some haven't. I've been with some men that couldn't foller a loaded wagon and six yoke of oxen, and then again I've been with others that I raly believe could foller a cut-tailed lizzard thro’ the thickest break on old Caney. If folks ain't born with a ’natural turn’ for trailing, and have what I call ’hog knowledge,’ they may live in the woods for ever and never know much about it. You see, sometimes when you are follerin’ Injins, they will scatter like a flock of partridges, and then come together agin a long way off, and then they'll take into the chapparal, (I suppose they calls ’em chapparal because they cuts up a chap's apparal so wretchedly that nothing but buckskin and an Ingin's hide can stand ’em), well as I was saying they'll take into the chapparals so thick that a lizzard can't crawl thro’ ’em without leaving most of his hide stickin’ to the thorns. Then agin…”

“But what,” said I, “about the fight with the Indians over on the Llano?”

“Ah, yes, well you see it was the last quarter…”

“Oh, never mind the moon,” said I, “and the flood, and Uncle Thomas’ cattle, and the other pre-liminaries.”

“Well, then, as I was saying, we followed it about 40 miles to the Neches, which we swam right up where the town of ’Neck or Nothing’ now is. And speaking of ’Neck or Nothing,’ Bob, it reminds me of a skeer that I had there not long ago. You see I was travellin’ and had stopped there to stay all night, and after supper I picks up a newspaper laying upon the table, just to while away the time. It was called the ’Squabbletown Era’ (Squabble-town is a little place on the other side of the Neches, right in front of ’Neck or Nothing’ and the first thing I saw—but I've got the papers in the house, I've kept ’em for curiosities, and you can read them yourself.”

And in went Uncle Josh, and in a few minutes returned with two little 8 by 9 sheets in his hand, one of which was the ’Squabble-town Era,’ and the other the ’Neck-or-Nothing Expositor.’ He handed me the former and directed my attention to the following paragraph, partially printed, for one half the letters were wanting, and many turned upside down.

Awful News from Neck or Nothing. We are credibly informed by late arrival from Neck or Nothing, ect., etc., that the cholera is raging there with great violence, at least an average of ten deaths daily. We would advise all strangers not to delay longer in that place than necessary, or at any rate to pass the nights in Squabble-town. We are happy to state that Squabble-town is perfectly free from the epidemic. Just below this, was the following:

Sad Casualty. We are informed that last evening about 8 o'clock, as Mr. Smith, a highly respectable citizen of this place, was walking along the street of Neck-or-Nothing he was suddenly precipitated into a gully about 25 feet deep, and sad to relate, broke both his legs short at the knees. We are told the streets of Neck-or-Nothing are in a deplorable state.

“Well, you may depend,” said Uncle Josh, “when I read that I was in a terrible pucker, and expected every moment to see some one tuck with the cramps, and drop right down before me, and I had just made up my mind to put off for Squabble-town, when a little chap come in with this other paper; and when you read what the editor says in that, you will see if I had gone to Squabble-town I would have ’jumped out of the frying-pan into the fire’.”

Here Uncle Josh handed me the ’Neck or Nothing Expositor,” in which was the following:

“We see it stated in the last number of the Squabble-town Ear[sic], with its usual regard for veracity and probability, that the cholera is raging in our midst with great violence. It is true there has been one or two sporadic cases, among the intemperate, and the poorer classes of immigrants, but the disease has never assumed anything like an epidemic form. If the editor of the Squabble-town Era would take the ’beam’ out of his own eye, before he makes such a ’to-do’ about the ’moats’ in other peoples’, it would perhaps be as well. In other words, he dwells largely upon the ravages of cholera in this city, but says nothing about the prevalence of small pox in Squabble-town; and yet we are credibly informed that fell disease exists there to an alarming extent—not carrying off perhaps as many as ten a day! for that would be an unheard-of-mortality out of so limited a population as that of Squabble-town. Strangers from the country may rest assured there is not the slightest danger to be apprehended in visiting ’Neck-or-Nothing’; the city was never more healthy—so we say, ’come one, come all,” and you will be welcomed as ever by the hospitable citizens of ’Neck-or-Nothing.’ Just below this, was the following:

“With its usual talent for perverting the truth, we see it stated in the “Era,” under the heading of “Sad Casualty,” that a Mr. Smith, a “highly respectable citizen of Squabble-town,” whilst walking our streets, fell into a gully and broke both his legs short off at the knees. Now, it is true that a Mr. Smith, a poor, drunken loafer, whilst under the influence of intoxicating drink, did wander out into the common, and tumble into a gully, whereby one of his ankles, we are told, was slightly sprained, and out of this meager material, the editor of the “Era” has manufactured a “sad casualty,” and a most outrageous slur upon the Hon. Mayor and Council of ’Neck-or-Nothing.’

“Well, you see, Bob,” said Uncle Josh, “there I was between two fires—balancing, as I may say, between pockmarks and the cramps; but finally I concluded to risk the cramps in place of the small-pox: for my present wife, you know, Bob, ain't by any means hearty, and I thought it would be best to save my good looks, for fear I might want to go a courtin’ agin. I have always noticed, Bob, when people know they don't stand exactly plum on their own pins, they are eternally picking at the foundations of other folks; and that is the reason, you see…”

“Yes, that is true enough, Uncle Josh,” said I; “but what about the fight with the Indians over on the Llano?”

“Oh, yes! well, as I was sayin’, we tuck the trail of the Ingins, and followed it to Snake creek, which we swum not far from where the town of “Lick-Skillet” now is; and about ten miles beyond there, we cum to the Llano (Thank God for that, says I) and the first thing we saw after we riz the bank on the other side, was about fifty of the yaller devils comin’ right down on us, screamin’ and yellin’ like so many prairie wolves. We lit from our horses and treed immediately; and just as I was drawin’ a bead on one of the foremost fellows, seven of the ugliest devils ’my blue eyes ever flashed upon,’ with nothing to kiver their nakedness except great splotches of white and black paint, were pointing their arrows right plum at me”…he paused. “Good gracious!” cried Uncle Josh, “if yonder ain't those plaguey cattle right into the truck patch agin, as sure as shootin,” and off he went after them at a 2-40 lick; and to this day, this is all I ever heard about “his fight with the Ingins over on the Llano!”

The “Harp of a Thousand Strings” sermon has been reprinted so many times it has become almost a part of American thinking. Here's a sermon that was delivered as a wife-recruiting exhortation by “a tall, raw-boned Saint,” with a complexion strongly resembling that of boiled tripe, who deemed his flock too small “to start Salt Lakeward.” His text was “Men is scarce and wimmin is plenty.”

Brethern and Sistern—pertickler the Sistern:—I want to say a few words to you about Mormonism—not for my own sake, but for yourn, for men is scarce and Wimmen is plenty.

Mormonism is built on that high old principle which says, it ain't good for men to be alone, and a mighty sight worse for a woman. Therefore, if a man feels good with a little company, a good deal of it ought to make him feel an awful sight better.

The first principle of Mormonism is, that women air a good thing; and the second principle is, that you can't have too much of a good thing. Women is tenderer than man, and it is necessary to smooth down the roughness of his character; and as man has a good many rough pints in his natur’, he oughtn't to give one woman too much to do, but put each one to work smoothin’ some partickler pint.

Don't think I'm over-anxious for you to jine us; for I ain't. I'm not speakin’ for my good, but for yourn: for men is scarce and wimmen is plenty.

I said women was tenderer than man; but you needn't feel stuck up about it, for so she ought to be; she was made so on purpose. But how was she made so? Where did she get it from? Why, she was created out of the side-bone of a man, and the side-bone of a man is like the side-bone of a turkey—the tenderest part of him. Therefore, as a woman has three side-bones, and a man only one, of course she is three time as tender as a man is, and is in duty bound to repay that tenderness of which she robbed him. And how did she rob him of his side-bone? Why, exactly as she robs his pockets now-a-days of his loose change—she took advantage of him when he was asleep.

But as woman is more tender than man, so is man more forgiviner than woman; therefore I won't say anything more about the sidebone, or the small change, but invite you all to jine my train, for I'm a big shepherd out our way, and fare sumptuously every day, on purple and fine linen.

When I first landed on the shores of Great Salt Lake, I wasn't rich in wimmin; I had but one poor old yoe; but men is scarce and wimmin is plenty, and like a keerful shepherd, I began to increase my flock. Wimmin heard of us and of our lovin’ ways, and they kept a pourin’ in. They come from the North, and they come from the South; they come from the East, and they come from the West; they come from Europe; they come from Aishey, and a few of ’em from Afrikey; and from bein’ the miserable owner of one old yoe, I become the joyful shepherd of a mighty flock, with a right smart sprinklin’ of lambs, friskier and fatter than anybody else's—and I've still got room for a few more.

As I said before, I'm not talkin’ in pertickler for my benefit, but for yourn—for men is scarce and wimmin is plenty. Still, I'd a leetle rather you'd go along with me than not—pertickler you fat one with the caliker sunbonnet. Don't hesitate, but take the chance while you can get it, and I'll make you the bell yoe of the flock. I'll lead you through green pastures and in the high grass; show you where you may caper in the sunshine, and lay down in pleasant places; and, as you are in pretty good condition already, in the course of time you shall be the fattest of the flock. Jine in, jine in; jine in my train; jine it now—for men is scarce and wimmin is plenty.

The appeal was irresistible. At the last account “the fat woman with the caliker sunbonnet” had “jined in,” and two or three others were on the fence, with a decided leaning toward the “keerful shepherd!”

Life then had manifestations which were strongly like those today. Here is a description of a dance in the 1850’s which sort of makes the jitterbugs copycats:

The Somersetski is the name of a new dance which bids fair to knock the Waltz, the Mazourka, the Polka, the Rodora, and the Scottish, into a cocked hat. This last named dance is by far the most ridiculous affair that was ever participated in by sane people. We never see it without thinking of a gander balancing himself on one leg, and nodding affectionately and armorously on his favorite goose. But from all accounts, the Somersetski is the dance of the age. It is danced by four persons—two gentlemen and two ladies. The ladies are dressed in a frock reaching up to the knee, and the contrivances are of stockinet, fitting as close as possible to the skin. One lady wears a white and black stocking, and the other wears a green and a red. The gentlemen are dressed in shorts, their stocking of pink and purple colors. The dance begins by the gentlemen turning somersets over the ladies, after which the ladies turn somersets over the gentlemen, and then the whole party turn somersets over each other, rapidly, promiscuously, and miscellaneously. During this last movement, the performers, with their variegated costumes, present all the changes of the kaleidoscope.

But it was left to Captain Kratz to indubitably place Texas ahead of the world! Here is the record. The Texas Monument for February 15, 1854, copies this out of the Washington Ranger:

Married—January 11th, by J. R. Hines, esq., Capt. Kratz, aged 83 years, to Miss Eliza Horns, all of Washington County.

On the day following, Mrs. K. had born a fine, likely boy. Mrs. K. and the boy are both doing well, and the Captain has a smile for every one he meets. The boy has been named Jerome Bonaparte Robertson Kratz!

Then the Monument quotes this from the Victoria Advocate without comment:

Well done, Captain Kratz! We are glad to learn that the gallant captain is still alive, about to hand down his renowned name to posterity. He was for many years a resident of Victoria. When the party of Comanches that burned Linnville in August, 1840, made their appearance in the vicinity of Victoria, they met Capt. Kratz on the prairie, a mile from town. The Capt., taking them for friendly Lipans, approached the leader of the expedition with his blandest smile, reaching out his hand, and exclaiming,

“Goot evening mine friendt!”

The chief struck him down with a spear, and several shot arrows into him, then they stripped off most of his clothes, and left him, as they supposed, dead. The captain saw another party of Indians at some distance, approaching, and with great presence of mind, pretended to be dead. This party stripped him of his remaining apparel, and unfortunately, observing upon his finger a splendid gold ring, which was too small to be easily taken off, they were about to amputate the finger, when the captain forgot himself and pulled the ring off and handed it to them. Far from being grateful to the captain for his generosity and the trouble he had saved them, this party also pierced him with their spears until they supposed [they] had finished him. But the captain was made of sterner stuff. After the savages had left, though very weak from the loss of blood, he contrived to crawl upon his hands and knees, with several arrows still sticking in his body, about half way to town, when he was discovered, taken to town, and properly attended to. He recovered, and went to Washington county; which was the last we had heard of him until we saw the above notice.

We wish him joy with his fast frau.

And to you, you will find fast joy—most as fast as the good Captain found his son—if you will seek out “leaves of mesquite grass” in the old Texas newspapers.

Next Chapter

Dancing Makes Fun

Additional Information

ISBN
9781574410990
Related ISBN
9781574410990
MARC Record
OCLC
45885580
Pages
63-81
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.