Don’t Mess With Texas: Lone Star State

“Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son, a man had to answer for the wicked he done. Take all the rope in Texas, find a tall oak tree, round up all the bad boys, and hang them in the streets for all the people to see. “

Toby Keith

Some days the winds blow ferociously in the Lone Star State. They remind me of a Texas Longhorn, anxious to perpetuate his lineage but finding no cows grazing in his pasture. The northers come rip snortin’ across the dusty plains, howling like banshees high on the peyote that grows alongside the prickly pear and among the mesquite groves of South Texas. Those winds uproot the tumbleweeds up around the Panhandle near communities with names like Muleshoe, Goose Neck, and Lone Wolf. The crisp, dried bushes dance along the dark, lonely highways like ghosts pirouetting in the moonlight. Generously gifted to Texas from Russia’s northern steppes, the tumbleweeds startle and frighten the sleep deprived, long-haul truckers, those who pull the heavy loads filled with everything from beans and bacon, to Tony Lama boots, Stetson hats, and Samsung big screens, thus ensuring the success of United States capitalism.

 

 

Bonnie and Clyde, Rattlesnake Rodeos, and Fried Catfish

Even those prehistoric beasts, the armadillos, wisely take cover when the northers come calling. Rattlesnakes coil by the thousands in the caves up around Mother Neff State Park, where for each blade of grass there appear to be at least a million stones, and over in Sweetwater harvesting those dangerous reptiles has become a season for celebration. Visitors from all around make plans to attend yearly rattlesnake rodeos with all their accompanying hoopla.

 

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Mother Neff is widely known as location of the 1930’s sightings of those notorious outlaws, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. My Uncle Tommie spotted the husband and wife crime team over near The Grove, only a few miles away from the park and not far from the original home place of my mother and father’s families, the Vaden and Brown clans. At least, that is what my mother and cousin Nina, the youngest daughter of my Uncle Tommie, told me, and I don’t recall either of them ever lying. Mother Neff is also famous for the Leon River which winds through it like a crusted, old diamondback seeking a place to shelter from the ever-present heat. That sleepy body of water is rich in catfish, a Texas favorite when deep-fried to a golden brown and surrounded by crunchy hush puppies loaded with shredded onion.

 

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Ancient Inhabitants of Texas

On other days, Texas’ breezes are less vicious, caressing one’s skin like a familiar lover. They murmur long forgotten tales of yore. Those legends are different for each of us. It seems that what we hear depends on our place of residence, knowledge of history, interests, or even our current state of mind. One imagines hearing voices around the campfires as echoes from our Lone Star State’s past sweep across the dusty, monotonous plains. Ghosts of the once numerous native tribes seem to haunt the state –  the Karankawas of the Gulf Coast, the Lipan and Mescalero Apaches of eastern and western Texas, the Tonkawa of Central Texas, and other aboriginals who once roamed throughout this vast, thirsty land where people are known for their rugged independence.

 

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San Antonio River Walk

In San Antonio, down near the Mexican border, the Guadalupe River has been tamed. Around it, a tourist mecca known as the River Walk has emerged. Mariachi music fills the atmosphere with vibrant Mexican melodies, creating an intoxicating ambiance which resonates deeply with those who seek to experience a taste of Mexico. Musicians don wide-brimmed sombreros and sport tight-fitting, traditional charro suits trimmed with colorful embroidery. With their dark skin glistening beneath the southern sun, they roam among visitors, strumming their five-stringed guitar, the vihaula, and playing stirring melodies as they serenade passersby. Couples shaded beneath umbrellas chat leisurely as they sip salty margaritas made of Mexican tequila and munch on chips dipped in salsa rich with mouth-burning jalapenos. Others relax on the riverboat cruises which drift lazily along the five-mile route which the Guadalupe takes as she wanders placidly through downtown San Antonio.

 

San Antonio, Texas River Walk

San Antonio, Texas River Walk

 

The River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

The River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

 

The Guadalupe River, San Antonio, Texas

The Guadalupe River Flowing through the  San Antonio, Texas River Walk

 

Mariachi Band

Mariachi Band Provides a Taste of Mexico to the San Antonio River Walk

 

The Alamo and Texas’ Old Spanish Missions

“You can go to Hell. I’m going to Texas.” (Davy Crockett.)

Only a few steps from the River Walk, thousands of visitors each year visit the Franciscan mission, San Antonio de Valero, which is most commonly known as the Alamo. It is a site of significant historical interest to tourists. There, in 1836, Colonel Jim Bowie, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis, and Tennessee’s folk hero, Davy Crockett, altered the course of Texas history. With their flint-lock muskets loaded, they fought to their deaths in a bloody confrontation with Mexico’s General Antonio López de Santa Anna in the defense of San Antonio de Valero. The defenders war cry, “Remember the Alamo,” reverberated throughout our land, leading to Mexico’s eventual defeat by Sam Houston’s forces at the Battle of San Jacinto and, thus, ending the Texas Battle for Independence.

 

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Outside the city, visitors to San Antonio can experience remnants of Texas’ past when the state was a part of Mexico. Four intriguing Spanish missions, Concepción, San Juan Capistrano, San Jose, and Espada, constructed during the 18th Century for the purpose of keeping the Apache Indians at bay, provide a peek into the mission life of Old San Antonio.

 

Spanish Mission Concepción, San Antonio, Texas

The Spanish Mission Concepción, Built to Keep the Apache at Bay, San Antonio, Texas

 

 

Spanish Mission Espada, San Antonio, Texas

Springtime at the Spanish Mission Espada in San Antonio, Texas

 

 

Interior of Spanish Mission Concepción, San Antonio, Texas

The Interior of the Spanish Mission Concepción in San Antonio, Texas

 

 

Spanish Mission Espada, San Antonio, Texas

The Massive Stone Walls of the Spanish Mission Espada in San Antonio, Texas

 

Cowboys, Rodeos, and Hell’s Half Acre

 

Down south, Texas drovers mounted on mustangs moved their massive herds of Longhorn mavericks to North Texas before crossing over the Red River on their way to the Abilene, Kansas’ stockyards by way of the famed Chisholm Trail. It was due to the skills those drovers learned on the cattle drives, as well as to the horsemanship taught to ranch hands by the Spanish missionaries, that one of Texas’ most enduring events, the rodeo, evolved. Now a multimillion dollar sport, the rodeo encompasses competitions such as bare-back riding, barrel racing, and bull riding. These sporting events can be seen in most of Texas’ major cities when the summer heat subsides in the fall. Rodeos were influential in mythologizing the American West with its rugged, lonesome cowboy whose constant companion was his faithful horse and whose safety depended on a holstered Colt 45 pistol at his side.

 

 

Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns Plodding Through What Was Once Known as “Hell’s Half Acre

 

Bar in "Cowtown": Fort Worth, Texas Stockyards

Bar in Fort Worth, Texas Stockyards

 

Farther north, Sam Bass and his gang of brigands held up Union Pacific trains in the territory known today as the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex. Bass met his demise in a gun battle with the famed Texas Rangers near Round Rock. As for the nearby city of Fort Worth, which was commonly known by Texans of that era as “Cowtown” and by ranchers as “Hell’s Half Acre,” the Fort Worth Stockyards made a lot of Texans wealthy, while up near Beaumont Old Spindle Top, producing up to a 100,000 barrels of oil (“Texas Tea”) each day, made a lot of Texans even more wealthy.

However, for folks who grew up in the early days of Texas, life was not alway easy and most did well to keep food on the table. An article, published by a local newspaper and written by mother, Edith Winona Vaden Brown, who was born in the early 1900s,  tells the story of the common folks’  cattle drive.

 

Round Em’ Up and Head Em’ Out

The chill winds from the north sent the angry, gray rain clouds scudding across the early morning sky. The drivers of the two wagons, which were loaded to capacity with farm tools and household goods, eyed the threatening clouds with concern, for their destination lay some twenty-odd miles away. A long journey was to be covered by heavily loaded wagons, each pulled by two mules, and the dirt road ahead was strewn with rocks and dense underbrush on each side. It was a long day’s drive in good weather, and of course there were the cattle to consider.

My fourteen-year-old brother Tommie was to start the several head of cattle, along with a number of young calves, on the long drive. He was to be met on the way by our oldest brother Bunk, who was at this time living above Neff Park with the Quince King family. The plan was for Bunk, riding his own saddle horse and bringing an extra pony for Tommie, to meet the herd near the Pecan Grove area and help drive the cattle on to The Grove.

My father told Tommie to start the cattle on the way, and the wagon would follow. Thus, began the cattle drive. Fresh and enjoying the freedom of the open road ahead of them, the driver of the cattle soon outdistanced the loaded wagons. In fact, it would be many long hours later before Tommy would again see the wagons.

The herd of cattle posed no problem until they reached the vicinity of Pecan Grove and Tommie had to turn them onto the road that led to the little town of Mound. Bunk had failed to make contact, and Tommie still had no horse to ride. Every time the herd would pass other cattle grazing in the pastures near the road, the calves would break away and try to mingle with the grazing cattle. Often times, if the fences were bad, they would succeed, and Tommie would have to run through the woods, rocks, and brush to chase them back to the road.

Lunch time came and went. There was still no wagons, which meant Tommie had to continue on foot.  After passing through Mound without mishap, the next little town was Leon Junction. Except for the calves, who were still trying to join every bunch of grazing cattle they came near, the herd made  good progress, and once through Leon Junction and the road that led to The Grove, Tommie breathed a sigh of relief.

By early afternoon, the leaden sky lived up its  promise, and a fine drizzle or mist started falling. Before long, boy, cattle, and the road ahead were feeling the effects of the moisture. The black dirt road had become muddy, and Tommie and the cattle had become damp and chilled. The next few miles were muck, in very miserable circumstances. Tired, cold, and hungry, the group slogged over the long miles, and all the time they never saw any vehicle or human except when they had passed through the small towns.

The calves were still trying to join each bunch of cattle that they passed, and Tommie was constantly driving them back to the roadway. The older cows had slowed their pace, and the last part of the way slowed to a snail pace.

It was getting dark when the herd was driven on the road that leads from The Grove to Neff Park, the same road on which a few months later Tommie would have a face-to-face confrontation with the infamous outlaws, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

A short time later, Tommie opened the gate to the pasture that would be home to the cattle for the next three years. As he was pushing the last cow to pasture, he was approached by a kind neighbor, Mann Neatherin, who was a friend from Tick Hill days. Mann invited him to share a hot meal with the Neatherlin family, but Tommy refused the tempting offer as he wished to be at the empty house when the wagons arrived.

It was quite a while before my father and uncle drove the team with the loads up to the farm-yard and explained their delay. On reaching the wooden bridge at Leon Junction, the constant drizzle had made the bridge so slick that the animals could not pull the wagons across because the mules kept slipping on the planking. The wagons had to wait for sand to be put on the bridge before the crossing could be made.

Short work was made unharnessing and feeding the mules after the wagon arrived. Then, a big, old cast iron cook stove was set up. My father cooked food for the hungry group, and soon after eating, mattress were unloaded and spread on the bare floor. Tommie now recalls food never tasted so good or a bed provided such blissful comfort.

It had been quite a day for a fourteen-year-old. A cattle drive made alone and on foot, with no food or water, in a drizzle of rain to boot.

 

Tick Hill School, The Grove, Texas

Edith (first child on bottom right) and Tommie Vaden (second child on second row, left)  at Tick Hill School.

 

Don’t Mess With Texas

Folks in Texas eat their chili piping hot with peppers, slow cook their barbecue over mesquite, and drive pickup trucks sporting bumper stickers which warn, “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Although there are some who equate this slogan with arrogance, the fact is that it was originally created as a part of a campaign to keep the Lone Star State free of litter.

 

The Six Flags Which Have Flown over The Lone Star State

Six flags, each representing a sovereign country, have flown over the state: Spanish, French, Mexican, Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate. The citizens of Texas cherish their God, their families, and a unique culture inherited from their forefathers, and they will not hesitate to tell you so in a slow, Southern drawl which is a natural part of their persona. Texas was the land of my birth. It served as home to my ancestors and will continue to do so for my descendants. No matter where I roam, part of me is always left behind in Texas.

 

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas

 

 

Texas in the Spring

Texas in the  Spring

 

Suggested Resources

The Ballad of the Alamo by Marty Robbins

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

Fort Worth Stockyards 

The Alamo

San Antonio River Walk

Old Spanish Missions of San Antonio

Texas History Timeline