Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Casey Jones

Today we feature a portrait of Casey Jones. To be honest with you, I did not know that Casey Jones was a real person . . . I had always heard that old train song about him, but thought it was just a made up story, but come to find out, it was detailing the story of a real person.
Casey Jones died on this date, April 30, in the year 1900 in Vaughan, Mississippi. He was the engineer on an Illinois Central passenger train between Memphis and Vaughan. The train was running behind schedule when he got his orders, and he always prided himself on arriving on time. He worked all night to get his train back on schedule. By about 3:30 AM he had managed to get the train to within a few minutes of being on time. As he was approaching Vaughan, he noticed that a train had been left on the tracks, right in his path. Casey refused to jump from the cab of the train, and held one hand on the whistle and one hand on the brake to do his best to get the train stopped before impact. He was able to slow his train down to about 30 MPH, but it did crash into the parked train. Because of Casey's heroic efforts to slow the train, there were no fatalities among the passengers. Casey was the sole fatality in the wreck. Legend has it that when they removed Casey's remains from the wreck, they found one hand still tightly wrapped around the brake, and the other clutching the whistle cord.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ranch Hands

This photo was taken in 1903 on the JA Ranch in Texas. It shows cowboys breaking camp. I love these old cowboy pictures. Most ranch work today is done from pickups and 4-wheelers. I think horses are more for recreation than for real work these days.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Newspaper Boy

This picture was taken in 1910, and shows a newspaper boy in Wilmington, Delaware. The boy is 12 years old, and makes 20 cents a day. He has a second job on some days, working in a candy shop.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bathing Beauty

Today I feature a picture of, Gasp . . . my Mom. The photo was taken in 1949. Personally, I think the photo is a little Risque, particularly for 1949. I mentioned in a post a while back that she once wore a 1910's bathing suit to the beach, and took her pet monkey along. A photographer for a San Antonio newspaper saw her at the beach, took her picture in the old swimsuit with the monkey, and then the picture ran in the newspaper. I guess the picture generated a lot of attention, so they contacted her and asked if she would have a new picture taken, this time with the monkey, and a modern bathing suit. Then they ran the pictures side-by-side, showing her in the new and old bathing suits.

Luckily, after this little lapse of judgement and modesty, my mom got straightened out, and led a productive and decent life.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boston Corbett

Boston Corbett was born in England, and his family migrated to the United States in 1839. He worked as a hatter in Troy, New York. He married, but lost his wife, who died during the birth of their first child. He then joined the Army with the outbreak of the Civil War. He became a sergeant, and served his country well. He had a peculiar habit of adding "er" to the end of all of the words he spoke, and was a person who would chastise his superiors when he felt their actions warranted correction. He was once arrested for publicly chastising General Butterfield for swearing. Hence, he was almost always in trouble with the army. He was part of a battle in 1864 near Culpepper, Virginia. His unit was surrounded by Rebel Cavalry. He alone, refused to surrender, and continued to fight single-handedly against the Rebels. He was captured by the Gray Ghost himself, Colonel John S. Mosby. Mosby was so impressed with Corbett's bravery, he ordered that he not be shot, and offered Corbett his sincere admiration for his bravery and gallantry. Corbett was sent to the infamous Andersonville Prison. He would later testify against Henry Wirz, the Andersonville Jailer, who was hung for his brutal treatment of prisoners.
It was on this day, April 26, in the year 1865 that Boston Corbett shot and killed a man in Richard Garrett's tobacco barn in Virginia. Who was the man he shot, you ask . . . it was John Wilkes Booth, who had assassinated President Lincoln a few days earlier.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Admiral Farragut

Today we feature a portrait of Admiral David Farragut. He is perhaps best remembered for this quote, "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead". This quote was made during the battle for Mobile Bay, when ships were being destroyed by rebel mines in the bay.

It was on this day, April 25, in the year 1862, that Farragut captured New Orleans in the Civil War.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Woolworth Skyscraper

This picture shows the Woolworth Skyscraper, which was opened on this day, April 24, in the year 1913. The building is 57 stories tall, and still stands today.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Women Workers

This picture shows women working in the War Effort in World War II. With a large segment of the male population serving in the military, women stepped up and filled many jobs formerly considered as a man's work. Throughout World War II, women demonstrated that they could perform a variety of trades and professional jobs. When the men returned from war, many of the women remained in the workforce.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Robert McGee

Today we feature a picture of Robert McGee. The picture was taken in 1890. As a child, Robert McGee was scalped by Indians. He is the only person I am aware of who survived the horrific experience of being scalped.

Robert was the son of emigrants. In 1864, Robert and his family decided to migrate west, as was the custom of many emigrants of the day, to seek a better life. The family joined a wagon train heading to Leavenworth, Kansas. Somewhere on the trail, Robert's parents died, and he was left an orphan. Others on the wagon train cared for Robert on the trail. Once they reached Leavenworth, Robert, a mere child, was left to fend for himself. At the time, the government was in desperate need of men for the army to protect the overland trail to Santa Fe. Robert applied to join the army, but he was not accepted, because he was too young. Desperate for work, Robert took a job with a freight company to take supplies to Fort Union in New Mexico. In July of 1864 the freight company had a wagon train leave Fort Leavenworth bound for Fort Union, and Robert was one of the teamsters working on this wagon train. Because of the dangers on the trail, the wagon train had a US army escort. The wagon train traveled on the Lonesome Trail. Along the way, the group had several minor skirmishes with Indians, but because of the army escort, there were no significant problems.

On July 18, the wagon train arrived in the vicinity of Fort Larned. The teamsters let their guard down, and became careless. They assumed that because of their proximity to the fort, their would be no problems, and they ended up camping about a mile from their army escort. At about 5 in the afternoon, the camp was attacked by 150 Sioux under the command of the chief Little Turtle. The men were caught completely off guard, and the group was slaughtered.

Robert was the sole survivor of the slaughter, and he remembered the details of the ordeal. Robert had been dragged by some of the Indians to Chief Little Turtle. The chief first knocked him down with a lance, and then shot him with a revolver. The chief then shot him through with two arrows, to pin him to the ground, and then scalped him. As each of the Indians passed him, they beat and stabbed him, and then he was left for dead.

The army at the nearby post heard that there were Sioux in the area, so they sent out a patrol to check things out. The patrol reached the scene of the slaughter about 2 hours after it occurred. They were shocked to see the carnage, and even more shocked to see that Robert was still alive. He was taken to Fort Larned, where the post surgeon treated his injuries. Amazingly, Robert recovered from his wounds. He lived, even though he no longer had a scalp. It is hard for me to even understand how a person could live out there life in such a fashion, but Robert did, as evidenced by the picture above, which was taken some 25 years after the event. Unfortunately, I was not able to determine other events of Robert's life after the ordeal, other than he survived.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Friend Goya

This is a picture of my friend Goya. She lived on the ranch I grew up on, about a quarter mile from my house. I mentioned her in a post a few weeks ago . . . she was the woman that scooped me up trying to save me when the butane truck was about to explode. She was a real sweet lady, and we loved her dearly. Now, before you send me ugly email about why she had to live in such a run down house, understand the house we lived in was not much better.

I am convinced that Goya just might have been the greatest cook that ever lived. Her tiny little house had a tiny little kitchen . . . just room for a little two burner propane stove and a sink. That little kitchen turned out food worthy of the world's best restaurants. She did the best she could to grow most of her food. She had a garden, chickens, and always was raising a pig, feeding it the scraps left over from her table. She could turn these things she grew into the most wonderful food you ever tasted. I would wander by her house just about every day, and she would be making flour tortillas. She would always give me one right off the griddle. I have never had any bread that tasted that good. After eating those, I was never able to eat store bought ones, which taste like cardboard, after eating hers. Her most famous dish though was her Tamales. They were something like you have never had in your life (I made a WEB site about her Tamale Recipe, if you want to give it a try yourself some time. You will be happy if you do).

Goya always had chickens, and we had chickens sometimes. One day my dad wanted to try something different, so he decided to get some peacocks. Now you can not just go out and buy peacocks, but he was able to get peacock eggs. Well, we did not have an incubator or anything like that, so we were going to have to hatch them the old fashioned way, under a chicken. Someone told my dad that you could not hatch them under a normal chicken, because chickens can in fact count, and know that it takes 21 days to hatch a chicken egg. After sitting on eggs 21 days normal chickens will give up, and get on with their life. Peacock eggs take about 29 days to hatch. What they told him was that there was one type of chicken, a bannie, that will not give up, and will keep sitting on eggs, and that if he would get some bannies, they would hatch his peacock eggs. So he gets him some bannies. They are funny little chickens. They are like miniature chickens about half the size of a normal chicken. The funny thing was that the peacock eggs are huge, and the bannies are tiny, so he only set one egg under each bannie. Well, he got things set up out in the chicken house, and the bannies went to work sitting on the peacock eggs. Sure enough, day 21 comes and goes and the bannies dont give up. They stick with it, and on day 29 the peacocks hatch. The peacocks grew fast, and after about a week the peacocks were about twice as big as the bannies. The peacocks thought the bannies were there mamas, and the bannies thought the peacocks were their babies. It was funny to watch those little bannies strut around the barnyard with those huge gangly peacock babies following behind them. Those little bannies were sure proud of their huge babies, and they were gaining social status among the other chickens with each day that passed.

Well the peacocks grew up pretty fast and became interesting pets. Early in the morning, you could look out the window and see the peacocks strutting around. The male birds would fan their enormous feathers out creating an incredible display of colors. They also made this incredibly loud calling noise as they pranced around. I found it charming. Goya found it annoying. They would make these displays early in the morning, and the noise annoyed Goya, who would have prefered to have a little extra sleep in the morning, and did not appreciate this 5 AM wake up call each morning. This was really only the first area of tension between Goya and the peacocks. The peacocks are free ranging birds. They stay close to home, but wander around a lot. They developed the habit of getting up on her porch, and taking care of their business. Big birds leave a big mess behind, and Goya did not like finding all the peacock poop on her porch. They would also fly up and get on her roof, making a big noise as they ran across her tin roof, and leaving a big mess on her roof as well. Things continue to go down hill, and they start getting in her garden, and scratching around, and making a mess of that. Well, she starts complaining to my dad, but there was not much he could do, since peacocks sort of go where they want, and there was not much way to teach them to leave Goya alone.

So, there was a little bit of tension developing between us, Goya, and the peacocks.

Then, I remember this one day that Goya brought us a batch of her famous tamales. I can remember eating those tamales for supper, and we all commented that those were the best Tamales she had ever made. The meat was leaner than usual, and more firm. We all commented that they were the best Tamales we had ever had.

It is funny, I remember two things about that day. The first is, I had the best Tamales I had ever eaten. The second thing is that that was the day all of our peacocks mysteriousely disappeared, never to be seen again . . .

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Will Roberts

Today we feature a picture of Will Roberts. He was a train robber in the late 1800's and went by the name "Dixon". I believe that he might have rode with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, but I am not for sure that this is the same Will Roberts. This photograph was distributed to Pinkerton Agents who were searching for the outlaw.

Friday, April 18, 2008

San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

It was on this day, April 18, in the year 1906 that a major 7.8 earthquake hit San Francisco. The event led to a "Perfect Storm" of a disaster. The earthquake destroyed a large number of buildings in the city. The earthquake also broke natural gas lines, which led to fires which burned for four days. The quake also broke water lines, which made fighting the fire almost impossible. In a desperate attempt to control the fire, the fire department began dynamiting buildings in an attempt to create a fire line. This action actually started more fires. Looters moved in, and orders were issued to shoot looters on sight. Some 500 looters were shot. Desperate citizens started campfires in the streets, and some of those sparked additional fires. In the end, it is estimated that 80% of the city was destroyed, thousands of people died, and about a quarter million people were left homeless.
It is sort of eerie to think how normal the day started. People were going about their business without a clue that their entire life was about to be turned upside down. It just reminds me of how important it is to cherish every day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oliver Curtis Perry

Today we feature a picture of Oliver Curtis Perry. He is remembered as the first person to rob a train solo. There had been many train robberies before Perry's, but they had always been done by teams or gangs. He pulled off the robbery in 1891 in New York. He got on the train in Utica, New York. He positioned himself behind the express car, and after the train left the station, he bored holes into the door of the train car, to get it open. Upon entering the car, he got the drop on the express guard, Burt Moore, and stole $5,000 in loot. This would be over $100,000 in today' dollars. As the train slowed as it approached the Utica station, Perry jumped off and made off with the money.

No one believed Burt's story, that the train was robbed, and he was fired. Perry pretty much got away with this robbery. It was easy money, and he burned through it pretty fast. Then in 1892, he thought he would try again. This time he jumped onto the ladder of the money car as a train left the station in Syracuse. He had a rope, and fixed it to the top of the money car. He held onto the rope, and then swung, and crashed through the window of the car. He caught the express agent off guard, and shot him several times. The guard was able to pull the alarm whistle cord, and alert the conductor that there was trouble. The train was stopped, and other crewmembers on the train came into the express car. Perry pulled his gun on them, and told them to get the train moving. One of the crew escaped, and warned authorities about the robbery. When the train pulled into the Port Byron station, armed men were waiting for him. He jumped off that train, and then attempted to make his escape by stealing a nearby locomotive. Authorities chased him in another train. The problem with attempting a getaway in a stolen locomotive is that it is sort of conspicuous, if you know what I mean, and you don't have too many options as far as your escape route goes. He ended up abandoning the train, escaping on foot. He stole several horses from some farmers as he tried to allude the law. It was actually the farmers, irate over having their horses stolen, that captured him in a field as he was sleeping.

The good news is that after he was captured, and the overall facts were put together, the original express guard, Burt Moore was cleared of wrongdoing in the original robbery.

Perry was convicted of the robberies, and died in prison in 1930.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Gunfighter Bat Masterson

Today we feature a picture of the noted Old West gunfighter Bat Masterson. Bat was a colorful figure who was an army scout, gambler, buffalo hunter, frontier lawman in Dodge City, and eventually a US Marshall. He was friends with Wyatt Earp, and had visited Wyatt in Tombstone, Arizona shortly before the showdown at the OK Coral. Later in life, after the West had been tamed, he settled in New York City, and worked as a sportes editor for the New York Morning Telegraph.

It was on this day, April 16, in the year 1881 that Bat Masterson fought his last gunfight, in Dodge City Kansas.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tax Day

Today is April 15, and we all know what that means . . . Tax Day. This picture shows a man in 1943 working on his tax returns. I got mine done and mailed yesterday. Since you are sending them money, it seams like they would make it easier, and be nicer about it. I would be in favor of a simple flat tax, or sales tax instead of the mess we have now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

President Harry S. Truman

Today we feature a nice portrait of Harry S. Truman. I think Harry Truman was a pretty good president. He had a saying, "The Buck Stops Here", meaning he did not try to pass blame to others. He called the shots, and he took responsibility for them. I think politicians today could learn a lot from old Harry.

It was on this day, April 12, in the year 1945 that Harry S. Truman became president, upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Something in the Water

This is an old picture of John H. Luedecke. John was one of the pioneers in the county where I grew up. I never knew him, because he died long before I came along. He was born in the 1880's.

As one of the first residents in the area, he started out on an un-improved, rented farm. It must have been a very hard life having to try and clear land, and scratch out a living in West Texas in the early 1900's.

Through hard work, and determination, John and Lizzie were able to buy their own ranch in 1923; 240 acres. (This ranch was right down the road from the one I grew up on). John guided the family through the great depression, years when hail destroyed the crops, and years when drought made life tough. In 1926 his daughter got her arm caught in an old washing machine. There was no doctor around, so John had to do surgery on the arm himself, removing the infection that had developed. Later when they found a doctor, the doctor commented that he could not have done a better job on the arm himself. They, and their children worked hard to improve the land. Their son, Alvin, built the windmill. Water was the lifeblood of any farm or ranch, so completing the windmill must have been a great day for this family. The family worked all day, but at night would lay out on a pallet together, and watch the stars. John's daughter remembered those times, and commented that the stars looked so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. She also remembered finding comfort in that windmill her brother built. The sound of the windmill was the sound of life to her. The windmill provided water for the stock and the family.

John died on June 21, 1944 from a heart attack while working on his farm.

So whatever happened to little Alvin, who helped clear the land, and build the windmill? Well, he grew up to be Major General Alvin R. Luedecke. He had important positions in World War II, and after the war was the Chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. Did I mention that in his spare time he did a stint as President of Texas A&M University? There must have been something real special about the water coming out of that windmill, or maybe it was that time spent watching the stars with his family.

Sometimes I get tired of all the whining I hear. No one could have started with more humble beginnings, and less opportunity, yet no one could have accomplished more or contributed better than Alvin Luedecke. Our life, and our future is what we make of it. What we achieve is not about what other people allow us to accomplish, but what we decide to accomplish. Believing that others determine our success surrenders almost any hope of ever accomplishing anything.

Could John have ever dreamed that his son would accomplish all that he did? You betcha, and that is probably why he worked so hard. So today, we tip our Stetsons to John H. and his son Alvin R., two great Americans, and two real men. It would be hard to say who was the greater hero . . . the son who made such great contributions to his country, or the father who raised him.

Major General Alvin Luedecke died on August 9, 1998 in San Antonio.

General Alvin Luedecke with First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson at White House Reception in 1963

Dinner Invitation from Chiang Kai Shek, president of China, to General A. R. Luedecke

Tug of War

This is a charming Russell Lee photograph from 1938. It shows a group of school children playing a game of Tug of War in the schoolyard. Picture was taken in Southeast Missouri. I can remember when I was in elementary school, we played tug of war during recess. I would bet that there would be some rules against this type of thing now days.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Robert E. Lee Farewell

The photograph above shows General Robert E. Lee on Traveler. It was on April 9, 1865 that Lee Surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. It was on this day, April 10, that Lee addressed the Army of Northern Virginia for the last time. His words are presented below:

Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard-fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged.

You may take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection. With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Indian with Bow and Arrow

This picture was taken in 1913, and shows an Indian man stringing his bow. This has to be one of my all-time favorite Native American photographs.

I find it sad that this traditional way of life of these people has been lost. Sometimes when I think about history, I imagine what things might have been like if events had unfolded a little different. I think some of the original treaties signed by the US with the Native Americans might have been fair. I think the problem is we kept reneging on the deals until the Native Americans ended up with just about nothing. What if we had not killed off the buffalo, and what if we had honored the initial treaties with the Indians. There might still be people living this traditional way of life. Now wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Farewell to a Legend

I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to an American Legend; Charleton Heston, who passed away this last Saturday. Charleton Heston was an American Icon, who was a larger than life man, who played larger than life roles.
I grew up fascinated by his movies. Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments were two of my all-time favorites. I still enjoy watching these epic movies. In my mind, they just don't make films like those anymore.
As an adult, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend one day at his house with him. It was a once in a life time experience. I was supposed to show up at his home in Beverly Hills at 8:00 in the morning. Realizing that this was a once in a lifetime experience, I did not want to be late. I left my hotel early, leaving plenty of time for any disaster that might occur on the short drive over to his house. Well, the drive over went relatively smoothly, so I ended up arriving at his house at 6:30 AM. Now, I did not want to disturb him, and did not want to show up so embarrassingly early, so I parked down at the end of his driveway. His house was up on a hill, and he had a long driveway leading up to his home. I pulled the car over, and just sort of parked out of the way at the bottom of the driveway.
I can remember that the morning was very foggy. As I sat in the car, and looked up the driveway, I could not even see the house. The driveway just disappeared into the fog. As I sat and watched my watch, and watched the driveway, I suddenly saw a figure emerge from the fog. It was a very tall man, wearing a bright red robe. I swear, it looked like Moses coming down Mount Sinai. It was Charleton Heston.
I sort of panicked. Since I had gotten there so early, I was worried that he would not know who I was, and was coming down to "run me off". Well, sure enough, he walked right up to the car, I rolled the window down, and he asked if I was Paul. I said yes, and he extended his hand and welcomed me. I apologized for showing up so early, but he said, "Oh, no problem at all". He told me to not wait in the car, but to come on in to his house, and that I could sit in his living room as he got ready.
I was so totally intimidated. He was larger than life, and I was a nobody. But you know what . . . I never had anyone make me feel more welcome than he did that day. It was as if I was visiting my grandfather. He was a gracious host, and never did anything to indicate that he thought of himself as anything other than just a normal guy.
One of the things that I remember about him that day is how he acted around his wife. He acted like a school boy with a childhood sweetheart. He did not do anything without checking to make sure it would not disturb her. I never saw a man show a woman more respect than what he showed his wife. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his character is that in a city, and in an industry known for short marriages, he was married to the same woman for 64 years.
As the day was coming to a close, I really desperately wanted to ask him for his autograph. I knew though that that would not be very professional. I would not ask him for anything, as I felt honored to have had the opportunity to spend that day with him. As it was time for me to leave he said, "You know, I always like to have my picture taken with my guests. Would you mind having your picture made with me?" Wow, what grace, what charm, what a gentleman. You see, he knew that I would desperately want to have a picture with him, and he knew that I would not ask, so he suggested it as if he wanted a picture taken with me.
Someone snapped the picture, and then about a week later, the picture above showed up in my mail . . . he had autographed a copy, and sent it to me.
Is there anyone else in Hollywood like this? Mr. Heston, you will be sorely missed. Who will fill your shoes?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Suffrage Parade

This photograph was taken in 1916, and shows a car participating in a Suffrage Parade.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Worst Day of My Life

The worst day of my life started out normal. The year was 1968, the month was August, and I don't remember the day of the month, but for the sake of this story we are going to call it the 23rd. Yes, I am pretty sure it was August 23rd, 1968.

August 23rd, 1968 started out like any other day for me. My mom woke me up at 6:00 AM, like every other morning. School started at 8:00 AM, and I had to get up, get ready, have breakfast, and get my chores done before school started. I grew up on a ranch, but it was not like I had to go out and milk the cows or anything like that. I had to take the dog out and I had to feed the 16 cats that lived on the roof on top of our garage. Why did we have 16 cats living on the roof of our garage you ask? Well, that is the topic of a story for another day. I also had to take the trash out, and burn it. Living in the country we did not have trash service. So, we had a barrel about 50 feet behind our house. I had to take the trash out, sort through it and remove any spray cans, put the trash in the barrel, and then light it on fire. I had to take the spray cans out because if I burned trash with spray cans in it, the spray cans would heat up, explode, and then that would blow burning trash out of the barrel, starting a range fire. Yes, my care and diligence in this job was the one thing that stood between my family and a major grass fire. I took the responsibility seriously. On this particular day, I found two spray cans, removed them from the trash and started the remainder of the trash on fire in the barrel. I put the matches in my pocket, and ran and got in my dad's little green Volkswagen, as he was ready to drive us to school.

Now the school I went to was pretty small. There were about 11 kids in my grade. You knew everyone, and everyone was pretty much friends. Kids were not allowed to just hang out after school. You had to coordinate whatever you were going to do with your parents. Typically one kid would invite another kid to come over and play after school. So, on this day, I invited my friend David to come over after school. He got the OK from his parents, I got the OK from my parents, so things were all set.

My dad was there right on time to pick David and me up after school. When David and I got to our house, we played a few card games, and then decided to go out "exploring". To go exploring meant you started walking, and just let things unfold as they would. Living on a ranch, if you just started walking, you would eventually happen upon something interesting. On this day, we started walking down the caliche road in front of the house. After walking about a half mile, we got to the cattle guard at the edge of our property. At this point, we were at a larger caliche road called the Will Davis road. If we turned left, we would end up back at town, which was about a half mile away. If we turned right we would be walking away from town. We decided to turn right. David had a good walking stick, and was up for a longer walk.
After we had walked about a quarter mile down the Will Davis road, we suddenly froze as the quiet of our walk was shattered by the unmistakable buzz of a huge rattlesnake. Growing up in the country, we knew the first thing to do when confronted by a snake was to stand perfectly still. We froze in our tracks, and then about 4 foot away spotted a huge six foot diamond back rattlesnake. The snake was in the barrow ditch by the side of the road, and near some tall grass. We realized that the snake had to be killed, and that if the snake crawled into the tall grass, we would never be able to find him. We put together a quick plan. David would keep the snake occupied, while I found a suitable rock to dispatch the snake with. David began poking and prodding the snake with his walking stick, as I searched for a rock. Selection of the suitable rock was critical. If too small, It would not kill the snake. If too large, I would not be able to lift and properly throw it. I needed something about the size of a bowling ball. After a few moments, I spotted the perfect rock. I picked it up, and headed back towards the snake. Judging the snake to be about six foot long, and knowing that a snake can strike about half its length, I positioned myself about 3 and a half feet away from the snake. I elevated the rock above my head, and David stepped back out of the way. Now, just as I was about to the launch that huge bolder onto the snake, I heard a voice from behind me say, "Stop . . . . Stop, that is no way to kill a snake." I was somewhat startled, as I was not aware any one else was around. I paused, turned around, and I saw that in the excitement of looking for the rock, I had not noticed that a 5,000 gallon butane truck had pulled up. The butane truck driver had gotten out, and walked up behind me. He was the one telling me to not throw the rock onto the snake. I paused there by the snake, but left the rock elevated above my head. The butane truck driver then said, "You can smash that snake with that rock, or we can freeze him like a block of ice. Now you found the snake, so it is your call."

Now at 7 years old, I had never had an adult tell me that anything was my call, much less something as important as how to dispatch this snake. It was a very important matter, and I was feeling pretty good about myself to be in charge of such a lofty matter. Well, I wanted to learn more, so asked him how he would propose to freeze the snake. He told us that the butane in his truck was liquefied, and if he were to spray the snake with the butane, as the butane left the end of the hose, it would expand, become super-cooled, and would instantaneously freeze the snake like a block of ice. I was sold, and gave him the go ahead. I went ahead and put the rock down, and David started tending the snake with his stick again, making sure we did not lose the snake in the grass as the butane man turned his truck around and got it into position in the barrow ditch. Now, at this point I noticed that several additional cars were pulling up to see what was going on. Among those pulling up was Goya, a Mexican Lady that lived on our ranch. She was a sweet lady, and we loved her dearly. She was an extra large woman, weighing in at over 200 pounds. I was happy to see more people coming up, as I was in charge of this operation, and my biggest fear had become that some incredible things were going to happen, and I would not have any witnesses. I wanted to make sure when I told the story the next day at school, that I had lots of witnesses, in case any one challenged me. So, I welcomed the small crowd that was gathering at the scene.

Now, back to the snake. David had effectively kept the snake out of the grass with his walking stick. The butane man had his truck turned around, parked in the barrow ditch, and had the butane hose out and ready to go. Things were pretty much locked and loaded. The butane man was ready, and just waiting on the OK from me. I paused a second, wanting to make sure everyone understood that I was ramrodding this operation. I looked over at the gathering crowd, I looked down at the snake, and then I looked over at the butane man, who was standing in position, with his hose in hand, pointing it at the snake. I gave him the nod, and he blasted the snake with butane. Just as he opened the valve, the snake reared his ugly head up, preparing to strike. The butane hit the snake right in mid-strike. Sure enough, it froze that snake like a block of ice. The butane man then got an extra pair of gloves out of the truck, and went over and picked the snake up. He gave me a pair of gloves, and handed me the snake. I mean that snake was frozen solid, just like a rock. We held the snake a while, looking at the strange site of the snake, with head reared, mouth open, and frozen solid. Then the butane man said that if we were done looking at him, that we could shatter the snake. He said that if the snake was cold enough, if we were to drop him, he would shatter like a piece of glass. Now this sounded like something we had never heard before, and we wanted to try it. So, we decided to proceed with that plan. David had the snake, and he dropped it in the barrow ditch. Only thing is, the snake did not break. The butane man said that it was probably because the snake was not cold enough. It was decided to give the snake another blast of butane. The butane man gave him another blast . . . this time a long one. Again, we picked the snake up, dropped it, but it did not break. We tried again, this time throwing it down against a rock. The snake would simply not shatter. The butane man tried 4 or 5 more times, blasting the snake with butane, and then we would try to break the snake. The snake would not shatter, and would not even break into two pieces.

The butane man then told us that while we had not been successful in breaking the snake, that we could try burning him. With all the butane we had sprayed on him, he was most likely saturated with butane, and we could light the frozen snake on fire. The butane man then asked if anyone had any matches. Given that I had taken the trash out that morning, I still had the book of matches in my pocket. Things just kept getting better and better. Not only had I found the snake, not only had I been in charge of how to kill the snake, and not only did I have a growing crowd watching the operation, I now was the one with a book of matches. I would be the one to catch the snake on fire. Somewhere in all this excitement, the old rule of not playing with matches, and not playing with fire had been forgotten by me. The butane man decided to give the snake one last blast, before I threw a match on it. With this one, extra-long blast done, I was ready to strike the match. The 5,000 gallon butane truck was behind us in the barrow ditch; the snake, David, the butane man, and I were all in front of the truck in the barrow ditch. I had my book of matches. I struck the match, and I tossed it down on the snake.

Now a lot of things all sort of happened at the same time, so I will try and describe it as best as I can. As I tossed the match down onto the snake, I saw a blinding white flash. Out of a simple reflex, I turned my face, held my breath, and closed my eyes. I felt a blast of warmth against my face. As I turned back and opened my eyes, I saw a huge fire ball travelling down the barrow ditch away from us. I looked over my shoulder, and saw another fireball going down the barrow ditch in the opposite direction as well. I then looked down, and saw that the barrow ditch where I was standing was on fire, up to about my knees. I then saw one of the most alarming things of all. The 5,000 gallon butane truck was parked in the barrow ditch in the midst of this fire, about three feet from me.

Now at the time, my knowledge of thermodynamics, chemistry, and combustion was still in its infancy, so I could not understand exactly what happened. Apparently though, butane is heavier than air, even after it turns to a gas. All that butane that the driver had sprayed on that snake had not simply dispersed, but it had pooled up in the barrow ditch, forming an invisible, combustible river up and down the barrow ditch. When I threw the match on the snake, it ignited this river of butane gas. So lets get back to the scene of the crime. I am now standing knee high in the barrow ditch fire, and a few feet away is a 5,000 gallon butane truck. As I looked at the situation, I realized I had two options. I could stand there and be blown into oblivion as the butane truck exploded in a few seconds, or, I could run as fast as I could and be blown into oblivion 10 feet down the rode as the butane truck exploded. Given these two options, I decided to go ahead and run. Both David and I took off, running out of the barrow ditch, and down the Will Davis road. After running about 15 feet, I suddenly felt my feet leaving the ground, and being heaved up into the air. It was Goya. Now, there are people who will tell you that fat ladies can not run, but I am here to tell you that it is not true. She ran like the wind. On her way bye, she picked me up, threw me over her shoulder, and picked David up by the waste with her other arm, and she ran like something you have never seen. Now being perched up on her shoulder, I was able to look back down the road at what was unfolding about 15 feet away at the butane truck. I saw that the fire under the truck was growing in intensity. Then I saw the hose that was connected to the 5,000 gallon truck, and then I saw clearly how we would all die. The hose was down on the ground, the fire was burning through the hose, and flames were beginning to dance out of the hose, as its structural integrity was being lost. I realized that it would be just a matter of a few seconds until the hose was completely degraded, and the butane truck would explode. Strangely, my thoughts were then centered on the question of how they would figure out which set of charred remains to put in which casket. I remembered then that I had been to the dentist in the last few months, so they would likely be able to identify me from recent dental records. I assumed that they would figure out that the larger charred remains would be Goya, and the other small pile of ashes would be David. I took some comfort in knowing that they would at least be able to bury each of us in the right box.

So now my attention turned back to the truck, and I saw an amazing thing. While Goya, David and I had decided our only option was to run for our lives, I saw that the butane truck driver realized that there was a third option. Working in the industry, he probably realized more than anyone else the futility of running. As I looked back at the truck, I saw a most amazing thing. The butane man was running back into the fire, back to the truck. He was not exactly running, it was more of a strange dance. Sort of a combination of some sort of hillbilly high-step and the chicken dance. It was like he thought if he kept high stepping and flapping his arms he would avoid being burned, as he ran into the fire. Flapping his arms like a chicken appeared to be a critical part of his plan, as they were moving like nobody's business. There are people that will tell you that man can not fly by flapping his arms, but I am here to tell you that I think the butane man achieved an altitude of about a foot and a half from the lift created by those flapping arms. He danced to the back of the truck, and closed the valve connecting the big tank to the hose. This was a critical step that bought us a few more moments of life. It was that darn hose that was about to fall apart in the fire. Shutting the gas off to that hose was a critical thing. He then danced his way through the flames, back up to the front of the truck.

He jumped in the truck, and he fired that sucker up. Now there are people that will tell you that you can not pop a wheelie in a butane truck, but I am here to tell you that you can; I saw it happen on this day. The butane man gunned the engine, and popped that clutch, and the front of that truck came about three feet off the ground. He pulled that truck out of the fire in the barrow ditch, and my friend, he saved the day.

He got the truck out of danger, Goya eventually slowed, and put us down. It was at this point that I walked back to the scene of the crime. There was that snake, now in the middle of the road. His tail was charred to a crisp, no doubt burned in the blast, or subsequent fire. His mid section was somewhat normal in appearance, and his front third and head were still frozen solid. While I don't know anything about snake physiology in cases like this, what I can tell you is that the middle part of the snake was twitching. It was moving like nothing had happened, and was slinging his frozen front third around. This looked like something out of Dante's third level of hell. It was quite a site.

Now, the immediate danger of explosion was over, but the fire in the barrow ditch had turned into what might be called a raging grass fire. We were about 3/4 of a mile due west of the town of Eldorado, TX, population 1,275. There was a brisk eastwardly wind, and due to the very dry summer, there was nothing between us and the western outskirts of the town but very dry brush and grass. The fire was picking up speed, and was heading right for town. Now someone had called the fire department, and at this point, you could hear the main fire whistle going off in town, calling in the volunteer firemen, and you could hear the sirens on the first firetrucks as they left the station. Leading the effort to put the range fire out, and save the town that day was Schleicher County Volunteer Truck Number 1, pictured above. Some of the fire boys came out to battle the fire, while others went to the west end of town, to begin the evacuation of this part of town. They also tried to set up a fire line as a last line of defense to protect the town.

I just stood there in front of the snake. I looked to my right and I saw a fire that would likely burn the city down that I had started. I looked at my feet, and I saw a six foot snake. Its tail burned to a crisp, its head still frozen, and its mid-section moving and twitching. I looked down the road, and about 15 feet away I saw Sheriff Orville Edmiston pulling up in his squad car. I looked down at my hand, and there still grasped in my little fingers was that book of matches. I can only wonder what officer Orville Edmiston thought as he drove up on this scene. Anyway, he pulled up in his squad car, and was sort of walking over in my direction. I had this uneasy feeling that he was perhaps drawing a connection between me, my book of matches, and the scene unfolding around us. I did not have much time, and did not have many options. I figured I could run for it, but since he knew me, and knew where I lived, that one would probably not work. I could lie, but that one would be hard, in that I could not come up with a reasonable story in the next six seconds. Officer Edmiston was known in these parts as being particlularly good at crime scene investigations, and those who had tried to lie to him in the past had been found out. The third option was to tell the truth. As officer Edmiston got to me, he looked at me and said, "What happened here?" Then a forth option came to mind. I could basically tell the truth, and then try and pass the buck. I decided to try this one. I told him that I had found a snake. I was going to smash it with a rock. The butane man told me we could freeze it. He then told me I could throw a match on it. I threw the match, and that started the fire. I was obeying the butane man. Officer Edmiston just sort of stood there and looked at me. After what must have been the longest three seconds of my life, he sort of nodded at me, and then looked over my shoulder at the butane man, who was about 15 feet behind me. He sort of started moseying over in the direction of the butane man. I had dodged lightening. He did not shoot me on the spot, which probably would have been the vote of the good citizens living on the western outskirts of Eldorado, Tx, population 1,275. He did not arrest me. He did not tell me to go sit in the squad car. He did not even tell me that I needed to hang around. I about decided that I had gotten away with things. I looked over to my right again, and the Eldorado Volunteer Fire department was making a desperate last stand to keep the houses in town from catching on fire, I looked down, and the snake was still moving around, I looked in my hand, and the matches were still there, and I looked up the road and I saw the most terrifying thing that I had seen all day. I saw a little green volkswagon pulling up behind officer Edmiston's squad car. It was my dad. He got out of the car, and walked over to me. The story that had worked so well with the Sheriff did not work so well with my dad. He just told me to get in the car. We went home, and I got a good old fashioned whipping. You see, there was a clear rule against playing with matches. I clearly understood it, and I chose to ignore it. The fact that I had ignored the rule almost killed me and other people, and had caused great chaos that day. It was a big whipping, and I deserved it.

Later than evening my dad made popcorn, and I sat in his lap as we enjoyed the big bowl of popcorn together. We talked about things like whether Jesse James had left any of the James Gang loot hidden somewhere for someone to find. We talked about Herman Lehmann, the boy who had been captured by the Apache in the late 1800's. We talked about the lost Dutchman's mine, and whether anyone would ever find that. We talked about J. Frank Dobie's book, Coronado's Children.

I learned a lot of things on August 23, 1968. I learned that there was a reason for rules. I learned that rules were there to protect us. I learned that when we ignore rules, we endanger ourselves and others. I learned that there were ramifications from ignoring the rules. I also learned that no matter what I did, my dad still loved me. I was able to see that my bad actions did not affect the love that my father had for me. I guess maybe it was not such a bad day after all.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Poor Barefoot Child

This picture shows a poor child, barefoot and wearing tattered clothes. It was taken in 1921 in Mlinton, West Virginia. While the child is obviously living in abject poverty, their is one encouraging things . . . she is on her way to school.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bonus Picture

This is a bonus picture for today. It is not an old picture, but I wanted to share it anyway. Spring has arrived in the Texas Hill Country. I saw this patch of bluebonnets outside my office today, and thought I would snap a picture and post it. If you have ever visited the Hill Country this time of year, there are rolling hills painted blue with these beautiful flowers. The flowers are native, and grow wild. They grow all winter, and then bloom at the first sign of spring.

Abraham Lincoln

Today we feature a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln. It was on this day, April 4, in the year 1865 that Abraham Lincoln walked the streets of the the Confederate Capitol, Richmond, Virginia. Richmond fell to Union Forces the previous day, April 3.

Lincoln took his son Tad, to Richmond with him that day. It was Tad's 12th birthday. As the two walked through the city, they encountered a group of freed slaves. The slaves recognized Lincoln, and began to bow down before him. Seeing this, Lincoln stopped and told them the following:

"Don't kneel to me. You must kneel only to God, and thank him for your freedom. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years."

Lincoln would be assassinated 10 days later.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Civil War Sutlers

This picture was taken in 1864, near Brandy Station, Virginia. It shows a Sutler's tent. Sutlers were merchants that followed the army, and sold goods to soldiers. They had a reputation of having pretty bad prices, and in many cases cheated soldiers out of their wages. I guess if you consider the casualty rates of the Civil War, it was hard for a soldier to take a very long term view of things, and I am sure they were an easy mark to anyone selling small life comforts.

It is interesting though, that with these men willing to serve their country, and give their life for the cause, that there would be another group of vultures willing to take advantage of them.