In Part Two of the Bush Craft interview, Laurie and bushcrafter Harley Retherferd talk more about the outdoor survival skills needed by early travelers to the West.
In Part One of Bush Craft, Laurie interviews Harley Retherford, a young bushcrafter from the beautiful Ozark Mountains in northeastern Oklahoma (Cherokee Nation Territory). They discuss the key outdoor survival skills which pioneers—especially those on foot or on horseback–needed to survive as they traveled to and settled in early Texas.
Pulp fiction of the American Wild West from—of all places—Germany!?
In the 1870s, you could spend a dime and revel in the western adventures of Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, or Jessie James. For a half dime you could buy a novel featuring Fancy Frank of Colorado or Daisy Dare. Western pulp fiction of the 1870s had captured the imagination of America! One publisher—Beadle and Adams—turned out 2,200 western titles, hungrily consumed by readers of all ages.
While some of the early Western novels’ characters were real, they didn’t always recognize themselves in print. When presented with a novel featuring himself killing seven Indians with one hand while holding a damsel in distress, Kit Carson was said to have commented, “I ain’t got no recollection of it!” But never mind, stories like this satisfied Americans’ arm-chair desires for wild West adventures.
Yet America was not unique in its demand for glamorized stories of the West. One German author, Karl May (pronounced My) began writing exciting cowboy-and-Indian novels in the latter part of the 1800s. His stories featured a noble Apache—Winnetou—and his white blood-brother, the frontiersman Old Shatterhand, who had immigrated to the West from Germany.
May is the primary author credited with creating Germans’ view of the American West. His 33 novels have sold over 200 million books, been translated into 37 languages, and been made into movies and plays. Today, more than one hundred years later, May’s “cowboy cult” still provides reasons for Karl May festivals—the largest of these draws 300,000 fans annually. At least 200 German Cowboy Clubs attract members, Wild West towns draw visitors, and trips to US dude ranches are other offshoots of May’s German popularity. Yet he is largely unknown in the US.
May’s books have been fabulously successful; however, despite the tales May told about his personal journeys to the American frontier, he never traveled to the West. Late in his life, he did visit the US, for the first time, but never went west of Buffalo, NY. His stories are fraught with errors and the life he said he had led was mostly fiction. Although May is Germany’s best selling author of all time, he began life as a thief and a conman who spent eight years in prison or the workhouse for assorted fraudulent acts. But he claimed his time in lock-up was spent traveling abroad. Despite his being a con artist and imposter, the German public continues to love May’s stories and are apparently willing to ignore his books’ historical errors and his checkered life. For his fans, an exciting tale trumps all else!
May’s fictional view of the American West, as shaped by his pulp novels, still lives today in Germany—just as the American view of the West has been largely glamorized by books, television, and the movies. It’s all about a good story!
This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast. Tune in every other week for a new episode. It’s tidbits of Texas history you didn’t learn in school.
Pick up a copy of my historical novel, “GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper, 1856-1861.” You’ll find it—along with enthusiastic reviews—on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and other sites where books are sold. Thanks for listening. Ya’ll come back!
You’ve seen them. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Bluebonnets line the highways and byways in Texas in late March to mid-April, their blooms turning fields and the sides of the roads into oceans and rivers of blue. Painters show up to paint them, parents plop their small children into the dense flowers for photographs, traffic jams occur along well-known bluebonnet trails, and small towns hold bluebonnet festivals. It’s a mass celebration of Lupinus Texensis (and other varieties of bluebonnets)—the Texas state flower.
The colors of the blooms of these herbaceous annuals range from blue to maroon. As you can imagine, the maroon ones are especially popular in College Station, home of Texas A&M, where the Aggies’ school colors are maroon and white. The shape of the individual flower petals are said to resemble the sun bonnets worn by early pioneer women. So proud of these flowers and the Springtime beauty they bring, the Texas Department of Transportation plants 30,000 pounds of bluebonnet seeds along state roads.
Depending upon the weather, the best bluebonnet blooming locations will vary year-to-year. For the most spectacular viewing, search online for the “Best places to view bluebonnets this year.”
We Texans love our bluebonnets and one of the most charming things about these beautiful blooms with their green pointed leaves, are the numerous legends of how bluebonnets came to be.
Here is one Native American legend I particularly like . . .Long ago in Texas, the land suffered many disasters: A great flood swept through killing the game, drowning the camp fires and sweeping away the people’s tepees. The great flood was followed by a terrible drought which cracked the earth and dried up the streams. Then a bitter winter brought cold winds and thick ice. Food was scarce and the people were starving. Disease came into the tepees. The Great Spirit had turned away from his children.
Desperate, the medicine men danced, chanted, and beat their drums. Finally a message came from the Great Spirit. “You must sacrifice the most important thing belonging to the tribe in a burnt offering. Then scatter the ashes toward the sunrise, toward the sunset, and to the two directions in between.” The wise men of the tribe argued for a full day and long into the night about what was the tribe’s most valuable possession.
While they argued, a very young girl sat and thought. Clasped in her hand was a tiny doll made of soft fawn skin with horse-hair braids, and features painted with berry juice. The child had made clothing for her doll with the feathers of a beautiful blue bird with a black feather collar. She loved this doll with all her heart and believed it to be it the most valuable thing the tribe possessed. With a heavy heart, while her family slept, she took her doll and a smoldering stick from the fire and crept outside. Gathering twigs and dried grass, she made a small fire and praying that her offering would be accepted, she carefully laid her most valuable possession on the fire and watched the blue feathers burst into flame and the prized doll reduced to ashes. When the small fire had died and the ashes cooled, she prayed again to the Great Spirit and tossed the ashes into the wind, north, south, east and west. She smoothed the earth where the fire had been and crept back into her tepee.
In the morning she returned to where she had made her offering, and in four directions as far as the ashes had blown, the ground was covered with a blanket of flowers like she’d never seen before. They were the color of the beautiful blue bird whose feathers had dressed her tiny doll. When the medicine men saw the flowers and heard her story, they told the tribe her offering had been accepted and the curse removed. As they predicted, the land became green and fertile, the animals returned, sweet water flowed again and the tribe prospered. The small girl was given a new name, “she who dearly loves her people.”
So, when you see the first bluebonnets spring from the Texas soil in all their glory, remember the small girl who gave up her most valuable possession—the doll—from which the flowers grow.
This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong podcast —tidbits of Texas history you never learned in school. It’s the best little podcast in Texas. Thanks for listening and be sure to check out my new novel, GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper, 1856-1861. Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Sparks. Ya’ll come back.
A Mexican’s eyewitness account of the hours after the storming of the Alamo…
You probably know the often told story of the Battle of the Alamo which began in earnest on February 25th, 1836 and ended on March 6th. But do you know how the story ended AFTER the siege concluded with the successful storming of the Alamo by General Santa Anna and his Mexican forces?
On that day, March 6, 1836, a banner, red as blood, flew above the church in Bejar and in the Mexican’s camp—a silent warning that the battle was one of vengeance against the rebels. They would all be put to the sword. And as you know, they were.
But this post is about what happened next, and it is told through the eyes of a Mexican—Francisco Antonio Ruis, the alcalde or mayor of Behar (San Antonio) who was charged by General Santa Anna to dispose of the bodies on both sides of the battle. There is some speculation that giving the task to Ruis was punishment. Despite the fact that Ruis had pledged neutrality, others in his family, including his father, were active in the revolution on the Texan’s side.
Here is Ruis’ Report:
Quote…“On the 6th of March 1836, at 3 a. m., General Santa Anna at the head of 4,000 men advanced against the Alamo. The infantry, artillery and cavalry had formed about 1000 varas (approxiately 1000 yards) from the walls of the same fortress. The Mexican army charged and were twice repulsed by the deadly fire of Travis’s artillery, which resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge the Toluca battalion commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 830 men only 130 of the battalion were left alive.”
Ruis goes on to say that as the Mexican army entered the walls of the Alamo he and several other local officials who had been ordered by Santa Anna to assist with the wounded when the battle ended, gathered and started to walk toward the Alamo.
His report continues “…about 100 yards from the same, a party of Mexican dragoons fired upon us and compelled us to fall back on the river to the place that we had occupied before.
“Half an hour had elapsed when Santa Anna sent one of his aides-de-camp with an order for us to come before him. He directed me to call on some of the neighbors to come with carts to carry the (Mexican) dead to the cemetery and to accompany him, as he desired to have Colonels Travis, Bowie, and Crockett shown to him. On the north battery of the fortress convent, lay the lifeless body of Colonel Travis on the gun carriage, shot only through the forehead. Toward the west and in a small fort opposite the city, we found the body of Colonel Crockett. Colonel Bowie was found dead in his bed in one of the rooms on the south side.
“Santa Anna, after all the Mexican bodies had been taken out, ordered wood to be brought to burn the bodies of the Texans. He sent a company of dragoons with me to bring wood and dry branches from the neighboring forests. About three o’clock in the afternoon of March 6, we laid the wood and dry branches upon which a pile of dead bodies was placed, more wood was piled on them, then another pile of bodies was brought, and in this manner they were all arranged in layers. Kindling wood was distributed through the pile and about 5 o’clock in the evening it was lighted.
“The dead Mexicans of Santa Anna were taken to the grave-yard, but not having sufficient room for them, I ordered some to be thrown into the river, which was done on the same day.
“The gallantry of the few Texans who defended the Alamo was really wondered at by the Mexican army. Even the generals were astonished at their vigorous resistance, and how dearly victory was bought.
“The (Texans) burnt were one hundred and eighty-two. I was an eyewitness, for as alcalde of San Antonio, I was with some of the neighbors, collecting the dead bodies and placing them on the funeral pyre.”
Signed —Francis Antonio Ruiz.
And so it was that 182 Texas defenders of the Alamo were burned, their ashes scattered to the wind, but their sacrifice and their names not forgotten. They are writ large in the history of Texas.
Source of this translation by Amelia Williams: Texas State Historical Association & Barker, Eugene C. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 37, July 1933 – April, 1934, pages 39-40, periodical, 1934; Austin, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101094/m1/47/: accessed March 11, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.
This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast. Tune in every other week for tidbits of Texas history you didn’t learn in school. Ya’ll come back.
Higher education came to The Republic of Texas in 1840 with the Republic’s Congress officially approving the charter of Rutersville College in the new town of Rutersville, located six miles northeast of LeGrange. Although founded by a group of Methodists, the co-ed school was open to all religious denominations. Its two-story main building was completed the following year. By 1844, enrollment was 194 students, both men and women.
Lest you scoff at the idea of a serious college on the early frontier, take this challenge…do you think you could flip the tassel on your mortarboard to signify successful graduation from Rutersville College? Let’s take a look at the terms of admission and the courses in the second annual college catalogue.
To gain admission, candidates for the Classical Course must be acquainted with the rudiments of the English language, ancient and modern geography, arithmetic, first lessons in Algebra. So far so good, right? But there’s more: You must also know Greek grammar, latin Grammar, Greek and Latin Prosody. (That’s the rhythm, and sound used in poetry—I had to look it up.) You must also be familiar with Anthon’s Cicero, Cooper’s Virgil, the four Gospels or Jacob’s Greek Reader. All that checked off, you must provide satisfactory testimonials of a good moral character.
If you met those requirements for admission, here’s what your course list would look like:
In the first of five major areas of study, The Department of Moral Science and Letters, you would study elocution, analysis, rhetoric, logic, intellectual philosophy, elements of moral science, elements of criticism, evidences of Christianity, and political economy. You would also be called upon for weekly exercises in composition and declamation. Whew! Quite a work load!
In The Department of Mathematics, be prepared to master algebra, geometry, trigonometry, surveying, navigation, calculus, civil engineering, astronomy, and natural philosophy.
The Department of Ancient Languages and Literature would offer you extensive readings in Latin plus Latin composition and declamation.You would also study more than a dozen Greek books on a variety of topics including five books of Homer’s Iliad. And don’t forget Greek composition and declamation. A Classical dictionary and ancient atlas would be available as resources.
Have a knack for languages? You might turn to The Department of Modern Languages to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and German. I’m not clear whether you could choose just one or would have to study all four. I suspect the answer is all four.
Nothing sounds challenging enough? Then The Department of Natural Science would be for you! It seems to be a combination of most all of the above minus the romance languages with geology, mineralogy, and botany thrown in for good measure.
But let’s not forget the female department (just having one seems progressive for 1841!) If you are a lady wondering what might have been available to you. Ladies could pursue any of the studies embraced by the departments already mentioned. In addition, females could study drawing and painting, or music on the piano forte.
The Collegiate year of Rutersville College encompassed two terms with a month’s break in the summer. Tuition for the higher studies ranged from $20 to $25 per term. Music was an additional $15 per quarter. Board—which also included washing and fuel—was $12.50 per month. A far cry from today’s college tuition, but still more than many could afford.
Seems to me that one might conclude from all this that a classical education was alive and well in Texas in the 1840s! Looking back at the Rutersville College curriculum, I think many “educated” individuals of today would find the 1841 classwork challenging. I certainly would.
Native American troubles, the Mexican War over the boundary between Texas and Mexico in 1846, and competition from other educational institutions caused a decline in registrations, and in 1856 Rutersville College and its properties merged with the Texas Monumental and Military Institute, which itself, closed when students left to join the Civil War.
Schools for younger students were also plentiful in early Texas. Prior to 1854, when the state legislature introduced a state public school system, teachers offering schooling in towns and villages were numerous. Private tutoring was also an educational option for those who could afford it, and many children were home schooled. All in all, despite what we would consider as the often primitive circumstances of many Texans, the desire for an education was strong.
This is Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast. Tune in every other week for a new episode and discover tidbits of Texas you never learned in school. It’s the best little podcast in Texas. Find it on Apple, Spotify and other podcast sites.
You may also wish to read my new historical novel—GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper 1856-1861. GONE TO DALLAS is a fast-paced fictional story salted with true history and peppered with real people along with fascinating fictional ones. Find it on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Ingram Spark and more. Ask for it at your local bookstore. Available as a trade paperback and in digital form.
Thanks for listening! Ya’ll come back! Source: The Second Annual Catalogue of Rutersville College, Rutersville, Fayette County, Texas, 1841
History lives at San Antonio’s famous Menger Hotel, and if you can believe the legends, so do numerous ghosts.
Bearing the title of the oldest continuously-operating hotel west of the Mississippi. the Menger’s story began in 1840 when twenty-year-old German Immigrant William Menger arrived in San Antonio and started the Western Brewery—Texas’ very first brewery—built on part of the site where the battle of the Alamo had occurred four years before. Menger moved into Mary Guenther’s boarding house next to the brewery and ultimately convinced the proprietress to marry him.
By the late 1850s, the Mengers recognized the need for a hotel to serve their successful brewery’s many customers. So, in 1859, the Menger Hotel, a two-story, cut-stone building of classical design, opened its doors replacing the boarding house. A tunnel between the hotel and brewery was created so hotel guests could tour the brewery and sample the beer. The hotel met with such quick success that three months after the grand opening, Menger started planning a three-story, 49-room addition. Menger also constructed an underground cellar with three foot thick stone walls for cooling the beer. During the Civil War, business was slow and Menger opened the hotel as a temporary, makeshift hospital for sick and wounded soldiers. Although Menger died in 1871, his wife and son continued operation of the brewery and the hotel.
Ten years later, in 1881, Major J.H. Kampmann purchased the Menger and assumed management of the hotel, expanding the number of rooms and adding a cherry-wood bar designed after the Club Taproom pub in London’s House of Lords. The Menger’s version consisted of a two-story bar room, a billiard room, and a reading room. Elegance prevailed with french mirrors, gold-plated spittoons, and mint juleps in solid silver tumblers. Beer was chilled by the Alamo Madre ditch which ran through the hotel courtyard.
Over the years, additional additions and improvements were made—from an ornamental marquee to the Colonial Dining Room, famous for its wild game, mango ice cream, and turtle soup—actually made from turtles caught in the San Antonio River. Today, after 163 years, the historic Menger is part of San Antonio’s “Alamo Master Plan,” an exciting renovation of the entire Alamo site and its surrounding area, including the Menger Hotel.
Scores of famous guests have visited the hotel, from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, actresses Sarah Bernhard and Mae West, Oscar Wilde, Babe Ruth, eleven American Presidents, and foreign royalty. One of the more unusual guests was a 750-pound alligator left behind by a guest who skipped on his hotel bill. Hotel management appropriately named the alligator “Bill” and kept him in the atrium. But no worries, this was over 100 years ago and Bill is long gone.
Theodore Roosevelt stayed in the hotel while on a javelina hunt in 1892. He returned in 1898 to recruit machete-carrying Rough Riders for his First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry one of the most famous fighting units in the Spanish-American War, praised for their role in the Battle of San Juan Hill.
According to Texas Legend, Teddy Roosevelt lingered at a table in the Menger bar to recruit cowboys returning from trail drives on the Chisholm Trail for his Rough Riders, signing them up on the spot and later drinking and carousing with his volunteers. While it’s true Roosevelt led his Rough Riders on the charge up Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights in Cuba, did he really charge up the Menger hotel’s main staircase on his horse named Little Texas? I can find no evidence that he did, but I’ve heard that story since childhood.
Ah, but I promised ghosts, didn’t I? Let’s start with the ghost of—who else but Teddy Roosevelt—who is frequently seen and sometimes heard at the Menger’s bar. Reports are that he appears frequently and sometimes talks to staff in an attempt to recruit them for his Rough Riders.
Another ghostly guest at the hotel is the apparition of Sallie White, a nineteenth century chambermaid murdered by her husband. Reports of a ghostly Sally with her hands full of towels and sheets have been reported on the third floor of the original section of the hotel. Guests have been shocked to see her walking through walls and closed doors.
Cattle Baron Richard King, founder of the giant King Ranch enjoyed his own suite in the Menger in the 1800s. At the end of his life in the 1880s King requested to move to his private suite in the hotel and died there in 1885. The hotel’s King Ranch Suite is the site of numerous sightings of Captain King’s apparition.
If you want an historic luxury hotel experience, The Menger Hotel in San Antonio awaits you and who knows, you might just get lucky and spot a friendly ghost! But don’t let Teddy Roosevelt talk you into joining the Rough Riders, the Spanish-American War is over.
This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong podcast —tidbits of Texas history you never learned in school. It’s the best little podcast in Texas. Thanks for listening and be sure to check out my new novel, GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper, 1856-1861. Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Sparks.
Ya’ll come back.
The man and the little girl leaned against the corral fence looking in at the cattle.
“Are these the ones we want to buy?” the child asked. “I like their long twisty horns.”
“Yep. These are the ones we want. Their horns set them apart from other cattle. Notice how no two Longhorns are like. Colors and color combinations run the gamut from solid to speckled. I’m planning to leave this auction with a bunch of these Longhorns—some cows and at least two bulls. We’re starting us a Longhorn herd. You know these are the real Texas cattle.”
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“Well, their ancestors were the first cattle to set their hooves on American soil almost 500 years ago when the Spanish first arrived. The Spaniards brought their cattle from the South of Spain so they’d have hides, meat, and milk in their Catholic missions. Used ‘em to pull wagons, too. So Longhorns have had a long time to adapt to living here in Texas. They’re the cattle breed that started Texas ranching. In fact, your ancestors were Longhorn cow chasers back before the Civil War.”
“Why do you call them cow chasers?”
“Back then, there were plenty of wild Longhorns down in Mexico. Six generations ago our family came to Texas and saw the opportunity to gather some of the wild Mexican cattle, bring them back to Texas, breed them, then trail drive them to markets to satisfy a growing demand for meat across the country. They had to hunt and chase the cattle to gather a herd. Learned how to handle them with the help of Mexican vaqueros or what we call cowboys today.”
“I want to be a rancher when I grow up. Look at that brown and white speckled bull, Dad, how wide do you think his horns are?”
“He’s got about a six. . . or maybe seven foot span. About average for a mature bull. But I’ve seen horn spans as wide as nine feet. Looks like he might weigh about 1200 or 1300 pounds. Nice sized bull, a lot of good meat on him. One reason I want Longhorns is they’re fast breeders. Heifers can conceive before they are six months old. Cows can deliver a calf every 11 months and do that long into their teenage years. That’s a lot of new cattle from one cow.”
“More cattle means more profits, right?”
“Yep, and profits mean we can stay in business. Another reason we want Longhorns is that over the centuries they’ve developed a natural resistance to common cattle diseases and they can avoid parasites like the screw worm. Guess you could say they even treat themselves for screw worms.”
“How do they do that?”
“Well, it’s kinda gross. When a Longhorn calf is born, blow flies lay eggs under the calf’s tail and in its navel. The cows lick ‘em off to keep from getting worms. If a cow gets infested and can’t reach the worms to lick them off, it’ll go stand in water for hours and drown the worms.”
“ Lick ‘em off! Yuck!” The girl wrinkled her nose.
With a laugh, the man said, “May sound yucky to us, honey, but it works for the Longhorns. Helps keep the cows healthy and veterinary bills down. We’re gunna raise our cows on grass, no chemicals or supplements for them. That means we’ll have extra healthy beef. Longhorn meat is lean, tasty and a nice red color—lower in cholesterol than a skinless chicken breast—actually offers more nutrition per calorie than other beef.
“Dad, why aren’t there more ranches with Longhorns? The ranchers around us don’t raise Longhorns.”
“Well, let me tell you a bit more about the Longhorn’s history. As I said, before the Civil War, Longhorns were THE Texas cattle. When the war started, the men went to fight and the cattle ranged freely, so after the war, the men returned and found a vast number of cattle across the state. Estimates are as high as five million head.”
“WOW! That’s a bunch of cows.”
Yep, but these cows were worth only $3 to $4 a head in Texas; however, demand for beef in the eastern states was high and cattle could be sold there for 10 times the Texas price. This potential for profit started the era of large herds being rounded up and taken to market along routes like the Chisholm and Shawnee Trails. Giant ranches were started. For instance, at its peak, the Goodnight Loving Ranch in West Texas covered 1.3 million acres and grazed more than 100,000 cattle. Ranches spread onto the Great Plains grazing lands of Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Longhorns ruled the cattle industry. Of course, Texas Fever created some big problems.”
“What’s Texas Fever?”
“It’s a disease caused by ticks and it can kill cattle. Longhorns can spread it, but they are immune to it. As early as the 1850’s—out of fear for their cattle—ranchers in Kansas and Missouri had started blockades to keep Texas cattle drives out of their states and their state legislatures passed laws attempting to banTexas cattle. Got pretty nasty for awhile and many drovers diverted their herds. Finally, in the 1870s, railroads came to Texas and rail heads were created in the state for the shipping of cattle.
“What happened then?
“Barbed wire! Barbed wire changed it all. When the range was fenced by farmers and sheep ranchers, the free range was cut off. That limited access to water, shut off free grazing, and blocked the cattle trails to market. Imported cattle were brought in. Herds got smaller. Longhorns lost their popularity. I’m hoping that will change and that Longhorns will be in demand again for more than just dude ranches and show herds.”
A grin bloomed on the little girl’s face. “We’re trying to bring the Longhorns back. I like that.”
The man’s smile matched hers. “That we are, sweetheart, that we are. They’ve been overlooked for too long. The Texas Longhorn is a living symbol of the Old West. What do you say we go buy us a few?”
“Yes, sir! We better hurry. I can already hear the auctioneer.”
What five letter word stands for Texas just like an oil man in a stetson hat or a rodeo cowgirl? C-H-I-L-I . . .Chili. Yep, when you find a steaming bowl of authentic, spicy chili on the kitchen table or on a cafe menu, the chances are pretty good that you’re in Texas. Chili is a passion in Texas. Some would even say a bowl of the thick, meaty stuff can be a religious experience!
But’s what the history of Texas chili? Most people are in agreement that chili started in Texas, but as to the definitive beginnings of chili . . .well folks argue about that just like they debate the best chili recipe.
We do know that in the latter half of the 1800’s “Chili Queens were dishing up bowls a’ red or chili con carne —that’s chili and beef— from booths on the Military Plaza in San Antonio. At the same time, wild long horn cattle were being brought up from Mexico by cow-chasers to stock newly-formed Texas ranches. With beef and wild chilis readily available, the combination of the two ingredients made its way into many a Texan’s bowl.
When the Chicago exposition of 1893 rolled around, some Texans from San Antonio set up their booths offering Texas chili. It didn’t take long for the word about this tasty new concoction to spread and chili parlors began to pop up across the country—some cooks making traditional chili, others expanding on the recipe.
Did you notice I haven’t said anything about beans? When it comes to chili, don’t add beans or even whisper the word beans over your chili bowl or some native Texan will say, “ Hummp, might be goulash, but’s sure as heck ain’t Chili!”
However, beans on the side are traditional. During cattle round ups or cattle drives to market, chuck wagon cooks would often have a pot of beans on the cook fire for some extra protein for hungry cow chasers.
By the way, the term cow chaser or cow catcher was an early term for cowboy and generally denotes those who collected wild Mexican cattle and then drove them to early start-up Texas ranches. Mexican cowboys were skillful cow handlers and made up about a third of the first Texas cow chasers. In Spanish, they are Vaqueros (which translates to cow boys). The word buckaroo evolved from vaquero. Anyway . . .back to chili.
According to The Chili Appreciation Society International, In the 1800s Texas prisons served their residents chili on a regular basis and prisoners rated the quality of their jails based on the quality of the chili served. Some prisoners even asked for the recipe when they were released.
By this time, households had begun preparing their own chili with the advent of commercially-available spices.
by 1895, Lyman T. Davis and a ranch cook developed their chili recipe and took it by wagon to the oil boomtown of Corsicana, TX where they sold it for five cents a bowl next to the Blue Front Saloon. Accompanying crackers were free. Subsequently, Davis opened a meat market and sold the chili in brick form. By 1921 he was canning his chili under the name Wolf Brand Chili, named after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill. Two Corsicana business men bought Davis’ chili business in 1924. The two were savvy marketers. They customized model T Ford trucks with cabs shaped like cans of chili. These cans on wheels were painted with the Wolf Brand label. As if this weren’t enough to draw attention, a live wolf was caged in the back of each truck. They built a brand and sold a lot of chili because the Wolf Brand chili can still be found on grocery store shelves.
Chili was a staple in many households during the Great Depression. It was cheap and high on protein. Paired with crackers, it made a meal.
Jump ahead several decades for the start of chili cookoffs— a civilized way to settle the best chili recipe debate. The State Fair of Texas launched the first recorded chili cookoff in 1952. Naturally the rules included NO BEANS! If you’ve ever heard of Terlingua, TX, you know the chili cookoff lives on with Texas beer a key ingredient (replacing water) in many winning recipes.
Talk to a Texan today about Chili and you’ll often find yourself in an enthusiastic discussion about their chili memories. Here’s one of my chili memories. I grew up in a small Texas town. When I was in the seventh and eighth grade, I looked forward to the one day a week I could take 30 cents (the cost of a school lunch) and spend it across the street at a local root beer stand. For 15 cents, a small bag of Fritos would be split down the side, a big spoonful of chili would be ladled in, and the crunchy, spicy mass sprinkled with grated cheese and a bit of chopped onion. Sheer heaven! Along with this “Frito Pie” came a 15 cent Frosty mug of root beer containing a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For a middle schooler, life didn’t get much better!
As you can imagine, I cheered when in 1977 the Texas State Legislature voted to make chili the official state dish of Texas—in recognition that “ the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.”
Just remember, as “The Chili Song” sung by William Clark Green says,“Don’t you put no beans in my chili. If you put beans in my chili, you don’t know beans about making Texas chili!”
This has been Laurie Moore-More saying, “Enjoy your bowl of Texas red.”
The white-haired man and the young boy sat side by side warming themselves in front of the fireplace. The man turned to the boy. “Robert, did I ever tell you about the time I rustled cattle?”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. “Grandpa, You were a rustler? I thought rustling cattle was a bad thing.”
“Yep, usually is. But in this case it was a good thing and at the behest of General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War.”
“Robert E. Lee, he’s the general I was named for . . .”
“Right and a fine man he was.”
“Behest means an order or command.” The old man smiled, “Let me tell you about it. It was quite an adventure. Way back in the Fall of 1864—more than three years into the Civil War—things were not going well for General Robert E. Lee and our Confederate army. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army had Petersburg, Virginia under siege. By September of that year the siege was in the third month and supplies were short for us Confederate troops. I was one of the troops who had established a ten mile defensive line surrounding Petersburg.”
“Petersburg is on the James River, right. Dad and I fish there sometimes.”
“Yep, good catfish fishin’. Petersburg was important because it had four rail roads and two roads making it the heart of Southern supply lines, especially for Richmond, where the Confederacy was headquartered.
“General Grant’s strategy was to strangle the Southern supply lines—to cut off shipments of food, weapons, ammunition, uniforms, too. Not that the Confederacy had many uniforms to ship. We were a ragtag bunch. At the same time, he was cuttin’ off our supplies, Grant worked to maximize supplies for his own Union troops at the major supply depot and his field headquarters over at City Point, Virginia, that’s where the James and Appomattox rivers come together. It was about eight miles behind Union lines. I’ve been told that 2,900 tons of supplies arrived every day from trains and from ships at the City Point Harbor.”
“Gee! That’s a lot.”
“Yep. You like bread and butter, right?” The boy nodded.
“Well, the City Point Bakery turned out 100,00 loaves of bread each day. All this kept the Union soldiers well fed and well supplied while we Confederates were sittin’ around our campfires with growling stomachs. I remember being really hungry and worried about how to stay warm ‘cause winter was comin’. Sure would have liked some of that bread and butter.
“Needless to say, the food situation was pretty desperate. I remember being on sentry duty on September 5th, when one of our Confederate agents and scouts, a guy named George Shadburne came back from a reconnaissance trip behind enemy lines and reported to General Wade Hampton— he was Commander of the Cavalry Corp. of the Army of Northern Virginia— that there were 3000 cattle—intended to feed Union troops—being held at Coggins Point, just five miles from Grant’s headquarters. I overheard him say that he believed the beeves were guarded by about 120 soldiers and 30 unarmed civilians.”
“That’s a lot of cattle. Those are the one’s you rustled?” The boy’s voice was eager.
The old man patted the boy’s knee. “Don’t get ahead of me now. I’m comin’ to that. General
Hampton recognized an opportunity to harass the enemy and get some food for us. General Lee liked the idea and gave us permission to go after the cattle. Hampton gathered a force of some 3000 of us soldiers including (and I quote) “several certified Texas cattle thieves”. . . or, cattle rustlers as we’d call them. I’d never been a rustler. Valued my neck too much. Didn’t want to swing by it from a tree. But, I was a Texan, so he figured I’d at least know how to handle cattle. We found some shepherd dogs to help as herders.”
“How’d you get past enemy lines?” The boy’s attention was complete.
“Well, on the mornin’ of September 14th, Hampton led us around the Union’s left flank, then turned us southwest toward Wilkinson’s Bridge on Stony Creek, where we cold-camped for the night. Next mornin’ we moved northeast at a quick march to where Cooke’s Bridge had spanned Blackwater Creek—that is, until the Union troops burned it. FIgurin’ the enemy wouldn’t expect an attack from this direction, Hampton ordered our engineers to build a new bridge over the creek. By midnight, we had crossed the creek and were within 10 miles of the cattle at Coggin’s Point.
“Hampton divided us into three groups. Group one, that was my group—under the command of General Thomas Rosser, would launch the attack at Sycamore Church, the central point of the Union camp and the spot closest to the cattle. Group two would go to the left to offer us protection from the Union forces close to Petersburg, while group three rode to the right to provide support for us as we rounded up the cattle and then skedaddled back the way we’d come.
“It was 5:00 a.m. on the 16th when we burst into the Union camp. Sure surprised the troops there! We were surprised, too. There were more than 300 soldiers in camp instead of the 120 the scout had estimated. Took about three hours to get in control of the situation and round up the herd. We captured 304 Union prisoners along with their new Henry repeater rifles. Also rounded up eleven wagons. A bunch of non-combatant Yankee herders changed allegiance and came back with us to help drive the 2,486 cattle we rustled. And can you imagine, all this happened just five miles from Grant’s headquarters?”
“Were you scared?”
“Robert, any time you ‘see the elephant,’ you have some fear.”
“Seeing the elephant means going into battle, right?”
“Yep. Anyway, the march back to our Confederate camp was across the new bridge we’d built over Blackwater Creek. When we’d had crossed with our new wagons, prisoners, and all those beeves, we dismantled the bridge so, any Union troops chasing us cattle thieves couldn’t cross the creek.”
Laughing, the boy said, “Weren’t many left behind to chase you, were there?”
The old man grinned, “Nope. The raid was successful, but we lost ten Confederates, forty-seven were wounded. One of those was my cousin Jack (he recovered), and four soldiers went missing. We lost a few stray cattle on the road back to Confederate territory, so we ended up with a total of 2,468 “Confederate cattle.
“But there was a problem. Wasn’t any fodder to feed the captured herd, so it was necessary to slaughter them immediately and with little or no salt to use as a preservative, we needed to cook and eat two million pounds of meat. There was so much meat in the short term that we Johnny Rebs could eat our fill and have a bit to trade in private exchanges with Union sentries for other items which union troops had and we Southerners didn’t. We had some fun taunting the Union sentries, invitin’ them for a steak dinner or simply “mooing” at them. Couldn’t eat all that beefsteak fast enough and raw beef spoils fast. Before long, our Confederate food shortage was desperate again.
“You know, when President Lincoln heard about our raid, he called it, ‘the slickest piece of cattle stealing’ he had ever heard of. Story is that shortly after our cattle rustling raid, Grant was asked when he expected to defeat Lee. He supposedly said, ‘Never if our armies continue to supply him with beef cattle.’” The old man chuckled, making new wrinkles on his face.
“Several ‘certified Texas cattle thieves’ and the rest of us who were part of the raid, have stories to tell and braggin’ to do about the great “Beefsteak Raid.” The old man laughed again. It’s a bit of cattle thievery which didn’t justify hanging.
The old man stood. “All this talk has made me hungry. What do you say we go to the kitchen and rustle us up a couple of steaks?”
Jumping to his feet the boy said, “Make my beefsteak rare!”
In a final note:
Prince Georges County, Virginia holds a steak dinner each year commemorating the Great Beefsteak Raid. Want yours rare, medium or well done?