The Tiny Woman Who Saved the Buffalo

During the buffalo slaughter, a tiny frontier woman sheltered buffalo calves and saved the breed.

Mary Ann Dyer (known as Molly) was born in Tennessee. However, her lawyer father moved the family to Fort Belknap, Texas in 1854, when Molly was 14. Both her parents died shortly after the move and young Molly assumed responsibility for the care of her five brothers, teaching school to provide support. Molly was tiny—a mere five feet tall— but she proved to be tough, dedicated, and ready to take on a challenge.

Molly met cattleman Charles Goodnight at Fort Belknap about 1864  and shortly thereafter moved to Weatherford, Texas to teach school. In July of 1870, she married Charles Goodnight, who was already building a strong reputation as a cattleman. He was the only person who called her Mary rather than by her nickname, Molly.

The newlyweds settled down to ranching on the spread Goodnight had already established near Pueblo, Colorado. Drought conditions and the Panic of 1873 provided the impetus for them to move back to Texas, which Molly thought more civilized than Colorado.

In 1877, Goodnight formed a partnership with Scots-Irishman John George Adair, who participating in a Kansas buffalo hunt, became so enamored with the West, he moved his brokerage business from New York to Denver. In 1877, hearing Goodnight’s glowing description of Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle as an ideal site for a ranch, Adair agreed to finance a ranch there, ultimately agreeing to hold two-thirds ownership himself and give one-third ownership to Goodnight. Goodnight suggested using Adair’s initials to name the Palo Duro Canyon ranch the JA. Flattered, Adair agreed.

Adair and his wife, Cornelia, the Goodnights, Molly’s brother Albert Dyer, and several cowhands, moved 100 top Durham bulls to the new JA ranch, along with four wagons filled with six months worth of provisions and equipment. Molly drove one of the wagons while Cornelia Adair traveled on horseback. A previously built two-room cabin housed the couples in the canyon. After a brief visit, the Adairs returned home, leaving Goodnight to manage the ranch.

Steep rock cliffs lined the canyon edges plunging 1500 feet down to the floor below. Red with sandstone, the faces of the cliffs looked like swirling Spanish skirts. Grass was dense. Creeks bubbled through the canyon, which stretched for almost 100 miles and was 10 miles wide. It was a paradise for cattle, but it offered a lonely life to a woman.The nearest neighbors were 75 miles away. Molly’s days centered around the chores of the ranch. At one point she made pets of three chickens she’d been given for Sunday dinner. Her social interactions included hosting parties for the cowhands, teaching them to read, and occasionally entertaining curious Indians. She rode the floor of the canyon on a two-horned side saddle designed for her by Goodnight.

In 1887, after building a  luxurious 2900 square foot, two-story home, less than a mile from the rim of the canyon, Molly and Goodnight opened their doors to occasional guests including heads of state, other cattle barons, and  Quanah Parker, the last of the great Comanche chiefs.

The ranch prospered, but on the flat prairie stretching in all directions from the canyon edges,  buffalo slaughter went on at a frantic pace while Molly lay in bed listening to the cries of orphaned bison calves. From vast herds of Southern Plains buffalo numbering in the tens of millions, the slaughter ultimately reduced the number of buffalo to an estimated 300 animals. The killing was a government policy designed to force the Indians—who were dependent upon them—into reservations and to meet demand for buffalo tongues, hides, and bones.

In 1878, Molly convinced Goodnight to start a buffalo herd to try to save the breed. He gathered seven buffalo calves and placed them on Texas cows for feeding. While the Goodnights were growing their buffalo herd, Goodnight also tried cross breeding buffalo and cattle to create “cattalo.” The cattalo breeding experiment was in Goodnight’s opinion successful. He is quoted, when comparing cattalo to beef, “They (cattalo) are immune from all diseases as far as I have tested them. They are much greater in weight, eat much less and hold their flesh better under adverse conditions. They have a better meat, clear of fiber, and it never gets tough like beef. They have long and deep backs, enabling them, to cut at least 150 pounds more meat than other cattle. More of them can be grazed on a given area. They do not run from heel flies nor drift in storms, but like the buffalo, face the blizzards. They rise on their fore feet instead of their hind feet. This enables them to rise when in a weakened condition. They never lie down with their backs downhill, so they are able to rise quickly and easily. This habit is reversed in cattle.”

The Goodnights’ breeding of a herd composed of the last of the pure buffalo was successful, and the couple donated or sold part of the herd to help save the species. Some of their buffalo went to start the Yellowstone National Park buffalo herd, to the New York Zoo, and to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The legacy of these bison lives on.

After 10 years ranching in the canyon, Goodnight took his one third interest in the ranch, and ended the Adair partnership.The remainder of the JA Ranch reverted to John Adair’s widow and heirs who continue to manage it today, and have donated the ranch’s Southern Plains bison herd to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma hosts bison that are direct descendants of Goodnight’s bison from the NewYork/Bronx Zoo breeding program. Today there are about 500,000 bison in North America.

As a footnote to the Cattalo breeding efforts. Although there have continued to be some small successes, it seems infertility keeps the Cattalo population quite small. Back to the Goodnights . . . After the sale of their portion of the JA ranch, The Goodnight’s moved to Armstrong County, Texas. Molly, known as “The Mother of the Panhandle” died in 1926. Charles Goodnight, died in 1929.

Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight—known as Molly—was a strong woman determined to save the buffalo from extinction. With the expert help of her husband, the legendary cattleman, Charles Goodnight, she succeeded. This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—Tidbits of Texas History you didn’t learn in School. Ya’ll come back.

The Chuckwagon

The Chuckwagon, the cowboy cook’s rolling pantry—how rancher’s kept hungry cowboys fed on the trail.

Most ranchers will tell you that cowboys are always hungry, so one ranch challenge is to satisfy that hunger. The ranch cook-shack is where cowhands gather for meals when they are close to home. On the move, the chuckwagon is where the cook rules and dishes up tasty fare including cowboy beans, sourdough biscuits, vinegar pie, or son-of-a-gun stew—a dish made from the heart, liver, and tripe of an animal. What’s tripe? The lining of the stomach.

On historic cattle drives, and even today at roundup, the chuckwagon is the heart of the cowboys’ camp, and the cook’s job is key to keeping the ranch hands happy. Cowboys have been known to move from one ranch to another based on the quality of “Camp Cookie’s” food.

To answer the question of how the chuckwagon got its name, we have to look back to the 1600’s in England where butchers used the term “chuck” to identify their cheaper meat products. Jump to the 1700’s and chuck had become a common term for good, basic food.

You might be surprised to know that the chuckwagon is the official vehicle of Texas.

Thanks to Charles Goodnight, a Texas Ranger turned cattleman, the chuckwagon made its appearance in 1866. Goodnight—along with pioneer cattleman Oliver Loving—planned a cattle drive from Texas to Colorado, in hopes of  opening new cattle markets. In preparation, Goodnight bought a surplus Army wagon with heavy iron axles and customized it to serve as storage, a rolling pantry, water wagon, tool box and medicine chest. To serve these purposes, Goodnight started with the basic wagon bed and added three elements which were already common on wagons: on one side he attached a large water barrel which would hold a couple of days worth of water; on the other side, a big tool box; and curving above the wagon bed, bentwood supports for a heavy canvas top. However, what was innovative about Goodnight’s chuckwagon design was the creation of a chuck box. Installed at the rear of the wagon, the chuck box was a built-in cabinet with a rear opening covered by a hinged lid that flipped down from the front of the cabinet, creating a table surface supported by a leg which swung to the ground. Inside the cabinet was a series of shelves and drawers.

Packing the wagon before a trail drive or roundup, here’s what Goodnight’s  trail-drive cook would likely have loaded into the wagon bed: bedrolls, slickers, guns, ammunition, lanterns, kerosene, axle grease, a spare wheel, and rope, along with bulk food including flour, brown sugar, coffee, and salt. Also, pinto beans, corn meal, salt pork, beef jerky, and dried fruit. Especially well stocked chuckwagons might also contain potatoes, onions and canned tomatoes.The side-mounted tool box would contain branding irons, hobbles, shovel, ax, horse-shoeing supplies and other tools. Shelves and drawers in the chuck box itself, would be packed with food for immediate use plus items like lard, baking soda, vinegar, molasses, sourdough starter, matches, and tobacco. Somewhere in this inventory would be the coffee pot and whiskey bottle—the whiskey for medicinal purposes!  An important drawer in the chuck box was the “possible drawer” which the cook packed with odds and ends that might possibly be needed—including such things as needles, thread, buttons, and castor oil. Below the chuck box, in the boot of the wagon, the cook would store his wash tub, skillets, dutch ovens, pot hooks and racks, tin cups, plates and silverware. And let’s not forget the all-important coffee grinder which was attached to the side of the chuck box.  All in all, a well-organized pantry on wheels—a pantry that was put to good use, although most meals were beans, sourdough biscuits, and dried fruit. 

On a trail drive, the Camp Cookie was the first one up. He’d roll out of his bedroll long before sunrise, start the fire, and begin making coffee and preparing breakfast. After serving breakfast and washing the dishes, he’d repack the chuckwagon and drive to the place the trail boss had identified as the mid-day stopping point. He’d cook and serve lunch, clean up, repack and drive to the designated end-of-day rendezvous spot, where he’d do it all again. After dark, he was responsible for turning the chuckwagon to face the north star to help orient the trail boss the next morning.  On the trail, he improvised as doctor and dentist and sewed on more than a few lost buttons. His tasks didn’t change despite rain, snow, high wind, or intense heat. The chuckwagon cook was a hero of the old west who has inspired many a backyard cookout today.

As a footnote: Historically, many chuckwagon “Cookies” were Hispanic, as were many of the cowboys. In fact the Mexican vaqueros were the inspiration for cowboys and for the name buckaroos. Today there are still lots of Hispanic chuckwagon cooks. Women populate the chuckwagon ranks as well. . . All capable of turning out tasty meals that put smiles on cowboys’ faces and fuel long days of hard work.

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—Tidbits of Texas History you didn’t learn in School.  Ya’ll come back.

Texican, Texian, or Texan?  It depends!

Texican, Texian, or Texan?  The difference is all in the timing.

Did you know Texans haven’t always been known as Texans? The proper term has changed over time—depending upon the political structure.  Here’s a quick review of 25 years of history that took citizens from Texicans to Texians to Texans.

From Texican to Texian to Texan. Let’s do a quick review of Texas history to see what was happening during the time each of three terms for Texas citizens was used.

The term for Anglos living in Mexican Texas from 1820 to 1836, was Texican (rhymes with Mexican)

The colonization of Mexican Texas began in earnest when Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821 and it lasted until the successful end of the Texas Revolution in 1836. During this period the existing province of Texas was merged with the Mexican province of Coahuila (co-a-whee-la, forming the province of Coahuila y Texas.

Mexican citizens were reluctant to move to sparsely populated Texas, where the plains Indians—including the fierce Comanche—reigned. Wanting to create a barrier between the marauding Indians and the more settled parts of Mexico, The Mexican Government decided to implement a plan developed by Spain, just prior to Mexico’s independence, and invite Anglo-American  settlers to settle in Texas. This influx would, the government hoped, also stimulate economic development. Immigrants were required to take an oath of loyalty to Mexico and be Christian. The assumption was that they would be Catholic; however, Catholicism was not consistently enforced.

Generous land grants at low prices were offered to Anglo-American settlers. Each immigrating head of household could claim a headright of one league (or 4,428 acres) of grazing land plus one labor (or 177 acres) of farm land.  The initial offering involved a total payment of $184, to be made in six years.

To facilitate the settlement, Mexican authorities  set up a contractural system to grant blocks of land to empresarios who would advertise for immigrants, screen them, and oversee their settlement. The first of these empresarios was Stephen F. Austin who was authorized by the Mexican government to settle 300 families in Texas in 1821. Subsequently, Austin was given permission to settle an additional 1700 families between 1825 and 1831.By 1835, when  the land office closed, approximately 1000 land titles had been granted.

Settlers were willing to immigrate for several reasons. Not only were land prices attractive, the lack of agreements between the US and Mexico to return fugitives or allow creditors to pursue debt collection made Mexico an attractive location for debtors and those accused of crimes. Many people running from the law or avoiding creditors simply painted “Gone to Texas” or the initials GTT on their doors or gate posts and made a dash for the Texas border.

While these first Anglo settlers in Mexican Texas were known as Texicans, this reference changed following the Texas Revolution. Although the Revolution began officially in 1835, the pressures leading to it had been smoldering for years before.  As early as 1830, Texicans were frustrated by the Mexican government’s actions. The Decree of 1830 forbade colonists, from countries whose borders touched those of Mexico, from settling near their own countries’ borders. Land contracts for colonies not yet approved were suspended. Any settler entering Mexico from the north was required to have a passport issued by a Mexican consular in his own country. It also prohibited bringing slaves into Texas. Laws were also passed approving the settlement of Mexican convicts in Texas. Texicans had also been promised that Texas would become a separate province from Coahuila and the general opinion was that Mexico was dragging its feet in delivering on this promise. To make matters worse, twelve military posts were established in Texas and military troops posted to collect taxes and enforce Mexican law. This set the stage for several rounds of of petitions and appeals. Texicans also held two Conventions to draft a Constitution for Texas as a Mexican province to strengthen their request to break from Coahuila.

Inside Mexico. Santa Ana was elected President and began to maneuver to make himself dictator. Stephen F. Austin was arrested and held in Mexico without trial. By Spring of 1834, Santa Ana made himself the supreme ruler of Mexico and the federal Constitution of 1824 became a thing of the past, removing the freedoms and protections of all Mexican citizens. When the province of Zacatecas refused to accept dictatorship and the abolishment of the 1824 Constitution, Santa Ana attacked them bringing much death and destruction. Provincial governments were abolished, and Texas was placed under military rule.  By 1835 feelings of distrust were running high. Colonists began organizing “Committees of Safety” to share information on Mexico’s actions.

Texicans were not inclined to yield to Santa Ana’s absolute rule and Santa Ana sent a large contingent of troops to Texas and pledged to show no mercy to rebelling Texicans. He did however, release Austin.Following an attack on Anahuac led by William Travis and a skirmish over a small brass cannon at Gonzales, war seemed inevitable. The battles from Goliad to the tragic fall of The Alamo, the final victory over Santa Ana at San Jacinto in 1836 and others in between are well documented and probably familiar. It was in these circumstances, which resulted in the creation of The independent Republic of Texas, that a new term was born. Citizens became Texians and remained so for about a decade.

In September of 1836, Texians were called upon to elect a president, vice-president, senators and representatives for the new republic.  Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto was chosen for a two-year term as President and Mirabeau Lamar was elected Vice President. Houston immediately appointed Stephen F. Austin as Secretary of State. Austin first task was to prepare instructions for William Wharton, the first Minister to Washington.  Working for three days and nights in a cold room with no fire, Austin fell sick and “The Father of Texas” died of pneumonia on December 27th.

The new Republic was beset with difficulties—beginning with the facts that the new country was a million and a quarter dollars in debt and faced with a Mexico which declared the treaty with Santa Ana void and talked of reinvading Texas. Nonetheless, the new Republic furloughed the army and focused on important legislation. A general land office was established as were land laws to help untangle the conflicting claims of ownership. Post offices and mail routes were established and Texas formalized its borders by claiming all land between the Sabine River and the Rio Grande. Texas also claimed a column of land extending into what is now New Mexico. Colorado, and Wyoming. The border with the US  was to be settled by a commission.

Although many Texians hoped to be admitted to the Union, instead on March 2nd, 1837, the U.S. Congress recognized Texas as an independent country. Although troubles with Mexican invasions continued as did problems with the Cherokee and the Comanche, Texas moved ahead to choose Austin as its new capital. France, Holland, Belgium and England recognized Texas as an independent state. Finally in February of 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas. In the summer of that year, the republic’s legislature voted to accept annexation, In October, the people voted to join the Union and in February of 1846, the transfer of governance occurred—Texas officially became a state and its citizens became known as Texans.  And Texans we remain!

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong, Tidbits of Texas History you never learned in school.  Broadcasting every other Thursday. It’s the best little podcast in Texas.  Subscribe so you can catch every episode. Thanks for listening!

The Circus Comes to Town

The traveling circus braved rough, muddy roads bringing fierce beasts and special acts to Texans.

Eldrid’s Great Circus and Menagerie actually traveled to Texas towns in the late 1850s. In this episode, a reading from Laurie’s novel, GONE TO DALLAS, recreates an historically-accurate circus experience for fictional characters in her book.

Today’s topic is The Circus comes to town, or Under the “BigTop” in the 1850s. Can you imagine the excitement when a circus came to a small Texas town in the 1800s? To give you an idea, here’s a reading from my novel GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper 1856-1861.

“The circus is coming to town!” Daniel burst into the store one spring morning, waving a copy of the Herald newspaper. “It says right here that Edrid’s Great Circus and Menagerie is coming to Dallas next week. There will be lions, tigers, hyenas, and other wild beasts. Can you believe it? Right here in Dallas?” It was all Daniel could talk about that day. In fact, the circus and menagerie provided positive conversation and anticipation for the entire town.

The very next day, an advance agent of the circus rode into town on his horse, blowing his bugle to gather a crowd. He handed out promotional bills to those who had gathered at the sound of his horn. Stepping into Sara’s store, he said, “Let me post a promotional broadside at your entrance, and I’ll give you two free passes to Edrid’s Circus. You’ll see amazing things and fierce beasts.”

Sara laughed. “We certainly don’t want to miss the fierce beasts. Post your broadside.” He handed her two tickets, and Sara passed one to Daniel, who was all but jumping up and down. According to the broadside, the circus would be in town for two days only. The promotional piece promised, “In addition to the exotic, wild beasts, Dandy John and his trick ponies, acrobats, lion tamers, and clowns will thrill and amaze you. All performing under the Big Top circus tent. Seats will be available for ladies and children. Music provided by the famous Menagerie Band. Hours for the two days: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tickets twenty-five cents.”

“How on earth do you think the circus got here?” Sara asked Ira Webster, as they were both reading the circus broadsides while posting them outside their businesses.

“That’s exactly what I asked the circus agent,” Webster replied. “He told me they came up the stagecoach road to Austin after successful performances in Galveston and Houston. They performed in Austin, then followed the Preston Road to Waco, where he said they received glowing reviews.” Webster laughed. “Guess the agent couldn’t resist adding a bit of promotion to his answer.”

Sara said, “I suppose that makes him good at his job.”

“Anyway, from Waco they followed the road north to Dallas. After leaving here, he told me, they plan to head to Shreveport on the freighters’ road and then float down the Red River on barges to New Orleans. Said they’ve slogged through a lot of mud. With the spring rains, I reckon the roads must be mostly mud and potholes.”

The day of the circus, Dallas woke early to find a white-faced, red-nosed clown in a baggy, striped costume performing in front of the courthouse. He made silly faces and performed somersaults, flips, and handstands to the cheers of the crowd. When a large-enough crowd had collected around him, he added silly jokes. “Why did the lion spit out the clown? Because he tasted funny.” The crowd groaned. “What do you call a stinky elephant? A smelly-phant.” More groans and laughter.

Clutching a roll from Mr. Baker’s shop, Sara had stopped to join in the fun. .Reminding everyone that the show would start at ten o’clock that morning, the clown made several silly efforts to mount his horse, the last of which left him sitting on it backwards. He rode away waving the horse’s tail and shouting, “See you at ten!”. . . Turning away from the square, Sara hurried to open the store. She had promised Daniel he could have the day off to attend the circus. They had agreed Sara would mind the store today, then she would attend the performance the next morning while he covered the store. Sara had thought about closing but decided to stay open, believing the circus would draw people from outside town who would be likely shoppers before and after the big event.

The next morning, Sara, Ellie, and Ellie’s beau, carpenter Gerard Favre, stopped at the store on the way to the circus. Daniel was still so excited about all he had seen that he was hardly coherent. “Wait ’til you see the animals! Fierce . . . .and the man put his head in its mouth, and it ate raw meat. But I never saw the egress . . ..”

The three laughed after leaving the store. Gerard, whose English was quickly improving, asked, “Was he speaking English? I only understood a few words.”

Ellie said, “I think he was telling us something about a lion tamer putting his head in a lion’s mouth. And then something about raw meat. Could that be?”

“Let’s just hope the head in the mouth didn’t result in the raw meat.” Sara raised her eyebrows. “If it did, there may not be much of a wild-beast show this afternoon. I think he also said he never did see the egress.”

“I don’t know about an egress, but did you hear that this circus may be getting an elephant?” As usual, Ellie was eager to share the news she’d heard.

They arrived at an open area on the edge of town to find a line of people already waiting to enter. In front of them was a large, wooden screen painted with snarling lions, exotic cats, and other wild animals. This served as both barricade and entrance. Once they reached the front of the line, their tickets were collected by the clown Sara had watched earlier. They then stepped through the doorway in the screen and into a dusty field with a large, canvas tent. Curving in a semicircle in front of the tent were the circus’s wild beasts in their caged wagons. The air had a musky smell of animal dung. Sara read the descriptive signs out loud. “African Lion – the King of Beasts, Man-Eating Asian Tiger, Ethiopian Bone-Eating Hyenas.”

Ellie said, “I had no idea lions were so big, but somehow the hyenas are even more frightening.”

“I think it’s the snarling and slobbering that makes them so scary,” Sara said. “Plus, I think their cage smells the worst.”

After Sara and her friends had made the rounds, peering into the cages along with a growing crowd, the circus’ ringmaster walked out of the tent in his top hat and tails. He had gray hair, a receding chin, and a booming voice. “Ladies, gentlemen, and children, prepare to be amazed as the fierce Asian tiger is fed ten, yes ten, pounds of raw meat. See how quickly this massive, meat-eating monster gobbles his food and imagine how quickly he could eat you, young man. Yes, you!” He pointed at a boy of about six who was getting a bit too close to the cage. The ringmaster snapped his fingers. “Gone before you know it!” The boy’s eyes widened, and he scurried several steps back to his mother. “Here comes our tiger tamer now. Please step back, everyone.” Sara quickly took three steps back.

The tiger tamer, a slim man wearing tight pants and a fringed shirt, came out of the tent with a bucket of red meat and a long-handled fork. Plunging the fork into the bucket, he speared a large, bloody chunk of meat. A shiver went down Sara’s spine. The caged tiger leapt from the bale of hay on which he’d been resting and began snarling and reaching a paw through the cage’s bars. Ellie let out a shriek. The crowd stepped farther back. Teasing the animal with the meat, the trainer waved the fork just out of reach. The cat went mad, snarling and reaching through the bars of the cage. Daniel was right about fierce animals! The hyenas in the next cage began to howl and dash about with foaming mouths. Sara’s eyes shifted to the bloody piece of meat on the end of the fork. Finally, the trainer deftly dropped it through the bars and into the cage. The tiger was on it in a flash and it was gone. The trainer repeated this nine more times. Each time the tiger devoured the food almost before it hit the floor of the cage. Amazing. Imagine them in the wild. The hyenas were still howling as the last morsel disappeared behind the frightening teeth of the tiger. Sara looked at the door of the tiger’s cage to be sure it was padlocked.

“The thrills are just beginning,” promised the ringmaster. “Place your attention on our mighty lion, the King of Beasts, straight from the African continent on the other side of the world. You’ve seen how fierce tigers are—imagine the force and fury inside this wild creature. Don’t let his beauty fool you. He is ferocious. Our world-famous lion tamer is among the bravest men on Earth. Why do I say that? Because he is about to put his head inside this beast’s mouth.” So this is what Daniel was trying to tell us. “Yes, you heard me right. I’m going to ask you to be totally still and silent, so we don’t startle the beast. Not long ago we had a man who thought he’d shout at the most dramatic moment. If you wonder where we get our raw meat . . . well . . .” What a gruesome thought.

At this point the bare-chested lion tamer arrived in spangled tights. His chest was covered with colorful tattoos. He posed for the crowd, showing off the animals inked on his chest. “I think he might be the tiger tamer with a new mustache and a sharp pole,” Sara whispered to Ellie.

The man stepped onto a short stair at the end of the wagon, opened the door to the cage, and stepped in, leading with the sharp pole. The lion roared. Children began to cry. Mothers shushed them. Slowly the trainer moved toward the roaring lion. Sara realized she was holding her breath. The trainer raised the pole to the lion’s mouth and gently pushed it open. The lion’s teeth were huge, and Sara gasped with the rest of the crowd. Sara saw Ellie grab Gerard’s hand. The trainer continued to tease the lion’s mouth open with the pole as he slowly stepped forward. The crowd was silent. When the opening was large enough, the trainer slipped his head inside the lion’s mouth, paused to a long count of three, and removed it. He backed out of the cage with the pole pointed at the lion, closed the door, and bowed. The crowd cheered and applauded. Sara joined the applause. Ellie said, “We’ve already gotten our money’s worth.”

The excitement continued. They stepped into the tent where a small set of bleachers had been set up for ladies and children. Ellie and Sara took seats, and Gerard stood nearby with the other men. Dandy John, a small man in a blue leotard, stood on prancing horses and did various and sundry tricks. “Amazing,” Gerard said when Dandy John swung down and extended himself along the side of the horse as it trotted. “That’s what John Henry told me the Comanches do.” Sara said, “They actually shoot their arrows from that position.” The clowns made Ellie, Gerard, and Sara laugh until they cried. They held their breaths, watching the daredevil acrobats build human towers and somersault through the air.”

There’s a bit more about the circus in the book GONE TO Dallas, but I wanted to give you a flavor of a “mud and muck” traveling circus in the very early days of Texas. Why mud and muck? The circus wagons had to slog along muddy roads and the wagons of the fierce beasts required constant mucking out. Mud and muck!

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!  Ya’ll come back.

The Fascinating names of Texas Towns

From Bugtussle to Fairy and from Muleshoe to Ding Dong, Texas towns (and some counties) have unique names.

From Bugtussle to Egypt and Stranger to Telephone, many Texas town names are surprising and  perplexing. Prepare to chuckle, scratch your head, and just enjoy the unusual names of Texas cities, towns, and “spots in the road,” on this whirlwind tour of fascinating names.

This is Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast.  Today’s topic: Texas Towns, It’s all in a name! Texas’ population of more than 29 million people is spread among cities, towns, small places, and what Texans call “spots in the road.”  These spots are so small that if you blink, you’re likely to miss them. Texans and visitors alike are often surprised, charmed or even perplexed by many of the names of these diverse places.

For instance, while you are in Texas, you can visit places named Ireland, Holland, Italy, Paris, Athens, China, London, Moscow, and Egypt. There are about three dozen town names creating an around-the-world-tour without having to leave the state!—but don’t forget a stop at two of my favorites, Earth and Venus!

Texans claim things are bigger in the state, so it makes sense that we have Big Foot, Big Lake, Big Sandy, Big Spring, and Big Well. However, towns beginning with Ben outnumber those beginning with Big. For example, Ben Hur, Ben Franklin, Ben Arnold, Ben Bold, Ben Wheeler, Benbrook, Benjamin, Bennett, Benchley, Bend and Bentonville.

Some names reflect the delight and hopes of the founders—Utopia, Happy, Blessing, Cash, Comfort, Eden, Eldorado, Sweet Home, Joy, Security, Paradise, and New Hope.

By contrast Cheapside, Bleakwood, Sour Lake, and Motley aren’t optimistic names. One has to wonder what the founders were thinking. None of these grew up to be very big, although Motley is actually the name of a Texas county.

Some names carry a link to the past. How about Muleshoe (named after a nearby ranch)? Buffalo, Buffalo Gap,  Buffalo Springs, Chisolm, Spur, Comanche, and Quanah (as in Quanah Parker, the last of the great Comanche chiefs). How about Houston (after Sam Houston) or Austin (named for Stephen F. Austin, the Empresario known as the Father of Texas) There’s even a place bearing the name of Santa Ana (the Mexican leader defeated by Houston at San Jacinto). There are towns named  Crockett (for Alamo hero Davy Crockett), Jeff Davis (president of the Confederacy), Jefferson, and Jim Hogg (The Texas governor remembered along with his daughter Ima Hogg. But that’s another story).

Many towns must have been named based on specific characteristics of their locations. You can visualize what the first settlers saw with these names—Fairview, Plainview, Prairieview, Spring, Roaring Springs, Rockwall, Roundrock, Redwater, Thicket, Shady Grove, Medicine Mound, Blooming Grove, Shallow Water, Sunny Side, Sunray, Turkey and White Deer.

Some names are perplexing.  Would you name a town Fairy, Ding Dong, Bugtussle,

Tarzan or Wink?  How about  Stranger, Telephone or Tuxedo? People did.

I’ll tell you the stories of a three unusual place names and leave you the fun of doing your own research on others.  Let’s start with Deaf Smith, the unusual name of a Texas county. Erastus “Deaf” Smith was born in New York. He lost most of his hearing due to a childhood illness. Smith moved to Texas in his early thirties and became a well-known scout and guide. He is famous for carrying and delivering the William Barrett Travis’ letter from the Alamo. Trusting him, Sam Houston sent Deaf Smith back to confirm the Alamo’s fall. At the Battle of San Jacinto, Deaf Smith destroyed a key bridge to block escape routes for the Mexican army.  Following the Texas Revolution, he commanded Texas Rangers charged with protecting Texans from Indian and Mexican attacks. The county was named in his honor

Dime Box, about 66 miles from Austin, is a small town with a name that raises questions. In fact, there’s an an old Dime Box and a new Dime Box.  As the story goes, prior to getting a post office in 1877, residents of the town—which was named Brown’s Mill—could leave a dime in a box to get a letter delivered to the nearby town of Giddings. A former resident told me that one citizen  of Dime Box put a dime in the box weekly, not for letter service, but instead, requesting that a dime box of tobacco be acquired in Giddings for her. I’m not sure who collected the dimes and took the letters and the requests for tobacco to Giddings. Perhaps anyone who happened to be going.

When official postal service began, the postal service kept confusing Brown’s Mill with Brownsville and ordered the town to change its name.  The town submitted Dime Box as its new name which the postal service accepted. Later in 1913, the Southern Pacific Railroad ran within three miles of the town and most of the citizens moved to start New Dime Box near the railroad. Those who remained behind became Old Dimebox.

On a lighter note the town of BugTussle was, according to one story, named by young people who claimed the only entertainment in town was to watch tumble bugs work. This story raised another question in my mind. What in the world is a tumble bug? I turned to the website for an answer.

Turns out tumble bugs are dung beetles also known as scarb beetles. These small dark beetles have short antennae, large jaws, and strong legs. They are commonly referred to as dung beetles because they roll dung into balls, then lay their eggs on the balls which serve as nests and food for the grubs. Dung balls are generally twice the size of the beetles and the hard work forming the balls and rolling them to a desirable spot results in many beetle tumbles. Thus, the name BugTussle. If these tumbling bugs represented the most interesting activity in town, it’s probably not surprising that BugTussle is now a ghost town.

But let’s go back to the topic of Texas town names, and talk about some surprising pronunciation. The name of a Dallas suburb is spelled W-y-l-i-e.  Wylie, right?  Nope! Residents pronounce it y-LEEE with emphasis on LEE.  Then there’s what looks like Colorado City but is pronounced by locals as Col-A-RAY-duh City.  Don’t know why.

The classic example of uncertain pronunciation has inspired an urban legend which most Texans know well. Two visitors driving through Texas stopped at a Dairy Queen fast food outlet for lunch. As they ate their burgers and fries they debated how to pronounce the name of the town, which according to the welcome sign, was spelled M-E-X-I A.  Finally they turned to the waitress and asked, “Where are we, what is the name of this place?” Without batting an eye, the woman very slowly and with great emphasis said, “DAIRY QUEEN.” Of course the correct pronunciation of where they were is Ma-hay-a.

Where do you live and do you know how your city, town, or spot on the road got its name?

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—Tidbits of Texas history you never learned in school.  Posting every other week. Subscribe and come on back.  Thanks for listening. Visit and read my historical novel based in Texas: GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper 1856-1861.

Buy an adventure for a dime!

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!

The Legend of the Texas Bluebonnet

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.

After the Alamo Fell 

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. ( accessed March 11, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; 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.