Comanche Attack!

As the story goes . . .

Nestled in a small clearing close to the woods and the Leon River, about seven miles northeast of the small settlement of Hamilton in Central Texas was a rustic one-room school house. The Leon River School was a simple square of loosely stacked logs with large spaces left between the logs to allow for ventilation. School was taught in the summer when the children had more free time from tasks on their family homesteads.

It was afternoon that day in July of 1867, and a small group of students had settled in for their lessons. Their teacher, Miss Ann Whitney, a heavy-set 32 year-old who had left Massachusetts and travelled to Texas to teach, was instructing the children when a young student, Amanda Powers, yelled that horsemen were approaching the school. At first, teacher Ann Whitney was unconcerned as she had been told a parent and his cowhands would be visiting the school that day to see his daughter who was boarding with another family in order to attend the classes. But Amanda Powers continued to watch the approaching riders between cracks in the logs and was soon convinced the riders were Indians, She pushed her little brother out the schools only window and quickly followed him. Both ran for the bushes along the river and hid.

Amanda’s departure and the sound of pounding horse hooves told the story—a Comanche attack!  Barring the door and gathering the children, Ann Whitney began pushing her students out the small window on the north side of the cabin with instructions to hide in the brush along the river. At the last minute, loose floorboards were pulled up and two students, Louis Manning and John Kuykendall took cover under the school.

With blood-curdling cries, the war party began firing arrows into the school, wounding Ann Whitney more than a dozen times. A third student still in the building, Jane Kuykendall, was wounded, but survived because the Indians apparently assumed she was dead.

Wounded and dying, Ann Whitney spread her skirts over the floor boards where Tom and Louis were hiding. The Comanche broke the door down, found the two boys cowering under the floor, and dragged them up.

Among the dozen or so Comanche raiders was a red-headed white man who asked the two boys if they wanted to join the Indians. Young John Kuykendall said yes, and was taken. Louis Manning said no. He later said he thought he was about to be killed when the leader of the raiders called for the rest to leave.

As they were leaving, the red haired Indian saw Olivia Barbee, captured her, pulling her onto his saddle. When he was distracted, she jumped down and escaped into the thick underbrush.

By chance, two women out for a ride saw the commotion as the attack began. Seventeen year old Amanda Howard and her sister-in-law Sarah Howard realized they needed to warn others that the Comanche were raiding. They reversed their horses and raced toward the Baggett’s cabin about a half a mile away. A few of the Comanche hurried to stop them. In the rush, Sarah was thrown from her horse while jumping an eight rail fence. An Indian captured her horse, but but Sarah was uninjured and able to make it to the Baggett home. Amanda charged ahead of the pursuing Indians, managed to outrun them on the young, spirited colt she was riding, and was able to spread the alarm to other neighboring cabins and alert the citizens of Hamilton.

While one group of Comanche had attacked the school, a second  group found the Stanaland family traveling nearby. Mr. and Mrs. Stanaland and their two children were killed.

Armed men from Hamilton gathered and pursued the marauders.

John Kuykendall, who was taken in the raid, was traded back about six months later. His wounded sister Jane recovered from her wound. All of Ann Whitney’s students had survived the attack!  Teacher Ann Whitney who had died trying to save her students was heralded as a hero.

School children in Hamilton County raised money to place a monument in Graves-Gentry Cemetery in memory of the Leon River school teacher. It reads: “In memory of Ann Whitney, a frontier school teacher; born in Massachusetts about 1835, killed by Comanche Indians July 9, 1867. Resting in hope of a glorious resurrection. Erected by the school children of Hamilton County.” A Hamilton elementary school is named for Ann Whitney.

In 1958, a grey granite stone memorial honoring Ann Whitney was placed on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn

Ann Whitney’s bravery in saving her students and Amanda Howard’s heroic ride is also memorialized by Eltea Armstrong on a Texas General Land Office 1972 illustrated map of Hamilton County. In an ornate block of calligraphy and around the edges of the map, is the illustrated story of the two brave pioneer women, Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard. Just two examples of strong women who helped to settle Texas.

The Legendary XIT Ranch

The Legendary XIT Ranch (largest in the world).

In the previous podcast, I talked about how the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin was financed by raising funds through the sale of 3,050,000 acres of vacant land in the Panhandle of Texas. The land purchase was conducted by a Chicago firm, which created the Capitol Syndicate purchased the land in 1882. An immediate decision was made to use the land for cattle ranching until they could see an opportunity to break it into parcels for sale. This podcast looks at the famous ranch that grew out of that decision—The legendary XIT Ranch.

To fund the new ranch’s development, one of the Capitol Syndicate’s major investors, John V. Farwell traveled to England, set up The Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company of London and sold bonds to wealthy British investors. The funding resulted in the successful creation of the XIT Ranch.

The ranch was huge, stretching more than 220 miles north-to-south along the New Mexico border and measuring from 20 to 30 miles east-to-west. A common belief is that the name XIT stands for “Ten in Texas,” referring to the 10 counties it covers, As you might guess, the ranch chose as its brand the letters XIT. The land, rich with grass, was fenced and  in July of 1885, stocked with 2,500 longhorn cattle.

According to a 1929 book —The XIT Ranch and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado—by historian J. Evetts Haley,the XIT brand was conceived by the Texas trail driver, Abner Blocker, who drove the original herd of cattle from Fort Concho to the XIT. Blocker also branded the first XIT cow. According to Haley, ‘She was not an animal of high pedigree, but a Longhorn from South Texas. Her color, gauntness, and perversity were historic.’”

To run the mammoth ranch, Farwell hired Colonel Burton Harvey “Barbecue” Campbell of Wichita, Kansas as general manager. Campbell’s “Barbecue” nickname came from a cattle brand he used at his ranch along the Kansas-Oklahoma border—on land rented from the Cherokee—A bar with the letters B and Q below it.

Now, if you think of Texas cowhands as rough and rowdy, ranch manager Campbell had other ideas for the XIT. He published a booklet with a list of twenty-two rules aimed at creating well-behaved cowpunchers. And there were a lot of cow punchers. One hundred and fifty cowboys rode 1000 horses and branded 35,000 new cows during one year on the ranch.

Here are a several random examples of Campbell’s expectations for well-behaved cowhands:

  • Six-shooters or other small firearms will not be permitted to be carried on the ranch.
  • Card playing or gambling of any kind is strictly prohibited on this ranch.
  • All persons having the care or use of animals belonging to the ranch will be required to handle them carefully and treat them kindly.
  • Horses are furnished for the care of cattle and for other useful purposes, and they must not be used to run wild horses, or buffalo, or antelope, nor to run races.
  • Beeves will not be permitted to be killed unless the force is large enough to consume the meat before it becomes unfit for use, or other provision be made to salt and preserve it.

By 1888, “Barbeque” Campbell had been fired over rustling allegations and replaced by Albert Boyce, who was active in management on the ranch for eighteen years and published his own list of ranch rules. At its peak, the ranch handled 150,000 head of cattle secured by 6,000 miles of fencing.

By 1901, the last of the bonds sold to English investors were maturing and the ranch began selling off parcels of land. The last of the cattle were sold in 1912 and the remaining parcels of land were put up for sale. The XIT Ranch faded into legend.

However . . .Today, the legendary XIT Ranch is back. Drew Knowles, the great grandson of investor John V, Farwell and Knowles’ wife, Abby, have brought the XIT Ranch back to life. Today the ranch breeds Quarter Horses and 100% grass-fed Black Angus and American Wagyu cattle on XIT land in Southern Colorado and on some of the original XIT Texas Panhandle land near Channing, Texas.

According to their website, “The ranch keeps with age-old traditions of roping calves and dragging ‘em to the fire for branding. This is an important way for the XIT to preserve our heritage and to pass it on to the next generation.”

Knowles, working to revive his family legacy, says “Ultimately, my job is to take care of the land so it can take care of my family and me, to honor the past and all the sacrifice and hard work, and to bring it into the future.”

NOTE: To learn more about the historic XIT Ranch:

  • Consider visiting the XIT Museum and famous “Empty Saddles” monument, both in Dalhart TX 
  • Dalhart is also the site of the annual XIT Rodeo and Reunion, usually held in late July or early August.
  • You’ll find a restored XIT General Ranch office in Channing, TX.
  • And, The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum keeps memories alive with thousands of XIT Ranch records. You’ll find the museum on the grounds of West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX.

Thanks for listening. This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong, the best little podcast in Texas. Subscribe for notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted.

Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical, Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

A Capitol Idea!

Nestled in the rolling Hill Country Region of Texas, in the city of Austin, sits the Texas state Capitol building. Today’s sunset red granite building is a far cry from the Republic of Texas’ 1839 log-cabin Capitol building. A key feature of this early national Capitol was an eight-foot high stockade fence offering protection during Indian raids.

By 1853, the State of Texas had joined the Union and constructed a limestone State Capitol. The boxy building (with a roundish dome stuck on top) was a functional improvement; however, one publication of the time called it an “architectural monstrosity.” Nonetheless, it served as the Texas seat of government for over twenty-five years.

Following the Civil War, a Texas representative from Comanche, Texas proposed the state set aside five million acres of public land to raise money for a new capitol building. Ultimately, the Constitution of 1876 authorized the allocation of 3,050,000 acres of land in the Texas Panhandle for the project. A team of surveyors was dispatched to survey and divide the land into Spanish leagues—the measurement commonly used at the time. The huge swath of land selected stretched more than 220 miles north-to-south along the border with New Mexico and the width measurement from, east-to-west, varied from 20 to 30 miles. This land, to be set aside for fund raising, covered all or part of ten Texas counties.

In 1880, Texas officials held a nation-wide design competition for the new Capitol building, offering a $1,700 prize. The winning architect was Elijah E. Myers of Detroit.

In 1881, as the plan for using the Panhandle land to finance a new building was being finalized, the old capitol burned to the ground, giving the need for a new building greater urgency. Luckily, the architect’s plans for new new capitol were rescued from the fire. While planning for a beautiful new capitol continued, an inexpensive, temporary capitol was built on Congress Avenue away from the Capitol grounds.

In early 1882, the legislature appointed a Capitol Board tasked with both finding a financier for the project and choosing a contractor. The winning bidder for the funding project was Mathias Schnell of Illinois. Schnell turned his interests in the project over to a Chicago firm, Taylor, Babcock, and Company which formed the Capitol Syndicate and purchased the land  for $3,224,593.45.

The new landowners quickly decided to use the land for cattle ranching until they could see the opportunity to break it into parcels for sale and proceeded to raise funds in England by selling bonds for the ranch’s development and to recoup the cost of the land. The resulting ranch was named the XIT—purportedly standing for Ten-in-Texas—the ten being the number of counties which make up the ranch. It was the largest fenced ranch in the world. The ranch’s cattle were branded with the letters XIT and B.H. “Barbeque” Campbell from Wichita, Kansas was hired as general manager.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, the building contractor, Gustav Wilke, a young Chicago builder, went to work. Construction of the foundation began using limestone from South Austin. But, construction was quickly halted when metallic particles in the stone caused it to discolor. Fortunately, the owners of Granite Mountain in Burnet county donated the required granite—188,518 cubic feet of Texas Sunset Red Granite delivered to the Austin building site from Burnett County’s rock quarries on a railroad constructed for the purpose.

A boycott by the International Association of Granite Cutters over the use of prison labor resulted in 62 granite cutters being imported from Scotland.

On March 2, 1885, about three years after construction began, a 12,000 pound cornerstone was laid during a city-wide celebration. Cut into the cornerstone was a niche to hold a zinc box containing mementoes selected by former Governor F.R. Lubbock, then serving as State Treasurer. (I’ve not found information on just what those mementoes were, but I’m sure curious to know.)

Problems with dome design resulted in a feud with architect Meyers—who was no longer on the project as of September, 1886. The sixteen-foot Goddess of Liberty statue was installed on the top of the dome in February of 1888 and the Capitol was dedicated during a week-long celebration that attracted more than 20,000 people the following May. The city built special streetcar lines to bring the crowds to the celebration which included military displays, band concerts, drill team competitions, and fireworks. However, the final construction details weren’t completed until December of 1888.

When finished, the new Texas Capitol was the 7th largest building in the world, it stood tall and proud and was more than fourteen feet taller than the U.S. Capitol. The newly completed structure contained 392 rooms, 924 windows, 404 doors, and 18 vaults. The building measures approximately 566 feet in length, 288 feet in width, and rises 302.64 feet to the top of the star on the Goddess of Liberty statue on the dome. It is still the largest of all domed state capitol buildings.

At the new Capitol’s dedication ceremony, Senator Temple Houston, son of Sam Houston, accepted the building on behalf of the state, saying “This building fires the heart . . .the architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity.” Senator Houston was right. The state Capitol, twelve years in the making, has become an important symbol . . .the public face of Texas.

As a final note, The Texas Capitol building continues to be improved. In 1926, a new terrazzo floor was installed on the first level and in January of 1993, the state unveiled a new underground extension which connects to the Capitol and four other state buildings. Lit by skylights, the extension contains hearing and conference rooms, an auditorium, cafeteria and even a gift shop.

If you haven’t been to the Texas State Capitol, this historic building is worth visiting. Entering it is stepping into 134 years of Texas’ history.

Thanks for listening. This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong, the best little podcast in Texas. Subscribe for notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted.

Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical, Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

There’s Something Nutty in Texas!

The old man sat with his nutcracker systematically working the lever, cracking, and shelling pecans. About every fifth nut went into his mouth as he worked.

The little girl climbed up on a chair beside him. “Can I crack nuts, too, Grandpa?”

He grinned at her. “Crack or crack and eat?”

Her smile was mischievous. “Both.”

“Well they are mighty good eatin’. I’ll tell you what, since we only have one nut cracker, I’ll crack and you can help me eat.” He set another nut in the cracker, pulled the lever, separated the shell from the nut inside and handed it to her. These are good Pawnee pecans. They’re big and have a nice buttery flavor.”

“Pawnee? That’s the name of a Native American tribe, right.”

“Yep. Almost seventy years ago a fellow named H.L. Crane suggested namin’ the different kinds of pecans after the native tribes in pecan growing territory. So we’ve got Comanche, Cherokee, Choctaw, and a bunch more pecan varieties—each a little bit different. The name pecan is an Algonquin word that translates—more or less—to “a nut requiring a stone to crack its shell.

“We call the original Texas pecan the ‘native’ variety. Pecans been growin’ in Texas a long time. Back in the 1500s, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the native people he met ate pecans. But pecans go back even further than that. Fossilized pecans found along the Rio Grande River are estimated to be 65 million years old.” He handed her another nut and popped one in his mouth.

“There are wild pecan trees and planted pecan orchards across most of Texas, ‘specially in the Hill Country. Some of the wild trees are 200 years old. Did you know, pecan trees can grow to 120 feet tall and measure four feet across?”

“Wow! That’s a humungous tree. You’d need a tall ladder to pick the nuts.”

“Well, nowadays, pickin’ is mechanical. A big machine puts its metal arms around a tree’s trunk and gives it a big shake for about a minute. The ripe pecans just fall to the ground. Some growers catch them on special sheets, others sweep ‘em up with mechanical sweepers.”

“We have lots of pecan trees around here.” She pulled a shelled nut from the growing pile.”There are even two in our front yard. But the squirrels beat us to most of the pecans.”

“Yep. Little rascals. We’re mighty lucky to live in the Texas hill country, especially in San Saba.”

“Because there are so many pecan trees?”

“That’s part of it. San Saba is known as the ‘Pecan Capital of the World’ and San Saba is the home of the ‘Mother Pecan Tree.’”

“Pecan trees have a mother?”

“Well, the folks at Texas A&M over in College Station tell the story of E.E. Risien. He was an Englishman who moved to Texas in 1874 and spent his life growing pecan trees near where the Colorado and San Saba Rivers meet. He gathered male pecan blossoms from pecan trees all over the area. Then, placed the pollen on the female blossoms of a special tree to create new varieties. His special tree gets the credit for creating many, many different pecan varieties—that tree is the ‘Big Mama’ of the pecan business.

“People liked his pecans. Customers from all over the world bought them. Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson in Great Britain ordered his pecans. The Post Cereal Co. was another customer.

“By 1904, Texas had really grown and so many pecan trees had been cut down to make way for cotton crops or for use in building wagons, farm implements, and furniture, that the number of pecan trees was gettin’ thin. But in 1906, an interesting thing happened.

“Texas Governor James Hogg and his daughter visited Hogg’s law partner in Houston. That night, Governor Hogg commented that when he died he did not want a stone monument at his grave. Instead he said, ‘Let my children plant at the head of my grave a pecan tree and at my feet an old walnut tree. And when these trees shall bear, let the pecans and walnuts be given out among the plain people so that they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees.’ Doggone if he didn’t die the next day, and his wishes were followed. Sure enough,Texans took the nuts, planted ’em, and before long, pecan and walnut trees popped up all over the state. By 1919 the pecan tree was voted the Texas State Tree. Couple of years ago, Texans harvested more than forty-five million pounds of in-shell pecans to be sold. Guess we could say, Governor Hogg saved the Texas pecan.”

“That’s the same Governor who named his daughters Ima Hogg and Yura Hogg?”

“No. Don’t you fall for that old joke, honey. There was no daughter named Yura Hogg. Ima Hogg was named after a poem written by Governor Hogg’s brother. A nice gesture which created an unusual—some might say unfortunate—first and last name combination. Anyway, 63 years later the original trees at Hogg’s grave were replaced with new ones. Far as I know they’re still producing nuts.”

“Okay, Grandad, I have a new friend in school from Georgia. She says we should say ‘Peee-can, not pecan.”

“Nonsense! Now, don’t you dare tell your Mama or Grandma I told you this, but a Peee-can is what you pee in, a pecan is what you eat.”

The little girl giggled and pulled two more pecans from the pile.

The old man said, “Now let’s get these pecans to the kitchen. Grandma wants to bake a pecan pie for tonight’s dessert.”

As they scooped the pecans into a clean bowl, the little girl asked, “May I please stay for dinner?”

“Nothing your grandma and I’d like better, sweetheart. I’ll call your mom.”

NOTE: If you are a pecan fan, remember to keep your Texas pecans in a sealed container in the the refrigerator, or for up to two years in the freezer. You can pull them out of the freezer for immediate use. My favorite way to eat them? Toast them gently in a skillet with butter. Stir constantly, they’ll scorch fast. Salt them liberally and dry them on paper towels. Make a bunch because they will be consumed fast! And for your own sake, don’t call ‘em Pee-cans! You might get run out of the state.

If you plan a trip to San Saba, the pecan capital of the world, be sure to visit Risien Park a lovely setting with lots of pecan trees!

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—The best little podcast in Texas. If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe for a notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted. Thanks for listening—Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

The Battle of Plum Creek

The Battle of Plum Creek and the events leading up to it are famous in the annals of The Republic of Texas’ History. The famous Battle of Plum Creek was sparked by the unfortunate Council House Fight in 1840.

Early that year, The Penatekas or “Honey Eater” Comanches—suffering from attacks by Cheyenne and Arapaho, and from battles with the Texas Rangers, in addition to facing dwindling numbers due to smallpox—agreed to hold to peace talks with Texas. When the talks were agreed to, and before they were held, the Texas government representatives demanded return of all captives, and that the Comanche would pledge to abandon Central Texas, avoid white settlements, and not interfere with Texas incursions.

The following March 19th, twelve chiefs, twenty-one warriors, along with thirty-two other Comanches arrived in San Antonio for the negotiations. Only one anglo captive was delivered, a 16 year old girl who had been badly treated. She was covered with bruises and scars and her nose was burned off to the bone. She revealed that there were more than a dozen other captives which the Indians planned to ransom later.

The Texas representatives informed the chiefs that they would be held hostage until the remaining captives were delivered. The Chiefs let out a war whoop in response and reached for their weapons. A fight ensued and all twelve Comanche chiefs and eighteen warriors, three women and two children were killed, others captured. Several troops were killed or wounded. The situation enraged the Comanches who believed those engaged in peace talks were immune from acts of war.

As an aftermath of the Council House Fight, the Comanche launched a retaliatory raid, led by their remaining chief, Buffalo Hump. Estimates from the time are that there were probably 500 warriors and as many as 500 other members of the band, including families. On August 6th, the Raiders  began a two-day attack of the town of Victoria, killing a number of residents, capturing more than 1500 horses and mules, including a herd belonging to Mexican traders. The defending residents were able to prevent the complete sacking of the town and a group of Victoria men went for help.

Leaving Victoria, the Indians proceeded to the small port town of Linnville, killing three men along the way. On the 8th of August, the Comanche attacked the town, plundering the houses, stores, and a large warehouse. Fortunately the citizens fled oceanside and most were saved by boarding small boats and a schooner. A few citizens were killed and at least four hostages taken.

For the entire day the Comanche butchered cattle, gathered and loaded goods from the local warehouse onto horses and mules. Stealing an estimated $30,000 worth of merchandise which had been destined for San Antonio and the Mexican trade—clothing, hats, umbrellas, silk, and other goods. Attired in items they had stolen—wearing shoes, top hats, coats worn upside down and buttoned up the back, and riding horses draped in calico with yards of ribbon tied to their manes and tails, and carrying silk umbrellas, they fired all the structures except the warehouse and left. The final count of settlers killed in the two attacks was twenty three.  A small group of Linwood men followed to keep track of where the Indians traveled and a few skirmishes occurred.

As word of the Victoria/Linnville attacks spread, Texas Ranger groups and other Texans from all around began to gather at a ranch between Gonzales and Austin on the path the Indians were taking. Waiting for more men to gather they waited until they were concerned that the Indians would escape. They began to position themselves for attack at Plum Creek, just as Major General Felix Huston, head of the Texas militia arrived and took command. Fighting ensued, Chief Buffalo Hump was killed, the Comanche began retreating and the battle turned into a running fight which stretched for miles as the Comanche scattered. The Indians abandoned their plunder, killed all but one hostage—who was wounded in the chest, but was saved from death by her corset. When it was over, one report says 80 Comanche were killed. The Texans reported one man dead and seven wounded.

So ended one of the boldest Comanche attacks on Texas towns.*

*Historians may differ on a few details, but  much of this report from written reports of participants. including James Wilson Nichols in his Journal and  William Hall in his memoir Brazos.

A European Utopia on the Trinity River

Dreams of a agricultural socialist utopia began in Paris and spread to North Texas in the 1800s

A dream of a socialist utopia. . . It began in Paris in 1848, but who would have guessed it would soon spread to Texas to the limestone cliffs overlooking the Trinity River?

A wave of unsuccessful political revolutions swept across Europe in the mid 1800s. After the failed revolutions, Europe was no longer the place to try socialist theories. However, one socialist dreamer, Frenchman Francois (fr-ee-ay) Fourier was so inspiring with his utopian theories that America became dotted with experimental utopian communities.

A disciple of Fourier, Victor Considerant, became leader of the Fourier movement after Fourier’s death. Expelled from France in 1851, Considerant traveled to the US and on to Texas, motivated by a visit from the Peters Group which was promoting its land grant holdings in the state. Impressed by what he saw as a positive environment for starting a new utopian agricultural community on the Texas frontier near the tiny log-cabin village of Dallas, he returned to Europe and wrote a book, To Texas, in which he praised the potential of the state for settlement. “…The promised land is a reality,” he wrote. Within a year of the book, a company was formed with the purpose of setting up communities following Fourier’s communal principles. The company quickly raised $300,000 to support their first effort in Texas—a community named La Reunion.

On his first visit to the three forks of the Trinity River,  Considerant had seen land which he thought would lend itself to vineyards. He was encouraged that his idea would work when he met a French photographer in Dallas who successfully made wine from the state’s native mustang grapes. He instructed his agents to buy 2000 acres of the land he had identified. 

The initial group of 200 French and French-speaking Belgians and Swiss recruits left Antwerp and sailed for 60 days to reach New Orleans, sailed on to Galveston, then traveled to Houston. Believing they would then simply sail up the Trinity River to Dallas, they were shocked to learn that the river was not navigable due to the tangled knots of trees and brush which blocked clear passage. Instead the group rented oxcarts and drivers, loaded their possessions, and walked for 26 days from Houston to Dallas (About 270 miles), many wearing wooden shoes.It was a tedious, exhausting journey.

Upon arrival in Dallas in April of 1855, they discovered that the land Considerant had wished to purchase had not been available and the agents had bought 2000 acres on the limestone cliff overlooking the river, land that was not ideal for farming.  A few buildings had been constructed in anticipation of their arrival, but they would have to build more as well as plant their crops. Five hundred cattle, some sheep and pigs had been purchased and needed caring for. It was a daunting challenge for the colonists, only two of whom had farming experience, The others included artists, an architect, musicians, tailors, shoemakers, weavers, jewelers, a pastry cook, a hat makers, a dance master  watch maker, orchestra conductor, butcher, baker, a cabinet maker, and a stone mason—in short, they were mostly artists and craftsmen. Agricultural skills were sorely lacking. 

To make matters worse, Considerant’s overbearing manner and mismanagement resulted in complaints from the new settlers and feelings that they had been misled.

Dallasites took an interest in the community of foreigners and and socials and Sunday dances were held both in Dallas and at La Reunion.  But from the start, problems from bad weather, the fact that there was no transportation to take their crops to market, and  poor management decisions plagued the colony. One of the first to leave was Considerant who deserted La Reunion, slipping away to San Antonio, and then returning to Europe. Although new recruits came in, the colony slowly crumbled. Some people returned to Europe. Others drifted into Dallas. About 160 families moved to Dallas  and opened such businesses as bakeries, a brewery, a millinery shop, a brick and cement business, and a dance school.

When the Civil War started, a few men from La Reunion enlisted and served with  distinction; however, others did not feel this was their war. An incident, reported in The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John William Rogers shows the colonists creativity and reluctance to join the battle. Confederate soldiers accosted an elderly Frenchman on the road between La Reunion and Dallas, ordering him to stop.  Not understanding English, he didn’t obey and was shot in the hip. Citizens of La Reunion took this as a threat and prepared to defend themselves by turning one of their buildings into a fort. When Confederate soldiers appeared to press the men into military service, men and women of the colony soon had all of the building’s windows bristling with guns.  Assuming that at least 100 armed men were inside, the soldiers left. When a larger group of soldiers returned to seize the weapons, none were found. The colonists had buried them. Later, the Governor of Texas exempted the colonists from military duty.

Following the war, during Reconstruction, La Reunion colonists who had not served the Confederacy, were  eligible to hold city offices and other positions of authority, something from which Dallas benefited. Colonist Benjamin Long was appointed mayor during Reconstruction and was so popular that he was  subsequently elected twice by the citizens.

Today, La Reunion is remembered by a small cemetery in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood and by Reunion Tower, a 561 foot observation tower with revolving restaurant which commands Dallas’ downtown skyline and overlooks the limestone cliff where La Reunion was established.

Although La Reunion went bankrupt and dissolved, it had a strong impact on Dallas.  The European colony brought educated European citizens, culture, new trades, and an interest in things international to the small town. La Reunion helped lay the groundwork for Dallas’ to become a cultured, international city.

 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 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.