November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
One of the great mysteries of recent times in Texas is the decline of roadkill armadillos. Why is anyone’s guess.
As recently as 20 years ago, they could be seen by the dozen, in varying stages of smushyness, on any drive of length through Central Texas and the Hill Country. Photos of roadkill armadillos, their beady little eyes pointed skyward, hugging Lone Star beer cans with their little claws, were second only in popularity to snapshots of cute babies awash in bluebonnets.
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is a relatively recent addition to the Texas fauna, and the only species of armadillo that occurs in North America.
Before the mid-1850s, according to the Handbook of Texas, the armadillo was known only along the lower Rio Grande valley. By 1880 it had extended its range across South Texas, and it reached the Hill Country and Austin before the turn of the century. Continuing its movement northward and eastward, the armadillo spread throughout most of Texas and into Louisiana and Oklahoma during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1981, it was declared the official state mascot, by executive decree.
All of which is preparatory to noting that today, November 1, is the 136th anniversary of the armadillo’s “coming out” in Austin, as duly noted in the pages of the Austin Daily Statesman.
“An armadillo may be seen by the curious in natural history at Bennett’s candy manufactory on the Avenue in this city. It feeds on sugar or beef steaks, rolls itself in a knot when furious or frightened, is very gentle and placable, however, and its scales cover it when it gets wrathy, head, neck and heels. The armadillo is also called the peba and the latter, as described in the dictionaries, is the animal at Bennett’s, it having a longer tail and body than the armadillo. But the two species have the same peculiarities of covering and look very like an old soldier of the crusades or Don Quixote on all four. These pebas and peccaries abound in western Texas wherever prickly pear trees grow to great height; but Webster’s unabridged tells us that the peba is peculiar to South America, and Webster must correct himself.”
November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
Let’s talk trash.
These days Austin is almost as proud of its beauty as it is of its weirdness, kindness to animals, and surfeit of garage bands (Holy Mr. Creosote, Monty Python!).
But once upon a time, Austin was a stinking, filthy place, like most other American cities; a place all of us of sound mind, vision and smell would recoil from calling home. Take a whiff on these clips from the past and the next time (if ever) you find yourself pining for the “good old days,” remember what you are about to read and disabuse yourself of all such bogus nostalgia.
August 31, 1871
Egypt was tolerably civilized, but Egypt didn’t have a garbage cart. Does Austin? And why not? Why not every morning come around and gather up the dirt, and have the streets kept neat and clean. This occurred to us as we walked down the avenue and beheld the papers, melon rinds, scattered in rich profusion. Something of the kind is needed. Cleanliness is healthfulness. An ounce of preventive is worth a pound of cure.
September 17, 1876
Daily may be seen on the streets a lot of half-starved, ragged, little colored children, who go about picking up filthy watermelon rinds, rotten apples, potatoes, etc., which they eat with all the relish a pig would display. Fruit dealers say that many of them to be half starved. The police should accompany them home, and ascertain who their parents are, and then the city should apply some punishment to those who would thus starve their own children.
July 22, 1880
Gutters on the Avenue and Pecan street, especially the latter, are in a terrible condition and the reporter hears complaints about them almost daily. It is said that the stench that goes up early in the morning from the gutter on the north sign of Pecan street from the Avenue to Waller Creek is almost unbearable. Stale vegetables, watermelon rinds and other decomposing vegetable matter emit odors disagreeable and dangerous in the health of the city. General George Washington and his little cart are the only appliances the city can control just at this time to do scavenger duty, and it is utterly impossible for George and his cart to perform the duty. He should have the assistance, and it is imperative that he has it at once. When we remember that the city offal has to be carted over a mile below town before being dumped, it is absurd to think for a moment that one small cart, even though it be presided over by George Washington, can keep the streets and gutters of this city in good sanitary condition. The heated term is upon us, yellow fever has broken out at many places, and it is eminently proper that the city be kept as clean and as possible. Let George Washington have assistance.
May 10, 1881
The average citizen in other parts will envy the good fortune of the bibulous inclined of this city, who have inaugurated a brilliant scheme whereby that disturbing “throwing-of-dice-for-drinks” law is completely floored and hid out of sight. The boys take two lumps of sugar, and placing them on the counter frighten the flies away. They then step back, and the man on whose lump a fly first alights has to pay for the drinks. Thus it is, these sorely tried victims of the Seventeenth Legislature get around its laws and revel to no end of fun and soothing beverages. The legislature when it meets again will have to set it giant intellect to work and spend a couple or three months trying to fix a law that will scoop in this fly business.
August 6, 1881
The dog killer continues to ply his vocation with a vim, and the gray of the morning shimmers down upon defunct canines scattered about on the streets and in the alleys. Many of them are left for hours in the hot sun, and send up odors that are nauseous in the extreme. Yesterday morning there was a very large dog lying in the alley near Bremond’s bank, and the sight, to say nothing of the smell, was anything but refreshing.
July 15, 1881
There is an old motherly looking cow that passes down the west side of the Avenue regularly every morning picking up scraps of melons and bits of potato and hay. She goes down to about Pecan street and crosses over to the east side of the Avenue and starts back towards the capitol and goes around the yard fence and disappears until the next morning. The reporter has seen this cow in a condition bordering, as he believes, on absolute intoxication, from the effects of eating pieces of lemons set out in front of the saloons. One morning last week while she was on a mild kind of spree the reporter met her staggering down the street sweetly oblivious of all surroundings and displaying an indifference for the police and poundmaster refreshing to behold.
April 16, 1882
At Simon and Billeisen Restaurant, we exclude all flies from the kitchen as well as the dining room and give you a square meal for your money.
July 29, 1882
A Bad Habit
Some people in Austin do not understand what the public streets are made for. They fail to utilize their natural advantages. No doubt there are many other villages in the United States in which the people are not fully aware of the uses to which the public street may be applied, and these remarks will apply as well to them as to the capital of Texas.
In the first place, if you catch any rats, or a dog or a cat dies on your premises, do not go to the trouble of having the remains removed to the suburbs, although they are very useful there in making the air pleasant to parties enjoying an evening ride. We say, therefore, do not waste your dead rats, cats, etc., upon the desert air, and do not throw such relics over into your neighbor’s back yard, for then nobody but your neighbor and his family will be gratified thereby. The correct thing to do is to throw the used up rats, cats, etc., out into the public streets, where the whole public will have occasion to appreciate your self-sacrificing public spirit. Nothing is so well calculated to favorably impress strangers with the intelligence and refinement of the natives as a liberal supply of defunct rodents in the public streets.
There is more or less broken glass and crockery around and about every house. Do not selfishly hoard up these articles of bric-a-brac, for which you have no further use, in a corner of your yard. Throw them into the street. There is nothing that makes such an excellent roadway for horses as broken glass, and old tin cans. You can also macadamize streets by putting an old stove along with the broken glass. But horses are not the only creatures that will have occasion to be grateful to you. There are a great many poor children passing along the public street, whose parents are unable to buy them shoes. No doubt most of these children have never enjoyed a genuine case of lockjaw. If you keep throwing bric-a-bric into the street, you may have the satisfaction of knowing that, without costing you a cent, you may have been the cause of their finding out what fun lockjaw, or a dismembered toe or so, really is. But seriously, there are a number of persons who, from thoughtlessness, more than anything else, allow broken glass to be thrown into the streets. It is a bad idea, and is often the cause of needless pain and suffering. Don’t do it again.
During the past week or so, the dust in Austin has assumed formidable proportions. Nearly everybody has affixed a broad grin on his face, or a frown that might terrify Mars, the god of war, if he were in town, but he is not. The broad grin does not in the least indicate the state of mind of the wearer of it. Obviously, one might suggest that the man who could get up a grin of such dimensions had twins at his house, both boys, but such is not the case at all. The man himself may be as gloomy as a Greenback candidate, but he grins all the same. It is the fine limestone dust that is wafted by the shovelful and the wind up his nose and into his eyes and made him feel worse than Job when he had the boils. The grin is purely muscular and altogether independent of the emotions. Others find it more convenient to frown – at the city authorities for not sprinkling the streets. Those who frown, wear a perpendicular wrinkle between their eyes, which at a distance looks like a ten-penny nail, but it is not. It is not even an expression of gloom, but merely a mechanical effort to keep an acre of dust from drifting into the eyes of the sufferer.
We are all made of dust, and most all, even those of us who own city property and wear good clothes, return to the dust from which we came, because it does not seem fair that we should be worried to death with dust before our time. there is any quantity of it, and it is the finest dust in the world, but still we do not care for any more of it. Austin has only about ten thousand population, but we have dust enough to accommodate at least fifty thousand people, each of them with forty eyes to be blinded by the infernal stuff. It has become as great a sideshow as the star route trials. It is a poor wind that does not blow good to somebody, and the wind that blows the Austin dust blows some good to the Northern manufacturer by raining tens of thousands of dollars of “fine ladies’ grade,” as Mose Schaumburg, the Austin Avenue merchant would say. Money is the root of all evil, hence, of course, the more money our citizens lose by dust, the better off they are, although some of them make out that they can not see it in that light. Perhaps they have got dust in their eyes.
May 4, 1883
We have a few roaches around in our office that strayed over from a boarding house. They are old and industrious, only sleeping a half hour at noon. They are so well trained that every time we ring up the telephone they rush in, thinking it is the dinner bells. Samples furnished free, by sending two three-cent stamps. They make fine mince pies; are frequently used in the hotels and boarding houses for flavoring hash; and, being about the color of preserves and dried apples, they make an excellent mixture for these delicacies. Used in this manner, they make such sweet meats go further with boarders and are used now by hotels and boarding houses everywhere.
September 1, 1883
Now is the time to make connections with the sewer being put in on the alley east of Congress Avenue. Every house ought to connect and thereby save a great deal of filth, so troublesome now.
October 27, 1885
Look here, how about this gas matter? Walkabout don’t like to complain, but this coffee-colored gas matter is getting to be a serious matter — too monotonous. He swallowed three flies in his tea last evening by reason of the dimness of the light, and how many more he is to swallow depends on the contract made with the city.
September 22, 1886
There is an old gentleman in this city, who, about 10 or 11 o’clock at night, sups from a garbage barrel in front of the Union market. An offer to take him back in the market to Bowman’s restaurant and give him a superb supper was indignantly refused, the other night, and the old man went off in a huff.
I could go on, ad nauseum, but won’t. Ah, the glories of the libertarian mindset; go with the reek. It’s your right to do so, after all, right? Dead cats and broken crockery for all!