“The Red Roses of Tonia”: Have a Hoppy O. Henry Easter

March 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

roses hatThe Red Roses of Tonia” appears ohenry1910
in ‪a 1917 collection of O. Henry short stories, Waifs And Strays.

The Gift of the Magi” is, on the right day, my favorite O. Henry short story, and IMHO, about the best modern Christmas short story there is.

O. Henry’s short stories are not rife with Christian themes and sentiments, although they do often involve a sense of social justice and sympathy for the down-and-out that is consistent with the teachings of Christ.

While in Austin, O. Henry — or Will Porter, as he was then known — was a regular church-goer and sang in every church choir that would have him (he had a wonderful bass voice). During his prison experience (1898-1901) until his death in 1910, there is no evidence that he regularly – or seldom – attended church. But that is not my point today, nor does it particularly interest me, one way or the other.

In a delicious twist of irony that he would have enjoyed, Christian book stores sell collections of his short stories and the noted atheist, Ayn Rand, once wrote of him, “More than any other author, O. Henry represents the spirit of youth, specifically the cardinal 
element of youth: the expectation of finding something wonderful around all of life’s corners.”

O. Henry is acknowledged as a master of puns, as well as surprise and ironic endings; hence the punny last half of this post’s title, “Have a Hoppy O. Henry Easter.” Easter bunnies hop, of course, and O. Henry was a hop head, when it came to beer, at any rate.

Will Porter, who could drain a 32 oz. fishbowl of beer without pausing, once summed up the two loves of his life in Austin, in four lines:

“If there is a rosebud garden of girls,

In this wide world anywhere,

They could have no charm for some of the men,

Like a buttercup garden of beer.”

O. Henry wrote three Easter-themed short stories during his short career: “The Red Roses of Tonia,” “The Day Resurgent” and “The Easter of the Soul,” but we will save the latter stories for other times.

The Red Roses of Tonia” derives from his ranching days in South Texas, before he moved to Austin in 1884. And so, without further ado … 

“The Red Roses of Tonia”

A trestle burned down on the International Railroad. The south-bound from San Antonio was cut off for the next forty-eight hours. On that train was Tonia Weaver’s Easter hat.

Espirition, the Mexican, who had been sent forty miles in a buckboard from the Espinosa Ranch to fetch it, returned with a shrugging shoulder and hands empty except for a cigarette. At the small station, Nopal, he had learned of the delayed train and, having no commands to wait, turned his ponies toward the ranch again.

Now, if one supposes that Easter, the Goddess of Spring, cares any more for the after-church parade on Fifth Avenue than she does for her loyal outfit of subjects that assemble at the meeting-house at Cactus, Tex., a mistake has been made. The wives and daughters of the ranchmen of the Frio country put forth Easter blossoms of new hats and gowns as faithfully as is done anywhere, and the Southwest is, for one day, a mingling of prickly pear, Paris, and paradise. And now it was Good Friday, and Tonia Weaver’s Easter hat blushed unseen in the desert air of an impotent express car, beyond the burned trestle. On Saturday noon the Rogers girls, from the Shoestring Ranch, and Ella Reeves, from the Anchor-O, and Mrs. Bennet and Ida, from Green Valley, would convene at the Espinosa and pick up Tonia. With their Easter hats and frocks carefully wrapped and bundled against the dust, the fair aggregation would then merrily jog the ten miles to Cactus, where on the morrow they would array themselves, subjugate man, do homage to Easter, and cause jealous agitation among the lilies of the field.

Tonia sat on the steps of the Espinosa ranch house flicking gloomily with a quirt at a tuft of curly mesquite. She displayed a frown and a contumelious lip, and endeavored to radiate an aura of disagreeableness and tragedy.

“I hate railroads,” she announced positively. “And men. Men pretend to run them. Can you give any excuse why a trestle should burn? Ida Bennet’s hat is to be trimmed with violets. I shall not go one step toward Cactus without a new hat. If I were a man I would get one.”

Two men listened uneasily to this disparagement of their kind. One was Wells Pearson, foreman of the Mucho Calor cattle ranch. The other was Thompson Burrows, the prosperous sheepman from the Quintana Valley. Both thought Tonia Weaver adorable, especially when she railed at railroads and menaced men. Either would have given up his epidermis to make for her an Easter hat more cheerfully than the ostrich gives up his tip or the cigarette lays down its life. Neither possessed the ingenuity to conceive a means of supplying the sad deficiency against the coming Sabbath. Pearson’s deep brown face and sunburned light hair gave him the appearance of a schoolboy seized by one of youth’s profound and insolvable melancholies. Tonia’s plight grieved him through and through. Thompson Burrows was the more skilled and pliable. He hailed from somewhere in the East originally; and he wore neckties and shoes, and was made dumb by woman’s presence.

“The big water-hole on Sandy Creek,” said Pearson, scarcely hoping to make a hit, “was filled up by that last rain.”

“Oh! Was it?” said Tonia sharply. “Thank you for the information. I suppose a new hat is nothing to you, Mr. Pearson. I suppose you think a woman ought to wear an old Stetson five years without a change, as you do. If your old water-hole could have put out the fire on that trestle you might have some reason to talk about it.”

“I am deeply sorry,” said Burrows, warned by Pearson’s fate, “that you failed to receive your hat, Miss Weaver ─ deeply sorry, indeed. If there was anything I could do ─ “

“Don’t bother,” interrupted Tonia, with sweet sarcasm. “If there was anything you could do, you’d be doing it, of course. There isn’t.”

Tonia paused. A sudden sparkle of hope had come into her eye. Her frown smoothed away. She had an inspiration.

“There’s a store over at Lone Elm Crossing on the Nueces,” she said, “that keeps hats. Eva Rogers got hers there. She said it was the latest style. It might have some left. But it’s twenty-eight miles to Lone Elm.”

The spurs of two men who hastily arose jingled; and Tonia almost smiled. The Knights, then, were not all turned to dust; nor were their rowels rust.

“Of course,” said Tonia, looking thoughtfully at a white gulf cloud sailing across the cerulean dome, “nobody could ride to Lone Elm and back by the time the girls call by for me to-morrow. So, I reckon I’ll have to stay at home this Easter Sunday.”

And then she smiled.

“Well, Miss Tonia,” said Pearson, reaching for his hat, as guileful as a sleeping babe. “I reckon I’ll be trotting along back to Mucho Calor. There’s some cutting out to be done on Dry Branch first thing in the morning; and me and Road Runner has got to be on hand. It’s too bad your hat got sidetracked. Maybe they’ll get that trestle mended yet in time for Easter.”

“I must be riding, too, Miss Tonia,” announced Burrows, looking at his watch. “I declare, it’s nearly five o’clock! I must be out at my lambing camp in time to help pen those crazy ewes.”

Tonia’s suitors seemed to have been smitten with a need for haste. They bade her a ceremonious farewell, and then shook each other’s hands with the elaborate and solemn courtesy of the Southwesterner.

“Hope I’ll see you again soon, Mr. Pearson,” said Burrows.

“Same here,” said the cowman, with the serious face of one whose friend goes upon a whaling voyage. “Be gratified to see you ride over to Mucho Calor any time you strike that section of the range.”

Pearson mounted Road Runner, the soundest cow-pony on the Frio, and let him pitch for a minute, as he always did on being mounted, even at the end of a day’s travel.

“What kind of a hat was that, Miss Tonia,” he called, “that you ordered from San Antone? I can’t help but be sorry about that hat.”

“A straw,” said Tonia; “the latest shape, of course; trimmed with red roses. That’s what I like ─ red roses.”

“There’s no color more becoming to your complexion and hair,” said Burrows, admiringly.

“It’s what I like,” said Tonia. “And of all the flowers, give me red roses. Keep all the pinks and blues for yourself. But what’s the use, when trestles burn and leave you without anything? It’ll be a dry old Easter for me!”

Pearson took off his hat and drove Road Runner at a gallop into the chaparral east of the Espinosa ranch house.

As his stirrups rattled against the brush Burrows’s long-legged sorrel struck out down the narrow stretch of open prairie to the southwest.

Tonia hung up her quirt and went into the sitting-room.

“I’m mighty sorry, daughter, that you didn’t get your hat,” said her mother.

“Oh, don’t worry, mother,” said Tonia, coolly. “I’ll have a new hat, all right, in time to-morrow.”

When Burrows reached the end of the strip of prairie he pulled his sorrel to the right and let him pick his way daintily across a sacuista flat through which ran the ragged, dry bed of an arroyo. Then up a gravelly hill, matted with bush, the horse scrambled, and at length emerged, with a snort of satisfaction into a stretch of high, level prairie, grassy and dotted with the lighter green of mesquites in their fresh spring foliage. Always to the right Burrows bore, until in a little while he struck the old Indian trail that followed the Nueces southward, and that passed, twenty-eight miles to the southeast, through Lone Elm.

Here Burrows urged the sorrel into a steady lope. As he settled himself in the saddle for a long ride he heard the drumming of hoofs, the hollow “thwack” of chaparral against wooden stirrups, the whoop of a Comanche; and Wells Pearson burst out of the brush at the right of the trail like a precocious yellow chick from a dark green Easter egg.

Except in the presence of awing femininity, melancholy found no place in Pearson’s bosom. In Tonia’s presence his voice was as soft as a summer bullfrog’s in his reedy nest. Now, at his gleesome yawp, rabbits, a mile away, ducked their ears, and sensitive plants closed their fearful fronds.

“Moved your lambing camp pretty far from the ranch, haven’t you, neighbor?” asked Pearson, as Road Runner fell in at the sorrel’s side.

“Twenty-eight miles,” said Burrows, looking a little grim. Pearson’s laugh woke an owl one hour too early in his water-elm on the river bank, half a mile away.

“All right for you, sheepman. I like an open game, myself. We’re two locoed he-milliners hat-hunting in the wilderness. I notify you. Burr, to mind your corrals. We’ve got an even start, and the one that gets the headgear will stand some higher at the Espinosa.”

“You’ve got a good pony,” said Burrows, eyeing Road Runner’s barrel- like body and tapering legs that moved as regularly as the piston rod of an engine. “It’s a race, of course; but you’re too much of a horseman to whoop it up this soon. Say we travel together till we get to the home stretch.”

“I’m your company,” agreed Pearson, “and I admire your sense. If there’s hats at Lone Elm, one of ’em shall set on Miss Tonia’s brow to-morrow, and you won’t be at the crowning. I ain’t bragging, Burr, but that sorrel of yours is weak in the fore-legs.”

“My horse against yours,” offered Burrows, “that Miss Tonia wears the hat I take her to Cactus to-morrow.”

“I’ll take you up,” shouted Pearson. “But oh, it’s just like horse- stealing for me! I can use that sorrel for a lady’s animal when ─ when somebody comes over to Mucho Calor, and ─ “

Burrows’ dark face glowered so suddenly that the cowman broke off his sentence. But Pearson could never feel any pressure for long.

“What’s all this Easter business about, Burr?” he asked, cheerfully. “Why do the women folks have to have new hats by the almanac or bust all cinches trying to get ’em?”

“It’s a seasonable statute out of the testaments,” explained Burrows. “It’s ordered by the Pope or somebody. And it has something to do with the Zodiac. I don’t know exactly, but I think it was invented by the Egyptians.”

“It’s an all-right jubilee if the heathens did put their brand on it,” said Pearson; “or else Tonia wouldn’t have anything to do with it. And they pull it off at church, too. Suppose there ain’t but one hat in the Lone Elm store, Burr!”

“Then,” said Burrows, darkly, “the best man of us’ll take it back to the Espinosa.”

“Oh, man!” cried Pearson, throwing his hat high and catching it again, “there’s nothing like you come off the sheep ranges before. You talk good and collateral to the occasion. And if there’s more than one?”

“Then,” said Burrows, “we’ll pick our choice and one of us’ll get back first with his and the other won’t.”

“There never was two souls,” proclaimed Pearson to the stars, “that beat more like one heart than your’n and mine. Me and you might be riding on a unicorn and thinking out of the same piece of mind.”

At a little past midnight the riders loped into Lone Elm. The half a hundred houses of the big village were dark. On its only street the big wooden store stood barred and shuttered.

In a few moments the horses were fastened and Pearson was pounding cheerfully on the door of old Sutton, the storekeeper.

The barrel of a Winchester came through a cranny of a solid window shutter followed by a short inquiry.

“Wells Pearson, of the Mucho Calor, and Burrows, of Green Valley,” was the response. “We want to buy some goods in the store. Sorry to wake you up but we must have ’em. Come on out, Uncle Tommy, and get a move on you.”

Uncle Tommy was slow, but at length they got him behind his counter with a kerosene lamp lit, and told him of their dire need.

“Easter hats?” said Uncle Tommy, sleepily. “Why, yes, I believe I have got just a couple left. I only ordered a dozen this spring. I’ll show ’em to you.”

Now, Uncle Tommy Sutton was a merchant, half asleep or awake. In dusty pasteboard boxes under the counter he had two left-over spring hats. But, alas! for his commercial probity on that early Saturday morn ─ they were hats of two springs ago, and a woman’s eye would have detected the fraud at half a glance. But to the unintelligent gaze of the cowpuncher and the sheepman they seemed fresh from the mint of contemporaneous April.

The hats were of a variety once known as “cart-wheels.” They were of stiff straw, colored red, and flat brimmed. Both were exactly alike, and trimmed lavishly around their crowns with full blown, immaculate, artificial white roses.

“That all you got, Uncle Tommy?” said Pearson. “All right. Not much choice here, Burr. Take your pick.”

“They’re the latest styles” lied Uncle Tommy. “You’d see ’em on Fifth Avenue, if you was in New York.”

Uncle Tommy wrapped and tied each hat in two yards of dark calico for a protection. One Pearson tied carefully to his calfskin saddle-thongs; and the other became part of Road Runner’s burden. They shouted thanks and farewells to Uncle Tommy, and cantered back into the night on the home stretch.

The horsemen jockeyed with all their skill. They rode more slowly on their way back. The few words they spoke were not unfriendly. Burrows had a Winchester under his left leg slung over his saddle horn. Pearson had a six shooter belted around him. Thus men rode in the Frio country.

At half-past seven in the morning they rode to the top of a hill and saw the Espinosa Ranch, a white spot under a dark patch of live-oaks, five miles away.

The sight roused Pearson from his drooping pose in the saddle. He knew what Road Runner could do. The sorrel was lathered, and stumbling frequently; Road Runner was pegging away like a donkey engine.

Pearson turned toward the sheepman and laughed. “Good-bye, Burr,” he cried, with a wave of his hand. “It’s a race now. We’re on the home stretch.”

He pressed Road Runner with his knees and leaned toward the Espinosa. Road Runner struck into a gallop, with tossing head and snorting nostrils, as if he were fresh from a month in pasture.

Pearson rode twenty yards and heard the unmistakable sound of a Winchester lever throwing a cartridge into the barrel. He dropped flat along his horse’s back before the crack of the rifle reached his ears.

It is possible that Burrows intended only to disable the horse ─ he was a good enough shot to do that without endangering his rider. But as Pearson stooped the ball went through his shoulder and then through Road Runner’s neck. The horse fell and the cowman pitched over his head into the hard road, and neither of them tried to move.

Burrows rode on without stopping.

In two hours Pearson opened his eyes and took inventory. He managed to get to his feet and staggered back to where Road Runner was lying.

Road Runner was lying there, but he appeared to be comfortable. Pearson examined him and found that the bullet had “creased” him. He had been knocked out temporarily, but not seriously hurt. But he was tired, and he lay there on Miss Tonia’s hat and ate leaves from a mesquite branch that obligingly hung over the road.

Pearson made the horse get up. The Easter hat, loosed from the saddle-thongs, lay there in its calico wrappings, a shapeless thing from its sojourn beneath the solid carcass of Road Runner. Then Pearson fainted and fell head long upon the poor hat again, crumpling it under his wounded shoulders.

It is hard to kill a cowpuncher. In half an hour he revived ─ long enough for a woman to have fainted twice and tried ice-cream for a restorer. He got up carefully and found Road Runner who was busy with the near-by grass. He tied the unfortunate hat to the saddle again, and managed to get himself there, too, after many failures.

At noon a gay and fluttering company waited in front of the Espinosa Ranch. The Rogers girls were there in their new buckboard, and the Anchor-O outfit and the Green Valley folks ─ mostly women. And each and every one wore her new Easter hat, even upon the lonely prairies, for they greatly desired to shine forth and do honor to the coming festival.

At the gate stood Tonia. with undisguised tears upon her cheeks. In her hand she held Burrow’s Lone Elm hat, and it was at its white roses, hated by her, that she wept. For her friends were telling her, with the ecstatic joy of true friends, that cart-wheels could not be worn, being three seasons passed into oblivion.

“Put on your old hat and come, Tonia,” they urged.

“For Easter Sunday?” she answered. “I’ll die first.” And wept again.

The hats of the fortunate ones were curved and twisted into the style of spring’s latest proclamation.

A strange being rode out of the brush among them, and there sat his horse languidly. He was stained and disfigured with the green of the grass and the limestone of rocky roads.

“Hallo, Pearson,” said Daddy Weaver. “Look like you’ve been breaking a mustang. What’s that you’ve got tied to your saddle ─ a pig in a poke?”

“Oh, come on, Tonia, if you’re going,” said Betty Rogers. “We mustn’t wait any longer. We’ve saved a seat in the buckboard for you. Never mind the hat. That lovely muslin you’ve got on looks sweet enough with any old hat.”

Pearson was slowly untying the queer thing on his saddle. Tonia looked at him with a sudden hope. Pearson was a man who created hope. He got the thing loose and handed it to her. Her quick fingers tore at the strings.

“Best I could do,” said Pearson slowly. “What Road Runner and me done to it will be about all it needs.”

“Oh, oh! it’s just the right shape,” shrieked Tonia. “And red roses! Wait till I try it on!”

She flew in to the glass, and out again, beaming, radiating, blossomed.

“Oh, don’t red become her?” chanted the girls in recitative. “Hurry up, Tonia!”

Tonia stopped for a moment by the side of Road Runner.

“Thank you, thank you, Wells,” she said, happily. “It’s just what I wanted. Won’t you come over to Cactus to-morrow and go to church with me?”

“If I can,” said Pearson. He was looking curiously at her hat, and then he grinned weakly.

Tonia flew into the buckboard like a bird. The vehicles sped away for Cactus.

“What have you been doing, Pearson?” asked Daddy Weaver. “You ain’t looking so well as common.”

“Me?” said Pearson. “I’ve been painting flowers. Them roses was white when I left Lone Elm. Help me down, Daddy Weaver, for I haven’t got any more paint to spare.”


Again Calls This State Great Or Its Government Just Will Have A Lie In
Their Mouths.”

March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

The last installment in a three-part series.

In the recent “Redlands, Red States” series, we explored the role that scoundrels and scalawags played the formation of our modern Texas. Now we will take a look at how a new generation of the same scoundrels continued the development of the sorry state of things many of us live in today.

Remember that by the 1840s, the whole of civilized Texas was awash in fraudulent land certificates. It was a Texas tradition dating back at least 20 years, and land certificate forgers and thieves would plague honest, hard-working Texans for another 40-odd years.

After the Civil War, this breed of crooks was known as “land sharks,” and their perfidies were best described by two short stories written by William S. Porter (O. Henry) who worked in the drafting department of the Texas General Land Office from 1887-1891, as an assistant draftsman: “Georgia’s Ruling,” and “Bexar Scrip No. 2692.”

The General Land Office (GLO) was created in December 1836 to “superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas,” which it did, after a fashion.

Land fraud problems continued through and the 1850s and Civil War, but we are resuming the story in the post-Civil War years..

Today, we present the O. Henry story, “Bexar Scrip No. 2692,” written in 1894 and which originally appeared in an issue of Porter’s humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone, base on a land grant found in the General Land Office archives.

William S. Porter worked for Land Commissioner Richard Hall, who served from January 1887 to January 1891.

One great care has been to so exercise the discretion given the Commissioner of the General Land Office that the public interests should ever be protected and advanced, and at the same time no right or privilege contemplated in the law for any citizen should be abridged or interfered with.”
 – Richard M. Hall

Bexar Scrip No. 2692

Whenever you visit Austin you should by all means go to see the General 
Land Office.

As you pass up the avenue you turn sharp round the corner of the court
house, and on a steep hill before you you see a medieval castle.

You think of the Rhine; the “castled crag of Drachenfels”; the Lorelei;
and the vine-clad slopes of Germany. And German it is in every line of 
its architecture and design.

The plan was drawn by an old draftsman from the “Vaterland,” whose heart 
still loved the scenes of his native land, and it is said he reproduced 
the design of a certain castle near his birthplace, with remarkable

Under the present administration a new coat of paint has vulgarized its 
ancient and venerable walls. Modern tiles have replaced the limestone 
slabs of its floors, worn in hollows by the tread of thousands of feet,
 and smart and gaudy fixtures have usurped the place of the time-worn 
furniture that has been consecrated by the touch of hands that Texas will never cease to honor.

But even now, when you enter the building, you lower your voice, and 
time turns backward for you, for the atmosphere which you breathe is
 cold with the exudation of buried generations.

The building is stone with a coating of concrete; the walls are 
immensely thick; it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter; it is 
isolated and sombre; standing apart from the other state buildings,
sullen and decaying, brooding on the past.

Twenty years ago it was much the same as now; twenty years from now the
 garish newness will be worn off and it will return to its appearance of
 gloomy decadence.

People living in other states can form no conception of the vastness and 
importance of the work performed and the significance of the millions of 
records and papers composing the archives of this office.

The title deeds, patents, transfers and legal documents connected with
 every foot of land owned in the state of Texas are filed here.

Volumes could be filled with accounts of the knavery, the 
double-dealing, the cross purposes, the perjury, the lies, the bribery, 
the alteration and erasing, the suppressing and destroying of papers, 
the various schemes and plots that for the sake of the almighty dollar have left their stains upon the records of the General Land Office.

No reference is made to the employees. No more faithful, competent and 
efficient force of men exists in the clerical portions of any 
government, but there is – or was, for their day is now over – a class of 
land speculators commonly called land sharks, unscrupulous and greedy,
 who have left their trail in every department of this office, in the shape of titles destroyed, patents cancelled, homes demolished and torn 
away, forged transfers and lying affidavits.

Before the modern tiles were laid upon the floors, there were deep 
hollows in the limestone slabs, worn by the countless feet that daily 
trod uneasily through its echoing corridors, pressing from file room to
 business room, from commissioner’s sanctum to record books and back

The honest but ignorant settler, bent on saving the little plot of land 
he called home, elbowed the wary land shark who was searching the
 records for evidence to oust him; the lordly cattle baron, relying on 
his influence and money, stood at the Commissioner’s desk side by side 
with the preemptor, whose little potato patch lay like a minute speck of 
island in the vast, billowy sea, of his princely pastures, and played 
the old game of “freeze-out,” which is as old as Cain and Abel.

The trail of the serpent is through it all.

Honest, earnest men have wrought for generations striving to disentangle 
the shameful coil that certain years of fraud and infamy have wound. 
Look at the files and see the countless endorsements of those in

“Transfer doubtful – locked up.”

“Certificate a forgery – locked up.”

“Signature a forgery.”

“Patent refused – duplicate patented elsewhere.”

“Field notes forged.”

“Certificates stolen from office”–and soon ad infinitum.

The record books, spread upon long tables, in the big room upstairs, are 
open to the examination of all. Open them, and you will find the dark 
and greasy finger prints of half a century’s handling. The quick hand of 
the land grabber has fluttered the leaves a million times; the damp
 clutch of the perturbed tiller of the soil has left traces of his 
calling on the ragged leaves.

Interest centres in the file room.

This is a large room, built as a vault, fireproof, and entered by but a
 single door.

There is “No Admission” on the portal; and the precious files are handed 
out by a clerk in charge only on presentation of an order signed by the
 Commissioner or chief clerk.

In years past too much laxity prevailed in its management, and the files 
were handled by all corners, simply on their request, and returned at
 their will, or not at all.

In these days most of the mischief was done. In the file room, there are
 about —- files, each in a paper wrapper, and comprising the title
 papers of a particular tract of land.

You ask the clerk in charge for the papers relating to any survey in
Texas. They are arranged simply in districts and numbers.

He disappears from the door, you hear the sliding of a tin box, the lid
 snaps, and the file is in your hand.

Go up there some day and call for Bexar Scrip No. 2692.

The file clerk stares at you for a second, says shortly: “Out of file.”

It has been missing twenty years.

The history of that file has never been written before.

Twenty years ago there was a shrewd land agent living in Austin who
 devoted his undoubted talents and vast knowledge of land titles, and the 
laws governing them, to the locating of surveys made by illegal 
certificates, or improperly made, and otherwise of no value through 
non-compliance with the statutes, or whatever flaws his ingenious and 
unscrupulous mind could unearth.

He found a fatal defect in the title of the land as on file in Bexar
 Scrip No. 2692 and placed a new certificate upon the survey in his own 

The law was on his side.

Every sentiment of justice, of right, and humanity was against him.

The certificate by virtue of which the original survey had been made was 

It was not be found in the file, and no memorandum or date on the 
wrapper to show that it had ever been filed.

Under the law the land was vacant, unappropriated public domain, and
 open to location.

The land was occupied by a widow and her only son, and she supposed her 
title good.

The railroad had surveyed a new line through the property, and it had 
doubled in value.

Sharp, the land agent, did not communicate with her in any way until he 
had filed his papers, rushed his claim through the departments and into 
the patent room for patenting. Then he wrote her a letter, offering her the choice of buying from him 
or vacating at once.

He received no reply.

One day he was looking through some files and came across the missing 
certificate. Some one, probably an employee of the office, had by 
mistake, after making some examination, placed it in the wrong file, and 
curiously enough another inadvertence, in there being no record of its 
filing on the wrapper, had completed the appearance of its having never 
been filed.

Sharp called for the file in which it belonged and scrutinized it
 carefully, fearing he might have overlooked some endorsement regarding 
its return to the office.

On the back of the certificate was plainly endorsed the date of filing,
 according to law, and signed by the chief clerk.

If this certificate should be seen by the examining clerk, his own
 claim, when it came up for patenting, would not be worth the paper on
 which it was written.

Sharp glanced furtively around. A young man, or rather a boy about
 eighteen years of age, stood a few feet away regarding him closely with 
keen black eyes. Sharp, a little confused, thrust the certificate into
 the file where it properly belonged and began gathering up the other

The boy came up and leaned on the desk beside him.

“A right interesting office, sir!” he said. “I have never been in here 
before. All those papers, now, they are about lands, are they not? The 
titles and deeds, and such things?”

“Yes,” said Sharp. “They are supposed to contain all the title papers.”

“This one, now,” said the boy, taking up Bexar Scrip No. 2692, “what 
land does this represent the title of? Ah, I see ‘Six hundred and forty
 acres in B—- country? Absalom Harris, original grantee.’ Please tell 
me, I am so ignorant of these things, how can you tell a good survey 
from a bad one. I am told that there are a great many illegal and 
fraudulent surveys in this office. I suppose this one is all right?”

“No,” said Sharp. “The certificate is missing. It is invalid.”

“That paper I just saw you place in that file, I suppose is something
 else – field notes, or a transfer probably?”

“Yes,” said Sharp, hurriedly, “corrected field notes. Excuse me, I am a 
little pressed for time.”

The boy was watching him with bright, alert eyes.

It would never do to leave the certificate in the file; but he could not 
take it out with that inquisitive boy watching him.

He turned to the file room, with a dozen or more files in his hands, and
 accidentally dropped part of them on the floor. As he stooped to pick 
them up he swiftly thrust Bexar Scrip No. 2692 in the inside breast
pocket of his coat.

This happened at just half-past four o’clock, and when the file clerk 
took the files he threw them in a pile in his room, came out and locked
 the door.

The clerks were moving out of the doors in long, straggling lines.

It was closing time.

Sharp did not desire to take the file from the Land Office.

The boy might have seen him place the file in his pocket, and the
 penalty of the law for such an act was very severe.

Some distance back from the file room was the draftsman’s room now
 entirely vacated by its occupants.

Sharp dropped behind the outgoing stream of men, and slipped slyly into 
this room.

The clerks trooped noisily down the iron stairway, singing, whistling, 
and talking.

Below, the night watchman awaited their exit, ready to close and bar the 
two great doors to the south and east. 
It is his duty to take careful note each day that no one remains in the
 building after the hour of closing.

Sharp waited until all sounds had ceased.
It was his intention to linger until everything was quiet, and then to 
remove the certificate from the file, and throw the latter carelessly on 
some draftsman’s desk as if it had been left there during the business 
of the day.

He knew also that he must remove the certificate from the office or
 destroy it, as the chance finding of it by a clerk would lead to its 
immediately being restored to its proper place, and the consequent
 discovery that his location over the old survey was absolutely worthless.

As he moved cautiously along the stone floor the loud barking of the
 little black dog, kept by the watchman, told that his sharp ears had 
heard the sounds of his steps. The great, hollow rooms echoed loudly, 
move as lightly as he could.

Sharp sat down at a desk and laid the file before him. In all his queer 
practices and cunning tricks he had not yet included any act that was 
downright criminal. He had always kept on the safe side of the law, but
 in the deed he was about to commit there was no compromise to be made 
with what little conscience he had left.

There is no well-defined boundary line between honesty and dishonesty.

The frontiers of one blend with the outside limits of the other, and he
 who attempts to tread this dangerous ground may be sometimes in one
 domain and sometimes in the other; so the only safe road is the broad
highway that leads straight through and has been well defined by line
 and compass.

Sharp was a man of what is called high standing in the community. That 
is, his word in a trade was as good as any man’s; his check was as good
 as so much cash, and so regarded; he went to church regularly; went in 
good society and owed no man anything.

He was regarded as a sure winner in any land trade he chose to make, but 
that was his occupation.

The act he was about to commit now would place him forever in the ranks 
of those who chose evil for their portion – if it was found out.

More than that, it would rob a widow and her son of property soon to be 
of great value, which, if not legally theirs, was theirs certainly by 
every claim of justice.

But he had gone too far to hesitate. 
His own survey was in the patent room for patenting. His own title was
 about to be perfected by the State’s own hand.

The certificate must be destroyed.

He leaned his head on his hands for a moment, and as he did so a sound
 behind him caused his heart to leap with guilty fear, but before he
could rise, a hand came over his shoulder and grasped the file.

He rose quickly, as white as paper, rattling his chair loudly on the 
stone floor.

The boy who land spoken to him earlier stood contemplating him with 
contemptuous and flashing eyes, and quietly placed the file in the left 
breast pocket of his coat.

“So, Mr. Sharp, by nature as well as by name,” he said, “it seems that I
 was right in waiting behind the door in order to see you safely out. You
will appreciate the pleasure I feel in having done so when I tell you my 
name is Harris. My mother owns the land on which you have filed, and if
 there is any justice in Texas she shall hold it. I am not certain, but I think I saw you place a paper in this file this afternoon, and it is 
barely possible that it may be of value to me. I was also impressed with 
the idea that you desired to remove it again, but had not the 
opportunity. Anyway, I shall keep it until to-morrow and let the
 Commissioner decide.”

Far back among Mr. Sharp’s ancestors there must have been some of the
 old berserker blood, for his caution, his presence of mind left him, and 
left him possessed of a blind, devilish, unreasoning rage that showed 
itself in a moment in the white glitter of his eye.

“Give me that file, boy,” he said, thickly, holding out his hand.

“I am no such fool, Mr. Sharp,” said the youth. “This file shall be laid
 before the Commissioner to-morrow for examination. If he finds — Help!

Sharp was upon him like a tiger and bore him to the floor. The boy was 
strong and vigorous, but the suddenness of the attack gave him no chance 
to resist. He struggled up again to his feet, but it was an animal, with 
blazing eyes and cruel-looking teeth that fought him, instead of a man.

Mr. Sharp, a man of high standing and good report, was battling for his 

Presently there was a dull sound, and another, and still one more, and a
 blade flashing white and then red, and Edward Harris dropped down like
 some stuffed effigy of a man, that boys make for sport, with his limbs 
all crumpled and lax, on the stone floor of the Land Office.

The old watchman was deaf, and heard nothing.
The little dog barked at the foot of the stairs until his master made 
him come into his room.

Sharp stood there for several minutes holding in his hand his bloody 
clasp knife, listening to the cooing of the pigeons on the roof, and the 
loud ticking of the clock above the receiver’s desk.

A map rustled on the wall and his blood turned to ice; a rat ran across 
some strewn papers, and his scalp prickled, and he could scarcely 
moisten his dry lips with his tongue.

Between the file room and the draftsman’s room there is a door that
 opens on a small dark spiral stairway that winds from the lower floor to 
the ceiling at the top of the house.

This stairway was not used then, nor is it now.

It is unnecessary, inconvenient, dusty, and dark as night, and was a 
blunder of the architect who designed the building.

This stairway ends above at the tent-shaped space between the roof and 
the joists.

That space is dark and forbidding, and being useless is rarely visited.

Sharp opened this door and gazed for a moment up this narrow cobwebbed 

* * * *

After dark that night a man opened cautiously one of the lower windows
 of the Land Office, crept out with great circumspection and disappeared 
in the shadows.

* * * *

One afternoon, a week after this time, Sharp lingered behind again after 
the clerks had left and the office closed. The next morning the first
comers noticed a broad mark in the dust on the upstairs floor, and the 
same mark was observed below stairs near a window.

It appeared as if some heavy and rather bulky object had been dragged
 along through the limestone dust. A memorandum book with “E. Harris”
 written on the flyleaf was picked up on the stairs, but nothing
 particular was thought of any of these signs.

Circulars and advertisements appeared for a long time in the papers 
asking for information concerning Edward Harris, who left his mother’s
 home on a certain date and had never been heard of since.

After a while these things were succeeded by affairs of more recent 
interest, and faded from the public mind.

* * * *

Sharp died two years ago, respected and regretted. The last two years of
his life were clouded with a settled melancholy for which his friends 
could assign no reason. The bulk of his comfortable fortune was made 
from the land he obtained by fraud and crime.

The disappearance of the file was a mystery that created some commotion
in the Land Office, but he got his patent.

* * * *

It is a well-known tradition in Austin and vicinity that there is a
 buried treasure of great value somewhere on the banks of Shoal Creek, 
about a mile west of the city.

Three young men living in Austin recently became possessed of what they
 thought was a clue of the whereabouts of the treasure, and Thursday
 night they repaired to the place after dark and plied the pickaxe and
 shovel with great diligence for about three hours.

At the end of that time their efforts were rewarded by the finding of a 
box buried about four feet below the surface, which they hastened to

The light of a lantern disclosed to their view the fleshless bones of a
 human skeleton with clothing still wrapping its uncanny limbs.

They immediately left the scene and notified the proper authorities of 
their ghastly find.

On closer examination, in the left breast pocket of the skeleton’s coat,
 there was found a flat, oblong packet of papers, cut through and through 
in three places by a knife blade, and so completely soaked and clotted 
with blood that it had become an almost indistinguishable mass.

With the aid of a microscope and the exercise of a little imagination 
this much can be made out of the letter; at the top of the papers:

B–x a– —rip N–2–92.

Again Calls This State Great Or Its Government Just Will Have A Lie In
Their Mouths.”

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

The second installment in a three-part series.

In the recent “Redlands, Red States” series, we explored the role that scoundrels and scalawags played the formation of our modern Texas. Now we will take a look at how a new generation of the same scoundrels continued the development of the sorry state of things many of us live in today.

Remember that by the 1840s, the whole of civilized Texas was awash in fraudulent land certificates. It was a Texas tradition dating back at least 20 years, and land certificate forgers and thieves would plague honest, hard-working Texans for another 40-odd years.

After the Civil War, this breed of crooks was known as “land sharks,” and their perfidies were best described by two short stories written by William S. Porter (O. Henry) who worked in the drafting department of the Texas General Land Office from 1887-1891, as an assistant draftsman: “Georgia’s Ruling,” and “Bexar Scrip No. 2692.”

The General Land Office (GLO) was created in December 1836 to “superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas,” which it did, after a fashion.

Land fraud problems continued through and the 1850s and Civil War, but we are resuming the story in the post-Civil War years..

Today, we present the O. Henry story, “Georgia’s Ruling,” written in 1910.

William S. Porter worked for Land Commissioner Richard Hall, who served from January 1887 to January 1891.

One great care has been to so exercise the discretion given the Commissioner of the General Land Office that the public interests should ever be protected and advanced, and at the same time no right or privilege contemplated in the law for any citizen should be abridged or interfered with.”
 – Richard M. Hall


If you should chance to visit the General Land Office, step into the 
draughtsmen’s room and ask to be shown the map of Salado County. A
 leisurely German – possibly old Kampfer himself – will bring it to
 you. It will be four feet square, on heavy drawing-cloth. The 
lettering and the figures will be beautifully clear and distinct. The 
title will be in splendid, undecipherable German text, ornamented with classic Teutonic designs – very likely Ceres or Pomona leaning
 against the initial letters with cornucopias venting grapes and wieners. You must tell him that this is not the map you wish to see; that he will kindly bring you its official predecessor. He will then 
say, “Ach, so!” and bring out a map half the size of the first, dim,
 old, tattered, and faded.

By looking carefully near its northwest corner you will presently come
 upon the worn contours of Chiquito River, and, maybe, if your eyes are
 good, discern the silent witness to this story. The Commissioner of the Land Office was of the old style; his 
antique courtesy was too formal for his day. He dressed in fine
 black, and there was a suggestion of Roman drapery in his long coat-skirts. His collars were “undetached” (blame haberdashery
 for the word); his tie was a narrow, funereal strip, tied in the
 same knot as were his shoe-strings. His gray hair was a trifle too long behind, but he kept it smooth and orderly. His face was
 clean-shaven, like the old statesmen’s. Most people thought it a 
stern face, but when its official expression was off, a few had
 seen altogether a different countenance. Especially tender and gentle it had appeared to those who were about him during the last illness of his only child.

The Commissioner had been a widower for years, and his life, outside 
his official duties, had been so devoted to little Georgia that people 
spoke of it as a touching and admirable thing. He was a reserved man,
 and dignified almost to austerity, but the child had come below it all and rested upon his very heart, so that she scarcely missed the
 mother’s love that had been taken away. There was a wonderful
 companionship between them, for she had many of his own ways, being 
thoughtful and serious beyond her years.

One day, while she was lying with the fever burning brightly in her 
cheeks, she said suddenly:

“Papa, I wish I could do something good for a whole lot of children!”

“What would you like to do, dear?” asked the Commissioner. “Give 
them a party?”

“Oh, I don’t mean those kind. I mean poor children who haven’t homes,
 and aren’t loved and cared for as I am. I tell you what, papa!”

“What, my own child?”

“If I shouldn’t get well, I’ll leave them you — not give you, but
 just lend you, for you must come to mamma and me when you die too. If
 you can find time, wouldn’t you do something to help them, if I ask
 you, papa?”

“Hush, hush dear, dear child,” said the Commissioner, holding her hot 
little hand against his cheek; “you’ll get well real soon, and you and 
I will see what we can do for them together.”

But in whatsoever paths of benevolence, thus vaguely premeditated, the 
Commissioner might tread, he was not to have the company of his
 beloved. That night the little frail body grew suddenly too tired to
 struggle further, and Georgia’s exit was made from the great stage
 when she had scarcely begun to speak her little piece before the 
footlights. But there must be a stage manager who understands. She
 had given the cue to the one who was to speak after her.

A week after she was laid away, the Commissioner reappeared at the
 office, a little more courteous, a little paler and sterner, with the 
black frock-coat hanging a little more loosely from his tall figure.

His desk was piled with work that had accumulated during the four 
heartbreaking weeks of his absence. His chief clerk had done what he 
could, but there were questions of law, of fine judicial decisions
 to be made concerning the issue of patents, the marketing and 
leasing of school lands, the classification into grazing,
 agricultural, watered, and timbered, of new tracts to be opened to settlers.

The Commissioner went to work silently and obstinately, putting 
back his grief as far as possible, forcing his mind to attack the
 complicated and important business of his office. On the second day
 after his return he called the porter, pointed to a leather-covered
 chair that stood near his own, and ordered it removed to a lumber-room 
at the top of the building. In that chair Georgia would always sit
 when she came to the office for him of afternoons.

As time passed, the Commissioner seemed to grow more silent, solitary,
 and reserved. A new phase of mind developed in him. He could not
 endure the presence of a child. Often when a clattering youngster
 belonging to one of the clerks would come chattering into the big
 business-room adjoining his little apartment, the Commissioner would
 steal softly and close the door. He would always cross the street to
 avoid meeting the school-children when they came dancing along in 
happy groups upon the sidewalk, and his firm mouth would close into a 
mere line.

It was nearly three months after the rains had washed the last dead
 flower-petals from the mound above little Georgia when the “land-shark”
 firm of Hamlin and Avery filed papers upon what they considered the
 “fattest” vacancy of the year.

It should not be supposed that all who were termed “land-sharks” 
deserved the name. Many of them were reputable men of good business 
character. Some of them could walk into the most august councils of 
the State and say: “Gentlemen, we would like to have this, and that, and matters go thus.” But, next to a three years’ drought and the 
boll-worm, the Actual Settler hated the Land-shark. The land-shark 
haunted the Land Office, where all the land records were kept, and 
hunted “vacancies” – that is, tracts of unappropriated public domain, generally invisible upon the official maps, but actually existing “upon the ground.” The law entitled any one possessing 
certain State scrip to file by virtue of same upon any land not previously legally appropriated. Most of the scrip was now in the hands of the land-sharks. Thus, at the cost of a few hundred dollars,
 they often secured lands worth as many thousands.

Naturally, the 
search for “vacancies” was lively.

But often – very often – the land they thus secured, though legally
”unappropriated,” would be occupied by happy and contented settlers,
who had laboured for years to build up their homes, only to discover 
that their titles were worthless, and to receive peremptory notice to 
quit. Thus came about the bitter and not unjustifiable hatred felt by
 the toiling settlers toward the shrewd and seldom merciful speculators 
who so often turned them forth destitute and homeless from their 
fruitless labours. The history of the state teems with their
 antagonism. Mr. Land-shark seldom showed his face on “locations” from
 which he should have to eject the unfortunate victims of a monstrously 
tangled land system, but let his emissaries do the work. There was
 lead in every cabin, moulded into balls for him; many of his brothers
 had enriched the grass with their blood. The fault of it all lay far back.

When the state was young, she felt the need of attracting newcomers,
 and of rewarding those pioneers already within her borders. Year
 after year she issued land scrip – Headrights, Bounties, Veteran
 Donations, Confederates; and to railroads, irrigation companies,
 colonies, and tillers of the soil galore. All required of the grantee
 was that he or it should have the scrip properly surveyed upon the public domain by the county or district surveyor, and the land thus
 appropriated became the property of him or it, or his or its heirs and assigns, forever.

In those days – and here is where the trouble began – the state’s
 domain was practically inexhaustible, and the old surveyors, with
 princely – yea, even Western American – liberality, gave good measure and over-flowing. Often the jovial man of metes and bounds 
would dispense altogether with the tripod and chain. Mounted on a pony
 that could cover something near a “vara” at a step, with a pocket compass to direct his course, he would trot out a survey by counting 
the beat of his pony’s hoofs, mark his corners, and write out his field notes with the complacency produced by an act of duty well performed. Sometimes — and who could blame the surveyor? — when 
the pony was “feeling his oats,” he might step a little higher and
 farther, and in that case the beneficiary of the scrip might get a thousand or two more acres in his survey than the scrip called for.
 But look at the boundless leagues the state had to spare! However, no
 one ever had to complain of the pony under-stepping. Nearly every old survey in the state contained an excess of land.

In later years, when the state became more populous, and land values 
increased, this careless work entailed incalculable trouble, endless
 litigation, a period of riotous land-grabbing, and no little
bloodshed. The land-sharks voraciously attacked these excesses in 
the old surveys, and filed upon such portions with new scrip as
 unappropriated public domain. Wherever the identifications of the old tracts were vague, and the corners were not to be clearly
 established, the Land Office would recognize the newer locations as valid, and issue title to the locators. Here was the greatest hardship to be found. These old surveys, taken from the pick of the
 land, were already nearly all occupied by unsuspecting and peaceful
 settlers, and thus their titles were demolished, and the choice was placed before them either to buy their land over at a double price or
 to vacate it, with their families and personal belongings, 
immediately. Land locators sprang up by hundreds. The country was held up and searched for “vacancies” at the point of a compass. 
Hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of splendid acres were wrested 
from their innocent purchasers and holders. There began a vast hegira of evicted settlers in tattered wagons; going nowhere, cursing
 injustice, stunned, purposeless, homeless, hopeless. Their children
 began to look up to them for bread, and cry.

It was in consequence of these conditions that Hamilton and Avery
 had filed upon a strip of land about a mile wide and three miles long,
 comprising about two thousand acres, it being the excess over
complement of the Elias Denny three-league survey on Chiquito River, 
in one of the middle-western counties. This two-thousand-acre body 
of land was asserted by them to be vacant land, and improperly 
considered a part of the Denny survey. They based this assertion and
 their claim upon the land upon the demonstrated facts that the beginning corner of the Denny survey was plainly identified; that its 
field notes called to run west 5,760 varas, and then called for
 Chiquito River; thence it ran south, with the meanders – and so on — 
and that the Chiquito River was, on the ground, fully a mile farther west from the point reached by course and distance. To sum up: there 
were two thousand acres of vacant land between the Denny survey proper
 and Chiquito River.

One sweltering day in July the Commissioner called for the papers in 
connection with this new location. They were brought, and heaped, a
 foot deep, upon his desk – field notes, statements, sketches,
 affidavits, connecting lines – documents of every description that shrewdness and money could call to the aid of Hamlin and Avery.

The firm was pressing the Commissioner to issue a patent upon their
 location. They possessed inside information concerning a new 
railroad that would probably pass somewhere near this land. The General Land Office was very still while the Commissioner was
 delving into the heart of the mass of evidence. The pigeons could
 be heard on the roof of the old, castle-like building, cooing and 
fretting. The clerks were droning everywhere, scarcely pretending 
to earn their salaries. Each little sound echoed hollow and loud from the bare, stone-flagged floors, the plastered walls, and the 
iron-joisted ceiling. The impalpable, perpetual limestone dust that 
never settled, whitened a long streamer of sunlight that pierced the 
tattered window-awning.

It seemed that Hamlin and Avery had builded well. The Denny survey was
 carelessly made, even for a careless period. Its beginning corner 
was identical with that of a well-defined old Spanish grant, but its 
other calls were sinfully vague. The field notes contained no other 
object that survived – no tree, no natural object save Chiquito
 River, and it was a mile wrong there. According to precedent, the Office would be justified in giving it its complement by course and
 distance, and considering the remainder vacant instead of a mere excess.

The Actual Settler was besieging the office with wild protests in re.
 Having the nose of a pointer and the eye of a hawk for the land-shark,
 he had observed his myrmidons running the lines upon his ground.
 Making inquiries, he learned that the spoiler had attacked his home, and he left the plough in the furrow and took his pen in hand.

One of the protests the Commissioner read twice. It was from a woman,
 a widow, the granddaughter of Elias Denny himself. She told how her 
grandfather had sold most of the survey years before at a trivial
 price – land that was now a principality in extent and value. Her
 mother had also sold a part, and she herself had succeeded to this western portion, along Chiquito River. Much of it she had been forced
 to part with in order to live, and now she owned only about three 
hundred acres, on which she had her home. Her letter wound up rather

“I’ve got eight children, the oldest fifteen years. I work all day
 and half the night to till what little land I can and keep us in 
clothes and books. I teach my children too. My neighbours is all poor and has big families. The drought kills the crops every two or 
three years and then we has hard times to get enough to eat. There is 
ten families on this land what the land-sharks is trying to rob us of, and all of them got titles from me. I sold to them cheap, and they 
aint paid out yet, but part of them is, and if their land should be 
took from them I would die. My grandfather was an honest man, and he helped to build up this state, and he taught his children to be
 honest, and how could I make it up to them who bought from me? Mr. 
Commissioner, if you let them land-sharks take the roof from over my children and the little from them as they has to live on, whoever
 again calls this state great or its government just will have a lie in
 their mouths.”

The Commissioner laid this letter aside with a sigh. Many, many such
 letters he had received. He had never been hurt by them, nor had he
 ever felt that they appealed to him personally. He was but the
 state’s servant, and must follow its laws. And yet, somehow, this reflection did not always eliminate a certain responsible feeling that 
hung upon him. Of all the state’s officers he was supremest in his
 department, not even excepting the Governor. Broad, general land laws
 he followed, it was true, but he had a wide latitude in particular
 ramifications. Rather than law, what he followed was Rulings: Office Rulings and precedents. In the complicated and new questions
 that were being engendered by the state’s development the 
Commissioner’s ruling was rarely appealed from. Even the courts sustained it when its equity was apparent.

The Commissioner stepped to the door and spoke to a clerk in the other
room – spoke as he always did, as if he were addressing a prince of 
the blood:

“Mr. Weldon, will you be kind enough to ask Mr. Ashe, the state
 school-land appraiser, to please come to my office as soon as 

Ashe came quickly from the big table where he was arranging his 

“Mr. Ashe,” said the Commissioner, “you worked along the Chiquito 
River, in Salado County, during your last trip, I believe. Do you
 remember anything of the Elias Denny three-league survey?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” the blunt, breezy, surveyor answered. “I crossed it
 on my way to Block H, on the north side of it. The road runs with the
 Chiquito River, along the valley. The Denny survey fronts three miles 
on the Chiquito.”

“It is claimed,” continued the commissioner, “that it fails to reach 
the river by as much as a mile.”

The appraiser shrugged his shoulder. He was by birth and instinct an 
Actual Settler, and the natural foe of the land-shark.

“It has always been considered to extend to the river,” he said,

“But that is not the point I desired to discuss,” said the 
Commissioner. “What kind of country is this valley portion of (let us 
say, then) the Denny tract?”

The spirit of the Actual Settler beamed in Ashe’s face.

“Beautiful,” he said, with enthusiasm. “Valley as level as this 
floor, with just a little swell on, like the sea, and rich as cream.
 Just enough brakes to shelter the cattle in winter. Black loamy soil for six feet, and then clay. Holds water. A dozen nice little houses
 on it, with windmills and gardens. People pretty poor, I guess – too 
far from market – but comfortable. Never saw so many kids in my life.”

“They raise flocks?” inquired the Commissioner.

“Ho, ho! I mean two-legged kids,” laughed the surveyor; “two-legged, 
and bare-legged, and tow-headed.”

“Children! oh, children!” mused the Commissioner, as though a new 
view had opened to him; “they raise children!”

“It’s a lonesome country, Commissioner,” said the surveyor. “Can you 
blame ’em?”

“I suppose,” continued the Commissioner, slowly, as one carefully
 pursues deductions from a new, stupendous theory, “not all of them are
 tow-headed. It would not be unreasonable, Mr. Ashe, I conjecture, to 
believe that a portion of them have brown, or even black, hair.”

“Brown and black, sure,” said Ashe; “also red.”

“No doubt,” said the Commissioner. “Well, I thank you for your
 courtesy in informing me, Mr. Ashe. I will not detain you any longer 
from your duties.”

Later, in the afternoon, came Hamlin and Avery, big, handsome, genial,
 sauntering men, clothed in white duck and low-cut shoes. They 
permeated the whole office with an aura of debonair prosperity. They 
passed among the clerks and left a wake of abbreviated given names and fat brown cigars.

These were the aristocracy of the land-sharks, who went in for big 
things. Full of serene confidence in themselves, there was no 
corporation, no syndicate, no railroad company or attorney general
 too big for them to tackle. The peculiar smoke of their rare, fat brown cigars was to be perceived in the sanctum of every department of
 state, in every committee-room of the Legislature, in every bank 
parlour and every private caucus-room in the state Capital. Always 
pleasant, never in a hurry, in seeming to possess unlimited leisure, people wondered when they gave their attention to the many audacious 
enterprises in which they were known to be engaged.

By and by the two dropped carelessly into the Commissioner’s room
 and reclined lazily in the big, leather-upholstered arm-chairs. They 
drawled a good-natured complaint of the weather, and Hamlin told the 
Commissioner an excellent story he had amassed that morning from the Secretary of State.

But the Commissioner knew why they were there. He had half promised
 to render a decision that day upon their location.

The chief clerk now brought in a batch of duplicate certificates for 
the Commissioner to sign. As he traced his sprawling signature,
”Hollis Summerfield, Comr. Genl. Land Office,” on each one, the chief 
clerk stood, deftly removing them and applying the blotter.

“I notice,” said the chief clerk, “you’ve been going through that
 Salado County location. Kampfer is making a new map of Salado, and 
I believe is platting in that section of the county now.”

“I will see it,” said the Commissioner. A few moments later he went to 
the draughtsmen’s room.

As he entered he saw five or six of the draughtsmen grouped about
 Kampfer’s desk, gargling away at each other in pectoral German, and 
gazing at something thereupon. At the Commissioner’s approach they
 scattered to their several places. Kampfer, a wizened little German, with long, frizzled ringlets and a watery eye, began to stammer 
forth some sort of an apology, the Commissioner thought, for the 
congregation of his fellows about his desk.

“Never mind,” said the Commissioner, “I wish to see the map you are 
making”; and, passing around the old German, seated himself upon the 
high draughtsman’s stool. Kampfer continued to break English in 
trying to explain.

“Herr Gommissioner, I assure you blenty sat I haf not it bremeditated 
 –sat it wass — sat it itself make. Look you! from se field notes 
wass it blatted — blease to observe se calls: South, 10 degrees west
 1,050 varas; south, 10 degrees east 300 varas; south, 100; south, 9
 west, 200; south, 40 degrees west 400 — and so on. Herr Gommissioner,
 nefer would I have — “

The Commissioner raised one white hand, silently, Kampfer dropped his 
pipe and fled.

With a hand at each side of his face, and his elbows resting upon the
 desk, the Commissioner sat staring at the map which was spread and 
fastened there – staring at the sweet and living profile of little 
Georgia drawn thereupon – at her face, pensive, delicate, and infantile, outlined in a perfect likeness.

When his mind at length came to inquire into the reason of it, he 
saw that it must have been, as Kampfer had said, unpremeditated. The
 old draughtsman had been platting in the Elias Denny survey, and 
Georgia’s likeness, striking though it was, was formed by nothing more than the meanders of Chiquito River. Indeed, Kampfer’s blotter,
 whereon his preliminary work was done, showed the laborious tracings
 of the calls and the countless pricks of the compasses. Then, over his faint pencilling, Kampfer had drawn in India ink with a full, firm pen the similitude of Chiquito River, and forth had blossomed
 mysteriously the dainty, pathetic profile of the child.

The Commissioner sat for half an hour with his face in his hands,
 gazing downward, and none dared approach him. Then he arose and 
walked out. In the business office he paused long enough to ask that 
the Denny file be brought to his desk.

He found Hamlin and Avery still reclining in their chairs, apparently
 oblivious of business. They were lazily discussing summer opera, it
 being, their habit – perhaps their pride also – to appear supernaturally 
indifferent whenever they stood with large interests imperilled. And 
they stood to win more on this stake than most people knew. They 
possessed inside information to the effect that a new railroad would,
 within a year, split this very Chiquito River valley and send land values ballooning all along its route. A dollar under thirty thousand 
profit on this location, if it should hold good, would be a loss to 
their expectations. So, while they chatted lightly and waited for the 
Commissioner to open the subject, there was a quick, sidelong sparkle 
in their eyes, evincing a desire to read their title clear to those fair acres on the Chiquito.

A clerk brought in the file. The Commissioner seated himself and
 wrote upon it in red ink. Then he rose to his feet and stood for a
while looking straight out of the window. The Land Office capped the 
summit of a bold hill. The eyes of the Commissioner passed over the 
roofs of many houses set in a packing of deep green, the whole
 checkered by strips of blinding white streets. The horizon, where his 
gaze was focussed, swelled to a fair wooded eminence flecked with 
faint dots of shining white. There was the cemetery, where lay many
 who were forgotten, and a few who had not lived in vain. And one 
lay there, occupying very small space, whose childish heart had been 
large enough to desire, while near its last beats, good to others.
 The Commissioner’s lips moved slightly as he whispered to himself: “It was her last will and testament, and I have neglected it so long!”

The big brown cigars of Hamlin and Avery were fireless, but they still
 gripped them between their teeth and waited, while they marvelled at 
the absent expression upon the Commissioner’s face.

By and by he spoke suddenly and promptly.

“Gentlemen, I have just indorsed the Elias Denny survey for patenting.
This office will not regard your location upon a part of it as legal.”
 He paused a moment, and then, extending his hand as those dear old-time
 ones used to do in debate, he enunciated the spirit of that Ruling that subsequently drove the land-sharks to the wall, and placed the seal of
 peace and security over the doors of ten thousand homes.

“And, furthermore,” he continued, with a clear, soft light upon his 
face, “it may interest you to know that from this time on this office
 will consider that when a survey of land made by virtue of a certificate granted by this state to the men who wrested it from the
 wilderness and the savage – made in good faith, settled in good faith,
 and left in good faith to their children or innocent purchasers — when such a survey, although overrunning its complement, shall call for
 any natural object visible to the eye of man, to that object it shall hold, and be good and valid. And the children of this state shall lie down to sleep at night, and rumours of disturbers of title shall 
not disquiet them. For,” concluded the Commissioner, “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the silence that followed, a laugh floated up from the patent-room 
below. The man who carried down the Denny file was exhibiting it
 among the clerks.

“Look here,” he said, delightedly, “the old man has forgotten his
 name. He’s written ‘Patent to original grantee,’ and signed it 
’Georgia Summerfield, Comr.”‘

The speech of the Commissioner rebounded lightly from the impregnable 
Hamlin and Avery. They smiled, rose gracefully, spoke of the baseball 
team, and argued feelingly that quite a perceptible breeze had arisen
 from the east. They lit fresh fat brown cigars, and drifted courteously away. But later they made another tiger-spring for their
 quarry in the courts. But the courts, according to reports in the
 papers, “coolly roasted them” (a remarkable performance, suggestive of 
liquid-air didoes), and sustained the Commissioner’s Ruling.

And this Ruling itself grew to be a Precedent, and the Actual Settler 
framed it, and taught his children to spell from it, and there was 
sound sleep o’ nights from the pines to the sage-brush, and from the 
chaparral to the great brown river of the north.

But I think, and I am sure the Commissioner never thought otherwise, 
that whether Kampfer was a snuffy old instrument of destiny, or
 whether the meanders of the Chiquito accidentally platted themselves 
into that memorable sweet profile or not, there was brought about “something good for a whole lot of children,” and the result ought
 to be called “Georgia’s Ruling.”


“Whoever Again Calls This State Great Or Its Government Just Will Have A Lie In
Their Mouths.”

March 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

The first installment in a three-part series.

In the recent “Redlands, Red State” series, we explored the role that scoundrels and scalawags played in the formation of our modern Texas. Now we will take a look at how a new generation of the same type of scoundrels continued the development of the sorry state of things in which many of us live today.

Remember that by the 1840s, the whole of civilized Texas was awash in fraudulent land certificates. It was a Texas tradition dating back at least 20 years, and land certificate forgers and thieves would continue to plague honest, hard-working Texans for another 40-odd years.

After the Civil War, this breed of crooks was known as “land sharks,” and their perfidies were best described by two short stories written by William S. Porter (O. Henry), who worked in the drafting department of the Texas General Land Office from 1887-1891 as an assistant draftsman: “Georgia’s Ruling” and “Bexar Scrip No. 2692.”

The General Land Office (GLO) was created in December 1836 to “superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas,” which it did, after a fashion.

Land fraud problems continued through the 1850s and Civil War, but we will resume the story in the post-Civil War years, beginning with sketches of the land commissioners of the time.

Jacob Kuechler, born in Germany in 1823, moved to Texas at the age of 24. He became land commissioner by appointment of General Joseph Jones Reynolds of the military Reconstruction government in January 1870 and held the office until January 1874.

Kuechler had worked as a surveyor until 1861. He was commissioned by Governor Sam Houston to enroll state militia troops for Gillespie County. He was viewed as a traitor, however, because he only recruited Unionist sympathizers of German descent. More than half of Kuechler’s force of 61 men were massacred (some executed after being captured) along the Nueces River in 1862 as they attempted to escape Texas to go to Mexico, and eventually meet with union forces.

Kuechler anticipated civil service reform, and protected employees whose political views differed from his own. He was the first commissioner to suggest reforms and regulations for land surveyors as well. He stated that the incompetence of county surveyors led to a tremendous amount of additional work for land office staff, causing business to lag. He was also the first to recommend employing a state land surveyor at the GLO.

Johann Jacob Groos served as land commissioner from January 1874 to June 1878 and was the second German-born Commissioner of the General Land Office

Born in Germany in 1824, Groos worked as a surveyor before coming to Texas in 1845.

Groos dealt with many of the same problems as his predecessors. Difficult land laws and land speculators were among his biggest professional problems; however it was the Oklahoma border that captured Groos’ interest in 1877. He claimed that Greer County should be recognized as Texas land, rather than belonging to the United States.

He was quoted as saying “I hold it to be doubtful economy to retard the public business, particularly of that portion pertaining to this office, in which both the State and individual citizens are so deeply interested, in order to save the State a few thousand dollars, when the sequel will prove it both unwise and impolitic, and fails to effect that object.” 
It was during this period that the land sharks thrived. Groos died while in office.

William C. Walsh took over the commissioner’s job upon the death of Groos and served until January of 1887.

He wrote of his first week in office: “I found the Land Office files and records were in a tangled condition, so I closed the office for five days to take account of stock. Carelessness during and immediately subsequent to the Civil War permitted, if it did not invite, an organized gang of forgers and land thieves to raid the archives of the office.”

William C. Walsh came to Texas six months after his birth in Dayton, Ohio in 1836. At the age of 21 he began work as a clerk for the General Land Office.

Walsh resigned from his position with the GLO on April 30, 1861, to join the Confederate Army.

In January 1873, he was elected Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives. He left this post when Governor Richard Hubbard appointed him to fill the rest of the term of the late Johann Jacob Groos, in June 1878, at the GLO.

Land frauds were running rampant in Texas, “dragging their slimy forms about the State and enmeshing many people and land titles,” Walsh said. This was one of the most difficult and dangerous times in land office history, with numerous threats made on Walsh’s life. Bodyguards had to guard the land office and armed sentinels protected Walsh’s home at night.

As land commissioner, Walsh launched the prosecution of a ring of forgers and land thieves who had raided the archives of the land office; 30 were convicted and sent to the penitentiary, while at least 100 fled the state. Walsh also uncovered a scheme to defraud the school fund of pine timber lands acreage.

Walsh was defeated in the 1887 race for commissioner by Richard M. Hall. He eventually returned to the Land Office under Commissioner J. T. Robison.

Richard Hall served from January 1887 to January 1891.

One great care has been to so exercise the discretion given the Commissioner of the General Land Office that the public interests should ever be protected and advanced, and at the same time no right or privilege contemplated in the law for any citizen should be abridged or interfered with.”
 – Richard M. Hall

Richard M. Hall was born in North Carolina in 1851. Educated in civil engineering and mathematics, Hall secured a job as county surveyor for Grayson County upon moving to Texas. Hall purchased a farm in La Salle County for him and his family, as well as an old family friend from North Carolina, William Sidney Porter, better known as “O. Henry.” Hall ran on the Democratic ticket for Texas Land Commissioner in 1886. He won and took office on January 10, 1887. He hired William Sidney Porter to work as a draftsman for the GLO, which is how the legendary short story writer became associated with the GLO.

During his administration, Commissioner Hall faced considerable political pressure from Attorney General Jim Hogg and the railroad industry because of the contentious Sidings and Switches Controversy. The Sidings and Switches Controversy specifically dealt with the Houston and Texas Central Railroad Company (H&TCRR), however, it would have far-reaching effects on all land granted since statehood if Attorney General Hogg was successful in his pursuits. Hogg claimed that H&TCRR received more land for internal improvements than was appropriate. Hogg contended that the railroad companies were making land claims based on their main rail line, in addition to supplemental and support rail lines that were not initially proposed, or part of the original contracts. These extra lines were known as sidings and switches. Hogg’s proposed lawsuits meant that the State would receive between 20 million and 38 million acres of land back that had already been granted. Hall pointed out, however, that the railroad companies had sold off approximately 96 percent of the land received for internal improvements, and this legal action would result in countless citizens being forced off their land by the government, which wouldn’t have been a good option, or, settlers would be forced to pay twice for land they already owned, which was also not a good option. Hall felt that the impending lawsuit would be difficult to administer, but would also infringe upon citizen’s property rights. He refused to take part in any lawsuit that would take land from citizens that had already been granted.

In 1890, Hall ran for Governor; his platform was based on two main issues: to have a relatively weak Railroad Commission, and the increased use of proceeds from the sale of public lands to benefit education in West Texas counties. Hall was unsuccessful in his quest for the governorship, and so both he and Porter left the General Land Office.

(Thanks to the General Land Office for its biographies of the above mentioned land office commissioners.)

Next time, the O. Henry story, “Georgia’s Ruling,” written in 1910, followed by “Bexar Scrip No. 2692,” a not-so-funny story written in 1894 for his humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone.

So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good Riddance

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

SX$#@&*;-)! — like a bad case of hemorrhoids — is finally over, and already my mood is soaring to the point of jocularity. So here are some hoary 1870s-1890s Austin jokes. The first one is dedicated to all of our departing SX friends. And don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out. See y’all next year, disfortunately.

G. C. Clark, a musician, committed suicide at Dallas. He shot himself there that he might have the most pleasure in leaving Texas.

Two young men from the hill regions above Austin came out of a certain fashionable hotel when one remarked, “That was the best cold soup I ever tasted,” when his companion, better heeled in city life, remarked that it was ice cream.

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.

The bedbug season is drawing night and the boarders are beginning to select the top of the awnings and house tops on which to sleep.

The festive cockroach, a most amusing “cuss” of the summer season, is slowly retiring from business and is hunting warmer quarters. The cimex lectularius and the mosquito yet remain as lingering visitors.


Small Boy — “Pa, I know why sister wants electric lights in the parlor.”

Pa — “Why?”

Small Boy — “I heard her tell that fellow, Tilly Dickson, that when the electric lights were put in he could stay longer of nights ’cause you’n ma couldn’t tell by seeing how low the oil was in the lamps the next morning.”

Austin Gas Joke.

Sirenda,” said Col. S. Mutchkin, last night, “why don’t you turn the gas up so it will give a light?”

 “Why, papa, every blessed burner in the house is lighted and turned on full.”

 “Ah! So it is, my dear; I hadn’t observed. Then light a candle and bring it here, so that I can see the figure in this gas bill the man left to-day.”

It Wasn’t Gas.

Mr. Swigwell went home last night and saw an unusually brilliant flood of light in the parlor, and said to his daughter:

Starchina, why did you light so many gas jets in the parlor? And how did you get it to burn so brightly tonight? I never saw it so bright before.”

Why, pa,” answered the beautiful Starchina Swigwell, “I never lighted the gas. That’s the moon shining through the east window I opened.”

Well, I thought it strange that our gas had begun to make so much light.”

A Bull Creek girl went into a drug store to buy some taffy-tolu chewing gum. The clerk, trying to be sociable, remarked to her, “It’s a pretty warm day.” “You beecher life,” she explained, “I heered it was 200 degrees below zero.”

The lah-de-dah cigarette smoking young man is affectionately referred to by the Cleveland Leader as “third class male matter.”

“Where are you going, anyhow?” asked an irate conductor on the Central the other day of a “beat” whom he had kicked off five or six times, but who always managed to get on again just as the train started. “Well,” said the fellow quietly, “I’m going to Austin, if my pants hold out.”

A story is told of a fellow who upon learning that Major Penn the evangelist was about to leave San Antonio, inquired whither he was going?

The major replied:

“Well sir, I am going to heaven. I’ve been on the way a long time. Don’t you want to go?”

“No sir, if you’ve been a long time on the road to heaven and not got any further’n Santone, I think you’d better give up the trip, pard, and stop awhile with us.”


Tendered to Camp Jag by the C.C.C.C.O.

W. Moses, Maitre d’Hotel.
Prince Lewis, Chef; Sam Posey, Asst.


Old Crow from bottle, Water by Drake


Bean Consumme a la Vance,

Old Crow Sour Mash.

Trout, caught by a silver bait by Rossiter,

Eels, speared by Manning Brown, Old Crow Long Toddy.

Cotton Tail Rabbit au Willie West’s shot gun,

Broiled Bacon a la Moses,

Chicken fricassee, Roosted by Hutchings, Old Crow Short Toddy.


Irish Potatoes, Paddy Malven Style,

Roasting Ears, fresh from field, by Malcom Graham,

Fried Onions in Rose water, Oliver Brush,

Old Crow Toddy.

Ice Cold Melons, scooped by Drake,

Dried Apple Short Cake au Honey, Jim Smith,

Toddy, Coffee, Tea, Water.

Farewell Speeches and Toasts.


PS: Media coverage of SXSW is almost totally hugs and wet, sloppy kisses, with the occasional acknowledgment about many attendees not being to see desired bands.

But on Monday morning, as the aftermath cleanup began, the Austin American Statesman, to its credit, called attention to the black-and-blue side of the event. Paramedics had their busiest night of festival Saturday, responding to 88 emergency calls in the downtown area that included auto-pedicab crashes, fights and drunk people needing medical attention.

Between 3 p.m. Saturday and about 3 a.m. Sunday, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services reported that it took 39 people to area hospitals.

Based on Friday’s high call volume of 72 incidents and taking 47 people to hospitals, EMS put another ambulance into service on Saturday night.

Even with insurance, a visit to a local emergency room will set you back at least $600 and up to a six-hour wait for medical attention on a busy night. Well, at least no one got killed this year.

Austin: “The Friendly City”

March 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Austin has proclaimed itself “the Friendly City” since 1925. It is at its friendliest during SXSW, although the recently inaugurated F1 week threatens to out-friendly even the mighty SXSW. How friendly is Austin, you ask?

On my bike ride home from my downtown rathole on Thursday afternoon with SXSW just getting into high gear, I passed by a number of parking lots that normally charge between $5 and $7; that day the universal going price was $20. Consistent with this generosity toward our esteemed guests, hotel and motel rates had risen between 300% and 400%. As I understand, a SXSW Platinum badge goes for $1125, giving you the dubious privilege of hearing your choice of hundreds of shitty bands who have often spent every penny they have to get here, in a vain attempt to grab the brass ring. And they call this the “hospitality” business.

But then Austin has always been hospitable toward its visitors during SXSW week, even 100 years before this March madness existed. Take SXSW week in 1880, deep in the heart of where it all takes place and just blocks away from the present SXSW corporate empire compound:

There is a certain quarter of this blessed city where the fashionable seraglio and low bagnios flourish to an alarming extent. It is known by the familiar appellation of “Mexico” and it is here the well-dressed “fakirs” spread their meshes and cog the dice and calmly take in the unwary. They browse about the neighborhood pretending to be stupidly drunk at unseemly hours, and woe be unto those who are not up to city ways and doings. The fakirs are there for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over the eyes of the young man from the country and many are they that are gobbled up and fleeced of all they have. Not long since, a young man fell into their toils and was soon under the influence of some vile concoction furnished by them and was induced to play an innocent (?) game of euchre, “just to pass the time, you know.”

It was not long before he had some of the most remarkable poker hands, and strange to say, the affable fakir suddenly remembered it would be a good time to change the game to poker and do a little betting to make the thing a little more interesting. He bet, and of course lost, and the fakirs, astonished beyond measure, and with a generosity unparalleled in the history of their ilk, felt sorry for him and offered to buy his horse and pay double his value. The young man was astonished and felt happy at his good luck and ordered drinks for all, and accepted the offer for his horse. The affable fakirs then, regardless of expense, drew a draft on the First National Bank for the amount, and with a sereneit of demeanor truly sublime, handed it to the young man. They then asked him to take a private nip and sit down and try another hand at euchre. Their ways were so exceedingly child-like and bland that he consented, and soon had another marvelous poker hand, and betting was again in order, but alas he had no money — had nothing but the check for his horse.

Just then one of the generous fakirs kindly offered to cash his check and go halves with him. He accepted and lost and the fakirs having all of his money, his horse, and the check had no more use for him, and he being comfortable drunk by this time, was rolled in the gutter to snooze the hours away. The next morning, notwithstanding he was urged to do so, he would make no complaint. Not he. Was he not respectable? And how could he figure in the papers and courts as having been in such a locality and in such company? He submitted to his loss, rather than be placed before the public in such a plight, and thus it is with many — too many who fall into the hands of the fakirs of the first ward. We warn strangers to beware of these gents, for their ways are the ways to ruin, and oftimes to death. The police, when they see a stranger with these fakirs, day or night, should immediately warn him of their character. It is their duty to do so.

Were it their duty — or ability — to do so today, in the friendly city of legalized gobbling and fleecing.

The Three Legs of the Law: Robert McAlpin Williamson

March 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Robert-mcalpin-williamsonThe Texas legislature may resemble a Daffy Duck “Loony Tunes” epic at times, but the thrill, drama and sheer physical danger of the olden times is long gone. Our politicos still shoot nasty words at each other all the time, but the knives have long since been sheathed, and though many are packing concealed heat, they carry their pea-shooters mostly to protect themselves from their angry constituents, not from each other.

Political cat-and-dog fights in Texas just aren’t what they used to be.

On this day, the Ides of March, in 1846, Gen. James S. Mayfield of La Grange, Bartlett Sims of Bastrop, and Judge Robert M. “Three-Legged Willie” Williamson of Washington on the Brazos, were together in a room at Swisher’s hotel in Austin, engaged in conversation, when Mayfield took offence at a remark made by Sims. Mayfield promptly drew a pistol and was about to shoot him. Sims was a powerful man and Williamson was rather below the medium size, and slim. In order to avoid being shot, Sims grabbed Judge Williamson in his arms and held him between himself and Mayfield, exclaiming: “Shoot, damn you, shoot!” Judge Williamson did not like his position between Sims and the irate Mayfield, who was trying to get a shot at Sims without harming the Judge. Williamson was unable to help himself, so he vented his feelings in alternate expressions of eloquent imprecation and denunciation.

Williamson first earnestly appealed to the belligerents, saying: “Gentlemen, this matter can be settled amicably; there is no necessity for bloodshed. For God’s sake, Mayfield, don’t shoot!” Then as Mayfield pointed the pistol at Sims, Williamson said: “Mayfield, make a center shot; for, damn you, I will kill you, sure, if my life is spared!”

“Bart, damn your soul, let me down!” From this appeal, or threat, or for some other reason, Gen. Mayfield cooled down, and desisted. Mayfield afterwards swore that “Three-legged Willie” saved Sim’s life on the occasion.

Although “Three-legged Willie” Williamson is the central character in this story, it is not complete without a look at the other two players.

James S. Mayfield was born in Tennessee in 1809 and moved to Texas in 1837. In January 1839 he was practicing law in Nacogdoches and later that year was chosen to go with Albert Sidney Johnston to propose to the Cherokee Indians that they leave Texas. Mayfield represented Nacogdoches County in the Fifth and Sixth congresses (1840–42) and served very briefly as secretary of state in 1841 under Mirabeau B. Lamar.

In September 1842, Mayfield assembled a company of volunteers from La Grange in an attempt to drive Gen. Adrián Woll’s Mexican army from San Antonio. His group, joined by others, arrived at the scene of the Dawson massacre on Salado Creek while it was occurring. Mayfield, as the commanding officer, determined that his group was too far outnumbered and remained in the distance until the following day, when he joined the command of Mathew Caldwell. In 1842 Mayfield was a member of the Somervell expedition but did not join the subsequent Mier expedition. In 1843 he presented himself as a candidate for major general of the Texas army but removed himself from consideration because, he said, of ill health. But accusations of cowardice stemming from his refusal to come to the aid of his comrades in the Dawson Massacre leveled by Mathew Caldwell and Edward Burleson had just as much to do with his decision. In 1845 Mayfield challenged Burleson to a duel but did not go through with the engagement.

In April 1846 Mayfield helped organize the Democratic party in Texas. He was living in La Grange in 1849, the year he killed Absolom Bostwick in a political argument. It is not known when or how he died.

Bartlett Sims, surveyor, Indian fighter, and member of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred colonists, was born in Tennessee, about 1792. He visited Texas as early as 1822. In August 1824 he received title to one sitio of land in present-day Wharton County. Sims became a surveyor for Austin’s colony in October 1824 and continued to make surveys in Texas until 1858. In 1825, Sims married. Sally Curtis. The couple had nine children.

Sims was captain of a company sent on an expedition against the Waco and Tawakoni Indians in June 1826. But in the years leading up to the Texas revolution he advocated peace with Mexico. He served in Robert M. Coleman’s company in various 1835 campaigns and with Thomas S. McFarland at San Antonio. From 1836 until 1840 Sims was Bastrop County treasurer, surveyor, and tax collector. In August 1839 Sims commanded a company as a captain under Col. Henry Wax Karnes. In 1840 Sims moved to Travis County and participated in the battles of Brushy Creek and Plum Creek and several other area battles. In 1842 he was captain of a company under Alexander Somervell. According to some sources, Sims was one of two men that founded the Texas Rangers.

In 1846 he started on a surveying expedition to the Pedernales River, but was attacked by Indians. His nephew and the other two men of his team were killed. By 1850 he was farming and ranching in Williamson County on the south side of Brushy Creek. Sims died at Rice’s Crossing, Texas, in 1864.

Robert McAlpin Williamson was born in Georgia in 1804 or 1806. When he was 15 years old an illness confined him to his home for two years and left him a cripple for life. His right leg was drawn back at the knee; the wooden leg which he wore from the knee to the ground gave him the nickname “Three Legged Willie.” He subsequently had all his pants tailored accordingly. Williamson read much during his illness, and was admitted to the bar around the age of nineteen.

In the late 1820s he migrated to Texas and settled at San Felipe de Austin. In 1829 he established a newspaper called the Cotton Plant, which he edited from 1829 to 1831. He made an early appeal for the Texas colonists to resist Mexican tyranny. He was sent as a delegate from Mina (Bastrop) to the Consultation, and the provisional government established there commissioned him major on November 29, 1835, and ordered him to organize a corps of rangers. He participated in the battle of San Jacinto in William H. Smith’s cavalry company, for which he received 640 acres.

In December 1836, the First Congress of the republic elected Williamson judge of the Third Judicial District, automatically making him a member of the Supreme Court. The town of Columbus had been burned during the Runaway Scrape, and as there was no suitable structure to hold court proceedings, the first term of District Court, Republic of Texas, was convened by the Honorable R. M. Williamson, under a large oak tree next to the lot where the Colorado County Courthouse was later built in April 1837. In 1840 he was elected to represent Washington County in Congress. He served in the republic’s subsequent congresses.

After annexation, which he had advocated so strongly that he even named one of his sons Annexus, he served in the Senate of the first two legislatures, retiring in March 1850. As judge and lawmaker Williamson became the subject of numerous legends inspired by his personal characteristics, his unique decisions, his adroitness as a campaigner, his amusing legislative manipulations, and the succinctness of his oratory. Williamson married Mary Jane Edwards in 1837. They were parents of seven children.

After his defeat in the race for Congress in 1850, he retired to his farm near Independence and devoted himself to the education of his children and writing a history of Texas leading up to the Texas Revolution. He was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1851. In 1857, illness affected his mental brilliance, which was further impaired by the death of his wife in 1858. His mind never entirely recovered. He died at the home of his father-in-law in Wharton on December 22, 1859. Williamson County, established in 1848, was named for him.

In the early months of 1848, settlers in the western section of Milam County petitioned the Texas legislature asking for the creation of a new county, suggesting San Gabriel and Clear Water as possible names. The legislators created their county but named it after their esteemed colleague, Robert McAlpin “Three-legged Willie” Williamson. Legend has it that when the bill to create the “County of San Gabriel” came before the Texas Senate, Three-legged Willie arose and excitedly protested having any more saints in Texas. Willie never resided in the county named for him, but he traveled through it often.

FWE068 Three legged WillieA popular old-timer’s story says that legislators voted to name the county for Williamson after he told the following tale on himself: A few years earlier, Colonel Frank W. Johnson had headed a surveying party that charted a ten-league land grant inside what would become Williamson County. Williamson was part of the surveying party. There were still great herds of buffalo on the scene, and on this particular day, Williamson determined to chase down one or more of the massive beasts. Colonel Johnson advised against the chase, for the ground was exceedingly wet, uneven, and full of holes. But Williamson was not to be denied and galloped off astride his horse. They were approaching full speed when his horse suddenly turned a somersault, throwing rider, gun, and crutch off into an inglorious heap. Once the horse was upright, it continued on after the buffalo. Williamson attempted to regain his equilibrium, but each time he stood up, his peg leg and crutch sank deep into the black waxy mud. After “swearing like an army mired in Flanders,” he gave up and lay still in the mud until his horse was brought back to him some hours later.

Another version of the story says that every time he tried to stand up, a charging buffalo calf would knock him back down. He finally retaliated by shooting the calf from a prone position.

When Willie was judge of the Third Judicial District for the Republic of Texas, Gonzales County was part of his circuit. Court met under a spreading live oak tree, and the bar of justice was a rough-sawn plank laid across a couple of whiskey kegs. The judge sat on a nail keg. Williamson sat down and leaned his rifle and walking stick against the oak tree. He laid out his law book and gavel on the plank and pronounced court in session. The spectators got rowdy and the more and louder the judge called for order in the court, the rowdier they got. But Willie wasn’t intimidated. He reached for his long rifle, laid it on the table, cocked the hammer and put his finger to the trigger. There was suddenly a deafening silence.

“This court is coming to order,” Willie pronounced, “and if it doesn’t come to order right now I am going to by God kill somebody and I’m not particular who I kill.”

Court quickly came to order and did so every session thereafter when Williamson presided.

There are quite a few more ‘Three-Legged Willie” Williamson stories, and one of the best concerns an incident in Rutersville. A camp meeting was going on, and Williamson—being mistaken for a preacher—was asked to pray. As a drought was then gripping the countryside, the day had been set aside for rain prayers. Willie acquiesced to the worshippers’ request and began praying: “Lord, we have met today to pray for rain. Lord thou knowest how much we need rain for man and beast. We need copious rains, real copious rains: rootsoakers, gullywashers. Lord we ask thee not to send us little sunshowers that will make our corn produce nubbins that all hell couldn’t shuck.” At this point his prayer was drowned out by a deafening sea of amens from the horrified congregation.

So, Happy Ides of March, y’all, and remember, that just as Brutus was “an honorable man,” so are all our legislators and other elected state officials, “honorable men.” Always have been, always will be.

Redlands, Red State: A True Story of the Creation of Texas, Part 4

March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is the final installment in a story of the role that scalawags and scoundrels played in the founding of our Texas. The first three installments are but a short scroll-down away.

Now, back to La Grange and the Clan.
At first, the Clan appears to have been little more than a loose association of thieves and con artists who confederated out of a mutual interest: how to profitably dispose of the goods they had stolen.
Mostly they stole horses, mules and slaves (along with a few cattle and pigs) for trade or resale, peddled fraudulent land certificates, and passed counterfeit coins in an area that stretched from the Rio Grande to the Louisiana border.
At the age of 15, Tom Short joined the Texas Rangers to fight in the Mexican War in April 1846, along with brother-in-law William Sansom. Injured in camp, Tom went back home in July-August 1846, but returned to Rangers in 1847 after his father’s death. He fought in Mexico and was mustered out in May 1848. He and Sansom returned home and rejoined the Clan.
“Some time ago Mr. Sansom took off the irons that were on a Mr. Jackson, convicted of rape in Fayette County. At or near noon, William Short, Mr. Sansom, Jas. Crook, Jas. McLaughlin and Alfred O’Bar doctored and run two Negroes, one the property of a Dr. Adkinson, of La Grange, Fayette County, the other Negro the property of Mr. Cleveland, of Travis, Austin County, and a fine horse of Mr. Norton.  After the sale of the Negroes and in the divide, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Short fell out and quarreled with Crook. Crook, had a league of land they wanted which Crook refused to let them have, and in the quarrel, Crook threatened to disclose on them. This alarmed the party, especially William Short and McLaughlin. After a consultation, it was arranged to kill Crook, who made his home at William Short’s.
“John Marshall and John Rich were to be the murderers.  William Short selected me to go after John Marshall and John Rich to let them know the time.  On the appointed night, Crook was not at home, but was in the neighborhood. Some men stayed at William Short’s that night, going up the Yegua after cattle. It rained very hard that night and Marshall and Rich stayed in the bottomland, near William Short’s all night (the way of the transgressor is hard). In the morning William Short sent his wife to Mr. Carothers, that she might not witness the transaction.
“McLaughlin was fearful that Crook would not return and he rode some distance in the course that Crook would come and as soon as he ascertained from a neighbor of Mr. Wm. Short that Crook had gone home, McLaughlin returned in time to give the finishing touch to Crook.
“I was then instructed how and what to prove, if anything was done at law. I was a witness before the Justices’ Court. I was excused in the District Court. Suffice to say, McLaughlin and William Short were cleared, and Rich and Marshall were never tried.  Which embolden the party very much, at so happy an escape.
“More thefts and outrages were perpetrated from that time on while the party arrested had not broken a link in the chain that had extended from Missouri to Mexico.”
James McLaughlin, according to Tom Short, “was a father of all and every kind of stealing, passing confederate coin, and murdering. He said he commenced early in life, and ran many risks of life.”
The Rev. Nathan Shook made counterfeit land certificates, according to Tom Short, and “has the seal and everything necessary for the same. I saw Parson Shook making out some land papers at Short’s — he then went out on the Guadalupe, where Mr. McPeters stole a fine mare belonging to Mr. Eatill, and swapped her to Parson S. for a little grey mare, also stolen property.  Short went to the Guadalupe with Shook, and they returned together; Shook slept until midnight, and left my brother’s, since when I have not seen him. He preaches a first-rate sermon, I hear.  I know he made a good land title.
“Imagine a preacher of the gospel with plenty of counterfeit coin, the state seal forged, and forging land patents, and the same man, in the same saddlebags, carrying counterfeit coin, forged seal, Bible and hymn book. One day forging claims for land, the next in the pulpit thundering the terror of the Lord on wicked men.”
Tom Short never heard of James Cox stealing any property, “nor do I believe he would steal more than a gun barrel, but Cox has been consulted in all dealings.  A gentleman of experience, and his judgment and advice have always been as the highest authority for the party. I learned from Short, that Cox could sell land patents to great advantage abroad, and could pass half-eagles, without the least suspicion. It is said he passes as ‘Parson Cox’ when a night’s lodging can be had for the name.”
“Mossy Boren aided and gave comfort and lodging to the party, and would do anything James Cox asked him to do.  Boren occasionally exchanged for stolen horses, and will pick up little matters when he has a chance. Louis Boren and Orlando Sap passed counterfeit money, stole horses and received Mercer Hill’s Negro from A. J. Grigg, and William Short and Lucas Cooper, and brought said Negro boy Joe to Tom at the Star Hotel at Galveston, where I was in company with Mr. Agory, our general agent for Texas.
“Nathan Greer often applied to William Short to be a partner, who with William Short, and Jas. McLaughlin made arrangements to steal, run off and sell a lot of mules belonging to a gentleman from Brenham.
“Wilson Small married a daughter of James McLaughlin. Enos Cooper hired and paid to Wilson Small a one hundred dollar horse to kill a Mr. Elkins who married a sister of Beverly Pool. Small received the horse from Cooper but failed to kill Elkins.  I think him cowardly I know him to be low and mean. I saw him shoot a sow the mother of several young pigs, the property of James Holt, he cut the sow in pieces and fed McLaughlin’s dogs. He is mean enough to do any kind of stealing. He passed counterfeit money and ran stolen horses, in short, he’s a mean thief.
“Cooper sold some of Parson Shook’s land certificates and assisted in stealing Mr. Hill’s Negro; also, in stealing Robert Moore’s mare for the Negro to ride.” 
“Judge Kelsaw [Kelso] lives on or near the Guadalupe and stands fair in the community, and he had the promise of wagonmaster and paymaster in General Worth’s division to El Paso del Norte. Our company were to furnish him with counterfeit gold to pay off the teamsters and he was to divide the profit with our agent. The Judge in quite conversant knew all the plans of the company and assisted in carrying out our measures.
“Joe Arrington following gambling, picks up a horse occasionally, passes counterfeit gold with considerable dexterity, sells Shook’s land certificates and is in possession of all the plans of our party.  Bird Smith is a constant associate with Arrington, engages in the same acts that Arrington does and knew our plans in general.
“Brother William informed me that James and Samuel Miller passed counterfeit money, traded for stolen horses, and occasionally stole a few cattle. They lived on the road leading from Bastrop to Caldwell, Burleson’s County.
“Of two mints for counterfeiting gold coin, one is fifteen miles above Brownsville on the Rio Grande where coins can be had at 50 cents on the dollar to change off and trade to the Mexicans. The other mint is fifteen miles from Crockett in a cane brake or thicket bottom with Col. Moss Moore as general agent, he furnished the coin at 50 cents on the dollar.
“The present coins are eagles and half-eagles well executed. The engraving is elegant equal to any of the genuine American coin, one acquainted may tell it from the color being a shade brighter than pure gold. The weight corresponds or nearly so, there is only from one to two grains difference in the half-eagles. The eagles are the precise weight and will and have deceived many, and a good many have gone into the bank at New Orleans; they resist the tests of acids, being of plate of pure gold but in order to apply the plate correctly the color is partially changed. The quickest way to detect them is to examine the edge where a line or division may be discovered in the center of the edge.
William Greenbury Sansom, in his published confession, says that he was told by Wm. Short in the spring of 1849 that “he wanted to raise $300, and if he could do it, he could make as much money as he wanted.” Sansom asked Short what he wanted the money for: “Short said he wanted to buy a set of counterfeit coin dies from Bostick.– that he had two sets, one for gold and another for silver, and that he could employ as good a chemists as ever was to help him. He said he had seen the dies. I don’t know whether Short got them or not. At another time, Short told me that Bostick was very mad with him. Bostick got drunk and took the dies out of his truck and hid them, and accused Short of stealing them. Bostick afterwards found them, and came to Short and told him and made friends.”
As is often the case, greed proved to be the undoing of Tom Short, William Sansom and the rest of the Clan.
According to Tom Short, one day “Mr. Agory and John Ford came to William Short at La Grange, and proposed a general association, by connecting certain points and carrying on a general Negro, horse stealing and counterfeit money passing arrangement. My brother, William Short, informed them that Colonel Taylor, being near the Round Top House, would start shortly to Alabama, and that he would take about seven thousand dollars with him to buy Negroes, and that Mr. Bostick, himself and one or two other gentlemen would have him killed for the cash. Which would enable the company to organize and go into active operation but in case Taylor did not start in a short time, the company would steal, run and sell a few Negroes in order to have funds to start on.”
James McLaughlin, Tom Short said, “informed that the party that whenever they went into a general Negro stealing they would be detected.”
But certain Clan members were not to be deterred, as Tom Short explained.
“My brother William was to keep the Star Hotel, Mr. Agory was to run a schooner on the gulf between Galveston and New Orleans, and a Mr. Jones would be a general agent at New Orleans and was to keep his boarding house and run a boat on the Mississippi River.
“McLaughlin, William Short, J. A. Grigg, Greer and Cox were to arrange a plan and decoy the Negroes. Boren Sap, Whitley, O’Bar, Crownover and several others were to run Negroes from the interior to Galveston, and at a proper time Mr. Agory, with his schooner, would convey then to New Orleans, and deliver them to Mr. Jones who when convenient would send them up the Mississippi River and have them sold, all of which was to be done through their own line, in order to evade detection.
“Alfred O’Bar was considered a poor hand to call Negroes, as he had run a boy “Sam,” belonging to a German gentleman, near the Colorado River, by land, to Red River, thence he took water and went up to the mouth of the Ohio River. The boat had freight to discharge on the Ohio and while discharging freight “Sam” stepped off the boat, and in learning his foot was on free (Negro) soil, (Mr. O’Bar ordered him returned to the boat), informed Mr. O’Bar that he was on free soil and hinted to him to keep quiet or he would disclose on him. Mr. O’Bar readily saw his situation and returned home, fortunately, meeting one of the party who furnished him with funds to get home on. A little wiser for his trip though not much enriched by the speculation.
“About this time the party were informed of the theft of a yellow boy, the property of Mrs. Schneider, and two other boys, the property of a Mr. Roberts or Robertson, in Fayette County, the boy the property of Rocky Williams, but where the Negroes went I do not know.
“Sometime on this occasion a Mr. Carrington, overseer for Mr. Hill, carried off a woman slave and two children to Mexico. He said the children were his own. About the first of May, Carrington was in the Colorado bottom and it was believed he was after more Negroes. It would have been an easy matter to have taken him and Hill had offered a five hundred dollar reward for his and Carrington apprehension, but as the party never interfered with men in their own line of business Carrington was left uninterrupted.
“Arrangements were made for the implements for coining silver in Fayette County and two young men whose character for industry and honesty stood above suspicion. And still stands so, were to manufacture the article to the order of Mr. Bostick and others, Mr. Agory was to keep a supply at Galveston and Mr. Jones at New Orleans and many others whose names I do not now recollect were to keep a supply on hand to buy Negroes, horses and other property. The old agent informed me of the extent of the party, their wealth, power in number which was represented to me to be about four hundred. One of the necessary qualifications to become a good member was a willingness to tell a lie to save another members life, any member refusing to do so was dismissed; penalty of silence or death.
“About the first of May last, I called at McLaughlin’s on my way to Galveston. I asked McLaughlin for a horse to ride the trip, he told me he would loan me a horse until I could find one, and that I was a poor rogue if I could not find a horse. I started from McLaughlin’s in the morning and soon found a large bay horse hobbled with a grass rope. I turned McLaughlin’s horse loose and started on the other horse. I never felt so reckless in my life now that I was started on the bold (journey) regardless of consequences. I am sorry the owner of the horse was so ill able to spare him, the horse, he was the property of a William Cole living at Round Top on the Brenham and La Grange road and is regarded as an honest man, has a helpless dependent family on his exertions for support.
“I rode the horse to Houston and sold him for fifteen dollars. I learned the others have got their horses again. I then went to Galveston where I met Mr. Agory and Mr. Ford.  I went to inform them that Mr. Johnson and Smith (alias), Boren and Sap were to be there shortly with two Negroes. I remained there eight days. Then Boren and Sap came and brought Mr. Hill’s boy Joe. The next day, Mr. Agory wrote on a bill of sale purporting to be from William H. Rice of the town of Gonzales, County of Gonzales to William Smith. I objected to taking the bill of sale under the name of Smith but the Negro did not know my true name when I left home. I did not know that I was to take the boy, In fact I was only sent to inform Agory that the Negro and Negroes would come. At the request of Mr. Agory I started to New Orleans with the Negro. And Agory promised to start the next day. When I arrived at New Orleans I stopped at Robinson’s boarding house and so far as I know a good man. That next day Mr. Agory arrived and stopped at another place, he then sent me to sell the Negro but the police kept such a watch, on the sale.
“Mr. Agory thought best to send me up to Natches [Nachez], encouraging me, by informing me he had sold many and the people of Natches were so eager to buy young Negro men that they would scarcely ask my name. Encouraged by so smart a man as Mr. Agory, with a tongue well fitted for a green boy of eighteen years, I consented to go but when I learned the amount of cash I could get, but I was near backing out. I was satisfied that Agory was afraid of himself, would not be seen except in a certain portion of the city. When the time arrived at Natches for me to go, six dollars was all the cash we both had. Barely enough to pay our way, booked passage, (rather low for Negro trader), I arrived at Natches in the night and went to Mr. White’s tavern (under the hill), the next day offered the boy for seven hundred fifty dollars to Mr. Wilson. He said if he liked the boy when he talked to him he could give me my price.
“Imagine, my dear readers, my feelings, my reputation, yea, my liberty, yea, perhaps my life depended on a single word and that word to come from a simple perhaps faithless Negro.
“All Texas, Yea, All the money in the United States would poorly pay those moments of anguish. Just as I dreaded and expected, I was betrayed, and in a few moments I was waited on by an officer, my bill of sale was asked for, my name, residence and a thousand questions, and a quiet invitation to walk to the court house, my face, my actions, all embarrassed, soon told the tale for me. I was informed that I had a stolen Negro, I cursed the fates. I cursed the den of thieves, ah, there is the voice that spoke quick as thought, those cursed wires, stretched on those poles.
“I passed a sleepless night, miserable past description, ruined, ruined, ruined. The next day I called for paper and wrote to Texas. That letter was intercepted, tho’ I did not know it at the time. I looked for assistance (sworn to assist each other to break open prisons if detected). Surely, I thought, that the giant Agory will come to my assistance. Not so; they won’t do to depend on.
“Imagine my surprise, I heard strange voices without–I recognized the jailer’s voice, can it be at last they have come to my rescue; my heart beat high–the door opened—familiar faces, but pursuers. I recognized the face of Dr. Weir and with it I received the information that the whole party were disclosed — Grigg arrested, Boren and Sap pursued, and I could take my choice to stay in Natches for trial, or go to Brenham. I readily consented, provided I could have a trial at law. Dr. Weir and Mr. Ferrell pledged their honor that such should be my case, and now, reader, I am in Irons in Brenham jail, guilty and depending on the sympathies of the community from when I deserve none.”
James McLaughlin had been dead right about the danger of trafficking stolen slaves, and was either shot or hanged soon after the Clan was unmasked, as Short alluded in his confession: “His predicament had been fulfilled, justice has overtaken them, and McLaughlin’s race had been run. I learn he was anxious some honest man should raise his children.”
William Short was publicly hanged. “William Short, my poor unfortunate brother has engaged in every species of crime, led a miserable life, died a disgraceful death, and thus far I learned his body has been exposed, a prey to the wild wolves and vultures. He, it was, that led me into stealing, and after I had commenced could not withdraw for fear of my own life, as death was the penalty for disclosure.”
Nathaniel Hunt Greer and at least three other frontiersmen accused of being gang members by Thomas Short went to the newspapers to proclaim their innocence. Only Parson Nathan Shook placed his faith (apparently mistakenly) in the law.
In an article from the Bonham Advertiser that was rerun in the December 22, 1849, issue of the Texas State Gazette, “Parson Shook,” stated, “A gentlemen recently from Cherokee county informs us of a rumor current there, that Parson Nathan Shook had been hanged at Crockett, in Houston County. It will be recollected that Shook was named in the confession of Thomas Short as a party to sundry thefts, counterfeiting of coin, land certificates, &c. When apprised [sic] of these charges he surrendered himself and was committed to the jail in Lamar county. Nothing new appearing against him, the Sheriff was unwilling to detain him, and set him at liberty. According to our informant, Shook then went to Crockett, the very place where some of his alleged crimes were said to have been committed, and placed himself in custody, to await the preferment of charges. A mob soon gathered, took him from the Sheriff, and executed him forthwith. We give this account as we received it. We hope it is not true. If it be, the mob who have thus insulted a public officer, and trampled upon the law, should be hunted with blood hounds, if necessary, and brought to justice. Shook may, or may not, have been guilty. That is not the question; he was entitled to the investigation which he sought. If every suspected man is to be thus dealt with; God pity him who may incur the malice of a confessed scoundrel for the testimony of just such a scoundrel is all that has appeared against Shook. We would be glad to know if this report is erroneous; for we would not that the stigma of such a deed should rest upon any portion of our State.”
Nathaniel Greer, who came to Texas in 1837 and settled in Washington County and in 1839 represented Washington County in the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas. The following spring, in response to complaints of poor mail delivery, he briefly assumed his last public duty—that of postal contractor between San Felipe and La Grange—before retiring to a life of farming and real estate speculation.
In the late summer of 1849, Greer was driven from his home by a mob that believed him to be a member of the Clan. No evidence of his guilt — nor that of many others similarly implicated — was ever produced. Several members of the gang had East Texas connections and it appears to some that the events of 1849 involved feuding left over from the Regulator-Moderator War.
Eventually the controversy subsided, and Greer returned home and lived in relative peace until the fall of 1851 when he was indicted for the murder of a local man. Greer, feeling persecuted by feudists and despairing of a fair trial, left Washington County and petitioned the State of Texas for a change of venue, but no trial ever took place.
The Greers relocated to Milam County in 1852. Subsequently his family converted to Mormonism and in 1855 they and many others embarked for Utah. During the trek, on June 24, 1855, Nathaniel died of cholera. His unmarked grave is in Kansas.
James Shannon Mayfield killed Absalom Bostick in the summer of 1849 in what some have termed “a political argument.” Walter P. Freytag, a Fayette County historian, states, “Bostick, it appears, was a tough customer and his probate record indicates that he was one of our first professional burglars.”
An article in The Northern Standard of Clarksville, Texas, September 1, 1849, entitled “Look out for Rascals,” states, “A few weeks since, a desperado named Bostick was killed in La Grange by General Mayfield in self defense. An examination of his letters and papers disclosed an organized gang of negro thieves, robbers, and murderers extending from Missouri to the Rio Grande. Several of these have been taken, and some summarily executed. Others remain in confinement awaiting trial.”
James Mayfield was no shrinking violet. While serving in the Texas House of Representatives on Jan. 4, 1842, Mayfield, while speaking on a bill, spoke about fellow congressman David S. Kaufman in a very severe manner. After the House adjourned, Kaufman waited for Mayfield and a heated argument ensued. They exchanged shots and Kaufman was wounded in the abdomen. His wound never healed completely and ultimately led to his death in 1851. The encounter must have been considered as a fair fight for no charges were apparently filed against either man. A planned duel between Mayfield and Edward Burleson of Bastrop County in 1845 was thwarted by court order.
Early in August 1849, William Sansom was apprehended by the “Fayette County Association,” accused “as belonging to the band of thieves, robbers, & etc, who have infested that part of the state, and was placed in the hands of the officers of the law, and lodged in jail.” Just before the trial, he made the following confession, in the present of witnesses, upon which confession he was convicted and sentenced.
“Some time in the year 1847, as near as I can recollect, about July or August, Wm. Short, Griggs and Crook did drive off out of what is known as Murcherson’s prairie, a drove of cattle numbering about five or six cows and calves, and some yearlings, and sold them to one Hewitt, as I afterwards learned from Wm Short.
“After this, the next time I knew of Wm. Short, I was in La Grange and employed in digging a well for John Carter, and going home, I found Wm. Short and Smith at my home, whose name I was told afterwards by Wm. Short, was Ritchie, and that he came from Eastern Texas.
“Before Ritchie started to Eastern Texas, he, Short, told me he was harboring Dr. Atkins’ Negro boy, named David, and a one-eyed Negro boy, name unknown, who I understood belonged to some man in the lower country of Texas. Wm. Short and Richie took them to Eastern Texas and sold them. Wm Short told me that he also took Mr. Derr’s mare and filly to go off upon.
“The next time I saw Griggs, he came to my home, and offered to sell me some land certificates.  I did not buy, but told him John Murcherson wanted to buy. He asked me to go to Murcherson’s with him and I did. He said he would give him a trade if they were good, and as he was going to LaGrange, he would ask some one that knew. J. S. Mayfield told him they were base [worthless] certificates. Griggs came back to my house and told me these things. I then asked Griggs if he would have put them upon me, he said he would have put them upon any body. Wm. Short told me that Thomas J. Williams purchased two Negro men from one of the clan, and that afterwards one of the same clan stole them again.  At another time, being in La Grange, Wm. Short borrowed my mare, and went off and stayed until about an hour in the night. I went to his house and upon my arrival found McLaughlin there-When Short came home he brought horses with him.
“Wm. Short told me last spring he wanted to raise $300, and if he could do it, he could make as much as he wanted. I ask him what he wanted it for; he said he wanted to buy a set of dies from [Absolom] Bostick — that he had two sets, one for gold and another for silver, and that he could employ as good a chemists as ever was to help him. He said he had seen the dies. I don’t know whether Short got them or not. At another time, Short told me that Bostick was very mad with him. Bostick got drunk and took the dies out of his truck and hid them, and accused Short of stealing them. Bostick afterwards found them, and came to Short and told him and made friends. Wm Short told me that Griggs was one of the clan, also, McLaughlin.
“Thomas Short and Wm Ragin, he said, were good friends. Bostick, he said, was a good hand to leg at law. Shook — a minister — his business was to sell fraudulent land certificates; also, he said Agory was a dealer, which signifies one of the clan. Wm. Short told me, if I ever told on him or any of the clan, and they were punished, there were men that would come from the Sabine to take my life.
“I acknowledge to the killing of two of T. J. Williams hogs last winter, and Wm Short and Thomas Short helped me. I think they would weight 150 to 160 lbs. each.
(siqned) W .G. Sansom
Witnessed by J. B. McFarland, H. G. Wood, and James A. Haynie August 23, 1849.
“Wm. G. Sansom said in the presence of J. H. Moore and J. B. McFarland, that Small, the son-in-law of McLaughlin, purchased a fine double-barrelled shot gun from a Dutchman living near Round Top, and paid for it in counterfeit money, (payer) and that Bill Short told him, Sansom, that if he ever divulged anything on the clan, that death would be his portion; that he would not live twenty-four hours, and that even woman had been murdered in Eastern Texas for hunting round and making attempts to divulge, the secret that he also stole two of J. Murcherson’s –and a mule of Alfred Kerkedel last spring.”
Most of the Clan’s membership identities have been lost to history, for as Tom Short put it,
“For reasons to myself known, I retain the names of men, men with respectable families, men with daughters grown, men who ought to shun the party as they would shun the cholera, plague or pestilence. These men do not steal nor do they partake of stolen property but they tell the thieves where to find their neighbors property and willingly see and know that property is gone from owner forever and lie about not knowing what has become of it. Then there are men who feed the thieves and that too in thickets, and that will notify them of approaching danger and at the same time occupy the name and standing of honest men and good quiet citizens. Young as I am, I have seen them on knees at preaching, I have heard them pray, I have seen them partake of the Lord’s supper and that same night entertain men that they know were thieves. Wonder not that they when I see and learned these things and that I was the more easily led astray.”
Not surprisingly, when Sansom and Short left state prison in 1850, they did not return to Fayette County. Along with other members of the Short family, William Sansom and his family moved to the Curry Creek Community, in what is now Kendall County, several miles south of present-day Kendalia. Back then it was on the edge of the Texas frontier. After release from prison, Tom Short moved to Alabama, where he met and married Margaret Elenor Overton, on December 3, 1854. 
The Tom Short family stayed in Alabama until 1860, when they moved to Kendall County, Texas, to join their relatives and in-laws at the Curry Creek settlement.

Lord Love a Lutheran

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Understatement of the century: “It’s not in the nature of Lutherans to brag.” In fact, it’s our 11th Commandment. But we do love Lutheran jokes.

You Might Be A Lutheran If… 

…peas in your tuna noodle hotdish add too much color.

….you think a meeting isn’t legitimate unless it’s at least three hours long.

…you make change in the offering plate for a ten.

…you think butter is a spice.

…you have more than five flavors of Jell-O in your pantry.

…doughnuts are in the official church budget.

…they have to rope off the last pews in church so the front isn’t empty.

…you’re watching “Star Wars” in the theatre and when they say, “May the force be with you,” you reply, “and also with you.”

…you can say the meal prayer all in one breath.

…Bach is your favorite composer just because he was Lutheran, too.

…you hesitate to clap for the church choir or special music because “it just wasn’t done that way in the old days.”

…you only serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color for the season.

…rather than introducing yourself to a visitor at church, you check their name out in the guestbook.

…you have your wedding reception in the fellowship hall and feel guilty about not staying to help clean up.

…your LCMS pastor refers to St. Louis as “the holy city.”

…you’re at an evangelistic rally and you actually manage to raise your hands waist high.

…the only mealtime prayer you know is “Come Lord Jesus, Be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.” (That’s why you can say the meal prayer in one breath.)

…you and your family of six squeeze into the last pew along with the 140 members already sitting there.

…a midlife crisis means switching from the old hymnbook to the new one.

…the pastor skips the last hymn to make sure church lasts exactly 60 minutes.

…you don’t make eye contact when passing someone in the hall because you think it’s impolite.

…in response to someone jumping up and shouting “Praise the Lord!”, you politely remind him or her that we don’t do that around here.

…your mother could give any Jewish mother a run for the money in the guilt department.

…you think lime Jell-O with cottage cheese and pineapple is a gourmet salad.

…you think that an ELCA Lutheran bride and an LCMS groom make for a “mixed marriage.”

…your congregation’s first two operating rules are “Don’t change” and “Don’t spend.”

…every time something changes, the old one was better.

…you freeze the leftover coffee from fellowship hour for next week.

…you think you’re paying your pastor too much if he gets a new car for the first time in eight years.

…you hear something really funny and smile as loud as you can.

…you feel guilty about not feeling guilty.

…change means wearing your brown suit instead of your blue suit to church.

…you read your Catechism and start arguing theology with yourself because no one else is around.

…you know all the words to the first verse of “Silent Night” in German but don’t understand a word of it.

…you have an uncontrollable urge to sit in the back of any room.

When Ole quit farming, he discovered that he was the only Lutheran in his new little town of Catholics. That was okay, but the neighbors had a problem with his barbequing beef every Friday. Since they couldn’t eat meat on Friday, the tempting aroma was getting the best of them. Hoping they could do something to stop this, the neighbors got together and went over to talk to Ole. “Ole,” they said, “since you are the only Lutheran in this whole town and there’s not a Lutheran church for many miles, we think you should join our church and become a Catholic.” Ole thought about it for a minute and decided they were probably right. Ole talked to the priest, and they arranged it.

The big day came and the priest had Ole kneel. He put his hand on Ole’s head and said, “Ole, you were born a Lutheran, you were raised a Lutheran, and now,” he said as he sprinkled some incense over Ole’s head, “now you are a Catholic!”

Ole was happy and the neighbors were happy. But the following Friday evening at suppertime, there was again the aroma of grilled beef coming from Ole’s yard. The neighbors went to talk to him about this and as they approached the fence, they heard Ole saying to the steak: “You were born a beef, you were raised a beef,” and as he sprinkled salt over the meat he said, “and NOW you are a FISH!”

You can take the boy out of the Lutheran church, but you can’t take the Lutheran mindset out of the boy. Once a Lutheran, always a Lutheran. 

Zappa Christ?

March 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Like any “good” Christian, I enjoy watching TV shows about my professed religion. This afternoon I have watched “Jerusalem: Center of the World” and am currently viewing “The Story of Jesus” on PBS (Yeah, PBS!). In the latter show, I am struck by the similarity in looks of the actor portraying Jesus and Frank Zappa. Given the fact that Frank was a notorious non-believer, I find that deliciously ironic. But the fact that I love both Jesus and Frank is an ironic feast in itself.

Where Am I?

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