A Few Days Ago In Austin History: The Funeral of La Du Jim

April 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

On April 25, 1882, the Austin Statesman reported on:

The Funeral of La Du Jim.
La Du Jim, a Chinaman, 31 years of age, died of dropsy and was buried in the city cemetery yesterday afternoon at one o’clock. As this was the first Chinese funeral on record in our city, a Statesman reporter was present to observe the quaint ceremonies. Rushes were burned slowly, from the time of death until the burial, at deceased’s late residence. As soon as the remains were placed in the coffin, the deceased’s personal apparel, and all his money were also placed in it. In the funeral procession, besides a nice hearse and a fine carriage, was a conveyance containing the bedstead, bedding, washtub, chairs and personal effects of Jim, and when the grave was reached and the corpse was being taken from the hearse, the goods were piled up together near the grave and set on fire and burned up. After this a basket was produced containing a baked chicken, piece of cooked fresh pork, a teapot full of tea, a tin bucket full of rice, a bowl, a cup, a flask of whiskey and two chopsticks. The contents were deposited at the foot of the grave and the coffin lowered. Rushes and wax candles were then stuck in the ground around the foot of the grave, as was the head board and a lot of Chinese paper, with characters inscribed on each piece. The head board was about five feet high and six inches wide. The rushes, paper and candles were lit and while burning, one Chinaman took a piece of wax and held it to a candle until it was heated and then rubbed it over the Chinese characters on the head board and another opened the whiskey, poured some in the cup and bowl, and then sprinkled it all around the things at the foot of the grave. When the lights had burned to the ground, all the things at the foot of the grave, except the headboard, were deposited in the grave at the foot, and then all walked about six paces from the grave and stood with their backs to it until it was filled in, after which they took their carriages and returned to the city. Nothing that was taken to the graveyard returned to the city, not even the basket that contained the eatables. The head board was placed at the head of the grave as a mark for the last resting place of La Du Jim.


The Easter of the Soul: “Have a Hoppy O. Henry Easter.”

April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

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.” Last Easter the Blunderbuss presented “The Red Roses of Tonia”; this year, “The Easter of the Soul.”

The Easter Of The Soul

It is hardly likely that a goddess may die. Then Eastre, the old Saxon goddess of spring, must be laughing in her muslin sleeve at people who believe that Easter, her namesake, exists only along certain strips of Fifth Avenue pavement after church service.
Aye! It belongs to the world. The ptarmigan in Chilkoot Pass discards his winter white feathers for brown; the Patagonian Beau Brummell oils his chignon and clubs him another sweetheart to drag to his skull-strewn flat. And down in Chrystie Street–
Mr. “Tiger” McQuirk arose with a feeling of disquiet that he did not understand. With a practised foot he rolled three of his younger brothers like logs out of his way as they lay sleeping on the floor. Before a foot-square looking glass hung by the window he stood and shaved himself. If that may seem to you a task too slight to be thus impressively chronicled, I bear with you; you do not know of the areas to be accomplished in traversing the cheek and chin of Mr. McQuirk.
McQuirk, senior, had gone to work long before. The big son of the house was idle. He was a marble-cutter, and the marble-cutters were out on a strike.
“What ails ye?” asked his mother, looking at him curiously; “are ye not feeling well the morning, maybe now?”
“He’s thinking along of Annie Maria Doyle,” impudently explained younger brother Tim, ten years old.
“Tiger” reached over the hand of a champion and swept the small McQuirk from his chair.
“I feel fine,” said he, “beyond a touch of the I-don’t-know-what-you-call-its. I feel like there was going to be earthquakes or music or a trifle of chills and fever or maybe a picnic. I don’t know how I feel. I feel like knocking the face off a policeman, or else maybe like playing Coney Island straight across the board from pop-corn to the elephant houdahs.”
“It’s the spring in yer bones,” said Mrs. McQuirk. “It’s the sap risin’. Time was when I couldn’t keep me feet still nor me head cool when the earthworms began to crawl out in the dew of the mornin’. ‘Tis a bit of tea will do ye good, made from pipsissewa and gentian bark at the druggist’s.”
“Back up!” said Mr. McQuirk, impatiently. “There’s no spring in sight. There’s snow yet on the shed in Donovan’s backyard. And yesterday they puts open cars on the Sixth Avenue lines, and the janitors have quit ordering coal. And that means six weeks more of winter, by all the signs that be.”
After breakfast Mr. McQuirk spent fifteen minutes before the corrugated mirror, subjugating his hair and arranging his green-and-purple ascot with its amethyst tombstone pin–eloquent of his chosen calling.
Since the strike had been called it was this particular striker’s habit to hie himself each morning to the corner saloon of Flaherty Brothers, and there establish himself upon the sidewalk, with one foot resting on the bootblack’s stand, observing the panorama of the street until the pace of time brought twelve o’clock and the dinner hour. And Mr. “Tiger” McQuirk, with his athletic seventy inches, well trained in sport and battle; his smooth, pale, solid, amiable face–blue where the razor had travelled; his carefully considered clothes and air of capability, was himself a spectacle not displeasing to the eye.
But on this morning Mr. McQuirk did not hasten immediately to his post of leisure and observation. Something unusual that he could not quite grasp was in the air. Something disturbed his thoughts, ruffled his senses, made him at once languid, irritable, elated, dissastisfied and sportive. He was no diagnostician, and he did not know that Lent was breaking up physiologically in his system.
Mrs. McQuirk had spoken of spring. Sceptically Tiger looked about him for signs. Few they were. The organ-grinders were at work; but they were always precocious harbingers. It was near enough spring for them to go penny-hunting when the skating ball dropped at the park. In the milliners’ windows Easter hats, grave, gay and jubilant, blossomed. There were green patches among the sidewalk debris of the grocers. On a third-story window-sill the first elbow cushion of the season–old gold stripes on a crimson ground–supported the kimonoed arms of a pensive brunette. The wind blew cold from the East River, but the sparrows were flying to the eaves with straws. A second-hand store, combining foresight with faith, had set out an ice-chest and baseball goods.
And then “Tiger’s” eye, discrediting these signs, fell upon one that bore a bud of promise. From a bright, new lithograph the head of Capricornus confronted him, betokening the forward and heady brew.
Mr. McQuirk entered the saloon and called for his glass of bock. He threw his nickel on the bar, raised the glass, set it down without tasting it and strolled toward the door.
“Wot’s the matter, Lord Bolinbroke?” inquired the sarcastic bartender; “want a chiny vase or a gold-lined épergne to drink it out of–hey?”
“Say,” said Mr. McQuirk, wheeling and shooting out a horizontal hand and a forty-five-degree chin, “you know your place only when it comes for givin’ titles. I’ve changed me mind about drinkin–see? You got your money, ain’t you? Wait till you get stung before you get the droop to your lip, will you?”
Thus Mr. Quirk added mutability of desires to the strange humors that had taken possession of him.
Leaving the saloon, he walked away twenty steps and leaned in the open doorway of Lutz, the barber. He and Lutz were friends, masking their sentiments behind abuse and bludgeons of repartee.
“Irish loafer,” roared Lutz, “how do you do? So, not yet haf der bolicemans or der catcher of dogs done deir duty!”
“Hello, Dutch,” said Mr. McQuirk. “Can’t get your mind off of frankfurters, can you?”
“Bah!” exclaimed the German, coming and leaning in the door. “I haf a soul above frankfurters to-day. Dere is springtime in der air. I can feel it coming in ofer der mud of der streets and das ice in der river. Soon will dere be bicnics in der islands, mit kegs of beer under der trees.”
“Say,” said Mr. McQuirk, setting his hat on one side, “is everybody kiddin’ me about gentle Spring? There ain’t any more spring in the air than there is in a horsehair sofa in a Second Avenue furnished room. For me the winter underwear yet and the buckwheat cakes.”
“You haf no boetry,” said Lutz. “True, it is yedt cold, und in der city we haf not many of der signs; but dere are dree kinds of beoble dot should always feel der approach of spring first–dey are boets, lovers and poor vidows.”

Mr. McQuirk went on his way, still possessed by the strange perturbation that he did not understand. Something was lacking to his comfort, and it made him half angry because he did not know what it was.
Two blocks away he came upon a foe, one Conover, whom he was bound in honor to engage in combat.

Mr. McQuirk made the attack with the characteristic suddenness and fierceness that had gained for him the endearing sobriquet of “Tiger.” The defence of Mr. Conover was so prompt and admirable that the conflict was protracted until the onlookers unselfishly gave the warning cry of “Cheese it–the cop!” The principals escaped easily by running through the nearest open doors into the communicating backyards at the rear of the houses.

Mr. McQuirk emerged into another street. He stood by a lamp-post for a few minutes engaged in thought and then he turned and plunged into a small notion and news shop. A red-haired young woman, eating gum-drops, came and looked freezingly at him across the ice-bound steppes of the counter.
“Say, lady,” he said, “have you got a song book with this in it. Let’s see how it leads off–

“‘When the springtime comes we’ll wander in the dale, love,
And whisper of those days of yore–‘

“I’m having a friend,” explained Mr. McQuirk, “laid up with a broken leg, and he sent me after it. He’s a devil for songs and poetry when he can’t get out to drink.”
“We have not,” replied the young woman, with unconcealed contempt. “But there is a new song out that begins this way:

“‘Let us sit together in the old arm-chair;
And while the firelight flickers we’ll be comfortable there.'”

There will be no profit in following Mr. “Tiger” McQuirk through his further vagaries of that day until he comes to stand knocking at the door of Annie Maria Doyle. The goddess Eastre, it seems, had guided his footsteps aright at last.

“Is that you now, Jimmy McQuirk?” she cried, smiling through the opened door (Annie Maria had never accepted the “Tiger”). “Well, whatever!”

“Come out in the hall,” said Mr. McQuirk. “I want to ask yer opinion of the weather–on the level.”

“Are you crazy, sure?” said Annie Maria.

“I am,” said the “Tiger.” “They’ve been telling me all day there was spring in the air. Were they liars? Or am I?”

“Dear me!” said Annie Maria–“haven’t you noticed it? I can almost smell the violets. And the green grass. Of course, there ain’t any yet–it’s just a kind of feeling, you know.”

“That’s what I’m getting at,” said Mr. McQuirk. “I’ve had it. I didn’t recognize it at first. I thought maybe it was en-wee, contracted the other day when I stepped above Fourteenth Street. But the katzenjammer I’ve got don’t spell violets. It spells yer own name, Annie Maria, and it’s you I want. I go to work next Monday, and I make four dollars a day. Spiel up, old girl–do we make a team?”

“Jimmy,” sighed Annie Maria, suddenly disappearing in his overcoat, “don’t you see that spring is all over the world right this minute?”

But you yourself remember how that day ended. Beginning with so fine a promise of vernal things, late in the afternoon the air chilled and an inch of snow fell–even so late in March. On Fifth Avenue the ladies drew their winter furs close about them. Only in the florists’ windows could be perceived any signs of the morning smile of the coming goddess Eastre.

At six o’clock Herr Lutz began to close his shop. He heard a well-known shout: “Hello, Dutch!”

“Tiger” McQuirk, in his shirt-sleeves, with his hat on the back of his head, stood outside in the whirling snow, puffing at a black cigar.

“Donnerwetter!” shouted Lutz, “der vinter, he has gome back again yet!”

“Yer a liar, Dutch,” called back Mr. McQuirk, with friendly geniality, “it’s springtime, by the watch.”

“A Fair Proposition”

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

To know why you’re where you’re at now, you’ve got to know where you’ve come from. With the fall elections nipping at our heels like a pack of rabid canines, the following editorial from the Austin Weekly Statesman, June 24, 1875, makes it pretty clear that the fears and prejudices of a certain voting class that resonated then still resonate now; just add “Beaner” to “Sambo” and it’s 2015, not 1875.

Is It Not a Fair Proposition?

About one-fourth of the whole population of Texas is black, and about three-fourths of the criminals are black. The greatest burden to which Texas taxpayers –negroes paying nothing – are subjected is evolved from the terrible jury and judiciary systems. Two-thirds of the cost of prosecutions arise from negro criminality, and yet negroes contribute not a groat to the payment of such costs. The burdensome public school system, costing about one-third of the whole burden of taxation levied by the State, is imposed largely in behalf of blacks, who pay nothing directly, as taxpayers, into the State Treasury. In view of these facts the black elephant assumes mastodon-like proportions, and the question arises how far we should burden ourselves to gain an impossible end and one not desired if sustainable – the equalization and homogeneity of the two races. We did not import Sambo, but bought him and gave gold when he was sold under prospective emancipation acts by the Northern people. They took the money and we the blessed negro; but now, when a day of divine settlement comes, we must lose the moneyed value of the African, to which we do not object since this trade is a good one, but would it not be fair to relieve Texas of this tax imposed to educate the sons of Ham? We have not any alarming degree of faith in the perfectibility of a race whose story and position and degree of intelligence are the same for five thousand years, and if facts, presented by the negro’s fortunes in the South since emancipation, signify anything, the race liberated will soon lose by freedom all it gained by slavery. But would it not be proper for our Northern fellow-countrymen, while we maintain courts and Ward, Dewey & Co., to relieve us of burdens incident to Sambo’s education?


“For the Austin Girls”

April 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Blunderbuss salutes the lately concluded Women’s History Month in Austin with these timeless tips for “every female with true womanly feelings.” After all, to know where you are going, you’ve got to know where you’ve come from.

From the Weekly State Gazette, Austin, October 24, 1870:

For the Austin Girls.

The flood [of the Guadalupe and Colorado rivers – Editor] has passed away, and as there now seems to be “nothing stirring but stagnation” in our City of hills, so, dear girls, I will take advantage of the prevailing quiet, and impose upon you the ideas of one who will undoubtedly be styled “old fashioned.” Now, don’t hold up those dainty white hands, open wide those blue, black or grey eyes in great perturbation of spirit and exclaim with Dominie Sampson, “prodigious!” — adjectives being the only mode of expression whereby most young ladies give vent to their overcharged feelings.

All of us need a little medicine now and then. I grant the dose to be administered from the writer’s pen may not prove so grateful to my lady readers as would one of quinine from the immaculate hands of a young and handsome disciple of Esculapius [the Greek god of medicine and healing]. Oh! Yes, the latter dose would trickle gently over the palate like “the zephyrs of the sweet South o’er a bank of violets!”

I wish to warn you of the imminent danger into which you are imperceptibly gliding. Nothing more or less than the fashionable follies of the day. Ere you are aware of it you’ll be acting the French belle, which every female with true womanly feelings deprecates. Don’t be women sold to dress and frivolity – live for something higher and more ennobling than dancing, flirting, parading the streets, decked out in all the gaudy apparel of the peacock! Do not let it be said, that the blush of modesty, which tinted woman’s face when she first awoke in “Eden’s sunny land,” still lingers on the cheek of her daughters; then you can say with Shakespeare, “Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand hath laid it on,” not KATIE’S or SALLIE’S! Don’t engage in those bold coquetries, either in dress, conversation or manners, that are striking characteristics of the “girl of the period.”

Do not squander away the precious hours of youth or old age either – in the ball room, where you are thrown promiscuously with persons of all characters, some of whom you’d scorn to meet on a level in the drawing room or parlor. These fandangos are often kept up until fair Aurora creeps up upon you unawares, and blushes at the sight to see you whirling around in that detestable dance which you call the “round dance.” It is a marvel to one that such dances are practiced in a civilized and Christian community; again, late hours kept up so frequently, totally unfit you for those home duties, which every girl should be familiar with, and also carry into execution. Have you a mother! Then cherish her as you do your jewels and your “love of a bonnet,” not only cherish, but share with her the burdens and cares that naturally falls to a mother’s lot. Heed her counsels, and know that her warnings will always shield you from harm. I trust that no young lady, however elevated her position, will think that a knowledge of what pertains to the cooking of a dinner, can derogate from her dignity. The hand that can dash off a brilliant sonata should be equally proficient in preparing a ragout to tempt a father or mother’s appetite. Perhaps you may find it difficult to procure in Austin (no slur on the city) the necessary material to prepare one, if so, broil a nice beefsteak, or anything you can lay hands on, especially, before a certain delectable body returns, as it only devours chicken-pie, but everything else devourable!

Whenever I hear a young lady boast that she knows “nothing in the world about cooking,” I look at her with much the feeling expressed by the spirited Mrs. Squeers, “I pities your ignorance and dispises you.” Do not live as if you expect to be “fed on roses and rocked in the lillies of life,” for such sudden and entire reverses are not uncommon in the history of affluence.
Do not deal in slander by wholesale and retail, exclaiming, “what a shocking fright Miss ——-‘s head was” at the last party, etc. “O! wad some power the giftie gie us” never applies to you, does it! Another circus will be along very soon, and of course you’ll be there; it is a place so well calculated to elevate the mind, especially that of a young lady(?) Oh! No, she’ll see or hear nothing there to shock her maidenly modesty!

These suggestions are offered in a spirit of frankness and candor, and with no disposition to offend. A woman myself I desire to see my sex elevated and purified until it becomes in reality, what God intended it should be. Accept them, then in the spirit in which they are given.


I Have Met the Fool, and He Is Us

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Happy Belated All Fools Day, y’all;  from the Austin Statesman:
April 2, 1884
The boys had a deal of sport in the city yesterday making fools of the public. One fellow filled a pocket book with red pepper and laid it on the street. Along came a negro, and forgetting it was the first of April, picked it up and opened it. The boy had fixed a whale bone in the wallet in such a way that when he opened it, it snapped up and sent pepper into the fellow’s face and eyes. If ever a negro danced and howled on Pecan street , that negro did it. “Oh, lordy, lordy; I’m pizened, I’m pizened,” could be heard half a block away.
An amusing thing happened in one of the saloons in the first ward. A wag was telling his dream. He said he dreamed he saw the fellow who robbed the Gambrinus saloon. He was certain that dream was a warning, and if he ever saw a man who looked like the one seen in the dream he should have him arrested. He said he had a spot of dirt on his nose. He believed he was in the room now. Every man in the bar-room wiped his nose. This is an old trick, but he played it successfully.

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