“We Will Show You How it is Done.”

May 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

The succulent aroma of Llano wafted through Guy Town this morning, which reminded me of the last time Llano infamously invaded Austin, back in 1876. The resulting altercation, just 4 blocks up Congress Avenue from our “Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que of Llano” outpost at the corner of Cypress (3rd Street) and Congress, was reported in every newspaper in America, in many different versions.

Llano exported rock heads as well as rocks back in the day.

This report appeared in the Austin Daily Statesman:

February 5, 1876

SHOOTING SCRAPE. — A shooting scrape occurred yesterday on the Avenue [mid-block between Bois d’ Arc and Hickory—Ed.] and in front of the Mitchell saloon, between a man named Hanna, of Llano, and Ben Thompson, of this city.

It is currently reported on the streets that three or four men, claiming to be from Llano, and on the rowdy order, had been hunting a fight during the day, and in the forenoon had pulled out their pistols in a saloon and bluffed around generally, saying that they wanted to show the Austin fighters the Llano style of fighting.

They especially wanted to encounter someone in Austin that had a reputation for fighting, and finally came up with Ben Thompson on the sidewalk of the saloon above named, and used offensive language and threw out a general invitation for a fight.

Thompson replied, it is stated, that he knew nothing of the Texas fighters; that he was down here from Boston for his health, but that he did not apprehend that the Llanoites could fight any better than anyone else.

Hanna thought they could, and said, “if you come up there we will show you how it is done.”

Thompson said, “if I should come up there I would serve the boys just so,” drawing his hand across Hanna’s face gently.

Instantly Hanna struck him with his fist, knocking off his hat, when the pistols were drawn and the firing commenced. It is said by some that Hanna fired first, and by others that he attempted to fire but that his pistol would not go off.

Thompson at this time was on the sidewalk and Hanna had stepped down into the gutter behind a post, and seemed to be trying to get his pistol to revolve, and while thus engaged, Thompson fired at him, the ball, perhaps, taking effect in his neck, and passing through one ear.

Hanna then started across the street, and while doing so, and after having reached the middle of the street, another shot, it is said, was fired by Thompson, which passed through Hanna’s side. Hanna then continued his retreat to the opposite sidewalk, and the fight was at an end.

Both parties were taken to the mayor’s office, and the wounds of Hanna, which were not considered dangerous, were dressed, and Thompson was put under bond for his appearance on trial. Shooting in the streets of a city is at all times entitled to the severest censure; but in this instance it fortunately happened that no one was hurt but the Llano man that was spoiling for a fight.

No doubt frontier “bad ones” will hereafter be a little shy of Boston invalids who are down in Texas to restore weak lungs.

Ben Thompson went on to become Austin City Marshal in 1880.



A Day in Lockhart and Luling

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

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My sister-in-law, America, and nephew, Jonas, who live in Hannover, Germany, are visiting us this week, along with my daughter’s Colombian rock-star boyfriend (who’s here for “South X get the F___ Out of My Town,” but that’s a different story). If there’s one thing that Germans like as much as their beer and spring-crop asparagus, it’s all things Texan. America’s father-in-law wears a bolo tie and boots to church every Sunday, even though he’s never been here (although it is his profoundest wish to do so).
So naturally, we had to get out of town yesterday for some real, good, old-time Texas barbecue (Sorry, Aaron Franklin – you’re good, but you’re not lord of the brisket, despite what Texas Monthly “eat al” might say). Since Jonas is your typical cranky 3 year old with a short attention span, we chose close-by Lockhart over fellow ‘cue meccas Llano, Luling, Taylor, Schulenburg, or Elgin. Now anyone who really knows barbecue knows that you can’t go wrong in Lockhart, at Kreuz Market, Smitty’s, Black’s or Chisholm Trail. They’re all good, and truth is, many locals prefer to eat at Chisholm Trail because they can get vegetables and cruise the salad bar.
But we wanted real, old-time Texas atmosphere to go along with our larrupin’ good smoked meat and sides, so Smitty’s was the obvious, and only, choice. After getting our pork ribs, pork chop, ring sausage, lean beef, fat beef and Orange sodas, we settled down in the air conditioned dining room – for Jonas’ sake. If I had my druthers, we would have sat in the old room out back next to the back-up pit, where we used to eat our meat with the carbon-steel knives chained to the tables.
As is usually the case, our lunch was a pan-humanic experience, with whites, blacks, hispanics, orientals, SXSW refugees and assorted other human detritus happily gnawing away.
After a few words with the amiable “Mr. Nina” Sellers (the owner’s husband), it was time to go to the back rooms and pay homage to the good old days 30 and more years ago when we would ride our bicycles down to Shiner, get plastered at the brewery hospitality room while visiting with our friends there, climb into our designated driver’s vehicle, and head for the original Kreuz Market (now Smitty’s) to get our meat and settle down at one of the back room tables, and start sawing and chawing away, the way God almighty and old man Kreuz meant it to be. These “pilgrimages” as we called them, became the basis for one of the chapters in Central Texas (The Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) as well the epic mass bike ride several of us invented, called the G.A.S.P. (Great Austin to Shiner Pedal).
Well, there is only one table left out back today, and no knives chained to it, but there was one patron seated there, cut “out of the old rock,” as the old saying goes, happily gumming away at his ring sausage quartet with crackers: the amiable Tally Gabriel, who’s been a regular customer for 65 years now. And by regular, I mean several times a week. He was going to a funeral later in the afternoon, for an aunt who had passed away at the age of 90. I offered my condolences, which he gently brushed aside; she had lived a long and full life – there was nothing to be sad about.
Tally had worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, on track maintenance crews. As such, he knew Sanderson, my home away from home, well, but I was disappointed that he had not known Hank Parrish, an SP engineer and the king of eccentrics, whose home I had purchased from his niece several years after his death. Hank had died from heatstroke one June, it is supposed, having refused to turn on his “swamp cooler” for relief from the oppressive heat, despite the fact that a swamp cooler draws about as much power as a light bulb. But after all, this was a man so stingy that when he went to the post office to pick up his mail, he would bring his VW beetle to a stop by crashing into the guard rail out front rather than use his brakes. Now when it came to his locomotives, he drove the hell out of them. He was as famous along the SP line for abusing his engines as he was for his tight-fistedness. Tally just grinned. “Guys like Hank guaranteed us our jobs, god bless ‘em.”
Tally also worked on several of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass lines (The SAAP, or “SAP,” figures prominently in several chapters of both Hill Country and Central Texas; one of its branches once ran up to Lockhart), including the branch that ran south through Skidmore and Beeville, nicknamed “The Sausage Line,” because of all the hogs it hauled up to the San Antonio stockyards.
We finally bade Tally and Smitty’s farewell and walked over to the newly renovated and restored Caldwell County Courthouse, to admire, among other things, its beautifully restored courtroom.
Our next stop was Westy’s Pharmacy, to check out the damage done to our waistlines on the “Moderne,” the most beautiful scale I have ever encountered in all my travels, and the only thing you can still do for a penny anywhere that I know of in Texas (although it accepts nickels if you’re not a nickel nose). Pharmacy owner Brad Westmoreland has been offered upwards of a thousand dollars for the “Moderne Peerless Weighing Machine,” but he just laughs off any and all offers. His father bought the Moderne second-hand from the Imperial Amusement Co. in San Antonio in 1942 for $25. At a penny a pop, the Moderne had paid for itself by 1944, and it’s been pure profit ever since. One the other side of the front door from the Moderne is a little display case full of old patent medicines and other vintage pharmaceutica; Brad says he has plenty more downstairs (Westy’s has been serving Lockhart for more than a century), but there’s no place to put it. Lockhart may be a prime contender for Barbecue Capital of Texas, but it’s not squat for home-grown sweets; luckily Westy’s carries an abbreviated line of Lamme’s candies from Austin (Lamme’s has been satisfying greater Austin’s sweet teeth since 1885), so we left with a box of chocolate covered pecans to give the rest of town a quick looky-loo before continuing south to Luling. America was quite impressed with the many Victorian mansions and brick business palaces dating to the days when Cotton was King. After popping into the 1856 Emmanuel Episcopal Church, we headed for Storey Springs, where Sam Houston gave his famous speech in 1857 (Read about it in Central Texas, Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) to check on their condition after the recent flood and let Jonas blow off some steam on the park playscape. The springs looked as good as ever.
Once in Luling, we were still too full from lunch to eat any of the best pork ribs in Texas at Luling City Market (Sorry again, Franklin’s), so we went down to the Zedler’s Mill museum complex on the Guadalupe River. Progress on restoring the complex is slow but steady, and you can now take an audio guided tour via your cell phone (I forget the number now). The river was still running a bit high and debris-cluttered after the recent flood, but was almost back to its normal beauty.
After a tour of all the decorated pumpjacks (the butterfly was a favorite), we stopped at the old Sarg Records shop to pay homage to the late, great Charlie Fitch, who first recorded Sir Doug Sahm back when he was “Little Doug” and who turned down Willie Nelson back when Willie was a nobody trying to become a somebody. A peek inside the window showed the shop virtually undisturbed since Charlie’s death, messages such “R.I.P, We love you Charlie” finger-wiped in the window dust, now several years old. A recent documentary about Charlie has been running lately on KLRU, the local PBS station. And of course, my beloved little cast-iron stop signs are still embedded in the asphalt at several downtown intersections.
With Jonas now growing sleepy/cranky, it was time to head back to Austin via Stairtown and Joliet, through Edgar B. Davis’ fabulous Rafael Rios oilfield, the oilfield that changed Luling forever and gave rise to the phrase, “All you have to do is follow your nose to Luling.”

Roadtrip to Elgin

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Diana and took a most pleasant afternoon excursion to Elgin this afternoon — that is, after we got to Manor and on to Old Hwy. 20. We made the mistake of taking US 290 out of Austin (instead of 969/973) to Manor, and wasted at least 20 precious minutes in backed up traffic because of toll road construction. But on to pleasantries. Passing through Littig, the old store/post office there crumbles more each year and is no longer identifiable as such. Coming into Elgin, the old brick cotton gin is gone, although some of the old Elgin brick lives on in more modern perversions of the building trade. The little H&TC freight depot is now the Elgin Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Our first stop was the Elgin Antique Mall, looking for God knows what, and that ended up being a piece of Smith Ballew sheet music, “We Can Live On Love,” with lyrics by Smith and Edward Pola. Smith is prominently featured in my as-yet unpublished opus “If You Can’t Dance, Get On and Ride: Austin During the Jazz Age.” After that pleasant $4.56 surprise, it was on to Meyer’s BBQ (instead of Southside; Gregg Meyer generously provided food for one of my book signings last year, so I was obliged to return the favor, although the pleasure was all ours.) Diana pronounced the half-chicken magnificent in all respects, and I was quite content with the brisket, rope sausage and kosher dill pickles.

On our way back, we took the Upper Elgin River Road to check on the status of an old iron bridge that is just past the intersection with Hogeye Rd. The bridge is in full retirement but looking hale and hearty; thank God for the historic preservation mentality that was so scarce 40 years ago.

Upper Elgin River Road dead-ends into 969, and we headed thusly for Austin. Webberville’s city limits stretch farther and farther to the east every year so it seems. There was water standing everywhere, which is a good harbinger for spring wildflowers, but other than some isolated stands of rain lillies, nothing is blooming yet, except new traffic lights along the way (sigh).

As I rue the fading of the old Central Texas I grew to love, I am now going to assuage my anguish with some leftover brisket, sausage, and potato salad of my own making.

Get out and enjoy it while it’s still there, because less of it will be there tomorrow.

San Marcos Update for Hill Country book

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

A thoroughly wretched drive to San Marcos today for a doctor’s appointment, but it gave me a chance to check on the progress of the old Hays County jail restoration (page 260). The outer walls’ stabilization appears largely completed and the old bastille looks nice and tight, not fixing to crumble and fall like before. The windows are all boarded up with what appears to be gun metal gray steel plates, but which are probably plywood. The jail is fenced off so closer examination was not possible. The lot on which it sits has also been cleaned up and is free of weeds.

Unfortunately, there has been no progress on the future Eddie Durham Museum (pp. 260-61), and the sign proudly announcing its coming is fading into illegibility.

Woody’s Bar-B-Que (p. 261) had to change its name several months ago to Hays County Bar-B-Que, but everything else is unchanged and still great.

Fuschak’s Pit Bar-B-Q is now at 1701 S Interstate 35 (east side).

Owing to the wretched weather I did not take the Old Post Road route through Kyle and Buda, but took I-35 as far as Toll Road 45, where I cut over to US 183, since the traffic on I-35 northbound earlier this morning had been backed up from the river to Slaughter Lane. Talk about about a beige and asphalt elephant! I was the only east bound car in sight the whole way. I will refrain from further comment about the idiocy of all of this. I-35 like a parking lot and TRs 45 and 130 like ghost towns. Only in Texas, where the inmates rule the asylum.

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