March 13, 2018 § Leave a comment
Today marks the 114th death anniversary of Austin’s most memorable detective, John Chenneville, immortalized in O. Henry’s short story: “Violet Vane, or Tracked to Death.”
There are many John Chenneville stories to be told, but we’ll start with his obituary, in the Austin Daily Statesman.
March 14, 1904
DEATHS IN AUSTIN.
John A. Chenneville.
John A. Chenneville died at 2:30 yesterday morning at his home, 500 Blanco, corner of Fifth street, in this city. Two weeks ago last Friday he was stricken while at his office, with what appeared to be apoplexy and became unconscious. He was at once removed to his home and while, as time progressed, he did not appear to grow worse, there was no marked change until Friday evening when the physicians in attendance announced that he could not recover. From that time he sank rapidly, passing away quietly and peacefully.
Few, if any, men in Austin are better known that was Mr. Chenneville and no sooner was his familiar face missed from the business section than many inquiries concerning him were heard and scores of friends began calling at his home.
Lifetime friends, neighbors and members of organizations, of which he was a member, vied with each other in trying to do anything that might add to his comfort or lessen the anxiety of his devoted wife and loving son. During most of his illness he was apparently unconscious but at times would arouse from this state and give evidence of recognizing some of the friends who called to see him.
Mr. Chenneville was honored, respected and trusted by all who knew him as a citizen and official. In the latter position, he was efficient and brave, a strict disciplinarian but who, in his broadmindedness and liberal views, would never ask a subordinate to perform a task he would not himself undertake.
By years of close application to work he had acquired for himself and his family a comfortable home and was beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labors and was happy in his ambitions for his young son to whom he was a most devoted father. Just in the prime of life, a man with a constitution of apparent great strength, with every prospect of a ripe and useful old age, was cut down in a day.
John A. Chenneville was born in New Orleans September 27, 1847, being in his 57th year at the time of his death. When the war between the states broke out he was too young to enlist but succeeded in getting aboard the Confederate ram Manassas and securing the position of cabin boy. At this time he was only 13 years of age. A few years after the close of the war he came to Austin and made his home in this city from that time until his death occurred. He had resided here at least 30 years and during all of that time he was connected with the Austin police department with the exception of the past four or five years when he conducted the Southern Secret Service and Merchants’ Police, and in a most successful manner. The merchants who employed John Chenneville to watch their business houses were never troubled by burglars and those who engaged him to work up cases always received satisfaction.
A short time after his arrival in Austin Mr. Chenneville became a member of the police force, during City Marshal McCreary’s administration. His faithful and keen detective work soon won for him promotion to sergeant. When Ben Thompson succeeded Chief McCreary, Mr. Chenneville continued as sergeant and the longer he remained in the service the more expert he became and was greatly feared by the evil doers. Chief Thompson highly commended the services of his sergeant, showing his appreciation by presenting him with a handsome and costly badge. Mr. Chenneville also served under Chiefs J.P. Kirk, Grooms Lee, and J.E. Lucy. Thirty years in the police service under five different chiefs is a record which but few officers in the entire country have.
Mr. Chenneville was also prominent in the Austin fire department, having been a member of it nearly 20 years. He first joined the Hope Hook and Ladder company which disbanded years ago. At the time he was foreman of the company he won a costly silver fire trumpet as a prize in a foot race at a firemen’s celebration. This trophy, with other gifts presented to him during his lifetime, have been carefully kept at his home, being greatly prized by Mr. Chenneville. After the disbandment of Hope Hook and Ladder company. Mr. Chenneville became a member of Washington Fire company No. 1 and was a member at the time of his death, serving about 16 years and nearly all of the time as fire police.
The deceased leaves a wife and a son, Jack W. Chenneville, of this city, and two brothers and two sisters in New Orleans.
The funeral will be from the residence at 3:30 to St. Mary’s Catholic church, where services will be conducted at 4 o’clock. Mt. Bonnell Lodge No. 34, Washington Engine company No. 1, of which organizations deceased was a member, and the fire department, will be in attendance.
March 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Five: A Girl from a Good Family
At 2:30 in afternoon of February 10, 1892, Annie Miller, a young German girl living over Mrs. Emily Jacoby’s eating house on West Fourth Street, died from the effects of some kind of poison taken with suicidal intent. At the inquest held about 4 o’clock by Justice Fisher, Mrs. Jacoby stated that she had known deceased for some eight or nine months; that she was about 20 years of age, and the only name she knew her by was that of Annie Miller.
All day Tuesday she appeared to be perfectly well, with the exception of a slight headache that grew worse towards night. She had no idea where deceased procured the poison with which she killed herself, as it was never kept in the house and the girl had not been out to purchase any all day Tuesday. The first indication she had that anything was wrong was about 10:30 on the morning of the 10th when she went to deceased’s door, which was locked, and was unable to rouse her by repeated rappings. She then went down and got Officer William Davis, who gained an entrance into the room through a window, which was about half way up. No note whatever was left as a possible explanation. Mrs. Jacoby said that a few days ago Annie had told her that her folks in Berlin, Germany, were trying to force her to go home, and that Officer John Chenneville had been to see her in reference to it and also that a reward of $200 had been offered for her return. They thought seemed to prey on her mind a great deal and she indulged in a good deal of crying. It may have been this that led to the rash act.
Officer Davis testified to his having entered the room, and to having summoned the doctors, the girl not then being dead, who worked on her until the time of her death. Three small empty wooden boxes were found in the room, but what they had contained is not known. He also stated that for a short time after she came to Austin she was an inmate of Jessie Mead’s “female boarding house” on Colorado Street in Guy Town.
Some other facts that were not brought out during the inquest were learned by a Daily Statesman reporter. They were to the effect that the girl was of a good family, her parents living in Berlin. She was sent to an uncle in New York, where she was educated. When her time was up it was intended to send her back to Germany, but for some cause she refused to go, and to escape ran off and came to Texas. She went to Houston for a short time and from there came to Austin. Annie Miller was not her right name, but what it was and her reason for not wanting to go back home remains a mystery.
A reporter saw Detective Chenneville that night and learned some further facts connected with the unfortunate girl. Her right name was Emma Peech. The uncle in New York was a baker, doing business on East 33rd street. The cause of her leaving home was not that she was disinclined to returning to Germany, but that she was decoyed away and taken to a variety dive in Houston. It was this fact that caused the reward to be offered for her. On the steamer while coming to Houston she was seduced, and to avoid detection she shaved her head and came to Austin. In the meantime Detective Chenneville had received information as to her absence from New York and located her and identified her by a picture. She confessed to him that she was the right party and expressed a willingness to go home if she could conceal her shame from her parents.
Could she have or couldn’t she have? That answer died with her. Re-entry into “proper” society from the company of the “fragile ones” was rare, as we shall read in a succeeding post.
March 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Four: A Thousand Causes for the Act, A Thousand to Restrain
Saturday afternoon, November 22, 1890, a well-dressed young was seen more than once by a reporter and he was slightly under the influence of liquor. That afternoon at about three o’clock, with a friend, he visited a prominent jeweler and purchased a diamond ring and a diamond stud, paying $165 each, the payment being made by a check on B.W. Bonner of Lufkin for the sum of $330. Sunday afternoon, the university community and city were shocked by the report that W.G. Bonner, a student in the University of Texas Law Department, had committed suicide by taking either laudanum or morphine.
Leaving the jeweler’s with his gems he continued to drink, and at three o’clock Sunday morning, shorn of his costly jewelry and plucked of all his money, he was considerately loaded into a hack and sent to his boarding house on San Marcos street, where he went to bed.
At about 9 o’clock Sunday morning, T.O. Martin, his roommate, awakened Bonner and asked him if he wanted breakfast, but he only mumbled out a few words and turning over, dropped off to sleep. Martin went down to the breakfast table and when he returned again woke Bonner up and asked if he wanted breakfast, but he said no. Martin then left and came downtown, where he got his mail, and returned to his room, where he found Bonner sitting at a table in his night clothes writing.
It was now about 10 o’clock.
Martin sat down and began writing and a moment after, Banner quit writing, got up from the table, dressed himself and started out of the room. He stopped, however, at the door, and returning to Martin, said, “Have you got half a dollar? I want to mail some letters.”
Martin gave him a dollar and Bonner went out. In about an hour he returned and passing Martin, who was seated on the gallery, he went into his room. In about fifteen minutes, Martin went into the room, and picking up a notebook started out again.
“Where are you going?” asked Bonner.
“Back to the gallery,” Martin replied.
Martin noticed that Bonner spoke hoarsely and looked sleepy, but attributed it to his being up late the night before.
Shortly after reaching the gallery, Messrs. Kirkpatrick and Hood, university students, joined Martin, and all three went into the room, where Bonner was lying on his bed. He raised up and Martin introduced Kirkpatrick to him, after which Bonner, who have seemed to be very drowsy, laid down.
About this time the little son of Mrs. Graves, the land lady, came in and said to Bonner, “I went to see Doctor Willard, but he was not in, and won’t be back for an hour. Did you see him?”
“No,” Bonner replied.
The boy then left, and Bonner dropped off to sleep.
Martin, Kirkpatrick and Hood went out on the gallery, and remained there talking until about 10 o’clock, when the visitors left, and Martin returned to his room, where he found Bonner sound asleep and snoring heavily.
In about twenty minutes Hertzberg, another student, came into the room, and he noticed Bonner’s heavy breathing and snoring and spoke about it to Martin. Hertzberg took a seat and he and Martin engaged in conversation, and sometime after, both noticed that Bonner’s heavy snoring suddenly ceased. Martin suggested that Bonner had fallen into a peaceful sleep, but Hertzberg was suspicious and got up and went to the sleeper’s bedside.
Bonner was dead.
Hertzberg at once raised the alarm and Martin felt Bonner’s pulse and over the heart. But life was extinct. Doctor Thomas Wooten was hurriedly called in, but his services were not needed. Bonner was cold in death.
Four letters, evidently written during the morning, when Martin went down to the post office, were found on his table. One was addressed to his landlady, Mrs. Graves, kindly thanking her for past favors. One was addressed to Martin, and contained a check for $2 he owed him. One was for Brooks, a student, requesting that he draw on Mr. B.F. Bonner for the amount due him. The fourth was addressed to his brother, B.F. Bonner, of Lufkin. Under the table on the scrap of paper bearing no address or signature were these words: “There are a thousand causes for the act, there are a thousand to restrain – may God help and protect you.”
On the back of a photograph found in one of his pockets were the words: “Good bye, brother.”
Bonner was a brilliant young man and popular with all who knew him. He was a nephew of Col. Tom Bonner of Tyler. He was about 24 years of age and would have graduated from the law department that term. He had been drinking more or less of late and frequented the gambling rooms when under the influence of liquor.
Saturday night he lost heavily at cards and borrowed $150 from a sporting man named Dennis, giving as security the diamonds he purchased during the afternoon. This money he lost and he was kindly sent home as was been stated. Justice Fisher held an inquest and his verdict was in accordance with the foregoing. Exercises were suspended at the University on Monday, and a mass meeting of the students was held at 11 o’clock. Young Bonner’s remains were forwarded to Lufkin that night.
February 23, 2017 § Leave a comment
Ellen Leary, a young woman, known to the frequenters of the first ward as Willie Summers, committed suicide by taking morphine early in the morning of October 25, 1881. She was an inmate of a house kept by Katie Franklin, and was discovered about 6 o’clock in the morning to be under the influence of a powerful narcotic, and in spite of all the physicians who had been summoned could do, she died at half past 10 o’clock.
Justice Tegener held an inquest and the jury, after hearing all the evidence, returned a verdict of death from the effects of morphine administered by her own hand. Willie Summers was not the girl’s name and there was a bit of history connected with her downfall that was distressing. She was buried the next morning from the residence of Katie Franklin, corner of Cedar and Guadalupe streets.
About four years earlier Willie was made drunk, and at the time she asserted that she was drugged at a celebration held at Pressler’s Garden, by two young men of this city. It was then she was led astray, and flung into a life over all the horizon of which one only sees the black cloud of despair. An outcast from the world, an exile from the light of home, she for four long years lived amid the wild reveling of a career, the wretchedness of which was unspeakable, and the horrors of which at last wrung from her crushed heart the piteous wail, “I am tired of this life, I want to die.”
A few hours after this expression fell from her lips she took the fatal drug that ended her existence. The men who led her astray and blighted her young life, and left her to drift out upon the wild, turbulent sea of a dissolute life, were never be punished in this world. Under the peculiar laws of modern society, they never were. It’s the poor betrayed girl allured by glittering promises and money – these men had, and now have money – that suffers. The social evil was assuming terrific proportions all over the world, and some law had to be passed to check it, one that would strike with no uncertain touch the men who patronized and encouraged the evil.
She was discovered by her “boarders,” the misses Willie Gibson and Pearl Levy, well-known young ladies of the town, at their residence. Coroner Tegener ruled her death as due to poisoning, noting that she was but 20 years of age, and that her real name was Ellen Leary.
James W. Hall, a well-known Austin florist, “Shuffled Off The Mortal Coil” on March 11, 1884. Tired of Earth and its temptations, he sought the consequences of the Other World.
Hall was one of Austin’s best known characters. Hall. He was somewhat eccentric in his conduct but withal he was a man for whom nearly all who knew him had a kindly feeling, for he was social and generous to a fault and not many men had fewer enemies than he. He was a native of Tennessee and came to Austin when a mere lad. He was his 38th year when he died.
He was a florist by profession and one of the most skillful in the South. His reputation in this regard was as wide as the continent and a time of his demise he had orders from parties in the north to gather ten thousand Texas plants for them; 5,000 different varieties to be gathered for one man. Such was the general standing of the man who committed suicide Sunday morning in this city.
He had been drinking nearly all night and perhaps indulging in other dissipations until his mind was so completely unstrung that he had little or no control of himself. About 7 clock he had his uncle M.P. Hall, on the Avenue and the uncle began to upbraid him for being out all night, saying he ought to have been at home with his family.
“Yes, uncle,” he replied, “it is a shame for me to do as I have done and I am going to stop it.” He then asked his uncle to go to a drug store and get him some morphine. His uncle asked him why he did not get it himself. The reply was that he did not believe the druggists would let him have any.
The uncle then asked him what he wanted with the drug, and he told him he was tired of living and wanted to kill himself. The uncle told him he would not assist him to get poison for such a purpose, and tried to induce him to go home with him and get a strong cup of coffee. He then told his uncle that he did not intend to kill himself, but simply wanted a little to make him sleep.
The uncle thought it best to go with him and see that he got a small dose, so they went together to Samostz’s drug store but it was closed. They went across to the new drug store of Morris and Company, where Simpson’s shooting gallery was, and this they found closed also. The uncle tried again to persuade him to go home with him and get a cup of coffee, saying it would do him more good than the morphine. ”
No,” he replied, “I’m going to kill myself. I will find the drug somewhere, and with it in my worthless life.”
His uncle says he had heard him talk that way before, and he did not surmise he had any such intentions, notwithstanding he shook hands with him and bade him goodbye, saying as he did so it would be the last time he would see him. Where he got the drug that no one seems to know, but in some manner he procured morphine, and took a very heavy dose of the stuff.
About 8 o’clock Sunday morning Col. Bob Russell, the attorney, was walking down Congress Avenue and saw a man drop to the sidewalk near the Gold Room saloon. He came up see him and saw it was Mr. Hall. He called the police and the man was taken to his home, which is on the street car line not far from Col. Driskill’s.
Doctor Wooten was summoned, who at once detected the morphine poisoning, and applied all the antidotes known to science, but the effects of the drug had gone too far, and he died after lying in a comatose state for some time. He has been in the habit of using morphine for a considerable time, and many of his friends said he did not really intend to take enough to kill them.
His declarations to the contrary would seem to show that the poison was used with suicidal intent. He was married and had quite a family. It is said he was very kind and domestic in his own relations and really loved his wife and children. He was also an industrious man, seldom idle except when spreeing, made money easily, and had a large number of valuable contracts at the time of his death, and there was no reason seemingly for the rash act, yet he tried to get the dishwasher at the Gold Room to buy the drug early the evening before, saying he intended to kill himself with it.
His funeral was largely attended. It is one of the saddest things in all human conduct to contemplate, the taking of life with one’s own hand, particularly a young man of only 38 years in a position where the lines of life would lead him, if he would but follow them, into happiness for himself and those depending on him. But the best of men commit suicide, some intentionally to produce death, the most of them without so intending — few there are who do not hasten death by their own hand in one way or another.
December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
I could write a book about Slippery Jeff Cain, the greatest con artist in Austin history. But if I did, and it was published, would wily Jeff ‘s story interest anyone enough to buy it?
Here’s a biography of him that appeared in the Statesman, that gives just a little taste of this sport’s life. Let me know what you think, positively or negatively, please.
February 23, 1886
He Shakes His Shackles And Slips The Officers.
That incorrigible, nimble witted and alas nimble footed Jeff Cain is no longer in the tolls, having adroitly slipped his shackles, and to the sore disgust of the officer in his charge he was, took leg bail.
Who is Jeff Cain of whom we read so much about? He is a young man of some 18 or 20 summers, decidedly good looking, quick, active, intelligent and prone to fine dress, and a fervent inclination not to do honest labor. This latter, amid all of the vicissitudes of Jeff’s life, and they have been many, he religiously adheres to, come weal, come woe.
He’s a sporting man, is Jeff. He’s a fakir, when times are hard and a “greeny” falls into his clutches, and he has given the officers of this city and county more trouble than any ten men in it, all put together.
Jeff is always in some difficulty or another, and when not in jail is either in the station house or in a high old way which surely leads in that direction and which will inevitably land him square and flat in the penitentiary. There are several indictments pending against him now, and he is under bond to appear at the March term of the district court. He was, and is, in debt to this city to the amount of several fines and the city took charge of and put him in the lock up.
Jeff didn’t like it. He suddenly became contrite and, simulating full and complete repentance, he pleaded to be permitted to work on the streets with the gang. This request was granted, but his well-known cunning and his “tricks that are vain” moved the officers to heavily shackle and ball and chain him.
This was done, but yesterday, true to his slippery nature, Jeff by some means rid himself of his irons, and before the officer having charge of the gang was aware of that, he made good his escape, and up to a late hour last night he had not been recaptured. Verily, Jack is a veritable Jack Sheppard when it comes to escaping from prison and giving the officers the slip.
The following unique letter was received yesterday by Officer Brown from Jeff Cain, who slipped his shackles a few days ago, and escaped from the city chain gang:
Manor, Texas, February 23rd, 1886.
Mr. Henry Brown: Dear sir.
Would you please be kind enough to send those things of mine to me, and oblige, Jeff Cain. One album, one tooth brush, one shoe buttoner, and that saw of mine. Very respectfully. Jeff Cain. You must not be mad with me this time because I never let no one else get away with me. Give Marshal Lucy my regards, and tell him I will be in again when the district court meets. Ask him if you will let me go, if I stay out of town after court.
As ever. Jeff Cain.
December 22, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the eleventh day of Christmas (1888): “eleven half seas over, mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
Standing under the glare of a great arc light just before midnight in that portion of the city traversed by West Fourth street, an officer said to a reporter:
“That’s a hard place over there.”
“There, where you see that light,” and he pointed to a two-story brick, on the ground floor of which is a saloon. “That is about the hardest place in this city, and it requires constant watching. You had better go over there and take a look at the ranch.”
It was a dreary night with a drizzle and heavy mist filling the atmosphere, while the great arc light cast a baleful glare over the entire neighborhood. Very few people were out even in that quarter of the city where humanity, ever restless, tirelessly tramps through the brooding darkness or in maddened revelry battle against it in dive or brothel. No sleep for weary eyes; no comforting rest for weary hearts in that quarter of town when the shades of night gather.
The building to which the reporter had been directed is a two-story brick, known in the lingo of the neighborhood as the “Devil’s Eyebrow.” The name is appropriate, for it arches over and shadows eyes that see nothing but iniquity in all its horrid deformity. In front of the building on the sidewalk a group of men and women engaged in conversation in which oaths and slang largely predominated. They gave way as the reporter neared the door, and an ominous hush fell over the crowd. They were sizing up the newcomer to see if there was a chance to rope him in for the drinks.
On the inside the atmosphere was reeking with the fumes of stale beer, whisky, tobacco smoke and the odor from damp and dirty clothing. There was a motley crowd of whites and blacks, men and women, in the bar room, while from a rear apartment there were sounds of many voices.
Thither the reporter wended his way, and looking in he saw a hardened crew of blear eyed men and assertive negro and white women of the lowest and most abandoned type. Nearly all were half seas over, and there was a suspicious odor of the fumes of opium permeating the room. They paid no attention to the reporter. In that room the visitor must make the advances, and woe be unto him if he advances too far.
The inmates of the room were scattered here and there, some standing, some sitting, and some leaning against the wall. Some were drinking beer and all had been. The reporter stood by the door and listened to the conversation a few moments. It was horrible. Incomparable, overwhelmingly horrible. Not a word, not a whisper, not a move that betokened even a faint trace of the higher emotions and feelings that move upon the human heart.
It was hell.
The reporter, tired of the scene, passed out of the building and on the sidewalk met two girls coming from a saloon hard by.
“What shall we do?” said one.
“I don’t know,” said the other, and she ripped out an oath or two.
“We can’t let her starve. I won’t let her starve. I’m going to take her to my room.”
They were talking about a waif from a far away city who had just reached town penniless and sick. In all this city there was no place for such. No helping hand save that outstretched by her sisters in iniquity. A sad comment on the civilizations of the day.
“Will it always be so?” mused the reporter as he thought of this waif and hundreds and thousands like her, who have not where to lay their heads when heart-weary and yearning for a better and a holier life.
December 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the tenth day of Christmas (1893): “mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
The young people living in and about Fiskville (about six miles north of town) had congregated that night for the purpose of enjoying a Christmas dance. News of the affair was in some way communicated to two of Austin’s gay and festive young men and they at once concluded to go out and partake of the fun. They were not content to go alone, but hired two buggies and went down to Guy Town, where they secured two fine looking damsels of easy virtue as partners.
As soon as the quartet reached the scene of festivities the Fiskville boys recognized the two rent girls, and vice-versa, and at once proceeded to make life interesting for the big city intruders. They placed the two joyous filles in one buggy and started them back toward the First ward. The Fiskville boys treated their gentleman partners to a different fate. Close by was a pond filled with the muddiest kind of muddy water. The Austin boys were hustled and thrown into the pond, clothes and all, after which their buggy was returned to them and they headed for home, a very crestfallen pair.
December 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the ninth day of Christmas (1868): nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
It was the Saturday before Christmas, 1868, and a local reporter wrote:
We must spend a month of these Saturdays before they will lose the gloss of novelty. Congress Avenue is literally blockaded with vehicles of every conceivable model; and at every available point stand regiments of saddle horses hitched to posts, railings and trees. In passing through the labyrinthine crowds we hear German, Swedish, Spanish and the rich brogue which so charmed Gen. Scott when hankering for Irish votes. The shops are thronged with eager customers who seem to be flush with money, and the din at the restaurants and saloons is something to hear. For an “oppressed people,” this is a hopeful time.
Another feature of the show is suggestive – that is, the free intermingling of colors without misunderstanding. Snowy white and sooty pass and repass without misunderstanding. Mexican women with the complexion of a new jockey saddle, with children of sufficiently lighter shade to suggest the bugbear of miscegenation, seem perfectly at home. Austin is a cosmopolitan city, albeit on a small scale; but why should this peculiarity display itself with more perspicuity on Saturday than on any other day of the week?
It’s like Iggy Pop wrote more than 100 years later, in “Mixing the Colors.”
Out on the edges they’ re mixin’ the colors
Some they don’ t like it but me I don’ t mind
In every city they’ re mixing the colors
Different shades for the whole countryside.
December 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the eighth day of Christmas (1885): an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
On the eighth day of Guy Town Christmas 1885, the Daily Statesman asked, “Is cocaine a poison?”
The use of all kinds of anesthetics was dangerously general among all ages in Austin and the rest of the country, principally alcohol, morphine and chloroform. Even colicky little babies got spoonfuls of “soothing” morphine-based syrup. Medicines mostly just dulled or relieved pain, rather than curing anything.
And then along came cocaine. All other anesthetics paled before its intense power to relieve pain. It would not make an appearance in Austin for another five or six years, yet “Very little is yet known of it and it should never be taken unless under the immediate supervision of a skillful physician,” the wire-service story published in the Daily Statesman warned. Dr. Robert Ogden Doremus, physics and chemistry professor at College of the City of New York, had declared that the cocaine habit was surely superseding the morphine habit among the fashionable anesthetic inebriates. Cocaine was preferred because of its more direct effect.
At the beginning of 1885, Dr. Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow of Vienna, Sigmund Freud and others were touting cocaine as a cure for morphinism, alcoholism, and similar habits. Administered in doses of from one-twelfth to one-fourth of a grain, dissolved in water and hypodermically administered, cocaine was said to cure these addictions within ten days.
While Freud relied on his 7% solution, an 8% cocaine solution was used to prepare patients for ear, nose and throat surgery and during tooth extraction, sometimes with fatal results.
Fleischl-Marxow died a morphine and heroin addict in 1891, about the time cocaine first appeared in Austin; his cocaine addiction cure hadn’t worked.
A bill was being prepared by the New York Medical Society that 1885 Christmas for submission to the state legislature providing for the addition of coca to opium and other drugs forbidden to be sold except on physicians’ prescriptions, the Statesman announced that same eighth day.
Cocaine had been generally adopted into medical practice as a local application to produce insensibility, and its success for that purpose had led to a promiscuous and very hurtful use as a swallowed exhilarant. So great had the demand for it become that, in the form of chewing paste, most drug stores sold it. These preparations were usually put forward as composed of the green leaves of the coca plant, with a slight impregnation of lime, making just such a cud as that which the Indians of Peru chewed to relieve their fatigue and exhaustion. Many New Yorkers had become victims to the coca habit through substituting the drug for tobacco or alcohol, than either of which doctors declared more deadly.
Cocaine made its debut in Austin about 1891 or ’92; on August 16, 1892, shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon a dusky Guy Town damsel overdosed herself with morphine and cocaine (the same destructive “speedball” that killed John Belushi and River Phoenix) and came near “climbing the golden stairs.” The timely arrival of medical aid saved her, however, and she continued to enjoy life as theretofore, to the consternation of Austin police. Could she have been Cocaine Mattie? Emma Tweedle? Molly Hanson? All were denizens of Guy Town and Austin’s most outrageous first crop of cokeheads.
At 11 o’clock August 18, 1894, Cocaine Mattie was arrested and carried to the police station. On the road she screamed and rent the air with language most fane and profane. After being placed in a cell she quieted down and no more was thought of her until about 8 o’clock when she was found to be dead. The doctor said she had been dead four or five hours when discovered. She was laid away unwept for but not unpitied.
December 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the sixth day of Christmas (2016): sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
OK, this event took place in February 1885, but I was at work in Guy Town on the fifth day of Christmas when I discovered an online voice recognition software app for my Chromebook. So on the sixth day of Christmas I gave my lazy fingers a rest and dictated dictated an article about a exploratory trip of legislators and such to the great granite mountain and quarry in Marble Falls that would produce our current capitol (they had been considering Indiana marble.
I downloaded a .txt file of what I dictated my local drive, then cut and pasted text from the resulting .txt file into online Microsoft Word, made my edits, and voila! granite mountain trip 1885.docx , safe in the Cloud and on my SSD. Newly able to create simple Word .docx on my $150 Chromebook without typing will probably be the highlight of my Guy Town Christmas.
Trip of a legislative committee and guests of the Granite quarries of Burnet County and The Marble Falls on the Colorado.
Sunday morning at sharp 6 o’clock was the hour fixed for the gathering of the members of the Senate and House joint committee appointed to inspect and report upon the accessibility and availability of the mountains of granite of Burnet County, the cliffs and beds of marble along the Colorado and Llano rivers in that vicinity. Promptly at the hour, omnibuses whirled up to the Capitol to convey to the depot of the Austin and Northwestern railroad those invited, who had been resolute enough to turn out in the early crisp morning air. The train was in readiness and a brief delay to allow some of the tardy ones of the party to come up, a quick pull of 60 miles over a well-constructed and well-managed road, landed the party at the Burnet Depot where Messrs. Mayberry, Ward, Watson and others of a Citizens Committee were in waiting to escort the party to breakfast at the Watson hotel and to tender the hospitality of the town. A hearty breakfast having appeased whetted appetites the visitors were invited to select from a wilderness of vehicles such as suited the tastes of each, the caravan stretched out for a brisk trot of 14 miles to the Granite Mountain and Quarry. Arriving at the base of the two higher peaks, exclamations of surprise and delight became unbounded and dismounting from their vehicles, all set out in every direction to mount the sides and attain the summit, by no means an effortless feat for the eldest and less nimble of the party. The several ladies who graced the excursion, inspired with enthusiasm and agile emulation, displayed a fleetness and vigor and bounding up the sides and leaving the chasms that taxed the activity of their escorts to keep pace with.
This party being scattered over the crest and down the river side of the highest peaks, a photographic view was made of it from the Quarry Camp, far below in the valley, by one of the Misters Romberg, who numbers amateur photography among his accomplishments. It is doubtful if he succeeded in getting a picture of the animated figures, as they were deeply occupied with the grandeur of the scenery, the delicious sunshine and the balmy airs. The range of view from these peaks representing the varieties of mountains, valley and winding silvery streams, the latter lost to sight in their passage above through clefts in the mountains above and below, stimulates the mind and gives a breadth of thought that would lead the most incorrigible economist and least enterprising of legislators to utilize the rich offerings of nature concentrated here this granite range, which there is no computing the quantity of, extends with ranging altitudes from three peaks on the east away from the Colorado and along the course of the Llano River to Enchanted Rock forty miles distant.
The dinner call brought all the explorers scampering down the mountains to one of the camp cabins where a liberal spread of substantials received proper attention after which several gentlemen addressed the assemblage concentrating the great advantages offered in this locality for the establishment of a self-sustaining penitentiary, and utilizing the vastness of the best and most durable building material and water power, facts which were apparent to all present.
The dinner and speeches being finished, the caravan was again formed for a visit to the lower Marble Falls, two miles distant on the Colorado. These falls are formed of a series of marble shelves reaching entirely across the river where it has a width of 120 or 130 yards the shells ranging in height and distance one from the other of from 2 to 10 feet, and aggregating a fall of over 20 feet, over which the rapid water flows and trembles like a miniature Niagara. The beds and cliffs of the bank here would furnish find marble sufficient to adorn all texts. A photographic view was also taken here and with many of the excursionists in position on the dry rocks at intervals over the falls.
It was now too near the close of day for a visit to the upper Marble Falls, four or five miles distant, and the party prepared for the return, well satisfied and convinced that burn it possessed a wealth of natural adornments. Taking supper at the Western hotel and bidding adieu to the hospitable citizens of Burnet, the happy excursionists were whisked back to Austin, tired but full of satisfaction.