The Easter of the Soul

March 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

For the first time in God knows when, April Fools and Easter days coincide, which is kind of appropriate, since April Fools has its roots in the Christian religion. Such a day for divine deviltry. In that spirit, I re-present the final of O. Henry’s triptych of Easter stories, three stories I have shared in the past, which include “The Day Resurgent” and “The Red Roses of Tonia.” But given this rare convergence of the sacred and profane, this story bears sharing again.

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 be did not understand. With a practised foot be 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 boudabs.”

“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, blos- somed. 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 epergne 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 bienics in der islands, mit kegs of beer under der trees.”

“Say,” said Mr. McQuirk, setting his bat 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 be 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 un-selfishly 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 bow it leads off —

“When the springtime comes well 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 un-concealed contempt. “But there is a new song out that begins this way:

“‘Let us sit together in the old armchair;

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 ball,” 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 beard a well-known shout: “Hello, Dutch!”

“Tiger” McQuirk, in his shirt-sleeves, with his hat on the back of his bead, 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.”



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


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.

The Jack Rabbit’s Way

September 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

A friend had rabbit at his BBQ party the other weekend. It wasn’t Texas jack rabbit. They taste too gamy for most folks and eating their meat undercooked can damn near kill you, or at least make you wish you were dead. Jack rabbits define the word “fleabag.”

And they don’t bother to dig burrows like other rabbits, although they’ll pinch yours, in a pinch. It’s the time-honored Texas way of doing things—do as little work as you can to support your preferred style of living.

Which leads us to a story about Texas jack rabbits and the founding of San Antonio, published in the San Marcos Free Press on February 3, 1887.

Rabbits Demoralizing an Early Texas Colony.

Some of the early immigrants of Texas must have been of a very peculiar stock, to judge from the experience of a certain colony founded in the old Spanish times.
According to Hubert Howe Bancroft’s History [of the Northern Mexican States and Texas, Pub. 1884—Ed.], the Spanish commander Aguayo [Marques de Aguayo–Ed.] had submitted to the King a plan for a settlement at the presidio of San Antonio, which was favorably received and acted upon by the government.

In February 1729, a royal cedula was issued, providing that every vessel from Spain clearing for Havana should take ten or twelve families from the Canary Islands to the latter place, thence to be re-shipped to Texas, whore the king would maintain them for one year.

In 1730 fifteen families arrived, who were joined by a like number from the southern parts of Mexico, and all were settled in the town of San Fernando de Bejar. In order to avoid trouble between the new comers and the Indians about lands and water rights, the governor made a new settlement according to a petition of the colonists.

The new town was named in honor of the Prince of Asturias. It enjoyed the favor of the king in a high degree, and received $12,000 from him towards the construction of a church. But if his royal majesty supposed that after having transported free and supported for a whole year at his expense the colonists would open for themselves the road to prosperity, he was mistaken about the character of his protégés.

The settlers accomplished nothing in the line of improvements, but were content to live by fishing and hunting. The transportation alone of the few families had cost the king $70,000, and when he could see no possible benefit from a repetition of the experiment, the colonization scheme was abandoned.

The Canarians might have prospered well enough in Texas if it had not been for the Texan rabbits [jack rabbits—Ed.]. These innocent looking animals had set the example how to live without exerting one’s self and the colonists were not slow to profit by it.

Says the historian Morfi [Fray Juan Agustín de Morfi—Ed.], who visited the place: “One of the settlers informed me that his father on his arrival in Texas discovered that the rabbits made no burrows, and thereupon told his son that in a country where rabbits made no burrows men need not build houses nor cultivate the land. From that time he had never worked, and had brought up his children according to the theory of their grandfather.”

Missing Photos

August 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

The photos for “The Blessing of the Flock” and “Colquitt Carnival” from yesterday have been added.

The Blessing of the Flock

August 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt blesses a flock of his party’s legislative candidates, October 1912.


Colquitt Carnival

August 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

colquitt carnivalWho is the governor in this photo and who is his first lady?


“Should We Have Another Such Legislature, Would It Not Be Well to Dissolve Our State Government and Get Attached to the Indian Territory?”

June 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

“Around the Texas Capitol this year, it wasn’t unusual to hear the 85th Legislature described as the worst anyone could remember. … this session had more than its fair share of dispiriting moments.  … not much got done. This Legislature passed the fewest bills in years, and while some might argue that’s a good thing, the biggest issue facing Texas—the crumbling school-finance system—went unaddressed. Instead of action, we got grandstanding over school vouchers, property taxes, and, as ever, abortion.” — Texas Monthly, June 2017.

Well, yes, the 85th deserves its place in the history books, but no one alive now is old enough to remember the 19th Legislature, and it was really a doozy compared with the rather tame 85th. Read this chapter from my recent book, Austin Murder and Mayhem, and make up your own mind.

“Should We Have Another Such Legislature, Would It Not Be Well to Dissolve Our State Government and Get Attached to the Indian Territory?”

The lawmaking process is often compared to making sausage. Little good ever comes from any Texas legislative session, but some legislatures grind out particularly wretched sausage. The Nineteenth Legislature (1885) was possibly the rudest, most feckless and most violent legislature in Texas history.

Ah, where to begin with the carryings-on of the Nineteenth…

Let’s start with the evening of Wednesday, March 11, when a disgraceful scene marred forever the history of legislation in Texas.

The Senate was discussing a bill abolishing the office of insurance commissioner, its supporters claiming that the commissioner was little more than a newspaper clipping collector and filer, and that any clerk could do the job. Augustus Houston of Bexar County made an elaborate and forcible argument in favor of its retention.

William Davis of Cooke County replied in his characteristic style and took occasion, as he often did, to ridicule. He compared Houston to a “strutting turkey gobbler.” 066

At the conclusion of Davis’s speech, Houston rose to a question of privilege and stated that in debates, criticisms were often indulged in, but never before had the personal appearance of any member been dragged into the fray, until that “little yellow, sallow-faced mummy and blackguard from Cooke” saw fit to allude to him, and that he was ready to settle the matter outside the chamber, or either within or outside of the state, as the senator might select.

Confusion followed, and the Senate president instructed the sergeant-at-arms to arrest the two senators. Comparative quiet was restored without this extreme measure, but intense excitement prevailed in the lobbies.

Davis arose and said that any senator who would take advantage of his position on the Senate floor to insult a member was a deliberate coward, poltroon and pusillanimous blackguard and that if he (Davis) wanted to raise a fight he would do it outside the Senate chamber.

As he said this, Houston passed from the Senate floor into the lobby, saying as he did so, “Come out, then.”

Davis said he would not go out into a crowd, where he would be prevented from fighting, but that he could be found on the streets, at his boardinghouse or anywhere else outside the chamber.

After quiet was fully restored, Davis took the floor and stated that he had not intended to insult anyone in the heat of the debate and he was sorry that offense had been taken.

Houston replied that if that was the case, he felt sorry, too, and took back all that he had said.

That extraordinary scene in the Senate chamber was all the chief topic of discussion the next day. The belligerent senators had yet to encounter each other, and mutual friends were trying to preserve the peace. There was little hope of an actual reconciliation, but perhaps a difficulty might be staved off. There was no doubt that a very bad feeling prevailed and very little business would be done during the remainder of the session. The Senate was hopelessly cut up into hostile factions, and bickering and antagonism would destroy the hope of the business of the public being cared for.

“Back in the day,” journalists tended to protect the reputations of the sinners they covered—but only up to a point. By March 19, the Galveston Daily News had had enough of the Nineteenth’s shenanigans and ripped the covers off of events in the Senate chamber on Monday night, March 9:

“During the delivery of this speech the senate chamber was a perfect bedlam—shouting, gesticulating, remonstrating, denouncing from all corners of the chamber, pistols were passed around, as cards are dealt at a whist-table. Messengers were dispatched for pistols, knives were taken out and opened, and for a while everyone present was morally certain that bloodshed, if not slaughter, was imminent.”

The hostilities extended beyond the statehouse. A number of legislators were eating supper at Bulian’s restaurant on the evening of March 19. Mr. Merriweather, of Frio County, came in and took a seat. He had a stick in his hand with which he kept tapping Doctor Camp, the member from Limestone. Camp at first paid no attention but finally objected. Merriweather had been drinking and was ripe for a row. Some emphatic words passed, and a fight was prevented only through the intervention of friends. The difficulty was, however, renewed on the sidewalk not long after, and flourishing their walking canes, both the gentlemen made at each other. Speaker Upton, in endeavoring to act as peacemaker, caught one of the blows, a sorry reward for his benevolent intentions. Then others again interfered, and the row was stopped for the night.

On March 28, the Dallas Herald ran the following:

Prepared for War

A few days since, when war was raging in the legislature, and the lie and “sich” was being hurled promiscuously by the members, the constituents of our representative, Mr. R.S. Kimbrough, purchased and expressed him a six-shooter, with the injunction to defend the honor and good name of Dallas county at all hazards. Yesterday the following reply, which explains itself, was received:

Austin, March 27, 1885 — W.G. Sterrett, J.G. Stephens, et al, Dallas, Texas:

My Dear Friend: The “gun” came to hand O.K.—charge 25 cts. Many thanks for the same and accompanying kind expressions. I have loaded her up and am waiting for an opportunity to “distinguish” myself. My friends were very thoughtful, indeed, for a statesman working for $2 per day here would never accumulate enough to buy a 50-cent pistol with which to defend himself and country. I needed it, and my only regret is that you didn’t think of my poor, lone condition among savages sooner. Again tendering my most heartfelt thanks to one and all, I am yours for war and reform.

R.S. Kimbrough

P.S.—The senators don’t come in the house now, except when I am out. K.

   After these preliminary rounds, real blood finally began to flow.

That same morning, March 28, an Austin Statesman headline blared: “Cutting to Kill.”

Between ten and eleven o’clock on the evening of March 27, a very serious stabbing affray occurred almost in front of the Avenue Hotel, involving Tobias Mitchell, correspondent of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and Alexander Sampson, calendar clerk of the Senate.

The origin of the row was a caricature of Sampson in the March 25 issue of the Globe-Democrat, one of a series of burlesque pictures of members of the legislature, with some little accompanying description of the man. Sampson was not at all pleased with his, only a rear view being presented, and his ill temper was ill concealed. The sketch, though a burlesque on the surface, along with the accompanying brief biographical narrative, conveyed a deeper meaning in the light of subsequent developments:

This presents a view of the handsomest part of Major Alex Sampson, the calendar clerk of the Senate. He is the only representative of the Israelites in that body, and has a great reputation for “being seen” as he terms it, or shaping the course of legislation for a reasonable consideration. He is a daisy at securing free railroad passes for himself and “particular friend,” or none at all. Like all of his race, he is possessed of the strong ability to look out for number one, and it is a cold day when a senator can get him to calendar a bill conveniently.

   Other men occupying far more honorable positions with quite as much reputation at stake were hit equally as hard, both by pen and picture, and yet did not consider themselves insulted.

Sampson claimed that he and Mitchell met on the sidewalk near the Avenue Hotel. Sampson told Mitchell that he had been given a rough deal in the paper and cursed the man who did it in terms not fit to be printed. At this, he said Mitchell drew a knife, whereupon he endeavored to do the same, but it caught somehow in his pocket and he could not pull it out. Then he ran, Mitchell after him. Sampson entered the Occidental saloon, followed by Mitchell, and the difficulty was renewed, resulting in the severe stabbing of Mitchell. Sampson’s weapon was a paper knife, double edged and sharp as a razor. Policeman Jim Williams came and arrested both men. Sampson was taken to the police station and released on a bond of $150, for disturbing the peace.

The wounded Mitchell walked to his room. He was bleeding terribly. Doctors Richard Swearingen (state health officer) and Frank McLaughlin were sent for, and they did all they could. The blade had entered at the point of the left shoulder and passed downward in the direction of the axillary artery. The artery was probably severed, the doctors thought, from the great flow of blood. They would not allow him to be talked to, for his life appeared in danger at the moment. (He recovered.)

A friend who heard it from the wounded man’s lips told Mitchell’s side of the story. It differed from Sampson’s statement in one important particular. He admitted having gone into the saloon after Sampson, but his better judgment began to assert itself, and wishing to avoid a scene, he was turning to go when Sampson suddenly sprang forward and stabbed him.

Mitchell was well known in Texas journalism. He was managing editor of the Houston Post before its demise, a well-built, muscular man, weighing about 180 pounds, and possessing great nerve. He was around forty years of age and generally popular, having pleasant manners and a genial smile for every man he met. Scarcely a newspaperman in Texas was better liked.

Although arrested only for disturbing the peace, Sampson would find a far more serious charge to confront the next morning.

Sampson hailed from Galveston, where he was a ward politician. Little was known about him, except that when the legislature assembled, he sought, and was elected, the Senate’s calendar clerk. In the early days of the session, he was earning a reputation as an efficient officer, winning golden opinions from the senators and others who came in contact with him. But his true motives gradually began to reveal themselves.

For more than a month, the moral atmosphere of the capital had been rendering an unpleasant odor. The lobby was filled with whispers of questionable doings, and members of both houses swapped reports of questionable methods indulged in by attaches of the legislature: of bills being extracted from the committee rooms, defaced, altered and mutilated; that officers, mostly clerks, of both houses were professional lobbyists who levied blackmail on every party who appeared before the legislature, interested in either the passage or defeat of a bill.

They levied tribute on all who would yield up a dollar. The advocates of certain new counties were bled freely. When the gambling bill was up, the gamblers were sucked dry. A telegraph lobby that appeared was rich game. The “sailors bill” (which would have prevented foreign sailors from working beyond their ship’s tackle in Texas ports) was tackled when it was first introduced, but it didn’t produce much.

The grand stand of the session was made on the bucket-shop bill. A bucket shop was a private establishment where a customer could put up a specified margin on gold, cotton or other commodities to be delivered on an agreed-upon date in the future. We call it futures dealing. Here the boys expected to make the blood flow freely. They looked for big returns and luxurious expenditures, and some of the ring’s members had planned a trip to New York, Hot Springs and other points when the bucket shop bill was called up.

When the House convened on the morning of March 28, Representative Lorenzo Fisher of Galveston exposed Sampson and company. About a month earlier, Sampson had written a letter to a well-known bucket shop proprietor in Galveston, stating that a pending bill, the bucket shop bill—which would prohibit speculation in grain and stock futures—could be suppressed if the bucket shop men would pay Joseph Tryon, clerk of the house’s Judiciary Committee No. 2, $1500. The bill was killed by placing on it a rider that would also prohibit dealing in futures in cotton and other public exchanges.

The reading of Sampson’s letter on the House floor created a great sensation. Fisher, in a vigorous speech, exposed the doings of the band of clerical blackmailers, who, he said, had infested the legislative halls since the opening of the session.

Sampson was expelled that day.

Tryon was a young man from Houston, according to the Galveston News. He was a generous, impulsive fellow, reckless and thoughtless and could easily be made a tool of by designing men. In conversation with a News correspondent following Sampson’s expulsion, Tryon admitted that others made a cat’s-paw of him, though with loyalty worthy of a better cause, he refused to squeal.

Tryon was expelled on March 30, the day before the legislature adjourned.

They returned to their respective home turfs, evidently with open arms, because in September 1886, Tryon was a candidate for Harris County attorney, and Alex Sampson for Galveston County judge, which the Galveston News regarded as a rebuke to the Nineteenth Legislature.

Sampson would play a prominent role in Galveston’s legal circles and politics for years to come.

The postmortems on the Nineteenth began weeks before its adjournment, and they cut to the bone.

The Fort Worth Gazette declared on March 18, “The legislature has been at work now since the 13th of January, and has nothing but a few local bills and several disgraceful scenes, to show to the people as the result of its labors.”


Hasn’t Texas just a wee bit too much of “good fellowship” in its legislature? A “devilish good fellow” may be place around the stove of a courthouse room or a “store”; but men who make laws should be “honorable” men in “word and deed.” “Tom, Dick, and Harry” and the slap on the shoulder may do for the street, but dignity, self-respect, and a regard for personal, as well as public, rights, are expected of statesmen. There is too much of big-boyism, “kids,” “mugwumps,” etc., at Austin, and the solons have not been without a certain newspaper encouragement in converting the legislative halls of the state into the play-ground of a village school. Indeed, it is likely, from the aid and comfort they received from one newspaper, that “the kids” actually grew to believe that people in Texas had suspended all business and were standing on tiptoe to see what “the boys” would do next; whether they would thump another newspaper man, put a mansard roof on a judge, or curse and abuse each other. Texas is sick and tired of this “kid” business, in the legislature as well as in the university.

The Austin Statesman nailed the lid on the coffin on April 9:

“The Nineteenth Legislature had no intelligent executive suggestions, until at the last hour Comptroller Swain took the bull by the horns and showed the necessity for increased taxation for State expenses, as well as for a law forcing payment for the use of lands set aside for educational purposes. The two measures suggested by him led to the only two valuable enactments of the Nineteenth Legislature.

“The Legislature failed to pass the granite bill—even permitting the capitol to be built of granite. Such was legislation to the Nineteenth Legislature. When will we have such another; and should we have another such legislature, would it not be well to dissolve our state government and get attached to the Indian Territory?”

It’s appropriate to close the books on a joke of a legislature with a joke about it, from the Statesman.

   We do not know how much good or bad the legislature has thus far accomplished. They are still grinding away, but the grinding is like the turning of the crank on a peanut roaster. A countryman from Onion Creek watched a man who was turning the handle on a peanut roaster steadily for half an hour, and then he asked:

   “When are you going to play a tune?”

   He had taken the peanut roaster for a hand organ. The legislators are still turning the crank, but we are unable to determine just yet whether it is a hand organ for the amusement of the people or a peanut roaster for their own private profit.

The Horrors of a Raving Maniac.

June 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

Given the comportments of our country’s current Chief Executive and the Texas Legislature, which can charitably be described as erratic, I have had mad dogs, mad men and mad stones on the brain. And as I am prone to do, I have dug back into Texas’ “good old days,” before the Pasteur vaccine, for a couple of stories about one of humanity’s most dreaded maladies — hydrophobia — which was indiscriminate with regard to its victims, from the lowest street urchin to the mightiest politician.

Both of these articles appeared in the Austin Daily Statesman.

December 21, 1887


A Young Merchant Expires With the Horrible Malady.

A death from the effects of hydrophobia occurred this morning in the town of Anna, the victim being a prominent young merchant by the name of John Herrington, of Petty, in this state.

The deceased went on a business trip to Denton county three weeks ago, and, while there encountered a dog afflicted by hydrophobia, which he made an effort to kill by shooting, but failed and was bitten several times on the face. He came immediately to Anna, where a farmer by the name of McKinney lived, who is the possessor of a mad stone, which has been used successfully in cases of hydrophobia for more than half a century.

The stone adhered tenaciously to the wound, drawing out large quantities of poisonous matter, and it was thought the patient was relieved. He returned to his home at Petty and entered upon his business duties.

In about a week he was suddenly attacked with hydrophobia, evincing great fear of water and having all the prominent symptoms of the disease. He was taken immediately to the mad stone, but received no benefit, and for ten days past suffered the horrors of a raving maniac, till this morning death relieved him of his suffering.


September 5, 1882

Hon. George A. Reeves

His Death Yesterday Of Hydrophobia.

A private dispatch to your correspondent tonight announces the death at noon today, at his home in Grayson county, of Hon. George A. Reeves, speaker of the present Texas house of representatives, and a candidate for reelection to the new legislature. His death was one of most horrible character.

He was bitten about a month ago by a rabid dog. He had mad stones applied but they did no good. A few days ago he showed symptoms of approaching virulent hydrophobia, and two days ago the attack was so bad it was necessary to tie him in bed. He frothed and snapped and raved in the most virulent manner, without cessation, till death. Physicians were in constant attendance but could not relieve him.

Mr. Reeves was one of the best known and best liked public men in Texas, He was born in Crawford county, Arkansas, about sixty-five years ago. His father, William Reeves, represented Crawford county in the Arkansas legislature upwards of forty years ago.

He moved to Texas thirty-eight years ago, settled nine miles from Sherman at old Ft. Georgetown, then in Fannin county, but now a part of Grayson, and the family has resided there ever since.

The deceased was a deputy sheriff in 1845; was major in a Texas regiment during the war between the states; had several times been a member of the legislature, and years ago presided over the house as speaker, the same position he occupied at the time of his death. Mr. Reeves was a planter and a man of more than ordinary ability.

One strange thing about his life was that in almost forty years’ residence in Texas he had never visited Galveston.

A Curious Will.

June 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

This story has nothing to do with Austin except that it appeared in the April 25, 1892, edition of the Daily Statesman, and I found it as entertaining as the Statesman’s editors and readers no doubt did. It was reprinted all over the world for decades after his death.

Canmedaj01489-0107-aDr. William “Tiger” Dunlop (1792-1848) was an army officer, surgeon, Canada Company official, author, justice of the peace, militia officer, politician, and office holder. He is notable for his contributions to the War of 1812 in Canada and his work in the Canada Company, helping to develop and populate a large part of Southern Ontario (the Huron Tract). He was later elected as a Member of the first Parliament of Upper Canada. Find out more about Tiger at

A Curious Will. 

Here are the principal portions of a will made by Dr. Dunlop, at one time a member of the Canadian Legislature:

“I being in sound health of body and mind, which my friends who do not flatter me say is no great shakes at the best of times, do make my last will and testament … .

I leave the property of Gairbread … to my sisters Helen Boyle Storey and Elizabeth Boyle Dunlop, the former because she is married to a minister, whom may, God keep him, she henpecks, the latter because she is married to nobody, nor is she likely to be, for she is an old maid and not market ripe.

I leave my silver tankard to the eldest son of John, as the representative of the family. I would have left it to old John himself, but he would have melted it down to make temperance medals, and that would have been a sacrilege. However, I leave him my big horn snuff box; he can only make temperance horn spoons out of that.

I leave my sister Jennie my Bible, the property formerly of my great grandmother, Betsy Hamilton of Woodhall, and when she knows as much of the spirit as she does of the letter she will be a much better Christian than she is.

I leave my late brother’s watch to my brother Sandy, exhorting him at the same time to give up Whiggery and Radicalism, and all other sins that do most easily beset him.

I leave my brother-in-law, Allan, my punch bowl, as he is a big gausy man, and likely to do credit to it. I leave to Parson Cherussci my big silver snuff box I got from the Simcoe Militia, as a small token of gratitude to him for taking my sister Maggie, whom no man of taste would have taken.

I leave to John Caldwell a silver teapot to the end that he may drink tea therefore to comfort him under the affliction of a slatternly wife.

I leave my books to my brother Andrew, because he has been “jingling wally,” that he may yet learn to read with them.

I leave my silver cup with the sovereign in the bottom of it to my sister Janet, because she is an old maid and pious and therefore necessarily given to hoarding, and also my grandmother’s snuff box, as it looks decent to see an old maid taking snuff.

What “Might Have Been.”

May 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

I offer this story for what it is, a reflection of the times: nothing more, nothing less. History is seldom pretty or simple. But we cannot ignore it.

July 29, 1901

“Old Uncle John Price,” Who was Known to Many Austinites

Editor, Statesman.

A short time ago the Austin Daily Statesman contained this simple notice. John Price, colored, was buried yesterday, aged 65.

That was all.

Few of those who read that short notice knew or cared who John Price was or had been. Just one more old Antebellum nigger shuffled off.

Brief as that paragraph was it revived memories in the hearts of a few.

Back in the stormy sixties, General W. R. Hamby, Captain W. C. Walsh, General A. S. Roberts, John G. Wheeler of Manor, Garland Calvin of Watters, Dr. L. D. Hill, physician at the Confederate home, and myself, all members of old Company D, Fourth Texas regiment, Army of Northern Virginia, knew that old negro and knew him well.

In camp, on the march, wherever the fortunes of war carried Hood’s Texas Brigade, Old Uncle John was there.

At the field hospital, a little back from the line of battle, where the wounded and dying are hurried in ambulances and on litters, that brave old black Samaritan could be seen, busy preparing bandages, scraping lint or helping the surgeons and nurses.

A field hospital is no bomb proof position, and it takes nerve, lots of it, to stay there and work to alleviate the agonies of the wounded. I had rather be on the firing line anytime than at a field hospital in close proximity to a battle.

As a rule, soldiers of every nation fire, too high while in action, and many of the shot and shells pass over the heads of the men at the front and do great damage in the rear, where the field hospitals are always established.

The Tom Green Rifles, afterwards Company D, Fourth Texas regiment, was the first company to leave Austin in the spring of 1861. John T. Price, former Sheriff of Travis County, was fifth sergeant in the company and took “Yeller John,” the only negro he owned, with him as body servant and cook. It was a familiar sight back in those eventful days to see Old Uncle John flooding along the dusty roads in Old Virginia, literally loaded down with cooking utensils, blankets, canteens and haversacks. Perhaps there were government mules that carried heavier loads of plunder than old John, but none of them carried a more general assortment or got to the place of destination any sooner.

Honest as the days were long, he was faithful to every trust and stuck to his old regiment through thick and thin. A negro cook in the Confederate Army had more privileges than his master, and could take shortcuts and forage through the country, as he was not required to stay in line or answer to roll call. The boys would furnish John with money, he would strike out through the rural districts parallel with the route of the army and at night come into camp loaded down with good things for old mess no. 5.

Some of us will never forget the old man at Gettysburg. On the memorable night of July 2nd, 1863, the Texas Brigade lay on the side of the mountain in a broken disordered line, the crest of the ridge 50 yards above us covered with Federal infantry and artillery. Both armies were whipped and both were vicious. The snapping of a twig or the misplacing of a stone brought a shower of many balls down upon us. All night we lay there, not speaking above a whisper, with our haversacks and canteens empty.

Just as the gray dawn was breaking Old Uncle John came slipping up the mountain with a camp kettle full of boiled beef, a bag of boiled roasting ears, cold water biscuits and several canteens of cold water. He had rambled up and down the line for hours hunting the Fourth Texas Regiment, which was a mere fragment in that great Army.

Giving the provisions to Lieutenant McLaurin he dropped down behind a big boulder and in two minutes was sound asleep. The heavy load and long search had worn the old man out, and he slept like a log with cannon booming all around him.

He had many opportunities to go with his so-called friends the federals, but he clung to those he knew and was as proud of his gray uniform as many of the Confederate soldiers. Many of the Negro cooks and body servants abandoned their masters on the Maryland and Pennsylvania raids but old John remained true through it all.

When the remnant of Lee’s army stacked arms at Appomattox on the 9th of April 1865, Old Uncle John with his white friends, what few were left, turned his footsteps westward and homework. Barefooted, ragged and hungry he tramped back to Texas, back to the land and people he loved, and for all this faithful devotion he has at least received his reward, a pauper’s grave.

The Statesman was misinformed in regard to the old man’s age; he was nearer 80 than 65. When the American National Bank of Austin was organized Major George W. Littlefield, president, and General W. R. Hamby, cashier, gave Old Uncle John the position of porter. This place he kept for a number of years, really to the detriment of the bank, for the old man was not able to do the work required of him.

Then they pensioned him on $10 per month, relieving him of all labor, paying him $2.50 every Saturday night. He soon became too feeble to care for himself, was alone in the world without kindred, and strange to say of one of his race was an old bachelor.

Knowing the history of this old man’s life, knowing how true he had been to his white friends in the Army and how he still stood by them through the dark days of reconstruction when his own color threatened to lynch him, I made an appeal through the Statesman to the managers of the Confederate home. I simply asked them to give the old man a place to rest his weary old bones and something to eat out of the bountiful supply of provisions out there. My appeal met with cold indifference.

In fact it was not noticed at all and the fate of this brave old black Confederate was “over the hills to the poorhouse.”

John was a proud old darky and felt the humiliation of becoming a pauper and he knew the days of his usefulness were gone, and bent with years and toil he accepted the charity of the county and now like Old Uncle Ned in the song:

“There is no more work for poor old John,

He’s gone where the good niggers go.”

That everlasting “might have been” looms up before us wherever we go and like the little word “if” is always chiding us and making us unhappy. We the old soldiers who knew John in the Army might have provided for the old man simple wants and not have permitted him to die at the poor farm a beggar.

But now that he has crossed over the Border beyond the reach of human ingratitude, Christian charity or what “might have been,” let’s do something that no ex Confederates have ever done before. Lest we forget the old man dead like we neglected him while living, let’s build a monument to his memory. A shift of grey granite will not cost much and it will be a fitting tribute to the services and faithful devotion of this old negro to the dead Confederacy.

I spoke to General Hamby, cashier of the American National Bank of Austin, in regard to this matter. And he heartily approves of it. He knew how faithful John had been through all those long years of Civil War and told this anecdote about him.

“John reached home before the federals arrived in Austin. It was on the morning of July 4th 1865 when the federal cavalry entered the city. The Sunday before their arrival John brushed up his old faded grey uniform and remarked to General Hamby’s mother, ‘Well, Miss Louisa, this is the last time I will ever wear this old uniform. The Yankees are coming and won’t let me wear it anymore.’”

True to the last and braver than some of our old soldiers, for I know one fellow who burned his uniform for fear the Yankees would find it and get him into another war. Some soldiers had a better excuse than that for burning their old clothes.

Now, if there are any who have any sympathy with this novel but worthy object and are willing to contribute toward building a modest shift over this faithful old colored Confederate, they can leave or send their contributions, no matter how small, to General Hamby. He will receipt for all monies contributed to the John Price Monumental Fund and at the proper time publish the names of the contributors in the Austin papers.
Signed, Val C. Giles

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