May 11, 2017 § Leave a comment
This little story comes from my unpublished (and likely to stay that way) biography of Ben Thompson in Austin, and comes in response to a thread on Facebook today (May 11, 2017) about the present Texas Capitol and the limestone quarry at Oak Hill’s “Convict Hill.” The capitol was to have been built with Convict Hill limestone, but the rust stains resulting from the iron pyrite nodules that riddled the stone rendered it unfit for exterior use, prompting the use of the beautiful pink granite from Marble Falls.
On February 22, 1884, there was a kind of picnic out at Oatmanville (present-day Oak Hill), seven miles from Austin. The syndicate that was building the new Texas capitol had its rock quarries at Oatmanville, and the leading citizens, including Governor Ireland and other state officials, were invited out to look at the work. There were about 130 persons present.
While the picnic was in progress, who should drive up but prominent gambler and former city marshal Ben Thompson, in a handsome carriage drawn by a fiery team of horses. On his right was Colonel Bingham Trigg, Ben’s attorney and ex-city attorney. In the back seat sat Mr. C. D. Johns, the recorder of the City of Austin, by whom Ben had frequently been tried. The fourth gentleman was Ben’s long-time friend and defense attorney, George Pendexter, who was now Austin City Attorney, chief prosecutor of violators of the law. The appearance of this strangely assorted quartet on the grounds created some little sensation. For a time, they mingled with the other excursionists and partook of the cakes, oranges, cigars, etc., provided by the generous agents of the capitol contractors.
Sauntering up to Governor Ireland, Ben excused himself for not having come out sooner. “I was detained by my friend, the Recorder here, who fined me ten dollars for some fun I had yesterday; but, as your Excellency will perceive, I am fixed now. I’ve got the Court, and the Prosecuting Attorney, and my own counsel, and the corpus delicti, which is me, all in the same vehicle. If I commit any illegal indiscretion, we stop the carriage right in the road, and try the case then and there. I pay my fine, if my attorney can’t persuade the Court that I’m innocent, and then we drive on until I commit a fresh indiscretion.”
Governor Ireland smiled, and made some bantering reply, after which Ben and his friends resumed their places in the vehicle. Off they went at a breakneck speed, headed back to the capital city along the winding path from Oatmanville, amid the solitudes of a Texas cedar brake, Thompson driving the horses with one hand, while he plugged the trees with the revolver in his other hand. Recorder Johns joined in the fun as well, fairly matching Ben shot for shot, it is said.
But the eagle eye and acute ear of Travis County Deputy Sheriff Pace, whom Johns had fined $100 and costs (the maximum allowed by law) a few weeks earlier for discharging a pistol within the Austin city limits, were open. Pace happened to live in the township of Oatmanville, and when the rattle of the volleys awakened the echoes in the glens, he hastened thither and beheld the city recorder of Austin shooting his gun “on and across a public highway” in the State of Texas, which was a misdemeanor. No matter if the road be the poorest of paths, the law protected the poor as well as the fat. “Strictly in the line of his duty,” the Statesman remarked, tongue firmly planted in cheek, Deputy Pace caused information to be filed against Recorder Johns on two charges: one for carrying a pistol and the other for shooting “on and across a public highway.”
The charges were filed before Justice of the Peace D.C. Pace, one of the deputy’s brothers. Turnabout was indeed fair play in this matter, and as Deputy Pace had been before him, Recorder Johns was in it for all it cost, to get out of the meshes of wisdom surrounding a court of justice.
As it turns out, the cases against Johns were dismissed by the Travis County Attorney on March 3, on grounds that the facts didn’t constitute a violation of any state statute, or as Johns put it, “No violation of any law of either God or me.”
Officer William Howe made complaint on the evening of February 23 against Ben, charging him with shooting a pistol in his presence. Ben was not arrested, and afterwards rode around Austin in a buggy, firing his pistol off several times, just as he had done on the day he returned in his buggy from Oatmanville. This might have been very interesting for Ben, but it was certainly not amusing to the people whose lives were endangered by so much promiscuous shooting.
That night, Ben borrowed a hand organ from an Italian name of Michlo Penilo and went to several places about the city serenading his friends. When he took it back, Penilo said it was broken. Ben politely told him it was not, and requested the mendicant to “grind it,” which he did not seem inclined to do. Ben gave Penilo to understand he had to grind. Then Ben told him it had too much wind anyway and proceeded to shoot it out. After Ben had fired several shots at it, its usefulness as a hand organ was at an end. Ben was promptly arrested by Officer Callahan, and the next day he pleaded guilty and paid his fine, $10 dollars and costs, and also paid Penilo for his music box.
Penilo moved to San Antonio shortly thereafter, where he took up residence with his sister, Ignaciano. Fighting the world together, saving, scraping and denying themselves everything or anything which was in any way expensive, thus by degrees a sum of money was accumulated in one of the San Antonio banks to the amount of about $400, but over the half of which belonged to Ignaciano. Both seemed inordinately affectionate and doing all in their power for each other’s interests.
The sister’s show of love to her brother seems to have been sincere, but the brother’s was evidently a snare whereby to gain the sister’s confidence, and to have the whole power of managing the money in his hands. How this power was abused the unfortunate sister came to know when Michlo, drawing the whole sum from the bank, almost two months to the day after Ben deprived him of his livelihood, decamped for parts unknown, leaving her almost penniless.
On February 27, 1884, the Statesman noted, “Ben Thompson had a happy time late Saturday night and Sunday morning. He must have been omnipresent, for there is hardly a locality in the city that does not lay claim to be honored by the ‘whang’ of his gun. His young companions, too, are getting more glory than they like, it is surmised.”
Theodore Hillyer, one of the young men who was with Ben that Saturday night and Sunday morning, was charged before the recorder with discharging a pistol within the limits of the city. A similar charge was also filed against Ben. But the case against Hillyer for having a pistol was dismissed because he was a deputy sheriff, and thus permitted to carry arms.
Ben could have cared less; after he paid off Penilo the organ grinder he left town on the 6 p.m. Houston and Texas Central train. February 26 was Mardi Gras day, and King Dionysus in Galveston was beckoning. Ben changed trains at Houston and took the Texas and New Orleans to Galveston, arriving at 9 on the morning of the 25th.With all the festivities and the prevailing royal atmosphere that so appealed to Ben’s British roots, Mardi Gras was Ben’s favorite holiday, apart from Christmas with his family.
April 17, 2017 § Leave a comment
Well, here we are the day after Easter 2017, and I am only just now paying my intermittently annual Easter tribute to O. Henry. But that’s OK, even appropriate, in a way. He was late to his own funeral.
O. Henry’s short stories are not rife with Christian themes and sentiments, although they do often involve a sense of social justice and sympathy for the down-and-out that is consistent with the teachings of Christ.
While in Austin, O. Henry — or Will Porter, as he was then known — was a regular church-goer and sang in every church choir that would have him (he had a wonderful bass voice). During his prison experience (1898-1901) until his death in 1910, there is no evidence that he regularly – or seldom – attended church. But that is not my point today, nor does it particularly interest me, one way or the other.
In a delicious twist of irony that he would have enjoyed, Christian book stores sell collections of his short stories and the noted atheist, Ayn Rand, once wrote of him, “More than any other author, O. Henry represents the spirit of youth, specifically the cardinal element of youth: the expectation of finding something wonderful around all of life’s corners.”
O.Henry is acknowledged as a master of puns, as well as surprise and ironic endings; hence the punny end to this post’s title. Easter bunnies hop, of course, and O. Henry was a hops head, when it came to beer, at any rate.
Will Porter, who could drain a 32 oz. fishbowl of beer without pausing, once summed up the two loves of his life in Austin, in four lines:
“If there is a rosebud garden of girls,
In this wide world anywhere,
They could have no charm for some of the men,
Like a buttercup garden of beer.”
O. Henry wrote three Easter-themed short stories during his short career: “The Red Roses of Tonia,” “The Easter of the Soul,” and “The Day Resurgent.” On past Easters the Blunderbuss presented “The Red Roses of Tonia” and “The Easter of the Soul.” This year, “The Day Resurgent.”
“The Day Resurgent”
I can see the artist bite the end of his pencil and frown when it comes to drawing his Easter picture; for his legitimate pictorial conceptions of figures pertinent to the festival are but four in number.
First comes Easter, pagan goddess of spring. Here his fancy may have free play. A beautiful maiden with decorative hair and the proper number of toes will fill the bill. Miss Clarice St. Vavasour, the well-known model, will pose for it in the “Lethergogallagher,” or whatever it was that Trilby called it.
Second–the melancholy lady with upturned eyes in a framework of lilies. This is magazine-covery, but reliable.
Third–Miss Manhattan in the Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday parade.
Fourth–Maggie Murphy with a new red feather in her old straw hat, happy and self-conscious, in the Grand Street turnout.
Of course, the rabbits do not count. Nor the Easter eggs, since the higher criticism has hard-boiled them.
The limited field of its pictorial possibilities proves that Easter, of all our festival days, is the most vague and shifting in our conception. It belongs to all religions, although the pagans invented it. Going back still further to the first spring, we can see Eve choosing with pride a new green leaf from the tree _ficus carica_.
Now, the object of this critical and learned preamble is to set forth the theorem that Easter is neither a date, a season, a festival, a holiday nor an occasion. What it is you shall find out if you follow in the footsteps of Danny McCree.
Easter Sunday dawned as it should, bright and early, in its place on the calendar between Saturday and Monday. At 5.24 the sun rose, and at 10.30 Danny followed its example. He went into the kitchen and washed his face at the sink. His mother was frying bacon. She looked at his hard, smooth, knowing countenance as he juggled with the round cake of soap, and thought of his father when she first saw him stopping a hot grounder between second and third twenty-two years before on a vacant lot in Harlem, where the La Paloma apartment house now stands. In the front room of the flat Danny’s father sat by an open window smoking his pipe, with his dishevelled gray hair tossed about by the breeze. He still clung to his pipe, although his sight had been taken from him two years before by a precocious blast of giant powder that went off without permission. Very few blind men care for smoking, for the reason that they cannot see the smoke. Now, could you enjoy having the news read to you from an evening newspaper unless you could see the colors of the headlines?
“‘Tis Easter Day,” said Mrs. McCree.
“Scramble mine,” said Danny.
After breakfast he dressed himself in the Sabbath morning costume of the Canal Street importing house dray chauffeur–frock coat, striped trousers, patent leathers, gilded trace chain across front of vest, and wing collar, rolled-brim derby and butterfly bow from Schonstein’s (between Fourteenth Street and Tony’s fruit stand) Saturday night sale.
“You’ll be goin’ out this day, of course, Danny,” said old man McCree, a little wistfully. “‘Tis a kind of holiday, they say. Well, it’s fine spring weather. I can feel it in the air.”
“Why should I not be going out?” demanded Danny in his grumpiest chest tones. “Should I stay in? Am I as good as a horse? One day of rest my team has a week. Who earns the money for the rent and the breakfast you’ve just eat, I’d like to know? Answer me that!”
“All right, lad,” said the old man. “I’m not complainin’. While me two eyes was good there was nothin’ better to my mind than a Sunday out. There’s a smell of turf and burnin’ brush comin’ in the windy. I have me tobaccy. A good fine day and rist to ye, lad. Times I wish your mother had larned to read, so I might hear the rest about the hippopotamus–but let that be.”
“Now, what is this foolishness he talks of hippopotamuses?” asked Danny of his mother, as he passed through the kitchen. “Have you been taking him to the Zoo? And for what?”
“I have not,” said Mrs. McCree. “He sets by the windy all day. ‘Tis little recreation a blind man among the poor gets at all. I’m thinkin’ they wander in their minds at times. One day he talks of grease without stoppin’ for the most of an hour. I looks to see if there’s lard burnin’ in the fryin’ pan. There is not. He says I do not understand. ‘Tis weary days, Sundays, and holidays and all, for a blind man, Danny. There was no better nor stronger than him when he had his two eyes. ‘Tis a fine day, son. Injoy yeself ag’inst the morning. There will be cold supper at six.”
“Have you heard any talk of a hippopotamus?” asked Danny of Mike, the janitor, as he went out the door downstairs.
“I have not,” said Mike, pulling his shirtsleeves higher. “But ’tis the only subject in the animal, natural and illegal lists of outrages that I’ve not been complained to about these two days. See the landlord. Or else move out if ye like. Have ye hippopotamuses in the lease? No, then?”
“It was the old man who spoke of it,” said Danny. “Likely there’s nothing in it.”
Danny walked up the street to the Avenue and then struck northward into the heart of the district where Easter–modern Easter, in new, bright raiment–leads the pascal march. Out of towering brown churches came the blithe music of anthems from the choirs. The broad sidewalks were moving parterres of living flowers–so it seemed when your eye looked upon the Easter girl.
Gentlemen, frock-coated, silk-hatted, gardeniaed, sustained the background of the tradition. Children carried lilies in their hands. The windows of the brownstone mansions were packed with the most opulent creations of Flora, the sister of the Lady of the Lilies.
Around a corner, white-gloved, pink-gilled and tightly buttoned, walked Corrigan, the cop, shield to the curb. Danny knew him.
“Why, Corrigan,” he asked, “is Easter? I know it comes the first time you’re full after the moon rises on the seventeenth of March–but why? Is it a proper and religious ceremony, or does the Governor appoint it out of politics?”
“‘Tis an annual celebration,” said Corrigan, with the judicial air of the Third Deputy Police Commissioner, “peculiar to New York. It extends up to Harlem. Sometimes they has the reserves out at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street. In my opinion ’tis not political.”
“Thanks,” said Danny. “And say–did you ever hear a man complain of hippopotamuses? When not specially in drink, I mean.”
“Nothing larger than sea turtles,” said Corrigan, reflecting, “and there was wood alcohol in that.”
Danny wandered. The double, heavy incumbency of enjoying simultaneously a Sunday and a festival day was his.
The sorrows of the hand-toiler fit him easily. They are worn so often that they hang with the picturesque lines of the best tailor-made garments. That is why well-fed artists of pencil and pen find in the griefs of the common people their most striking models. But when the Philistine would disport himself, the grimness of Melpomene, herself, attends upon his capers. Therefore, Danny set his jaw hard at Easter, and took his pleasure sadly.
The family entrance of Dugan’s café was feasible; so Danny yielded to the vernal season as far as a glass of bock. Seated in a dark, linoleumed, humid back room, his heart and mind still groped after the mysterious meaning of the springtime jubilee.
“Say, Tim,” he said to the waiter, “why do they have Easter?”
“Skiddoo!” said Tim, closing a sophisticated eye. “Is that a new one? All right. Tony Pastor’s for you last night, I guess. I give it up. What’s the answer–two apples or a yard and a half?”
From Dugan’s Danny turned back eastward. The April sun seemed to stir in him a vague feeling that he could not construe. He made a wrong diagnosis and decided that it was Katy Conlon.
A block from her house on Avenue A he met her going to church. They pumped hands on the corner.
“Gee! but you look dumpish and dressed up,” said Katy. “What’s wrong? Come away with me to church and be cheerful.”
“What’s doing at church?” asked Danny.
“Why, it’s Easter Sunday. Silly! I waited till after eleven expectin’ you might come around to go.”
“What does this Easter stand for, Katy,” asked Danny gloomily. “Nobody seems to know.”
“Nobody as blind as you,” said Katy with spirit. “You haven’t even looked at my new hat. And skirt. Why, it’s when all the girls put on new spring clothes. Silly! Are you coming to church with me?”
“I will,” said Danny. “If this Easter is pulled off there, they ought to be able to give some excuse for it. Not that the hat ain’t a beauty. The green roses are great.”
At church the preacher did some expounding with no pounding. He spoke rapidly, for he was in a hurry to get home to his early Sabbath dinner; but he knew his business. There was one word that controlled his theme–resurrection. Not a new creation; but a new life arising out of the old. The congregation had heard it often before. But there was a wonderful hat, a combination of sweet peas and lavender, in the sixth pew from the pulpit. It attracted much attention.
After church Danny lingered on a corner while Katy waited, with pique in her sky-blue eyes.
“Are you coming along to the house?” she asked. “But don’t mind me. I’ll get there all right. You seem to be studyin’ a lot about something. All right. Will I see you at any time specially, Mr. McCree?”
“I’ll be around Wednesday night as usual,” said Danny, turning and crossing the street.
Katy walked away with the green roses dangling indignantly. Danny stopped two blocks away. He stood still with his hands in his pockets, at the curb on the corner. His face was that of a graven image. Deep in his soul something stirred so small, so fine, so keen and leavening that his hard fibres did not recognize it. It was something more tender than the April day, more subtle than the call of the senses, purer and deeper-rooted than the love of woman–for had he not turned away from green roses and eyes that had kept him chained for a year? And Danny did not know what it was. The preacher, who was in a hurry to go to his dinner, had told him, but Danny had had no libretto with which to follow the drowsy intonation. But the preacher spoke the truth.
Suddenly Danny slapped his leg and gave forth a hoarse yell of delight.
“Hippopotamus!” he shouted to an elevated road pillar. “Well, how is that for a bum guess? Why, blast my skylights! I know what he was driving at now.
“Hippopotamus! Wouldn’t that send you to the Bronx! It’s been a year since he heard it; and he didn’t miss it so very far. We quit at 469 B. C., and this comes next. Well, a wooden man wouldn’t have guessed what he was trying to get out of him.”
Danny caught a crosstown car and went up to the rear flat that his labor supported.
Old man McCree was still sitting by the window. His extinct pipe lay on the sill.
“Will that be you, lad?” he asked.
Danny flared into the rage of a strong man who is surprised at the outset of committing a good deed.
“Who pays the rent and buys the food that is eaten in this house?” he snapped, viciously. “Have I no right to come in?”
“Ye’re a faithful lad,” said old man McCree, with a sigh. “Is it evening yet?”
Danny reached up on a shelf and took down a thick book labeled in gilt letters, “The History of Greece.” Dust was on it half an inch thick. He laid it on the table and found a place in it marked by a strip of paper. And then he gave a short roar at the top of his voice, and said:
“Was it the hippopotamus you wanted to be read to about then?”
“Did I hear ye open the book?” said old man McCree. “Many and weary be the months since my lad has read it to me. I dinno; but I took a great likings to them Greeks. Ye left off at a place. ‘Tis a fine day outside, lad. Be out and take rest from your work. I have gotten used to me chair by the windy and me pipe.”
“Pel-Peloponnesus was the place where we left off, and not hippopotamus,” said Danny. “The war began there. It kept something doing for thirty years. The headlines says that a guy named Philip of Macedon, in 338 B. C., got to be boss of Greece by getting the decision at the battle of Cher-Cheronoea. I’ll read it.”
With his hand to his ear, rapt in the Peloponnesian War, old man McCree sat for an hour, listening.
Then he got up and felt his way to the door of the kitchen. Mrs. McCree was slicing cold meat. She looked up. Tears were running from old man McCree’s eyes.
“Do you hear our lad readin’ to me?” he said. “There is none finer in the land. My two eyes have come back to me again.”
After supper he said to Danny: “‘Tis a happy day, this Easter. And now ye will be off to see Katy in the evening. Well enough.”
“Who pays the rent and buys the food that is eaten in this house?” said Danny, angrily. “Have I no right to stay in it? After supper there is yet to come the reading of the battle of Corinth, 146 B. C., when the kingdom, as they say, became an in-integral portion of the Roman Empire. Am I nothing in this house?”
April 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
In the early months of 1917, war fever against Germany was rising all over the country. The United States entered the world war on April 6, 1917, the same week as the word “jazz” first appeared in print in Austin, in a Columbia Records ad in the Austin American announcing “Hong Kong,” a new “Jazz One-step” recorded by Prince’s Band.
April 6, 2017 § Leave a comment
He said, she said.
Did he or didn’t he? Did she or didn’t she?
I’m not going there.
There’s blame enough to spread around.
But one thing is sure. Definitions of what constitutes rape have evolved over the years that have mostly benefited the female victims, and mostly brought about by the unrelenting work of progressive women, and women’s organizations.
One hundred thirty years ago today–April 6, 1887–the Austin Daily Statesman closed the book on
The Laws That Were Passed by the Twentieth Legislature.
A Resume of the Laws Enacted During the Last “Weary Three Months.”
That handful of laws included
“Chapter 10 [H.B. No 47].–An act to amend article 528, chapter 7, title 15, of the penal code, more fully defining rape,
It reads as follows:
Article 528.—Rape is the carnal knowledge of a woman, without her consent, obtained by force, threats or fraud; or the carnal knowledge of a female under the age of ten years, with or without consent, and with or without the use of force, threats or fraud; or the carnal knowledge of a woman other than the wife of the person having such carnal knowledge, with or without consent, and with or without the use of force, threats or fraud, such woman being so mentally diseased at the time as to have no will to oppose the act of carnal knowledge, the person having carnal knowledge of her knowing her to be so mentally diseased.”
A Victim of Life’s Circumstances?
Wash Hardy was sentenced to be hanged on July 23, 1897, having been tried and convicted in the district court of Victoria County for the offense of raping young Florence Williams, daughter of a respected citizen of color of Houston’s Second Ward. But on July 21, two days before the trapdoor was to be sprung, Governor Charles Culberson commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
On March 15, 1896, Sheriff Albert Erichson, through the Houston Daily Post had advised all officers to look out for and arrest Wash Hardy, described as “a coal black negro about 50 years of age and about 5 feet 8 inches high, clean shaved except a small moustache, which he constantly twists. He has a wart or growth over left eye, generally wears a crush hat with crease in center and tilted over left eye, usually carries an old overcoat of a red or light brown color and makes a living playing upon a tin flute.
“He is wanted for the abduction of Florence Williams, a ginger cake colored girl 10 years of age, rather slight built, wide between the eyes and flat nose, has small mole or dark spot on right side of nose near eye. They were last seen near Cold Spring, in San Jacinto County, at a wood camp.”
A $25 reward was being offered for his arrest.
On August 4, 1897, as Hardy settled into his new for-life style, the Daily Statesman reported:
THE GOVERNOR’S REASONS
For Commuting the Life Sentence of Wash Hardy of Victoria.
HARDY A VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
It Seems That The Girl In The Case Was Quite Willing In The Cohabitation, Though She Said To The Contrary.
In regard to his recent commutation to life imprisonment of Wash Hardy, Governor Culberson offered this explanation:
Hardy was a man of color, as was the female, a girl alleged to have been about 11 years of age at the time the offense was committed. It seemed from the testimony and accompanying papers that the conviction rested largely on the charge that the female was less than 15 years of age, want of consent not being essential in that case, but there were many indications in the record that she consented to the acts of defendant, inasmuch as they were well acquainted with each other in Houston, went together from there to Victoria, and lived together, occupying the same room and the same bed for many weeks at Goliad and Victoria, and she could have prevented the outrage by making complaint.
Florence testified on the trial that her failure to make complaint was due to threats of defendant, but this had to be taken in connection with the distinctly proven fact that the defendant was often away from the place where she was stopping, and at those times complaint could have been made without opportunity on his part to injure her before his arrest, Culberson said. While the evidence of the mother and father of the girl was to the effect that she was about 11 years of age, when questioned closely, particularly the mother, no satisfactory answers were made to questions tending to show her actual and real age. The case could, therefore, be said to be one of carnal knowledge of a female, probably with her consent, and whose exact age at the time of the commission of the crime was in doubt. …
As was the case in such matters, the state board of pardon advisors carefully considered Hardy’s case. The Board of Pardon Advisors, created in 1893, comprised two individuals chosen by the governor, who assisted him by reviewing applications and making recommendations for executive clemency. The board was able to review more applications and examine these more thoroughly than the governor was able to do, which resulted in more pardons being granted.
On June 29, the board reported to the governor: “The facts show that applicant had been visiting this girl at her grandmother’s house in Houston for some time, but finally the two left and went to Victoria, where they lived together as man and wife, applicant, however, was claiming that the girl was his daughter and telling this story to the negroes with whom he boarded in Victoria. Applicant evidently committed rape on the child, but it was apparent that it was with her consent. We do not think the character of the offense is such as to justify the death penalty, and therefore advise that the sentence be commuted to life imprisonment in the penitentiary.”
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.
March 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Three: Tired of the Buffets of This World
Mrs. Eva Taylor
A gentleman coming into Austin, Sunday morning, March 16, 1884, over took a beautiful woman about four miles from the city walking towards Austin leading two charming little children. She was a brunette, with hair black as the plumage of a Spanish chanticleer, fair clear complexion, her features very regular and marked with more than ordinary beauty, she possessed dark and liquid eyes full of soul expression and withal she was a woman so remarkable in her personal appearance as to attract attention anywhere, for added to these charms mentioned she possessed a full symmetrical form almost perfect in its contour. The girl was a handsome blonde of perhaps 8 years of age, bright and sweet as a little child could be. The other child, a little boy was about two years and a half old.
As the gentleman came up to her side, she asked for a ride, and he took her and her children into Austin. The lady and her children went to the Hubbard house, which was over Weed and French’s livery stable, and at about 11 in the morning engaged a room for the night, she and her children entering it immediately.
In a short time she came out and inquired where she could find Dr. J.W. McLaughlin, stating she wanted to see him. When noon dinner was announced, the two children came out, but their mother did not appear. The little girl was asked where her momma was and she replied that she was asleep and did not wish to be awakened. The lady arose about a quarter to three and wrote several letters, after this she borrowed a quarter of a dollar from the landlady and about four o’clock went out to the street and remained away from the house about an hour or more, returning about five o’clock and immediately went to her room again. Here she remained very quiet until half past eight, when she again left the house, returning just as the folks were getting back from Sunday evening church, probably about nine o’clock.
The little girl said that when her mother returned she emptied some white stuff into a tumbler, poured water on it, and drank it, taking a drink of water after she had taken the powder. She then told her little girl she was going to sleep, and if she should die before morning to tell the folks at the hotel to send her to her grandpa in Pine Bluff. She then lay across the bed without removing her clothing.
The next morning when the children came to breakfast, they said their mama was asleep and they could not wake her. On going to the room she was found lying across the bed in a very comatose condition from the effects of morphine. Physicians were sent for at once but before they arrived poor Eva was dead. A Daily Statesman representative visited the chamber of death and saw the beautiful woman in her last sleep, and indeed she looked as if she were but pleasantly sleeping. The girl was interviewed and the bright little thing gave a clear account of herself and mother as far back as she could recollect. Her story was this:
Her mother’s name was Mrs. Eva Taylor, and they formerly lived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a town of commercial importance on the Texas and St. Louis railroad. Her father was a carpenter, and at a time when her little brother was just old enough to sit alone, he went to some place not far from Pine Bluff and a stick of timber fell upon him, striking him in the head. She says he was brought home with a bad headache and in a short time died.
They lived about a year after his death with Mr. Taylor’s father, and then came to some place in Texas. It was in the country, and the child could not remember the name of the place. While they were living at this place a Mr. Roberts came to see mama, and they went to live with him. She said they went on the cars and they took the train in the morning and left it about dark, getting off at a station not far from where this Roberts lived.
She said that Mr. Roberts and her mother had trouble about her and her little brother, and her mother took them and started to walk to the city. She was overtaken by the gentleman heretofore mentioned, and he gave them a ride to Austin. The little girl’s name was Blanche Taylor and the boy’s name was George Taylor. Not a paper nor anything else could be found upon her person that would give any clue to the motive that prompted their beautiful mother to take her life. She did not have a cent of money and no doubt the 25 cents she borrowed went to pay for the poison with which she ended her beautiful young womanhood. Doubtless the letters she wrote and probably mailed, when she went out at four o’clock Sunday afternoon told the trail of her grief.
Everyone wondered what prompted this beautiful woman’s self destruction, leaving bright and promising babes orphaned by her tragic end, left, too, a thousand miles from home and friends to the charity and mercy of strangers. She was placed by the hands of public charity in a lowly pauper’s grave later that day.
Marshal Grooms Lee received the following telegram on March 19, 1884:
SAN ANTONIO, March 18, 1884. City marshal, Austin, Texas:–Go to Cloud’s stable and get two children of Eva Taylor and put in charge of conductor and send them here. Will pay expenses. Telegraph what train, CHAS. SAYERS.
Judge Z.T. Fullmore, of the county court, had made arrangements to adopt Mrs. Taylor’s two little children, but a telegram was received from their grandfather in Arkansas asking that they be sent to him.
G.M. Taylor, Eva Taylor’s father-in-law, a farmer, arrived in Austin on April 10 from Conway, Arkansas, to pick up the children and Eva’s personal effects. He told the sad story everyone in town wanted to hear.
His son, James R. Taylor, when 18 years old, married 17 year old Eva Lee (the deceased) on March 29, 1874. Little Blanche was born July 1, 1875, at Jackson, Arkansas. George Felix followed on December 12, 1881. They lived as a happy family until James was struck by the piece of timber that killed him. James soon died of brain inflammation on January 16, 1883, caused by the head injury.
After this they moved to Gatesville, Texas.
Mr. Roberts, was keeping a saloon in Gatesville at the time, and G.M. Taylor said that Roberts began to court her and made propositions of marriage. An old family friend by the name of Scott induced her to get away from Roberts’ influence and move to Lampasas. Roberts followed her there, the day of the marriage was set for some time in January, she writing to her father-in-law and others to that effect.
But instead of marrying her he took her to his ranch as a house keeper. Taylor said that Roberts acknowledged that he was engaged to marry her, but claimed that he refused to comply with the contract on account of Old Man Scott’s defaming her, saying that he did not cause her trouble but that Scott was responsible for it. Scott indignantly denied Roberts’ accusation. The details mattered little: love, disappointment, and a feeling of hopelessness caused the beautiful Eva to seek her own destruction.
February 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Two: Rash Acts
Cora May Sloan
On Saturday evening, May 13, 1882, when a group of Austin printers on an excursion bound for San Antonio stopped at Kyle for refreshments they might have noticed an engaging young girl, about 16 or 17 years of age, attending to them at the refreshment stand. Those who did were somewhat astonished when they learned a few days later of her death – brought about by her own premeditated act. Her name was Cora May Sloan. Sometime during Sunday morning, and in consequence of some family matters, the girl received a slight chastisement (or perhaps only a correction) from her father, which made her very angry. Later in the morning she had an engagement with a young man in the neighborhood, to take a stroll. When the young man failed to meet his appointment the girl went to his residence to ascertain the cause of his not coming.
The young man not being at home, she asked the father if he (the son) was not going to keep his engagement with her; the father informed her that he did not know. She then asked him where his son was, and he replied that he thought he had gone out on the prairie somewhere. The girl upon hearing this immediately retraced her steps home and upon arriving there sat down and wrote a note giving her reasons for committing the rash act which caused her death. She put the note where it would be found and then took a large dose of strychnine. She was buried on May 15. From the wording of the note which she left, she must have written it in a fit of anger, as the language used was extremely harsh and bitter.
William G. Smith
On Christmas Day 1883, a tall, slender and handsome young man, age 23 years, William G. Smith, a native of Waco and well known in Austin, married at Meridian, Bosque County, a variety actress named Lizzie Mack, between 18 and 19 years old, a blonde with melting blue eyes, golden hair, seductive smiles, plump figure and blandishing manners.
Young Smith’s parents were wealthy and owned considerable property in Waco at their deaths. Will, who was “wild,” became infatuated with Lizzie, the daughter of Annie Mack, who ran a variety show in Waco, near the toll bridge where Smith was employed. They eloped and went to Meridian, and their elopement and marriage created considerable sensation in the Waco society circles at the time.
Lizzie, who appeared before the foot lights as the favorite of several variety theaters, finally came to the vaudeville show in San Antonio, where she attracted many admirers and succeeded in arousing the intense jealousy of her liege lord. He threatened to kill himself frequently, and they quarreled many times over the fact that she had ceased to care for him, but had cast the witchery of her smile over other admirers.
She finally wrote him a note announcing her intention of abandoning him, and requesting him to forget her as she had forgotten him. He then commenced to write her notes, telling her that he was going to kill himself, that she had murdered him as much as if she had taken a pistol and blown his brains out herself. He said he could not live after she had ceased to love him, and forgave her and gave her his blessing. He wanted her when he was dead to telegraph to his brother Bob in Waco, who would send after his body.
On Saturday, March 17, 1884, he purchased ten cents worth of morphine from Ragsdale, the druggist, and recorded his name in the poison book. Ragsdale had asked him if he knew the dose, he told Ragsdale he only wanted a small quantity.
Sunday he came back to Ragsdale, and as there was nothing suspicious in his actions, Ragsdale sold him 25 cents worth more. He got 8 grains of morphine from Ragsdale and 25 cents worth of cigars.
He then went to his room, where he and his wife had a quarrel and he told her he would commit suicide, poured a white powder into a glass and started to drinking, but before he could do so she struck the chalice from his lips and the glass fell to the floor and was broke into fragments.
He then cried, quarreled and went off again. On his return, he told her he had taken poison and she became scared and started off to send for a doctor. This was about five o’clock Sunday evening.
As she started he told her he was only fooling and wanted to find out if she still cared for him. His wife, however, thought it best to send for a doctor anyway, and told Mr. August Loux to go after one. Loux thought he was trying to worry here, and did not think that Smith had taken the deadly narcotic. Smith finally persuaded his wife that he had not taken the morphine, and sent her off to Market street to fit up another room which they had rented.
A Mrs. Flagg, one of the lodgers at the same house, suspected something wrong after Smith’s wife had gone, and she went to his room, when, looking into the door, she saw him sleeping with his hand to his face, but his face was very much discolored, breathing heavy and stentorious. He also groaned.
Flagg called to her husband, he went to Smith and tried to arouse him, but failed. Flagg and Loux both went for a doctor. Flagg brought the renowned Doctor George Cupples about half an hour later. Doctor Cupples said Smith was too far gone to be saved, but he would do his best, and administered strophine hypodermically, and afterwards Doctor Julius Braunagel assisted Doctor Cupples. Both worked faithfully. The antidote had a slight effect, produced partial restoration, but he died about 8 o’clock.
His family at Waco were appraised by telegraph of his rash act. A dispatch was received Monday from Bob Smith, the brother of the deceased, another from Mr. Sturgis, announcing that the former was on his way to San Antonio take charge of the remains. The brother of the deceased arrived Monday night, and took the body to Waco, passing through Austin on the 11 o’clock train. A large number of the friends of the deceased went to the station to pay respect to the remains as they passed through the city.
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.
February 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
January 18th 1878:
The beautiful mud
Oh, the mud, the mud, the beautiful mud,
how our feet go down with a sickening thud
into the slippery, slimy slush
that fills the streets of the city of mush.
It lies on the crossings, it covers each walk,
It forms the chief topic of gossip and talk.
It bespatters the person from ankles to nose
And dooms to disgrace all our favorite clothes.
Don’t talk about storms that shutter whole fleets.
The sea has no peril like mud in the street.
It discounts the smallpox, and makes us profane
while we flounder in puddles and struggle in vain.
I could live in a land where rattlesnakes creep,
Could smile amid perils far out on the Deep.
Could be happy where troubles rush in like a flood,
anywhere, anywhere out of the mud.