The Big Fight-Sisterdale

Jack Hays’ Big Fight at Walker’s Creek

In Sisterdale, on Sunday June 8th, historical enthusiasts from across Kendall County and beyond are observing the 170th anniversary of the battle of Walker’s Creek – Jack Hays’ Big fight at the Sisterdale Dance Hall.

Jack Hays came to Texas late in 1836, worked as a surveyor, and commanded a roving Ranger company based in San Antonio in the 1840s. The Big Fight on Walker Creek made his name; one of the many brush-fire fights between Hays’ Rangers and Comanche raiders, who came down from the Southern Plains to make free with any horses, captives and portable loot they could carry away. In the summer of 1844, Captain Hays took a patrol of fourteen volunteers into the hills, looking for Indian raiding parties. One of his men was a Yankee from Maryland – Sam Walker, who had survived the Texian raid on Mier, the Black Bean Draw and an escapee from a stint in a Mexican prison. They were returning along an old trail between San Antonio and the deserted San Saba presidio. Near Sisterdale, a little short of where the trail crossed the Guadalupe River, they were about to set up camp for the night, when one of the Rangers spotted a honey-bee hive. The temptation of something sweet couldn’t be resisted, but when he shinnied up the tree, he looked back along the trail and saw they were followed by a dozen Comanche warriors.

The Rangers saddled up; seeing they had been spotted, the Indians turned away, heading off towards a timber-lined ravine nearby … obviously hoping to draw the Ranger troop into an ambush. Jack Hays held fast, and within minutes more than seventy impatient Comanche boiled out of the tree-line and the Rangers advanced. Likely the Comanche were surprised and unnerved; they fell back across the ravine and gathered on the summit of a low hill, where they dismounted and taunted the Rangers in Spanish – a language that Comanche and Texian had in common.

They had the high ground but the Rangers had a secret weapon – the newly-invented patent Colt Paterson 5-shot repeating pistols. Most had two, and Jack Hays had drilled them well. He led his troop around the knoll, and up another ravine, announcing themselves with a shout and a volley of rifle-fire. The Comanche rallied around their leader; Yellow Wolf, experienced in the customary way of war, in which they waited to draw fire from single-shot weapons, and counter-attacked in a flurry of arrows as the Texians reloaded. This process could take as long as a minute. But the Rangers threw aside their single-shot long guns and charged with their pistols. It turned into a bitter running fight at such close quarters that many participants were branded with powder burns. Jack Hays had trained and drilled tirelessly. It was a rout for the Comanche, faced with a weapon where the attacker had as many bullets to command as fingers on a hand. At the moment when the Rangers were about out of time and gunpowder, a fortunate shot by the only Ranger with a loaded rifle dropped Yellow Wolf. The survivors of his war party turned and ran.

Two years later, that skirmish was immortalized in the annals of American invention. At the start of the American war with Mexico, Sam Walker was back east, consulting with his fellow Yankee inventor Sam Colt about a redesign of the revolving pistol. Sam Walker wanted a heavier, sturdier, and less-complicated version – it would eventually be called the Walker Colt. At the urging of Sam Colt, Walker did a sketch of skirmish on the hills above Sisterdale and eventually it was embossed on the barrel of the improved revolver. And that’s the way it was, in the summer of 1844.

When the Railway Came to Town

Choo choo ch’boogie

by Celia Hayes

From the earliest days, San Antonio was strategically located at the meeting of two major roads – the Camino Real, the roughly east-west road between Monclova and Mexico City and Natchitoches in Louisiana, and the Camino Del Norte, roughly a north/south route with many variations, but generally running between San Antonio and Laredo and points south. Strategic indeed, in the days of mule trains, ox-drawn freight wagons, horse-drawn stages and messengers on horseback, with goods and settlers arriving by sail and steam in coastal ports in Mexico, along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast.

It took more than a decade after the end of the Civil War for San Antonio to be connected by steel rails to the rest of the country. The railway arrived in early 1877, much longed-for and received with much civic rejoicing. San Antonio was the very last major American city left un-served by a railway. The upper mid-west, east of the Mississippi-Missouri rivers had been thickly interconnected, even before the Civil War, the south less well so. Within four years after the war, the steel rails connected east and west, with the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, Utah. From that year to the end of the century the railways ruled. Travel to far places in the west was made easier, faster, safer and cheaper. Goods and people flowed west – and the change which the railway brought to San Antonio is made clear to me in comparing a pair of city views of San Antonio in a style very popular at that time birds-eye views, half panorama and half city map. The Amon Carter museum has a good collection of such views of Texas cities. Artist and map-maker Agustus Koch made the first map of San Antonio in 1873; I have a copy of it hanging over my desk at this moment. In that year, the River City was what it had been for the previous two decades or so: a tight-packed cluster of Monopoly-shaped houses around Military and Main Plaza, lining a few blocks of Soledad and Flores, much of the length of Commerce street down to Alamo Plaza, where the Long Barracks and the old Alamo chapel are clearly identifiable. All the rest of town is a scattering of more small houses along straight-ruled avenues and open squares, rectangular and triangular plazas, all of them surrounded with gardens, orchards and open meadows. King William is marked out, to the south and east, and the first glimmerings of Southtown are clear; but the town unravels into rural within six or eight blocks in any direction from Commerce.

After the railroad arrived, Agustus Koch returned in 1886 to create an updated map. Those spaces which were gardens and relatively open fields were filled in; the streets presented an aspect of side-by side urban businesses and residences, taller and more imposing than the old single-story or two story structures that once had lined the city streets. A mule-drawn streetcar system connected the railway station on one side of town to the pleasure-grounds around the original San Pedro Springs on the other, shifted the business district north to Houston Street, and allowed residential neighborhoods to spread in every direction. The Army, finding that what remained of the historic presidio and the plaza before it was just too small for their needs, had decamped to a new establishment, Fort Sam Houston, on the low hills north of the city. The 1886 map shows the Quadrangle, and the parade grounds – and most clearly of all, the rail lines which had made all the difference between being a small and rather remote town, and a city of local and national significance.

Texas Transportation Museum

The Steel Rails of Yore

by Celia Hayes

I have to admit that I have been driving past the Texas Transportation Museum ever since I moved to this city (ulp) nearly twenty years ago and discovered that Wetmore Road was an especially speedy means of getting from my home in the north-east quadrant to the area around the airport. I was just not sufficiently motivated to stop in and check it out – which since it is only open on Friday and weekends, and I was usually driving past during the week … well, I had no particular reason to visit until this weekend. I am currently scribbling the first draft of another historical novel set in Texas, this one in 1876-78, and with a large portion of it set in San Antonio. Those years were significant, for a couple of different reasons.

The United States celebrated the Centennial in 1876 – a whole hundred years as a nation, which at times had seemed like being a pretty close-run thing. The long and brutal Indian wars with the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Apache had been briskly wrapped up, making large tracts of western land safe for settlement, the Civil War was eleven years in the past, although it would not be forgotten – and most importantly for San Antonio; it was finally connected to a railroad – the last large city of any size, east or west, to do so.

This led to a local boom in business and in transport, much of which is documented on the Transportation Museum website. In the bare space of those years, a bustling new neighborhood grew up around San Antonio’s first rail terminal, somewhat to the north of then-downtown. It was known as the Levee, for the way in which the tracks had to be laid on a strip of artificially built-up ground – just about where IH-35 cuts through Milam and Sherman Streets. The original terminal building is so long-gone that only a couple of pictures exist of it, as it was. But the railroad depot was also the impetus for a mule-drawn streetcar system, and very soon those streetcar lines formed a network … and the sleepy adobe-built frontier village was subsumed.

There are two birds-eye city maps of San Antonio, the first from the early 1870s, in which San Antonio is mostly green space and wide tan avenues surrounding a thicker cluster of buildings around Commerce, the twin plazas and Soledad, all tangled about with the blue-green ribbon of the river. In the second, from the 1880s, the railroad has arrived; the network of streets, all tightly packed with businesses and houses has spread and spread again, reaching nearly to the parade ground and the Quadrangle at Fort Sam. And it was the railroad arriving, which made all that difference.

The Transportation Museum documents much of that on their website – almost more thoroughly than in their current displays. The museum is entirely run by unpaid volunteers, and I would guess on a shoe-string budget. There are some neat old rail cars on display in the open air – gosh, that was the way to travel, back in the day, in a Pullman car, with nice little beds that pulled out, or down for the night, and with a restroom-lounge where one could change…There is also a large barn with more historical cars and carriages on display, as well as a huge model railway set-up. It’s all very much a work in progress, and candidly not a threat to the California Railway Museum in Sacramento … but then, California has other problems of its’ own. Still, it’s a great place for an hour or so, especially for kids, who would never have seen rail travel, save for in the movies.

Nimitz Museum Fredericksburg Texas

Museum of the Pacific – Re-enactor Daze

by Celia Hayes

Among the attractions of Fredericksburg, the queen of the Hill Country is the Museum of the Pacific War. Ever since I started visiting the Hill Country (shortly after coming to settle in a tiny suburban San Antonio home) in 1995, the Museum has been expanding by leaps and bounds. On my very first visit it seemed that everything was pretty much contained within the old Nimitz hotel, the steam-boat shaped edifice at the corner of Main and Washington, with the Japanese peace garden out around in back. At a slightly later date, there was a open-sided shed with sides of chain link, down across Town Creek which contained some large and small relatively indestructible exhibits … but that was it. Until they began the Bush gallery, on an empty lot in back which faced Austin Street, and even that wasn’t very much to look at … at first. First it was completed, and then enlarged – maybe enlarged again. The garden alongside the old hotel was also renovated and landscaped, so that it looked more like it did at the end of the century before last – when the Nimitz Hotel was the social center/assembly room/auditorium/performance space for the area.

There is a picture that I have seen in old histories of the area, of the garden as it was – with roses and hop vines growing up over cedar pergolas. Old Charles Henry Nimitz, Admiral Chester Nimitz’s grandfather had built up the hotel from the four-roomed adobe house which existed on that particular town lot in the 1850s. He was quite a character, C.H. Nimitz – he had a reputation as a prankster and tall-tale-teller, but also was one of the most respected and successful town fathers; in the early days, the garden at the side of the hotel was a kind of beer garden. Now it is a garden again, but a little more ornate than before … and the Bush gallery with all the indoor displays is huge. All the displays and relics which used to be in the old hotel building are there, and expanded upon.

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation took over management of the hotel property in 2005, and has never looked back … well, in the archival sense, they have looked back. As for the museum complex? It’s now an excellent addition to Fredericksburg as a destination for sightseeing. The front of the Bush gallery – which seems to be about six times larger than it was on the first time I visited — is adorned with what appears to be a submarine rising up from the depths. The Japanese mini-sub captured at Pearl Harbor, which used to be out in the garden, is now in its own exhibit space in the Bush gallery. Down the road a little way and across Town Creek, the out-of-doors Pacific War Zone is now three acres and change. They have a whole PT boat there, and a vintage hospital operating theater set up in a Quonset hut, and an open-air beachhead exhibit, which is the venue for extensive reenactments throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for the weekend of June 30-July 1. If you miss it, there won’t be another one until the first weekend in September. Which, considering the brutal summer heat of South Texas, is probably a good ideal. Still, I can’t help thinking that the very best thing that you can do for your birthplace is to grow up and become very, very famous.

San Antonio The City of Waters

City of Waters

It only makes sense that San Antonio would be most famous for – after the Alamo – for the Riverwalk. The downtown landscaped banks of the San Antonio River are a tourist draw without peer. Less well-frequented, or newer developments – say, through King William and Southtown, or along the new Pearl Brewery-Museum Reach are a secret and treasured green-space as well as a breath of fresh air for residents.

The existence of the San Antonio River is more than just a happy coincidence and landscaping opportunity; when San Antonio began to expand and industrialize in the late 19th century, the river provided power for establishments like C.H. Guenther’s Pioneer flour mill – as well as power and a necessary ingredient for breweries like the Pearl and Lone Star. It was also noted by travelers and early residents like Mary Maverick that the very nicest houses in town had gardens which backed on the river – where residents could cool off in the afternoon with a dip in the cool water. The very fact that there was a constant and plentiful source of water existing in this otherwise rather dry region was the reason that San Antonio was founded here to begin with.

When Spanish exploring parties first reached the area in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, they found Indians camping around the San Pedro Springs, in the present-day Olmos Basin and on the grounds of Incarnate Word, near Broadway and Hildebrand. There was where many of the springs which fed into the San Antonio River originated. Taking full advantage of every drop of water emanating from the springs, the Spanish established a string of missions along the River. Being accustomed to the construction and maintenance of elaborate irrigation systems – in use for centuries in Spain since the time of the Romans – the missionary fathers constructed an elaborate series of ditches and aqueducts to conduct water to the fields where it was needed. The irrigation system – or acequia for the Espada Mission is still largely intact. Other missions – including the Alamo itself – had their own water systems to water their own farmlands. There is still a narrow water canal in the gardens behind the Alamo chapel today.

The historic springs were the outfall of the Edwards Aquifer; a kind of enormous geologic sponge – which the limestone plateau of the Hill Country soaked up. The hills gathered it up – and places like the San Pedro Springs, the Comal Springs in New Braunfels, and Jacobs’ Well near Wimberley are some the places where it leaked out. (The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) gets the vast majority of the water for all of its San Antonio water customers from wells in the Edwards Aquifer.)

One of the most spectacular springs which fed into the San Antonio River was later called the Blue Hole. It actually gushed out of the ground with great force. 19th century visitors to the area described the scenic wonders of the various springs in prose which verged on the purple, describing the clearness of the water, the beauty of the waterfalls and pools, the ferns, water-lilies and reeds, while wistfully speculating on the presents of water nymphs and naiads. This area became a place for recreation and Sunday afternoon gatherings: in the late 19th century there was a beer garden, a pavilion for dances, and of course – swimming pools. Alas, as the Edwards Aquifer was drilled into in many other places, the natural fountaining effect was diminished and many springs ceased to flow at all, save after heavy rains. To this day, though – the rivers and the springs and the areas around them are still cherished as parks.

Lockhart Texas The Capital of Texas BBQ

Road Trip: The Capital of Texas BBQ

by Celia Hayes

Having reason last Saturday to go up to Lockhart, to participate in an evening fund-raising event to support the Eugene Clark Library, my daughter and I thought; let’s drive up in the early afternoon and take a look at the sights of historic downtown Lockhart; a district of several blocks centered on the archetypal Texas courthouse in a square with a number of businesses housed in classic late-19th century or early 20th century buildings.

It’s a short drive from our San Antonio home, all things considered, and a fascinating place to spend a weekend afternoon. We would hit a couple of thrift and antique shops, check out one of the four notable BBQ houses, and generally have a relaxing afternoon. Lockhart is a mere hour and a bit drive away: up IH35 to San Marcos, as if going to Wimberly, but instead of turning left and going through downtown San Marcos and past the university, turn right and just carry on until a left turn on Hwy 142, which leads straight into the heart of lovely downtown Lockhart.

There is a weekly farmers’ market in the mornings – which we missed – but we had been told about a consignment shop called the Citrus Peel and my daughter was enthused. She came up with a winner immediately; a leather Doney & Burke mini-planner . . . and a charming funky vintage handbag shaped like a western saddle. We both loved it, talked about over lunch and went back for it, agreeing to split the cost and custody, having never, ever seen the like of it before. (Looking it up online, there are a handful of them in the same design: Mexican tooled leather, but different colors and slightly different pommel/cantle detail. Not mass-manufacture; likely a craftsman in a leather-goods shop in a border-town, doing them one at a time for the tourist trade.)

We chose BBQ at Kreuz Market for lunch, which was good, if not quite as sublime as we had expected. The side dish beans were excellent, and the hot German potato salad had an admixture of sauerkraut in it – very tasty. Afterwards, people told us we should have gone to Blacks, or Smitty’s. The first rule of road-food: always go where the local people say they go.

We were also referred to the Main Street Gallery, which is set up in a lofty old building which the owner, Johnny Lay, explained had used to be a stable. Now it is fully stuffed with lovely antique furniture, stained glass panels that my mother, the stained glass hobbyist, would give her eyeteeth to be able to replicate. There is a case of Civil War era tintypes and daguerreotypes, most of them just the size to fit into a pocket, and some really splendid art glass. There was also a long shelf of books; among the few things that I could afford. This is one of those antique shops which I would love to furnish an entire house from, once I have become a very rich and famous writer. (The other is Back Alley Antiques, in Artisan’s Alley here in San Antonio).

We finished up at the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches, open on Saturdays and by appointment; which guided tour was a great deal more fun than most guided tours usually are. The single most amusing item in the museum is a concoction of dark mahogany which once belonged to showman PT Barnum: A clock-desk-music-box-organ, which was stored in a local barn for nearly seventy years and restored by the museum staff. They also have the original works from the clock in the tower of the courthouse . . . which has also been recently restored.

It’s a short drive from our San Antonio neighborhood, all things considered, and a fascinating place to spend a weekend afternoon.

 

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Museum Reach of the San Antonio Riverwalk

Our Riverwalk

by Julia Hayden

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the downtown Riverwalk is the heart of San Antonio – after the Alamo, it’s the other completely unique tourist attraction. Water, trees and skinny riverbank gardens in the heart of a high-rise city – not many other places like it, and all hail Robert Hugman, the architect-genius who conceived the idea of a riverbank promenade, lined with shops and adorned with bridges and gardens.

Water and plenty of it drove the establishment of a settlement and missions here in the first place: an oasis in what was otherwise near enough to a desert. Early San Antonio looked to the water, measured out careful amounts through the acequias, the irrigation ditches. By the mid-19th century, travelers and visitors noted that many of the best houses had gardens that stretched down to the riverbanks, and there were little bathhouses and pavilions, so that residents could go swimming in the hot afternoons. Mills and breweries also sprouted up along the river, having a need for fresh water, or water-power . . . and now we are turning to the river again.

My daughter and I had business at the Pearl Brewery last week and we thought – oh, let’s bring the dog, and explore the new part of the Riverwalk, which we had seen from previous excursions to the Farmer’s Market and to La Gloria. So off we went, intending really to only go a few blocks – my daughter was only wearing light sandals, hardly the right footwear for a prolonged city trek. But once we got down to the level of the new walkway and gardens, there was just too much temptation to go a little farther, just around this bend, to see this bit of river, this view, the school of flying fish suspended underneath the IH-35 – hey, they light up those fish at night, how cool is that?

We walked past little bits of reconstructed marshland, banks covered in jasmine, the locks that lift the river-taxis up to the slightly higher river level, patchwork gardens of native plants, the tilework bench at the river-landing by the old convent school that is now a school of art and crafts, a fountain behind a classical-style arcade . . . the oldest VFW post in Texas – housed in an old white mansion which looks like it escaped from the set of Gone With the Wind, and bits of art, everywhere. There also seemed to be a lot of birds – not only the usual pigeons and ducks. Under one of the concrete bridges, swallows had built dozens of nests. There was a water-bird of some kind, standing so perfectly still, on a rock in the water-garden opposite the Museum of Art that at first we thought it was a sculpture itself. But it wasn’t – and the hawk that roosted on top of a telephone pole near the AT&T building, leisurely dining on fresh-caught pigeon (we knew it was a pigeon because the feathers were falling down all around us) – that definitely wasn’t a sculpture.

We walked all the way down to the Commerce Street bridge and back: it was marvelous, and well worth the cost. The downtown Riverwalk may belong to the tourists – but the new reach; that belongs to us locals.

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Personal Art

Personal Art

by Julia Hayden

Well, it is personal, the stuff that you hang on the wall, or put on the shelf to ornament the particular place where you live . . . and anything original and artistic, and not done by you or any member of your family . . . that’s even more personal. Seriously, I’d like to be a mega-best-selling author just so that I could afford to buy some of the original art that I have seen, here and there around San Antonio. I know that most of those artists would like very much to sell something to someone who can afford it, like me – so everyone would be happy. (Even more, I’d like to have a larger house with wall space enough to properly display those objects d’ art that I would like to buy, but one thing at a time.)

The original art that I do have in my house . . . four of them are paintings that I bought, and one was a gift to my mother, who gave it to my daughter for safe-keeping, which was just as well, because if Mom hadn’t given it to my daughter, it would have burned with just about everything else that was in their house when the big fire swept through in 2003. My daughter wound up with it, because it’s a painting of two cats. This is nice: two cats in my house who do not need to use a litter box . . . something of a welcome change.

Two of the paintings were bought for my daughter’s room when she was a baby. There was an art show in a mall in California, and I saw them, and thought what wonderful, fantasies they would be, to hang on the wall of a children’s room: a children’s birthday party, in a magical garden, of flowers and children playing, the cake and the presents on the table and roses growing over a yellow house in the background. The other was of a pink elephant and other creatures in another magical garden. The painter’s name was Martha Krohn: I went to her house to buy the two paintings, since I didn’t have the money on me. The inside of her house was entirely hung with her paintings – one of these was actually in the laundry room.

There were actually three paintings by the other artist: she was Spanish, married to a serviceman at Zaragoza AB, and I had a table next to her at the NCO Wives’ Club Christmas bazaar, one year. I was selling Cabbage Patch doll clothes, which were going like hotcakes, and she had only made one sale all the day. She was so discouraged that I bought the small one of boats on the shore, because it looked like the sea front in Greece. She had painted it from a postcard. I bought two larger ones later: one was of a street market in Spain, which I later gave to my brother as a wedding present. The one that I have left, I have to put in an out-of-the-way spot in the house, because it is of a Spanish religious procession, a confraternity – in their robes and with their drums and banner, carrying a pair of religious icons through the streets – and people who don’t know about confraternities assume it’s a particularly flamboyant chapter of the KKK.

So – it’s not a spectacular collection, not like Marian Koogler McNay’s . . . but I get by.

 

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Gotta love the Bass Pro Shop at the Rim in San Antonio. A retail outdoor sporting goods venue blown up to the size of an aircraft hangar and styled like a mad collision between an Adirondack lodge and

Created Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:05

Venturing Out to the Rim

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Having a weekend day free – and feeling a touch of cabin fever after four days of ice-cold-oh-my-heck-I-think-I’m-gonna-freeze-winter-weather (San Antonio style), the Daughter Unit and I felt a deep need to get up and get out someplace. Like to a movie – and what about (suggested the Daughter Unit, with a calculating look) seeing a movie at the Palladium! Yes, indeed – said the Daughter Unit with that expression of calculated pleading that she has perfected since she was about four years old – let’s go see . . . The King’s Speech at the Palladium! Eh – me, I’d have held out for the remake of True Grit, but seeing that practically everyone who had watched The Kings’ Speech was singing hosannas of jubilant praise . . . why the heck not?

So we hastened hither, intending to catch a mid-afternoon matinee – it’s been out for simply weeks, who the heck could have anticipated that the showing was sold out? Well, anyone cognizant of the size of the theater, and the relatively few yet luxuriously sumptuous seats within, might have foretold this. We bought tickets for a late afternoon show, and went to wander around the Rim . . . starting with the Bass Pro Shop, which we have observed from IH-10 at 60 MPH for many months as we high-tailed it up to the Hill Country for book events. Oh, my: Picture a retail outdoor sporting goods venue blown up to the size of an aircraft hangar and styled like a mad collision between an Adirondack lodge and a natural history museum featuring natural dioramas stocked with taxidermic examples of every kind of game animal, fish or bird native to the North American continent – all that and a two-story tall waterfall, which fell into an indoor pond stocked with real (and quite sizable) samples of game fish.

Occasionally being possessed of a mad impulse to commune with the great outdoors on a 24-7 basis, we wandered upstairs to the camp equipment and housewares department – heavy on stuff to be taken to a hunt camp to prepare food with, either for consumption or for storage. In the case of Lodge brand cast iron cookware, heavy indeed. We admired a very clever little camp oven, to be mounted on top of a standard Coleman camp stove, although the Daughter Unit insisted that the vintage Kangaroo Kitchen camp cooking unit that she found at a garage sale (propane burner, griddle, grilling rack and stove, packed neatly into a little aluminum case the size of a briefcase) was a much more convenient and transportable gadget. And then we were diverted into the aisle of materials and spices for jerky and sausage preparation.

The Daughter Unit loves home-cured sausage and smoked jerky – and since I already have a small dehydrator unit – and the sausage-stuffing attachment for my Kitchenaid, she promptly became enamored of the possibilities for home-made jerky. And all that it took from that point on was the helpful advice of the salesman on duty in that department. His name is Albert, by the way – and he has learned everything about everything in his department. He only works on weekends, though. The Daughter Unit came away with a single packet for making beef jerky and Albert’s advice for buying cuts of beef Milanese in bulk . . . I’ll have a report by next weekend, on how it all works out.

Oh, and The King’s Speech was very good – although I am wondering if much of the happy praise for it isn’t just a reaction – so many of the other current movies currently available suck worse than a Hoover factory.

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Small Town Texas Photography Exhibit – Dr Ricardo Romo – President of UTSA

Created Sunday, 30 August 2009 16:39

Small Town Texas

by Mamie Carter

Not so long ago, first-class postage cost three cents and a loaf of bread was a nickel.  When you pulled your car up to a “filling station,” the owner came out with a squeegee in his hand. “Howdy there, stranger.”  Beneath the red-roofed station stood glass-topped gasoline pumps and a familiar Texaco sign with a red star. (“You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.”)

Scenes from the by-gone days of “Small Town Texas” are captured by Dr. Ricardo Romo, President of the University of Texas at San Antonio. They are on display through Oct. 4 at the Witte Museum at 3801 Broadway. The exhibit is free with regular museum admission. The show is part of Foto Septiembre USA, an international photography festival.

The filling station photo, which is the most memorable of the group, records two signs, Waring General Store, on the front coupled with Welcome to Waring. A red, hand-lettered sign out front reads STEAKNITE.

Romo, a historian, and his wife, Dr. Harriett Romo, a sociologist, drove through more than 75 towns during the past year to photograph the remnants of a fading way of life. He says they drove from Abilene to San Antonio, “speeding through all these little towns, feeling a little guilty about not stopping to appreciate what these towns are about. We need to stop in these little towns and find out what’s going on.”

 

“The towns seemed to be something out of the 1950s,” he continued. “If we don’t capture this now, it won’t be here in five to 10 years.” Patriotism is a strong aspect of small Texas life. In Baird (pop. 1623) Romo photographed a waving American flag attached to an empty bench. Another photo shows a row of windmills.

Reaction from people viewing the exhibit involves nostalgic memories. One man said of one of the photos, “I saw something in it. I just wanted to step in there and be there.” A woman viewing ranchland confirmed to her husband, “That’s Charlotte. I know. I’ve been there.” Romo said, “Some of the vestiges of small-town life have already disappeared. For instance, a rancher saw a photo of a farm implement and asked, ‘What is that?’ ”  The tool had long been abandoned in a field and replaced by more modern equipment.

Another man saw a photo of a new flea market near Devine and remarked, “Boy, I got to go over there.”

In Cuero a railroad car was converted into an office, which interested Romo because of the transition of something old into something new. One Sunday when the Romos stopped their car in front of an old building, they attracted the attention of a patroling policeman. He looked at the couple suspiciously until the photographer held up his camera. The policeman nodded and drove off as if to say, “Oh, a tourist.”

Romo, who grew up on San Antonio’s west side, said as a youngster he traveled all over south central Texas visiting family. “I can’t do (photograph) all of Texas because I’ve got a full-time job,” Romo said. “But there’s more with the same theme. Other places.” And someday soon, a book of his small-town photographs will be published.

The Small Town Texas photo exhibit is on display at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, TX from Aug 22 – Oct 4, 2009. The exhibit is free with Museum Admission. The museum is located at 3801 Broadway; San Antonio, TX 78209. Phone: 210-357-1900.

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