Friday, December 23, 2016

Sex and Texas

     I apologize because it has been so long since I posted anything on here.  I’ll try to do better.  I decided to do something that combined two of my favorite subjects—sex and Texas.  This is what I came up with---

     My Texas history books didn’t talk about sex—they’d have been a lot more interesting if they had.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why most history professors shied away from discussing sex among our ancestors.  The fact that they were ancestors proves they engaged in sex, whether or not they talked about it.  During my research, I’ve discovered much about the sexual mores of Texas historical figures.

      I guess we should start with the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.   There is no evidence that he ever had sex with anyone.   When asked about it once, he said, “My mistress is Texas.”

     That’s an odd answer, and if true, it must have been a pretty unsatisfactory arrangement.  I need to point out that Austin died a bachelor, having never been married.  I don’t want to infer that Stevie was perhaps a bit light in his loafers, but that possibility does exist.  Look carefully at his statue in the capitol building, the one done by Elizabet Ney.  With all that curly hair, he really was kind of cute.

     Elizabet Ney did life-size Carrara Marble statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston.  One set resides in the Texas State Capitol building in Austin and a matching set is on display in the Nation’s Capitol in Washington.

     One other thing about Austin gives me pause—Jane Long claimed to have had offers of marriage from just about everyone involved in the Texas Revolution—except Stephen F. Austin.   I can’t help it if I find that significant.

     Erastus “Deef” Smith, one of the most heroic Texians, had decided to sit out the revolution.  He didn’t mind living under Mexican rule.  In a way, he already did.  He was married to a Mexican beauty, a widow with three children, who reported excelled in all her “wifely duties.”  She welcomed him enthusiastically when he came home, with a warm meal and a warmer bed.

     Mexican sentries stopped Deef at the checkpoint outside San Antonio.  Deef told the young captain that he had not been home in two months and he just had to see his wife.  The young officer said his papers were not in order and he would have to wait three days.  Smith, in a frenzy, explained that he could not wait three days, he just HAD to see his wife.  The captain refused and Deef shot him, spurred his horse and made it back to the Texian lines.  He joined the Texians on the spot and that night, slipped through the lines to see his wife.  It did not take her long to trim his horns, and Deef returned to the army and did yeoman service.  The Mexican officer lived, but never knew how much he hurt his country’s war effort by influencing Deef Smith to join the Texians.

    On firmer ground, sexually speaking, we have William B. Travis.  He only spent about five years in Texas, from age 21 to 26, and he did his best to screw someone every single day.  Oh, I know he was a lawyer and lawyers do that, but I mean he had sex with females as often as he could arrange it.  He kept meticulous records.  He bragged about it, just like any other twenty-something male.  He started calling himself “Buck,” possibly hoping to lead women to unconsciously wonder about his sexual prowess.

    I did not accidentally mention the phrase “arrange it.” Travis did not obtain sex by seduction—he arranged it.  If Buck Travis had limited himself to ladies he actually seduced, he would have been doing without more often than not.  He was not especially handsome, certainly not witty, never lived in a city, and rarely travelled.  He was boring, rural, and dour with a weird, some would say twisted, sense of humor.  On the other hand, he was more than willing and less than picky.   His seductive comments were most likely limited to, “How about a little, Baby?” and “Fifty cents—you got to be kidding”—or, “I didn’t want to buy that thing, Honey, just rent it for a while.”     

     Jane Long, in her forties at the time, claims that the 24-year-old Travis hit on her, but she turned him down.  I have no trouble believing either of those statements—Travis hit on just about every female he brushed up against and if Jane had sacked out with him, he would have cataloged it in his notebook, and broadcast it from the rooftops.

     With his non-discriminatory habits, it was only a matter of time until Travis contacted something he couldn’t wash off.  He picked up a heavy dose of the clap, and commenced to spread it around the colony.  He self-treated with quicksilver, but that didn’t help.  With all his eloquence, he could not explain to his fiancĂ© why he passed it on to her.

     The busy boarding house owner, Jane Long, claimed marriage offers from Ben Milam, Mirabeau Lamar, William B. Travis and Sam Houston.  I doubt if any of these gentlemen took her to bed, based on two pieces of evidence.  One, I saw her picture.  Two, it would have been common knowledge.   I imagine the springs in those boarding house beds would squeak like rusty hinges, and broadcast the goings-on to everyone in the neighborhood.

     If we accept the fact that Travis was a whoremonger, Austin may have been a bit less than manly, and Deef Smith took care of his horny spells at home with his wife, then Texans are hard-pressed to find some pioneer to admire for his sexual exploits.   As usual, Sam Houston will come to our rescue.

     The history books all tell variations of the same story.  Sam Houston was 34 years old, tall, handsome, governor of Tennessee, and being groomed by Andrew Jackson to be president one day.  In January of 1829, after a whirlwind courtship, he married 18-year-old Elisha Allen.  After less than three months, Elisha packed her bags and moved back to her parents without explanation. Houston got drunk, resigned the governorship, and moved back to the Cherokee Nation.  Neither party ever explained why the marriage dissolved,  and Houston promised to kill anyone who said anything to soil Elisha’s reputation.

     Looking past the history books and digging deeper into the story, I have pieced together a possible explanation.  The following is all conjecture on my part, but it takes known facts and traces them to logical conclusions.  At least the conclusions are logical in my mind.

     Houston and his family moved from Virginia to Tennessee when Sam was a boy.  His father was dead and everyone in the family was expected to work.  When Sam was 14 or 15, he hated working as a clerk in his older brother’s store, so he ran away and was adopted by a Cherokee Indian chief.  Sam lived with the Indians until he was 19, going back to civilization to visit his family only once or twice per year.

     Why would a young white boy go off to live with the Indians?  Sam was not an avid hunter or fisherman.  There were no books to keep him occupied in the wilderness.  What on earth would keep a fifteen-year-old boy out in the woods for five years?  Fifteen-year-old girls.  The same thing that keeps modern teenage boys standing in front of a mirror, mashing pimples and combing their hair for hours. 

     Adolescent Indian girls were encouraged to experiment sexually.  The tribe wanted them to be prepared to deliver pleasure to their future husbands, so along with cleaning, cooking and tanning leather, they were expected to work on their sexuality.  If they saw an appealing young buck, they tried him out.  If they discovered something that felt good, they practiced it. They did all this when they were single.  When they got pregnant, or otherwise chose to marry and settle down, they stayed strictly true to their mate, or he cut off their nose.

     Imagine a young Sam Houston in such a target-rich environment.  He was a good looking, strapping youth, nearing six feet in height.  His fame spread through the tribe, and single girls were coming from miles around just to see what the pale-faced boy had to offer.  Why on earth would he ever go back and sweep out his brother’s store.

     On the other hand, consider Elisha.  She was 18 years old and her mother had taught her all she knew of the birds and bees, which probably wasn’t much.  Her mother may have explained that sex was painful, a curse that a woman must endure, along with a monthly period and childbirth.  Elisha could not have looked forward to her wedding night.

     Sam and Elisha were married in her parents’ palatial home near Gallatin.   They spent their wedding night in separate bedrooms, and left early the next morning for the two-day wagon trip to Nashville.  On the second night of their marriage, they stayed in the guest bedroom at the home of the bride’s aunt.   The next morning, the bride confided to the aunt, “I hate that man.  I wish Sam Houston was dead.”

     What happened?  How could a fresh young bride turn sour so quickly?  What had Sam done to cause this sudden change of heart?  Most of his sexual experience was with the Cherokee, and that had been as a juvenile.  He certainly must have gone to brothels as he matured, but that does little to prepare a young man for the patience and tenderness sometimes required in marriage.

     I expect, on the long wagon ride that day, Sam had remembered some of the Indian girls and some of the moves that had turned them on.  He may have playfully grabbed a boob or patted a backside.  He may have playfully tried so often that Elisha felt she was fighting an octopus.  He was surely nursing a woody, and may have shown it to her.  He may have even asked her to pet it.  Or rub it. Or kiss it.

     In their bedroom that night, Sam probably wanted to keep the lights on, while Elisha wanted it to be pitch black.   She complained to her aunt of a hideous scar on Sam’s leg, near the groin area, so Sam had surely stripped.  The wound was left over from the war of 1812, and bothered Houston for the rest of his life.  He probably paraded around the bedroom naked, displaying his masculinity.  He must have scared her more than anything in her life up to that point.

     During the next few weeks, while living in the governor’s mansion, Houston complained to some close friends that Elisha was “cold” to him.  He was not specific, and did not elaborate.  Elisha told her parents he was insanely jealous, and accused her of having a lover.  Because of his experience with Indian maidens, Houston was certain that all women enjoyed sex and could not understand his wife’s reluctance in the bedroom.

     After their split, Sam Houston moved back to the Cherokees and married (in an Indian ceremony) a beautiful widow, Tiana.  Sam stayed drunk most of the time they lived together.   After four years,  Houston dissolved the marriage, moved to Texas and, as they say, the rest is history.  He and Elisha finally divorced after Texas became a republic.  Both remarried.

     Houston, at long last, found marital bliss.  In 1840, at age 47, he married Margaret Lea, 21, a religious girl with fragile health.   Margaret defined the term “long –suffering-wife,” staying at home in Texas while Sam went off to Washington as a Senator for most of the year.  He wrote often, but only came home between sessions.  During these yearly visits home, he met his new baby, impregnated Margaret, and went back to Washington.  They had eight children.  Sam managed to remember most of their names.

     This only scratches the surface of sex in Texas history.  Perhaps, one day, I’ll dig deeper into the subject.

Friday, February 26, 2016

General Sesma Arrives in San Antonio

The Chapel at the Alamo, before the U.S. Army replaced the roof and added the iconic facade in 1846.
February 23, 1836                       

     A hundred and eighty years ago today, William Barret Travis woke with a headache.  It was late, almost seven, but he’d been at George Washington’s Birthday party until almost one, and afterwards, spent at least two hours with that Mexican girl.  She charged him for it.  What ever happened to the girls who used to give it away?  Every woman he met had a price tag.  He must pay or do without.     

     Travis catalogued his “conquest” in his log book, dressed and went out into the bright sunshine, still nursing the headache.  The streets were filled with traffic, unusual for this time of day.  Wagons with entire families were loaded with household goods, heading out of town.  The population of San Antonio, about 2500 people, was 95 per cent Mexican-Texians—Tejanos—and Travis knew most of them were supporters of Santa Anna.   Now they were making a mass exodus from the city.  Travis chose to ignore the rumors that the Mexican Army was near.

     Travis believed that Santa Anna was too good a general to march his army across the wild horse desert this time of year.  Instead, he’d wait until spring, when the grass was green and the horses had fodder.  The “brush and pear” country was brutal anytime of year, but especially in the winter.  Santa Anna knew that, so he would wait, no matter what those lying Tejanos said.

     “Col. Travis, Col. Travis!”  John Sutherland hurried to catch up as Travis walked across Military Plaza, heading toward the Alamo to supervise the renovations he had ordered.  Sutherland was a medical doctor and had volunteered his services to the garrison at the Alamo.  “I been looking for you, Buck.  Juan Seguin says the Mexican army is over on the west side of town right now.  They say they’s at least a thousand of ‘em.  What we gonna do?”

     “First thing, let’s not go off half-cocked.  I trust Seguin, but I wouldn’t believe most of those Tejanos if they told me the sun rose in the east.  We need to check out the story.  Let’s climb up in the bell tower there and see what we can see.”

     Sutherland and Travis, along with a “reliable” soldier went into the San Fernando Cathedral and climbed the stairs to the landing, then took the ladder to the bell platform at the top of the tower.  It was the highest point in San Antonio and offered an unobstructed view of the city and the surrounding countryside.  There were no Mexican soldiers in sight.
Lt. Col. William B. Travis--in better days.

     “What did I tell you, John?  Those lying Tejanos were spreading rumors at the party last night.  I knew better than to believe them.  Look at those two fellows riding out the Del Rio Road.  Let’s watch them ‘til they get over that ridge.  If they’s any Mexicans out there, they’ll see ‘em.”

     Travis and Sutherland watched as the travelers followed the road to the top of the ridge.  Suddenly, the horsemen wheeled their mounts, used their spurs and rushed back toward town.  Within minutes, troops appeared at the crest of the hill.  The sun glinted off polished brass breastplates as hundreds of Mexican cavalry topped the rise.  According to the rumors, that would be General Sesma with 1500 men, Santa Anna’s advance guard.

     “We’ve got to get busy, Doc.  You send Red Smith out to see how many Mexicans there are and what they’re up to.   Spread the word for all our troops to gather supplies and get back to the Alamo.  The guys are scattered all over town, sleeping off hangovers from last night.  Crockett played the fiddle and we drank and danced ‘til way after midnight.  I’ll get back to my headquarters and work out a plan.  Bowie is sick or drunk—I can’t tell which, but either way, he’s not much help.”

     General Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma, with 500 cavalry and 1000 infantry troops, stopped at the outskirts of San Antonio while he considered his options.  His officers were pushing for an immediate attack.  The Texians were disorganized, and according to local spies, most were hung over from celebrating Washington’s Birthday last night.   Regardless of all this, the general was not eager to attack. 

     Sesma was a seasoned veteran, a Cuban, who believed in the old adage about victors and spoils.  Inventories needed to be taken.  Wagons and warehouses needed to be located and confiscated.   Plans for sale and delivery needed to be made.  The army did not need to rush into battle.  Occupation was much more profitable, and the Texians, while appearing to be vulnerable, might be setting a trap.

     General Sesma chose to wait until the main body of the army came to reinforce his troops and guarantee victory.  Instead of dashing headlong into San Antonio and crushing the scattered opposition, Sesma set up camp outside town, sent in a detail to hang the blood red “No Quarter” flag from the San Fernando Cathedral bell tower, and had his chef prepare tea.  His delay forced the siege and, during the next two weeks, cost Mexico over a thousand young soldiers.

     Travis, safely back at the Alamo, watched from the roof of the old chapel as the Mexicans unfurled the “No Quarter” flag.  “We can’t allow that challenge to go unanswered, Lt. Dickinson.  Fire the eighteen-pounder.  We’re not afraid of a bunch of Mexicans and we need to let them know it.”

     “I don’t have a target, Colonel.  I can’t shoot at the cathedral.”

     “Use your head Al.  Fire a round into the plaza, just to let them know we’re here and we’re dangerous.  Get it done!  I’m not accustomed to having my orders questioned.”

     The gun crew turned to and fired one of their precious cannonballs into the plaza.  It bounced off the stone pavement, and rolled harmlessly down the street. 

     Bowie was furious with Travis for wasting the shot and twelve pounds of powder, and he wanted to hear what the Mexicans had to say.  He arranged for Green Jameson, the engineer supervising reinforcement of the fort, to carry a flag of truce and meet with the Mexican officers.  Jameson explained that the cannon shot had been an accidental discharge, and the Texians were willing to hear whatever terms the Mexican army had in mind.

     The meeting was short.  The Mexican terms were surrender at discretion, meaning unconditional surrender.  Santa Anna would accept nothing less.  Jameson carried the news back to the besieged little fort and the officers met late into the evening, discussing options. 

     After the meeting, Travis composed his “Victory or Death” letter, which he would send out the next day.  He was sure “El Colorado” Smith could still slip through the lines and make it to San Felipe.  Travis wanted the letter to reach the American people.   Not just those who lived in Texas, but all freedom loving citizens of the United States.  He addressed the letter….”To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world…”  William B. Travis was suddenly playing on a larger stage.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Part Three--VeryEarly Texas History--Panfilo de Narvaez--Conquistador?


     In the two decades following Columbus’ discovery of the West Indies, Spain launched dozens of expeditions to explore and colonize the New World.   King Ferdinand richly rewarded Columbus, his descendants, and other explorers.   The native inhabitants of the islands, docile and gentle Tainos, were easily dominated, and the New World was brimming with opportunity.

     To encourage colonization, the Spanish established an encomienda system, whereby Spanish noblemen were awarded tracts of land and assigned Taino slaves.  The landowners made huge fortunes and part of the profit from these colonies was paid directly to the king as tribute.  Spanish soldiers-of-fortune flooded the islands, seeking riches.  Encomienda grants were doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, and the competition was fierce.

     Panfilo de Narvaez, a tall, blond native of Castile, came to the Caribbean as a soldier determined to make his fortune.  Even though he was of noble birth and had friends in high places, Panfilo exhibited a natural tendency to screw-up.  According to contemporary reports, he had an authoritarian personality and was unusually cruel to the Taino natives.  Considering some of his decisions, he was less than bright.   Indications are that de Narvaez was an arrogant, cruel and stupid soldier, dependent on relatives for his position and oblivious to the needs of his subordinates.

       In 1511, Panfilo’s uncle, Diego Valazquez de Cuellar, the first governor of Cuba, put him in charge of the army with orders to conquer the unarmed Tainos and subject the island to Spanish rule.  Father Bartolome de Las Casas watched as de Narvaez’s troops murdered 2500 peaceful natives whose only crime was bringing food offerings to the soldiers.  Watching the massacre, the priest changed his attitude toward the Tainos and fought against the encomienda system, slavery, and mistreatment of Indians for the rest of his life.

     When Cuba was secure, Governor de Cuellar sent Hernan Cortes to conquer Mexico for him.  After launching the expedition, the governor realized the ambitious Cortes might take over Mexico and keep it for himself.  He ordered Cortes back to Cuba.  Cortes ignored the order.  In 1520, de Cuellar appointed his nephew governor of Mexico and sent him with 1400 men to arrest Cortes, put him in irons, and bring him back to Cuba.

       Cortes, with 250 troops, proved his military worth by whipping de Narvaez and his army.  De Narvaez not only demonstrated military ineptitude, but lost an eye in the battle and Cortes threw him into prison in Veracruz for two years.   The Cuban soldiers, promised gold and recognizing competent leadership, deserted Narvaez and joined Cortes.  With his new army, Cortes decided to keep Mexico for himself, showing that de Cuellar was a shrewd judge of character.

     When Panfilo de Narvaez was released from prison, he made his way back to Spain.  Working through contacts in the government, he convinced King Charles V to back him in a mission to explore and colonize the land along the Gulf coast, from Florida to Mexico.  The king provided ships, soldiers, and colonists, and de Narvaez led the expedition.  In June of 1527, with five ships and 600 men, de Narvaez sailed back to the New World, planning to conquer and colonize all the land north of the Gulf of Mexico.

     King Charles, wishing to protect his interests, sent a bright young man along to keep records for the king and to act as second in command.   Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca joined the expedition for his first trip to the new world.  Most of what we know of the expedition is because of his writings.

     The expedition first landed at the island of Hispaniola, where about one-fourth of the crew deserted.  The soldiers had no confidence in their one-eyed commander, and desertion was a constant problem.   Two ships and more men were lost in a hurricane off the Cuban coast.  De Narvaez planned to start at the mouth of Rio de Las Palmas, north of Vera Cruz, and work his way east, but became lost and confused.  Very confused.  He managed to land some three hundred men on the east coast of Florida, near present Tampa Bay.  Because of the confusion, de Narvaez decided to work west to the Rio de Las Palmas, which he thought to be about fifty miles.  The expedition most likely used the crude map drawn by Alavarez de Pineda eight years before, which showed Florida to be a peninsula and not an island as Ponce de Leon believed.

     De Narvaez, in a decision openly opposed by Cabeza de Vaca, sent the ships back to Havana and decided to march his troops overland to explore and occupy the country.  Local Indians, having learned from de Leon that Europeans could not to be trusted, were less than happy to see de Narvaez’s expedition.  Unable to fight the well-equipped Spaniards in the open, they hid in the jungle and picked off the Spaniards one or two at a time with arrows or lances.   Rather than allow the soldiers to occupy their villages, the Indians burned them.   There was no gold or silver and very little food.  The Spanish were soon reduced to eating their horses.

     Six months of struggling through the swamp, fighting Indians and starving, convinced de Narvaez to abandon his ambitions and return to civilization.  There was, however, a problem—no ships.  Cabeza de Vaca felt the expedition should go to Mexico across country, but de Narvaez overruled that notion.  The soldiers built a forge, and melted down every bit of metal they could find—horseshoes, stirrups, bits, fasteners, buttons, armor, anything metal—and made tools and nails to build rafts.  They built five rafts, each designed to hold forty men with oars, and used their clothing to make sails.

      De Vaca protested separation of the rafts, thinking it best that they work together.  Instead, Narvaez picked the forty strongest men to row his raft and made it clear that each barge and every man was on his own.  As they sailed and rowed close to shore, the heavy current of a river, probably the Mississippi, swept de Narvaez’s raft and two others out to sea, leaving Cabeza de Vaca to make his way along the coast with the two remaining rafts.

De Narvaez's raft was washed out into the Gulf, probably by the force of the Mississippi River. He and 150 men were lost in the Gulf of Mexico.

     Cabeza de Vaca, with two rafts and eighty-six men, kept close to shore and made his way west, planning to follow the coast to civilization in Mexico.   A hurricane washed them ashore and destroyed the rafts on a barrier island off the coast of Texas.   It may have been Galveston Island, but most historians believe it was a bit farther down the coast at Follets Island.  De Vaca named the island “The Isle of Misfortune.” 

     Only fifteen of the eighty-six men survived the winter.   Naked, without tools or weapons, and lost on a barren island, some drowned, many starved to death and some were killed by Indians for “sport.”  Cabeza de Vaca made his way to the mainland where he almost died of an illness.   Nursed back to health by the Indians, he stayed on the mainland several months.

     When de Vaca regained his health, he made his way back to the “Isle of Misfortune” and discovered that twelve of the survivors had swum to the mainland, planning to walk to Mexico.  Two men remained and de Vaca joined them to live on the island.  The Indians permitted the trio to stay, and sometimes traded food for menial labor.  De Vaca collected seashells and bartered for hides and other items with mainland Indians.  In a short time, he became a well-known trader and travelled extensively among the tribes along the coast.



More to come----

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Fire of the Angels


Angel Fire at dawn

     Sitting with an old friend at 5:15 in the morning, sipping a steaming cup of black coffee on Davis Ford’s front porch in New Mexico, we watched as a faint rose-colored glow started to show in the east, just over the mountain and just under the cloud cover.   Soon an intense red fire filled the triangle formed by the mountains and the dark clouds above.

      After several minutes, crimson rays began to grow out of the formation and tentatively creep across the bottom of the cirrus clouds, lighting them up.  Within seconds the fleecy white clouds that had been invisible in the dark glowed fiery red, filling the sky with intense color.  The entire sky ignited with “Angel Fire.”   Another day began.

     I had decided not to include this post on my blog, considering it too personal, but it is, after all, about a bunch of boys from Lubbock—old boys, but Lubbock boys, none the less.  I won’t ask that you do the math, we’re all around seventy-eight years old, and showing that age in various ways.  All of us hurt somewhere and some of us hurt everywhere, but, characteristically, no one from Lubbock mentions his pains or infirmities.  Some were too old to fish, sightseeing was fun so long as we stayed in the car, and we almost lost Brad in a hot tub, but everyone’s sense of humor stayed intact.  We laughed our wrinkled old asses off.

     Eight of us, classmates from Lubbock High School, enjoyed Davis Ford’s hospitality at Angel Fire for two days, and then drove north to Creede, Colorado, to join three other classmates, making eleven people with at least one thing in common.  We all graduated from high school on Friday, May 27, 1955, at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Texas.  Technically, Brad didn’t walk across the stage that night due to complications having to do with the mindset of Lubbock in the fifties, but he got his diploma the next week and it is just as official as any of ours.

     We laughed.  We fished.  We joked.  We ate.  We explored.  We laughed.  We enjoyed each other.

Headquarters at Freemon Ranch near Creede.

     Our hosts for the Creede and Gunnison parts of the trip, James Collins and Neil McMullen, had several reasons to put together this package.  They want to stay connected .   They enjoy fly fishing and leading others to their favorite hot spots.  They want to share the magnificent mountains they love.  They enjoy laughing with old friends.
McMullen's justifiably famous scratch biscuits and gravy, with a side of bacon.  For dessert, smear one of these babies with soft butter and top it with grape or apricot jelly--it'll stick to your ribs.

     Many times, when visiting with a friend from my youth, I have a quiet yearning to end the visit.   I want to move on, finish this conversation and speak with someone else.   I’ve wondered about this, and decided that I have placed that person in a certain box in my memory and he or she has changed.  I want to get away, so I can put them back into their proper boxes and not be confused by the people they have become.  Unless they are very interesting, I don’t want to make a new box.  I was not bothered by that sensation on this trip with these guys.

Did I mention that we laughed?  This in Neil's backyard at Gunnison.  I didn't step it off, but I'd say the Gunnison River, there on the right, is about forty feet from his back door.

     These men are the same people they were in high school, evolved and polished by time and experience.  It is not possible for these guys to be boring—they have special talents which have carried them past the norms in life.   All have that deep-seated ambition that is a trademark of the High Plains.  Their careers span those initials we read about—MDs, MBAs, PhDs, LLBs, CEOs, and Captains of Industry.  I felt honored to be included.  Did I mention how much we laughed?  

     We learned important lessons, just growing up in Lubbock.  Ten years old and almost crying after I struck out once, a baseball coach at the Boys Club put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “As long as you’re swinging son, you’re dangerous.”  I took the message to heart and have used it often throughout my life.  It fits a lot of situations.

      The Creede Crew in alphabetical order:  James Collins, Davis Ford, Truitt Garrison, Jim McLaughlin, Neil McMullen, Larry Merriman, James Pope, Wayne Ratisseau, Brad Reeves, Paul Sikes, and Roy Turner.  This is a funny bunch of old men—boy, did we laugh.

     The whole week was wonderful, if perhaps a bit bittersweet because of our age.  Time polished some of us a bit more than others, and leaned heavily on all of us, but we’re still here and we’re still swinging.  I cannot help but remember a line from a favorite poem of mine—“Why, to be in such fine company would make a deacon proud.”  

This little creek feeds into the Rio Grande.  During the 1880's, the stage coach from Creede to Lake City stopped overnight here, to give the passengers a needed rest.  The Rio Grande originates in those mountains beyond.  All this was part of Texas until 1848.

   P.S.  I read that Angel Fire was named for the fiery reflection of the late afternoon sun on the snow-covered mountains and not for the fantastic sunrise.  I suppose a Madison Avenue ad man named it to attract skiers.  He should have been there in the summer, just after 5:00 AM.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

More early Texas History

Columbus sailed on the Santa Maria, with the Nina and the Pinta nearby.

        In 1492, when Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca was just two years old, Columbus left Portugal, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed, more or less aimlessly, around the Caribbean Sea trying to figure out where he was.    He realized the world was round, but it was about twice as big as he imagined.   He was convinced that   everything would be fine if he could just find India.  Or maybe China.  Instead, he kept finding islands.

      The islands he found were inhabited by friendly indigenous people called Tainos.  After his first encounter with the Tainos, in the Bahamas, Columbus wrote King Ferdinand and described them as tall, well formed, handsome people.  He went on to say:

     “They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will….They took great delight in pleasing us.  They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal….Your Highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people….They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.”

The Tainos were handsome people, warm and gentle and eager to please the Spaniards.

This is, no doubt, a Hollywood version of the Tainos.
Regardless of Columbus’ feeling that there were “no better people” on earth, the Spaniards were more than ready to give these “gentle and ….laughing” people knowledge of “what is evil.”  Columbus believed the “Indians” would make great slaves, and on his second voyage, in 1493 and 1494, set about to conquer and enslave them.  He decided the subdued natives would pay a tribute which he would split with the king.  Every three months, every native over fourteen years of age was required to deliver a hawk’s bell full of gold to Columbus.  If there was no gold, Columbus would accept twenty-five pounds of spun cotton.  If the Tainos did not pay, Spanish soldiers cut off their hands and left them to bleed to death.

     The Indians rebelled against these harsh methods without much success.  Many died in battle, and many, forced into slavery and not allowed to work their fields, starved to death.  The biggest killer of all was disease—the natives had no immunity to smallpox, measles, influenza, typhoid, or other European maladies and hundreds of thousands were infected and died.   In 1492, the apex of Taino society and coincidently, the arrival of Columbus, historians estimate one and a half million natives lived on the island of Hispaniola alone, with at least that many more scattered among other islands. Some estimates put the entire Caribbean population at over eight million, and "long counters"estimate over thirty million.  In any case, only fifty years later, in 1540, the Taino population of the islands stood at forty thousand and falling.  The Spaniards imported slaves from Africa to do the work.

     It is believed that the Tainos moved into the islands from the South American continent about 400 BC, and thrived there almost 2000 years, until the Spanish came.  Taino language gave us the words canoe, hammock, barbeque, tobacco, and hurricane.  Tainos named Cuba and Haiti.  The Karankawa Indians who lived along the Texas coast are believed to have migrated from the Caribbean. They were large, handsome people and may have been distant relatives of the Tainos.

     Columbus discovered Cuba, but was not sure if it was an island or a continent.   Perhaps it was China.  In 1494, he sailed along the south side of the island and finally, in 1508, Sebastian de Ocampo proved Cuba was not a continent by sailing around it.  Columbus never saw the mainland of either continent that blocked his way to China, but he kept searching.

      Also in the year 1492, Spain drove the Moors out of their last European stronghold, Granada.  Suddenly, a number of young Spanish soldiers were left without a war to wage.  Many of them volunteered to help explore the “New World,” and hurried west to make their fortunes.  Cuba became the center of operations in the Caribbean.  Spain conquered and enslaved the native population, and built the city of Havana on the South Coast in 1514.  The city was moved to its present location on the north side of the island in 1519 because of the superb natural harbor there.   Havana soon became the center of all commerce and culture for the New World. 

     In 1519, Hernan Cortes, a cousin of Pizarro, ignored orders to return to Cuba and proceeded to conquer the Aztecs in Mexico.  He enslaved the indigenous people, put them to work in the gold and silver mines, and began systematically looting the country.    The Spanish king forgave his mutiny and appointed him ruler of Mexico in 1523.   Ruthless and universally disliked by his contemporaries, Cortes became one of the richest and most powerful men in the New World.

     Ships arriving from Spain unloaded their cargo into Havana’s warehouses.  Treasure ships returning to Spain stopped in Havana to take on fresh food and supplies for the voyage back to Europe. Conquistadores and explorers planned their trips and outfitted their ships among the wharves in Havana.  About this time, a twenty-one year old Cabaza de Vaca joined the army in Spain and began making a name for himself on the battlefield.

The Spanish conquistadores were young, ambitious and utterly ruthless.  They shared a complete disregard for the welfare of the natives in whatever area they conquered, enslaved them, killed them in battle, and wiped out whole populations with European disease.  When the native populations died off, the Spaniards imported slaves from Africa.

     Most of these conquerors knew each other, or at least knew of each other.   Ponce de Leon arrived in the New World with Columbus, on his second voyage in 1493, as one of 200 “gentlemen volunteers.”   DeSoto fought alongside Pizarro and Balboa, and became rich in the conquest of Peru.  Ponce De Leon became the first governor of Puerto Rico before he decided, in 1512, to lead an expedition to search for gold, explore, and colonize lands to the north.  He discovered and named La Florida, which he thought was another big island.  A popular legend was born fifty years after his death, when a writer wondered if De Leon had been searching for the “Fountain of Youth.”

     Financed by the governor of Jamaica, Alonso Alvarez de Pineda set out to map the coast of the gulf from the “island” of Florida to the Panuco River, just north of Veracruz.  He hoped to find an ocean route to China.  Pineda was the first to see and map the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, land which he called “Amichel.”  His explorations verified the fact that Florida was a peninsula, and he was the first European to see the Mississippi River.  His notes describe the river and the many Indian settlements on its banks.   He sailed eighteen miles upriver from the coast before he returned to the Gulf.    Historians are always ready to dispute the findings of each other.   Some suggest he missed the Mississippi River altogether and, instead, sailed eighteen miles into Mobile Bay.

A "cleaned up" version of Pineda's first map showing the Texas Coast.

     Pineda’s map, done in 1514, was the first document in Texas history.  By today’s standards, it is a rather crude rendition, with an oversized Cuba dominating the center of the Gulf, a misshapen Yucatan Peninsula to the left, and the coast curving past Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and finally terminating at a rather boxy-shaped Florida on the far right.  Pineda proved La Florida was not an island, proved there was no outlet to China from the Gulf, and proved the Gulf was much larger than previously believed.  Cortes disputed his findings, probably in an attempt to keep from sharing any of the discovered lands with one of his many rivals, Francisco de Garay, the governor of Jamaica who financed Pineda’s expedition.

     Pineda’s discoveries were taken to Seville and entered into the Patron Real, a master map of the Caribbean set up for the king to keep track of all discoveries, claims, and counter-claims in the area.   These maps were shared with any Spanish ship’s captains, explorers, or conquistadores bound for the New World.   One of the first explorers to use Pineda’s information was Panfilo de Narvez, who, in 1527, mounted an expedition to explore, colonize, and settle La Florida.  A thirty-five year old soldier with the unlikely name of “Head of a Cow,” Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, was the king’s accountant and second in military command of this expedition.


More to come….

Monday, April 27, 2015

Very early Texas History


Giant Bison, weighing near 4,000 lbs, were common around Lubbock until about 15,000 years ago.

      Texas History starts whenever the historian wants it to start.  Some have placed the beginnings of Texas at the time man first crossed the land bridge at the Bering Strait and began to filter down between the glaciers into North America and naturally settle in the garden spot of this continent, around present-day Lubbock, Texas.

     Newer evidence suggests that this migration happened, but may not have populated Texas.  The first humans on Texas soil may have come from Europe or Africa, by sailing across a narrow part of the Atlantic, landing in South America and working their way north.  Then again, they may have floated over from Polynesia and landed in Chile.  Perhaps all of the above contributed to the settlement of early Texas.  Because of advances in the study of DNA, all these theories have some merit and are being investigated.

     No matter how they got here, there is solid evidence that humans lived near Lubbock over 12,000 years ago.  At the Lubbock Lakes Archeological Site, one excavated cliff wall shows proof of continual habitation  from before that time.  This site is the only place in North America showing such evidence.  Indications are that early Texans hunted Wooly Mammoths and Giant Bison in this area, butchered their kill here, and dried and preserved the meat.  A variety of artifacts, flint spear points, arrowheads, and cutting tools show that these Indians were nomads.  Some lived near here and others came from afar or perhaps traded with distant peoples.

     Instead of getting into an argument about who came first from where, fast forward 12,000 years to 1211 A.D.  The Moors from North Africa conquered most of the south half of the Iberian Peninsula and the Pope in Rome was worried they would take the rest of Spain, and then Europe, which would put him out of a job.  He was so worried that he ordered the Christian Kings of the area to quit squabbling among themselves and join together in a Crusade against the Muslims.  Most everyone joined.  It is no surprise that the French didn’t like the rules and took their 30,000 knights and went home.

     Pope Innocent III ordered this Crusade.  Thinking this might be the first example of an oxymoron in modern history, I read all I could about him.  He was not the first oxymoron—at least two examples preceded him—Innocent I and II.

     King Alphonso VIII of Castile,  Jimenez De Rado, the Archbishop of Toledo,  Sancho VII of Navarre,  and Pedro II of Aragon followed Innocent III’s orders, pooled their armies, and set out with some 50,000 soldiers to fight the Saracens.  The Muslim horde, estimated to be over 125,000 men, was camped in a secure valley near Las Navas, protected on all sides by impassable mountains.  They rested peacefully, knowing they controlled the high ground at the only known pass into the valley.

     A local shepherd, Martin Alhaja, (or Halaja) told the soldiers of a secret pass into the valley which he had marked with a cow’s skull.   The troops found the pass, staged a forced march through the night, and surrounded the surprised Muslims on the morning of July 16, 1212.  The ensuing Battle of Los Navas de Tolosa was a slaughter.
Sancho VII making short work of the Caliph's guards.

     The caliph in charge of the Muslims, Muhammad al-Nasir, camped in a splendid tent on a rise near the center of his army.  His tent consisted of “three-ply crimson velvet flecked with gold; strings of pearls descending from its purple fringes.”  Rows of chain radiated from the center of his camp, and tied in place 3,000 camels.  Inside the ring of camels, 10,000 black slaves were chained together in a circle, their steel tipped lances facing outward at an angle, with the bases buried in the ground.  According to reports by the Christians, the caliph stood inside this protection, “wearing the green dress and turban of his ancestral line,” holding a scimitar in one hand and a Koran in the other.  He read passages from the Koran which promised all the delights of paradise to any young man who perished in religious battle and the torments of hell to any coward who should desert his ranks.

     The Spanish attacked eagerly.  Sancho VII drove his war horses through the lines of camels and made short work of the chained, immobile slave guards.  Muhammad al-Nasir fled on a mare and “did not rest until he had reached Jaen,” where he spent long hours writing elaborate excuses as to why he lost the battle.  The Spanish soldiers roamed the mountains for the next few days, slaughtering Muslim stragglers.  Causality estimates are perhaps exaggerated, but approximately 100,000 Muslims are claimed to have perished, while the Spanish only lost some 2,000 men.

     Written accounts of the battle are available from both sides and are interesting in their contradictions.  Moorish reports tend to stress the unavoidable series of unfortunate circumstances which befell the competent commanders, while most of the Spanish reports come from various letters to the Pope and uniformly cite the hand of God and the influence of the Pope in the victory.  Self-serving statements praising the authors are scattered through all the documents, no matter which side they represent.

     The caliph’s elaborate tent was sent to Innocent III as a gift from Alphonse VIII, in case the Pope needed a folding three-bedroom, two-bath place to sleep.  Perhaps in deference to the Pope, no mention was made of the dispensation of the harem. The poor shepherd, Martin Alhaja, was appointed a nobleman, and gifted appropriate lands and a coat of arms.  He was bestowed the title Cabeza de Vaca—the head of the cow.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, probably in 1540 or so.  He must have been very wise, because he sure wasn't pretty.
       The heirs of Cabeza de Vaca prospered, and almost three hundred years later, in 1490, Francisco de Vara and Teresa Cabeza de Vaca had a son named Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.  Two years later, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's armies finally drove the last Moors out of Granada and across the Mediterranean into North Africa.  That same year, Isabella backed an unknown Italian, Christopher Columbus, on a quest to find a short cut to India.  Spain was on a roll.