Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Texas Independence Day, March 2 – fly your Texas flag today

March 2, 2014

Texans writing the Texas Declaration of Independence, 1836

In a meeting hall at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texans meet to write the Texas Declaration of Independence, released March 2, 1836; image from Portal to Texas History

So, put some barbecue in the smoker, get a Shiner for you and your pet armadillo, sit back and enjoy the holiday.  If you’re near Washington-on-the-Brazos, go to the ceremony.  You’d better be sure you’ve got plenty of Blue Bell Ice Cream.

What?  You don’t get the day off?  You know, Texas schools don’t even take the day off any more.  (In 2014, of course, it’s a Sunday.)

I thought things were going to change when the Tea Party got to Austin and Washington?  What happened?

For Texas Independence Day, it’s appropriate to fly your U.S. flag — or your Texas flag, if you have one.

Original Manuscript, Texas Declaration of Independence - Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Original Manuscript, Texas Declaration of Independence, page 1 – Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Text from the image above:

The Unanimous
Declaration of Independence
made by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the Town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836

When a government has ceased
to protect the lives, liberty and property
of the people, from whom its legitimate
powers are derived, and for the advance-
ment of whose happiness it was inst-
ituted, and so far from being a guaran-
tee for the enjoyment of those inesti-
mable and inalienable rights, becomes
an instrument in the hands of evil
rulers for their oppression.

[Complete text, and images of each page, at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission site.]

Resources for Texas Independence Day

Resources at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

More:

This is mostly an encore post.


Texas Statehood, December 29, 1845 – 168 years ago

December 29, 2013

texas our texas

U.S. and Texas flags at the Texas Capitol – photo: jmtimages

168 years ago today: Rub your pet armadillo’s belly, slaughter the fatted longhorn, crank up the barbecue pit with the mesquite wood, put Willie Nelson and Bob Wills on the mp3 player, put the “Giant” DVD on the television, and raise your glass of Big Red, Dr. Pepper, or Lone Star Beer (or Pearl, or Shiner Bock, or Llano Wine).

U.S. Flag Code rules urge flying the U.S. flag on the anniversary of a state’s joining the Union — even as much as that will frost the tiny band of desperate Texas secessionists.  (Will the secessionists fly the Texas flag at half-staff?)

Texas was admitted to the union of the United States of America on December 29, 1845.

President Polk's authorization to affix Great Seal of the U.S. to Texas Statehood documents

President Polk’s Authorization to Affix the Great Seal to Texas Statehood documents – Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas at Austin

The text of Polk’s message:

I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to an authenticated copy of “an act to extend the laws of the United States over the State of Texas and for other purposes” approved Dec. 29, 1845 dated this day, and signed by me and for so doing this shall be his warrant.

James K. Polk
Washington, Dec. 29, 1845

Seal of the U.S. affixed to Texas Statehood Proclamation

Great Seal of the United States of America, affixed to the Texas Statehood Proclamation – image from State Archives Division, Texas State Library

Resources:

More:

Much of this post appeared here before; it’s an annual event, after all.


Will Rogers and Wiley Post crashed in Alaska, August 15, 1935

August 15, 2013

Will Rogers, images from Will Rogers Museums, Oklahoma

Will Rogers, images from Will Rogers Museums, Oklahoma

August 15, the Ides of August, hosted several significant events through the years.  In 1935, it was a tragic day in Alaska, as an airplane crash took lives of Will Rogers and Wiley Post.  To refresh your memory, an encore post, with a few edits and additions.

After Mark Twain died, America found another great humorist, raconteur, story-teller, who tickled the nation’s funny-bone and pricked the collective social conscience at the same time. Will Rogers is most famous today for his sentiment that he never met a man he didn’t like. In 1935, he was at the height of his popularity, still performing as a lariat-twirling, Vaudeville comedian who communed with presidents, and kept his common sense. He wrote a daily newspaper column that was carried in 500 newspapers across America.  Rogers was so popular that Texas and Oklahoma have dueled over who gets the bragging rights in claiming him as a native son.

Will Rogers ready to perform.  Photo taken prior to 1900 - Wikimedia

Will Rogers ready to perform. Photo taken prior to 1900 – Wikimedia

Wiley Post was known as one of the best pilots in America. He gained fame by being the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Post was famous for his work developing new ways to fly at high altitudes. Post was born in Texas and moved to Oklahoma. He lost an eye in an oil-field accident in 1924, then used the settlement money to buy his first airplane. He befriended Will Rogers when flying Rogers to an appearance at a Rodeo, and the two kept up their friendship literally to death.

Post asked Rogers to come along on a tour of the great unknown land of Alaska, where Post was trying to map routes for mail planes to Russia. Ever adventurous, Rogers agreed — he could file his newspaper columns from Alaska by radio and telephone. On August 15, 1935, their airplane crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska, killing them both.

Wiley Post, first to fly solo around the world, in an early pressure suit for high-altitude flying - Wikimedia photo

Wiley Post, first to fly solo around the world, in an early pressure suit for high-altitude flying – Wikimedia photo

On August 15, 2008, a ceremony in Claremore, Oklahoma, honored the two men on the 73rd anniversary of their deaths. About 50 pilots from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas will fly in to the Claremore Airport for the Will Rogers-Wiley Post Fly-In Weekend. Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Jari Askins will offer a tribute.

Rogers was 56, leaving behind his wife, Betty, and four children. Post, 36, left a widow.

Rogers’ life is really quite legendary. Historian Joseph H. Carter summed it up:

Will Rogers was first an Indian, a cowboy then a national figure. He now is a legend.

Born in 1879 on a large ranch in the Cherokee Nation near what later would become Oologah, Oklahoma, Will Rogers was taught by a freed slave how to use a lasso as a tool to work Texas Longhorn cattle on the family ranch.
As he grew older, Will Rogers’ roping skills developed so special that he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing three lassos at once: One rope caught the running horse’s neck, the other would hoop around the rider and the third swooped up under the horse to loop all four legs.

Will Rogers’ unsurpassed lariat feats were recorded in the classic movie, “The Ropin’ Fool.”

His hard-earned skills won him jobs trick roping in wild west shows and on the vaudeville stages where, soon, he started telling small jokes.

Quickly, his wise cracks and folksy observations became more prized by audiences than his expert roping. He became recognized as being a very informed and smart philosopher–telling the truth in very simple words so that everyone could understand.

After the 10th grade, Will Rogers dropped out of school to become a cowboy in a cattle drive. He always regretted that he didn’t finish school, but he made sure that he never stopped learning–reading, thinking and talking to smart people. His hard work paid off.

Will Rogers was the star of Broadway and 71 movies of the 1920s and 1930s; a popular broadcaster; besides writing more than 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and befriending Presidents, Senators and Kings.

During his lifetime, he traveled around the globe three times– meeting people, covering wars, talking about peace and learning everything possible.

He wrote six books. In fact he published more than two million words. He was the first big time radio commentator, was a guest at the White House and his opinions were sought by the leaders of the world.

Inside himself, Will Rogers remained a simple Oklahoma cowboy. “I never met a man I didn’t like,” was his credo of genuine love and respect for humanity and all people everywhere. He gave his own money to disaster victims and raised thousands for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Post’s legacy is significant, too. His employer, Oklahoma oil man F. C. Hall, encouraged Post to push for aviation records using Hall’s Lockheed Vega, and Post was happy to comply. Before his history-making trip around the world, he had won races and navigation contests. NASA traces the development of the space-walking suits worn by astronauts to Post’s early attempts for flight records:

For Wiley Post to achieve the altitude records he sought, he needed protection. (Pressurized aircraft cabins had not yet been developed.) Post’s solution was a suit that could be pressurized by his airplane engine’s supercharger.

First attempts at building a pressure suit failed since the suit became rigid and immobile when pressurized. Post discovered he couldn’t move inside the inflated suit, much less work airplane controls. A later version succeeded with the suit constructed already in a sitting position. This allowed Post to place his hands on the airplane controls and his feet on the rudder bars. Moving his arms and legs was difficult, but not impossible. To provide visibility, a viewing port was part of the rigid helmet placed over Post’s head. The port was small, but a larger one was unnecessary because Post had only one good eye!

Last photo of Will Rogers (in the hat) and Wiley Post, in Alaska in 1935 (from Century of Flight)

Last photo of Will Rogers (in the hat) and Wiley Post, in Alaska in 1935 (from Century of Flight)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Alaska bush advocate Pamela Bumsted.

Resources:


Amazon haiku to Sen. Wendy Davis’s pink Mizuno shoes

June 27, 2013

(Yes, you’re right — the shoes are red, not pink.)

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis‘s filibuster so insinuated itself into our culture already that it is now a part of shoe reviews at Amazon.com:

Mizuno running shoes for sale at Amazon.com -- the same shoes Sen. Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster on June 25, 2012.

Mizuno running shoes for sale at Amazon.com — the same shoes Sen. Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster on June 25, 2012.

Customer Review


147 of 150 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars SHOES HAIKUS, June 27, 2013

By

mistersnoid “mistersnoid”

This review is from: Mizuno Women’s Wave Rider 16 Running Shoe (Apparel)

Wendy wore these, and
she wasn’t even running.
Here’s hopes she soon will!

Standing and talking,
one needs a lot of support.
You have all of ours.

More:

Mizuno's red running shoes, worn by Texas Sen. Wendy Davis.  Image from Outside the Beltway

Mizuno’s red running shoes, worn by Texas Sen. Wendy Davis. Image from Outside the Beltway


Dallas crime history: Deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, May 23, 1934

May 23, 2013

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, notorious bank-robbing outlaws from Oak Cliff, Texas, ran into a police ambush and were shot to death on May 23, 1934, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Bonnie and Clyde in 1933 - Wikimedia

Bonnie and Clyde in 1933, about a year before their deaths – Wikimedia image

Though they wished to be buried together, her family protested. They are buried in separate cemeteries in Dallas. Bonnie is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery off of Webb Chapel Road in Dallas (do not confuse with the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis). Clyde is buried in the Western Heights Cemetery off of Fort Worth Boulevard, in Oak Cliff (now a part of Dallas).

Borrowed originally with express permission from a Wayback Machine; expanded and edited here.

More:

Additional photo resources:

US Department of Justice, Division of Investig...

US Department of Justice, Division of Investigation identification order for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Image via Wikipedia

Posse suffered deafness for hours after unleas...

“Posse members suffered deafness for hours after unleashing the thunderous fusillade” Wikipedia image

English: Photo of the grave of Clyde Barrow

The grave of Clyde Barrow – Wikipedia image

English: Photo of the grave of Bonnie Parker

The grave of Bonnie Parker – Wikipedia image

You should recall Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in their movie turn as Bonnie and Clyde.  But Serge Gainsborough and Brigitte Bardot, in French?  From 1968:


Remembering Lindheimer’s muhly grass from last year’s garden

April 23, 2013

It’s spring.  The grasses are sprouting.

Texas is a good place for grasses.

Lindheimer's muhly grass, in the afternoon sun

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Dallas, Texas, January 2013. Photo by Ed Darrell; horticultural adventures by Kathryn Knowles

Spring sunlight is spectacular on the new flowers; winter sunlight, in the afternoon, shows a different kind of spectacular.

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, shows beauty from soon after it sprouts until long after it’s gone dormant.  A garden is a year-around project, and joy.

History lives in those grasses, too.  You can find some at the Native Plant Society of Texas’s website, and its description of Lindheimer’s muhly.

This seems pretty dumb now, but many years ago when I first heard about so many grasses called “muley,” I was puzzled about that name. I’d heard of muley cattle such as polled Herefords, but not hornless grass! Needless to say, as soon as I looked up Lindheimer muhly, I could see it is in a genus named after a Mr. Muhlenberg.

Gotthilf Hunrich Ernst Muhlenberg lived from 1753 to 1815. He was born into a prominent Pennsylvania family, and his father and brothers were influential patriots during the Revolutionary War. Because of his family’s involvement in the Revolution, Muhlenberg was on the British hit list.

While he was hiding out in a rural area away from Philadelphia during the Revolution, Muhlenberg became interested in botany. Through his extensive collections, Muhlenberg made major contributions to botany, and many plants have been named in his honor. For example, among our local flora are several species of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia) and Chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii).

Lindheimer muhly was named in honor of Ferdinand Lindheimer, the “Father of Texas Botany.” Many other plants native to the Texas Hill Country also bear the name “Lindheimer” or “Lindheimer’s.” Most of these plants were first collected by Lindheimer, who settled on the banks of the Comal River in New Braunfels in 1845.

Another entry in the Blackland Prairie Almanac, perhaps.

More:


Historic images, encore: Quanah Parker, Last Chief of the Comanches

March 25, 2013

Glenn Frankel at the University of Texas wrote a book about the John Ford movie, “The Searchers.” It’s release, and stories about it, should remind us of the history of Quanah Parker, the last great, chief of the Comanches.  “The Searchers” was loosely based on a true story, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Comanches, and her subsequent life with the tribe, and her recapture by white relatives.  She had married in the tribe — Quanah Parker was her son.

Back in June 2008 I posted this:

Quanah Parker, photo by Lanney

Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Photographed by Lanney. Public Domain photo.
National Archives, “Pictures of Indians in the United States”

Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.

Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.

  • Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
  • Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
  • Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (“What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
  • Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (“antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
  • Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
  • Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
  • Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.

    Quanah in European-American business attire.

    Quanah in European-American business attire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
  • Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
  • Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
  • Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.

Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

Other Resources:

Resources new in 2013:


Forgotten disasters in U.S. schools: The New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2013

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster.  Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 76 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Wikipedia photo

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist with rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from the nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion.  Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that healing silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:


March 6: Did you remember the Alamo?

March 6, 2013

Did you remember?

Alamo with Texas flag flying

Texas law urges you to fly your Texas flag today to commemorate and remember the Alamo, which fell on this day in 1836. Image from Pinterest, All Things Texas

The fortress in an old church known as The Alamo, fell to Mexico’s Army led by President and Gen. Santa Anna, on March 6, 1836.

From Texas A&M:

This account appeared in the San Antonio Light newspaper on Sunday March 6, 1907 [links added here].

The fall of the Alamo has but one peer in the brilliant son of its glory. Thermopylae and the Alamo are side by side on the imperishable tables of history; the names of Leonidas and Travis are synonymous for heroism. The modern altar of liberty almost casts its shadow upon the majority of the readers of The Light………It is, therefore, the purpose, not so much to give history as to recall and keep green in memory all the patriots who died to give us one of the fairest lands the sun ever shone on, and the free and liberal government under which we enjoy it. Fifty years, a half century, have passed since that awful sacrifice was made. Few men are now alive who then took part in that almost hopeless struggle against the perfidious and bloody tyrant of Mexico, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and they are old and decrepit. None of the defenders of the Alamo escaped. The most concise account is that of Francisco Antonio Ruiz, published in the Texas Almanac for 1860. Ruiz was the alcalde of this city. Following is the account given:

“On the 23rd of February, 1836, at 2 p.m., General Santa Anna entered the city of San Antonio with a part of his army. This he effected without any resistances, the forces under the command of Travis, Bowie and Crockett having on the same day, at 8 a.m. learned that the Mexican army was on the banks of the Medina river, and concentrated in the Alamo.

“In the evening they commenced to exchange fire with guns, and from the 23rd of February to the 6th of March (in which the storming was made by Santa Anna), the roar of artillery and volleys of musketry were constantly heard. On the 6th of March at 3 p.m. General Santa Anna at the head of 4000 men, advanced against the Alamo. The infantry, artillery and cavalry had formed about 1000 varas from the walls of said fortress. The Mexican army charged and were twice repulsed by the deadly fire of Travis’ artillery, which resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge the Toluca battalion commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 800 men, only 130 were left alive.

Every Texas school kid should get this history in 7th grade; I doubt it’s taught much, anymore.  Most of my students didn’t remember anything three years after they were supposed to have learned it.

More:


Anybody got photos of Texas’s Big Lake with, you know, water in it?

February 15, 2013

Contrary to popular rural and redneck legend, Caddo Lake is not Texas’s only natural* lake.  There’s also Big Lake, near the town of Big Lake.

Problem being, of course, that Big Lake’s water sources these days generally don’t flow.  So Big Lake is often dry.

Which produces a further problem for site like Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:  If Big Lake is really a lake, why are there no photos of the lake with water in it?

A comment at AustinBassFishing.com got me thinking about this again, no photos of Big Lake as a Lake.  In the previous post here, we featured a photo of Big Lake Playa, sans water.  I searched the internet at the time and found no photos showing water in the lake.  My authority on Big Lake, Brad Wachsmann, swore that he had recently seen water in the thing (“recent” being “in the last decade or so”).

So, sorta good news:  A few photos of Big Lake, with water, plopped onto the internet since our last search.  Here are a couple from Panaramio:

Big Lake, Texas, with water in it.  Photo by doning

Water in Big Lake, near the city of Big Lake, Texas, laps at the State Highway 137 passing nearby. This photo comes from 2004, by doning.

Water in Big Lake, Texas, June 2005; photo by evansjohnc

Photo of water in Big Lake from June 2005. Photo by evansjohnc.  This photo appears to be about midway along the intersection of the lake with State Highway 137.

Big Lake, Texas, in dry phase, by cwoods

Big Lake in its dry phase, from looking north from the southern end of State Highway 137′s transection of the lake. Photo by cwoods.

Sign noting location of Big Lake, Texas, during dry phase. Photo by cwoods

Non-historic marker for Big Lake, also along State Highway 137, looking west. Photo by cwoods. Photo taken during Big Lake’s dry humor phase.

Now:  Can we track down the rumors of other natural lakes in TexasSabine Lake?  Green Lake?  Natural Dam Lake?

And, Dear Reader, can you find good photos of Big Lake with, you know, water in it?

_____________

* Is Caddo Lake a natural lake?  Originally, the lake seems to have been formed by an enormous blowdown of trees, probably during a hurricane, well over 400 years ago.  In that sense, it was a natural lake when European explorers first found it, and during all of Texas’s “six flags” historic periods.  Or, what is known as the Great Raft, a log jam, dammed up the Red River near the confluence of the Big Cypress Bayou, in about 1799.  By 1800, Caddo Lake was wet all year-round, and deep enough for shallow boat navigation.  In 1835, Capt. Henry Shreve blew up enough of the logjam that steamboat traffic could get past (the guy after whom Shreveport, Louisiana, is named).  After the Civil War, locals tried to expand boat traffic by completely removing the logjam.  Instead of making traffic easier, this removal led shrinking water levels in the lake, and it destroyed navigation farther up the Red River.  Several efforts to restore higher water levels achieved some success by about 1915.  When oil was discovered under the swamp, pressures came from oil companies to make drilling easier — travel in the mud was difficult.  After the invention of the Hughes drill bit (by Howard Hughes‘s father, the founder of Hughes Tool Co.) to allow drilling through water and mud into oil-bearing rock, a dam was built near where the logjam had been, to raise the level of what is known today as Caddo Lake.  What is seen today is a human-enhanced version of the Caddo Lake known by the Caddo Tribe.  This is all preface to the current Texas water wars.

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Texas Statehood, December 29, 1845 – 167 years ago

December 28, 2012

texas our texas

U.S. and Texas flags at the Texas Capitol – photo: jmtimages

167 years ago today: Rub your pet armadillo’s belly, slaughter the fatted longhorn, crank up the barbecue pit with the mesquite wood, put Willie Nelson and Bob Wills on the mp3 player, put the “Giant” DVD on the television, and raise your glass of Big Red, Dr. Pepper, or Lone Star Beer (or Pearl, or Shiner Bock, or Llano Wine).

U.S. Flag Code rules urge flying the U.S. flag on the anniversary of a state’s joining the Union — even as much as that will frost the tiny band of desperate Texas secessionists.  (Will the secessionists fly the Texas flag at half-staff?)

Texas was admitted to the union of the United States of America on December 29, 1845.

President Polk's authorization to affix Great Seal of the U.S. to Texas Statehood documents

President Polk’s Authorization to Affix the Great Seal to Texas Statehood documents – Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas at Austin

The text of Polk’s message:

I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to an authenticated copy of “an act to extend the laws of the United States over the State of Texas and for other purposes” approved Dec. 29, 1845 dated this day, and signed by me and for so doing this shall be his warrant.

James K. Polk
Washington, Dec. 29, 1845

Seal of the U.S. affixed to Texas Statehood Proclamation

Great Seal of the United States of America, affixed to the Texas Statehood Proclamation – image from State Archives Division, Texas State Library

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Teacher video: No, Texas can’t secede

December 11, 2012

Another video from super teacher CGPGrey, right up our Texas alley, on the issue of Texas secession:

Minor error:  No provision I can find in any Texas Constitution to allow Texas to split.  Language to allow a territory to split into as many as five states was pretty standard for new U.S. territories organized during the 19th century; but that didn’t carry over to the Texas Constitution approved by Congress, not in a unilateral way.  One needs to recall that when Texas entered the Union, it carried with it lands that eventually became parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming — which was part of the scruff with Mexico, which led to the U.S.-Mexico war of 1846 to 1848.

Still a teacher from another state demonstrates a much clearer conception of Texas history and state and federal law than some of the nutcases in Texas.  That so many Texans hold so many false perceptions of law and Texas history is an indictment of Texas education, and Texas’s governor and legislature.

You also should check out:

And, while we’re thinking about it, did you ever comment on the Digital Aristotle concept, which first introduced this blog to Mr. Grey?

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One more time: No, Texas cannot secede; no, Texas can’t split itself (2012 edition)

November 13, 2012

Someone in Texas, I swear, sells do-it-yourself-at-home lobotomy kits.  Worse, about 50,000 Texans buy the kits every year, and give themselves a self-lobotomy.  Then, when something happens in national politics or something else that doesn’t please them, having put an ice pick through that part of the brain that carries reason and self-control, and scrambled it, they start spouting nonsense about “Texas ought to secede.”

Texas splits from union, trespasses on Mexico

If Texas seceded from the U.S., would it be trespassing on Mexico?

This issue heated up last just after President Barack Obama took office and stopped the national slide into recession; Texans got ticked off that Obama hadn’t let them slip down the bung hole, and the Tea Party was born to push and make sure no one stopped such a slide in the future.  Rick Perry, our peripatetic occasional governor and head coyote persecutor, threw gasoline on the fire.  I posted this explanation back then.

Comes the 2012 election, Democrats and other supporters of Obama rise up and re-elect him.  One of the previously mentioned fools found a feature President Obama’s team added to the White House website, whereby anyone can start a petition on a subject; Obama being the fair-minded man these fools claim he is not, Obama and his team said they’d answer any petition that got more than 25,000 signatures.  Several people started petitions asking for secession.

Think about that for a moment.  They’re appealing to President Obama to let the secede, because they don’t like Obama’s reelection.  Compounding the irony, they’re using a citizen-feedback system designed by Obama’s team.

But then the pro-secession, anti-Obama people threw all sense to the wind.  This process is almost outside official channels.  While Congress will accept petitions, there’s no guarantee that these petitions will go to Congress — only that the Obama White House will answer the petition in some form.

More than a few of the signers are convinced that if they hit the magic number of 25,000 signatures, the action becomes semi-0fficial and will get real consideration.  Here’s news:  You might get a letter from President Obama.  Won’t that please them no end?

Gov. Perry already disowned the current round of zaniness.  It interferes with the zaniness in the run-up to the bi-annual Texas State Legislature meeting, for which “prefiling” of bills started this week.  Even and perhaps especially political zanies can handle only so much zaniness at one time — they’ve hit their zenith of zaniness for 2012.

But the bloggers and Facebookers still jump up and down.  Now, Dear Reader, you are a person of some intelligence:  You don’t think evolution is “from the pit of Hell,” you vaccinate your children and get an annual flu shot, you haven’t been abducted by alien spaceships recently, you worry that your home insurance will continue to climb until we act as a nation to stop air pollution that causes climate change, you understand Hawaii has been a state since 1960 and so a man born there after that, or at any time after annexation in 1898, is a U.S. citizen eligible to be U.S. president, and you don’t fear the UN is going to come take your golf course away (especially since golf-loving Barack Obama is our president); so I warn you, those yahoos who forgot entirely about the Civil War and think they might get a chance to secede from the U.S. and NASCAR just by putting their name on an internet petition, are not going to believe you, nor will they grant any credence to the facts outlined below, as to just why Texas cannot and will not secede.

But, here’s the explanation, anyway:

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Rick Perry put his foot into something during one of the Astro-turf “tea parties” on April 15 [2009].  Someone asked him about whether Texas should secede from the United States, as a protest against high taxes, or something.

The answer to the question is “No, secession is not legal.  Did you sleep through all of your U.S. history courses?  Remember the Civil War?”

Alas, Perry didn’t say that.

Instead, Perry said it’s not in the offing this week, but ‘Washington had better watch out.’

He qualified his statement by saying the U.S. is a “great union,” but he said Texans are thinking about seceding, and he trotted out a hoary old Texas tale that Texas had reserved that right in the treaty that ceded Texas lands to the U.S. in the switch from being an independent republic after winning independence from Mexico, to statehood in the U.S.

So, rational people want to know:  Does Perry know what he’s talking about?

No, he doesn’t.  Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (still one of America’s great newspapers despite the efforts of its corporate owners to whittle it down), noted the error and checked with Gov. Perry’s history instructors at Texas A&M and his old high school, both of which said that Perry didn’t get the tale from them.  (Score one for Texas history teachers; rethink the idea about letting people run for state office without having to pass the high school exit history exam.)

A&M professor Walter L. Buenger is a fifth-generation Texan and author of a textbook on Texas’ last secession attempt. (The federal occupation lasted eight years after the Civil War.)

“It was a mistake then, and it’s an even bigger mistake now,” Buenger said by phone from College Station, where he has taught almost since Perry was an Aggie yell leader.

“And you can put this in the paper: To even bring it up shows a profound lack of patriotism,” Buenger said.

The 1845 joint merger agreement with Congress didn’t give Texas an option clause. The idea of leaving “was settled long ago,” he said.

“This is simple rabble-rousing and political posturing,” he said. “That’s all it is.  . . .  Our governor is now identifying himself with the far-right lunatic fringe.”

Three false beliefs about Texas history keep bubbling up, and need to be debunked every time.  The first is that Texas had a right to secede; the second is that Texas can divide itself into five states; and the third is that the Texas flag gets special rights over all other state flags in the nation.

Under Abraham Lincoln’s view the Union is almost sacred, and once a state joins it, the union expands to welcome that state, but never can the state get out.  Lincoln’s view prevailed in the Civil War, and in re-admittance of the 11 Confederate states after the war.

The second idea also died with Texas’s readmission.  The original enabling act (not treaty) said Texas could be divided, but under the Constitution’s powers delegated to Congress on statehood, the admission of Texas probably vitiated that clause.  In any case, the readmission legislation left it out.  Texas will remain the Lone Star State, and not become a Five Star Federation. (We dealt with this issue in an earlier post you probably should click over to see.)

Texas’s flag also gets no special treatment.  I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Texans explain to Boy Scouts that the Texas flag — and only the Texas flag — may fly at the same level as the U.S. flag on adjacent flag poles.  Under the flag code, any flag may fly at the same level; the requirement is that the U.S. flag be on its own right.

Gov. Perry is behind Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in polling of a head-to-head contest between the two to see who will be the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 — Hutchison is gunning to unseat Perry.  He was trying to throw some red meat to far-right conservative partisans who, he hopes, will stick by him in that primary election.

Alas, he came off throwing out half-baked ideas instead.  It’s going to be a long, nasty election campaign.  [Yeah, those two paragraphs are dated; they are here as historical footnote.]

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Update [2009]: A commenter named Bill Brock (the Bill Brock?) found the New York Times article from 1921 detailing John Nance Garner’s proposal to split Texas into five.  Nice find!

Another update: How much fuss should be made over the occasional wild hare move for some state to secede?  Probably not much.  A few years ago Alaska actually got a referendum on the ballot to study secession.  The drive to secede got nowhere, of course.  I was tracking it at the time to see whether anyone cared.  To the best of my knowledge, the New York Times never mentioned the controversy in Alaska, and the Washington Post gave it barely three paragraphs at the bottom of an inside page.

Texas has a slightly grandiose view of itself. TM Daily Post image

Texas has a slightly grandiose view of itself. TM Daily Post image

More and Related Information:


El Grito de Dolores, September 16 (2012 edition)

September 16, 2012

An encore post, repeated:

No, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s “Independence Day.”

It’s amazing what is not available on video for use in the classroom.

Texas kids have to study the “Grito de Dolores” in the 7th grade – the “Cry from Dolores” in one translation, or the “Cry of Pain” in another (puns in Spanish! Do kids get it?). Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo made the speech on September 16, 1810, upon the news that Spanish authorities had learned of his conspiracy to revolt for independence. The revolution had been planned for December 8, but Hidalgo decided it had to start early.

This date is celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. Traditionally the President of Mexico issues an update on the Grito, after the original bell that Father Hidalgo used is rung, near midnight.

Hidalgo himself was captured by the Spanish in 1811, and executed.

Father Hidalgo issues the Grito

Statue of Father Hidalgo in Dolores, Mexico.

It’s a great story. It’s a good speech, what little we have of it (Hidalgo used no text, and we work from remembered versions).
It’s important to Texas history, too — it’s difficult to imagine Tejians getting independence from Spain in quite the same way they won it from Mexico.

Why isn’t there a good 10- to 15-minute video on the thing for classroom use? Get a good actor to do the speech, it could be a hit. Where is the video when we need it?

Update from 2008: Glimmerings of hope on the video front:  Amateur videos on YouTube provide some of the sense of what goes on in modern celebrations.

And, see this re-enactment from Monterrey:

Update from 2009: The Library of Congress’s Wise Guide for September features the history of the day:

The Grito de Dolores (“Cry of/from Dolores”) was the battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence, uttered on September 16, 1810, by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico.

“My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.”

Although many mistakenly attribute the Cinco de Mayo holiday as the celebration of Mexican independence, Sept. 16 was the day the enthusiastic Indian and mestizo congregation of Hidalgo’s small Dolores parish church took up arms and began their fight for freedom against Spain.

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920” has a rich collection of photographs of Mexico. To view these pictures, search the collection on “Mexico.”

Portals to the World contains selective links providing authoritative, in-depth information about the nations and other areas of the world. Resources on Mexico include information on the country’s history, religion, culture and society to name a few.

September is also a notable month for Hispanic culture with the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Sept 15 – Oct. 15. Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition to Mexico’s independence day on Sept. 16, Chile recognizes its independence day Sept.18. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.

The theme for the 2009 Hispanic Heritage Month was “Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!” To coincide with the celebration, the Library and several partners present a website honoring Hispanic culture and people. [Nice idea, calling it "Heritage Month" instead of "History Month;" maybe we can change February to "Black Heritage Month," and study Hispanic and black history every day.]

Viva la república! Viva el Cura Hidalgo! Una página de Gloria, TITLE TRANSLATION: Long live the republic! Long live Father Hidalgo! A page of glory. Between 1890 and 1913. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-USZ62-98851 (b&w film copy neg.), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04595 (digital file from original, recto), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04596 (digital file from original, verso); Call No.: PGA - Vanegas, no. 123 (C size) [P&P] Catalog Record: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.04595A street in Guanajuato, Mexico. Between 1880 and 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-D418-8481 (b&w glass neg.); Call No.: LC-D418-8481 <P&P>[P&P] Catalog Record: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a27131

Specifically on the Grito de Dolores, see the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project:

Cry of Dolores

My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.Cry of Dolores, attributed to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, September 16, 1810.

The Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico
The [National] Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Early on the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla summoned the largely Indian and mestizo congregation of his small Dolores parish church and urged them to take up arms and fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. His El Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, which was spoken—not written—is commemorated on September 16 as Mexican Independence Day.

Father Hidalgo was born into a moderately wealthy family in the city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, in 1753. He attended the Jesuit College of San Francisco Javier, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mexico in 1774, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1778. He soon earned the enmity of the authorities, however, by openly challenging both church doctrine and aspects of Spanish rule by developing Mexican agriculture and industry.

In 1803, Hidalgo accepted the curacy of the small parish of Dolores, not far from his native city of Guanajuato. Between 1803 and 1810, he directed most of his energy to improving the economic prospects of his parishioners. He also joined the Academia Literaria, a committee seeking Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In September 1810, Spanish authorities learned of the group’s plot to incite a rebellion. On September 13, they searched the home of Emeterio González in the city of Queretaro where they found a large supply of weapons and ammunition. Warned of his impending arrest, Hidalgo preempted authorities by issuing the El Grito de Dolores on the morning of September 16. Attracting enthusiastic support from the Indian and mestizo population, he and his band of supporters moved toward the town of San Miguel.

The rebel army encountered its first serious resistance at Guanajuato. After a fierce battle that took the lives of more than 500 Spaniards and 2,200 Indians, the rebels won the city. By October, the rebel army, now 80,000 strong, was close to taking Mexico City. Hidalgo, fearful of unleashing the army on the capital city, hesitated, then retreated to the north. He was captured in Texas, then still a part of the Spanish empire, and executed by firing squad on July 31, 1811. After ten more years of fighting, a weakened and divided Mexico finally won independence from Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba on August 24, 1821.

Learn more about Mexico:

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Even More (2012):

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