"Just let it be nameless and be damned!"

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October 21, 2011 -

Telling somebody you just visited Nameless will spark a conversation worthy of Abbott and Costello.

 "What's it called?"
 "It's Nameless."
 "You call it that?"
 "Not That."
 "You said it's nameless."
 "Right!"

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I Done My Duty: Robert Wilson's Righteous Stand

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October 4, 2011 -

In 1838 over 250 of his fellow Texans believed that Senator Robert Wilson ought to be President of the Republic.  Unfortunately for Wilson, Mirabeau Lamar enjoyed the support of almost 7,000 Texans.  Evidently unsatisfied with rejection at the hands of Texas voters, Wilson next earned disfavor from his Senate colleagues as well.  Within weeks of the crushing electoral defeat, a string of self-righteous oaths from the Senator, an inebriated mob, and one very loud bugle created comedic fodder that David Letterman and Jon Stewart can only dream of.

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A Brave Death at Double Mountain

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September 12, 2011 -  

Tales of fatal encounters between whites and Indians dominate 19th-century first-hand accounts of frontier Texas.  Even those authors evincing sympathy for the natives they dispossessed wrote of the inevitable "advance" of civilization and necessary subjugation or extermination of their indigenous enemies.  Written exclusively from the perspective of the conqueror, these accounts often provide the names of white participants.  The more numerous dead Indians remain anonymous.  Thus it is rare that we receive any elaboration upon the personality or humanity of the native casualties.  In his 1884 book Rangers and Pioneers of Texas, former Texas Ranger Andrew Jackson Sowell provides one of these rare exceptions.

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The Dogs of War Ravage Gonzales

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September 5, 2011 -

"Cry havoc!  And let loose the dogs of war . . . ."

 

Hobbled by a painful, bloody calf wound, the weary woman arrived in Gonzales around 11 a. m.  Deaf Smith, Robert Handy, and Henry Karnes had encountered Susanna Dickinson 20 miles west of town while on a scouting mission aimed at investigating reports of the Alamo garrison's massacre by Santa Anna's men.  Upon hearing Susanna's tale of woe, Karnes had immediately hastened back to the Texian camp east of town to report to his commander, General Sam Houston.  Smith and Handy escorted Susanna, her infant child Angelina, a black slave named Joe, and a Mexican named Ben at a slower pace.  All but Joe were mounted.  When Smith suggested that he carry Susanna's baby, the traumatized and exhausted woman readily agreed.

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Brother Morrell Smacks a Sinner

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August 13, 2011 -

I once responded to a jury summons to court at which an elderly woman was on trial for "assaulting" her neighor by spraying him with a garden hose.  The man, who looked to be fit and no older than 40, claimed that the woman had turned the hose on him during an argument about one of those trivial things that neighbors argue about.  Before revealing the nature of the alleged crime, the prosecuting attorney took great pains to point out that the crime of assault does not necessarily involve a fist to the face.  As he asked us one intricately-worded question after another ("If you agree that throwing an object at a person could constitute assault, would you also agree that the object could be liquid?") I heard someone near me whisper, "She squirted him with her hose!"  Alas, I wasn't chosen for the jury, so the outcome of the case remains a mystery to me, but as I stood in the elevator with several other dismissed jurors we eyed each other knowingly before one man blurted out, "No way I'm convicting an old lady of that!"  But the fact that she found herself in court causes me to marvel at how differently we view violence than our ancestors did.  Frontier Texas history abounds with tales of violence involving far deadlier weapons than squirted water.  Yet, more often than not the perpetrator escaped with a small fine or warning or was acquitted altogether.  While observing an 1838 Senate session from the gallery Francis Lubbock fired his pistol at a charging Thomas William Ward and neither man served jail time.  In 1865 George Baylor shot and killed fellow officer John Wharton during an argument in which Wharton called Baylor a liar.  Baylor successfully defended himself at trial by claiming that he thought Wharton was reaching for a gun.  By those standards, the actions of Baptist preacher Z. N. Morrell and his walking stick seem tame, but if carried out today would land Morrell in a big fat legal cowpie.

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"Well That's a New Wrinkle!"

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July 31, 2011 -

I have known for a long time that my office nurse, Cindy Howard, is descended from an early Texas pioneer.  What I didn't know until recently is that her ancestor wrote an autobiography.  I have read many Texas autobiographies from that era.  While all provide an interesting glimpse into our past, their quality varies tremendously.  Among the more interesting in my view are Noah Smithwick's The Evolution of a State and Rip Ford's Texas.  But I'll now claim that the most entertaining I have come across is James Wilson Nichols Now You Hear My Horn.

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