Fall’s roundup time in Texas. On the occasion of yet another autumnal equinox, here with a roundup of assorted stray tales:
If Stephen F. Austin was the father of Texas, Sam Houston was its uncle.
Texas’ “Uncle Sam” won the battle that counted when he defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto, and he continues to win the battle of the anecdote. Austin may have been a critical figure in the state’s history, but Houston lived larger and longer and left a much richer legacy of stories.
A couple of for instances:
In the late 1950s, Garland Adair gave the Texas Memorial Museum a note written by historian J.T. DeShields about Sam Houston:
“Of course every school boy knows the story of San Jacinto as told in the books,” DeShields wrote. “But there is in the Southwest a fireside tale about it which deserves to be better known.”
The historian continued:
“The night before the battle Santa Anna sent a flag of truce to the Texan camp with a summons to surrender and offer of pardon. Grim Gen. Sam Houston heard the message and said to one of his aides: ‘Tell him to go to hell! Put that in Spanish! And the aide, translating the answer into the language of the Spanish military diplomacy, made oration as it appears in the books: ‘Gen. Houston says that you will have the kindness to present his compliments to Gen. Santa Anna, and inform him that Gen. Houston regrets to be constrained to reply that if Gen. Santa Anna desires our company it will be necessary for him to condescend to give himself the trouble of coming and getting us.’”
Though Houston’s original message to the Mexican general had not contained any verbal artistry, Houston definitely had a way with words.
Later in his career, serving as governor shortly before Texas seceded from the Union, Houston encountered one of his political enemies in the capitol.
“Howdy do, sir,” Houston said formally, though coolly.
“I never knowingly speak to scoundrels,” the opponent replied to the governor.
“You perceive that I do,” Houston said as he walked on.
Any Baby Boomer who has ever struggled to figure out a new cell phone will appreciate this story:
Arthur MacArthur, father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, told his son about being on hand in the 1870s when General Phil Sheridan negotiated a peace treaty with the Indians.
After the peace pipe had been passed, Sheridan tried to impress the Indians with the awesome technological power of the U.S. and the futility of opposing American expansion.
Where the red man had only canoes, the U.S. had mighty steamboats plying the Mississippi, the famed Civil War general said.
Having said that, Sheridan asked his interpreter whether he had made his point.
“General, they don’t believe you,” he said.
Then the general told of the ever-expanding U.S. railroad system and how rapidly Americans could travel in comparison to Indians on their ponies.
Again, the interpreter said, “General, they don’t believe you.”
Frustrated, Sheridan told of Alexander Graham Bell’s recently invented telephone.
“I can talk into a little black box and the Great White Father in Washington will hear me and answer,” the general asserted.
At that, the interpreter remained silent.
Impatient, Sheridan ordered him to tell him what the Indians thought of his last revelation. Still, the interpreter remained silent.
“What’s the matter with you?” the general asked.
Slowly chewing his tobacco, the interpreter replied:
“Well, general, now I don’t believe you.”
MacArthur told that story, which could have happened in Texas, in his 1964 memoir, “Reminiscences by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.”
Tascosa, now the site of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch northwest of Amarillo, had the reputation of being one of the toughest towns in Texas during its heyday in the early 1880s.
The late Bonham poet and all-round character Macphelan Reese told this story in 2000:
A dusty cowboy (so bow-legged they’d have to bury him in a base fiddle case) rides into Tascosa, already high enough to have a nose bleed, and ties his horse in front of one of the town’s numerous saloons.
Tromping inside, the drover orders a beer and drinks about half of it before noticing that the floor is covered in sawdust. He observes to the bartender: “I’ve been in saloons all over this country and I ain’t never seen one with sawdust on the floor.”
The bartender replies: “That ain’t sawdust, that’s last night’s furniture.”
Traveling salesmen jokes used to be common when drummers traversed Texas peddling their wares. Now, thanks to box stores and the Internet, the class once known as rangers of commerce is virtually extinct.
But the humor has survived:
A traveling salesman driving through East Texas runs over someone’s coon dog.
Being a dog lover and decent sort, he goes to the nearby farm house, knocks on the door and tells the woman who answers that he’s accidentally killed their dog.
Shaking her head sadly, she tells the salesman he’d better go break the news to her husband in person.
“He’s out back in the barn,” she said. “And listen, make it easy on him. At first, tell him it was one of the kids.”