Everything Matters

Everything Matters
Zim's Bottling of Strawn

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Whisper of Old Owl

The Whisper of Old Owl
Through The Windshield
            I left Weatherford this morning, in search of Old Owl’s camp. It was last seen in 1849, best I can tell. If the stories are true, it lies just south of my Alameda-centric box. A full moonlit night would carry a warrior’s steed to the Mansker Lake Community in an hour.
            I turn south on Hwy 16 from I-20, the morning sun still coming in my east truck window. I figure a trip across the foot of Cook Canyon is a good way to time travel back into today’s nineteenth century search. 
            I’ve tried to develop the skill of seeing the land without its roads and fences. My John Wayne-colored glasses warn me that Indians might lurk along the cedar-covered rim of the canyon to my right, awaiting their chance to swoop down and surround me, fill me with piercing arrows. This canyon still whispers its tragedies, from not so long ago.
            I pass across Palo Pinto Creek, the Indians’ highway through this country, creating stories we’ve all heard, and a few never repeated, I’m sure. The project’s
newest contributor, the one translating darkly from outside our log cabin’s walls, says it’s important to get a sense of a place. That the Comanche were attuned to their world in a way that’s difficult for moderns to understand. I sense as I cross this creek that I’m entering their world, hoping for a sign I can follow into Old Owl Mopochocupee’s flourishing camp, one of the largest Comanche camps in Texas.
            What do you ask of a Comanche who died over 150 years ago? Will he ride around with me and point out all the old sites, my newest Shorty Fox? Will he have photos of the significant people and places from his nomadic world? “This is me and my friend Running Cloud the day before we attacked that wagon train up north – good times.” Will he be able to tell me what he, and later Buffalo Hump felt when these cursed settlers kept pouring over the hill from three directions, killing all that the Comanche held dear?
To be clear, I have little idea what I’m looking for. I feel pretty confident when I’m tracking Anglo sites now, when looking for abandoned cemeteries, homesteads or schools. Crooks in the road, cisterns in a field, fence lines that make no sense – I can pursue these footprints with some assurance. With the Comanches, I find myself again at the bottom of a new learning curve. Hopefully they will share some guideposts I will need to track them, to make contact.
            I ascend up the southern rim of Cook Canyon, up into the gently rolling country between Salem and Hogtown. This flatter plain would’ve been an easier path for our new friends to follow, moving northwest toward Mansker Lake. Before the log cabins
started showing up, the Comanches could have continued, on toward their camp near Sweetwater. Later, they could have stalked silently back to their reservation undetected, late at night. Our new friend counsels, “look for paths of least resistance.” Our old roads often follow theirs.
            I near Hogtown. Nearby Blair’s Fort is the last stop on the Stephenville – Fort Griffin Road that I’m sure of. Some writings suggest it headed to Dallas Scott’s place on the hill east of Mansker Lake, before following the Sanches Trail north to Merriman. Some suggests it continued north. Blair’s Fort became Hogtown, became Desdemona.
Desdemona has almost completed its metal volunteer fire house. The community still hold dances and plays, though as of this writing the community has split into two camps. Urbanization has not stolen this hamlet’s ability to fight for what it believes in, even when neighbors become the enemy. There are still pickups clustered around Desdemona’s combo gas station/café for coffee. This town still has a heartbeat, maybe two.
The long-ago story that I’m relying on this morning was written by R.I.P. Ford. “Rip” for all the death notices he signed – Rest in Peace. Robert Simpson Neighbors talked Rip into an expedition beginning at a trading post near Waco, heading for El Paso.  Buffalo Hump and the great peace chief Old Owl led the men to the wise second elder’s camp “near the headwaters of the Leon” after a four day ride. Ford’s description is vague, at least the version I have. The camp was said to be where a creek meets the Leon. It was supposed to be one of the larger encampments in Comancheria, a fully-functioning prehistoric society with many children and one lady said to be over 100 years old. Rip tells us there were two to three thousand Indians encamped here. 
One much later interpretation identifies a spot in northern Comanche County.  I’ve highlighted that stretch of the Leon on my map for today. Another 1936 journal (not necessarily related to Old Owl) tells of finding eleven fireplace hearths, evidence of an Indian “work camp,” the man says. Blow sand originally concealed the clay pits, three feet across and two feet high. Rocks protruded from the top in a circle. This sounds similar to the fire circles, or middens near Ranger. It’s unknown if this camp and Old Owl’s are related. There are fairly specific directions to this 1936 location.  I highlight it on the map as well. The two sites are half a mile apart. Could they be the same?
            The country south of Desdemona is gently rolling, mostly coastal now. Was this land cleared to farm cotton, or later peanuts? What did it look like back then, when mounted warriors attacked Blair’s Fort, Mansker Lake, the Duffer Ranch? Looking down I’m still on striped, winding asphalt. I’m not hot on their trail.
            Uncle Ben Freeman wrote that Jake Hamon’s locomotives couldn’t climb more than a two percent grade. Though they sought to tie certain towns together, the railroad searched hard in 1919 to find the easiest route. They too veered northwest, avoiding Cook Canyon and eventually skirting eastern Cheaney.
            I’ve looked at a lot of maps from as far back as the mid-1500s over the last couple of weeks. Our stretch of the Leon Valley, indeed most of the Leon Region is omitted on all but a few. History appears to be happening elsewhere. Today I am not so sure. 
As I near the little town of DeLeon I wonder…Alameda’s Leon river is straighter, is much easier to cross than the twisting Brazos. Before the tanks, lakes and wells, its water volume flowed much greater. Many in the project remember the richly flowing lion of a river before Lake Leon was built, during all but the driest years. And though we’re focused as moderns on the Comanches’ impact on us, it’s good to remember that they too had enemies before our creaking wagons arrived…Apaches, Kiowas, for example. The rich Leon River hideaway would have offered protection.
Archeological evidence shows that Comanches and Kiowas lived up and down our stretch of valley. The buffalo were less than a day’s ride to the west and northwest (McGough Springs had a few…seven miles from Mansker Lake, as did Victor, ten miles to the southeast). Other than the arrowheads and metates we’ve found on the sandy ground, how could the Indian’s presence have been recorded before the first Anglo families got here to see it?
            I pull into DeLeon about ten. The dusty little town will be my base of operations today, a first. A green highway sign tells me to turn left if I want Dublin or Comanche.  Why be greedy?  One Comanche will do. I turn left.
            DeLeon is still in business. The Highway 6 Café parking lot is packed with pickups at ten in the morning…I make a note for lunch time. The main drag boasts cars and hard-working farm trucks parked along its streets – over half the storefronts open, back in the mercantile game. 
I head south out of town, seeking the Leon River just above Lake Proctor. I’ll turn back north there and follow its waters to the base of Alameda Cemetery. Hopefully I will catch a Comanche scent, some sign, some clue. One can’t help one’s paranoia.
I speed past a wizened old man picking up pecans from the highway’s right of way, his old truck with a busted left taillight dangling by two wires, next to the opened tailgate pulled up near the barbed wire fence. A lady sits in a cream-colored Buick just past the man, waiting at her gate for the mailman – a card from a grandkid, a catalog, the Stephenville news paper.
            I slow within minutes, turn east onto a washboard caliche road, making a note to thank Commissioner Christian for the smoother trails we enjoy one county northwest of here. I come quickly up on the Ebenezer Cemetery and stop.  I’ll check graveyards along today’s unfolding path, looking to see if they share Alameda and Cook’s signs of Indian conflict.  “Killed by Indians” a tombstone clue that I might be close. 
If you ever get a chance to visit this cemetery, it’s worth a stop. Not quite as old as Alameda, it appears more like our Cook Cemetery, showing episodes of great care some years and busy descendants others. These headstones will pull at your heart. 
This lonely place is made better by many concrete markers with the stark word “UNKNOWN” stamped across each face. This sort of message used to make me sad, that some life had been “lost” like that – forever. Whoever crafted these markers saw the larger truth – each soul has been remembered now, though their names and life
details still swim tantalizingly out of reach. These slabs are breadcrumbs that will fall across the path of someone, someday – the circle will be completed.
            I’m walking back to the truck and realize that I’m still thinking like a modern. I look around for bent “Comanche Marker Trees” and spy none. Then far in the distance, on the eastern rim of the Leon River Valley, I see them – two linked peaks higher than anything in the area, connected like the twin mountains above Coleman County’s Santa Anna, Chief Santa Anna’s known headquarters (down which a runaway team injured Joe Cheaney later in life). The peaks I see have a distinctive shape, would make a good landmark. They’ve got to be five miles away at least. I crank up the truck and head for the river bottom, watching my new goal as I drive.
            I stop to look at my old map, nearing the Leon, hoping the old bridge on this map still exists. I start wondering how much my truck weighs. 
The river bed looks different here – more like a swamp with lonely willows and cottonwood, ghostly with flood debris leaves and limbs clawing their trunks, like they tried to escape this place and couldn’t.  I’m not comfortable here, want to leave. There is water standing beside the road – menacing. I can’t imagine the Indians wanting to live here.
            There’s a dented old Dodge pickup pulled off the road…no one in sight. A fisherman, hopefully, on an honorable enterprise. I cross the rickety bridge, bracing for my descent through its rotting floorboards, make it, pushing up the other side, rising quickly onto a giant plateau, old oaks with many-fingered crowns, like heads of broccoli. Circling down again near the river, I come to a place that has the feel of a campsite, near the mouth of Armstrong Creek. This concealed hideout has a rise above the flood plain that suggests a lookout, but it’s too low to see far away. It doesn’t fit Rip Ford’s description. I keep moving.
I end up at Comyn, settled in the late 1870s after the Indian risk had passed, according to their historical marker. Alameda pre-1870 founding makes me proud – not going to let a few blood-thirsty Comanches slow it down. Comyn was a railroad town, then home to a Humble Pipeline tank farm. I pass through, my two peaks in sight, just southeast of the almost evaporated settlement.
            The road rises, the peaks grow taller on my left. The ground falls away to my right, to the east and south. I have a clear view miles and miles southwest to the twin peaks of Round Mountain and the Long Mountain complex (1,800 feet above sea level), almost in Brown County. While I’m two miles from the Leon River now, I remember reading that the Comanches had lower subsidiary sites to relay smoke signals from higher altitudes. These peaks behind me (the higher of the two is 1,388 feet) were one of their “tall towers”. They could have seen trouble coming from miles away. I savor a yes moment. They were here. I feel the sense of place I’d been told about. Comanche Peak in Hood County is about 1,224 feet by comparison, also having a distinctive shape.
A big ranch is at the top of this peak. I am a hundred feet below and still have a great view. At the base of the mountain two decaying homesteads meet me, one maybe both built before 1900. A dense clump of mesquite and oak and a darkened draw off the mountain betray a spring….look for water, for a view, for game, for the path of least resistance. Story after story pour from Alameda about settlers invading the Indian’s front yards with their cabins. We had to have made the Comanches scratch their heads. “What are these light-skinned fools thinking?”
            I don’t think this is the Comanche’s main camp, though. It doesn’t fit Rip’s Old Owl story, either. This could be its lookout. The smaller lookout earlier, below Armstrong Creek, had an unobstructed view of this high place. I look to the north and can see Eastland County’s Jameson Peak, to the east of the invisible Howard Community (1,682 feet high, a distinctive shape, many arrowheads and mano/metates found near a spring at its base).  I remember last week, seeing this same peak from the Comanche smoke camp near Ranger. I have that “fill in the blank” feeling, feel like tumblers are locking into place, three rich, red cherries in a row. I might be observing the smoke signal promontory sites north, east and south of Alameda. Today, I see no smoke.
            I pass back through Comyn heading north. They now store peanuts in the giant coffee can-looking oil tanks, sisters to the round ones that waved Magnolia’s, then Mobil’s flying Pegasus back at me entering Desdemona when I was a kid going to see Cora Lee and Elbert. Path, of least resistance.
It’s impossible to drive close to the Leon River, because of private property. I’m able to turn south and again get close to where Armstrong Creek hits the sleeping larger river. Big Foot Wallace supposedly met the Leon here, then explored north around 1837. I’m still south on the map from where Old Owl is supposed to be waiting on me. How could Wallace have missed thousands of Comanches? Did the band not arrive until after he passed, or is the site further north than other historians have concluded?
            I get to the Leon bottom’s flats. They look just like the land between Alameda Cemetery and Mansker Lake…large pecans surrounded by wheat-colored winter grass…easy to ride through on a horse, easy to pass through on a wagon or a teepee pull-behind.
            I turn north, head up a road that would end up at Round Grove Cemetery if I kept going, but loop back to the west, following more Leon River Valley from a distance. The road is narrow and I’m passing dairy trucks and eighteen wheelers leaving with freshly cut sod, others with shiny-tanks full of milk and hard-working men in pickups. “You lost, boy?” a question I don’t like to be asked. What am I going to tell them? “Eh, yes sir. Could you direct me to Old Owl’s 1849 campsite?” I accelerate on past.
            It’s funny how much one’s head moves to the left and the right when you’re driving fifteen miles an hour looking for bent Indian trees or rises that could be lookouts or teepees or marks on trees. I’ve got to get into Fort Worth more.
I cross over into the stretch of meandering water I’ve highlighted on my map, based on the three reports. Trees get dense on my left, between me and the Leon. I see a stand of deer. I don’t see homesteads…I don’t see warriors riding horses through this dense brush. But I can’t get close enough to our river…there could be a clear path nearer the water. 
I approach another bridge and stop to take a photo, noting that the Leon’s flow mirrors that below Alameda’s cemetery. If conditions here and there were also identical in 1849, it would be hard to name the place where I stand “the headwaters”, at Alameda’s expense farther north. I turn north to loop around for another river crossing farther to the west. I see something on a hillside, about a quarter mile away. Low to the ground, gray short columns, built into a far hillside. My camera lens isn’t powerful enough to tell me what it is. It doesn’t belong, though. I pull the camera down, and finally see in front of me, bold and fully in focus, a sign-No Trespassing.
            I take off again, more than a little frustrated, now approaching the Leon from the north, pass a high dollar place on a knoll above the river. I head down into the peaceful, well-tended bottoms, littered with pecan trees as tall as Eastland’s courthouse. It’s flat across this stretch, with tributaries needing bridges twice. A shape catches my eye to the left and I slow. It’s a grandfather pecan tree, a serpentine giant bent toward the ground, the main trunk pointing east-southeast. Down the river, toward the shapes on the hillside I couldn’t identify without jumping a fence, without getting shot. My head whips to the left involuntarily, then sweeps rapidly to the right – though I hear nothing.  I’m ten feet away from a Native guidepost, a Comanche Marker Tree.  Could a Comanche hunting party be far away? I pause, smiling at my delusion, at my connection.
I don’t know if archeology supports this tree as a true People’s landmark. But the “pointing” tree is facing in a way that the river’s current doesn’t flow - flood waters would’ve pushed it another direction…it bends down, away from the sun, before being sawed off. There’s no other explanation, given the old age of the stunted tree. Could these branches have noted a river crossing…or does it point to the hazy site I couldn’t see earlier, not a quarter mile downriver? 
I take off, my enthusiasm renewed. The far southern rim of this river bottom rises with the road, has an Alameda feel to it, more like the western cliff where the McGahas stayed. I drive up the ridge and sure enough, there are several old homesteads…perhaps this river bottom was their Mansker Lake. The river below this point still flows, but in truth looks like it does on the stretch behind our cemetery, up through Cheaney, up under the Lake Leon Dam. I’m not convinced that this is the country where Neighbors and Ford crossed west at Old Owl’s camp.
            I head north out of DeLeon. It takes three tries to find the little road that will return me to the river. One of those attempts is marked by a county road sign, but takes me dead end to some people named Green’s front door. I swing the wheel around quickly before the shooting can commence.
            There are two cemeteries on my map through here, not far apart. I again want to check for evidence of inter-cultural conflict. I get to one crook in the road but don’t find
headstones, as the map tells me I will. Farther around I do find the Oliver Springs Cemetery…not started until 1885, according to the sign, too new to be of help (the Comanches cleared out in 1874).
I loop back around to the first site, crossing a spring-fed stream (car washes the only item I’m under budget on). I study the map and reconfirm the first location…the cemetery is gone. Bulldozed or plowed or whatever. There is no name for the cemetery on my map. This pasture was made bigger, maybe for peanuts now coastal. I wouldn’t think a cemetery out here would have been very large…half an acre more in peanuts? I am saddened by this latest tragedy on the path.
            After Neighbors and Ford’s expedition left Old Owl’s camp in 1849, over three hundred Native souls fell to cholera, within a few weeks, it’s said. Before the year was up, even wise Old Owl and Santa Anna would be claimed, their final resting place as hazy as these souls resting under the grass pasture, somewhere out there, in front of my bug-addled front windshield.
            I turn north to catch up to the Leon. I’m less than eight miles from Mansker Lake by horseback, though I’m still probably in Comanche County. This road is barely a road…I’ll be surprised if my grandchildren can follow this soon-to-be-forgotten route someday. Up ahead a small herd of cattle wanders the road-strays I think. Then I see a Ford pickup following behind in the ditch. These cattle are being herded to another pasture. The climate-controlled F-150 saddle mount seems to work great, until the cattle need to make a left turn off the almost-gone road, through a gate into a pasture. A
modern cowboy opens the door to his modern Henry Ford horse, gets out waving his arms and a white rag tied to the end of a lunge whip, convincing the herd of his wisdom. Buddy Rogers tells me he finds Dodge trucks superior for herding and cutting cattle.
            I come to the point that I can’t follow the Leon any farther north. I’m miles from where I can rejoin it, just below Mansker Lake. More fence, more private property – I channel the Comanche’s anger.
I cross over Highway 16 again, and head through the country toward Victor. Though not part of my plan today, Comanches were reported in this area as well and the sun is still too high to start serious photography. I’m driving slow…I find myself thinking “where would the Comanches have liked” and occasionally, as I near streams or hollows or quiet bends in the road, hear the thought “they would have liked it here.”
I keep coming back to the smoke signals. To life’s raw ingredients that these guys would’ve looked for before making camp. I put my map away. 
            I bend into another county road. I suspect that I’m in Erath County. No fences or bar ditches along the ten foot wide trail, crossing cattle guards as I enter and leave each fenced around place. This terrain has rolling hills that have lookout potential, but nothing as high as what I saw earlier.
            I come up on a farm place…this little road makes me feel like I’m intruding, like I’m driving through their front yard. There’s a mailbox. There are old pickups and tractors and junk scattered wildly around the place. Some diesel tanks have leaked and poisoned a giant hulk of a live oak, standing dead on its feet. The present owner is
living in a large storage building like you’d buy beside the freeway in Fort Worth, to store your lawnmower. Across the yard sits a once bright yellow house, a Sears and Roebuck Craftsman, I’d guess. Its window glass is gone. Black rings above the window frames betray a fire long ago. Another sprawling live oak pokes at the roof – wanting to go inside.
            I’m not sure which would be sadder to the folks that built this place, coming back to see what I see, or to see bare ground, all evidence of their lives erased.
            I turn back up the trail. It’s getting late. I catch myself wondering if there will be a full moon tonight, if their braves will ride through these hills looking for trouble. The sense of place and the sense of time finally becomes a conversation.
            I stop at the Bethel Cemetery, with a quaint wooden plank one room building that could have been a school or church. I take pictures, the light finally beginning to cooperate. I gently push open the door and get a pleasant surprise. There are pews. The wood planked floors are in great shape. An old piano leans against the far wall. All we need is the lost Bethel Community to show up, and we could have church. Could share one final prayer before darkness comes.
            I’m tired and I want to be home. I turn north, grab hold of some interstate pavement, and return to the world of speed limits and cell phones. I hope the next time I come out here, there is a feathered someone to greet me.
I’m thinking about smoke signals. I wonder who the switchboard operator was in Cheaney.  I’m sure it was a party line, but I don’t remember anyone talking about it. I’m not making a lot of sense. 
            I’m thinking that a sense of place goes on forever. Mr. Cheaney’s father Leander was a scout to Kit Carson, who faced Comanches many times. Is it a coincidence that his son would move from his dad’s place near Rustler, settle near Cheaney’s Comanche-muddied banks of the Leon, then move first to near Chief Spirit Talker’s camp at Mukewater, then to the mountain base of the mightiest warrior chief in Texas at Santa Anna? Did Leander get infected with the People’s sense of place, then pass it genetically along to his son?
            It’s easy to feel frustrated. I don’t have photos of me and Old Owl drinking coffee this afternoon, sitting around swapping stories. Of Buffalo Hump in his feathered warrior array wanting to go liberate some horses from wily Old Henry Mansker. I used to feel this same frustration about the Cheaney Community when all this started. I persuade myself that I have collected golden nuggets today as Kenworths roll past my window, puzzle pieces that will form a fuller picture someday, after I’ve put in more miles. Cheaney’s fragments finally started coming together that way.
I’ve walked right past more historic places on this journey than I’ll ever admit, the treasures remaining hidden until they chose to present themselves. Sometimes you try too hard to put lost tidbits back together. Today I’m not so sure. Did my ‘it could have happened here’ really amplify a quiet chieftain’s whisper – “it did happen here.”
Did that lonely stretch of road, that narrow winter’s thread of water share its rippling memory with me today?
I’m supposed to meet Linda Pelon at a confirmed Comanche camp in Dallas County in a couple of weeks. “It has all of the signs,” she tells me. Everything the People looked for in choosing a home, if you know what to look for. Those puzzle pieces have already been put back together, will form a good example. I’ll have the lay of this country firmly planted in my mind then. And its whispers to lead me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dad's Eulogy

Fred Clark
March 24, 2014

Good slow talk at back road country funerals can make a person remember well the man who’s passed away. Through the filter of that passing, our thoughts can reflect upon the good and bad in our own lives, with him, and after him. What his life meant. What our lives mean, because of him.

My father Fred D. Clark, 75, last of Mineral Wells passed away Monday morning, March 24, 2014 in Weatherford. His passing was not unexpected, though the speed of his final days was a surprise to those who paid attention.

He was born May 30, 1938 in Gorman’s Blackwell Hospital, not far to our south. He grew up on a dry land farm south of Blanket in rural Brown County, between Comanche and Brownwood. His childhood was normal enough for the time and place. He went to school. He hauled hay, worked cattle, milked cows, tilled the garden, had parents and sisters, friends at school, the struggles and quiet victories of a boy in 1940’s rural Texas.

Dad attended Blanket High School. If memory serves there were 11 in his graduating class. Blanket was and is a wide place in the road. His teachers Mr. and Mrs. Lyons somehow implanted in him the ambition that he could go to college. They gave him a dream, or at least the ambition, the self-confidence that carried him on a scholarship down the white dust calliche roads to College Station to go to A & M. He hitchhiked there and back, wearing his full dress Corps of Cadets uniform. That upped the chances he’d get a ride.

The farm boy worked hard, drilled ceaselessly with the Corps, studied and prospered under a very structured, military, disciplined environment, graduating Texas A & M University with a degree in electrical engineering, serving honorably in the Corps of Cadets as an officer.

Upon graduation Dad enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving with the National Security Agency a few years after its founding, being stationed just outside Washington D.C. He completed a 30 year career at Texas Instruments in Dallas, working on the U.S. space program and a myriad of national defense programs. Mom and Dad rented a home on Vernet in Richardson north of Dallas, then bought a home on Newberry and then as things continued to get better bought a home on Lakeview, across the bridge, across the creek where the rich folks lived. I was about 15. It wasn’t Highland Park, but it wasn’t the big middle of nowhere either. Upon retirement, he and mom moved to Mineral Wells, traveling around Texas in their fifth wheel trailer and working on genealogy.

As a kid, it seemed like he worked all the time. Missed birthdays and vacations that usually started late - everything fell into second place behind Texas Instruments. It didn’t seem unusual then, but as a kid, I didn’t have anything to compare it to either. He worked on defense weapons systems that produced this country’s first guided smart bombs, that landed this country on Mars and eventually, on the moon. I have to believe the Lyons would be proud. His TI badge was not just his pass into the building, but more, it got him around some of the most exciting engineering and science going on in our nation at the time, integrated circuits, computers, handheld calculators, synthetic voice technology. When he held that plastic TI badge between his fingers, he probably felt liberation from the life that working a dry land farm’s fields he’d lived on as a child would’ve served up.

I didn’t get that at the time.

Dad was pretty regular for Indian Guides, sometimes for Boy Scouts functions. Our family had vacations many summers in Colorado, tent camping in East Texas pine countries, maybe once a trip to TexasGulf Coast. We went to visit his parents on the farm where he grew up and visited my mom’s mother in New Mexico, after a long dark night crossing West Texas listening to WBAP twanging country western, Bill Mack on one of their Oldsmobile’s AM – FM radios.

He couldn’t leave work early. We’d get where we were going in the middle of the night.

Sunday mornings the then-encyclopedic Dallas Morning News was handed back and forth from my father to my mother, did they drink coffee then?, he often reading her articles out loud, just in case she missed something important.

Dad thought and acted like an engineer, detail-oriented, obsessive, compulsive, a list maker, an organizer – some of these sicknesses are showing up amongst his grandkids two generations removed – mostly as strengths. The echoes of earlier generations, genetics or environment or maybe both. It’s fun to speculate where the lights and darknesses in Dad’s life came from.

From whom.

From why.

He was a writer. I’m not sure where that came from. His writing was frequently sentimental, though his words were taut, effective, robust. Part of his job at TI was writing, and he took it deadly seriously.

Dad grew up poor. There is a romance and even nobility to the tales that came out of rural America during and after our Great Depression, Grapes of Wrath and all that, but after the dust settles, the reality was a life that meant doing without. A life of knowing that if it didn’t rain, there might not be food on the table. A life of knowing there were things in other parts of America that a life on the farm could never provide.

Dad didn’t want to be poor. He didn’t want us to be poor either. The rest was details.

When mom and dad moved after their honeymoon north to serve outside our nation’s capital, they were posted to the Air Force working for the National Security Agency a couple of years after its founding. Those were perilous times. Think of what living in the most powerful city in the free world must have felt like to two kids who grew up at the far end of beyond. They remember army equipment limping haphazardly down the hill where they lived on post, to be shipped overseas as the Berlin Wall began construction in 1961, separating East from West. The Cuban Missile Crisis rocked to life in October 1962, with their new hometown nation’s capital on the short list of places not to be. There they found themselves, these kids from the country having a front row seat during some of most terrifying opening acts of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.

When dad retired from Texas Instruments they took up traveling, at first with a fifth wheel trailer, then in a motor home. He worried over every dime, had spreadsheets for expenses, inspected every invoice. Another echo, if you think about it. For a time they were park hosts at state parks. It took a while to believe that it was okay to kick back a little. That the money might just hold. I hope toward the end, he finally believed that.

Probably not.

Dad flew to Paris for the Paris Air Show for TI. Imagine the enormity of his triumph, growing up on a dry land farm before and during WWII, then looking out his plane window at the Eiffel Tower. John Steinbeck meets James Bond.

Dad bled maroon, being a died-in-the-wool Aggie, a member of the Corps. He would scare the hell out of me when I was a kid, when we went to Aggie football games, standing up with similarly insane Aggie graduates in the bleachers, sitting with the corps, singing the fight song, yelling the yells (real Aggies don’t cheer) and doing everything they could think of from the stands so the tea sippers of UT didn’t win the big game.

A & M lifted my father and thousands of farm boys like him out of poverty. Those farm boys fought and died for this nation on battlefields around the globe, and were a vital part of the post-industrial modernization that made America the strongest nation that has ever existed in history.

That demands a little loyalty.

I see that a little better, now.

Dad had grandkids. He thought granddaughters were the best, of course, having only John and I for kids. He wrote Raven poems, usually with a ‘Night Before Christmas undercarriage.

Twas the night before Christmas, then on and on with whatever subject moved him in iambic pentameter.

He wrote Raven such a masterpiece poem on the day she was born, which she still has. Savannah intrigued him as well, sitting in his lap and telling him in her little girl machine gun voice everything there was to know about her expanding, wonderful oh-can-you-believe-it Pappa Fred world. Nicholas was a big tall boy who my dad always tried to get to talk more, a smart boy, going places, dad thought.

Dad was and is proud of all of them.

Dad’s important work for the nation never ended. Within days of retirement, he successfully alphabetized all the can goods in mom’s kitchen, helpfully questioning whether she knew they had 11 cans of green beans. You have to keep track of these things. He then organized her sewing cabinet, then the garage. He had files and spreadsheets on the computer tracking every moving benchmark in their lives with obsessive attention. He could be a hard man to live with in so many ways. Still, he wrote my mother poems on her birthdays, and loved her, as best he knew how.

The last several years were a slow winding down, perhaps better an unwinding as health failed, memories faded and finally Who He Was Before became a retreating misty murky screenplay to the rest of us. His decline these last few weeks, though horrible in so many ways, was mercifully swift.

We are all thankful for that.

Dad’s Christian beliefs are a bit tougher to untangle. He was raised in the church and as a father, he and mom drove our family to services most Sundays whether we liked it or not. Finding myself in trouble as a kid, his sense of justice seemed boilerplate Old Testament to me, smighting and blights and locusts and all that, though he believed in God, and he believed in working hard, believed that hard work would pay off, if you didn’t give up.

That’s really the essence of faith, if you think about it the right way.

Dad grew up sitting in pews where most of life’s problems supposedly had neat tidy answers. I believe now, looking back, his God knew better. Knowing how life can turn from good to bad in a second, can work on a man.

Can whisper to him, late at night.

What appears to an outsider as obsessiveness, can actually be vigilance.

Dad had one of his best friends in Dave Dog, their black and white hound dog. He and Dave would go on walks around the neighborhood or out in the woods when they camped after retirement. Maybe they talked about life, who knows, but they were devoted, one to the other. When Dave Dog passed away it was a hard day for dad. They had walked many miles, friends seeing the world together. My dad loaded Dave Dog up in the car after his death, then drove him to the church in Mineral Wells, then with his departed companion Dave still in the car, circled the church building slowly.

“God, this is Dave. Get a good look. Dave, this is God.” Dad later in life repeated this curious ritual when Blinkers their cat died.

Dad believed in God. And about doing his part.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years Ann, son John Clark and his wife Karen, me, his grandchildren Raven Mariah Clark, Savannah Morgan Clark and Nicholas Dean Rambeau, sisters Peggy Bissett and Naomi Ruth Griffin. Fred was preceded in death by his parents Fred T. Clark and Thelma Clark.

The lessons of dad’s life will keep coming in for awhile, I suspect. The ups and downs of dad’s life fulfilled a promise of a better future. The Lyons were right, it turned out. If he worked hard enough, smart enough, things could get better, and mostly, they did. The fruit of that pursuit, passed through his hard work, through providing for his family’s day-to-day needs, fuels the lives of his kids and grandkids. That future, their future looks promising. Their dreams, two generations past his own dream of big city success and not plowing or wondering or worrying about the rain seem too bittersweet to believe on this day, standing here, a return to quiet rural America.

Dad loved this cemetery. I heard him say that myself. He believed in God, and that God would help him, if he helped himself. He loved his wife. He moved the ball down the field, as best he knew how. He is finally at peace. We thank God for that.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, it comes to me. Then it wasn’t.

We thank you for coming today.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Strawn Sand by Joe Martin

Memories of Strawn by Joe Martin
Introduced By Jeff Clark

The below “The Strawn Sand” manuscript describes what life was once like around Strawn, Texas. It wanders a bit, as good stories will. The words were written by Joe Martin. Martin died several years ago in Sinton, Texas. I can’t exactly remember who handed me this. It won’t be long, now.

This work is longer than what I usually share. There is more information, more nuance contained in these pages than a quick reading will reveal.

It’s been many months of Sundays since my high school American History class (or Texas History, for that matter). I remember many of the topics Mr. Martin shares. I just wasn’t taught that this pivotal American history had subchapters along the road between Fort Worth and Abilene. Mr. Martin successfully ties Pancho Villa, Mother Jones, the World’s Oldest Profession, William Jennings Bryan, the Wobblies, and many other topics your history teachers quizzed you about to the same real estate that now boasts sprawling game ranches and Mary’s Café.

I wish for once you could stand across the desk from me, as I finish typing this. I’m holding a yellowing sheaf of 17 hand-typed pages with “by Joe Martin” at the top. Staring back at me. There are penciled corrections throughout, fixing one thing or another. I hope Mr. Martin held these same pages once, as I am now.

It’s not the Holy Grail. Or maybe it is. A small piece of it, anyway.

I haven’t changed anything in his story, haven’t “corrected” or edited any of the sights or events Mr. Martin lets us see. I wasn’t there. Joe Martin was.

It’s unclear to me when Mr. Martin’s tale was written, though there are clues. I won’t spoil it for you. If you choose to make your way through his pages, please do him the honor of reading them slowly. What appear to be mistakes might be. Or maybe not…

One sentence knocked me down.

Or maybe three.

Including Mr. Martin’s story is a departure for the Texas Tabernacle. I didn’t write these words. One extremely tough night last week, I looked around “underneath” the dirt floor tabernacle’s timbered supports holding the weathered tin roof aloft and remembered I wasn’t alone. Hopefully, this place will be more of a conversation in the future. More like at Alameda Cemetery workings have been for over 120+ years, valued friends and kin catching up. Reconnecting. Carrying the “life” of a place forward. We hope, perhaps pray, that the circle is yet unbroken.

“The Strawn Sand,” by Joe Martin (Part One):

            “Oil was struck near Strawn in 1915. This was a shallow, long life, high quality oil. Sand drilled with standard or cable tools. One power house pumped a number of wells on rod lines.
            Before oil was struck, Strawn was a coal mining and farm and ranch center. It was in an industrial area or triangle of the main Texas coalfields in the coal boom days. Thurber was the largest town of this triangle with the largest payroll….Two miles north of Thurber was Mingus or Thurber Junction. A railroad subdivision with coal chutes and car repair shops. Along the railroad and dirt or cinder road from Thurber to Mingus was a settlement called Grants Town. Four miles east of Mingus was Gordon. Three miles west of Mingus was Lyra or Mineral City. A coal mine town two miles from Lyra west was Strawn. Strawn was seven miles northwest of Thurber. In this area twenty-one coal mines were sunk. The Thurber Company sank sixteen, number one to twelve, number thirteen skipped, then one to four. Strawn sank four at Lyra, one at Strawn.
            Everyone in mining except the bosses belonged to the U.M.W of A. or United Mine Workers of America. District twenty-one, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas. The Strawn mine was named Mt. Marion. Lyra mines numbered one to four. Strawn coal had a large company department store at Strawn. The Lyra store was grocery, meat market, dry goods and hardware store and office. The Strawn store was one block long, half block wide with office, dry goods, furniture, groceries, meat market, hardware, stock feed and funeral home, the famous Strawn merchandise company. Their ads said from the cradle to the grave. They owned a lumber yard under a different name.
            The company had its own money which was accepted in all private stores in the area as cash. It was in brass and metal coins in five, ten, twenty-five, fifty cents and one dollar pieces. The company had a payday once a month. The employee sent a statement of deductions from house rent if he lived in a company house, bills owed company store, union dues, even money due church if he was Catholic and how much due him in U.S. cash. On payday employees with good rating could buy from company stores on credit or he could draw company money before payday if he had wages due. Peddlers of all kinds of goods and farm produce would accept company money for such trading.
            At the company store in Strawn, the cashier sat up in an office overlooking dry goods and furniture on one side and grocery, meat market, hardware on the other side. The clerk would send cash and the bill via wire trolley to cashier. She or he would ring up sale on register, put in change, and return to clerk.
            The company store was the meeting place for the townspeople. There was a porch and sidewalk in front and large plate glass windows. The doors were open in the summer. There were boxes of slab cured bacon near meat market counter.
            The town was full of hound dogs always hungry and looking for food.
            The store manager drank heavy. One day a hound ran in and grabbed a slab of bacon and ran for the front door. The manager grabbed a slab, threw it at the dog, missed him but hit the big window. There were many such incidents in the company store or in Strawn. Us kids would go to the company store if we had a five-cent coin, either U.S. or company and buy a grab bag of nickel candy. If lucky there would be a U.S. nickel in the bag.
            The company store had a brick building at the edge of town where dynamite and blasting powder was stored.
            The company store also sold all types of miners supplies. The vein or seam was small or 30 to 40 inches of coal. The digger had to work a lot on his knees or on his back. He would dig the bottom slate from under coal with sharp 2-edge picks or drill holes and shoot with blasting powder. The bottom was from 12 to 20 inches thick. In Thurber mines with electric cutting machines did this work. The mines were called “long wall” or British type.” In bigger U.S. mines the type is “room and pillar.” Forty feet of seam is cut or shot, then 40 feet left for pillar. Later this is taken. The top rock was shot down with dynamite just high and wide enough for rail tracks and for mule or motor.
            Each digger has numbered brass checks he put on the car of coal. When the car was dumped on top, the weight was credited to that number. At the end of the shift the digger could see on daily sheets, number of cars and weight to his number.
            A check puller, usually a boy 15 to 17 years old, took check from car, put check on board in weight room, called the number to weigh boss and union check weigh man All on top in the tipple. The swift steam hoist pulled cars to the top in steel cages. One cage descended as the other cage ascended. The operator sat on high stools in the engine room with large windows open to see, but he watched large dial indicators that told him where cages were at all times. One of the cagers on the bottom pulled a lever which blew a small steam whistle on top near the operator or engineer, as he was called. One blast meant coal, two meant rock, and three meant a man wanted the cage. The engineer answered three blasts with one blast from the big whistle. After the man entered the cage, the cager blew a little whistle one time. The cage went up.
            Men were allotted a cage only at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., except in an emergency. The big steam whistle blew only at 7 a.m. to start lowering the men, 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at shift’s end. Then 7:30 p.m. three long blasts meant mine worked next day. And 5:30 a.m. three long blasts meant work that day. Any other blasts any time meant disaster and all off duty men to report to mine. The U.S. Bureau of Mines taught first aid and safety to mine rescue teams.
            The companies and union helped in all ways and encouraged safety first and correct first aid work. There were six men to a first aid team with splints, bandages, stretchers, etc. These were almost as good as a doctor on first aid. Meets and contests were held and the winners given medals and prizes. Then winners went on to district and national meets…{Ed: To be continued}.

“The Strawn Sand,” by Joe Martin (Part Two):

            …The European miners lived almost as they did in Europe. They spoke their native tongue, ate food of their native land and kept religion and customs and dress of their native lands.
            After a death, there would be a wake and much drinking. The Poles and Slavs would dig a grave at night. Everyone then dug the graves for all as token of help. The corpse would be brought home and friends would sit by open coffin until burial time.
            A wedding would last for days with drinking, eating and dancing. Among the Poles and Slavs, the bride would dance with all who paid a dollar. And in the yard a plate was set up and for one dollar men would throw at the plate with a silver dollar. If he missed, the dollar was the groom’s. This money was used to set up housekeeping for the couple.
            They were good miners and citizens and the young were fine athletes. The Italians built outdoor bake ovens of brick and stone. A wood fire was put in the oven until the right temperature, then oven cleaned and bread and meats baked.
            The Italians played an outdoor bowling game called “bocce ball” with wooden balls. The Italians were fine musicians. The Italian brass band at Thurber was the state’s finest. Many races and nationalities were in Strawn, but no Negroes were allowed there.
            There was a cotton gin near the mine owned by the coal company and supplied wine steam from the mine’s boilers. Another firm had a flour mill and feed mill in town. Strawn had all needed business stores and shops. One of the main businesses was the four large saloons. There were many dry towns in the area and customers came via rail or horse. The saloons opened at five in the morning and closed at midnight. No women went into saloons. Children went in with fathers and were served bottled soda pop. Coal miners are heaviest of all drinkers, but they do not go on the job drunk or bring booze to the job, for the company fired them at once and the union backed the company.
            There were many fist fights among drunks and funny antics. One warm day a drunk came out of the saloon, untied his horse, turned him and then started to whip the horse. The horse was hitched to a buggy. The drunk wore a hat and had a large mustache. The horse barely missed the mustache, but sent the hat sailing in the air.
            A blind piano tuner would come to town to tune pianos. He drank heavy. Another drunk would lead him to jobs. One rainy day both were wading through the mud street instead of using the cinder sidewalk.
A large Slav woman with grown sons and daughters had a small husband called “Spider.” Almost every Sunday eve “Spider” got drunk and his wife and two youngest daughters brought him home. At the bridge almost home, he would pull loose from the girls and defy his wife. She would turn back and kick him so hard to lift him in the air.
            A confederate veteran lived near us. On Southern holidays he would dress in his gray uniform with rifle and confederate flag and march downtown singing “The Pretty Little Girl I Left Behind Me.” {To be continued.}

“The Strawn Sand,” by Joe Martin (Part Three):

            My mother belonged to a Campbellite Church. One night we were in church in summer with an elderly lady and her daughter. The window and doors were open. The preacher was on the rostrum. The lady’s husband came in drunk. He got a chair and sat on the side of the preacher and kept his straw hat on. He rolled a cigarette, lit it and with his hat in front of his face he puffed away. His wife and daughter scolded him after church.
            A farmer and wife and grown sons lived south of town. They would come to town, the sons on horseback and the old man driving mules to a wagon. In town they went to the saloon to get drunk. One time there was a tent show with stage plays near the saloon. The old man and his sons got drunk, bought front row seats. On stage the villain appeared while the hero was gone. He tried to grab the heroine. One of the farmer’s sons was ever the gentleman. He ran out to the wagon, got a single tree and went on stage and said no lowdown skunk would bother a lady while he was present. The constable went and took him to jail…
            One summer a Baptist preacher and a Campbellite preacher had nightly debates on religion under a tent for two weeks.
            There was a Baptist church, Methodist church, Presbyterian church, Catholic church and Campbellite church in Strawn. The Campbellites split over music in the church. Then the holy rollers came in. There were also a few infidels who read Bob Ingersoll.
            The main political party was the Democrat, but there were a few Republicans. And a large number of Socialists who read The Appeal to Reason from Girard Kans, and The Rip Saw from Dallas. Socialist speakers were brought in. A famous woman Socialist, Kate Richards O’Hara, spoke at Thurber. And “Mother Jones” famed miners organizer spoke at Thurber. When the United States entered the first World War a secret group came to Strawn and Thurber called the Farmers and Laborers Protective Association. Members took an oath to resist the draft with firearms. This is treason, so federal agents arrested the leaders who were tried in federal court in Abilene, Texas, and sent to federal prison.
            The young members joined military service or waited for the draft. Coal was needed in the war effort. There was a large yellow board at each coal mine where names of miners were placed who were accused of being slackers. Young miners so accused had their names sent to the draft board. At New Thurber number two mine was a cashing head gasoline plant. At Fort Worth there were three flying fields where American, Canadian and British flyers trained. The airmen would fly and light near the plant and put gasoline in their tanks. One day a plane lit in a wheatfield of my father’s. A plane was a sight to folks then. The crowd trampled and ruined some grain. My father complained to the postmaster and soon a government official came and paid for damage. One of the British airmen who flew to the plant was Vernon Castle of the famous ballroom dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle.
            At Fort Worth was Camp Bowie, an army camp where the 36th division of Texas and Oklahoma troops were trained before going to France in World War I. Most drafted men were sent to San Antonio or Camp Travis to join the 90th division national army or the Army of the United States. At Waco was Camp MacArthur, Michigan-Wisconsin troops. At Houston was Camp Logan with Illinois troops. Negro troops at Camp Logan started race riots in the war. The leaders were taken to Fort Sam Houston at San Antonio and tried by Army court and hung.
            About this time trouble between the United States and Mexico sent both regular army and the national guard troops to the border. After Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, General Pershing’s troops went into the interior of Mexico. Troop trains passed through Strawn very often. The soldiers would be waving and singing and holding up bottles of beer or whiskey. And they would throw out pieces of hard tack, a hard bread or cracker. On them would be soldiers’ names and army address, or a clip of cartridges from an army rifle. The railroad put guards on railbridges west of town. These were for drunks and loafers.
            One older guard did more fishing, hunting and pecan picking and drinking than watching. Their camp was near two railbridges. The locomotive engineer would blow an engine whistle for guards to wave an all clear signal. One night he blew for the signal, but the old man could not find a flashlight so he struck a kitchen match and waved and said as the train entered the first bridge, “We’ll soon know if the other one is still there.”
            The trouble with Mexico passed and troop trains rolled east and north to ships overseas as the nation entered war in Europe. But now they were tanned and fit and more serious.
            The War’s armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November, 1918. By then the Spanish influenza was a national epidemic.
            By 1915 the Thurber Company struck oil near Strawn. Before this their coal drilling rigs had found gas and oil as they went west. In fact so much gas was found in the new number four of Thurber, worked ceased. This was farthest west of all the area’s coal mines.
            The oil strike changed the area in every way. Oil firms came in with contractors and workers and new families caused a building boom.  Folks came in, such as gamblers, heist guys, women of the world’s oldest profession and their panders. Drilling continued in every direction from Strawn. Strawn was nearest the rail station and oil supplies were unloaded for nearby fields. These were shallow fields from 1500 to 4000 feet deep. The rigs were star or national machines or Fort Worth spudders or standard or cable tool rigs.
            The crew was only a driller and tool dresser who worked 12 hour tours or shifts. But a casing crew of 5 men was used when pipes were set. These crews bought the casing pole and never slipped a set of tongs. They also worked 12 hour tours but got double time on wet jobs where a well flowed. The casers worked for contractors who furnished a car casing pole and never slipped. He paid casers after deducting 20 percent of wages. A casing contractor at Caddo drew pay from oil companies and left town at night without paying his men. Some of these wells only pumped 2 or 3 barrels a day. But it was high grade crude. A central pump station pumped several wells with rod lines. In 1917 the Thurber company struck oil at Ranger causing one of the nation’s biggest booms of all times.
            Rigs touched each other. Their streets were so boggy, people paid a dime to ride a sled pulled by horses across the street. Gambling houses and bootleg joints were all over town. And the largest red light district I ever saw, and I had seen those in Galveston, Kansas City and Chicago. The Scarlet sisters came to Ranger from world over. Murder was often in the news.
            The mud brought mules and horses, even oxen to Ranger. Big horses and mules with fine harnesses and rings and bells were seen. The oxen pulled 8-wheeled wagons and there were cat tractors that pulled two to three 8-wheeled wagons in trains. There was a big lady who rode a big white horse. She was armed with a bull whip and pistol and watched over the horses, mules and oxen. Some said she worked for the Humane Society.
            In 1916, the oil workers at Strawn joined the union and asked for better pay and shorter hours. But they failed to get union contacts. The I.W.W. or “wobblies” were also active among oil workers in the area, mostly among pipe liners. Some pipe line superintendents were wobblies and so were many stabbers.
            In that day the oil firms furnished meals, beds and shower baths to workers so the workers expected good food, clean beds and shower baths. The big oil firms had inspectors who drove unmarked autos and ate the same food as the workers and inspected the beds and showers. Three railroads were laid from Ranger to Breckenridge in Stephens County. One from Cisco to Breckenridge, one from Ranger and one from Eastland, which joined the Ranger railroad at Breck Walker, six miles south of Breckenridge. {Ed: to be continued.}

“The Strawn Sand,” by Joe Martin (Part Four):

            The Eastland Railroad was built and owned by Ringling Brothers of Circus fame. Nearby Cisco was where Conrad Hilton of Hotel fame got his start as hotel owner of a small two-story brick hotel called Mobley Hotel near the railroad station. Cisco also had a large Humble oil camp.
            In 1920 the world champion baseball Cincinnati Reds trained at Cisco. They were World Series winners in 1919 in the Black Sox scandal of thrown games. And in 1920 the Columbus Red Birds of three American Association played the Cincy Reds – in Ranger, where the Red Birds trained. In that game the Cincy third baseman, Sammy Bohne, hit 4 home runs over the right field wall.
            Strawn never lacked from show or other entertainment. There was the Opry House and at one time two open air dome movie shows. There were traveling shows under tents and shows at the Opry House. Every summer Mollie Bailey Circus showed there. Once Campbell Brothers Circus, one of the largest railroads showed, gave two performances in Strawn. And in 1922 the Gentry Brothers Circus showed there. The minstrels did too. The minstrels always gave a street parade in bright red uniforms with a brass band with slide trombones loud and clear.
            They were an impressive sight. The carnivals came too. Some had wrestlers and boxers who gave money to anyone who stayed so many rounds or minutes. The Pole and Slav miners gave good account against these showmen. One Slav miner had met Dr. Roller, the famed wrestler. Another Slav miner became lightweight champ.
            Baseball was the favorite sport of miners. The Thurber miners were the best semi-pro team in the Southwest. They had a left-handed pitcher who, it was said struck out 26 at Trinity University at Waxahachie, but lost the game as the catcher missed the third strike. The Detroit Tigers trained at Waxahachie. They signed Charles “Chink” Watson to a contract. At Shreveport he struck out Babe Ruth twice in a spring game. Strawn had Fred Dealon Johnson, a strong right hander, who shut out Mineral Wells twice one Sunday. He went to Cisco in the West Texas League. Then he went to San Antonio of the Texas League, then to the New York Giants, then back to the minors for 15 years and back to the St. Louis Browns. Paul Richards said Fred Johnson “learned him” all he knew about pitching.
            The only hurler ever to bother Strawn was Pete Donohue of Libby Packing House of Fort Worth. Pete signed with the Cincy Reds.
            The traveling road clubs played Strawn. The most famed was the Boston Bloomer Girls. They traveled in three railcars and stretched a canvas wall around the playing field. All the Bloomers were not girls. They key players were top men. They wore wigs.
            After World War I Strawn High School started football in 1923. They beat the Oil Belt teams and also Fort Worth and Dallas. They also beat Cleburne in bi-district game, but lost to Wichita Falls in the finals. They had 13 men and 11 uniforms in shows.
            The Chataqua Circuit came to Strawn. They had top talent plus famed speakers such as William Jennings Bryan who was Secretary of State in the Wilson Administration.
            These were the days of the great American hobo or knights of the road, on the Weary Willies. They were well treated and fed good in Strawn, for the coal miners traveled via freight to other coal fields. The hobos had monikers or nicknames. These were carved on rail water tanks and the direction they were traveling. The most famous was a No. one, also an author and back to shows.
            Once the George J. Loos carnival came to Strawn with Booger Red’s Rodeo and the Forty Nine Dance Hall girls came to Strawn in a tent. They danced on wooden floors to the tune of a piano played by a negro called the “Perfessor.” They danced with any male with the price of the dance, fifteen cents each dance. One time a fight started in the tent and the tent pole was pulled and the tent came in on all under it.
            One carnival had thrill motorcycle riders. The crown would be on the outside of the wall and riders would ride motorcycles up and around the straight up walls. One daring rider was called Crazy John…{Ed: to be continued}

“The Strawn Sand,” by Joe Martin (Part Five):

            Mount Marion mine at Strawn was 412 feet deep. Number four at Lyra was over 500 feet deep. The vein pitched down as it went west. At Strawn there was a steam engine that pulled the wire line west. An electric locomotive pushed as the engine pulled. The brakeman rode the first car of the trip. He was called roperider in Oklahoma mines. Shot firers went down in the evening, after day shift finished. The loader fixed shots and the shot firer shot them. He set off each one then went to parting to wait till all went off and to wait for the buddy shot firer. They said in Oklahoma shot firers were paid $50 a shift and funeral expenses.
            The mines in the area employed from 200 to 400 men and produced 500 to 1000 tons daily. Most of the coal was used by the Texas and Pacific Railroad. But some went to other railroads.
            One of the thrill shows at these carnivals was the motor dome. This was a circular, vertical wall in which men on motorcycles would get up enough speed to ride around it and defy gravity. One carnival which came to town had a wrestling and boxing show which has a lady wrestler. She was a fair wrestler but no match for the young miners. The best carnival to stop in Strawn was the George J. Loos Shows which played the Fat Stock Show at Fort Worth.
            This carnival had what was rated as the top rodeo show and top rodeo family in all Texas history. This was Booger Red and his sons. They had fine stock and horses and had no peers as riders and real sure enough Texas Cowhands.
            The Opry House showed movies when no traveling stage shows were in town. These were mostly three reel show, one reel comedy, and two reel plays, usually Cowboy or Civil War stories. The Opry House had a balcony called Buzzards Roost. Only males would sit up there as some would chew tobacco and spit on the floor.
            Strawn also had two air domes or open air movie shows. The Opry House then started showing five reel feature films. And the serial or continued movie started. An episode would be shown once a week. Among the first were “The Broken Coin” with Francis Ford and Grace Cunard. And the “Perils of Pauline” with Pearl White and later the “Million Dollar Mystery,” and Helen Holmes in the thrilling rail road serial.
            One Friday night at the end of a serial where the heroine was left in a dangerous situation and the script said “To Be Continued next week,” one patron was disgusted, he said “aw” then uttered an unprintable word out loud. This was before talking pictures, so everything was and all talk was shown in print on the screen. Even after I was grown, there were silent movies.
            When I was in Henrietta, Oklahoma, a coal mining city, there were some former Strawn miners there. One, a young French man invited me to a movie. The story moved into Chinatown and some Chinese writing was on the screen. I asked Frenchie, as we called him, if he could read the writing or characters. He said, “No, but if I had my coronet here, I could play it.”
            The Strawn Opry House had a gramophone with a horn they played in the evenings before show time from the balcony. There was a piano some one would play during the show and some times the local musicians would form a small orchestra and play before the movie. Later and electric player piano was put in.
            The first big super film made was shown at the Opry House. It was “Birth of a Nation.”
            One of the best and cleanest forms of entertainment that came to Strawn or any other small town was the “Chataqua.” This was a tent show with a variety of features of high class talent and even featured noted personages and speakers such as William Jennings Bryan, the “Golden Orator,” who later became Secretary of State. The Chatuqua was an entertainment bureau that brought culture to the small towns like Strawn. The folks got their money’s worth at the Chatauqua.
            One of the big drawing shows at the Opry House was the musical comedies with the girl chorus which were leg shows. In those days a girl or woman’s bare legs were not seen in public. Even in bathing, the women wore long bathing suits. In these shows the chorus girls wore short tights and exposed part of their leg. The men and older boys would always find enough money to view these shows and then hum or whistle the tunes for weeks after.
            Another show which attracted the males were the Forty Nine Dance Halls. These were tents or canvas walls with a wooden dance floor, a piano player, dance girls and a bar. But the bar would only serve soft drinks. After every dance the manager or bouncer would shout, “All right boys, let’s decorate the Mahogany.” He meant for the male dancer to take his girl and buy both of them a small drink at the bar. These drinks were small and cost two or three times as much as they would at regular fountains. One such dance hall tent was torn down in a fight between young miners and the dance hall men. Strawn had a nice dance hall run by a miner. One dance hall had been built on the far north side of town and some of the neighbors did not like it so it burned down one night in a mystery fire. But then a big Polish man built a dance hall on the south side of town and promoted dances there. He was a big man and able to take care of any trouble. One night a little Irish man who had two many drinks caused some trouble. The big Pole went over and got the little Irish man by the seat of his pants and carried him to the front door and threw him out. The little Irish man found a half brick. He yelled, “Come out, come out and I will part your hair with this stone.”

To be continued

{JDC: To my knowledge, it never was…}