tales are just too good to be true.|
In June 1883, for example, the Stephenville
Empire reported that J.F. Collier and three friends saw something three miles
north of Alexander that caused them to stop and stare: A coachwhip snake nursing
from a reclining cow.
“All four men declared that they were ready to swear
to what they saw,” the newspaper noted. Left unmentioned was whether the four
also stood ready to take an oath that they had not been drinking when they saw
what they saw.
Seeing a shooting star is a lot more likely than encountering
a suckling serpent. A May 1909 edition of the Stephenville newspaper reported
a meteor with considerable candlepower that sped across the West Texas sky. The
celestial streaker lit up the town “with a brilliancy which would have enabled
one to discern a pin in the street with ease,” the account continued.
An especially bright meteor is not hard to believe, but the newspaper also reported
that those who saw the meteor had been temporarily blinded.
example of early 20th century urban folklore: The newspaper revealed the purported
solution to a missing child mystery, noting that the body of a two-year-old Erath
County boy who had vanished the previous fall had been found. In England. In a
bale of cotton.
The newspaper noted the toddler had last been seen playing
near a cotton gin. All in all, the tale smacks more of a compression of wild rumors
Considerably more believable was a report in August 1909
that it had been raining grasshoppers near Cisco in Eastland County. “Showers
of grasshoppers,” the Stephenville newspaper said, fell like hailstones. Farmers
built bonfires to burn the insects that appeared during the Biblical-sounding
the Campbell Brothers Circus came to Stephenville in the fall of 1911, folks in
Erath County got more than the usual sideshow titillation. While circus hands
unloaded the animals from their rail cars, the newspaper reported, “an elephant
stabbed a camel and killed him almost instantly.” (Since no knife was mentioned,
it can be assumed the elephant used one or both of his tusks.)
the faunal fratricide was not determined, the newspaper told its curious readers,
“but [it] is presumed that he [the killer pachyderm] was tired and ill from several
Cattle ranching and cotton farming constituted the
mainstays of the Erath County economy, but one Dee Cantrell figured another way
to make money. Reading that gold miners in Alaska favored gloves lined with cat
fur, he rounded up 1,460 head of tom cats with the intention of shipping them
north to Alaska. But in February 1912, ownership of the herd changed hands, apparently
the result of a game of chance.
Because of that, the newspaper reported,
“Cantrell…will not be able to make his intended shipment of cats to the Porcupine
gold diggings in Alaska.”
The cats that Cantrell wanted to ship to the
Yukon may have had nine lives.--- Meanwhile, every dog has his day. Or night.
Walking down a Stephenville street one night in
March 1912, H.C. Barron stopped to pet a white dog. But when he reached to pat
top of the pooch’s head, his hand kept going as if the dog were not there. In
fact, he realized, the dog was not there. Clearly, he had encountered a dog ghost.
“My legs are always willing to obey in emergencies of this kind,” the Stephenville
Tribune quoted Barron as saying, “and they responded so promptly that I was carried
with express speed toward home.”
In the fall of 1913, Stephenville’s Happy
Hour Theater came under new management and got a new name, the Majestic. “At no
time shall we impose upon you with cheap sensational pictures … to get your money,”
the new owner assured the readers of the Tribune. That was a safe-enough advertising
gimmick. The people of Erath County did not have to go to great effort to find
all of the sensational they wanted.
© Mike Cox
15 , 2004 Column