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 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
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
“Howdy do, sir,” Houston said formally, though coolly.
“I never knowingly speak to scoundrels,” the opponent replied to the
“You perceive that I do,” Houston said as he walked on.
(The late Texas tale teller J. Frank Dobie told that story in the
late Houston Post on Aug. 27, 1954.)
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
“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
Again, the interpreter said, “General, they don’t believe you.”
Frustrated, Sheridan told of Alexander Graham Bell’s recently invented
“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
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.
Bonham poet and all-round character Macphelan Reese told this story
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.”
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.”
- December 10, 2005 column
by Mike Cox - Order Here