if Texas boys still chunk rocks?
Since you have to be playing outside to pick a rock off the ground,
it seems doubtful. These days, if an activity does not involve a
device with a screen on it, most boys are not particularly interested.
Probably even Baby Boomer boys did not resort to rock throwing as
often as previous generations of kids. We had comic books and three-network
black and white television to keep us inside, though compared to
today's young people we still spent a lot of time outdoors. But
back when Texas was mostly a rural state, say when my granddad was
a youngster, rock throwing was as common as, well, a rock.
Of course, even then rock-chunking was nothing new. Prehistoric
man used rocks for hunting, self-defense or aggression, the propellant
ranging from arm muscle to sling shot to giant catapult. Tossing
larger rocks-stoning-became a brutal manner of execution. And everyone
knows the story of David and Goliath.
Sometimes, rocks flew more out of mischief than malice aforethought.
"The habit the irrepressible small boy has of throwing rocks on
the streets should be promptly put an end to by the police," the
Austin Statesman said in an editorial foot stomp on Oct. 21, 1881.
"A lot of boys throwing rocks near the Land Office yesterday struck
a well known young lady on the head and the blow came very near
knocking her down. The past time must be stopped."
In the spring of 1886, the Fort Worth Gazette reported that one
fellow got 90 days in the Dallas
jail for "intimidating employees and throwing rocks at them."
Basically, there are only two motivations for throwing a rock at
someone. The more justified circumstance is self-defense. Someone
has thrown a rock at you or otherwise demonstrated threatening behavior
and you look around for a retaliatory missile. Or, despite what
the Bible says, you chunk the first rock.
A subset of aggressive rock throwing, again more common in the past
than today, would be a situation in which a person likely would
resort to a firearm if they had one in hand. For instance, an unarmed
early day Texas sheriff once tried to stop a jail escape by throwing
rocks at the fleeing felon. The bad guy picked up some rocks and
returned fire but the lawman prevailed.
To paraphrase the sound old admonition about never bringing a knife
to a gunfight, someone occasionally had the misjudgment of bringing
a rock to a gunfight. In San
Antonio in the summer of 1886, the joint proprietors of a saloon
fell into disagreement over business matters. One of the parties
threw a beer glass at his partner, who then chased him outside onto
the street. There, the man who had tossed the beer glass began hurling
rocks at his associate. Sidestepping the flying stones, the partner
fetched his revolver and sent a smaller leaden object speeding in
the rock thrower's direction. Fortunately for that guy, he survived
his bullet wound and presumably learned an important lesson. In
another instance of rocks vs. firearm, the victim of a rock attack
near Paris, Texas in 1894
settled the matter with his rifle. That led to his assailant's permanent
tie to a rock of another sort-a tombstone.
While dodging rocks is easier than dodging bullets, a rock can still
hurt or kill. Look at it this way: The average speed a professional
baseball pitcher can hurl a hardball is 91 miles an hour. Even a
stout country boy probably wouldn't be able to put that much energy
into tossing a rock, but if he came close, that speed amounts to
a velocity of roughly132 feet per second. A standard .38 caliber
bullet travels 671 feet per second. That's a lot faster-and deadlier-than
a flying rock but something hitting you at a speed approaching 90
miles an hour is going to hurt.
Sometimes a rock tosser just wants to show off.
My grandmother told me that when my granddad was courting her in
Angelo back around 1915, they were out for a walk one evening
when they spotted a jackrabbit. My granddad picked up a rock, threw
it and knocked over the big-eared bunny. Granddad must have been
kind of proud of himself, but my horrified grandmother lit into
him with a stinging verbal rebuke. Fortunately, grandmother got
over it or I wouldn't be here to pass along the story.
Another way to show off, and much more peacefully, is to skip a
flat rock across water. Rock skipping even has a bit of Texas folklore
attached to it. I never heard this as a kid, but when a fellow successfully
caused a rock to bounce across the top of water, supposedly the
number of skips represented the number of miles away his future
true love lived.
If Granddad was that good at throwing rocks, he should have tried
to impress my grandmother by escorting her to the Concho River,
looking around for the flattest rock he could find and then skipping
it just once before it sank.