journalists of his time could wax from vitriol to humor as well as J.S. “K. Lamity”
Bonner.Born in Bell
County in 1856, in the early 1900s Bonner began publishing a weekly magazine.
“K. Lamity’s Harpoon.” As he explained on the masthead of each issue, “Minnows
Are Safe; I Am Out After Whales.” By 1910, the Austin
publisher claimed a national circulation of 20,000. Subscriptions sold for $1
a year, or individual issues could be bought at news stands for a dime.
In the fall of that final year of the 20th century’s first decade, Bonner felt
moved to tell his out-of-state readers a bit about Texas.
He called the piece “The Truth About Texas.”
He opened his essay with the
proposition that if those who lived in the chillier, more populated states took
a 30-day trip to the Lone Star State, 50 percent of them “would go back home,
sell out everything they owned, and come back to this state as fast as steam could
In fact, the word-loving journalist continued, if they merely
understood what Texas was like, all those out-of-staters
would do that even without seeing the state first.
Then Bonner took a verbal
swing at a perception that some non-residents still have about Texas:
“To the average man who has never been out of the northern or eastern states,
the word ‘Texas’ has always represented a vast area of wild country, sparsely
settled, where inhabitants wore leggings, spurs, two six shooters, two breast
plates (one in front and one behind), take their liquor straight, and their meals
Alas, Bonner continued, the days of six shooter duels with
numerous dead men stacked up and “wild and wooly cowboys shooting out the lights”
had passed forever in Texas.
The truth, he
noted, is that Texas had never been half as bad as
it had been portrayed. And then the editor set out to paint a by-the-numbers picture
The first consideration, of course,
was Texas’s size.
“It startles the average
man when he is told that this one state alone is much larger than the entire Republic
of France, larger than the whole German Empire, and is only exceeded in area by
one of the United States dominions—the Territory of Alaska.”
land covered 265,780 square miles (the modern figure, thanks to better surveying
technology, is 268,820 square miles.) The state’s water surface covered 3,490
square miles. (This was before Texas started building
lakes. The figure today is 7,364 square miles of water, at least when there’s
no drought going on.)
Though he claimed elsewhere in this issue that he
had been “riding the water wagon for three or four years,” Bonner had been known
to take a drink or two or three. That’s surely why he felt compelled to note that:
“[Texas’s] whiskey and beer surface formerly covered
265,780 square miles, but has been very much reduced through the continued and
strenuous efforts of the opponents of the liquor traffic.”
Still on the
subject of water, Bonner added that Texas
Gulf coast extended 350 miles as the crow flies. (Again, the more accurate
figure today is 367 miles, but when actual shoreline is measured, the number of
By 1910, all that land and water had been divided into 245
counties. (The legislature would politically dissect that land a bit more before
it got finished. Today, Texas has 254 counties.)
Then Bonner offered an
analogy quite appropriate for his day, when automobiles still competed with horses
and buggies as a preferred mode of transportation:
“If a man mounted upon
a good horse, that traveled 25 miles a day, should ride in a straight line across
the state at its greatest length, it would take him 33 days to reach his destination.
If he crossed it at its greatest width, he would be on the road 30 days.”
to make sure he had made his point about how big Texas
was, Bonner offered as further evidence that a string stretched from New York
to Chicago “would be too short to reach from Texline,
Texas to Brownsville,
Texas. When a tramp hits Texas at Texline,
and walks to Brownsville,
he is usually from four to six inches shorter than when he first reaches the state.”
Bonner also discussed the state’s climate (so mild that a newcomer “is
liable to hurt himself eating ice cream in the winter…”), the attractiveness of
its women, and the quality of its agricultural land, be it for farming or ranching.
On top of everything else, good land was still cheap in Texas.
Ever the impartial journalist, Bonner made sure to stress in his article that
in touting the state’s many plus factors, he certainly wasn’t trying to peddle
any Texas land. But by pure coincidence, page 32
of this issue featured a full-page ad paid for by the National Loan & Realty Co.
of Austin, a business that offered for
sale “A Few Bargains in Some Good Tracts of Texas’s Best Lands.”
a whale of a deal for Harpoon readers.
Mike Cox - August 1, 2013 column
Columns | People
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