time in Texas. On the occasion of yet another autumnal equinox,
herewith a roundup of assorted stray tales:
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
A couple of for instances:
In the late 1950s, Garland Adair gave the Texas Memorial Museum
a note written by historian J.T. DeShields about Sam
“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 known.”
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
Later in his career, serving as governor shortly before Texas seceded
from the Union, Houston encountered one of his political enemies
in the capitol.
“Howdy do, sir,” Houston said formally, though coolly.
“I never knowingly speak to scoundrels,” the opponent replied to
“You perceive that I do,” Houston said as he walked on.
Any 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 his point.
“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 ponies.
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 Douglas MacArthur.”
* * *
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.
The late Bonham poet and
all-round character Macphelan Reese told this story in 2000:
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
Traveling 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.”
© Mike Cox
- September 23, 2015 Column
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