not hard to envision Will Porter’s thought processes as he started
working on the next edition of his satirical weekly, “The Rolling
The North Carolinian with a love of the English language and a growing
ability to string the many words he knew together in a pleasing
arrangement, had come to Texas in 1882
and moved to the Capital City
two years later.
Now, in the
late winter of 1895, he was co-proprietor of a humor sheet with
offices in the Capital City
as well as San Antonio.
With a deadline to meet, at some point he must have looked at his
calendar and realized that his next edition would be out on March
2 – Texas Independence Day.
On that day, only 59 years earlier, 59 men gathered in a small frame
building at Washington-on-the-Brazos
had signed a document declaring the independence of Texas from the
Republic of Mexico. Since Porter had only seen 32 birthdays, those
almost six decades must have seemed like a long time to him. But
even then, men still lived who had taken part in the Texas Revolution.
In observance of the anniversary, but more likely because he needed
to fill a column-and-a-half of space, he decided to write a history
of Texas. With help from Homer Thrall, who compiled one of the first
general histories of the state, Porter penned a story that along
with a couple of his ink drawings would take up roughly three-quarters
of a page.
The piece is one of the lesser known works from the future short
story writer the world would come to know simply as O. Henry.
The stack of subtitles that came after “History of Texas” is one
of the funnier elements:
“From the Earliest Settlements to the Latest [Political] Stand-Off
– A Clear, Concise, and Accurate History of the State, for the Use
of Schools and Football Factories [the University of Texas was only
12 years old at the time]—Written by An Eye-Witness for the Rolling
Stone—A Powerful and Brilliant Plea for the Early Pioneers—The Private
Graveyard, and the Cake Walk as an Austin Enterprise—Remarks to
the Effect that Thermopylae had its Messenger of Defeat, the Alamo
had None, Carefully Omitted—A Careful, Condensation of Main Historical
Events Compiled Without the Assistance of ‘Old Timers,’ ‘Early-Settler,’
or ‘One Who Was There.”
What Porter wrote didn’t deliver all that, but the piece hints at
his slowly blossoming literary prowess.
“In all the histories of Texas we have seen,” he began, “there have
been so many gaps…between the early days of the Republic and the
present time, that we have decided to fix up one that will be just
the thing. It will not be long, but it will be long enough.”
Porter seems to have realized he’d best not make fun of the Alamo.
At that juncture in his history spoof, he only noted, parenthetically,
“Next should follow the story of the Alamo.”
Houston, Porter observed that “by a remarkable coincidence he
[bore] the same name as a flourishing city in Texas….” He saw Houston
as a “great and original character of tremendous willpower and endurance,”
but didn’t mind affronting the general’s first wife, who he had
left behind in Tennessee before coming to Texas.
“His desertion of his wife…caused a world of wonder and comment
among the people,” Porter wrote. “Everybody wonders why he waited
so long before leaving.”
punches for the Mexican general Houston
faced at San
Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Porter branded Santa Anna “real mean.”
After the Texas victory, “he was captured by Gen. Houston and banished
[Then a small German town in Travis
is now the county’s second largest city.]
Despite some bits that still bring a smile today, most of the humor
in his tongue-in-check Lone Star history is of the “you had to have
been there” sort. For example:
“Following fast upon the massacres
at the Alamo and Goliad
came the arrival in Texas of Nat Q. Henderson [then a Central Texas
newspaper writer], who settled in Georgetown.
As the city was a prohibition town, Stephen F. Austin was called
upon to lay out a wet town immediately in reach; so he located the
present capital of the state.”
Porter already was known to take a drink or two or three upon most
occasions, and occasionally for no occasion in particular, so his
dry-wet joke is definitely in character.
Back to the revolution and its impact on Texas, Porter continued,
“Little did these noble heroes falling [at] the Alamo
and battling with foes, dream that shortly after their beloved state
should be freed of ruthless invaders, there would spring up from
the seeds of discord such things as the Populist party, Saratoga
chips shipped by the barrel, and Brann’s Iconoclast.”
Explainer: Known in Texas as the People’s Party, the third-party
movement had begun in the early 1890s; Saratoga Chips, aka potato
chips, were first produced commercially in Saratoga, NY in 1853
and that brand name still exists; and the Iconoclast was an aptly
named newspaper produced by William Cowper Brann of Waco.
Porter’s “Rolling Stone” having gathered neither moss nor money,
it folded one month later.
© Mike Cox
March 5, 2015 column
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