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Protecting the Capitol
from tourists

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

As recently as the 1970s, reporters covering the Legislature used to jokingly refer to the senior citizens employed by the state to keep the public from parking in spaces reserved for representatives, senators and key staff as "the Civil War veterans."

All of those who had fought in the War Between the States were long gone by then, of course, but the comparison was not too far off. The "parking guards," as they were known, seemed pretty old to young men and women mostly in their 20s and 30s. Shoot, some of those parking protectors could barely get out of their lawn chairs to shoo away some unsuspecting citizen who thought that just because they lived in Texas and paid their taxes they were entitled to park near their Capitol.

Even before premium parking space became a legislative perk, the state had long employed those who today might seek a position as a Walmart greeter. Back when the only way to tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative in the Lone Star State was whether they used rock salt or buckshot to break a strike, lawmakers, constitutional office holders and agency heads ran their own form of Social Security by providing jobs to Golden Years folks. Of course, entitlement depended on political affiliation, not the law.

In the fall of 1932, a journalist from Houston spent some time at the Capitol talking to an old gentleman named C.M. Fields. The result was a piece published on November 10 in a weekly newspaper supplement produced by the Home Color Print Co.

"Under the lofty dome of the State Capitol...sits an old gray-haired man, wearing a watchman's badge," the article began. "...His job is to protect the property of the State of Texas, to see that tourists who climb the long stairway leading to the dome...do not mar or disfigure this part of the building."

The writer continued, "Many persons like to gather souvenirs and, while doing so, some of them will go as far as to cut pieces of wood from the dome's interior. Hence the necessity of maintaining a watchman to protect the dome."

Fields was not armed -- at least not openly packing -- but anyone who knew his background would not be trying to deface the Capitol on his watch. During the Civil War, Fields had ridden as an Indian-fighting Texas Ranger. Having faced Comanches intent on removing his scalp, the old man felt confident that he still had what it took to ward off souvenir hunters and other rule-breakers.

The day the reporter interviewed him, things in the sprawling state house must have been relatively slow. Fields had ample time to visit with the young man.

Originally from Tennessee, Fields had come to Texas with his family in 1852. They settled in Williamson County, where his parents had a 400-acre ranch. Much had changed in the intervening eight decades, a span of years that had seen Austin grow from a small frontier town to a medium-size city with telephones, a radio station, street cars, a busy train station and even an airport offering commercial flights.

"There wasn't so much to do," the old-timer said of his rangering days. "We just rode around, mostly, chasing the Indians away from the settlements and skirmishing with them now and then." Well, there was that one time in Burnet County along the San Gabriel when, as Fields put it, "we did have a pretty lively set-to with the Indians."

In fact, riding through the brush and rocks along the stream, the rangers rode straight into an ambush.

"We looked up in time to see a whole passel of Indians coming 'hell-bent' for us," he said. "We jumped off our horses and scattered out among the rocks in a hurry and began to shoot back. This sort of discouraged the Indians, who, seeing their surprise didn't work, withdrew several hundred yards."

After the rangers dropped several of the attackers, the Indians collected their dead and rode off.

When the war ended, Fields did what many young Texans did and turned to cowboying. At first, he worked on his parents' ranch in Williamson County, but in 1869 he hired out to the Cottle Brothers, a cattle buying and shipping operation.

Fields said he made "five or six" trips up the Chisholm Trail before expanding rail service did away with the need for trail driving, at least for large herds and long distances.

"It was lots of fun while it lasted," he said of the trail-driving era, "but I didn't want to spend all my life on a cow trail. Texas was settling up real fast, so I went on home and settled down."

Finally, too old to work his land in Williamson County, he ended up on the state payroll protecting the Capitol from tourists.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" September 28, 2016 column

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