With more than 20,000 chanting anti-war protestors
headed downtown from UT, the governor decided he was hungry for barbecue.
Henry was not from Texas, but he spent enough time here to pick up some good story
Sixty years after his death, the famous short story writer
had a hand in one more yarn, this one involving the late Preston Smith. Call it
"The Ransom of the Red-faced Chief."
To set the scene: In the spring
of 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. troops into Cambodia. This apparent
escalation of an already unpopular war triggered an immediate uproar among those
opposed to America's continuing involvement in Vietnam.
On Monday, May
4, an anti-war protest at Kent State University in Ohio turned violent when Ohio
National Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed students, killing four of them. Outrage
quickly swept through the nation's college campuses.
In Austin, protestors
began gathering at the University of Texas the following morning. That afternoon,
thousands of angry students and others against the war spilled off campus and
marched toward the Capitol. Despite the efforts of Austin police, Department of
Public Safety troopers and Texas Rangers, the protestors poured into the pink
granite building, breaking glass and wreaking havoc.
gas finally repulsed the students, but they soon began planning an even larger
march for Friday, May 8. The Austin City Council denied the organizers a parade
permit, saying they would have to walk on the sidewalks. But at the last minute,
U.S. District Judge Jack Roberts granted a temporary restraining order allowing
the students to walk in the street. Many Austinites bordered on hysteria at the
prospect of a second unruly protest. |
But the volatile situation that day did not spoil the appetite of then-Governor
Smith when the noon hour rolled around. With more than 20,000 chanting anti-war
protestors headed downtown from UT, the governor decided he was hungry for barbecue.
Smith and his DPS security detail left the Capitol and drove in a state vehicle
to a popular BBQ place on 5th Street.
That eatery -- long since torn
down to make room for a new high rise hotel -- was across the street from the
O. Henry Museum, which is how Texas' favorite North Carolinian gets into this
The governor's driver could not find a parking place (some things
don't change), so he whipped the unmarked DPS car into the O. Henry Museum's small
parking lot. Neither Gov. Smith nor his body guards paid any attention to a sign
clearly indicating that parking was for museum patrons only.
and the DPS officers returned to their car, they found a locked chain stretched
across the entrance to the lot. As the governor and his party pondered why someone
would impound the vehicle used by the chief executive of Texas, Mrs. Maree Larson
The museum curator asked the governor if he had seen the sign,
and he said he had. Her point made, Larson unlocked the chain so Smith could return
to the duties of high office. Before he left, however, the embarrassed but good-humored
governor promised Mrs. Larson he wouldn't park in the O. Henry Museum lot any
In true O. Henry style, the tale even had a surprise ending: Despite
the violence earlier that week, the protest march that day proceeded peacefully.
© Mike Cox