CONTEST: Little Known Texas History

Last week I promised you a Texas history contest. There is even a prize to the person who provides the first right answer to my three part question below. So here goes:

Question Part 1: What town along the Texas Gulf Coast was the site of early conflicts between Anglo Texan settlers and the Mexican Authorities. (Hint: Its name starts with an A)

Question Part 2: What was the name and profession of a resident of this city who became the Commander of the Alamo?

Question Part 3: What County in Texas was named for a partner of the man who is the answer to Question Part 2?

I didn’t say it was an easy test. Think of it as a Texas history scavenger hunt.
The prize is an autographed copy of my novel, Morgan’s Point which will be issued in paper back next month. Have fun and get to work on the test. We are not grading on a curve!

“Can’t You Just Sit Still”

My beautiful Mother said, “Bill, can’t you just sit still.” I was probably no more than five years old. I had no recollection of ever voluntarily sitting still for long. Neither did I understand why it might be desirable. My Mother could have given me a lengthy list. She was weary from tending to my new born brother.

My Father sat at the breakfast table all tall, slender and dashing in his double breasted suit. He quickly finished his breakfast, retrieved his stylish Bogart hat and slicked the brim. “Gotta get to work!”, he said to no one in particular. Then he bent over and patted me on the head. With his head drawn near my face he whispered. “Bill, remember you can’t sit still if you want to get ahead in this world.” Then he was out the door. With no one to arbitrate this clear conflict in parental commands I probably just went back to shoving my eggs and bacon around my plate.

How did this come back to me all these years later? I was working at the ranch today trying to brush away the rust of the winter from the plants in the greenhouse. Shoving the heavy pots outside to meet the gentle spring sun taxed my muscles, but satisfied some deep-seated need to grow things. I had come to the ranch to vegetate. I have been juggling some real life stresses lately that have finally resolved themselves. With them behind me I only wanted to go to the hill country to rest, regenerate and revitalize. The simple life was my quest as I rocked on the front porch, but the siren song of “Gotta get to work” called out. In a few minutes I was knee deep in the greenhouse.

I worked for several hours hauling my plants to just the right place around the house. As I stood dripping with sweat (that gentle spring sun was not so gentle), the question “Bill, why can’t you just sit still?” came back as if it had just been asked. The question I was pondering was not the one that my Mother had asked. This was a hardball existential inquiry and one that stopped me in my tracks. The corollary question of “what’s wrong with taking it easy?” also came to visit. Clearly, nothing is wrong with taking it easy. But because of DNA, environment or some other reason I don’t understand, I’m wired this way. After having thought about it I realized that I neither have to apologize for it nor do I have to regret it. I love writing my novels, writing this blog, traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C. and shoving dirt around at the ranch. It’s not right for everyone, but it is what keeps me alive and healthy. I wish you would all share what keeps your motor running.

One more thing, next week there is going to be a pop quiz on Texas history. There was a famous Texas hero who started a dust up with the Mexican army well before he met his untimely demise at the Alamo. I can’t wait to see if you can answer my tough question. I came across it while I was researching my next book. That’s all the clues you get for the moment. The first right answer will win a prize.

Be Careful What You Wish For Santa Anna!

Today is San Jacinto Day in Texas. It is the day Mexico lost Texas. For those of you that aren’t familiar, this is the day that Sam Houston’s irregular militia of Texican’s defeated a strong Mexican Army in a bloody eighteen minute battle at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou near Galveston Bay. The Mexican Army was led by Generalissimo Santa Anna who was also the President of Mexico. The Texican’s were in full rebellion against the Government of Mexico. Now some might say they were ungrateful guests who came to dinner and stole the house. The Texican’s had legitimate grievances caused by a change of the Mexican Constitution, but I will leave you to your own to research to understand the complex situation  For our purposes understand that a wild frontier called Texas had been populated by the Government of Mexico with a large number of U.S. citizens used to rights they had left in the United States. A group of revolutionaries had met at Washington on the Brazos, formed a government and issued a Texas declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. That made Santa Anna mad.

Santa Anna had set off from Mexico before the Declaration was signed and marched the Mexican Army to Texas. In 1836 it was no hike in the forest. Once in Texas the armies were a nightmare for the Texicans. Santa Anna’s armies mopped up on small groups of revolutionaries at the Alamo and Goliad. After those victories Santa Anna set his sights on Sam Houston and his army now retreating across Texas toward the U.S. border. At least that is what it looked like to some Texican’s who wanted to go fight before they were ready. Santa Anna’s fondest wish was to find Sam Houston and finish off the last Texican army.

Find him he did on April 20, 1836 in the last place on earth that military person might pick. The two armies were separated by no more than than a few hundred yards. Each army had a body of water behind them with no way to escape. The Texican’s late afternoon charge into the Mexican camp on April 21st surprised the Mexican Army and they were routed. The end result was a treaty that at least for the moment made Texas independent. This is a long way around to say “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.”

Another question is whether the whole thing was predestined. Was it Texas’ destiny to be freed from Mexican rule or was Santa Anna’s Waterloo the result of a willful man exercising his free will and paying the consequences. The young Jim Ward in my novel “Morgan’s Point” only wished for manhood. The price was steeper than he could have imagined. Santa Anna’a wish changed the world, just not in the way he imagined.

San Jacinto Day was a big deal when I was growing up. I wonder if I took a poll on the streets of Austin this afternoon of random folks if most of them every heard of it. We as Texasans need to do a better job of explaining our history to new folks who are coming in town. Most think the city named Bowie street for the recently departed English singer. Oh, wait a minute I think the city council is considering that now! Come on native Texans get with the program! We love our State and our proud of it. If we work to preserve our heritage we will all be better off. I am proud of Texas and I think the new folks would be too if we educate them about the sacrifices that were made to make the Texas of today. Saturday the 23rd there is suppose to be a reenactment of the Battle. I plan to be there if the creeks quit rising. Hope to see you. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

When Austin had more bats than people

Once upon a time there was a beautiful little city that had more Mexican Free Tail Bats than people. The citizens were blissfully living their ideal lives without fear of the furry hoard that dwelt among them. In 1980 the Congress Avenue Bridge that spans Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin needed to be renovated. Crevices created under the bridge by the work set up the perfect environment for the Mexican Free Tail Bat to roost. An alert citizen discovered the city’s plight and raised a call to arms. “Exterminate them!” the populous cried. There were studies commissioned and volunteers sought to rid the city of its curse. Fate however had put the right person at the right time to add some intelligence to the conversation.

Merlin Tuttle brought Bats Conservation International to Austin in the nick of time. He educated us and calmed the fears of the citizens about the bats. Now the bats are a tourist destination. An armada of boats sets out each night when the bats are in residence and provide a great time. Just remember if you are looking up from under to bridge to close your mouth. I had a chance to take Mike Pearce’s
Lone Star Riverboat cruise the other night and it is a blast. If you are in Austin and want a different experience try it out. If you do go,  remember to thank Merlin Tuttle and BCI for their part in keeping Austin weird.