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28 May 2010

my grandpa mayes, john phillip sousa, and the indy 500

Austin Carroll "Slim" Mayes was born Eastland, graduated from Anson High School, and lived off and on in Abilene, TX throughout his life.  He was born in 1901, before there was any sort of popular music in America.  As a result, the only music he was able to get ahold of to listen to was the kind of orchestral music that has been around for hundreds of years.  He always considered himself a violinist, but was recruited to play clarinet with the Simmons College Band while still in high school.  Of course, Simmons College is now Hardin-Simmons University; that band is The World Famous Cowboy Band.

Mayes worked as mechanic during a brief time as a student at Simmons College.  He was one of the first people to repair airplanes in West Texas.  Of course, there was only one way to make sure the plan was fixed.  This meant he was one of the first people to FLY airplanes in West Texas as well! 

Mayes decided to take his skill as a mechanic on the road in 1919 when he began working his way to New York.  His dream was somehow to make it as a musician in New York City, doing whatever he could.  He also had the skill of being able to transpose all the parts of any piece he heard; this was a valuable skill he would also put to good use throughout his life.

Mayes ran out of money in Indianapolis, IN in May of 1919.  The preparation had already began for only the 11th running of the Indy 500 at The Brickyard.  Mayes was able to get a job in one of the pits.  While Mayes was working there, John Phillip Sousa came to Indianapolis to perform with his marching band.  During this time, he was also auditioning musicians.  Nobody at The Brickyard really new Mayes was a musician, so they all laughed when he told his crew chief that he was going to play with Sousa and would not return to work the following day.  Austin Carroll Mayes played clarinet with John Phillip Sousa till the band leader's death in 1923.

22 April 2010

Coronado’s expedition that began today in 1540

The following is excerpted from Baptist Influence During the Republic of Texas, which my graduate thesis.  I plan to use that as an excellent source for this blog, so the reference annotations remain in tact.  Another interesting fact that I really didn't explore at the time was that Coronado provided the very first description of the Llano Estacado. the Staked Plains of the Texas Panhandle!  Enjoy.  Comment too.

            In 1540-1 the conquistadores of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led the Spanish expedition that culminated at the Grand Canyon.  This expedition set out to explore the New World with Franciscan priest Juan de Padilla.  Father Padilla accompanied their party as an official member of the governmental delegation to the expedition, in keeping with the traditional intertwining of state and religious affairs in so many Latin/Catholic countries.  According to McBeth, contemporary evidence suggests Coronado, Padilla, and their men passed through the area of Blanco Canyon near present-day Lubbock, Texas on their journey.  Their expedition later endured the winter of 1540-1 in the Rio Grande Valley at Tiguex, New Mexico.  Their mission was to offer Christianity and Catholicism to the Indians, collect as much wealth as possible from the New World, and waste little time in returning to Spain (McBeth 1).

According to The Handbook of Texas Online, Padilla probably presided over the very first feast of Thanksgiving conducted in the New World.  This occurred as Coronado and the conquistadores camped in what is now the Palo Duro Canyon of Texas in 1542. When some of the conquistadores chose to depart later that same year, Father Padilla and some of his entourage chose to remain in the New World.  Three black men, a Portuguese soldier named Andres do Campo, and several Indian converts from his monastery at Zapotlan also elected to remain with Padilla.  The family members of one of these black men also chose to stay behind with him ("Padilla, Juan de"). 

As a result, Juan Antonio de Padilla would earn the distinction of being the very first martyr for the Christian faith in not only the area we now know as Texas but also quite possibly the entire New World.  He lost his life at the hands of some angry tribesmen while attempting to spread the Gospel to these indigenous people, 30 November 1544.  However, The Handbook of Texas Online also suggests two friends of Padilla who were laymen, Luis de Escalona and Juan de la Cruz, might have disappeared on a mission into New Mexico as early as 1542.  There is no further conclusive evidence to support this earlier claim of martyrdom by a member of the Padilla party, though ("Padilla, Juan de").
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31
There was never yet an uninteresting life.  Such a thing is an impossibility.  Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.    
—Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Dr. Mark Twain (1835-1910)

21 April 2010

riding halley's comet on this date in 1910

Samuel Langhorne Clemens only ever wanted to be the pilot of a Mississippi River boat.  He was born in Missouri in 1835, when Halley's Comet was visible from earth.  He achieved that childhood dream, before the Civil War shut the river down.  Clemens tried his hand at soldiering for a couple weeks, then struck out west to try his hand at the newspaper business.  He brought with him the nome de plume "Mark Twain", a reference to the safe depth at which to navigate The River.  We know Twain found fame as a writer of newspaper stories, columns, and books.  He even published the memoirs of former President/Gen. Hiram "U.S." Grant [the first American book to sell a million copies!].  We even know Twain enjoyed success as a humorous lecturer and philosopher.

What you might not know is that the only other sort of fame Sam Clemens found was as a tremendous failure in business.  He insisted on backing the inventor of a failed adding machine in 1876.  What is so sad about this?  The same year, he failed to join his friend Alexander Graham Bell in the very first telecommunications venture, American Telephone & Telegraph [AT&T] !  As a result, Twain worked right up until years of smoking 20 cigars a day caught up with him [just as with Grant!].  When Dr. Twain passed away on 21 April 1910, Halley's Comet was visible from earth again.  In fact, our planet passed through the tail of the comet!  Mark Twain caught a ride out the same way he came in, 100 years ago today....

The debate has long raged about "The Great American Novel".  People are still trying to write it.  By my estimation, Mark Twain did that already with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  If you don't think so, then you must at least consider any of the other books Dr. Twain composed.  Was it Tom Sawyer, Roughing It, or a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?  You can debate which of these is The Great American Novel, but there can be no doubt as to the identity of The Great American Novelist.  We will still be reading Mark Twain in 2060, when Halley's Comet returns.  If you are sill around [as I plan to be], think of the tail as a trail of smoke from Twain's cigar.  I know I will....

18 April 2010

famous last is san jacinto day!

One of the greatest early Texans was John Coffee Hays.  He was born outside of Nashville, TN into the Donelson family, founders of that great city.  His father Harmon and Uncle Robert rode with Gen. John Coffee during the War of 1812.  Hays' uncle was their ultimate commander, Gen. Andrew Jackson.  Hays was born a year after their return from the war, and was named in honor of their commander.  Uncle Robert dubbed him "Jack", the proper noun by which he would be known to friends, family, and compadres in arms throughout his life.

After a stint at the Davidson Academy, Jack Hays learned of the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.  This struggle was being led by Gen. Sam Houston, who was meant to be Jackson's political protégé.  [Personal problems took Houston off that path, but Houston was back on track in Texas.  A perfect story for another time though!] 

Anyway, Andrew Jackson provided young Jack Hays with letters of introduction and recommendation to present Gen. Houston.  Unfortunately, Houston's victory at San Jacinto had already occurred on 21 April 1836--several weeks before Jack Hays arrived in Texas.  Houston sent young Hays to Capt. Erastus "Deaf" Smith, whose men were assigned to buried the remains of Fannin and his men at Goliad.

This began the Texas Ranger career of Jack Hays.  He became a Captain in his own right soon after, and has since become the archetype for every Texas Ranger since.  He was a smaller man than most expected, and very soft spoken.  But when it came to defending Texas against hostile Indians, the man the men called Captain Jack fought with ferocity and authority.  When asked why he fought so hard and fast, Hays always admitted that he just wanted to get the fighting done with as soon as possible.

Jack Hays was known for defending himself against 100 Comanche on Enchanted Rock.  He was also known for sending Ranger Samuel H. Walker to meet with Sam Colt in Paterson, NJ to perfect the pistol the Comanche said could fire a bullet for every finger on your hand.  Apache Chief Flacco took note, "Me not afraid to ride through hell with Captain Jack, because Captain Jack not afraid to ride through hell all by hisself!"  As a result, the Comanche called him the White Devil, or Devil Jack.

When Santa Anna returned to power in Mexico and waged war on the United States for the annexation of Texas, the US Army was over-matched in the unfamiliar new territory of Texas.  By then, 1812 War hero Gen. Winfield Scott was Army Chief of Staff.  He dispatched Gen. Zachary Taylor to San Antonio to meet with the only man in America who knew how to defend that territory, John Coffee Hays.

Hays was happy to entertain Gen. Taylor.  He made it clear that the Texas Rangers would not readily take up arms for just anybody though.  Hays agreed to attach his men to Taylor, but under two conditions:

1. Hays and his men would be allowed to return to San Antonio after a year.
2. Any orders Taylor had for the men would have to come through Hays.

Hays had been leading his men in defense of Texas for a decade, and none of them would fight for anybody else.  As a surveyor, scout, and Indian fighter, nobody knew that area better than Devil Jack Hays.  Taylor had to accept the terms.  Within the year, Hays' Rangers led the US Army to victory over Santa Anna and returned to San Antonio.  Hays married, retired from the Rangers, and blazed the trail to California.

Hays went on to found the City of Oakland, serve as the first Sheriff of San Francisco County, and was even Surveyor General of California.  He was a wealthy man by the time he lay on his death bed in the spring of 1883.  On Saturday, 21 April 1883, he as his friend and business partner John Caperton "Do you know what day it is?"  Of course, Caperton could only answer, "It's Saturday the 21st, Jack."

Before Hays lost consciousness and breathed his last, he answered,


13 April 2010

An Historical Texas Two Step By Johnny Baker Jr.

An Historical Texas Two Step


Johnny Baker Jr.

In all the experience I’ve gained to this date,

I have the proud and bless’d assurance of being from the state

Which has been owned throughout its history by Mexico, France, and Spain.

The 3 flags bringing the total to 6 can easily be named.

180 or 90 brave and strong took on Santa Anna at the Alamo,

But we became a sovereign nation with victory at San Jacinto.

A true blue, Lone Star Texas will tell anyone, with pride,

Texas annexed the United States, December 1845.

In a little less than another generation,

Texas joined 10 other states to form a Confederate nation.

There are few fond recollections from those years of history,

Led by President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Age of the Outlaw rose from Reconstruction days,

And many came from Texas to live that evil way.

There came John Wesley Hardin, and a fellow named Sam Bass,

Who both met assassins’ bullets which would lay them under grass.

In the years since the reunion of the States with Texas soil,

We Texans found new sources of pride—in ranches and in oil.

Texas has become a legend, and it will live on without us,

Through Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and a TV show called Dallas.

The Blue Bonnets ‘long the interstates will live after we’re all dead,

When generation yet unborne will crave a Bowl of Red.

Lay me to rest in side oats gramma, ‘neath a nest of mockingbirds.

Teach them the verses to Texas, Our Texas—and not another word!

Copyright 1995 BY John T. Baker Jr.