Friday, July 22, 2011

Monument Hill

On a bluff overlooking the Colorado River and the city of La Grange, Texas, stands a monument that marks the location as hallowed ground.  The bluff is situated above a river crossing on what was once known as "El Camino de la Bahia" or The Bay Trail.  It was a trade route from present day Goliad to Nacodoches long before German and Czech settlers created the town of La Grange in the bend of the river below.

Although Texas gained its independence in 1836, on September 11, 1842, Mexican forces under Brigadier General Adrian Woll captured the city of San Antonio.  Texan forces under the command of Matthew Caldwell gathered at Salado Creek in order to repel the invading Mexican army.  Colonel Caldwell's troops were succeeding in the battle of Saldo Creek on September 18th, but, in response to his call for volunteers, a group of 53 Fayette county volunteers under the command of Captain Nicholas M. Dawson were marching down from La Grange to join in the battle. 

A short distance from the battle at Salado Creek, Dawson's group was intercepted by 500 mounted Mexican cavalry and pinned down.  In the ensuing battle, 36 were killed, 15 taken prisoner and 2 escaped.  A more detailed account of the battle can be read here.

In the winter of 1842, Texans set out to avenge the brutal Dawson Massace.  Over 300 soldiers ignored official orders and marched south down the Rio Grande and attacked the border town of Ciudad Mier.  In the battle, 250 Texans were captured and marched toward Mexico City.  Within 6 weeks of captivity 181 escaped.  176 of them only to be recaptured a few days later while attempting to cross the harsh Mexican desert.  These prisoners who were not executed were taken to the Perote Prison, the same prison where the 15 captives from the Dawson Massacre were being held.

In his outrage over the defiance of the Texans, Santa Anna ordered that 10% of the re-captured prisoners be put to death.  A lottery was held to determine who would live and who would die.  The escapees were forced to draw a bean from a pot in which had been placed 159 white beans and 17 black beans.  Those who drew black beans were executed.

The remains lying beneath the monument on the bluff overlooking La Grange are of the 36 who died in the Dawson Massacre as well as those 15 who were executed in the black-bean incident by Santa Anna.  You can read more about the black-bean death lottery here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Changing Times

This is one of those days that I want to post but, don't know what to say.  In fact, this is my fourth start on a post.  I deleted the previous attempts.

I guess the thing that is on my mind is what I have seen this week.  It really is nothing new but, for some reason it stood out to me.

We have been holding educational meetings for ranchers in South and Central Texas.  The attendance has been good.  The faces are the thing that caught my attention.

I've been doing or attending these types of meetings for a lot of years.  It used to be that your crowd was going to be the old, grizzled, lived in the sun all his life rancher and his wife whose hands were just as work-worn and weary as his.  That's not the case anymore.  Oh, there are still a few sprinkled in the crowd, but, today I see bankers and lawyers and real-estate tycoons, environmentalists, city folk with a few acres in the country......well, I guess the best description is a lot of hobby ranchers.

The questions always amaze me.  Some of them are obviously coming from a person with little or no understanding of the cattle business.  Others come from a deep "book" knowledge but, little real-world experience.  And, yes, there are questions from the old guy who has lived it all his life.

Sometimes it is easy to tell which group a person falls into simply based on their question.  You know immediately whether they are a serious, make-your-living-off-the-land, in-it-for-life rancher, or a hobbyist.  Not always.

I am always amazed that there is occasionally one -- frequently a woman -- who asks exactly the right questions.  It is obvious that they are interested and knowledgeable.  You immediately think of, "she left him at home working and she's out gathering information to make it easier."  You think maybe she's the business side of the business and her husband is the get-it-done side.

Rarely is that actually the case.  More often than not, she has 3 cows, 2 llamas, and a couple of horses.  All of them have names like Daisy and Buttercup.  Her husband is a lawyer.  They live on an "estate" in the country.  They have no children.  Her animals are her life. 

This old world, it is a changin'.  I'm not sure it's for the better.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Across the Cradle

Yesterday morning as I headed out of College Station and drove to El Campo, I crossed the "Cradle of Texas Liberty" which is basically the area of the original anglo colonies between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers.

My route lay through some beautiful country graced with huge oak trees of many varieties.  My favorites though, are probably the live oak.

Some of the places I passed through:

Snook, where I sometimes went for kolaches made at the Snook Bakery when I was in school at A&M.  The community applied for its first Post Office in 1895.

Independence, founded in 1835, near Washington on the Brazos which is where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed.  It is the original home of Baylor University.  Sam Houston and his family lived there in the 1850's.

Brenham, home of the Bluebell Creamery (best ice cream in the world), was originally known as the community of Hickory Grove before changing its name to Brenham in 1843.

Industry, was the first permanent German settlement in Texas.  It was established in the grant to Johann Friederich Ernst in 1831 (5 years before independence was declared).

New Ulm, originally known as Duff's Settlement, was re-named when the local settlers petitioned for a post office around 1840.  It was named after Ulm, Germany.

Columbus, established in 1821 by some of Austin's original 300 on the site of what was believed to be Montezuma's legendary Indian village.  One of the first ferrys across the Colorado River was operated there by Benjamin Beeson in 1822.

El Campo began as Prairie Switch when the Texas, New York, and Mexican Railway located a switch there in 1882.

El Campo was my destination for the afternoon.  We put on a producer meeting for the area ranchers.  It was very well attended and considered successful by all involved.

More to come.....


Monday, July 11, 2011

Fox News In The Morning

I woke up in College Station this morning.  I figure that's a good thing since that's where I went to sleep last night!

This place certainly brings back lots of memories.  It is the home of my Alma mater.

I was a little bit of what is referred to as a 2-percenter when I was here.  The rebellious part of my nature kept me from selling out 100% to the traditions.  I tended to stay a little on the outside.  Sometime after I graduated that changed.  I think in many ways I bleed maroon now.

A&M was always a place of conservative values, although I know it isn't quite as conservative as it once was.  I knew I was home though when they had Fox News going in the breakfast area of the motel I am staying in.  It seems like most places to which I travel tune to CNN or even MSNBC.  I guess many of the hotels are owned by those of a more liberal persuasion.  Strange.  I would think the entrepreneurial types would be conservative.  Maybe hotel/motel owners like all the government travellers.....

Just thinking.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Entering Into the Imaginary

The imagination is a wonderful thing.  It creates possibilities and dreams from experiences and knowledge.  It takes us to places we have been or to where we want to go.  It can take the daily reality and fill it with excitement.

Imagination is important to a writer.  Even when writing about real-world experiences it is necessary to allow the imagination to fill in the gaps of our mental pictures.  It can make the ordinary into something extraordinary.

I have written very little creative fiction in years.  Most of what is in this blog is based on something that occurred or, in the ordinary, everyday fabric of living.  Perhaps I will inject a little fiction into this over the coming months.  I will attempt to make note when I do so.  I certainly wouldn't want someone confusing some grand adventure with my ordinary life.....

Stay tuned.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Last Minute Preparation

Last minute preparation;
Things left undone.
Information untendendered;
Time becomes a gun.

Frantic dispositions
Become the moment's task
While thinking most acutely
Of what we failed to ask.

Have faith my child,
There's naught of fear
That makes a bit of difference
As the date draws near.

Your worry is no matter
In the greater scheme of things;
For it shall be what it becomes
When the fat gal finally sings.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

No Silence Found Here

Sometimes when I seek
A quiet place of peace
I struggle with the sounds
That seem to never cease

The television plays
In a room that's much to near
And the hum of electronics
Is forever in my ear

All I want is silence
In which to contemplate
The things of this day's passage
Before it gets too late

So, here I sit composing
Seeking that which is profound
But, my thoughts are disconnected
And just go round and round

I think if it was quieter
I could likely do much more
But, then there in the quietness
I might just close my eyes and snore.....

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Moving Pianos

If you have moved many pianos you will know what I am talking about.  If not, you may think I'm crazy.

The grand piano in our church is down for repairs.  It has taken a pounding for years and needed a good deal of TLC.  It is going to be out for awhile because several parts had to be ordered.  It will be as good-as-new (we hope) when repaired.

In the meantime, we needed a stand-in piano.  Tonight, after choir rehearsal, we moved one of the studio pianos from the choir rehearsal room downstairs to the sanctuary.  Our trusty director asked for 6 or 7 volunteers.  Too many!!

It is easier for two men to move a studio piano than it is for six.  It is designed to be moved by two.  there is a handle at the end on the back for one hand and you can grip under the keyboard with the other.  One person on each end.  Besides, we rolled it the entire way except for the steps up to the stage.  With people on the sides (like a casket) you have problems with corners, with doors, with needing a wide passage, with coordination.....with one on each end, you just roll it to the steps, lift and carry.

Of course there was a short elevator ride in the middle to get from the basement level to the sanctuary level.  How many can you cram into an elevator along with a piano?  Too many.  Oh well, we got it moved.

I'm sure there is a life lesson in there somewhere.  Committees come to mind.  Too many chiefs and not enough Indians also comes to mind.  You need the right number of people to do a job -- not more than enough and not less than enough.

It doesn't look quite as nice as the grand piano, but, I'm sure it will do the job.....


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The List, ummmm....Lists!

I woke up this morning with the infamous "list" in my head.  You know, the never-ending, forever being worked on list of things that I need to get done.  I was thinking of all the things that I knew HAD to be done this week -- many of which weren't even on the list last week.  Thank you, holiday.

I hate it when that happens!  Four o'clock in the morning, the day after a day off, and I wake up thinking of what I need to get done.  So, before most sane people were at work, I was working on my list.  The list isn't the Master List -- it's the "This Week/Right Now" list.  The Master List is the big projects that are basically on-going, works-in-progress.  I guess you could call it my goals list.  I was just working on the gotta-get-it-done-right-now list and it was daunting.

How do you approach your list?  Do you start with the "easy" ones?  -- the ones you know you can get checked off fairly quickly?  -- or, do you pick the worst bugger on there and tackle it first?  Me, I go for a few easy ones.  That way, when I get them marked off it looks like progress.  Well, I marked 5 off and marked 5 others as having progress made on them.  Not bad for Tuesday after a holiday weekend.  Fortunately, everyone else must have been working on their list too because my phone was fairly quiet.  Tomorrow may be a different story!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

Like most United States citizens, I celebrate this day as one commemorating the establishment of this country.  It is the day that we have chosen as a nation to honor our separation from Great Britain, to stand or fall on our own as an independent nation.

The process of establishing our independence was just that, a process.  It did not happen in a day.  In fact, this day, July 4th, was not the day the declaration of independence was signed, nor, is it the day the writing of it was completed, but, it is the day in which the Continental Congress voted to accept the document as a declaration of our separation from Great Britain.  The official signing ceremony was almost a month later.

The 4th is celebrated with many symbols of this great republic -- note that I said, "Republic" not democracy.  We see flags scattered everywhere, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we sing The Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs.  These are wonderful symbols, but, none of them existed on July 4, 1776.  The "Pledge" was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy and included the following:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all."

It is interesting to note that Bellamy was a Baptist minister and a Christian Socialist.  The words "under God" were added in 1954 by Congress after a campaign  by the Knights of Columbus.

The first "Flag Act" of the Continental Congress was passed on June 14, 1777. 

"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key after U.S. soldiers at Fort Henry, near Baltimore, raised a large flag during the war of 1812.  The flag they raised consisted of 15 stars and 15 stripes.
I think our founding fathers would be gratified to see the celebration of our nation on this day, however, they would be concerned by the lack of knowledge of our citizenry and likely mortified by the present state of our nation.  After all, a tyrannical government was the object of their revolt.  Thankfully, they created a government structure that contains the tools for correcting any tyranny that may develop.  The key one being the vote. 
I am proud to be a citizen of this country, but, I am saddened by its current state.  My celebration this year will be somewhat subdued.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I'm Out of Superlatives

In normal years it is only the crop farmers that pray for rain.  In a drought year the ranchers also pray for rain to fill the tanks (ponds for all you non-Texans).  In a severe drought the ranchers pray for rain so the grass will grow.  In extreme drought the ranchers pray for rain to put out the fires that are racing across the land.  I don't know what superlative to attach to this year's drought, even the town folk are praying for rain!

Maybe some of those prayers are working.  Blessed drops of water are falling on my roof as I type this.  Praise be to God who brings the rain in its season.

"I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit." __ Leviticus 26:4

Keep on prayin' folks, it seems to be doing some good.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Locks and Keys

I had to change out a doorknob this morning.  It quit working correctly a few days ago.  Actually, it worked OK if you turned it counter-clockwise, but, didn't work if you turned it clockwise.  Kind of strange.  Normally if they are going to go out, it seems to me that they don't work no matter how you turn them.

Anyway, I went down to the local hardware store and purchased a new one this morning.  It was only about a 5 minute job to switch it out.  Not a big chore, but, something that had to be done.

When I made my purchase, the clerk asked if I would like it keyed to any particular key.  I thought for a moment and said, "No, just leave it with the keys that came with it."

I realized at that moment that I didn't know which key in my keyring was the correct one for that door, or, for that matter, for any of the other doors to my house.  I don't ever use the key.  I come through the garage.  Then, upon further reflection, I realized that the few times I did need to use a key, it took multiple tries to find the correct one. 

You see, I carry quite a few keys.  Some unlock offices scattered across various states.  Some are for padlocks, post office boxes, lock boxes, cars, and on and on.  I had to search for the correct key to match the lock that was being replaced.  It only opened that one door.  I pulled it off of my key ring and replaced it with the new one.

As I looked at the keys on my ring I realized that I didn't know what all of them went to.  Oh, I had a vague idea, but, I suspect that a couple are to locks that no longer exist.  I hate to throw away the ones I'm not sure about because I fear I will need them some day.  You'd think I would have them labeled or something.  I've never taken the time.

I have keys in a box in my dresser drawer.  Some of them are for special things, like the Jeep and various things attached to, or, associated with it.  Most are of the unknown variety.  Again, why do I keep them?  Fear of needing them someday for some forgotten lock I guess.

We are a society of locks and keys.  We have so much yet we fear loss of what we have.  Or, we fear someone gaining access to us or our possessions without our permission.  When I went to Niger a few years ago, there were a lot fewer locks.  Oh, you would see them here and there, but, many homes didn't have much of a door, let alone one with a locking knob, or, even a padlock.

But, there are other kinds of locks and keys in our lives.  We keep our thoughts and emotions locked away.  Sometimes I think we even forget how to unlock them.  The locks are rusted closed and it takes a lot to get into those closed and musty places.  I don't think that's the way God meant it to be.  After all, He is constantly asking us to open those closed places to Him.

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." __ Revelation 3:20

I don't think I really need all that many keys.....