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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Boessenecker: The Long Arm of the Law... and the TRUTH

The LAST thing I needed was another Texas Ranger book. At last count I had around thirty and stacks of related publications... Then John Boessenecker, hereafter referred to as “The Boss,” recently published his long awaited epic on Ranger Frank Hamer, boldly titled TEXAS RANGER. If you thought you knew about Frank Hamer, you don't. I sure thought I did. I have written a lot about my favorite Texas hero... he has been the subject of two of my bronze sculptures, and even a couple of my videos, but anybody can read books and summarize with colorful jargon. 

I am a history buff, Boessenecker is a historian. It is the difference between my seeing the historic moon walk LIVE on television, and Neil Armstrong.

I can do decent book reviews when I choose to... but I cannot even fake objectivity about this. I have too much personal involvement with the story. All I can do is offer by deepest thanks to John, who has written a beautiful, worthy book about a magnificent lawman. After a good cry, yes, even real Texas men cry, I raced to write this while the lump was still in my throat. There IS Justice, but sometimes it takes a long time.

This time it took too long. It irks me a little that it took a danged Californian to do that which some faithful son of Texas should have done decades ago... But maybe that is OK, since it helps me to see Californians a little differently. In truth, Frank Hamer and his story belongs to all of us.

If you have read any of the Boss's other fine historical books, you know that he is a dogged, objective researcher. A real history detective. He cuts it straight. This time he reached out of his traditional focus, across the Rio Grande, as he tells, and it made me nervous all this time waiting and worrying, the true story, warts and all. Frankly I did not trust anybody from California to give the legendary, controversial ranger a decent break. Few others ever have. 

But the Boss was fair and thorough, and what's more, debunked a lot of Hamer myths that we Texans have treasured for generations. We need to thank him for that. What we have here is a new, restored, impeccably factual Texas Ranger, and the good news is Frank Hamer stands as tall as ever. And Bonnie and Clyde, Ma and Pa Ferguson, Lyndon Johnson, and a cast of rowdy thousands... not so much. This was the book Ranger Frank Hamer, “...the greatest American lawman of the twentieth century,” deserved.

And now, thanks to the Boss, a man from California, Hamer's amazing story of courage, dutifulness and sacrifice will be told to all the world.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sam Houston: A Legacy of Lost Loves

Maybe there was a good reason why Sam looked so sad...
Sam Houston was a son of fortune on the battlefield. But he may have been the most unlucky of men in relationships. He fought bravely and was wounded for life for his beloved mentor General Andrew Jackson against the Creek Indians, only to become a political pariah in Washington. He was married to a beautiful young woman named Eliza Allen in Tennessee whom he unexplainably divorced soon after. He had been elected Governor of Tennessee only to resign in awkward controversy and with threats on his life... by his in-laws! And his trail of tears did not end there.

Houston fled to the Indian Territory, where he took up with the Cherokees. The Cherokees were part of a loose network of Native Americans, known to us as the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes.” There in modern day Arkansas he drank his troubles away and hid for awhile from civilization. As a young man he had lived with the Indians and learned their ways, and had been adopted into the tribe. He adapted quickly to life in the wilderness. About an eighth Cherokee, tall and statuesque Tiana (Talihina) Rodgers Gentry was the half-sister of two Cherokee chiefs, and niece to Cherokee Principal Chief John Jolly and related to the famous founder of Cherokee alphabet, Sequoyah. She became Tiana Houston in 1830. It is thought by many that Tiana was Houston's romantic interest before the Cherokee removal from Tennessee. Near Fort Gibson She ran his trading post known as Wigwam Neosho, and oversaw his interests while he drank hard- and occasionally fought in Washington D.C. for her people. 

 Sam Houston loved the arabesque attire worn by the Cherokees, and drove his detractors crazy with his Indian garb while in Washington D.C.....

Houston's earliest biographers chose to skim over this period in General Sam's life. In fact they often somehow forgot to mention Tiana, his legendary "Cherokee" wife. What could have been so bad about Houston finding love in his darkest hour? In fact those writers probably discovered and tried to avoid a scandalous harem left in the Arkansas Territory, of Native American wives that Texans even today will squirm at.

It was during these years in obscurity when Sam Houston may have woven his most intricate if not tangled web of influence. Houston was a very tall, commanding figure, and known as a powerful warrior from his days of fighting under Jackson against their sometime adversaries, the Creeks. Many historians still contend that Houston may have been assembling an Indian army as a U.S. Agent, intending to invade and secure Texas from Mexico using Native American mercenaries. Either way, Sam Houston became the great white hope for the civilized tribes. Houston refused to speak English, dressed and survived like an Indian. And he still had powerful medicine, especially able to fight in Washington for Native American causes and win the undying devotion of the Cherokees, and perhaps other tribes in their alliance.

Bye and bye, and certainly on schedule according to conspiracy theorists, Sam Houston left his idyllic life with the Indians, and followed his star into Texas, where his associations with the Indians would pay off later. He last saw Tiana, (actually Talahina) or Diana Houston at Fort Towson, when he left his adopted Cherokee homeland on a mysterious mission; The liberation of Texas. At the time he supposedly planned for his Cherokee spouse to join him, but she never did... and there may have been good reasons.

Incredibly, he would never mention Tiana or even bother to obtain a legal divorce from her. They had been married and separated according to Indian law. As far as what has been written about them for over a century, there was no issue out of this relationship. Whatever it meant to General Sam, it was in the past. Records show that she later remarried, so it may not be true that she waited faithfully and died of a a broken heart, as the legend goes...
But certain clues have emerged over the decades that shed light on Sam Houston's lost Indian loves. It is very possible, maybe even probable that he had other Native American “wives” during that time, from other tribes, as was Native American custom. This is nothing that the Houston family ever publicly acknowledged, but some Native Americans did, and did so discreetly, as they found the reality of it less useful than their white kinsmen. Here are the intriguing facts, and stubborn conclusions about Sam Houston's “lost” loves...

Texans take so much about the amazing Sam Houston for granted. He was the Governor of two states in the United States, a president of Texas, a hero of the War of 1812 and the commanding general in Texas Revolution. At the pinnacle of his illustrious career, he was impeached as the Texas Governor because he refused to join the madness of secession, the Confederacy and war against his beloved mother country. He died rejected and hated by many Texans. His legacy of lost loves is almost impossible to comprehend. That may be why so few have asked some obvious questions...

Like: Who was Talahina Rodgers? Who were the Alabama and Coushatta Indians, and why were they somehow overlooked when Texans routed and expunged all other Native Americans under President Lamar? All Indians but the Alabamas and the Coushattas, their kinsmen, relative newcomers to Texas themselves, were completely removed from Texas. But the Alabamas and Coushattas were eventually given a reservation and promises that were sort of kept. What kind of deal had they made? Who made it? Why and how was it enforced to this very day? Why did all of the Indian tribes trust Sam Houston so much, and why could he secure peace with them when nobody else could?

I believe that these and other questions that spring from these questions can be answered by Houston's Indian alliances and possible clandestine marriages while in Indian Territory. There are some intriguing possibilities. Prominent Indians from at least two different tribes have passed on traditions that they were “blood brothers” of Sam Houston. Indians either gave or took his name out of admiration, such as Sam Houston Benge, Houston Shaw, Samuel Houston Smith and Samuel Houston Mayes. Houston may have been the most admired and loved white man to ever mingle among the Five Civilized Tribes.

Cherokee Chief Bowles gave one of his daughters to Houston. This marriage was actually witnessed and recorded by Samuel Maverick. A Wichita woman named Melissa Houston claimed to be Sam Houston's wife as well.

Some of the research that brought these “native sons” to light was done by Dr. Joseph B. Mahan. A vastly pedigreed academic, Dr. Mahan wrote a fascinating book called North American Sun Kings, which fleshed out the complex inter-tribal alliances between the Civilized Tribes, and the religious and cultural core of their kinships. In his book Dr. Mahan reveals the mysteries of the ancient Shawano belief system, as understood by the Yuchi tribe, which included priest-kings and royal families and some mysteries very akin to that of the Masonic Order.

Like the Levites of old, the Yuchi Kings had priests who knew their genealogies going back many, many generations. The Yuchi were the priest class of the civilized tribes, embodied by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw tribes. Yuchi shamans were the official keepers of the eternal sacred fire for all the woodland tribes.

When Sam Houston met with these people, he no doubt would have recognized their significance and the similarity of their beliefs to ancient Judaism. He was perceived by them as a noble among nobles, and as he fraternized with many chiefs in the region, he no doubt was honored in many ways that would have been lost on the average Nineteenth Century person. And he may have been inducted into a secret Indian society known as the “Great Medicine Society,” and sealed these relationships through extra marriages. Dr. Mahan interviewed at length one such Yuchi chief, Samuel W. Brown Jr, who had no doubt that he was a grandson of Sam Houston.

Samuel W. Brown Sr., Chief of the Yuchi, always claimed Sam Houston as his real father.

Chief Brown unveiled to Dr. Mahan an elaborate network of spiritual tradition and practice, carried for centuries through many related tribes, from the Great Lakes region to the Smoky Mountains and later to Texas and Oklahoma. Dr. Mahan wrote everything down that Chief Brown said, and then spent the rest of his life trying to understand it all. In the midst of all of the mystic language and complicated tribal relationships, stood the unapologetic fact that Chief Brown was descended from General Sam Houston.

His father, Sam Brown Sr., had been born in Van Buren, Arkansas, in 1833, the son of a Yuchi princess from Alabama, named Suttah. Also known as Polly, she was a direct descendant of the famous Emperor Brim; the daughter of the Yuchi Sun King Timpoochee Barnard. Suttah was also the sister of two prominent Yuchi subchiefs, Tisoso and Fushudgee, both “Birdtail Kings.” All of them were grandchildren of "Cusseta" (Koasati/Coushatta) Birdtail Kings. They were royalty, at the top of their social order.

A fierce Yuchi partisan and statesman, Tisoso was hung by whites in Girard, Alabama in 1836, after Sam Houston had gone to Texas. He and his brothers had petitioned the Secretary of War, attempting to stop “the fraud being practiced upon our people.” These were the purportedly short-lived Indian brother's-in-law of Sam Houston and the uncles of Sam Brown Sr., who was of noble Yuchi blood and served as Yuchi principal chief for almost 50 years. His mother, Princess Suttah was murdered in 1861 by some of Quantrell's Raiders in Oklahoma during the Civil War. Fushudgee was killed the next year fighting under Creek Chief Opethleyoholo at Pea Ridge.

The fact that Sam Houston was the Senior Brown's father was a mere fact, nothing to be proud of, in fact it was rarely mentioned. In Creek and Yuchi tradition, royalty was passed down through the females, as in ancient Hebrew custom. Other Creek customs were unusual if not quite liberal to our Western, Victorian standards. Creek girls were expected to be sexually active before marriage. These were matrilocal societies, where polygamy was common, and chiefs encouraged favored candidates to bed with their daughters. Mixed-blood was actually desired. To add to the genetic pool of confusion, the Creeks were also exogamous, forbidding the marriage of individuals within the clan. Sam Houston would have been almost incidental to Sam Brown Jr.'s story, since his power and authority came through his grandmother Suttah. Still, Brown Sr. had admitted to his son that “...My father Sam Houston made two crops- and I rode on the horse's back...”

 Samuel W. "Billy" Brown Jr.

Billy Brown looked more like Sam Houston than his father did.

Old Chief Brown's contention that he was somehow spawned by General Sam Houston has its problems. It is doubtful that Houston made “two crops”... unless this was a euphemism for two conjugal visits, or even two children. Perhaps he might have once met Sam Houston later and “rode the horse's back,” the “horse” better translating into English as sire. Sam Brown was born in June of 1833, after Sam Houston abandoned his “Cherokee” wife Tiana and bought over 4000 acres on Karankawa Bay in Texas. In October, Nine months before, was exactly when Houston had settled his accounts and given the trading post and slaves to Tiana, and left forever. Intriguingly, Chief Brown would have to have been conceived during this last return to the Indian Territory and right before Sam Houston's legendary departure to Texas. So even though this relationship seems sketchy and improbable, it could have happened.

Houston filed his claim at San Felipe as a married man. If he had multiple wives in the Indian territory, he faced a real cultural dilemma. Which wife would he bring to Texas?

 Several Native American women insisted to their deaths that they were once wives of the famous Texan, and bore him children. This was nothing to brag about, as Texans were generally despised by Indians. Later the confusion led skeptics to allege that even youngest son Temple was one of the Indian offspring.

Houston did go back and forth in the early months of his adventure, offering opportunity for a tryst while reporting on his progress with the Comanches to American authorities. The Comanches were considered by the Americans as a possible natural military barrier to the Mexicans if they would cooperate, and Houston effectively placated them. If Houston had so many neglected and jealous lovers awaiting him back in the Indian Territory, no wonder dealing with Comanches seemed like a reasonable if not safer endeavor!

Sam Brown Sr. seemed to suggest that Sam Houston lived with his mother Suttah for at least two years, since “he made two crops.” He also suggests that he rode on the plow horse used on their farm, when just a toddler. It is not absurd to imagine this scenario, when we consider Houston's chronic alcoholism and escapism, and his popularity with the Cherokees. But a farmer he wasn't. Whatever strange fiefdom Houston had created, he could not sustain it.
 This portrait of Sam Houston reveals the similarity between Billy Brown and his alleged grandfather. Even Brown's daughter has Houston's eyes.

And there may have been a second, older son from this union, or a cousin or "half brother" out of an aunt of Brown's. No dates are known for a brother of Sam Brown's, but in the 1840's Brown's so-called “half brother” was kidnapped by the Osages, to be raised as one of their future chiefs! Houston had been instrumental in negotiating a successful and effective Treaty between the Osages and Creeks in 1831. This child may have been stolen when that treaty went sour. The stolen Yuchi boy was called Tsa pah ki ah, and became a major chief of the Osages. He was never rejoined to his Yuchi family. 

 Sam and Osage Chief Tsa Pah Ki Ah

The stealing of Indian children of royal blood was considered an intelligent thing to do! Is it possible that even a child of Sam Houston was considered powerful medicine? Or more likely, a great prospect for a huge ransom. There is no way to know what the Osages saw in the little Yuchi boy, but one look at him as a man and there is the instant impression of Sam Houston. Skeptics argued that Sam Brown Sr. did not look anything like Sam Houston, but then neither did Temple Houston, the last off-spring from Houston's most famous marriage... and yet Sam Brown Sr. could easily have been believed to have been Temple's brother.

The elder Brown took the name Brown from an Indian educator he admired. S. C. Brown took him under his wing and shared his love for education, which led to the founding of several Indian schools. If Sam Houston was his blood father, S. C. Brown was Brown's intellectual mentor. Still the acorn does not fall far from the tree. Sam Brown Sr was an original member of the Creek House of Kings, the Treasurer of the Creek Nation, a 32nd Degree Mason, and ultimately the last surviving Union Officer in Oklahoma. His integrity was unquestioned. Upon his death, Sam Brown Jr obtained a death certificate from the State Department of Health (Bureau of Vital Statistics) which verified that his father was indeed General Sam Houston.

According to Chief Sam Brown Jr., the Yuchis maintained close ties to many Indian brethren throughout the southeast United States, including those living in Polk County, Texas. These would be what we know as the Alabama-Coushatta Indians, once neighbors in Alabama over a century ago. Brown said that the “Cussettas” were the only tribe outside of the Yuchis who had ever been given all of the secrets of their elite religious order. The Cussettas (Koasati/Coushatta) were descendants of the Muscogee and Natchez tribes of the lower Mississippi Valley, and closely kin to the Creeks. They came to Texas around 1810. They brought the secrets and the alliances of the Birdtail Kings with them to the new land. Perhaps this ancient religious society was the nucleus of an blood covenant between General Sam Houston and his Indian kinsmen, which spanned from the Indian Territory to east Texas, and somehow protected these Native Americans from expulsion.

Whatever the reasons for it, kinsmen of Chief Sam Brown's seemed to enjoy the proverbial “king's X” in Texas. All other tribes were driven or burned out from east Texas before 1850. But even President Lamar, a veritable Indian exterminator, and the Texas Legislature passed laws and set aside large tracts of land for the Alabamas in Polk County, and they shared their good fortune with the Coushattas, and both live in peace in Texas to this very day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dr Palmer's Sanitarium

Before there was M. D. Anderson, there was...Yes, Navasota had a "sanitarium," at least that's what they called medical clinics in those days. Dr Hal Palmer was a Civil War-trained doctor who did treatments, without surgery, for cancer in the early 1900's. You can still see his name and signs on the old brick at the corner of McAlpine and Farquhar, in downtown Navasota. 

First Dr. Palmer had a private sanitarium in Plantersville, but he moved around to find patients. He had clinics all over the state, but always seemed to land back in Grimes County. He started his enterprise in this building in 1907.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

THIS is OUR History! The COOLEST Stinkin' Badges!

Navasota, Texas is especially blessed with interesting history, and was at one time the home of an impressive array of Texans. And there are no more celebrated Texans than the members of the Texas Rangers, both real and artistically interpreted. Most towns the size of Navasota might be able to boast that they were the residence of a Ranger sometime in history, but Navasota can boast of at least five... and three of which we actually know of the exact badges they wore. This is unheard of. History yes... legends sure, in the books maybe.. but the actual stinkin' badges? Hardly ever!

Perhaps one of the oldest authenticated badges known in Texas Ranger history belongs to Dr David Fruchtman, an Arizona forensic scientist and criminal justice professor, who has recently shared a badge in his collection... with provenance, which was the Ranger badge belonging to the legendary western lawman,  Jeff Milton...

Milton was the adventurous son of the Florida Governor who came to Texas after the Civil War to live with his sister, who had married a Navasota merchant. He did not stay in Navasota long, and became a Texas Ranger when just 18, with the endorsement of Navasota attorney and former Attorney General of Texas, H. H. Boone. Milton's career with the Rangers was cut short after some tragic gunplay, and subsequent legal embarrassment to the Ranger organization... but he went on to become one of the most noted lawmen of the Old West. J. Evetts Haley wrote his biography in A Good Man With A Gun. You can read all about this Ranger's career at my blog below... just click on the LINK, after your read this!).

But you will not see his badge in the book... in fact you will not see it anywhere but right here!

There are several exciting things we learn from this badge. And some of what we learn challenges the conventional wisdom concerning these beloved icons of Western lore. First of all, we learn that at least some of them, HAD BADGES. The common belief is that they rarely had badges, and few Rangers ever wore them, as they were considered invitations to be murdered. Only on the force for a couple of years, Private Jeff Milton had this handmade star, with his company designation. This badge is crude, cut out of a disc of nickel, yet the lettering has been fairly masterfully done, with a popular zigzag technique, which is seen on many old badges. Unfortunately, the finding has been lost. On this badge, the wearer chose to inscribe RANGER, (singular)... not Ranger Force or State Rangers (plural). These details may seem insignificant, but they help establish what I have suspected... that is a total LACK of a pattern in the early badges. And just as importantly, it is not cut out of a Mexican Peso.

The exclusive use of etching on the badge suggests several things. Out west where the Rangers were ranging, and where they were most likely to try to scrounge up a badge of some sort... they had to settle for homemade badges, or ones made by frontier jewelers, who had very limited tools and materials. The right metal was scarce, and the tools necessary to work metals were usually not available. If a mistake was made in the cutting of it... like the chopped-up star in this badge, that was just too bad! There were few or no stamps available to hammer pretty letters into sheet metal.

So an engraver might have been the closest thing to a badge maker available. My guess is that another Ranger of Company B had this one made, and had a better one made when he could, and passed this faulty one on to the young Ranger... who did not need it long. It was soon just a keepsake for the young Floridian who wandered the west for years as he tried to grow up and get the respect he craved. Now the badge is a direct link to his life and times... and another intriguing link in our study of Texas Ranger badges.

Texas Ranger badges are rare. Let's just say so rare that I went most of my life collecting antiques and seeing hundreds if not thousands of fake Ranger badges being passed off and nobody ever expected to really find one... You would find diamonds in a diamond field faster than you would find a real OLD Texas Ranger badge in an antique market. Yet my neighbor dug one up in his yard, right here in Navasota. You can read that story (later!) here at this LINK:

The significance of this badge is hard to fully appreciate. It belonged to the Navasota City Marshal around 1911-1915. M. E. Bailey was a Ranger buddy of Frank Hamer's out in Alpine and came to help him in Navasota as his Deputy City Marshal. He took over as marshal when Hamer left Navasota. Hamer was a devoted fan of Bailey's and when interviewed after his death, claimed Bailey had once single-handedly arrested a handful of Mexican generals who were in Texas recruiting for Pancho Villa. What Captain Bailey could not have fully appreciated were the number of Texans who supported Villa and his revolution, and who made money off of the gun trade. This arrest made him a huge target, with enemies on both sides of the border, and this event may be why he left the Rangers and migrated around 1910 to civilization on the Brazos. Some way, some how this badge got dropped, thrown and buried in the flower bed of his residence in Navasota, to be dug up nearly a hundred years later, from dirt a foot deep.

The Bailey badge also teaches us several things about Texas Ranger badges. By 1910, some were being ordered and made by real honest-to-goodness badge manufacturers. Some were brass or bronze, thin, pressed by machine, and featured the ranger's name and rank and company. These were official but fairly cheap badges. This captain's badge suggests that even a ranking officer would have no more fancy a badge than any regular city lawman. But it also may be one-of-a-kind.

The only common denominator between most early ranger badges is the star inside of a circle. Several companies out west could have been contracted to do such work as shown in Bailey's badge... But my pick would be Anson Mills, who had a large operation with big money government contracts in El Paso. They manufactured a wide array of military issue belts and beautifully ornate, brass belt buckles... for several governments. Mills was a former Civil War Union General who came out west to make his fortune and did so. With his fame and connections and his handy geography, it is easy to imagine T. C. Orndorff, his brother-in-law who did much of the “heavy lifting” doing business with many regional law enforcement agencies. In fact there are photographs of Texas Rangers wearing his famous Anson Mills woven cartridge belts... sporting those beautiful buckles. Understanding the Mills'/Orndorff interest in the socio-political situation along the Texas border, it is easy to imagine that Mills made this badge (had his people make it) and gave it to the young Ranger for his daring-do... but probably the fancy brass badge only got to him after he left the force.

Bailey had moved on, probably despising the regime that forced him out because of divided loyalties... I can easily imagine it arriving in the mail one day while he was working in Navasota, and as he unwrapped it, cussing it and chunking it in disgust into the shrubbery outside his home... where it laid for a century.

The Texas Ranger badge worn by Ranger Frank Hamer.

Because of various auctions in the past decades, we have also gotten blurry peeks at the badges worn by Ranger Frank Hamer, before and after he served in Navasota. I have written extensively about Hamer on this blog, but we do not know what his City Marshal badge looked like, and in fact he might not have had one. He might easily have chosen to wear his Texas Ranger badge, which by then was a symbol of deadly authority. 

Recently I acquired a fantastic facsimile of Hamer's earliest Ranger badge, thought by his son and the auctioneers to have been made of brass or bronze. Few people have studied metals enough to know that really old silver, when not allowed to blacken from constant rubbing, will take on a deep yellow appearance. I have seen this most often on spurs, where the patina said brass but the polish revealed SILVER! Anyway I purchased this silver badge, which is the spitting image of Hamer's badge down to the scars. Possibly made by Langenbacher, the legendary badge copyist, it is unlike any other Ranger badge I have seen, replica or real. The design of this badge is unmistakably related to the Mills Texas Ranger buckle design, assumed by many to be fakes.

Later around 1915 Ranger Frank Hamer had one of the first classic “Peso Badges” which have become the Ranger standard we all recognize today. They were literally cut out of silver Mexican pesos. On the back one could easily observe the Phrygian cap in a sunburst, and dates up until 1910 when the silver was discontinued. Later “Cinco Peso” badges were made in the 1960's which were reminiscent of these early badges, with (on the back) a Mexican eagle perched on a cactus, tormenting a rattlesnake.

This Peso badge must have been the badge he wore for around seven years until he became the Senior Captain over the whole organization in 1922. His captain badge is truly magnificent. It was a manufactured catalog standard, custom made, gold plated, and no name, it had only his rank stamped in the badge.

For a LINK to a WONDERFUL short video about Frank Hamer and his service here in Navasota, go to the You Tube address below:

You might be wondering what these badges are worth. After watching real Ranger badges sell at auction, I would say that because of identification, fame, and provenance, all of these would fetch in the thousands of dollars. Anything can happen at an auction, but I would be totally amazed if they did not bring $4,000.00 - $7,500.00 each. Maybe more.

These are just a few examples of the Treasures of Navasota. I will share more of them in the future. These things testify to an exciting and legendary era in human history, when men had to kill or be killed in a struggle between good and evil. And when a lawman's badge was a sign of lethal authority, and outlaws were pursued, captured and eliminated with prejudice. Let's hope and pray we never need those kind of lawmen again. But whether we do or not, this is what we come from, this is our history. And history almost always repeats itself.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nailing Jesus and Christmas- with Science

You would think in two thousand years, skeptics could have demolished this popular yet outrageous story... instead it has changed the the world, inspired millions, and is now supported and fortified, not only with Genealogy, but Astronomy, Astrology and Archaeology. (Not to mention hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament). Today it is still where it should be, I believe where God would have it, right in the center of controversy, as cynics, skeptics and infidels stubbornly reject it.

I saw on the Science Channel where they found Caiaphas' grave and the stone box containing his bones. He was the pragmatic High Priest who masterminded the illegal execution of Jesus. In the dusty box researchers found two ancient, bent and corroded nails... which they immediately deep-sixed, separating them from the historic ossuary. They did not know... or want to know the significance of the nails. Like Caiaphas, whose bones they sorted, they did not want them to be of earthly or spiritual significance. Still, Caiaphas was so identified with these nails that his loved ones placed them in his little stone coffin, to rest and mingle with his remains forever. As if, for better or worse, they wanted to make sure Caiaphas met his Maker with them in his possession; Proof of his wisdom, or his eternal damnation.

Caiaphas was willing to stake his eternal destination on the rightness of destroying Jesus and his earthly ministry. Even after the profuse rumors of miracles, and Jesus' resurrection and the inspiration of a new religion... which had caught on among Jew and Gentile... he could not be persuaded. If they were crucifixion nails... and they were, he obviously thought they were irresistible souvenirs of his notorious career... Denying them their possible significance, he took the evidence of them to his grave. Over the centuries, how many Christians have wondered what might have happened to relics just like these, of Jesus of Nazareth? Caiaphas not only sought to kill Jesus, but to obliterate his legacy. In doing so, he gave science much more evidence, in our time, of the ruthlessness and pride with which he executed his duties.

Later another researcher learned of the misplaced Caiaphas nails... found them at a local university, and established they were THE nails, and that they were exactly the kind of nail used in crucifixion, AND found traces of human bone and cloth on them. The nails and the ossuary shared the same exact ancient sediments which served to connect them like DNA. The sudden implications of biased, unprofessional, malicious behavior, then and now, were mind-boggling. The science proving it is irrefutable. Raw hatred was at the bottom of all of it.

It is not just poetic justice... but Providential guidance, that has made modern science the most objective and effective advocate of God, his Son, and their story. Today people have to look past much more evidence than Caiaphas did, to ignore and ridicule, or try to destroy Jesus... as God proves that for some... there will never be enough evidence to humble and change them. And some day, tragically, they too will have their own “nails” in their own coffin... to meet their Maker with.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


A person like me must encounter some useful information along the way after fifty years of reading, researching and conceiving and creating art. You might think I have become unnecessarily opinionated in my search and exploration of truth and beauty (which often seem to me to be the same thing). That is why I try NOT to appear to be too overbearing … or dogmatic... But sometimes I must share something so essential, that I think, acting on my conscience, I must endorse it...

In my business, I go through thousands of pages... some while reading, but often just thumbing through old magazines looking for “scrap.” Scrap is the mountain of imagery that artists collect for reference material... and old magazines are an excellent source. Sometimes an old forgotten jewel pops up, and this one was an especially valuable discovery for me, entitled THE MOST IMPORTANT THING... by Dr. Frank Crane, who was famous for his "Four Minute Essays." With a title like that, I HAD to read it. 

Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to what magazine I tore it out of, but it was something like The Mentor or some other Turn of the Century periodical, which typically did not hesitate to moralize or attempt to shape the public character. Here then is a piece of long-since discarded conventional wisdom... wisdom which I believe we would do well to resurrect... and of course my interpretation of it! [Sorry about the small print!]

Acts make Motives”; We are familiar with the Darwinian ideas (survival of the fittest) which prove that motives inspire action; hunger inspires the hunt, greed inspires deception, righteousness leads to service... but the writer flips that axiom on its head to reveal a more subtle equation- that over time repeated actions lead to adoption of motives previously uncharacteristic to our habits...

There are two kinds of people...”; This is obviously simplistic, and was said to provoke introspection, so do not get prematurely derailed over this statement. Perhaps Crane might better have appealed to our generation by merely suggesting that there are lots of different kinds of people, many of which fall into two major groups; the strong and the weak, who are by his definition “capable” or “incapable.” This writer talks to his reader as if they are already his disciples, ready to listen to the coming major points, and willing to overlook his assumptions. He must neglect diplomacy in order to cover a universe of wisdom on a single page. So please bear with him.

The difference between them is this only: that the strong change their motives...”; Another over-simplification, and built upon the first. If I were writing this, I might have said, “I have found one major difference between these two types is...” Please hold on, because the writer, uncharacteristic of other such pontificators of his day, is about to dump his load... But may it suffice to say that he wants you to want to be counted among the strong... He is betting that you are already looking for your affinity with “the capable.” In fact, it would be the “weak” who would begin dismissing this wise writer out of self-defense, even before they have partaken of his wisdom, for fear of being offended, corrected, or challenged. The strong would not be afraid to read on... regardless of broad statements, or where they might lead.

There is no art in the world so important as the art of killing one longing and creating another in oneself.” Okay, so the guy is full of dogmatic, unprovable opinions, one built upon the other. A sanctimonious tower of cards... BUT, what if he is right? Even I had to question this... and had to prove this statement to myself. But, basing my analysis from another unproven assumption, that most people spend their whole lives in pursuit of happiness (which takes different forms for each of us) there would be general agreement from most folks who have read this far that happiness comes from personal fulfillment and contentment... which usually is the fruit of security and freedom from want... which is usually the result of someone's success and hard work... which will be made easier if we ( the provider as well as their dependents) willingly, selflessly adapt our wants and expectations... It would stand to reason then that a very important art in mankind would be ADAPTABILTY; The “art” of flexing one's questionable plans or goals into healthy, attainable ones.

The idea here is that this forced adaptation comes from within. But many of man's longings are based on selfish, predatory and even sinful motives, which also come from within, naturally. Modern civilization depends on men to stifle their animalistic urges, or there would be constant pandemonium and war. Today we call it “redirection,” when people's energies and ambitions are corralled and pointed in better directions, for the benefit of everyone concerned. It is a long-lost art for people to willingly do this, without tragic mistakes first, and today without professional analysis, counseling, and sometimes even hospitalization.

Then Crane unveils his “secret.” Just entering his fifth paragraph, he is already prepared to share the central truth of his essay. “... by repeating an action one can gradually induce a desire to repeat it...” and conversely, “by refusing a desire, one can eliminate it.”

I once had a young friend who put it this way... “Do anything (good or bad) three times in row, and it will become a habit.” I can't tell you how many times I have repeated that... to myself or others. It is true. Actions do shape motives. Conduct does reflect and affirm personal character. Repeated conduct even more so, and we decide which actions which we repeat... to form good or bad habits, and to our own benefit, or peril.

All you need to climb out of the slime is imagination..” This would be, in my mind, another long-lost secret. Dr. Ben Carson talks about how his mother planted in his mind, not the hopelessness of his environment, but the potential of his situation. She could not read, but made him read to her, as if she were supervising his reading development. She used nothing but sheer imagination to do that. Without imagination, “Faith” is almost impossible. In fact Faith and imagination are gifts from our Creator God who counts on our use of these things to transcend out earthly realities.

Today our society dismisses all the traditional systems of attaining prosperity, often born of human imagining... especially religion. But hope and optimism are often born not from the harshness of reality, not from financial security, not from education, as these things can help provoke success but are certainly no guarantee of it. Hope and optimism spring from an inner confidence built on powerful undercurrents of faith... in self, in justice, in the positive forces of humanity, and in a Supreme Being who brings order and ultimate justice to the Universe. Dr. Carson's mom had faith in God to deliver her children “out of the slime,” as Crane calls it. And eventually Carson himself believed... and imagination turned humble beginnings into an extraordinary life. People who have been chained to poverty and hopelessness for generations are really just victims chained to their own lack of imagination. .. who settle for something immediate and far less than God's plan, like addiction and crime or worse, blaming others for their own anemia. And they are the ones who need Crane's essay the most. But to add to their dilemma, they as a class do not read, do not listen to good sources of solutions... and with dormant imaginations, do not seek life-changing answers, as they amble on in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The process is slow.” Amen. But only, as Jesus put it, “because of the hardness of men's hearts.” Crane admits that much of his wisdom is common among an elite group he terms the “spiritual aristocracy.” It is not that they withhold these truths. It is just that most people could not care less about doing things that require discipline or flexibility or heaven forbid, obedience to a higher power. The process is so slow, that most people, especially parents, give up way too soon.

This is the only known road to real success. It leads to kingship.” By now our haughty, would-be mentor does not try to hide his confidence in his wisdom. You can take it or leave it. Kings have followed this advice... or so he flatly suggests. Jesus spoke of a wide road and a narrow path... the former used by most people... the latter for his followers. He knew that his followers would not, could not be successful without, as he put it, “First deny yourself, take up your own cross (of personal sacrifice) daily and follow me...” Jesus suggested that everything we are meant to do is a path that starts with self-denial; personal restraint, selflessness, deferring to others, and especially God, before we can be sure we are on the right road.

Crane skipped over that part, perhaps assuming his Victorian audience already knew that... but he reminds them of the final measure of our lives; how we used what God had provided to us... Our legacies. Are they legacies of service or demanding service? Are they legacies of contentment and generosity, or discontent and greed? Of grabbing for more, or giving more? Jesus not only settles the question, by “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but Crane found where Christ pronounced a sort of eternal equation, of which we should all take heed: “To him that hath- shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away, even that which he hath.”

We all start at a personal bottom, or find the literal bottom at some time in our lives. Few of us will ever be wealthy, so God diligently directs and blesses most of us in our various states of financial and physical and spiritual struggle, where we can either choose to turn to him, or not. Those who have Faith and pray have a very decided advantage. Those who do not are also likely the ones who cannot even imagine success, much less a creator/personal God. But even believers can be thwarted in their efforts if they see God as a secret weapon or magic wand. If they fail to use what God has given them, has provided in His wisdom at that moment, to be thankful for what is, and all the while to be content and generous to others...

Read the parable of the “talents”... where those given very little, and did very little, because of fear, suspicion, or small-mindedness... Their master took away what little they had. It turns out that we can seal our fates by expecting or doing nothing... or too little. The ne'r-do-wells in those parables were self-indulgent, even willful, leaning on their own wisdom, own preferences, rather than their master's. Bottom line, they lacked imagination; trust in “the master,” and more tellingly, the willingness to risk failure. These are critical elements to success at anything. These are the earmarks of Faith.

For those who do not believe, this stripping of the underprivileged is outrageous. Like Dr. Frank Crane, the author/authors of the New Testament, aka God, seems to be a presumptuous, judgmental, illegitimate authority, based on their own twisted sense of justice. They will instead, forever look to the government to solve all ills, feed all discrepancies, make right all wrongs. They will never admit that their system has always failed, because it assumes, (falsely) the inherent goodness, dignity and even nobility of all men. Christians assign those attributes to God only. Their Scriptures are rife with great leaders who fell far short of God's righteousness. Man-made systems always fail. Only an all-powerful God never fails.

For those who do believe, this seemingly twisted formula is the key to success; Make the best with what you have, be thankful, keep the faith and hope for better, obey God, and He will justly reward his own as it suits Him... As it serves His Kingdom, fulfills His plan... In His time. Jesus explained that the only way you can move up the ladder in his paradigm is by first using wisely, obediently, what God has already given you. If you waste it, hoard it, hide it, fail to even use it, whatever your motives, you are not able to move up to the next rung in the ladder. So... perhaps Crane was right... this idea of being able to imagine the next upward move... and act on that vision repeatedly, regardless of our circumstances, to the believer and unbeliever alike, is AT THE VERY LEAST, one the most important things.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Lanier Lectures: On the cutting edge of Eternity

Lanier Theological Library

 At a time when many serious Biblical scholars are announcing the decline of Western Christianity, and the rise of secular humanism, not to mention the visible groundwork for Armageddon, it was a striking detour to be ushered into the depths of theological debate thriving at the Stone Chapel in North Houston, sponsored by the Lanier Theological Library. To add to my already overloaded senses, was the sudden revival of memories which had flooded my mind, as the Lanier Library compound lies in the same place, once a forest wilderness, where my brother and I rode horseback as redneck teenagers. I actually courted my first sweetheart under the virgin pine canopy near there. I shook off those thoughts as I came into an Old World village complete with cobblestone walkways and a 6th Century Byzantine chapel, executed with Thomas Kinkadesque beauty and perfection. 

 Like a kid in a candy store... my brother Reynolds insisted that I come see this amazing facility... 

My brother had insisted that I come with him and showed me around the Lanier Theological Library, host of some 86,000 volumes... and sundry Holy Land artifacts. There was a panel discussion going on in the Chapel, on slavery of all things... I was still thinking about the unlikelihood of this kind of thing being tucked back in this wooded neighborhood.... as we took seats in the chapel and caught the end of the discussion...

You might, like me, wonder what slavery has to do with the price of beans. But there have been arguments made against the trustworthiness of the Bible... and the God of the Holy Bible, since it is perceived by some readers that the Bible condones slavery... an unforgivable stance to any modern, enlightened mind. Some modern thinkers reject the God of the Bible because he obviously was prejudiced and unjust, if not racist and downright narrow-minded.

 Incredible murals bring Old World flavor to this reproduction of a 6th Century Turkish church.
The panel discussion was tough for me to follow as a layperson, as some of these leading theologians, brought in from all over the world, would often use Hebrew or Greek to make their points... which were often answering some obscure premise thrown to the experts to chew on. The pitcher was Mark Lanier, who played the role of facilitator-host... pacing and postulating under the grandly adorned dome of the chapel, a sort of Donahue goes to Cambridge... stimulating and sometimes baiting discussion from the four fairly soft-spoken theologians. One of the youngest and most animated of them was Peter Williams, Warden at Tyndale House Cambridge in England, who would be the featured speaker that evening.

 Mark Lanier has built the most impressive theological library in the region. So far he has hosted thirty lectures.

The exchange was friendly and yet earnest, and a rare glimpse for Texans into Christian intelligentsia. But for me, on face value the questions illustrated an unkind assumption I have nurtured, perhaps unfairly,  that theologians are people with huge brains and long pedigrees who focus too long on the most insignificant things.

Still, we need them, to settle those stupid questions inspired by well-meaning, almost smart folks, people who fall under the cynical influence of the Evil One. The gist of the question, and I can only assume this because I missed the introduction, was: Were the assumptions valid which claimed that the Holy Scriptures endorsed the practice of slavery, thus rendering the God of the Bible as an ancient excuse for ethnic oppression? These seemingly absurd interpretations were used all the way up until the American Civil War. Actually they survived in some southern pockets long into the 1960's.

The panel revealed that the devil was in the details; that great harm had been done with ambiguous translations of the words for servant and slave; that translators have through the centuries allowed their cultural attitudes to color their somewhat subjective translations. As time has passed, when there was an option, later translators chose to emphasize a more hostile form of bondage, (Hebrew "ebed/eved": can mean servant OR bondservant) as opposed to voluntary indenture (servanthood). Where older texts sported a limited use of the word for slavery, later translations abounded with them. And lost to all of us are the cultural realities of Ancient times. In fact people, sometimes whole nations voluntarily placed themselves in servitude, for decades, to gain protection or avoid wholesale starvation. Slaves in ancient context had rights... and protection, and limited engagement. When God gave direction through His prophets concerning slavery, it was in the same vein as His laws on divorce... not because it was His Divine Will, but because of the hardness of men's hearts. 

A great deal more could be discussed when this is considered. Even God understood that the world is imperfect, and once relationships like ancient slavery had been established since the days of Pharaoh, it was not so simple to just declare instant justice and freedom for all. The interdependence between the parties, and the consequences from sudden liberation of a servant class with no education, no assets, no homes, and most importantly inadequate acculturation, could only lead to further chaos and injustice. In God's wisdom, the best solution to men's complicated social structure was to let them work it out gradually over time, laying down the bedrock concepts of mercy and justice as the underpinnings of society.

As Peter Williams pointed out (and hard for our modern minds to comprehend), for some disadvantaged people, ancient forms of slavery were the best thing for them at the time, and they were the first to admit it. Knowing this makes the actions of some slaves in the South, when they refused to leave their plantations when set free, and tearfully begged to stay, explainable. This loyalty was not because of ignorance, but because of personal knowledge of their questionable readiness for independence. But concepts of "justice" and a bloody war overruled common sense. 
Peter Williams took these observations about Hebrew and Greek nuances to their plausible conclusions, but he also offered some surprises. He has been doing some deep-sea diving in the currents of many languages, forging one authentic, holistic world view of these issues. Studying Germanic, Gaelic and Latin languages, he has done yeoman's excavation of these ancient words and their translations and how various peoples made them their own. They had no axe to grind and thus suffered less cultural distortion of these words... and perhaps a more clear understanding of the nuances... sometimes lost in our English translations.

 Peter Williams of Tyndale House, reads and studies in a dozen languages.
But Williams' brilliant twist came from his study and observations of the supposed slavery of the Jews while in Egypt. We have all grown up being told that the Jews were brought out of Egypt from the oppression of slavery and service to Pharaoh. And we have all been ignoring the scriptures which tell of when the Egyptians themselves willingly committed themselves into slavery to Pharaoh as well... via the negotiations of Joseph, father of two tribes of Israel, the Israelite placed at Pharaoh's right hand. In fact everyone was a servant of the Pharaoh, but the Israelites enjoyed a somewhat elevated status... more as hirelings, status they won upon their arrival in Goshen hundreds of years before under the protection of Joseph. Maybe Joseph had been forgotten, and the Egyptians were cruel employers, but the Israelite's confrontation with Pharaoh was more akin to a Victorian labor dispute.

Over the years cultural bias caused more than one translator to render these servants into “slaves.” In some cases translators, bending to their own perceptions, translated the same word for servant, used twice in one paragraph, differently. This subtle bending of semantics was not without terrible results. Sadly 600,000 Americans died in a Civil War where around half the country argued that the Bible justified their use of slavery, so this sloppy scholarship had very grave consequences, as provincial minds, assuming the veracity of English translations, bet their lives and futures on them...

 Q & A at the end of the lecture.

Peter Williams more than once wisely refused to pass judgment on participants in the American Civil War, ( known by Southerners as the War of Northern Aggression). He explained that each individual in the war, on either side, was there for his own reasons or rationale... and finally he quipped that if the audience wanted to know the proper understanding of the war, they would have to be there on Judgment Day. 

 Stairwell in the Lanier Library

Some things we do not get to grasp- on this side of Eternity. The path to perfect understanding is much like the stair rail in the Lanier Library. But for those things that can and should be grasped... the folks at Lanier can be trusted to flesh them out.

The Lanier Library is open from 9:00 to 5:00 on weekdays and until 9:00 on Tuesdays. You can learn more about it at:  www.LanierTheologicalLibrary.org.