Looking for Russell Cushman art ?: http://russellcushmanart.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pick up your ax! Cutting to the (COMMON) CORE

A great serpent crawled into America’s classroom while trusting parents told themselves that others knew what was best. 

Under the guise of raising educational standards and grooming more competitive citizens, we have all watched our schools become charmless institutions, obsessed with a merciless quest for higher test scores and verifiable teacher accountability. But after decades of this relentless and unwinnable racket, grades and morale are worse than ever. And now finally we have a tangible antagonist to point at and vent our frustration on, something called “Common Core.”

Glenn Beck recently hosted a simulcast in theaters across the United States where he amassed a variety of activists from all over the country, ready to organize and strategize, under the slogan, “We will not conform.” Intended to be the launching of a nationwide campaign to make Common Core a blip in history, ax-bearers gathered in theaters from coast to coast, ready to challenge the monolithic American educational beanstalk. Beck and Michelle Malkin and others shared their frustrations and victories fighting the latest tangible threat to what is left of the America we once knew- a threat to the most basic and essential asset for a free and thinking people; Education.

Known as Common Core in most states, Texas opted to concoct its own educational Leviathan. But its name is not important, but the organized genius behind it is.

Whatever you call it, it is a cunning racket of educational improvement orchestrated by haughty supervisors, who never allow for much success. They have made their jobs secure by constantly raising the rigor and keeping satisfactory improvement just out of reach. This merciless raising of standards has been justified because some countries supposedly have better scores than the United States. So Common Core or its equivalent have made a nightmare out of our educational system, and state after state has seen recent citizen backlashes against it. People all over the country are starting to realize that the people they trusted were not only unworthy, they were greedy and corrupt, and they do not have our children’s best interests in mind.

Some school districts have become rife with blame and suspicion, and educators have been harassed or fired because of unsatisfactory test scores. The children watch and suffer in silence as their favorite teacher is humiliated, their best friend held back, or a whole school is put on notice. Failure has become the great enemy and the inevitable obstacle for many. All of this so some folks in Austin can boast that they are preparing another generation for the world market. But the real market is right there in their offices, as multi-million dollar deals are made around expensive and experimental educational strategies. The educators, consultants and publishers have become a wealthy quagmire of self-dealing bureaucrats.

The Beck simulcast revealed some interesting perceptions; there is a lot of money and influence at stake. It will not be wrestled away without a fight.  The same people who designed the curriculum and the texts also designed the tests. Strangely, students are actually evaluated on what they did not know, not what they had been taught. A certain amount of failure keeps everyone on their toes… and re-testing and re-re-testing has become an expected part of the process. And the testing is not cheap. These publishers lined their pockets with our money while our children suffered the worst theories ever conceived in education. And the scores and the results are a travesty.

There is much work to be done to correct decades of abuse and misdirection in our education system. Parents must get involved with what their kids are doing at school. It is important they keep evidence of examples of bad educational policies. No more benefit of the doubt. Towns must take back their schools. The educational Gestapo in Austin must be put out of business. The TEA must be re-invented to reflect our values and designed to nurture and not to torture. And it starts with making our senators and legislators know that we are aware, we are mad, and we are going to do whatever it takes to take back control of our schools.

Note: For more on how these devastating policies affect Navasota Schools, click below.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The P. A. Smith Hotel- A Grand Possibility

Three stories high and double-wide, the P. A. Smith Hotel was centered in the middle of the "Railroad Street Strande." This was a post card from around 1900. LEFT CLICK on the images to bring them up larger.
P. A. Smith Hotel- 111 Railroad St., Navasota, Texas

After the town of Navasota was located and surveyed by 1854, the tracks brought the railroad by 1859. The Houston & Texas Central Railroad had arranged for the budding village to accommodate the rails, and soon entrepreneurs were setting up tents and building permanent “rock houses.” One of the first of such buildings was a hotel where Noto’s stands today, built by Mrs. Louisa Loftin. It was probably completed by 1860 or 1861, (another source says 1864) either way just in time to suffer the effects of a crashing economy due to the Civil War…

Mrs. Louisa Loftin was a apparently a widow and one of the first residents of Navasota, and apparently had considerable ambition for a woman in those days, aiming to give the other hotels in town a run for the money. She hired J. W. Peterson to build her hotel and soon J. H. Stacey was hired to build a row of rock houses along Railroad Street, which became the center of activity. Structures were erected for Loftin & Fisher, John K. White, R. H. Giesel (also spelled Geisal & Geisel), and A. J. Hall.

Philip Aurene "P. A." Smith was a New York born, Illinois schoolteacher, who was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.  When the War Between the States broke out, he had sympathies with the South and joined the Confederate army, serving in Parson’s Partisan Rangers. As a Yankee “Copperhead” Smith was obviously an independent thinker, having rejected the persuasions of his Republican friend and president. After serving in the cavalry in Texas he ended up in Navasota by 1869, where he purchased the silent presses of the "Texas Baptist" in Anderson, and established the Navasota Weekly Tablet. Later he bought out widow Lancaster's interests in her husband's newspaper, The Texas Ranger. Smith also owned a furniture store, a cotton business and invested in Real Estate. Besides being a devoted Democrat and journalist, P. A. Smith also built and managed the Navasota Opera House, which stood where the City parking lot at the intersection of Farquhar and Washington are today. .

Around 1900
After building up her trade for several years, Mrs. Loftin started a larger project on neighboring lots 5 and 6 of Railroad Street.  Around this time she married P. A. Smitha man with considerable abilities and designs himself, in 1875.  As they joined visions a huge edifice was erected on these lots, constructed by men known to us as Misters Wiley and Riley. Built of native sandstone  (rubble: not quarried), the name was changed to P. A. Smith Hotel, as the new Mrs. Smith graciously allowed his name to be put on the business. Some sort of trade must have been agreed upon, as (the carpenter?) John Wiley was given a permanent residence on the third floor, from the very beginning of the hotel. This towering stone landmark, which became the centerpiece of downtown Navasota, was finished in 1876, and turned out to be the grandest structure ever built in town, only eclipsed recently by the reconstruction of the old 1903 City Hall.

The Hotel only served as such for a little over a decade, then after Mrs. Smith died in 1890 the upstairs became the Smith family residence for many years. P. A. Smith died at age 74 of typhoid fever in 1903. In 1944 it was conveyed to Mr. Martin Allen. He sold it to Eddie Conally/Coneley?, who eventually deeded it to the Grimes County Historical Survey Committee in 1974, placing it in the fickle hands of the Grimes County Historical Society.

Railroad St. about 1890. This was the end of the P. A. Smith as a commercial enterprise. Afterwards downstairs rooms were rented as offices.

The GCHSC had high hopes and major plans to restore and utilize the P. A. Smith Hotel as a community cultural center with historical exhibits and events.  P. A. Smith Hotel Restoration, Inc. was incorporated and became the official manager of the project, led by Gene Bouliane.

Illustration from P. A. Smith restoration project

They also knew how to organize and more importantly, how to raise money. Impressive corporate and private funds were donated, with a major gift made by a local bank ($6,000) and also an undisclosed amount by Mr. Gene Bouliane, and receipt of matching Texas Historical Commission and Federal ($22,500) grants, and a local bank loaned $32,000 for interim financing, putting way over $60,000.00 in improvements into the property. I know all of this because my father, Ralph B. Cushman Jr., was the contractor hired to oversee the restoration, and I inherited much of the papers he compiled as the contractor and as a board member.

Demolition, architectural and engineering studies ate up some of the funds, then much the stone was re-chinked, windows rebuilt and the roof repaired, until funds began to dwindle. The project proved to be a massive undertaking, and since no work had been done on the building in decades, the neglect had created hundreds of lurking money pits. The "Histerical" folks began to be impatient, anxious to see a functioning facility...

Sadly, after the enthusiasm about the American Bi-Centennial waned after 1976, so did the interest in the hotel. Small town politics began to raise its ugly head, as many of the movers of this project were newcomers. It was obvious a new breed was moving in, shaping the town, making lasting contributions and commitments. But in short order the dreamers, donors and volunteers were disposed of, in various ways, mostly just plain ingratitude and insolence, and the membership remaining after the purging abruptly changed their mind.

I don’t know exactly when, but around 1979 the hotel was sold off, at a loss to Mr. and Mrs. Urquhart, and the proceeds from the liquidation divided and used to fund the Grimes County Historical Commission, (a county-focused historical and preservation information organization) and to jump start a new organization- the Grimes County Heritage Association, led by Georgia Best, (formerly secretary of the P. A. Smith Hotel Restoration Inc. ) which immediately moved into the newly donated R. A. Horlock house on East Washington Street…

I do not know the exact number, but most parties involved agreed that the purchase price for the P. A. Smith Hotel was less than that spent on its restoration, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000.00.  The Urquharts later sold the building to Dean Arnold who has maintained and used the old hotel for a wood-working factory for a couple of decades.

 The P. A. Smith Hotel is the building with aqua trimmings. 

And now, it is abandoned and for sale again, along with two other buildings on Railroad Street.  Such a disappointing reality for the highest hopes of the Smiths, the Grimes County Historical Committee and the Arnolds, all of whom toiled with good faith and no small amount of investment…

Still, I have to believe the right folks have not owned it yet. So far a couple of serious investors have looked at it and loved its possibilities, but ran into a wall of non-cooperation with the City over establishing a railroad quiet-zone. Ironically, the same industry which brought the old hotel to Navasota, now retards its future.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

UNSOLVED MYSTERY: Who Shot Sheriff Royal?

Sheriff A. J. Royal of Pecos County: Murdered with no official suspects
I have never understood why so many movies have been made using bogus stories when there are so many great and true stories waiting to be told... or great questions to be asked. Here is a real Old West “Who done it.”

One great unsolved mystery was the death of Sheriff A. J. Royal of Pecos County. This was a man who needed killing so bad that there were a half-dozen good prospects as suspects in his assassination. Most of them were lawmen, and a few were Texas Rangers. And as time went on, the mystery only deepened and the list grew.

Sheriff Andrew Jackson Royal was a bad ‘un. A stunning mixture of politics and rapaciousness, he routinely threatened the citizenry and misused and abused his power as Sheriff. He was known to use his pistol like a flyswatter on pesky citizens. Sometimes he used the butt, other times bullets. His deputies were often bad men like Barney Riggs who were the stereotypical western thugs who used their badge of office to lord over everyone.

Deputy Barney Riggs (center) and gang

 Inmates such as Jose Juarez sometimes disappeared from Sheriff Royal’s jail never to be seen alive again. Royal routinely tried to arrest any citizens who were a threat to his political machine, with trumped up charges. After an intense manhunt to capture Victor Ochoa, a notorious Mexican revolutionary, U. S. Deputy Marshal George Scarborough left the prisoner in Sheriff Royal’s custody. Opportunistic, Royal then illegally released Ochoa from his jail, an international criminal, who promised to get him the Hispanic vote.

When he ran for re-election in 1894, Royal posted armed “deputies” at each polling place to intimidate his enemies. His legacy was a rotten muskmelon in the veritable armpit of Texas, so it is no surprise that the people of Pecos County unseated him when they got a chance. A petition, signed by Judge Williams, W. P. Matthews, John Odom, Jim and Morgan Livingston, Howell Johnson, R. B. Neighbors, Shipton Parke, and George Miller was fired off to solicit the help of the Texas Rangers. The people of Pecos wanted their county back.
Judge O. W. Williams of Pecos County. The honorable judge once got in a brawl with Sheriff Royal and had to threaten to kill him if he did not stop gouging his eye out.

History reveals that these men intended to remove Sheriff Royal one way or another. These were the men he had threatened repeatedly, and these were the men whose names have popped up over and over in the accounts of his assassination.

Not long before he was killed, Royal had nearly beaten Herman Koehler, the County Treasurer, to death. Koehler was the peaceful owner of a saloon which happened to be competing with his. After Royal lost his bid for re-election, he threatened to kill a bunch of his political adversaries and refused to give up his office, and that’s when the Rangers were called in.

As usual, when the Rangers appeared, all quieted down. Royal had to concede and move on. But he did it with loud threats and his enemies were afraid for their lives. The whole town was on the edge of its seat. Rumors ran as wild as mule deer bucks in the rut. Someone was going to pay.

We know now after so many years that rumors would persist, in various forms, that suggested a prominent group of townsmen had gathered and conspired to have Royal killed out of fear, and the conviction that they would never be able to sleep in peace again. Royal was mad, he was known to kill with little regard for the law, and he had assured them he would. It was kill or be killed. The Rangers were in Pecos for the second time in a few weeks, but on an impossible peace- keeping mission.

A powder keg was about to blow as the Rangers arrived in Pecos. Already Royal was named in several indictments by the Grand Jury. He was the complainant in as many more. All we know for sure is that one mid-morning a couple of Rangers stepped out of the courthouse, leaving another asleep in their quarters, and a mysterious gunman confronted Royal in his office as he was finally cleaning out his desk. With two men sitting beside him, the assassin got his attention, then leveled a shotgun and blew Royal away. And no one was ever indicted or prosecuted for the murder. Nobody had an idea who it might have been.

So I thought it would be fun, if not instructional to list the suspects… and we can take a vote. Don’t let my captions sway you, your guess is as good as anyone’s, and probably much more objective than most of the folks involved.
Bass Outlaw lived up to his name, even though he served as a Texas Ranger. But he could not have murdered A. J. Royal.

Years later, some informed parties seemed to agree that the deed had been done by a Texas Ranger. But which one? Two of them had an alibi, having gone down to the saloon to whet their whistles. One legend said it was Bass Outlaw. That would be handy to pin it on him, as he was the most famous “bad” Ranger. It’s something he might have done. But he was already dead by then.

The Rangers who could most obviously have been involved were those assigned to Pecos during that period, and most of them had stellar careers; Sgt Carl Kirchner, Pvt Joe Sitter, Pvt William Schmidt, Pvt Ed Palmer, and Pvt J. W. Fulgham.

Sgt Carl Kirchner, Texas Ranger, was in command at Pecos when some ugly stuff went down.

And then there were the leading citizens, Royal’s known political enemies, all signors of that petition, whom he planned to kill; Judge O. W. Williams, W. P. Matthews, (the County Clerk) Shipton Parke (County Commissioner), Morgan Livingston (County Commissioner), and Howell Johnson (former County Attorney and newly elected Justice of the Peace), any combination of which would have had the motive and the means to eliminate Royal.
Ranger William Schmidt... The only thing suspicious about him may be his name... recalled by a co-suspect thirty years later.

Any of Herman Koehler’s relatives would have been justified in doing Royal harm, as poor Herman never recovered from his beating and died soon afterward. There were numerous Mexican American families who had lost loved ones mysteriously to Royal’s regime. There were the witnesses for the State during his prosecution for assault, his merciless pistol whipping of defenseless Elza White; and R. L. Anderson, James Livingston and Shipton Parke(again!), who served on the Grand Jury which indicted him, as well as  R. N. Baker, and Frank and Francis Rooney. Royal had sworn vengeance on all of them. Not one to be hesitant to bite the hands that fed him, he owed several of them large sums of money. One was Herman Koehler, and it seemed he had decided to reduce his debt by reducing his debtors.

And then suddenly A. J. Royal was dead.

Old man Charles A. Crosby, County Clerk and a political ally who shared an office with the Sheriff, was right there, but nearly blind and not likely to have shot the Sheriff so boldly, as there was no means of escape, and he easily could have missed and brought destruction upon himself. Apparently Crosby and Royal had their backs to each other, Crosby facing the door. “Back to back they faced each other…” Another possible assassin could have been another man supposedly loyal to Royal, the recently resigned Justice of the Peace H. L. Hatchette, who failed in his bid for County Attorney. He was also in the room at the time of the killing. From his position, Hatchette reportedly could not see the killer standing in the doorway, but said Crosby could have.  But Crosby could not see and claimed he did not recognize the voice of the killer...”And if you don’t believe it’s true, go ask the blind man, he saw it too.”

It is perhaps a coincidence, or a sinister design that most of the possible suspects in the assassination were in or around the courthouse when the crime was committed. If they were in fear for their lives, why were they all there? Within moments after Crosby came out in the smoke-filled hall and announced the Sheriff’s death, Judge Williams was there, and later recalled seeing Johnson, Parke, both Livingstons, both Rooneys, John Odom and Rangers Palmer, Schmidt and Kirchner. When it comes to suspicion for murder, “the more the merrier.” Of course if they knew the killer, or were aware of his mission, they would be quick to respond so as to appear innocent...

Judge Williams admitted that he had a shotgun on the premises, hidden in a vault, (as did others, who were expecting violence) but when he inspected it, it was still loaded, although it looked as if it had been fired … but not that day-  in his estimation...

Several of these men had already come to blows with the defeated sheriff. There is no question that the critical mass of all of this enmity evolved into murder. The question still remains… who shot Sheriff Royal?
Captain John R. Hughes on the bottom right, Joe Sitters on the upper left. Both had no love lost for Royal, but both had impeccable careers as rangers.

By the time Captain John Hughes had sent his Rangers to Pecos for a second time, there is no doubt that Sheriff Royal had become a royal pain in the Ranger behind. It would not be like Hughes to send his men in without a plan… even a contingency plan. Conveniently, the statements afterwards provided everyone present with an alibi. Meanwhile Royal got tucked away, shot down in cold blood and nobody cared. Nobody was even indicted, much less prosecuted. All these Rangers and yet nobody had a clue, nobody went and tried to track the killer. It is all too much to digest.

I believe it may well have been the Ranger rumor mill which has fed this event and its aftermath for so long, and which was able to officially conceal the actual crime. Locals always pointed to the Rangers as the culprits. In fact few of them had any problem with his assassination as Sheriff Royal was so despised and feared. In his old age, Judge O. W. Williams, himself a possible suspect, claimed he had gotten a written confession from one of the Texas Rangers, who wanted to get his guilt off of his conscience. He said his name was Smith…
Ranger Frank Schmid. We do not know exactly where he was at the time of the killing.

This might have been several Rangers serving in west Texas in that period. If we allow the old judge to slur his speech a little, Smith could easily have been Schmid or Schmidt.  That immediately brings Frank Schmid to the fore, as well as William Schmidt, who was supposedly the Ranger making the rounds at the local tavern with Sgt Kirchner.

It seems many believed that either the Rangers killed Sheriff Royal or were helpful in some way towards his demise… or the cover up of his assassination.

Killin' Jim Miller

But what most writers seem to ignore was the obvious suspect, and I do not understand why. Killin’ Jim Miller, the legendary “Deacon Jim” should have been a prime suspect. Everything about the killing pointed to him; Professional, surgical, in the back, with a shotgun. And Miller had a decent motive. It is true he may have been the hired assassin, and killed the Sheriff for the money, but he also had a dog in the hunt. Here is where the thing smells to high heaven…

Jim (James Brown) Miller was absolutely active in this very area. Recommended by the good church going folks of Pecos, he started out as a deputy under Sheriff Bud Frazer of Reeves County.  But he killed a Mexican prisoner who supposedly “tried to escape” (a kind of euphemism among the Texas Rangers since the McNelly days) and Frazer became leery of him. He was fired. Since then he had been in a running war with Bud Frazer and his family next door in Reeves County for years.  There were several gun battles. Frazer was a dead shot, but never suspected that Miller, scoundrel that he was, was unsporting enough to wear a bullet-proof vest. With the help of Mannie Clements and Martin Q. Hardin, (both related to John Wesley Hardin) Miller made Frazer and his family miserable if not fear for their lives.

Sheriff Bud Frazer. Shared the same fate as Sheriff Royal, although he had more chances to avoid it. When it came to enemies, he picked the very worst in the West.
After Royal’s mysterious death Miller finally killed Frazer (shotgun, back of the head) and he tried to run off all of Frazer’s kin, including Barney Riggs, Sheriff Royal’s number one hatchet man. They never faced off, but there is no doubt about their sentiments. And here the smell begins to eke out: one of the witnesses, and thus on hand and useful to his defense, was none other than George Scarborough. Yes, Deputy U. S. Marshal Scarborough. The same Deputy U. S.  Marshal who had been repeatedly frustrated with Sheriff Royal and his corrupt regime. The outlaw Ochoa had been Scarborough’s prize until Royal traded his freedom for votes. We will never know the connection, but this one coincidence tells me there are more.

Deputy U. S. Marshal George Scarborough, who must have wanted to wring Sheriff Royal's neck. He knew Jim Miller well... and later served as a witness for the defense in his murder trial. Imagine, sticking up for the murderer of a fellow lawman... who basically assassinated him from behind.

Whatever his motivation, or the legalities, Killin’ Jim Miller was cleaning up the Pecos Valley.  And he may well have been in cooperation with some local lawmen, like U. S. Deputy Marshal Scarborough, who could not do what he would do. Later Miller was believed by Captain Hughes of the Texas Rangers to have assassinated Pat Garrett, another bad egg who made many enemies and owed everyone a lot of money. Miller was often hired to settle scores with notorious corrupt lawmen, when there was no legal satisfaction available through proper channels. This we know… This is what he had done in Oklahoma when he was finally caught by vigilantes, who would gladly do what lawmen would not… hang him.

So… cast your vote. Fortunately, this canvas is non-binding. But I am curious what you guys think about this wonderful, smelly, unsolved mystery of the west.

NOTE: I owe much of the credit for this article to Clayton W. Williams, and his book Texas' Last Frontier.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Choctaw ball players
OK, I can’t stand it anymore. I have to jump into this moronic dialogue about the Washington Redskins.

OK, so I may sound a little perturbed and impatient. I am.  Our country has become a pathetic, moaning mass of sympathy seekers. We live in an age when attention-seeking groups, and usually just attention seeking individuals, demand fairness or consideration in the name of some formerly persecuted minority group. And more often than not, they get carried away until serious authorities actually respond the way they want… regardless of the truth or the cost, or what is right. 

I am fed up with all the nonsense. The present controversy, really just a silly objection, over the name “Redskins,” proves that we are a society that has lost its mind and one which allows anyone to rewrite our social guidelines. Anyone.  Any insignificant, ignorant malcontent with a persecution complex who has learned that this society is predisposed to listen and care about the most contrived causes, can put a whole professional sports organization on the whipping post.

The supposed purging of bigotry in America has birthed a jihad even more egregious than racial prejudice. It is a sort of intellectual terrorism, where accusations are hurled like Molotov cocktails at anyone perceived vulnerable. Somehow, even though a preponderance of Native Americans insist they are not offended by the term “redskin,” the United States Government is taking punitive action towards the Washington Redskins, all because of their name. The problem with the plaintiffs, and the problem with the morons in the government, is they know nothing about the term redskin. They are ignorant of the history. Americans of every ethnic group should be ashamed of their ignorance of of our history. Their history. And this is a major example.

Redskin is a Native American term. More accurately, it is a translation of (and here’s the irony) a Native American SPORTS team. Granted “redskin” was probably not a word any tribe used before the white man came, because they did not speak English. But the Cherokee, Natchez, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, Sioux, Choctaw and probably many other nations were passionate ball players… probably more passionate about playing chunkey than Americans today are about football, and they basically divided the teams according to… skin color.
Red skins verses white skins- in a panting by George Catlin.

There were the red skins and the white skins. From ancient times the Native Americans, at least those in the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” and others who met them on the ball field, recognized that some tribes were darker than others, or redder, and others lighter, or white. Players often painted themselves so as to be more red or white, if there was any doubt. Since everybody played naked, it was handy that there were sort of built-in uniforms. Many, perhaps millions of proud warriors played chunkey under the name “red skin.”

Chunkey stones.

Chunkey was the Native American predecessor to lacrosse. Dozens of red skin and white skin players used long rackets with rawhide baskets on the end to sling a round stone disc, often knocking some guy’s lights out. It was a tough game. It was in fact a good substitute for real aggression between neighboring tribes.

It turns out that there were whole “red” tribes and “white” tribes; “Red” towns and “white” towns. It turns out that red tribes were considered hawkish, or warlike, and whites were peaceful. There were “red” chiefs and “white” chiefs. War councils only went to war after both agreed. There has never been a society more defined or governed by red and white than many Native American tribes.
Here the white skins look overwhelmed... Nothing ever changes ... Painting by Catlin

And yet today a few Native Americans are offended at the name Redskin. But the Red Man has called himself red man, or red skin for a long time. Apparently no one else has the right to call him, or anyone by that designation, even if it is to bring honor, no matter how inadequate, to his race.

I could go on… But actually, Redskin is much closer to what the Native Americans called themselves... at least some of them, than “Indian” or Native American.” And it conjures up images of proud warriors proving their valor on the field. I have no use for professional football, but I always thought it would be cool to be up in the stands at a Washington game, in the Capital of our country,  waving the tomahawk chop. For one single, silly moment we are all Redskins, warriors, facing our enemies. But now that might change forever.

Our whole country must prove it is caring and sensitive, no matter how ridiculous the complaint. Some Native American does not even know or appreciate his own heritage, and yet we all must bend to his pathetic provincialism. So the pundits throw the redskins to the wolves.

All so some moron won’t have his ignorant feelings hurt. I will save one last tomahawk chop for him.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sgt Dibbrell Led Half a Ranger Company [eventually] to Tame Navasota!

Captain John H. Rogers and Sergeant John Dibbrell,  of Co. C, Texas Rangers
One of the Texas Rangers who was sent to fight the criminal gangs waging private wars in Navasota was Sergeant John Dibbrell of Company C, then based in Alpine.   Things must have been quiet out in west Texas, where towns are far apart and few people were found in between, and in 1907 the Rangers sent Dibbrell and a new private to Navasota when the violence there grew to amazing proportions for such a civilized portion of the state.

So one day two Texas Rangers showed up, fresh from the Wild West, and started knocking heads in the muddy cotton center of the Brazos Valley. Dibbrell, like many rangers before him, effectively quelled the nonsense for a season, and used the adventure to break in his lanky sidekick, a 23 year-old kid named Frank Hamer.

Young Hamer showed great promise as a ranger, and he and Dibbrell made a positive impression on the law-abiding citizens of Navasota. But as was typical for the rangers, as soon as things quieted down, they scooted out before they could get entangled in small town politics - or get offered permanent jobs. They kicked the dust off of their feet and headed back out into “the great wide open.” What a difference there was between west Texas and east Texas.

In a few months, a deadly killer named Ed Putnam holed up in a home in Del Rio after a witness saw him murder a local sheepman. Well-armed and desperate, he asked for no mercy and gave none. Captain John H. Rogers and Privates Hamer and Hudson and one other ranger surrounded the house and a hot gunfight exploded for almost an hour. When it was over, the rangers counted over three hundred bullet holes in the walls of the humble abode, and learned that Private Hamer had ended the fight with one well placed Winchester bullet in Putnam’s head. This was the second outlaw Hamer had killed in a shoot out. Frank Hamer was the man you wanted next to you in a tight spot. He suddenly began to make a name for himself in the community.

Rangers Hamer and Hudson became local heroes in Del Rio after killing a cold-blooded murderer in a wild shoot out.

Soon the violence kicked up again in Navasota, worse than ever, and the Navasota City Council saw Marshal W. B. Loftin leave in fear and disgust, after getting a finger shot off. Nobody else wanted the job, and the few men foolish enough to have taken it in the past did not last very long. The City was wide open, the Republicans and Democrats were in an all out shooting war, and armed white gangs brutalized and lynched blacks and killed each other over turf. Finally the mayor contacted the governor, pleading for assistance from the Texas Rangers.  The councilmen were convinced they needed a permanent ranger. The governor was quite aware of the troubles in Navasota, and agreed that only a ranger would do. He made a call.

Soon after, Ranger Headquarters in Austin asked Sergeant Dibbrell if he wanted the job, as, unlike so many city marshals, he had been successful there. He had done magic in Navasota before, so he might be the man for the job. Would he leave the clean mountain air of Alpine and trade it for a plantation-bottom river town? Dibbrell was incredulous. He was not interested even though the job would mean a considerable increase in salary. But Dibbrell offered a solution. He recommended Private Hamer. You can almost see the dusty room in Alpine, full of boots and spurs rangers kicking around the governor’s request, and Dibbrell smirking as he handed the letter to Frank Hamer. You can see the empty look on Captain Rogers’ face, concerned that he was about to lose his finest recruit ever… And you can imagine the young man’s starry outlook, anticipating a cushy job with better pay.

Looking back, we have to acknowledge Ranger Dibbrell’s wisdom. He knew how to pick ‘em. But at first the Navasota City Council was unconvinced. Private Hamer was too young and inexperienced.  They did not want a trigger-happy Billy the Kid-type terrorizing the town.  But Dibbrell stuck to his original rejection of the job, and insisted that Hamer could handle it. Eventually, desperately, the people of Navasota adjusted to the idea. The “powers that were” thought a young ranger would be perfect, as they could easily intimidate and boss him.

So Marshal Frank Hamer reported to duty in Navasota, Texas in November of 1908.

And the rest is Ranger History.

NOTE: Amazingly, four of the men in Company C based in Alpine, Texas ended up serving in Navasota. First Dibrell and Hamer, then Hamer brought M. E. Bailey who served as his deputy and then took his place. Recommended by Hamer, Duke Hudson came later and was elected as Grimes County Sheriff

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Who Was That Masked Man- Really?

Every night my wife nestles in the covers and watches re-runs of the Lone Ranger right before she goes to sleep. It is a great way to end the day, with the masked man and Tonto riding off into the horizon, crying “Hi- Yo Silver- awaaaay!”

The legend of the Lone Ranger has been around since Zane Grey, the prolific western novelist, wrote a book called the Lone Star Ranger. Recently I purchased some artifacts from his estate, including original Texas Ranger photos, a 1915 newspaper clipping provided by Henry Romeike Inc. of New York, and the proof sheet for Grey’s autographed dedication of the book to Captain John Hughes and his Texas Rangers...

 The proof sheet for the dedication by Zane Gray to Capt. Hughes and his Texas Rangers. From an unrelated collection, the bronze badge is very similar to ones worn by Texas Rangers during that period.
In 1923 Tom Mix starred in the silent movie version, then it was remade as a talkie, and eighteen years later Fran Striker adapted the character in his radio programs, and wrote many books featuring his character, The Lone Ranger.  Soon this popular American hero was being interpreted on television, and became a permanent American icon.
It has always been assumed that Zane Grey had been so smitten with Captain Hughes that he based his hero on the legendary Ranger captain after visiting Texas in 1913.  But the character he invented did not really resemble Hughes in any way. He writes in his dedication…

“It may seem strange to you that out of all the stories I heard on the Rio Grande I should choose as first that of Buck Duane- outlaw and gunman.

But, indeed, Ranger Coffee’s (Perhaps Ranger Bob Coffee?) story of the last of the Duanes has haunted me, and I have given full rein to the imagination and retold it in my own way. It deals with the old law- the old border days- therefore it is better first.  Soon, perchance, I shall have the pleasure of writing the border of today, which in Joe Sitter’s laconic speech, “Shore is ‘most as bad an’ wild as ever!”


In the book's dedication Grey reminisced about his sojourn with the Texas Rangers, about the legendary tracker Joe Sitters and others, whom he met probably in April of 1913, (Thanks to Ranger historian Mike Cox) as if he had made lifelong friends and found lasting heroes... at least he could say he had actually met real Texas Rangers... and name them by name...

“Gentlemen, I have the honor to dedicate this book to you, and the hope that it shall fall to my lot to tell the world the truth about a strange, unique, and misunderstood body of men-  The Texas Rangers…”

In the package I purchased were two snapshots of Texas Rangers, Captain Hughes and perhaps Sitters, and a larger post card-sized photo (see top) of a handsome “unknown ranger,” whom I immediately recognized. I never hesitated to pull the trigger on the BUY IT NOW button, as the unidentified ranger was none other than Frank Hamer, newly rejoined with the Texas Rangers in 1915 after policing stints in Navasota and Houston.

Six foot- three, Frank Hamer, City Marshal of Navasota around 1910

And here is where a new personal theory developed about the origins of the legendary “Lone Ranger.” One of the old tattered press clippings in my Zane Grey collection was a newspaper article about the tragic killing of former Ranger, Customs Inspector Joe Sitters and another ranger in late May of 1916, who were serving as “Rio Grande River Guards.” When asked by a reporter to comment on the double murder, Zane Grey mused that it  “was not so significant because it was the passing of the oldest and most famous of the Rangers, but because it typified Sitter’s laconic remark, spoken in conversation with the author a year ago, that conditions in the border country were “ 'most as bad and wild as ever.”

That observation by Sitters, in typical ranger style, became a deadly, self-fulfilling prophesy.

The Media of the day failed as usual to get the real story from Grey or the tight-lipped Rangers, but what happened before that had surely helped to forge the future legend of the “Lone Star Ranger.” In a seeming stroke of one writer's dumb luck, Grey  had met and travelled with some of the most deadly and notorious Texas Rangers who ever lived-  some soon to perish.

A hardened Ranger veteran who had impressed Grey, Joe Sitters became famous to the whole American reading public in the book's dedication, then ironically made the most foolish and costly mistake of his long and colorful career. Divided from the main search party, Inspector Sitters and Ranger Eugene Hulen had been shot, mutilated and robbed while tracking the notorious Chico Cano gang in the mountains of far west Texas, apparently about a year after Zane Grey had tagged along looking for excitement. This places Grey in Texas during the spring of the same year that Lone Star Ranger was published. The Lone Star Ranger was released in June of 1915, just a month or so after Zane Grey had made a second pilgrimage to Ranger country and visited with the legendary Joe Sitters and others in my photographs. This means the writer had pretty much written Lone Star Ranger  before he had gone to Texas for his second expedition. Perhaps he was researching another book, as he suggested in the dedication he wanted to write another book on the "modern day" Rangers.

The main character, Buck Duane, was supposedly a fictional character, forged from the depths of Ranger Coffee's arsenal of Ranger lore, but had amazing similarities to one of the rangers Grey obviously met on that trip. And the picture of the "unknown ranger" proves he was more than a little aware, even inspired by Frank Hamer, one of the most sensational rangers on the border; Buck Duane starts out as an outlaw, a natural killer, living in the wilds to survive. Later he becomes a Texas Ranger and dedicates his life to eradicating the thieving, murderous gangs of the Texas border. A magazine book review released by Harper & Brothers offers that the story was “easily paralleled in real life.” But by whom?

A fact revealed much later in his biography, Ranger Frank Hamer actually was caught up in a bank robbery scheme when just a teenager, although he backed out at the last minute. He killed his first man, an employer who shot him first, in a wild reprisal when he was just sixteen. And it seems the parallels won't quit, as the legend grew... After that first killing, Hamer reportedly went to his mother and exclaimed...

 “Mother I wanted to be a preacher, but from this hour on I’m making a vow to God I will pursue outlaws relentlessly and bring them to justice.”

Could this vow have inspired the various creators of the Lone Ranger legend to have their character make a similar one?

Frank Hamer later mused how different his life might have been had he gone through with his youthful fantasies, and had not the Rangers discovered him and offered him a legitimate expression of his predatory inclinations. And Lone Star Ranger seems to be the exploration of that question.  After his first deadly gunfight, Buck Duane spends much of his time hiding and surviving in the wilderness, hard to track, impossible to capture, against incredible odds. Hamer was known to identify closely with Native Americans, to even live and think like an Indian, with remarkable abilities in riding, hunting, tracking and shooting. Walter Prescott Webb described him thus: “Nature became an open book to Hamer and he became more and more like an Indian.”  

When just twenty two, the lawman prodigy was recognized and recruited by two legendary old-time rangers, Captains John Hughes and J. H. Rogers. Hamer quickly established himself as a fearless, deadly gunfighter, and was almost as quickly assigned by the Governor to go subdue the warring town of Navasota in 1908.

In Navasota young Frank Hamer immediately had to square off with one of the town's ruffian leaders, a hell-bent-for-leather Texas Aggie named Brown... whom he kicked and rolled in the street-mud and humiliated... and who became a lifelong foe in the process. All through Lone Star Ranger, a villain Brown is mentioned and pointed to as a devil, the brain trust for evil. He is just a dead-end sub-plot however, almost irrelevant to the story as it turns out, and never brought to justice. The rascal Brown almost appears to be a private, subtle acknowledgement to Frank Hamer's real struggles, and a suggestion that they were ongoing.

 If that is true, it would have been painfully correct. After trying jobs in law enforcement in urban Texas, taming Navasota and exposing corrupt bankers in Houston, Hamer was let go after he had a run-in with a big city journalist in 1913, and brought embarrasment to the Houston Police Department. He returned to Navasota for a short while to serve under his old deputy, Marshal M. E. Bailey. He cleverly broke up a car-theft ring, and then began to negotiate his return to the Texas Rangers in April of 1915, when around 31 years old. Convenient for my theory, he ended up on the Mexican border with Company C, chasing bootleggers, banditos and gun runners. It is very possible he had already struck up a friendship with Zane Grey by this time.

Whether he had already met Zane Grey by then, who followed his subject to his new job, or met him there in the middle of nowhere, will have to remain a mystery for now. But a casual read of Lone Star Ranger suggests a deeper relationship, as it brings up numerous parallels to the legendary Frank Hamer. Buck Duane is young, very handsome, a lady killer, has to duck to get through doorways, wears two guns... one high on the left, one lower on the right, and he speaks only when he has to. He is a crack shot with a handgun, an instinctive killer, an alpha male in a man-created hell. Buck Duane  was either a writer's echo of Ranger Frank Hamer, or Hamer patterned his life after the book... which is not likely. And if I am right, Grey knew how to pick 'em!

In fact, Hamer had been recruited back into the Rangers for a purpose. There was trouble on the horizon and the rangers needed the best men they could assemble.

Right after the visit by Zane Grey in 1915, in early August large bands of mounted Tejano banditos determined to execute the “Plan of San Diego” began to attack south Texas ranches. The Plan of San Diego was a Mexican conspiracy born in San Diego, Texas to aid the Germans in WWI by causing havoc on the border with the ultimate, horrifying goal of killing all white males over 16 years of age, and retaking Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California for Mexico.  Not surprisingly, a small war ensued between the banditos and the combined but very limited forces of the U.S. Army and Texas Rangers.

The Ranger and Army defenders killed a number of banditos at a wild battle at Norias Ranch.  After a band of around one hundred Mexican terrorists assaulted the Brite Ranch near Valentine, in a wild killing and robbing spree, Sargent Hamer and ten Rangers tracked them back to Candelia, Mexico.  At nightfall when the banditos began to party and celebrate, The Rangers opened up on them and left many dead. It must have been scores of casualties, as this little-known International incident was the end of the lesser-known "Plan of San Diego."
Protecting the Texas Border; Captain Monroe Fox and Sgt Hamer at Norias Ranch. They hold a white flag between them, often used by the banditos to coax the Texans to let their guards down. This time it did not work.

If Zane Grey met Hamer at this time in his life, he was already known as a top-gun Ranger, a deadly gunfighter and a man of considerable ability in desperate situations. It seems incredible that Hamer, perhaps the real lone ranger, was protecting American borders from an organized military incursion even as Lone Star Ranger hit the bookstores. In “I’m Frank Hamer” biographers Jenkins and Frost not so subtly title the chapter on Hamer’s border work “The Lone Ranger of the Rio Grande.”

And this was absolutely true! As fate would have it, in another uncanny coincidence, not long afterwards, when border interdiction did not fit the long-range goals of the powers in Austin, some of whom may have been Madero sympathizers, ( or were profiting from illegal gun sales to revolutionaries) Captain Hamer was abandoned on the border to enforce the law all by himself. Strange, unexplainable orders from Austin sent all other Rangers elsewhere, and left Captain Hamer in reality, the lone ranger along ninety miles of river border. This was not just an attempt to make him vulnerable, but probably to set him up for failure, if not for being killed.

The wily Ranger merely joined up with the Mexican border guards and successfully led them as he would his own men. Webb claimed for the rest of his life Hamer always preferred “to run in a herd all by myself.” He was the proverbial "lone wolf" often spoken of in Lone Star Ranger. This term existed long before Ranger "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas was given the nickname in the 1920's.

 If ever there was a case of "art imitating life... and life imitating art," imitating life...

A cropped view of a previously unknown photo of Captain Frank Hamer, (top) from Zane Grey's personal collection. (bottom) Marshal Frank Hamer while working in Navasota.
The natural good looks, carried by a six-foot-three frame, and the keen senses and unparalleled abilities of Frank Hamer must have made him an irresistible subject to write about. Just like the Lone Ranger, Hamer also had two brothers in the rangers, and later a son. It was a family of warriors. And while the Lone Ranger was found nearly dead by Tonto and nursed back to health, Hamer had once been shot and left for dead and found by a black man and taken to a doctor.

The famous bluesman Mance Lipscomb, who at twelve years old was the young Navasota Marshal’s buggy driver and guide, once recalled a conversation with Marshal Hamer where he told this story… in his own dialect of course...

  “Now look. A colored man was the best friend I ever had in my life. Listen, I don’t want ya’ll to be mistreatin’ these colored folk.  Cause I been a Ranger. A colored man picked me up, while the Carr boys shot me down. Shot my guts out, an’ left me layin’ there. An’ a colored man came along, an’ my guts was hangin’ out.  An’ toted me, an rested, an carried me to a hospital. And let ‘em wash the sand off my guts, and sewed me up, and I’m livin’ today.”

An said, “I want ya’ll to be surer than hell to respect ‘em. That’s been done over fifteen years ago. That colored man caused me to be livin’ today. No white folks didn’ get me here. They left me layin’ there…”

Although Lipscomb must have gotten some of the story confused over the sixty years between hearing it and telling it, there is no doubt about the basics of this account. It is true that Hamer worked on the Carr ranch in 1905 right before he became a Ranger. In fact it was his proficiency for catching and turning in horse thieves there that got his invitation to join the Texas Rangers. The name Carr was indelibly written on the musician’s memory, and he could not have known it otherwise. But it is very possible, even probable, that Mance got this story confused with Hamer’s TWO shoot outs with his first boss Dan McSwain. Young Hamer was nearly murdered by McSwain after he informed an intended victim of his boss’s plans to assassinate him. McSwain came up from behind him and shot him in the back with a shotgun, and left him for dead. Although Hamer's brother Harrison was nearby, and (as the story goes) largely responsible for saving his life, it is possible he commandeered the black man to borrow his buggy to take the wounded brother to town.

It was after finally killing McSwain in the second gunfight that Frank Hamer made his vow to fight criminals. Buck Duane also had two confrontations with his first nemesis... before ending it in a shoot out. This was the beggining of his outlaw saga... and the legend.

After reading Mance Lipscomb’s (mostly accurate!) biography, it is easier to vision the unlikely pairing of this Texas lawman with the black “Good Samaritan” and a little black boy... and find interesting comparisons with the Lone Ranger and Tonto.


Tom Mix poses with one of his personal inspirations.... Ranger Captain Frank Hamer
It seems that Frank Hamer might have been the inspiration for the Lone Ranger, or there was an unbelievable coincidence, where Zane Grey and Fran Striker created the Lone Ranger over a twenty year period, whose story amazingly paralleled the young Texas Ranger. Zane Grey probably met Frank Hamer in 1913… The “unknown ranger” whose photo I purchased on Ebay…  the quiet, dangerous manhunter who impressed somebody enough to take his picture while ranging at the ends of the earth… Perhaps Grey… or Captain Hughes, and somehow his unmarked photo ended up in Zane Grey’s souvenirs… along with photos of his peers... not surprisingly his Ranger Captain, John R. Hughes...
A previously unpublished photograph of Captain John R. Hughes, probably taken by Zane Grey, and found in his personal collection.
Paradoxically, Hamer was the quiet Ranger who seemed to become an instant legend. After being nearly killed (again!) in a deadly shoot-out in Snyder, Hamer took some time off to heal and went to California in 1918... and went to visit his friends and contacts there. Being a leery, non-communicative cop, I always wondered  how he knew anyone in Hollywood.  But somehow he and his wife were entertained by the most popular cowboy actor in the world. In fact Tom Mix begged him to become a Hollywood actor and bring the real thing to the silver screen. How the two got hooked up and became friends has been a mystery... until now, and we have to consider Zane Grey as the go-between. Hamer and his wife refused an acting career and five years later, unable to bring the Ranger out of the closet, Mix filmed Zane Grey's Lone Star Ranger anyway. 

Here the obvious question leaps forth, why the resistance to fame and wealth? Hamer was a very smart man, and he knew his talents and his mission, and it was not acting like a western lawman, but being one. And he had seen what happened to his mentor Joe Sitters when the very mention of his name in famous circles seemed to bring the end of his luck... Hamer must have talked to Zane Grey, in depth, but made him swear to never divulge his source. He chose to always be the mysterious man... behind the mask.

And that promise has been kept by Hollywood... Although there have always been plenty of clues. I think it is safe to tell now!
Hamer was a Ranger considered by many lawmen, historians, and not a few crooks to be one of the greatest of all time… whose life would make the Lone Ranger story seem what it was… a mere child’s fairy tale… a tribute to a greatness untold, and perhaps a mysterious friendship, lost over time in the muddy currents of the Rio Grande.

 "Where to, Marshal Hayman?"