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Giants In The Land: 10 Texans: Part 1

I'm limiting myself to ten. I'm sure there are more, but you would not read about any more than that! Since one of my goals is to pass on the essentials about my native State, I am posting this permanent page: My "Top Ten in Texas." Some you will expect to find here, but some will be a surprise. And of course, many will not be here... there can be only ten!

The criterion? Somebody from Texas, that persevered and stood above their peers in excellence, and made a significant impact on the great State of Texas, and in the process made the world a better place. The names may change as I get smarter, but for now here are the first five!

Number 1: Sam Houston

Sam Houston points the way to battle in this famous depiction of his heroism.

These are true stories shared by an eyewitness,  first told by Dr. John W. Lockhart of Chappell Hill, Texas... from Sixty Years on the Brazos, published in 1930.

Young John Farrell from Washington on the Brazos, Texas, was just a kid when he served in the Texas Army at San Jacinto. Exhausted and half- crazy from the carnage, he wandered around the next day needing a little "counseling," as we would say today. The Mexican arms had been confiscated and piled almost chest high. Every kind and description of weapon was thrown onto the pile, to be sorted and dealt with later. Some guns were still loaded and there were hundreds of powder horns, mini-balls, swords, short swords, daggers, and other weaponry in an unorganized, dangerous pile.

John spotted an intriguing relic among the rifles. It was an ancient flintlock blunderbuss, like the ones pirates are seen brandishing in the movies. Now young John had never seen a pirate or a movie, but he still had to hold the wacky looking thing… with its stumpy, funnel-like barrel… and cock it, and what the heck, dry- fire it… not noticing the gray sand he was standing in was really an army’s worth of gunpowder. The old flint-on-steel lock slapped and exploded instantly, throwing sparks in e v e r y explosive d i r e c t i o n, and in a split second, the whole magazine spit and whoofed and baLOOOEY. Uniformly blackened, Young John Ferrell was taken into custody, lucky to still be alive.

Brought before General Sam Houston, a strong case for treason, espionage, and unbelievable stupidity could have been made. General Sam, freshly wounded and suffering terribly, looked upon the young man as if he were the cause of his misery. “Are you the young man who blew up the m a g a z i n e?”

“Yes Sir, General, I did it… but it was an accident.” Farrell breathed each word as if it were his last.

“Then sir” Houston concluded very unamused, “I will have you shot tomorrow morning at nine o’clock.”

Young Farrell was taken away. He spent the worst night of his life, waiting for his execution. He had failed as a soldier, as a son of the Republic, and brought eternal shame upon his family. He was ready to die. General Houston was feeling so bad, his wounds nearly killing him, he could never expect mercy. There was not even a scrap of paper to write down a note to his mother.

The next morning, he was brought before General Houston about thirty minutes before the scheduled end of his Texas citizenship, and the beginning of his Heavenly one. General Houston, having slept and shaken off the effects of the morphine that gave him some badly needed rest, looked at the boy with different eyes. “Well young man, how did you rest last night?” Houston queried, knowing full well the answer.

“N o t m u c h, General” John choked, fighting back Texas-sized tears, wondering how he might go about begging for his life, to a man he idolized so much.

“Did you think that I would’ve had you shot?” The General asked as if it was the most important question of the day.

“I did not know sir.” John was not a big talker, especially when his life was at stake. He might just as easily say the wrong thing. Better to keep it simple.

“Well sir, young men are too scarce to be shot like dogs.” Houston reasoned as if someone else had ordered his execution. “Officer of the Guard, turn the young man loose.”

For once, a Texan was thankful that Sam Houston was not always a man of his word.

But Sam Houston was in many ways sitting in a position just like God. He was the ultimate Judge, and obligated to judge with blindness and fairness. And he was, in a backwater battlefield of a fledgling Republic, the momentary dispenser of Grace.

God does not want any of his children to perish, any more than General Sam wanted any young Texan to be shot like a dog. I love this story, because it is true, and because it is a perfect illustration of God’s Grace. And how people on this earth can learn to give it freely. If General Sam Houston, with all of his worries and concerns and personal discomfort could reverse himself, swallow his pride, then take the time to teach a boy about accountability, AND about forgiveness, then every mother’s son should try to do the same. And so should every arm of government.

That’s what being a Texan is about. The Law. The letter of the law, and more importantly the SPIRIT of it, and the wisdom to use common sense, led by God’s Mercy and Grace, to stand for what is right. And sometimes it’s just not in a book somewhere. Sometimes the book calls for something... as in this case, that would have been abominable. Sam Houston saw the young man as a resource too valuable to throw to the lions of the Law. And actually, every citizen is. Sam Houston would have been the first to make sure the wicked were punished. But he knew the difference between his children and his enemies.

What made Sam Houston so unique in the annals of history, was that he was a true leader, unafraid to stand for what was right, regardless of public opinion or law books, or special interests, or political correctness, and forces that usually win today. Old General Sam almost stood alone against the tides of Secession, when the whole State got caught up in war fever. He made some mistakes, but Texans always respected him whether they agreed with him or not, because he was a man of conviction.

Our government today seems to mix it up more and more, discarding common sense and unable to, or not caring to discriminate her children from her ememies. Americans have traded trust and wisdom in their leaders for objective, almost clinical fairness. Everything is so "Politically Correct," we are finally going to "make life fair." That of course is a relative matter and a delusion. It will only bring more contention as everyone tries to get satisfaction, and once again the social warfare will commence. [See: Greece] And young goobers like John Farrell will be lost in the crossfire.

President Sam Houston, former General of the Republic of Texas Army, future Governor of Texas.

The year was 1842.
Fellows like the one above were terrorizing central and even east Texas, burning, killing and doing unspeakable things to the women folk...

Washington on the Brazos was a crude, sprawling village of log huts and tents and some new clapboard cabins. It was also the Capital City of the Republic of Texas. The heartbeat of a Nation had chickens and pigs wallowing in the mud streets and homeless wanderers reclining on tree stumps, while Texas Rangers swaggered around half drunk at the pool hall. General Sam Houston, the popular president of Texas, had no problem standing out in the crowd. Tall and straight, he appeared like a man with a mission as he and a few Texas soldiers mounted up and formed an official government delegation to the wild tribes of Texas.

It wasn’t that exciting, for the tribes were camped on the edge of town. But it was just too far to walk. The tribes had been invited to the Texas Capital, or maybe summoned, to talk peace, what some of them called the “white trail.” Native Americans associated the color red with war and white with peace. Unfortunately, the Comanches preferred to continue the red trail, and did not attend.

But there the rest were, camping on the edge of old Washington; Waco, Tonkawa, Kickapoo, Delaware, and Iowa Chiefs napping under their tents, wives cooking over the fires, youngsters play-hunting, discovering how to make harmless arrow points out of corn cobs. Houston rode up with as much military fanfare as his cotton republic could muster, and dismounted with military formality… but he could not hold his straight face as several Indians greeted him with bear hugs. The Texas Army got to see their Commander in Chief swarmed, squeezed and slapped like a pet pig.

They sat in a circle around a campfire and smoked a funny homegrown Indian mix… out of a monster ceremonial pipe, which was accessed by a huge hollow cane. There was supposedly some tobacco in it. But they were not singing Cum Bah Yah, yet. Witnesses said it smelled like sumac, and as each took his turn, he threw his head back and let the smoke roll out of his nostrils, and the smoke all melted together, joined in the sky, much like their hopes for peace… That’s how one witness, an official government scribe described it.

After the stupor wore off, the chiefs all stood one at a time and spoke about their desire for peace, and President Houston invited the chiefs to move into town, into an unoccupied cabin. Later he met with them again, where he planned to give a couple of the most esteemed chiefs Presidential gifts. Houston was famous for giving his Indian friends weapons, which Texans of later regimes had to face. He had ordered two percussion rifles, “cap and balls,” but two new rifles of that description were not to be had in all the stores in the Capital of Texas. Neither one of them. The Government assistants, you know press guys, had come up with two rifles, but one of them was the old fashioned type. A flintlock rifle. The kind used during the Revolutionary War. In 1776!

President Houston gave the flintlock first, to a Waco chief, Aquaquash, who had always been a favorite, and would understand. He would be glad to get whatever he got. The President would give the less predictable chief the newer rifle. He understood this man. Chief Red Bear had often been like President Houston: a troublemaker. Thinking they probably would not know the difference, he gave the flintlock rifle to Chief Aquaquash, as a token of his esteem, for all of his assistance in getting the other tribes to cooperate. Everybody was all smiles. So far so good. But you have to ask, what had Houston been toking, thinking they could tell no difference?  But when he handed the latest technology in American warfare to the other chief, he stormed away. He was mad. Red Bear disappeared into the Presidential guest cabin. Everybody laughed and went their separate ways.

President Houston waited awhile, then made a surprise visit to the chief’s impromptu bunkhouse. When he entered, it was so dark he could not make out anything. He couldn’t tell, but mad old Red Bear was balled up like an armadillo on a bunk covered with a buffalo robe, looking like a bundle of hides. Appearing like a giant in the little log hut, Houston calmly set his six foot frame on the fireplace hearth. He closed his eyes and dreamed up what he might say. Chief Red Bear was nowhere to be seen. By covering himself, he had effectively flown away in a rage, to a faraway place, he no longer was there. The others sat and looked around respectfully. A couple had smirks on their faces. And the big white man who had been a U. S. Congressman and Governor of Tennessee, who had led a successful revolution, against incredible odds, whose battle tactics are still studied with amazement, who deftly saved his worst enemy, Santa Anna, and kept him from being lynched, who had parleyed with presidents, Texans and several wives, sat in a dark wooden room with a dozen aboriginal warriors, any of whom could throw a hatchet a few feet and end the conversation. And he began to taunt.

President Houston began to pick at the missing Waco chief, as if he were not there. Unlike most Anglos, Houston had lived many years among Native Americans. He knew and loved them. But his attachment of government officials, some able to squeeze in the room, some tip-toeing on the outside, were beginning to sweat. Houston abused the man, basically calling him a big baby. There were some sniggers. The other chiefs seemed to find the whole exchange quite entertaining. The bundle of buffalo hides in the corner began to come to life. Red Bear was beginning to sweat as well.

“Red Bear is just a… SQUAW” Houston jabbed with a chuckle. Right now, in many cultures, is where the great General Houston gets a tomahawk right in the Adam’s apple. But everyone had a good laugh at Red Bear’s expense. Then, finally, he had enough, and Red Bear came out of the robe as fast as he had curled up in it. He lunged like a bobcat at President Houston. Unfortunately, none of his aides had time to react. Before they could stop the humiliated plains warrior, he was hugging President Houston, a pitiful baby, begging for friendship, promising to cherish the gun after all. Talkin’ about wisdom! Who knew? Only one man in the country would’ve known what to do at that moment. And God had put him right there to do it. That was the way it was, here at the cradle of Texas.

And THAT’S a true leader, a man worthy of the presidency. A crazy man, but a worthy one. Houston took it all in stride.  Just another day in the Republic of Texas. It turns out that Red Bear was mad because, where he would make use of a rifle, out on the Texas plains, he would have no source for the percussion caps necessary to shoot the firearm. He would eventually run out, and the rifle would become a tipi pole. Or maybe a club, a useless reminder of the time he met and toked Peace with the Great White Father at Washington on the Brazos. He only wanted a rifle he could actually use, and shoot his food and shelter, for the rest of his life, and remember the one who gave such a treasure. But he got over it.

Soon the chiefs were offering to trade their guns or horses or whatever for some of the lovely white women in town. Even President Houston must have blushed on that one. Politics is a nasty business.

Number 2: Ranger Frank Hamer

The City of Navasota has plans to erect a bronze monument of Frank Hamer

Standing 6' 3", Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was the reality that Western actor John Wayne could only pretend to be.

Everyone has heard of John Wayne... a man who acted brave and dangerous. We have heard of Pancho Villa, a man who brought terror and distruction. We have heard of Wyatt Earp, who broke the law repeatedly to kill his enemies, and was prosecuted for it. But strangely, we Americans have rarely edified men who truly deserved our praise and admiration. We have made famous the beautiful, the controversial and the scandalous, gave fame to those who desired it, and usually overlooked the real heroes of our generation.

History is full of great men and women who never became famous. Texas history is especially blessed with many notable characters who never captured the eye of the mythmakers of Hollywood, who have picked our heroes. Frank Hamer is one of the best examples of larger than life Texas heroes who are known well in small informed circles, in his case enthusiasts of Texas Ranger history, but virtually unknown to the average citizen. After you have read this, perhaps that miscarriage of fame may begin to change.

Everyone has their own idea about who should be famous and why; Soldiers for winning battles, politicians for winning elections, athletes for winning competitions. We like winners in our history. We like pathfinders, innovators and those who left a mark on their own generation, and perhaps still challenge our own. We like those who were the best in their fields, record-setters and the firsts of human accomplishments. We like our history to offer up attractive, successful, standard setters who still amaze us. Frank Hamer was all of these.

Frank Hamer was named by historian and western author Walter Prescott Webb as "…one of the three most fearless men in Western history." If you have not heard of him, you probably have never studied the history of law-enforcement in Texas, or the most respected of Texas Rangers, the man who stopped the murderous crime spree of the infamous “Bonnie and Clyde.” Frank Hamer was all of these too. In one of life’s ironies and absurdities, several movies were made about them, always minimizing their hunter and slayer, and making romantic heroes of them. One movie even made Frank Hamer out to be a blundering fool. So let’s get the story around Frank Hamer straight, and right a little bit of history if we can. And I will do it as briefly as I can, as I know most people do not like history and have little patience for it… Unless it is a warped and sexy version with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in it.

Born in 1884, Frank Hamer grew up in the western half of Texas, in the 1890’s, where the Indian Wars were still remembered and cowboy culture was the predominant lifestyle and Mexican banditos were still a daily threat. The West had been “won,” but had not been tamed. Many men in Texas still wore a sidearm, and used it whenever it seemed necessary. All of the stereotypes of the “Old” West were still very much in activity, and men who were the sons of the pioneers, the cattle drivers and the outlaws were still trying to walk in their father’s footsteps. Frank Hamer was engaged in his first kill-or-be-killed shootout with a corrupt and angry boss when just sixteen years old. He suffered multiple gunshots and was almost killed. When he recovered from his wounds, he returned to his former employer and finished the exchange, killing his first badman. This was the unwritten “code of the West,” where men settled deadly differences with their six-shooters and often faced little if any, legal consequences.

If Frank Hamer had been anything less than an authentic Western alpha-male, he would never have seen his seventeenth birthday. And he was not through with danger. When twenty years old, he tracked down and arrested some horse rustlers and took them to jail. Later he tracked and captured another horse thief for the local Sheriff, who began to see potential in him, and contacted the Rangers. The Texas Rangers saw in him the mettle necessary for taming the West. He was hired as a Ranger when just twenty-two years old. Enlisted as a Private in Company C and based in Del Rio, he was soon chasing Mexican bandits and impressing his superiors with his mental and physical ability. During this first assignment he showed extreme bravery and shooting skill during a shoot-out with a desperate killer, who had commandeered a home and would not be taken alive. In a hail of gunfire, Private Hamer fearlessly positioned himself near the window where the outlaw’s shots were originating. One of his lever action Winchester bullets had entered the crazed gunman’s left jaw and ended up in his heart. The legend had begun.

Frank left the Texas Rangers to be Navasota City Marshal in 1908

In 1908 when the Navasota City Council approached the Governor of Texas for assistance in quelling the violent and lawless forces in their town, the Rangers looked no farther than Frank Hamer. Although the incorrigible town of Navasota had been unable to keep lawmen very long, because they would always be intimidated or bought off, Hamer came and conquered. Blues legend-to-be Mance Lipscomb, just 12 years old, was hired to be his buggy driver. He drove the young lawman around Navasota proudly, and remembered the new Marshal to be fair and brave and a terror to outlaws with his feet, which he used to kick them all the way to jail. His “feet were always loaded,” and Marshal Hamer was known to put down his guns and whip any defiant punks who challenged him, and would often use vicious kick boxing techniques to subdue his foolish challengers. He avoided the use of firearms, and for the first time, absolutely forbade sidearms on the streets. Marshal Hamer thwarted train robbers, shot robbers and even contentious dogs, and shut down the gunplay that had ruled the streets. He was feared and respected and in the end, loved by many who saw the town transformed into a decent place to live. By 1911, Navasota had been tamed, and like the Old West, became a kinder and gentler version of its former self. But Texas was big and there was still great work to do.

He went to work in Houston for the Mayor as a special agent, where he tracked down and captured a cop-killer called “Mississippi Red.” He captured an escaped convict and outran a drunken sideshow entertainer billed as the “Wild Man of Borneo” and disarmed and arrested him. He busted up a burglary ring. He even arrested a fellow policeman who beat a man unnecessarily. And then, caught up in reckless accusations by a Houston Press reporter, Special Agent Hamer lost his cool and smacked the culprit. Soon he became a political liability to the Mayor, who quietly appreciated his resignation.

Frank went back where he belonged… to west Texas. By 1915 he was back in Company C, this time defending the Texas border country against a poorly organized invasion of sophisticated banditos executing an insurgency known as the “The Plan of San Diego.” On the verge of WWI, the Germans were aiding and abetting these Mexicans in their attempt to reclaim the American Southwest. Towns and ranches were raided and innocent travelers murdered. Many manhunts and shootouts and even some wartime style martial law was used to protect Americans and their property. One battle led by Sargent Frank Hamer at Candelia, Mexico ended the dispute, when dozens of the banditos were killed in a bloody firefight.

This is where those sensitive to Hispanics might question Hamer’s methods. But history is never so neatly understood, or our heroes so predictable. Soon The Carranza regime of Mexico had proven it would not be allied with Germany, and even welcomed help in fighting its revolution led by Pancho Villa’s “Villistas.” The Mexican Government plead with American authorities to stop the flow of arms across the border, which only equipped the revolutionaries. American law forbid this anyway, but many gun runners continued to sell arms to the Mexicans. The Texas Rangers were told by “higher ups” to act as if they were policing this smuggling nuisance, but in reality to ignore it. Many Rangers obeyed their orders, but Frank Hamer continued to enforce the law. Since Captain Hamer could not be overtly stopped, those interested in helping the revolution arranged to have all the Rangers relocated except one. Frank Hamer alone was left to enforce the laws he was sworn to uphold. And that he did.

Left to his own devices to patrol hundreds of miles of border, and therefore quite vulnerable, Hamer turned the tables on International relations and law enforcement. He crossed the border and joined forces with the Mexican police, who were more than happy to be allied with the legendary Ranger. Soon he led a small army of Mexican lawmen, who made his goals safer and more attainable. Hamer led a successful war against American gun runners from the other side of the Rio Grande, and enjoyed reciprocal assistance from Mexican authorities from then on. Frank Hamer was not ever against anything but lawbreakers, of any race or nationality.

Their corrupt schemes frustrated at every turn, authorities in Austin had Ranger Hamer yanked from his cooperative with the Mexican officials and assigned to the Hill Country to harass cattle rustlers for Texas cattlemen. That was just fine with him, as the border was an immense, wild badland, where law enforcement was like stomping around an acre of ants. Rustling rustlers would be like eating ice cream.

By 1918, World War I was winding down, and a new enemy had risen on the horizon; Prohibition of alcoholic beverages... and its enforcement. Many law enforcement officers walked away rather than be forced to arrest their friends, family and neighbors. But Frank Hamer figured that anybody that knew how to bootleg whiskey, and was willing to play the game of crime was probably bad company anyway. The formidible Ranger was recruited to help with State prohibition efforts. He was reassigned to border duty, where he excelled at catching Mexican smugglers who were bringing caravans of tequila and Mexican moonshine into west Texas.

In 1921, Captain Hamer organized a fateful rendezvous with a notorious robber and killer named Rafael Lopez. Lopez had killed five men in Utah before hiding out in Mexico with the Villistas. Then Lopez and his men had robbed a train and killed 19 people in the process. When a man had offered to betray the bandito, Hamer and his men stepped into a devilish assassination scheme. But just in time the legendary Ranger smelled the double cross and moved his men to a safer position. When a hail of gunfire poured into the spot where he had just been standing, he returned the lead and took out one of the worst killers in Western history.

Frank became the star witness in a murder trial in Abilene. The defiant defendant hired a gang of professional killers to kill him and keep him from testifying. As a local Grand Jury watched most of the bloody scene play itself out below their window, he and his family were jumped and he was shot in a couple of places, but managed to forever silence his enemies in the shootout. Wounded seriously, he still had the presence of mind to stop his enraged brother from shooting one of the fleeing assailants in the back. The stunned and thankful Grand Jury no-billed him, and even thanked him for his admirable ethics.

But then something happened to the Ranger service Frank Hamer could not stomach. In 1925 the “Governors Ferguson” returned to power after James Ferguson had been convicted and banned from office. His wife was elected Governor and aggressively renewed their painful dynasty of corruption and nepotism and cronyism and a pervasive lack of professionalism. Ma and Pa Ferguson had a policy of giving anybody they liked a Ranger badge. The Texas Rangers organization became an embarrassment to all law- abiding people. “Ferguson Rangers” were typically local yokels, slovenly and unprofessional, who used their office for personal aggrandizement. Hamer threatened to resign, but cooler heads enticed him to stay for the good of Law and Order. Hamer bounced around trying to find other employment he could feel right about, and finally officially left the Rangers in 1932 out of protest and personal pride, even as his brother Harrison was being sworn in to take his place. Even the Fergusons believed that you had to have a Hamer on the Force to have any credibility.

In 1928, Hamer was hired as a bounty hunter in Houston and exposed an insidious murder for hire ring, inadvertently sponsored by Houston banks, where outrageous rewards were being offered to kill bank robbers. No rewards were offered for live ones. Money greedy bounty hunters had found the perfect crime. Vagabonds and loiterers were set up as stooges and then killed, so crooked bounty hunters and even some lawmen could collect large rewards. The Texas Bankers Association had become a law unto itself, and many lawmen just shrugged at these methods. But Frank Hamer took the story to the newspapers, and defied them to take action against him.

But perhaps the most telling account concerning Frank Hamer’s career in law enforcement was during the so-called “Sherman Riots.” In 1930 A black man named George Hughes had been accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. A lynch mob, said to have been numbering in the thousands, had gathered outside of the Grayson County Courthouse and had come to administer their own brand of Western justice. It had been rumored that the Governor had forbid anyone being shot at during the protection of this defendant. In other words, if the mob comes, let them have him. It is easy to imagine that Hamer’s enemies in Austin had sent him to Sherman knowing they were throwing him into the lion’s den. So Captain Frank Hamer, now the Texas Ranger always called upon in the worst situations, had been assigned to protect Hughes, a foolish and deadly and probably impossible task. And not surprisingly, Hamer had not gotten the memo. He was the lion in the den. He would do his job, and stop any person who threatened those in his custody, even a man suspected of sexually assaulting a white woman.

Unfortunately, most of the east Texas vigilantes had never heard of Hamer, and did not know what kind of lawman they were dealing with. Frank Hamer and his Rangers stood at the Courthouse steps and backed down the angry mob, who had developed considerable courage because of the supposed statements from the Governor. Hamer warned them to stay back, and argued that these supposed orders were not true, and assured that anyone who advanced towards them would be shot.

Frank Hamer did not care whether the Governor’s alleged statements were true or not, he was there to enforce the law. When finally the mob decided to take their chances, and charged the Rangers, the Rangers leveled their guns on them.

This may have been one of the few times in the early Twentieth Century when white Southern lawmen shot white lynch mob members in order to protect a black prisoner. In most other cases, the law would usually step aside and let the mob have its way, out of fear for their lives. But Frank Hamer had not been assigned to those details. Unable to have their way, the mob waited until later and then burned the Courthouse down, in order to kill the prisoner who had the luck of being escorted by Ranger Frank Hamer. But they dared not face the Ranger and his men again.

Ranger Frank Hamer may be the only lawman to have so blatantly challenged equally the worst criminals of the day and the powers that be in Austin, and anyone who broke the law, to his own demise. More than once he turned on his fellow lawmen, or his employers, and he repeatedly ignored the state powers in Austin, as he did his job, often against impossible odds, and consistently challenged lawbreakers of every race or social class, and shed light into the darkness, no matter who was implicated, and no matter the cost to himself.

The cost? After some fifty plus gunfights, Frank Hamer was a bundle of scar tissue. In the process of exchanging gunfire with around 20 men and one woman, in life or death battles, and countless garden variety scrapes, he was injured in the line of duty 23 times. His body was a half-Century collection of bullet and knife wounds and shotgun pellets under the skin. Hamer was forced to resign or was reassigned to keep his job numerous times. This was a big sacrifice for him and his family as they moved around a great deal. There were many inconsequential attempts on his life, which had to take a psychological toll on his family. How do you put a value on such sacrifice? Most people would not have lasted, but surely few would ever have done what he did for such pay. And yet, there are those who say he was cold-blooded, arrogant, even a law unto himself, not very likable, and much worse. So-called historians and latter day pundits judge Hamer by modern, perfect-world, if not down right impractical standards, and dare question his goodness or integrity.

That too is the cost of public service; A naive, thankless and critical citizenry, who could never walk in his boots, would ignore or denigrate his amazing service because it required so much... violence. Yet it was a barbaric and violent society that demanded such a Ranger, such a hero as this... Frank Hamer.

Frank Hamer was the only man who could have walked that walk, and many Texans thanked God that he was out there, chasing, and yes killing those bad guys. Those that challenge him one hundred years later, would be the first to run to him for protection if they were to chance upon the kind of overwhelming evil that ruled this place then.

I have only mentioned a few outstanding cases, but Hamer’s life reads like a super hero. But it is obvious to me that tracking down and exterminating Bonnie and Clyde was just a small part of his life. After spending some time with him, Hollywood cowboy actor Tom Mix encouraged him to become a Western hero on film, as he was already the real thing. Ranger Commander Hughes said he may have been one of the bravest men he had ever seen. Other writers have proclaimed him one of the greatest Texas Rangers of all time.

So it is fitting that there was a movie being created about him. It may never see the theatres, but there is no reason why the people of Texas should not venerate this great man. A bronze statue of him is long overdue. One erected in Navasota, the town where he cut his teeth and began his lifetime of public service would be real Justice in my mind, if not poetic justice for me.

You see, this great lawman was an acquaintance of my father's. He first met him late one night when Captain Frank Hamer carried a bleeding, unconscious relative into my grandmother’s home after he received serious injuries during a Strike riot on the docks in Houston. Hamer had been there to bust up the Strike, and caringly brought one of his helpers home to be doctored. Many historic characters graced my grandparents home, but he was always considered one of the greatest. Later my father interviewed him when working as a writer for the Texas Highway Department. Their magazine wanted an interview, but Hamer would not give one. My father, ever outgoing, used his family connection to get the interview. As usual it was pretty gruff and uninteresting, as one writer later recalled, Hamer was “as talkative as an oyster.” But for my father, who became a published author, it was a personal triumph, and a highlight of his writing career.

I grew up hearing about the big Texas Ranger, who knocked down rows of men with his huge paws like a bear, who hardly ever used a firearm in the line of duty, but could shoot the eye out of a flying bat at night, if he wanted to. A lawman who never backed down and never lost a fight, and who never showed favoritism. A man who kept to himself, raised a pet javelina, and shot tin cans down the road with deadly precision with his six shooter while driving, for sport. As you can tell, I have only gotten warmed up about Frank Hamer. Even though it would be fitting to sculpt a monument honoring this Texas hero, the fact is, no artist, and perhaps no movie could ever do him justice. But of course, I would still like to try.

Number 3: Chief Quanah Parker

This is my artist's conception illustrating what a wide-eyed cavalryman described the night he and his bunkies attacked the King of the Southern Plains.

Who knows how many centuries the Comanches had used this gaping hole in the earth in far northwest Texas to hide from their pursuers?

In my younger days I wanted to be a western artist, and I especially loved drawing and painting Native Americans... and my favorite Indians were Comanches.

They were from Texas, and they had as titular head of their nation, a very unusual, very extraordinary man. A man we know as Quanah Parker, born to a captive white woman, who became the greatest Comanche War Chief, at the very end of the "wild Indian," Wild West era. His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, had been captured by Indians where her famly had established a frontier outpost on the farthest reaches of the Navasota River, in east Texas. Several of her family were killed and little Cynthia was traded around until she was far from home, never to be rescued until she was a grown woman. Quanah was just one of the offspring from the union between Cynthia and Chief Peta Nokona, who ruled and raided the far west Texas plains. Named "fragrance," or stink! as some would translate it, the young halfbreed prince had seen very few white people besides his mother, until he was of fighting age, and he faced them heroically in battle.

As a young war chief, he led hundreds of Comanches and Kiowas and Cheyennes in a seige at Adobe Walls, a trading post in the far northern Texas panhandle, where he showed extraordinary bravery and confidence against the buffalo hunters within the walls. But his people were outgunned and many were killed, and Quanah learned that day that he had to be better, stronger, smarter than this enemy to match him. That may have been when he began to study the white man, and that led to his someday being a ruler in their world as well.

But when the rest of his people gave in and went willingly to the Reservation in Oklahoma, Quanah held out, and spit on the idea of losing his freedom. He was the last wild king of the southern plains. The soldiers hunted him month after month and could not find him... Ranald Mackenzie finally ran him down, finding his secret hiding place... a giant hole in the earth. Today we call it Palo Duro Canyon. I have always found the place to be inspiring, even mystical. There are so many footprints and echoes in the canyon, that speak of the Conquistadores, Quanah, Goodnight and his herds. I always find it hard to leave.

And Quanah did not want to leave either, and fought for his life, and gave amazing resistance. He and a few warriors managed to slip from the Army's grasp. Then finally, after weeks of flight, beaten and hungry, his small group gave in and joined their kinsmen at the reservation. And in most cases, that was the end of the story.

But not Quanah. Quanah contacted his white relatives in Texas. He was no longer treated like a ferocious enemy, but a celebrity. The Governor wrote him a letter giving him passage anywhere he wanted to go. When he found the Parker's, his cousins, he wanted a picture of his mother, then deceased. [Ironically, she was "rescued" and his father killed, by another of my top ten, Texas Ranger Sul Ross] Later the Chief proudly, sentimentally posed with her picture in his home in Oklahoma. Quanah Parker was determined to bridge himself into his new world. He learned some English, and studied the white man's ways. He amassed a fortune on any man's terms. He had many wives, and many children and grandchildren. Amazingly, and only in America, where we nurture our former enemies, authorities saw in him the qualities of leadership useful to any culture.

Quanah Parker was appointed as District Court Judge. He built a massive mansion with many rooms, with giant stars on the roof. He served in this capacity as all powerful judge without fanfare, until somebody noticed... he was a polygamist. When told he had to obey the LAW, and downsize, and send the rest packing.. he pointed to his harem of sad-eyed lovelies and told the authorities... "You tell 'em!"

Never-the-less, he put up tipis in the backyard, for all but Choney, his foremost wife.

When President Teddy Roosevelt and his entourage wanted to go wolf hunting, it was not considered complete without Quanah to ride along. They met at the train station where Roosevelt complimented the Chief on his beautiful daughters who stood proudly behind him. Someone corrected the President... (Ahem) these were not his daughters...

Roosevelt howled, and complimented him again, how did an old man like him keep up with such young wives?

Quanah was not shy about his girls, "Young woman, old woman, ANY woman good for young man... Only young woman good for old man!"

Quanah Parker lived and died, still king of the southern plains, Chief of two worlds, in any man's estimation. And the only man I know of to have ever risen as high as you could go, in two opposing cultures.

Number 4: Governor Sul Ross

As Texans, we have lost our identification with the mystique so commonly attached to our State. The Wild West is as foreign to us as it is to some Japanese tourist. In fact we have much more in common with that person from the other side of the world, than our own predecessors. Your home is full of things manufactured in Taiwan, Korea, Pakistan or Japan, but how many things can you point to and know that they were made in Texas? More specifically, what in your material sphere speaks of the Republic of Texas, or the culture that established your town?

Part of my goal as a writer and an artist is to keep my culture in touch with…. My culture. The Navasota Chamber of Commerce once adopted a slogan I really liked: “Where Texas is still Texas,” and I was really excited that somebody else appreciated the importance of taking our history and cultural identity serious. Austin wants to keep its weirdness. We should want keep our unique character as well. One way we can establish what that is, and protect our cultural identity, and hopefully some of our material culture as well, is to know the people who forged this community. You have already met some of them, like Mance Lipscomb and Carl F. Steinhagen in this blog.

I want you to know the essential personalities of this wonderful region, who gave us our specialness. And one of them was Sul Ross, a worthy member of my "Top Ten in Texas" list. Texas' history patriarch J. W. Wilbarger called him the "Chevalier Bayard of Texas." So let me just give you the highlights of the life of this extraordinary Texan. Lawrence Sullivan Ross.

After leaving Iowa, his family had come to Texas just three years after independence was won, in 1839. He was just a baby when they settled up in Robertson County on the Little River near present day Cameron, where they lived in constant fear and harassment from Comanches. The family moved to a more civilized environment in Austin and later moved to Waco.

Lawrence "Sul" Ross was just a boy when he participated in his first skirmish with Indians. He would grow up to become one of the most famous Indian fighters in the West. He began his formal education across the river at Independence, at the first site of Baylor University, then transferred to Wesleyan University in Alabama.

He came home for the summer, and at age nineteen, found himself acting as an impromptu captain of a local militia of 135 Tonkawa and Caddo scouts, when his father fell ill. They were headed to assist the U. S. Cavalry in finding and fighting the Comanches, after numerous atrocities. His father was the Indian agent at the Brazos Indian Reservation, and when he became unable to travel, the Tonkawas eagerly elected the young White brave as their War Chief.

The Indian scouts were more than game and knew right where to find the ferocious and elusive Comanches, and led young Sul Ross and the cavalry unit into a life or death battle inside the very heart of Comancheria, the lair of the legendary Chief Buffalo Hump. Way up in Indian Territory, in the Wichita Mountains, they descended upon 500 or more Comanches, stampeded their horses, and began a five hour battle where Ross took a bullet and an arrow, while retrieving a White captive child. The Comanches were subdued and scattered, but his wounds caused him to beg his comrades to kill him and put him out of his misery. When General Winfield Scott heard of his bravery, he immediately offered him a commission in the Army, but Sul shook off the glory of Indian fighting and went back to finish school.

• After graduation, he learned that no one had claimed the little girl he had risked his life to rescue in the Indian Territory, so he adopted her himself and named her Lizzie, after his bride to be. He got married, joined the Texas Rangers, was elected captain, and by 1860 he was literally ranging under the direction of Governor Sam Houston. He and his Rangers tracked down Chief Peta Nokona, the scourge of the Llano Estacado, on the Pease river, and with a token detachment of U.S. troops, killed him and many of his braves. In the process he solved one of the greatest mysteries in Texas lore, and that was the whereabouts of Cynthia Ann Parker, the most famous white captive in Texas, taken decades before, and now the great Chief’s wife.

• This made young Sul Ross a veritable Texas giant. Soon he was leading the way in the War Between the States, rising quickly through the ranks, becoming one of the youngest generals in the Confederate States of America.

• At age 26, he returned after the war to farm near Waco. He and Lizzie had eight children, six of whom lived to maturity.

• In late 1873, Sul Ross was elected Sheriff of McLennan County. He hired his brother as a deputy, and within two years had captured over 700 outlaws. One of the more notorious was Belle Starr and some of her gang.

• He served as a delegate to the 1875 Texas Constitutional Convention, where his name and reputation grew rapidly.

• In 1880 he was elected to the Texas Senate as a compromise candidate.

• In 1886 he was elected by a landslide as the 19th Governor of Texas. And then to a second term, overseeing the construction and dedication of the Texas State Capitol building.

• In 1890 Lawrence Sullivan Ross became the first official President of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College. We call it Texas A&M. That’s not all, the college had been traditionally run by a faculty chairman and was in desperate straits, even threatening to close its doors, when Sul took over. As soon as he accepted the challenge, enrollment skyrocketed. Understanding well the needs of a military and agricultural school, Sul Ross rescued the Aggies as much as he had Cynthia Ann Parker.

• Outside of Sam Houston, no other man has left such an imprint on the life and lore of the Brazos Valley, as Ranger Captain, General, Senator, Governor, and Texas A&M President as L. S. Ross.

"Texas, though her annals be brief, counts upon her roll of honor the names of many heroes, both living and dead. Their splendid services are the inestimable legacies of the past and present, to the future. Of the latter, it is the high prerogative of the State to embalm their names and memories as perpetual examples to excite the generous emulation of the Texan youth to the latest posterity. Of the former, it is our pleasant province to accord them those honors which their services in so eminent a degree entitle them to receive. Few lands since the days of the Scottish Chiefs have furnished material upon which to predicate a Douglas, a Wallace, or a Ravenswood; and the adventures of chivalric enterprise, arrant quest of danger, and the personal combat were relegated, together with the knights's armorial trappings, to the trusty archives of Tower and Pantheon, until the Comanche Bedouins of the Texan plains tendered in bold defiance the savage gauntlet to the pioneer knights of progress and civilization. And though her heraldic roll glows with the names of a Houston, a Rusk, Lamar, McCulloch, Hays, Chevellier, which illumine the pages of her history with an effulgence of glory, Texas never nurtured on her maternal bosom a son of more filial devotion, of more loyal patriotism, or indomitable will to do and dare, than L. S. Ross."

From "Ross's Texas Brigade"

Number 5: Joe Tex aka Joseph Hazziez

Besides one Chuck Norris, Joe Tex is undoubtedly the most famous person to ever call Navasota home. Born Joseph Arrington, He followed an uncanny path blazed by dancer Alvin Ailey. Both were born in Rogers, Texas, both went to New York to gain fame, and both lived in Navasota for awhile. Joe was born in 1935, and he did not stay in Rogers long. Old time Navasota residents remember his easy personality, contagious sense of humor and down to earth accessibility. They sketch mostly warm memories of him at local barbeques, hauling watermelons and making small talk downtown.

And yet there was the unknowable Joe. He was all over the place. As likable as he was, there were plenty of rumors to fan the local beauty parlors. Joe Tex just went right on. He was one of a kind. He was what he was.

Joe was singing early, winning talent contests as he drew upon his Country Blues heritage, crafting a unique 60's Rock & Roll/ Soul/ R&B style that sounded like preaching to music. He had several big hits, and made music history in several ways. The most important contribution he made to American music was his fearless shifting between talking and laughing and singing as natural as if he could entertain during conversation or converse while entertaining. Joe Tex also sang boldly about male - female relationships, and often included sound advice to his audience, as if he were doing mass musical marriage counseling. Everyone remembers his strange and somehow endearing sermon/song “Skinny Legs and All” that blasted, “Who’ll take the woman with the skinny legs?” But Joe was full of surprises, recording a Country album, which actually brought considerable acclaim. His biggest hit, “I Gotcha” was recorded in 1971.

After spending some time in Baytown, Joe bought a ranch in Grimes County, where he tried to return to his rural roots and learn more about God. It was during this time that Joe was inspired to write a song dedicated to his parents, and his rural roots.  He wrote a song called "Papa's Dream," which told of a father who had a dream of raising the biggest crop in Grimes County. It was a great song, and Johnny Cash loved it as well, and recorded it, changed the name to "Look At Them Beans," making it it his title track for one of his many albums.

But as the entertainment industry reached towards Joe, he, as only Joe might do, made another left turn... and became a Muslim, joining up with Black Muslims who were considered fairly radical by 1970's standards, to both the White and the Black communities. After a short sabbatical, he emerged energized and inspired, cranking out his smash disco hit, Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman). Joe had a way of surprising all of us, even his Muslim brethren. His talent went from R&B to Rock to Country to Disco. Writing and recording several hits during his heyday, Joe Tex built his style around just being himself and having fun while sharing his country charm and wisdom. But many music historians point to his style as the launching pad for Rap music. For sure, he is one of the most underestimated R&B entertainers of the 60's and 70's. John Morthland of Texas Monthly Magazine generously offered that Joe Tex was "by far Texas' greatest contributor to soul music."

Joseph Hazziez died of heart failure in 1981. No other Texas entertainer has covered as much ground, or done it with as much originality or prowess.

For his diversity and entertainment prowess, that stretched across decades and stubborn racial barriers, Joe Tex, aka Joseph Hazziez is #5 in my "Top Ten in Texas"