Friday, October 20, 2017

Texas Trees, Witnesses to History


Trees have often served as landmarks along pioneer trails including in Texas, and some special trees have witnessed historic events. Today I'll share a few of their stories. Most of the information comes from a book I picked up years ago at a used book store. Titled Famous Trees of Texas, it was published by the Texas Forest Service, part of the Texas A&M University system.


The Hangman's Oak 150-Year Memorial, AP photo/San Antonio Express-News; Edward A. Ornelas

Several hangman's trees are mentioned in the book. The Hangman's Oak is located in a pasture on a ranch about two-and-a-half miles southwest of Bandera, a small town in the Texas Hill Country. In July 1863 eight men and a boy were on their way to Mexico in order to avoid conscription in the Confederate Army. Unfortunately, they were overtaken by a troop of 25 Reb soldiers who had been sent to capture the escapees and bring them back for trial. However, when they camped under a large live oak southwest of Bandera, the soldiers decided to hang the "traitors" - which they proceeded to do, letting each man slowly strangle, dangling from the tree. Not a pretty picture! No one knows what happened to the boy.

The Rough Riders Pecan is located two block north of  the San Antonio River, near the Central Bexar County office of the Highway Department. This is where twelve companies of mounted cavalry were organized and trained during May 1898, about three months after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, and one month after the U.S. declared war against Spain. On July 1, 1898, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, to victory.

The Runaway Scrape Oak stands about ten miles east of Gonzalez in south central Texas. General Sam Houston and a force of less than four hundred Texans camped at the foot of this giant live oak on the night of March 13, 1836, after retreating from Gonzalez, an action referred to as the Runaway Scrape. The Alamo had fallen a week before, and many of Houston's men were panic-stricken. However, the next morning, March 14th, the general mounted his horse and told them to either follow him or stay behind and face the consequences. He led 374 men east then south to engage Santa Anna's army at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, winning Texas independence just 46 days after the fall of the Alamo.


Treaty Oak, Photo by Larry D. Moore; Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

The Treaty Oak survived an intentional poisoning in 1989 to become one of Texas's most beloved icons. Standing in a small park near the east bank of the Colorado River in Austin, the state capital, this majestic live oak is estimated to be over 500 years old. It's the last survivor of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 trees that served as a sacred meeting place for Comanche, Apache, Tonkawa and other Tribes. Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas," is said to have signed the first boundary-line treaty between whites and the Indians under the tree.  Before it was poisoned, the tree's branches had a spread of 127 feet. In 1927, it was nominated to the American Forestry Association's Hall of Fame for Trees and was pronounced the most  perfect specimen of a North American tree.

From Wikipedia:
"Lab tests showed the quantity of herbicide used would have been sufficient to kill 100 trees.[1] The incident sparked community outrage, national news reports, and a torrent of home-made "Get Well" cards from children that were displayed on the fence around the park. Texas industrialist Ross Perot wrote a 'blank check' to fund efforts to save the tree.[2] DuPont, the herbicide manufacturer, established a $10,000 reward to capture the poisoner. The vandal alleged, Paul Cullen, was apprehended after reportedly bragging about poisoning the tree as a means of casting a spell.[3] Cullen was convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to serve nine years in prison.
The intensive efforts to save the Treaty Oak included applications of sugar to the root zone, replacement of soil around its roots and the installation of a system to mist the tree with spring water. Although arborists expected the tree to die, the Treaty Oak survived. However, almost two-thirds of the tree died and more than half of its crown had to be pruned.
 In 1997, the Treaty Oak produced its first crop of acorns since the vandalism. City workers gathered and germinated the acorns, distributing the seedlings throughout Texas and other states.[4] Today the tree is a thriving, but lopsided reminder of its once-grand form. Many Texans see the Treaty Oak today as a symbol of strength and endurance. In January 2009 the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture teamed up with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to do maintenance pruning on the Treaty Oak."
The Boat-Landing Cottonwood is located in Stephen F. Austin State Park, about half a mile north of the town of San Filipe on the west bank of the Brazos River in southeast Texas. This site is where riverboats loaded and unloaded passengers and goods, playing an important role in the development of Austin's original colony. The most famous boat was the Yellowstone, which served Sam Houston and his troops during the Texas fight for independence. The venerable cottonwood tree is the last of a group still standing. Badly damaged by fire, its crown was destroyed, yet it clings to life just as those Texas patriots clung to their longing for freedom.

The Washington Elm standing on the State Capitol grounds in Austin, was planted in 1932 to commemorate the 200th birthday of George Washington, who took command of the American Army on July 3, 1775, under this tree's grandparent. The young offspring was raised and given to Texas by the Maryland DAR.

The Heart O' Texas Oak lives on a farm near the town of Mercury, in the geographical center of Texas, as determined by a U.S. Geodetic Survey, published in 1922. Its coordinates divide the state into four e qual parts. The maximum distance from north to south is 801 miles, from east to west it's 773 miles.

The Witness Tree stood on the south side of Arlington, east of Fort Worth, on the old Bardin family farm. The tree was a 200-year-old post oak, over 60 feet tall. In early days, the tree was used for hangings and for signing official documents (why it was call the Witness Tree.) My husband and I lived in Arlington at the time and witnessed the tree's tragic end in 1992-93. Here is a 2003 account published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper:

"The late Bill Bardin so fretted about the tree that when he sold the farm for retail development, he required Kmart to issue a $50,000 bond that the post oak would survive at least seven years after the area was developed. In what turned out to be a vast overestimation of a post oak's vigor, Kmart officials in 1992 decided to uproot the tree and transplant it to a site behind and just south of the shopping center. That turned out to be a $50,000 error."


Witness Tree Memorial Gardens

Witness Tree Memorial Gardens The tree died the following year, and was cut down. Bill Barden used some of the bond money to fund a small memorial park at the location.  A weathered section of the tree trunk rests on a metal stand in the park. A children's book, Billy Bardin and the Witness Tree, was inspired by the tree's destruction. Because of this shameful episode, the city now prohibits trees the size of the Witness Tree from being cut down to make way for development.




Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/Y3aotC
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette http://eepurl.com/bMYkeX
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Halloween Legend of Stringy Jack by Sarah J. McNeal

Stringy Jack and the Devil

People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Another version of the coin story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met Satan, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting Satan with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told Satan to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (Satan could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin (Satan) disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.

In both folktales, Jack only lets Satan go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, Satan had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and Satan mockingly tossed him an ember from the flames of Hades, that would never burn out. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-lantern.

Jack-o-lanterns were also a way of protecting your home against the Undead. Superstitious people used them specifically to ward away vampires. They thought this because it was said that the Jack-o-lantern's light was a way of identifying vampires and, once their identity was known, they would give up their hunt for you.

Did You Know?
Turnip Jack-O-Lanterns

The original jack-o'-lanterns were carved from turnips, potatoes or beets.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
Potato and Turnip Jack-O-Lanterns in Scotland & Ireland

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. 

American Pumpkin Version of A Jack-O-Lantern

Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

These days people have become very creative carving up those Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns. Here are a few of my favorites.


This is me--not to be confused with the scary pumpkins above.



·          Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Hanging Tower



My husband, and I drove to nearby Cameron, Texas in Milam County to tour the Milam County Jail. Built in 1895, it has a hanging tower equipped with a trap door. I'd heard of this place and thought, oh boy, fodder for a good story.   


The jail was built in the Romanesque Revival style with St. Louis pressed brick, trimmed with stone. The walls are ended with crenellations--ancient military features communicating strength. As was typical during this time period in the state, the ground floor housed the sheriff and his family. An iron door separates the small office from the living quarters.

In 1975, a new jail was built and the old building, still in its former glory, is now a museum. All three floors, even the tower are open to visitors. The sheriff's living quarters consisted of a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and two bedrooms. Being a sheriff, though a tough job, had a few perks. Here are some interior pictures--the kitchen and parlor. And they had a cook, the same one who cooked for the prisoners.


The upper two floors held free standing iron cages--the cells. They sat inside iron bars away from the windows where jailers could walk all the way around. Not only were the cells locked, but a large cell release bar opened the metal door that surrounded the cages. It held a large lock. Prisoners had a front row view of the drop from the hanging tower as cages were arranged around it.


Here's the stairs from inside the sheriff's quarters to the jail cells above. Also, a picture looking down the inner space of the hanging tower and the gate to the floor of the trap door. The lights in the center and other wiring have since been added.



It's important to know that the hanging tower was never actually used, though I can't imagine a better way to deter crime than to see a body dropping down from the floor above to dangle before you. But, shortly after the jail was built, a state law dictated that all hangings be public, so they were held outside. Up until 1923 individual counties carried out executions by hanging. In 1923, the state of Texas ordered all executions take place in Huntsville by means of the electric chair.

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of Texas history. Thanks for stopping by and please leave me a comment.


Linda
Take a look at my books at www.lindalaroque.com



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

JENNIFER STILL HAUNTS HER FORMER HOME


Elizabeth Ayers and I have traded days for October and she will post on the 26th.



With Halloween decorations everywhere and the haunting time drawing near, today I'm sharing a tale of a genuine ghost in Erath County, Texas. Yes, I said genuine—as in real, authentic, actual. Read on if you dare …

There are several versions of the story of Jennifer Papworth, her husband Charlie, their son Temple, and their infant daughter. Although some accounts differ, the ending is the same: Jennifer’s ghost still haunts the area around McDow’s Hole on Green Creek. In most sightings, she carries the body of her infant daughter. I’ve compiled most accounts of how her plight began.



Charlie and Jennifer and their son came to Texas from either Georgia or Alabama to escape an outbreak of malaria in the 1850s. They built a cabin on the banks of Green Creek near a scenic deep part of the creek called McDow’s Hole. Charlie was the nephew of his neighbor, Jim McDow, Sr.

This was near the town of  Harper's Mill, which later became Alexander but which has mostly disappeared (40 residents in 2000). At that time, Erath County was the frontier and home to many who flaunted the law. Charlie and Jennifer apparently had no trouble when they arrived. Charlie worked hard and, according to Jim McDow Jr., the family was successful.

Now Erath County is picturesque and home
to Texas A&M University at Stephenville

Charlie eventually learned that his parents had died and he had inherited their furniture. He had it shipped by train to Texarkana but that was as far as the rail lines ran at that time. Leaving Jennifer, their son Temple, and their infant daughter at the cabin, Charlie left for Texarkana to collect his inheritance.

Jennifer and the children were supposed to spend nights at the home of their neighbors, the Jim McDow family, and return to the cabin and her chores only for the days. When she didn’t return one evening, the McDows feared for her and the children but thought she might have gone to the home of the Beige Keith family, other neighbors.

The next day the McDows and Keiths went to the Papworth cabin and found the cabin interior disturbed and blood, but no Jennifer or the baby. As they deliberated, Temple crawled out from under the bed. He was so traumatized he couldn’t form sentences to tell what had happened.

W. P. Brownlow led the claim that the attack was renegade Comanche. Soon, the recovered Temple told his father that story wasn’t true. He said the men were white and spoke English.  

In fact, there was a group of local thugs who dressed as Indians to rob homesteads and rustle cattle. Because of Brownlow's insistence and the fact that his quirt had been found near the cabin, Brownlow was suspected. He explained the lost quirt by saying he had been by the cabin the day before the attack and stopped to ask if Jenny had seen his stray cattle. Although he was still under suspicion, no actual proof could be obtained.

As new people moved into the area, Brownlow began a campaign accusing Charlie of horse thievery. Soon there were enough new residents who didn’t know Charlie and believed Brownlow. One night in 1857, a group of hooded “vigilantes” went house to house pulling men to receive “justice”. Charlie and five other men were targeted and hanged one by one from a pecan tree on the banks of McDow’s Hole. Charlie was hanged last, near daybreak.

Pecan tree, Texas state tree

The leader suggested eliminating Temple, but the other vigilantes weren’t willing to kill a child. The pecan tree was Temple Papworth’s favorite climbing tree. He cut the rope and freed his father in time to save him. Charlie tried to help the other five victims, but they were dead.

At least two of the other victims were innocent men. Charlie had recognized Brownlow’s voice as the leader of the hooded men. Fearing for their lives, Charlie and Temple Papworth borrowed a horse from Beige Keith and left for Oklahoma Territory. They never returned.

That’s when sightings began of Jennifer carrying her baby.

Over the years, many people have witnessed Jennifer walking in the area. She has been seen standing on the railroad tracks where the train passes through her. Beige Keith and his son saw her when they spent three nights in the Papworth cabin. People stayed in the cabin on a dare, but most left during the night. One was found dead with the door barred, apparently literally scared to death.

Dieletta Hickey recounted stories of her family members seeing Jenny and her baby countless times.  When appearing to them, Jenny appeared a live woman carrying an infant, but would disappear. Once Dieletta asked her mother why she never admitted to seeing Jenny. Mrs. Hickey replied that if she did, someone would tell her there was no such thing as a ghost. If that happened, it would be the same as calling Mrs. Hickey a liar but how could she prove otherwise? She said she knew exactly what she’d seen over the years, but the information was best kept within the family.

One satisfying (to me) sighting was when W. P. Brownlow was on his deathbed. Fearing reprisal from Charlie, Brownlow had moved to Hamilton, Texas. He had two men sitting with him on death watch. 

He screamed, “That woman, that woman! Keep her away from me!”

The men saw Jenny’s ghost standing at the foot of the bed.

Then, Brownlow confessed to killing Jenny and her baby and throwing the bodies down a deep well and covering them with rocks. He said he believed Jenny had heard him making plans with two rustlers. To keep her quiet, he murdered her and her baby.


Although Jenny Papworth's story started over 160 years ago, people still see Jenny and her baby. Sometimes she hovers over McDow's Hole as if walking on water. Other times, she walks among the trees of that lovely setting near Highway 6 and Farm to Market 914. The property is now marked with a “No Trespassing” sign. 

Beware: Jenny doesn’t observe such signs! 

What about you? Have you ever seen a ghost?


Sources:
TALES OF BAD MEN, BAD WOMEN, AND BAD PLACES, C. F. Eckhardt, Texas Tech University Press, 1999.



Caroline Clemmons is the Amazon bestselling and award winning author of numerous western romances. 

Her latest release is MISTLETOE MISTAKE, a Christmas story. Originally this story was included in the anthology Wild Western Women…Mistletoe, Montana. 

Shannon Callahan worked hard to become a physician. In New York, she meets resistance to a woman doctor and feels she is treated as no more than a midwife. When the opportunity arises for her to go to Montana and be the only doctor in the town of Mistletoe, she grabs the chance. 

Riley McCallister is sheriff of Mistletoe, Montana. When he learns the new doctor is a woman, he is shocked and vows never to let her treat him—no matter how beautiful she is. Slowly, Shannon’s skill wins his respect—and more. Shannon’s expertise and dedication during a measles epidemic convinces the town she is a good doctor—but does their acceptance come too late? 

Find Caroline's complete list of books at her Amazon Author Page. Join her mailing list to receive a free copy of HAPPY IS THE HEART.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Iron Crosses of the Plains

By Celia Yeary
Symbols of Strength and Spirituality

Imagine you are an immigrant, perhaps German or Polish, living on the Great Plains of America during the Nineteenth Century. An outbreak of diphtheria takes the lives of some friends, neighbors, and worst of all, your own little son. You go to the barn to find pieces of wood to fashion a small coffin. Heartbroken, you and your wife bury your precious little boy. You forgo the common wooden cross to mark the grave. 
TYPICAL PIONEER FAMILY
Instead, you visit the "smithy" in the village, another immigrant like yourself who understands you want a traditional iron cross, one that will last centuries.

You work with the smithy to create a special cross made of iron and other bits of scrap metal he might have. The cross will be unique, one of a kind, to mark the child's grave. The design will tell a story...

In September 2005, my husband and I embarked on our fourth and last trip to Europe. After landing in Frankfurt, we began a long trip by tour bus through Central Europe. I admit the trip did not interest me at first, but my husband thought we should see this area of Europe. By the time we finished the tour, I said it was second on my list of favorites.

We visited places in several countries (in order): Frankfurt, Berlin, Warsaw, Poznan, Auschwitz, Krakow, Slovakia, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Rothenberg. and back to the Frankfurt Airport.

During this long journey, I was enthralled with everything (except Auschwitz), but one vision remained with me--the iron crosses in cemeteries on the long drive between Eastern Germany and into Poland. The tour guide never mentioned them, but I'd watch out the bus window and see one cemetery after another among fields of flowers or crops of some kind.

The iron crosses were easily identifiable. The cemeteries always lay close to the road, and since the bus didn't travel very fast on the narrow roads, I had time to study quite a few.

When we arrived home, I looked up information about the Wrought Iron Crosses, and learned how and why they were made.

Several years later, we...once again...were on a tour bus. This time we were on one of several tours to SEE AMERICA FIRST. No, we saw it last! We flew to Denver and met our fellow passengers, and boarded the bus the next morning. (3/4 of the passengers were from the UK--I fell in love with the joyous group discovering America.)

CEMETERY IN KANSAS

On the first leg of the trip, we drove from Denver to Cheyenne and on to South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood.  Much of the countryside was flat--the Plains or Prairies. Once again I saw cemeteries with the iron crosses. I was thrilled, and tried to explain to others, but no one else seemed as excited.
The iron crosses are made and used by Germans from Russia, for the most part, and some were made by the Irish, the Hungarians, The Czechs, The Ukrainians, and others.

These immigrants who came to America during the migration to the West brought with them the blacksmiths and artists who created iron crosses for their deceased loved ones.
The unique crosses are scattered from central Canada to Kansas, from the Mississippi to the Rockies. Those prevalent in the Dakotas are of the Germans from Russia.

The cross represents the sacred.

The iron represents strength.

Unlike wooden crosses, they were tough enough to withstand prairie fires, storms, and even time itself.
Each cross is unique, made from metals that were available at the time. The size, shape, style, color, design, and symbols all have cultural significance. Each one tells a story, and not everyone can "read" the story. For example, one features an iron snake crawling up the cross. At the very top of this same cross is an angel. It tells the story of creation, the fall of man, and heavenly salvation.
Common features were the sun, a heart, a star, leaves, flowers, a tree, and shapes of animals. Filigree was popular on many crosses.

Have you seen the Iron Crosses of the Plains of the United States? I'd love to know if anyone else has seen these, either in Europe or America.

Celia Yeary...Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/celiayeary 

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Sources:
Wikimedia Commons
Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
Rural Kansas Tourism