Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Cold Winter Trip

I was in Amarillo, having been sent to interview some deserters from the Army during the Korean conflict. It was wintertime and bitterly cold. I received permission to return home. I made it as far as Big Spring and settled into a motel for the night. I had just relaxed when the telephone rang. It was Percy Foreman. He was going to release the man who allegedly shot and killed the government agent nearly two years before as he crossed the bridge. This was the agent whom Jimmy Rowe had insisted on an autopsy which led to a murder trial. The man who was being represented by Foreman had been hiding in Mexico. Who had hired Foreman was not known but I had my suspicions. "You need to be in Corpus Christi at 8 o'clock in the morning," Foreman told me. I protested that it was nearly midnight and I was exhausted. "If you want this story, be there," Foreman told me and hung up. And so I got up and drove to Corpus, arriving about six the next morning. Foreman and his client arrived in court at 8 AM. Percy pleaded not guilty and posted bond. It was all over in a few minutes. Percy refused my plea for an interview and took his client and left. It was a front page story but not really exciting. Later on, Percy won his case and the man was freed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Back to South Texas

There was a reporter for the Corpus Christi newspaper named Jimmy Rowe. He was in conflict with George Parr for years. One time the government sent an agent to Duval County. This man claimed to be a postal inspector but actually he was spying on various matters, such as gambling and prostitution. For weeks this agent was in Duval County all the time, visiting various activities and going back to Corpus at night. The Parr machine decided to get rid of him. One night as this agent crossed the bridge between Duval and Jim Wells Counties he apparently had a blowout and crashed into the railing, killing him. Jimmy Rowe did not believe this was an accident and he called for an autopsy. The body was carried to a Corpus funeral home and was being prepared for burial. Rowe screamed loud that there should be an autopsy and at the last minute his request was granted and an autopsy was performed. This revealed that the agent had been shot in the head. It was murder. The man who pulled the trigger immediately left town and went to Monterrey, Mexico. In my next blog I will tell you the outcome.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sidewalk Cowboys

At Madisonville, in East Texas, they had the Sidewalk Cowboys group during which they threw bogus cowboys in the horse trough. I went up there riding a mule and wearing English boots. Sure enough they threw me in the horse trough. After that I ate some barbecue and drank a beer. One of the local cowboys told me, "You got off easy. I wanted to throw you and the mule into the Trinity River."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shaking Hands with George Parr

The phone rang in my hotel room in Alice. It was the county judge of Duval County, Dan Tobin, wanting me to come to his office and meet with George Parr. With some trepredation I agreed. When I got there George Parr was there, surrounded by county officials. He was polite but also cool. He did not like newspapermen. I expressed regret about the courthouse incident and he said he was not mad a me. It seems he was angry at the Corpus Christi paper instead of my publication, The Houston Post. Well, we shook hands and I breathed a little relief. You do not want George Parr to be your enemy when you are in his county.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Texas Rangers

I was in Duval County where the District Judge was trying a fraud case. George Parr, the boss of Duval County, was serving as sheriff. Two Texas Rangers were there to preserve order. The Houston Post sent Keith Hawkins to be my photographer. Hawkins was eager to make a rep. When the judge called for a recess Hawkins stepped out in front and took a picture of Sheriff George Parr. This infuriated Parr and he grabbed Hawkins and tried to take his camera away. I had not choice but to intervene and so there we were three grown men holding on to each other and spinning around. To my relief, Texas Ranger Joe Bridges intervened. He took Parr by the arm and led him outside the courtroom. Then he came back and told me: "I ain't here to babysit you newspaper reporters. Why don't you leave." I grabbed Hawkins and took him outside and told him to go back to Houston. But Hawkins was not through yet. He went back and told the Post editors that George Parr had attacked him. The Post ran a front page story with Hawkins, sporting a black eye, featured as the victim. Meanwhile the judge had dismissed the original case. I was in nearby Alice, Texas, wondering what to do next. In my next blog I will tell you what happened.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Texas Ranger's Daughter

One of my early girlfriends, during my youth, was the daughter of a Texas Ranger. I was fond of this girl, who was bold and outgoing, but I also feared her father, who was a strict law enforcement officer. She and I used to steal peaches from the nearby orchards and things like that. One time I took her to a nightclub on the Ballinger Highway known as the Bloody Bucket. It was known for violence. We were in this club, drinking beer and dancing, when she jumped up and said: "That was daddy's voice." Sure enough her father was in charge of a raid on this night club. She jumped up and ran to the Little Girl's Room and I was right behind her. Fortunately there were not any other people in this room. I jumped up on the comode and opened a window and straddled the sill and reached down and pulled her up and dropped her on the ground outside. Then I dropped down. We held hands and ran for blocks and blocks until we were a long way distant from the club. Then we walked until we found a pay phone booth. I called a cab and took her home, leaving my car on the parking lot of the club until the next day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Down on the Rio Grande

This was a wonderful wilderness place. J.E. and I would go down to the river early in the morning and see the wildlife come down to the river to get their morning drink. It was interesting because the predators, such as cougars, would come down at a specific spot and the victims, such as deer, would come down at a different place. Late in the day the Mexican hustlers would come across by floating a wagon pulled by a team of horses. They brought an alcoholic drink known as Tecate. This was the first run on a beverage which later became Tequila. It was raw and burned all the way down. But it was cheap. Then the vendors would break out guitars and serenade us. They sang songs such as Mexicali Rose. Mr. Carroll improved with the spa treatment and we went home. Later on this beautiful spot was purchased by H.L. Hunt of Dallas, the rich man who had more money than taste. He fenced it off and it was no longer available for visitors.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Indian Hot Springs

Down on the Rio Grande, about 50 miles east of El Paso, is an isolated area known as Indian Hot Springs. My highschool chum, J.E. Carroll, invited me to go there with him and his father, Ellison Carroll, a former world champion roper who at that time was a county commissioner in Reagan County. A former doctor with the Mayo Clinic had opened a theraphy center in this isolated world because the spa furnished hot mineral water baths While Mr. Carroll was in the spa program J.E. and I went exploring. We were looking for Shorty Mexican's pistol. Shorty Mexican was about 50 years old at this time and worked for Mr. Carroll. His real name was Jose Zubia and he had been a sidekick of Pancho Villa, the bandit. Pancho's real name was Dorotea Ortega. When Pancho was killed, Shorty Mexican (Zubia) decided it was time for him to move to the United States. He crossed the river at Indian Hot Springs and dug a hole and buried his pistol. Then he made his way to Sierra Blanca, and from there he ended up at Big Lake, the county seat of Reagan County. Well we dug a lot of holes but never found the pistol. On the other side of the river was a big cave known as the Bat Cave. Every morning thousands of bats would emerge and fly into the neighborhood. At sundown they would return for the night. It was an interesting place.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Laredo Banquet

When I returned to the Laredo Banquet there was a show about to be presented. This was a group of local girls who were going to do a chorus dance. They were from the best families in the city. Seated at the banquet table was General Gonzalez Gonzalez from Mexico City, who had been getting drunk. When the girls came on the general thought it was a group from a whore house like he was accustomed to seeing in Mexico. So he left the table and staggered up to the chorus line to fondle one of the girls. Governor Teran of Tamalupis, who was at the banquet, knew the difference. He leaped up, grabbed general gonzalez gonzalez and dragged him back to his seat, and at the same time hissed something in his ear. This put an end to what would have been an international incident. The chorus line performed to strong applause, and the annual George Washington Birthday Celebration continued.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Down South in Laredo

I shall never forget one of my experiences as a roving columnist. I was in Laredo where prominent citizens from both sides of the Rio Grande were being honored at the annual George Washington Birthday celebration. I was fortunate to be seated at head table with Gov. Allan Shivers of Texas and Gov. Horacio Teran of Mexico. Shortly before the program started a Texas trooper came to the table and told me I had a long distance call. I immediately went to the telephone but it was at the far end of the building and took a while. When I got there it was Travis Bryan, descendant of early Anglo settlers, head of the bank in Bryan, Texas, and self-appointed guardian of Texas A&M University. "John," he told me, "You have to come to Bryan immediately, and in the morning you and I will go before the board of regrets of A&M. These people have lost their mind. They want to integrate A&M." What Travis did not know was that public opinion was strongly against his position, and that A&M was falling behind other institutions of higher education, and that it was time to allow women into the school. I told Travis it was impossible for me to attend and he became extremetly angry at me. The next day the board did vote to integrate A&M and it has regained its position as a major school. Travis never changed his position.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Deep into East Texas

During my career as a roving columnist for the Houston Post I was called upon to put together a show in Livingston, which is on the Trinity River in East Texas. I called upon a number of my resources. This show was centered on the Alabama Coushatta Indian reservation east of Livingston. I called upon the Salt Grass Trail to send a covered wagon, which it did. I called on the Houston Zoo to send racoons, which it did. I called upon the Carter center to send a log to be cut into sections, which it did. There were Indians on the reservation, but other groups from as far away as Beaumont and from Oklahoma also sent participants. I called upon Bill Daniel of Liberty to bring some hunting dogs, which he did. All this required some planning, but it also created some excitement so that we ran out of places to sleep and restaurants in which to eat. Finally a huge crowd assembled and the fun began. The hunting dogs treed a racoon, the oxen pulling a large log passed in front of the stage, the covered wagon filled with pioneers attracted a lot of attention, and a group of young Indians from Oklahoma did a war dance. This show benefitted the Texas Indian Reservation, which had become almost dormant. Inspired by the response, the leaders of the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation began to put on an annual show with local talent. This show raised money which was used to expand and update the reservation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Big Houston Parade

Now that we had made it to Houston it was time to enroll in the annual parade opening the Houston Livestock Show. I was riding with the Port City Stockyards contingent. As we arrived in front of the Chamber of Commerce skyscraper I looked up and there was an excited young woman dumping a huge collection of streamers on us. Unfortunately for me, this landed right on top of me and my horse, a ranch gelding unused to city customs. He bolted. On the sidewalk alongside us were women and children, so I could not use that exit. Finally, I headed him into the chuck wagon which was right in front. He hit the chuck box and broke it open, scattering pots and pans into the street. He was dazed, so I stepped off and secured him with a lariat rope, then I jumped into the wagon. Among the young riders who helped me into the wagon was John Mecom Jr. We headed for Port City, dragging my hapless mount behind us. I saw Babe, the Port City cook in the street gathering up pots and pans. He was very angry.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life on the Trail

At the height of our rambunctious Salt Grass Trail we were growing without restrictions. This caused some problems. One year with 3,000 loosely controlled riders we approached Waller and paralyzed the main highway. It took us three hours to cross the Brazos River Bridge. On the other side someone had opened up a gate but it was framed by barbed wire on the posts. One old timer from Sealy made a run for the gate and was crowded into the barbed wire by some younger boisterous riders. He was taken to the emergency room where his injury required nine stitches. In downtown Waller someone threw an empty beer can onto the lawn of the Baptist preacher's house. All of these things led to bad publicity and the necessity for the board of directors to tighten up. We had a turbulent meeting and ended up issuing some strict rules. Among them was no open alcohol containers, necessity to sign up with a group, limits on the number of riders with one group, and other rules. This ended up with most groups being centered around a covered wagon. Some ambitious riders even entered with their own covered wagon. One of these wagons was driven by Pat Flaherty of Channel 2. Pat usually gave the evening news at the TV station. He was a veteran of World War II who was captured in the Phillipines and tortured. He was handicapped in one arm but his mind was strong and he had been in the TV business a long time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Salt Grass Trail

During my time at the Houston Post as a roving columnist I became involved with something known as the Salt Grass Trail. I joined this ride because it was a publicity stunt which brought me new readers, and because it publicized the Houston Fat Stock Show. In the beginning there were ony 7 of us, led by Reese Lockett, the mayor of Brenham and a former professional rodeo participant. E.H. Marks, who had a ranch west of Houston, arrived with a covered wagon. From this small beginning the trail ride grew bigger every year. People were married on the ride, at least one woman was raped, politicans joined while running for office, many people joined who liked trail rides, and young people joined because it was exciting. When 12 covered wagons and about 3,000 riders showed up it forced us to get organized. You had to belong to a group to join up. I joined the Port City Stockyards group. We slept on bedrolls during our three day trip and had delicious food cooked at the stops. I was involved with this ride for seven years. Each time we arrived in Memorial Park in Houston we regrouped and formed a segment of the annual parade which opened the Houston show. All this publicity moved the Houston show and rodeo into second place in the state, second only to the annual show at Fort Worth. I had a strong gelding horse at that time and I rode him from Friendswood to Houston to Brenham and back. It was a great adventure.

Monday, January 12, 2009


As soon as we moved to our new country place in Friendswood I bought four horses: one for me and one for Marie and one each for our two daughters. It was the younger daughter who enjoyed her horse the most. Not only did she love her horse but the horse loved her. She rode every day, usually bareback. She would be gone for two or three hours and we were not concerned This was the time when Friendswood was still rural. She named her horse Reggie and she could go out in the pasture and cry "Reggie" and he would come running. Soon she was joined by a new friend, Madeline, who had a horse of her own, and another friend, Sally, who borrowed my horse. Sally had a beautiful dog and it was a delight to see her and Trinka ride off with the dog running behind. This lasted until the girls went off to college.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Great Flood of the Early 1970s

The only thing which kept Friendswood from becoming a major city was the great flood of the early 1970s. By that time our daughters were in college and Marie and I were publishing a chain of weeklies in the area between Houston and Galveston. Some said it rained 30 inches in four hours and others said it rained 40 inches in eight hours. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. I was at the printing plant and when I got back I took my wife and mother out of our house in a boat. Christ Kraft was taken off the roof of his house by helicopter. By that time NASA had becomecome an established government agency. When we regained our sanity we built a new two-story house. Adjustlments were made to the bayous which drained the area and finally life went on in the Space City area.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Space Age Arrives

One of the first NASA people to arrive was Chris Kraft, head of the program to send a mission to the Moon. He came to our Episcopal church in Friendswood, accompanied by his wife, Betty. He said he would attend our church and he bought a home in the new subdivision. Word spread and soon our church was overflowing and we had to expand the sanctuary. The subdivision also sold out. The NASA people came from all over the nation and from other places and had a multitude of interests, hobbies and skills. Overnight they changed Friendswood from an obscure village to a fast growing city. One of the astronauts moved into Friendswood. It was an exciting time. The Post, where I was employed, asked me to cover NASA but I refused. I was too close to some of the key people and did not want them to think I was spying on them. The Quakers soon were outnumbered, but their leader, Cecil Brown, made a lot of money out of the subdivision. One thing remained the same: you still could not buy alcohol in the city.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Friendswood was a Quaker community located about 20 miles south of Houston. At the time that I moved there I was working on the Houston Post and wanted to move to a quiet neighborhood. Cecil Brown, who was the leading citizen of the community, agreed to sell me 15 acres along Coward's Creek. This creek was named for early settlers named Coward who had since moved on. And so I moved there and enrolled my daughters in the local school. It took me about an hour to get to the office but it was worth it. Friendswood was dry, alcoholically speaking, and was a law abiding community. After I lived there a while I noticed that most of the families had about three children which led me to believe that sex was not banned. No one, including me, had any suspicion that the future of Friendswood was tied to the outside world. Marie and I formed an Episcopal Church in competititon with the Friends Church but we visited back and forth and their was no animosity. One day the world changed with the establishment of NASA, the space agency dedicated to landing a man on the moon. The space headquarters was to be located at nearby Clear Lake City. All of a sudden NASA employees began showing up in Friendswood, anxious to move that far away from the Space City headquarters. Mr. Brown realized that he needed to accomodate them and he established a 200 acre subdivision on Clear Creek on the west side of the city. One Sunday at our struggling Episcopal Church I had to stand up at the rear of the sanctuary because so many new members arrived. It turned out that many of the NASA personnel, who came from up East, were Episcopalians. Friendswood changed a great deal after that but one thing remained a constant factor. No alcohol was sold in the city.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Willie Burns

William J. Burns, better known as Willie, was chief of police in Galveston during the days when the city was wide open. I was once visiting in a local night club, which also was a gambling joint with Willie when a red faced man from Dallas approached us and said, "Boy this is something. They tell me you are the chief of police." Willie grabbed the man and pulled him up close and said, "We are running this city for the benefit of the people If you don't like it, get lost." The man got lost. Another time a man from Dallas whose wife had died and who understood the city visited a local whorehouse and had sex with a prostitute. The woman was new in town and she stole the man's wallet. The next morning the man went to the police station and told Willie about the crime and gave him the name the woman had used. Willie went to the whorehouse, bounded up the stairs and told the woman to give him the wallet. When she denied the crime he slapped her. She produced the wallet and Willie told her to get out of town and never come back. Then he took the wallet, which was intact, and gave it back to the man. "We run an orderly city," Willie told him. When Willie was chief you could park your car on a downtown street, leave the keys in the ignition, leave your billfold on the front seat and leave the windows down, and be gone for several hours and when you came back everything would be just like you left it. One law that Willie enforced was the traffic laws. When he was chief if you ran a stop sign or drove too fast you could count on paying a ticket. The rules were laid down by the mayor and city council and were agreed to by the Big Banker and the head of the Mafia, who had reached an agreement.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Falcon Dam

Dwight Eisenhower was president and Ruiz Cortines was president of Mexico. They were both coming to McAllen, Texas, to dedicate Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River. Ike stayed with Allan Shivers, who was governor of Texas and who had a ranch nearby. There is a custom in Mexico that when you meet someone that you embrace them, known as the Abrazzo. Allan Shivers briefed Ike on this custom and Ike said it was "silly." We all gathered at the new dam and Ruiz Cortines and Ike were in the middle of the dam. Down below was about 50 Mexican reporters and photographers and on our side was about 100 reporters and photographers. The Mexican journalists wanted to get a picture of Ike embracing Cortines. Ike stiffly shook hands with Cortines. The Mexican journalists began to chant "abrazzo abrazzo." Ike ignored them. Then they began to hiss loudly "abrazzo." Ike turned pink with anger but he finally relented and gave Ruiz a big hug. To say that Ike was stubborn was understatement.