Sweeping the Yard

During the drought of the 1950’s, our water well and stock tanks at Fitzhugh, Texas went dry. The cattle dad didn’t sell were hauled to my grandfather John Bowles’ ranch in Spicewood, Texas. The ranch on the Pedernales River would provide water for the livestock. My father, Malcolm Bowles, became a carpenter in Austin and tended his livestock on weekends. We rented a house on South First Street with indoor plumbing, the first place we lived with such luxury. It would be years before we had hot water.

This was the first time my family had been dependent on anyone for water. I remember my parents being upset over an $8.00 bill from the City of Austin Utility. A decision was made to let what grass we had in the yard die. My mother’s two rose bushes would be kept alive with dish and bath water, toilet rules were; if it is brown flush it down, if it is yellow let it mellow. My older brother and I were encouraged to take our standing business behind the garage.

As the drought lingered, the dirt in the yard began to pack hard and crack on the top. To keep from tracking dusty dirt particles into the house, mother would hand my brother and I brooms to sweep up the loose dirt and debris in the yard. The old push lawn mower rusted in the garage, until the spring of 1957 when it started raining and didn’t stop.

Austin’s population in 1950 was 132,000; today it is fast approaching a million. Maybe the time has come to turn off the sprinklers and pick up the brooms again?

Malcolm and Alta Bowles
Malcolm and Alta Bowles – Pedernales dry riverbed ca 1950

Water Scarce at the Alamo

February 26, 1836, two hundred Alamo defenders shivered behind the walls of the compound as the morning wind howled across the San Antonio River. Firewood and water supplies were in short supply on this third day of the siege. The water well inside the old mission was not sufficient for the sudden needs of the Texas Army and their horses. A small party of men ventured out to gather firewood and bring water from a nearby acequia.

Santa Anna’s troops fired on the Alamo defenders as they scurried about grabbing dead mesquite wood on the ground, others carrying wooden buckets of water. Cannon fire diverted the Mexican marksmen’s attention, but future such excursions outside the walls would be made under the cover of darkness.

Alamo Compound (1)

Note to today’s reader: At the siege of Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo looked much different than today; as only the chapel and the long barracks still exist. To appreciate the size of this complex which was large enough to have livestock, horses and grow winter vegetables. The picture above depicts what the 1836 Alamo looked like.

Santa Anna Arrives

February 23, 1836, large numbers of Mexican troops were seen from the Bell Tower of San Fernando Cathedral, 1.5 miles southwest of town. Many local families evacuated San Antonio headed east. More would follow before the sun set. Scouts estimated Santa Anna would not arrive until mid-March. William Barrett Travis shook his head, “They must have marched day and night to get here.”

The Texas volunteers began to prepare an old abandoned mission, storing provisions within the walls of the compound. The Mexican Army continued to grow; scouts reported to Travis the enemy now numbered over a thousand. Riders were sent to Gonzales and Goliad for reinforcements. Non-combatants were sequestered in the Alamo Chapel for safety.

At 2:30 p.m., a blood red flag was sent up by the Mexican’s signaling no quarter would be given. Travis answered with a cannon ball. The die was set; there would be no surrender by the Alamo Defenders.

Mexican Soldiers at the Alamo

The Republic is No More

One hundred sixty-eight years ago today, the City of Austin stopped at Noon on February 19, 1846. The town of several hundred residents and honored guests gathered around the Capitol building of the Republic of Texas. The first Capitol in Austin was at Eighth and Hickory (now Colorado Street). The frame structure was hastily built in the spring of 1839. President-Elect Mirabeau Lamar’s administration would utilize it for the Congress convening in Austin in November.

Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas, had written a speech for the occasion, but chose to speak from the heart. Jones slowly lowered the Lone Star Flag and handed it to J. Pinckney Henderson, the first elected Governor of Texas, and spoke loudly for all to hear, “The Republic is no more.” Governor Henderson raised the American Flag, then the Lone Star Flag, again, and at that moment in the eyes and ears of Texan’s everywhere, Texas officially became the 28th state in the union.

History books tell us that Texas was annexed December 29, 1835, which is the day President James Polk signed the documents of annexation. The official act of Texas joining the union would not take place until February 19, 1846. Below is one of the last notes issued by the Republic of Texas the morning of the ceremony, proving that the Republic was still functioning weeks after the December 29, 1845 date.

Regardless of the official date, it is sad that the State of Texas does not celebrate its statehood.

Granddad’s Depression Sheep

My father told me many times a sad story of Granddad Bowles trying to get out of the sheep business. Recently Cousin Les Bowles of Marble Falls, told the same story and it became a very funny story. Cousin Les is a good storyteller and the reason is that one of his friends in the fertilizer business for many years was Jerry Clower of Yazoo, MS. Jerry used his storytelling ability to sell chemical fertilizer and became a nationally known storyteller that sold millions of comedy albums. Les continued to sell fertilizer, but while working with Jerry, he learned to turn a tale of woe into a humorous story. During the Depression, Granddad had many sheep and with no market for several years they multiplied. Hearing there were buyers in Fort Worth, he decided to herd them into Austin, the nearest railhead 30 miles south. Leonard East had a wagon yard on East Second, not far from the Congress Avenue bridge. It would take several days to get to Austin, starting down Bee Creek Road, then Bee Caves Road. It had to be a sight all those wooly critters crossing the bridge. Once at the rail yard in Austin, they were loaded and shipped to the Union Stockyard in Fort Worth. Granddad received a bill for freight and no check. He received a letter that said, “I am sorry to inform you that the sale of your sheep did not cover the freight charges, this invoice is for the difference that you owe.” Granddad wrote back that he didn’t have any money to pay the bill, but he had found some more sheep that he would be glad to trade for what was owed. He got a prompt reply from the railroad agent that said “Let’s just call it even.” Les made a lighthearted story out of Depression Era hard times. That is what storytelling is all about. Thanks Cousin for sharing the story.

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