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.

Cash for Cows

During the early 30′s there were no buyers for livestock. President Roosevelt had this idea that if cattle and hogs were destroyed reducing the numbers, the price of those commodities would rise. The county agent would pay $2.00 per head to the farmers for allowing their livestock to be slaughtered. Trenches were dug and the government men would drive the animals in, shoot them in the trenches and then bulldoze dirt over the dead animals. If this sounds similar to a recent government program, it had about the same result.

I have a haunting black and white picture of my father, his brother Lester, and their parents after the government slaughter at the Bowles’ Ranch. They all appeared to be in a state of shock. It had to be a terrible experience for everyone. Little is said in the history books as it was a subject that rural families did not want to remember nor city dwellers were aware of. Had this history been known to the present administration, they might have had second thoughts about cash for clunkers and other recent government giveaways.

After the herd was culled, the ranch had a few head of cattle and lots of sheep. Wool prices were so low it wasn’t worth shearing or dipping the sheep. There being no market for sheep, they just existed on the ranches like the deer and multiplied. Similar to the emu market a few years ago, you just kind of hoped they would go away.

In an upcoming post, I will tell a humorous story about how Granddad Bowles got the worthless sheep off his ranch.

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