Monthly Archives: July 2013

Baseball Pitcher Turned Country Crooner Killed in Plane Crash

Country music star Jim Reeves perished in the crash of his private plane on July 31, 1964 when he tried to land in a rainstorm at the Nashville airport.

The 40 year old East Texan pitched three seasons in the minor leagues before an injury ended his baseball career.  By the late 1950’s, he was the hottest thing in country music with classic ballads like “Four Walls” and “He’ll Have to Go.”  Reeves is buried beside his favorite dog in a roadside shrine outside his home town of Carthage.

Baptist Paper Attacks Cities As Source of All Things Wicked

In the July 30, 1914 edition, “The Baptist Standard,” official organ of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, described the prohibitionist movement as “a struggle for a higher Anglo-Saxon civilization against the slum civilization of the great cities.”

Elsewhere in the same issue, another writer really got carried away.  He called big cities “the nuclei of vice, depravity, misery and crime, generated by the liquor traffic, and the places where it executes its most perfect work of temptation, contamination and damnation.”

So when Prohibition became the law of the land six years later, that should have solved the problem, right?  Nope, not even close!

The Daring Young Texan on the Flying Trapeze

When Vander Clyde saw his first circus in Austin around the turn of the twentieth century, it was love at first sight.  Less than ten years later, the farm boy joined a sister trapeze act — dressed as one of the sisters!

This is the unique story told in the “This Week in Texas History” column for the week of Wednesday, July 31 through Tuesday, August 6.  Chances are you have never read anything like it!

Texas Legislature Mourns Massacre of Custer

On July 28, 1876, the Texas legislature passed a resolution of condolence in memory of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the 260-plus men of the 7th Cavalry killed the previous month in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Lawmakers tactfully omitted any mention of Custer’s role in the Reconstruction occupation of Texas or the fact that the famous “boy general” fought on the other side in the Civil War.

Something You Gotta See to Believe!

Just got back from four days in Austin, where I saw among things the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.  It has been open since 2001, but I just got around to seeing it as a belated Father’s Day present from my son, Brett.

After wandering the three floors for more than five and a half hours, I can only say I wish I had visited the museum sooner.  The layout and organization of exhibits is nothing less than pure creative genius.  You do not have to be a Texas History buff much less a professional like myself to enjoy the experience while learning a heck of lot in the process. 

I encourage everyone, Texans of every description and folks just passing through, to put the Texas State History Museum on their must-see list.  You won’t be disappointed.

Actress’ Career and Life Go Up in Flames

As you can tell from the title, the “This Week in Texas History” column for the week of Wednesday, July 24 through Tuesday, July 30 does not have a happy ending.  But then that’s often true of real life.

Thanks to a super-pushy “stage mom,” Linda Darnell broke into motion pictures at the precocious age of 16.  Dallas took great pride in “our Linda” with “The Morning News” running more than a thousand articles about her over the next 25 years.

Tom Nugent Led the Populist Charge in 1890’s

In a speech at San Marcos on July 21, 1893, Tom Nugent, charismatic leader of the People’s Party, blasted the Democratic Party as “an empty shell.”

The former preacher ran a strong third in the 1892 race for governor with a quarter of the vote.  Two years later, Nugent put the fear of God in the dominant Democrats with a second-place showing and 36 percent of the turnout.  But his death in 1896 at the age of 54 took the wind out of the Populists’ sails.

Rangers Were Waiting for Sam Bass and Gang

Sam Bass and his associates rode into Round Rock on July 19, 1878 and right into a trap.  The Texas Rangers were ready and waiting because a member of the gang had tipped them off.

Four train robberies that spring in the Dallas area had put the state lawmen on Bass’ trail.  Mortally wounded in the ambush, he died two days later on his twenty-seventh birthday.

How Did Rock ‘n Roll Singer Really Die?

Twenty-four year old Bobby Fuller of Goose Creek (now Baytown) had it all:  good looks, great voice, a talent for writing songs and the Top 40 hit “I Fought the Law and the Law Won.”  But on the night of July 18, 1966 he was found dead in his car on a Hollywood street.

The official cause of death was accidental asphyxiation from sniffing gasoline fumes, an odd way to get high for a rising star with plenty of cash.  To this day, many of Fuller’s friends and fans believe he was murdered.  One of them, a man in East Texas, accused organized crime in an anonymous letter he wrote to me after my column on the mystery appeared in papers a few years ago.

Texas Prisons Hell on Earth in Early 20th Century

After a guided tour of the Texas prison system on July 16, 1931, a county sheriff expressed the opinion that some inmates “really enjoy themselves here.” 

The lawman must not have witnessed one of the infamous punishment sessions where convicts were flogged to within an inch of their lives with the “bat,”  a greased strip of thick leather that often shredded the victim’s back.  Twenty lashes were the legal limit, but guards frequently got carried away.