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Both Sides of the Border

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Texas has a large population who has lived on both sides of the border and created a folkloric mix that makes Texas unique. Both Sides of the Border gets its name from its emphasis on recently researched Tex-Mex folklore. But we recognize that Texas has other borders besides the Rio Grande. We use that title with the folklorist's knowledge that all of this state’s songs, tales, and traditions have lived and prospered on the other sides of Texas borders at one time or another before they crossed the rivers and became "ours." Chapters are organized thematically, and include favorite storytellers like James Ward Lee, Thad Sitton, and Jerry Lincecum. Lee’s beloved "Hell is for He-Men" appears here, along with Sitton's informative essay on Texas freedman's settlements. Both Sides of the Border contains something to delight everyone interested in Texas folklore.

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29 Chapters

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Chapter 1. Letters from J. Frank Dobie to John Robert Craddock





Edited by Mary Belle Ingram, Historical Marker

Chairman, Matagorda County Museum Bay City, Texas, with F. E. Abernethy

The Texas Folklore Society is forever indebted for its very existence to J. Frank Dobie, the Society’s Executive Secretary and the editor of its publications from 1922 to 1943. The Society, which had been founded in 1909 and was stabled at The University of

Texas, was a casualty of World War I. Fortunately, J. Frank Dobie, a young English instructor at UT, resurrected the dormant society in 1921 and made it the bearer of his wealth of Texas legends as well as a treasury of Texas folklore in general. Dobie led the Society for the next twenty-one years, established it academically, and made it almost as well known as he was. For which reasons the

Society was pleased recently to receive the following collection of

J. Frank Dobie letters from Mary Belle Ingram, Historical Marker

Chairman and Archivist with the Matagorda County Museum, Bay


Chapter 2. Doc Sonnichsen Holds His Own



DOC SONNICHSEN HOLDS HIS OWN by Al Lowman of Stringtown

On Sunday, June 2, 1931, a freshly-minted Harvard Ph.D. stepped off the train in the sunbaked border town of El Paso, prepared to assume responsibilities as an assistant professor of English at the

Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy. The adjective “dapper” might have been coined to describe twenty-nine-year-old Charles

Leland Sonnichsen. He was tall and good-looking, with elegant bearing, and trim of both build and mustache. The El Paso assignment would, of course, be temporary; after all, Harvard Ph.D.s surely commanded such status in academia that he would soon be summoned to the ivy-draped colossi of better-watered soil, both literally and figuratively. But a funny thing happened on the road to his destiny. Several funny things, in fact. We’ll get to those shortly.

For one thing, he swam against the current. He made his reputation as a teacher of English and a writer of history. He served at different times as president of the Western Literature Association and then as president of the Western History Association. As an English professor writing history, he learned that nothing so enrages history faculty as a colleague from another department successfully challenging them on their own turf. “Historians don’t like outsiders crowing on their dung-hill,” he once put it.





Chapter 3. Growing Up on Both Sides of the Border




OF THE BORDER by Lucy Fischer West of El Paso

My mother was born in Camargo, Chihuahua, a scant ten years after the turn of the twentieth century. She was only a few months old when the Mexican Revolution erupted and pushed her family north to Ciudad Juárez in 1910. The Rio Grande flowed furiously in those days, following the course it had carved out for itself.

When her father, Jesús Lara Rey, felt the Revolution’s violence come too close for comfort, he would move the family north of the river temporarily into El Paso, at one time smuggling some of the younger children in trunks to get them across the border. Family history relates that my grandfather died of a botched appendicitis operation at the hands of a drunken doctor. Antonia Lara Rey

Mendoza, who bore twelve children for him, was left with the five survivors who ranged in age from one in the womb to the eldest who was nineteen. Lucina, my mother, was twelve. By the time she was fourteen, she had her first teaching job and was one of the teachers who inaugurated the Centro Escolar Revolución in the


Chapter 4. Welito: A Mexican-American Family in Southwest Texas




FAMILY IN SOUTHWEST TEXAS by Bertha Dominguez of Del Rio

[Bertha Dominguez (1941–1997) was a student of Elton Miles in his

Southwestern Literature class at Sul Ross State College in 1972. She and Elton sent me her paper to consider for publication the following year. This was during my earliest spasm of activity with the idea of a family saga book. I did not use it, for some reason, but I did like it and filed it away for future use. “Future use” arrived with our decision to include a separate collection of Texas-Mexican papers in this

2004 miscellany. After all these years, I was able to locate Bertha’s mother and sister, Luisa and Estela Dominguez of Del Rio. From them I learned that Bertha Dominguez received a degree in English and P. E. from Sul Ross and that she taught high school classes from

1970 until her death in 1997. Bertha taught Greek and Roman mythology, and in 1997 she and her sister Estela made the grand tour to the classical hearthstones of Greece and Rome. That pilgrimage, I feel, is a most fitting conclusion to an academic life.—Abernethy]


Chapter 5. Folklore of a San Antonio Midwife



FOLKLORE OF A SAN ANTONIO MIDWIFE by Alicia Zavala Galván of San Antonio

Gregoria Arispe Galván was born in 1901 in Laredo, Texas, and moved to San Antonio when she was eleven years old. She came from a poor working class Hispanic family. She married at the age of eighteen, and in the late 1920s decided to become a midwife to help provide additional income for the education of her three children. She attended midwife classes that were given by local physicians, as was dictated by state and city regulations at the time. After three years, she was certified by the city’s Board of Child Hygiene to practice midwifery in San Antonio, where she did so actively for sixty-two years, from 1929 to 1991.

Gregoria always strove to attain and project a personal and professional image of expertise and sophistication. This was done by serious study—her main reference was a well used 1901 obstetrics text—competent practice, and attention to appropriate fashions of the day. She also conveyed her status through the firmness of her convictions, expressed whether or not one wanted to hear them.


Chapter 6. Religion, Superstitions, and Remedios





MEXICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE by Gloria Duarte of San Angelo

The saying “Sana, sana, colita de rana, / Si no te alivias hoy te aliviarás mañana” (Get well, get well, little frog’s tail, / If you don’t get well today, you’ll get well tomorrow.) or some variation of it was frequently heard in our Mexican-American community, especially when small Mexican-American children fell and hurt themselves. Along with the rhyme, the bruised or hurt area would be delicately touched and saliva applied. Watching a recent television commercial for health insurance and remembering the rhyme reminded me of the reason for the adherence to remedios—no insurance coverage! Because of lack of insurance coverage and because of cultural isolation, many Mexican-Americans have relied on a curandero and basic home remedies to take care of injuries or illnesses among the residents of the community. In some instances, immigrants consult curanderos or unlicensed practitioners for several reasons, including lack of money for insurance, preference for the type of care they had in their native country, and in some cases the fear of having their immigration status checked.1


Chapter 7. Pepe's Panaderia: Bread Folklore



PEPE’S PANADERIA: BREAD FOLKLORE by Kenneth W. Davis of Lubbock

Years ago somewhere between Crystal City and McAllen in a small community, I saw a sign on a weathered adobe building: Pepe’s

Panaderia: Bread of All Kinds. On a simple wooden table placed near the building’s only window were curiously shaped loaves of bread, all of which looked to be made with yeast. There were anatomically correct small bears, horses, cows, an angel or two, and even a genderless owl. Called pan de muertos, these loaves are generally available from about November 2, the Day of the Dead, until after old Christmas, January 6, in many bakeries all over Texas and the Southwest. Pan de muertos loaves are baked sometimes in cast iron molds. Or they can be carefully shaped by hand. Frequently such loaves are placed on graves and at shrines. They are but one of many types of bread in Texas associated with the lore of the folk.

Pan de muertos is associated with religious as well as with pagan traditions. As an aside, I note that in a concordance to the NIV edition of the Old and New Testaments there are 267 listings for the word “bread.”


Chapter 8. A Tortilla Is Never "Just" a Tortilla



A TORTILLA IS NEVER “JUST” A TORTILLA by Lucy Fischer West of El Paso

On my mother’s stove, there sat a comal, a flat, round, cast-iron griddle with a handle, always ready to heat tortillas for at least two meals out of the daily three that she would prepare. On days when she was not too harried, those tortillas came not out of a plastic bag from the corner grocery store, but rather were hand-patted from lime-soaked and finely-ground nixtamal. Occasionally, she would use either a wooden or cast aluminum tortilla press lined with wax paper to speed up the corn tortilla-making process. For her flour tortillas, she’d use a red-handled rolling pin that she’d gotten at the old Cuahtémoc Market in Juárez. I remember vividly that whenever she worked in the kitchen, I was at her side; that she would hand me my own child-sized ball of masa to make my own tortillas de maíz; and that I had a child-sized rolling pin with which to turn my wad of flour dough into a tortilla de harina. I developed a healthy respect for the hot comal on which I placed my creations. It was my job not only to watch over my own creations, but also to mash down her flour tortillas with a round wooden press when they puffed up.





Chapter 9. The Evolution of a Legend: The Headless Horseman






A GOOD STORY by Lou Ann Herda of Cypress

It is late at night. The meeting you attended in Cuero did not let out until nine p.m., and your drive towards San Antonio along Highway 87 starts out as a peaceful ride. The dark sky is full of twinkling stars and traffic is light. As you drive along, lightning flashing out of the corner of your left eye draws your attention. Puzzled, you glance in that direction, only to see that the lightning is not coming out of the sky but is, instead, coming from the ground. Suddenly, the lightning intensifies, coming closer to your car. You slam on the brakes as a horse gallops across the lanes in front of you. The lightning that you saw is coming from the hooves as they hit the ground. You see that there is a rider mounted on the horse, but that something is eerily missing from this rider. It is his head! Then you see that the head is dangling from the pommel of the saddle, thrust inside a sombrero, the eyes flashing as coals of fire. The rider dashes across the road and flashes off over the horizon. You have just experienced one of Texas’ more illustrious legends, El Muerto, the Headless Horseman.


Chapter 10. Who is Buried in Jesse James' Grave?



WHO IS BURIED IN JESSE JAMES’ GRAVE? by Tony Clark of Georgetown

In Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri, visitors can find a gravestone bearing the name of Jesse James, the Old West’s most notorious outlaw. James, the story goes, was slain on April 3,

1882, in St. Joseph, Missouri. He had been living there with his wife and two small children while passing himself off as a cattle buyer named Thomas Howard. Unarmed, he was shot in the back of the head by Robert Ford, a young man Jesse had considered a new recruit for his robber gang. Ford himself was gunned down ten years later in Creede, Colorado.

So history records. However, from time to time people have come forward to declare that the legendary bandit was not killed after all. Even now, more than 120 years after the alleged assassination, at least two camps are claiming that Jesse didn’t die in St.

Joseph that day.

Interestingly, no one at the time seemed to doubt the report of Jesse’s death. Hundreds of people, many of whom knew Jesse, streamed into St. Joseph as the news spread, and they had ample opportunity to view the body—it was packed in ice and left on public display for a few days, first in St. Joseph and then in Kearney, Jesse’s hometown.1 Not one questioned the identification.


Chapter 11. A Note on the Pacing White Mustang Legend




MUSTANG LEGEND by James T. Bratcher of San Antonio

By 1832, the year Washington Irving reported him in his camp journal that became A Tour on the Prairies,1 stories of a remarkable wild stallion were making the rounds of western campfires. Mustangers had gone after the horse but without success. According to those who had chased him or heard about him in locales as far separated as the Rio Grande Plain to the south and the Canadian

Rockies to the north, he was snow white in color, of regal bearing, and with a flowing mane and tail. In some accounts, however, his color varied in a notable detail. Western chronicler Josiah Gregg, and also Mayne Reid, the Irish adventure-novelist who spent time in the West, reported him as having black ears.2 Neither Gregg nor

Reid had seen the horse with his own eyes, nor had Irving. In

Commerce of the Prairies (1844), Gregg shrewdly guessed that the stallion was “somewhat mythical from the difficulty one finds in fixing the abiding place of [this] equine hero.”3


Chapter 12. Hell is for He-Men!



HELL IS FOR HE-MEN! by James Ward Lee of Fort Worth

Back in Alabama in the 1930s—back when men were men and women were double breasted—our local hero was Fat Fullmer.

Old Fat rode a milky blue Indian Chief Motocycle (Hey, that is the correct spelling for Indian motorcycles), and Fat rode it with style.

He had saddlebags with more silver than Roy put on poor Trigger’s saddle or Gene nailed onto Champion’s stirrups. Fat had long leather streamers tied to the handlebar grips, and he wore high boots like an Aggie cheerleader. One time—it must have been

1937 or 1938—Fat rode up in front of the hardware store that his daddy owned and throttled back the Big Indian to a steady gurgle.

He leaned the Big Indian over a little and put one of his glorious boots down on the ground and said to the men and boys huddled in front of the hardware store, “Boys, I’ll be in Birmingham in fifteen minutes or I’ll be in hell.”

I thought I would faint at this swagger and strut! This was stuff we saw in the movies and read about in adventure stories. Here was a man defying whatever gods there were in Alabama in 1938.


Chapter 13. Clementine Hunter: Folk Artist



CLEMENTINE HUNTER: FOLK ARTIST by Phyllis Bridges of Denton

Folk artist Clementine Hunter lived for just over one hundred years, all of those years in Natchitoches parish in northwestern

Louisiana, and most of them on the grounds of Melrose Plantation, where she worked as a field hand in her early years and as a household servant in her later years. Her work as a folk artist, according to Melrose historian Francois Mignon, began in the

1940s after she was over sixty years old.

Clementine Hunter was born in the winter of 1887 on Hidden

Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana, an area made famous by the bayou tales of author Kate Chopin, whose cotton plantation was very near the place where Clementine Hunter was born and lived out her life. Conditions at Hidden Hill Plantation were so cruel that most observers consider that plantation to be the model for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Significantly, that plantation is today called Little Eva Plantation. As a young girl

Clementine left Hidden Hill with her family and relocated later when she was sixteen to Melrose with her family.


Chapter 14. Packaged Folklore: The Texas Folklife Festival






Many are the definitions of folklore. From the professional side it’s what people create and do in terms of traditional beliefs, customs, language uses, survival skills, stories, music, tools, decorations, entertainments, foods, and so forth that informally move across generations in changing patterns. Tradition . . . useful tradition.

Today, any group maintaining shared traditions is considered folk.

And today, folklore includes material close to its origin, as the definition did not, earlier, allow. Folklore is also an academic field pursued in literate, technological cultures; otherwise, the whole bucket is the province of ethnologists and anthropologists. These remarks mostly follow Richard M. Dorson and Ab Abernethy.

Colloquially, folklore is what grandparents did, or what older people did when young. It is mostly oral or imitative and can be recounted, remembered, or collected, whether it is definitely outdated or still useful. It is often displayed for various reasons, including pride, curiosity, validation, amusement, propaganda, or profit-or all of the above. And this folklore—these traditions that have been preserved through generations—is sometimes packaged for public consumption.


Chapter 15. Same Song, Second Verse


176 Miscellaneous Memorabilia

Whether for profit or fun, putting new words with old tunes— and vice versa—has become a way to preserve folklore, which can be passed on from generation to generation and group to group.

The subjects of the new lyrics tend to be subjects that reflect the daily lives of people. The tunes are always popular tunes of the times. “Music is an art whose material consists of sounds organized in time. Through the various types of patterns in which these sounds can be arranged, music can serve as a medium for the expression of ideas and emotions.”2 Songs are essentially poems set to music—with patterns of meter and rhyme capable of fitting several tunes. All types of music, including classical, sacred, folk, popular, country—whatever—are subject to recycling. The changing of words and lyrics can be accomplished by variations, or by parodies. Variations include minor—or major—changes in the tune or the lyrics and tend to leave the basic content of the song the same.

With most folk tunes, variations are quite common, particularly when music was passed on without having been written down.


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