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Folklore in Motion

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The adventurous spirit of Texans has led to much travel lore, from stories of how ancestors first came to the state to reflections of how technology has affected the customs, language, and stories of life "on the go." This Publication of the Texas Folklore Society features articles from beloved storytellers like John O. West, Kenneth W. Davis, and F. E. Abernethy as well as new voices like Janet Simonds. Chapters contain traditional "Gone to Texas" accounts and articles about people or methods of travel from days gone by. Others are dedicated to trains and cars and the lore associated with two-wheeled machines, machines that fly, and machines that scream across the land at dangerous speeds. The volume concludes with articles that consider how we fuel our machines and ourselves, and the rituals we engage in when we're on our way from here to there.

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“Texans on the Road: The Folklore of Travel”




If the interior world of our minds reflects the exterior world in which we live, the American mind must look like a road map. Or better yet, if we could peer into the national mind, it would look like a road. It would be Interstate Highway 95 from Maine to

Florida along the East Coast. Or it would be Highway 101 from

Oregon to California along the West Coast. Or still better, it would be Route 66, the mother of all American roads—in the twentieth century anyway.

In 2001, Route 66 was seventy-five years old, although as everyone knows, the fabled artery has been plowed up, paved over, and renamed in recent decades. That didn’t stop people from remembering Route 66 in 2003, when the Smithsonian National

Museum of American History in Washington D.C. celebrated a transportation exhibit. At that celebration, a concrete portion, saved from a part of the route in Oklahoma, was put on exhibition.

Route 66 is the road John Steinbeck wrote about in the 1930s in The Grapes of Wrath. It is the road jazz singers celebrated in the


“Traveling Texan”


TRAVELING TEXAN by Archie P. McDonald

People just can’t stay put. As much as we love hometowns, or

Texas, or America, curiosity and horizons summon us to adventures beyond the seas. Texans, no less than Connecticut Yankees, wander the world with itchy feet and wide eyes at the wonder of it all.

I joined the caravan late. Apart from occasional excursions across the Rio Grande, I was dangerously close to the epitaph I read in an old novel a half century ago: “Here is my butt, the very watermark of all my sails.” Title and author escape me now, so this is as much attribution as I can muster for a line I wish I had written.

Then, in 1986, Ab and Hazel Abernethy tolerated my tagging along with them to Australia for three weeks on a folklore exchange. Ask Ab about our assignment to entertain the inebriated crew of the USS Joseph Kennedy, in port at American River on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, or the controversies that come with comparison of Queensland versus South Australia beer.

The passport acquired for visiting Australia got another stamp in 1990, when the fellow slated to escort fifteen high schoolers on a three-week summer trip to Germany had to withdraw. “Have passport and will travel,” says I, when the chairman of the exchange committee asked me to take over. The deal involved round-trip airfare and home stay with Rotarians in three cities.


“Red River Bridge War”


RED RIVER BRIDGE WAR by Jerry B. Lincecum

On Thursday, December 6, 1995, the old three-truss bridge spanning the Red River north of Denison was destroyed with 750 pounds of dynamite strategically placed by the Texas Department of Transportation. The blasting of this structure, which in 1931 became the most famous public free bridge across Red River between Texas and Oklahoma, marked the end of an era. However, few people know about the heated controversy it provoked six decades earlier.

This bridge was involved in a war—the Red River Bridge War of 1931. The magnificent new bridge was completed in April of

1931, through the joint efforts of Texas and Oklahoma, after their offer to purchase the Colbert Toll Bridge and two others was rejected by the toll bridge company. But its use was blocked by an injunction obtained by the Red River Bridge Company in Federal

Court in Houston. Soon the controversy led to a confrontation involving the governors of both states.

First some background history. Colbert’s Crossing had its beginnings at least as early as 1853, when B. F. Colbert obtained from the Chickasaw Indian Tribe a charter for a ferry across Red


“Wagon Train Experience”



Nineteen-eighty-six was the Sesquicentennial of Texas—a mouthful to be sure—but a year in which our State attempted in a variety of ways to celebrate, memorialize, discuss, and make all sorts of tributes to all our Texas ancestors and the history of all that’s

“Texan.” One of the more unique events of the year was the

Sesquicentennial Wagon Train that began on January 2 in Sulphur

Springs and wandered around the entire state for six months until it pulled into the Fort Worth Stockyards on July 3 to celebrate the

Fourth of July there. It was my privilege to have the experience of riding a few days on the Wagon Train in May of that year, along with two of my brothers—who thoroughly enjoyed it as well. This is my account of our short journey.

I had contacted the Wagon Train Association in mid-March of

1986 to inquire as to the possibility of our traveling with the train.

Since we had no wagon, horses or other appropriate animals, we were at the mercy of whatever arrangements were available to the general public. But the Association wanted to involve as many citizens of Texas who wanted to be there, so they had a wagon set aside specifically for folks like ourselves who just wanted a chance to experience the ride for a short time. Our confirmation, postmarked “No Trees, Texas,” came about ten days later, saying that we could meet them in Tahoka.


“Farm and Ranch Entrances in West Texas”



IN WEST TEXAS by Mary Harris

In Elmer Kelton’s novel The Man Who Rode Midnight, the grandson of the old-time rancher and protagonist Wes Hendrix thinks about city folks moving to the country and pretending that they are ranchers. Kelton writes:

Along the road, especially near to town, Jim Ed saw perhaps twenty fancy gateways of stone and steel and brick, bearing names like Angora Acres and

Rancho Restful and The Poor Farm. He looked twice at a sign that declared Heavenly Days Ranch.

These were the harbingers of an urban invasion, ten- and twenty- and fifty-acre ranchettes, homesites for city folk who wanted to play at the rustic life without suffering its discomforts.1

The novelist’s references to “fancy gateways,” and what he later refers to as an “entrance gate” or a “decorative arch,” are called in this paper “decorative entrances.” These decorative entrances are those highway and county road structures that announce to the passer that here is access to a Charolais ranch or a cotton farm, or as Kelton writes, smaller places where the people want “to play at the rustic life.”2


“Legends of the Trail”


LEGENDS OF THE TRAIL by Francis E. Abernethy

[A legend is a traditional prose narrative that has a historical setting and real people as characters. It deals with extraordinary happenings, even supernatural events, in a realistic way. Legends are folk history which document heroic or dramatic events of a culture’s life.—Abernethy]

The following happened in August of 1886 on the Camino

Real de los Tejas, where the Trail crosses Onion Creek southwest of Austin.

1886 was the drouthiest year in over a generation, and the wells had dried up, and the black land on Tobe Pickett’s farm had cracks in it wide enough to swallow a jackrabbit. María, who with her husband Pablo were Tobe’s hired help, walked alongside a great wide crack on her way to cut prickly pear for the hogs. As she looked into the depths of the crack, thinking to see a trapped jackrabbit, her eyes caught the gleam of old metal. A closer look revealed a crack’s-width view of a large chest with an iron chain around it.

María had found the chest of gold the Spaniards had buried on the Camino Real when they were attacked by bandits a hundred years earlier—before Spaniards became Mexicans. María marked the spot and told her husband, and they waited and planned how they would get the chest out when nobody could see them.


“The Passage of Scotland’s Four/El Pasaje de los Cuatro de Escocia”




De lejos, muy lejos de aqui, far from the land of the Gaelic accent, came the vessels across the challenging waters of the Atlantic to

America’s different ports of entry. The vessels carried immigrants whose uncharted destinies would be remembered for many generations en la tierra de el nopa, de el mesquite, and mammoth trees draped with Spanish moss. We, Tejanos, just like them, have had our own fight for freedom and liberty. We will remember the passage of Scotland’s four, el pasaje de los cuatro de Escocia.

Pues quiza algunos Tejanos le llamavan Valentine. Most often he was called Richard W. Ballentine (1814–1836).1 The surname

Ballantyne is from Sept of the Clan Campbell; their Argyll motto is

“Ne obliviscaris,” Roman Latin meaning “Forget not.” Ballentine was a twenty-two-year-old Scottish lad whose family had established residency in Marengo County, Alabama. He was recruited to serve with “The Mobile Greys” for Texas.2 Some Greys traveled by land and others by sea. In December 1835, the schooner named


“Gone to (South) Texas”


GONE TO (SOUTH) TEXAS by Janet McCannon Simonds

The lore of the nineteenth century Texas frontier includes many stories of pioneers leaving their homes in the North to seek new homes in Texas, and of their difficult journeys and more difficult lives after arrival. Regardless of the motivation, it took great courage to leave the known—families, friends, homes, businesses, and their very ways of life—for the unknown, which was often full of discomfort and privation. This pioneer spirit and courage, however, did not stop at the end of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, vast areas of Texas were yet unsettled, and there were still people in the northern United States with the same courage, adventurous spirit, and desire to make a new start that characterized their predecessors. The Rio Grande Valley of Texas was one of those last twentieth-century frontiers, and a destination of many such pioneers.

The area of South Texas between the Rio Grande and Nueces

Rivers was for many years after the Texas Revolution a contested area called the Nueces Strip, maintaining a virtual dual nationality even after the 1836 Texas Revolution when Mexican President


“Fannie Marchman’s Journey from Atlanta, Georgia to Jefferson, Texas”





HORSE AND WAGON, IN 1869 AND BEYOND by Ellen Pearson

Fannie Franks was born to Amanda and George Fowler on

Amanda’s mother’s plantation, near Holly Springs, Mississippi, on the 19th day of September, 1851. One year after the family returned to their own home in Holly Springs, George Franks went to New York City to buy goods for his store. He died there of pneumonia. Fannie and her mother moved back to the plantation.

Fannie’s mother died when she was three years old. Fannie’s only memories of her mother were, first, after the little girl had got into a hive of bees, looking up at a mirror and seeing her mother searching her “light curls” for the remaining bees and, second, of

Amanda’s sister taking Fannie to her mother’s bed, when she was dying. Amanda’s brother, Mitchell Fowler, and his wife took the girl to a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, and raised her graciously and generously.

Fannie met her husband-to-be, William Riley Marchman, at her school, called Pantherville, ten miles from Atlanta. “Mr.


“Walter Henry Burton’s Ride—Bell County to Juarez, Mexico in 1888”



COUNTY TO JUAREZ, MEXICO IN 1888 by James Burton Kelly

Walter Henry Burton was the first of seven sons born to John

Henry Martin Burton Jr. and Cynthia Priscilla Pass Burton. He was my maternal grandfather. He stood about 5′ 7″ tall and probably weighed 150 pounds—boots, hat, longjohns and all. But to me, he was a giant of a man, from my first recollection of him until the day he was buried in the Cleburne cemetery following a fatal automobile accident at age 76.

I could and hopefully will write a lot more about his life and the stories he told me when I was a young boy and spent all of my summers and holidays on the family farm and ranch six miles southwest of Cleburne in Johnson County, Texas. This story is about his two trips horseback from Bell County, Texas, to Juarez,

Mexico, to visit and work for his maternal grandfather Lafayette

Pass in 1888.

Walter Burton’s children called him “Dad” and his grandchildren called him Daddy Burton. When I was very young, Daddy


“The Galloping Gourmet; or, The Chuck Wagon Cook and His Craft”




The trail drive of the American cowboy is well known to the reading and viewing public of the entire world, thanks to the influence of television and movies and their enormous capacity for education. As is also well known, unfortunately Hollywood is not always careful with its facts—indeed, a new folklore might well be said to have developed because of the public media’s part in the passing on of information and mis-information. Such is the nature of oral transmission itself; one might recall: one old cowpoke remembers singing to the cattle to keep them calm; another points out that the average cowboy’s voice was far from soothing, and his songs might well have precipitated (rather than averted) a stampede. Of course, with the dulcet tones of Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers as evidence, the popular view is of the romantic persuasion, as is much of the lore of the American cowboy.

Usually overlooked are the factual matters of the cowboy cook and his rolling kitchen. Of course, “everybody” knows that chuck wagon cooks are genially irascible—“as techy as a wagon cook” goes the old saying.1 George “Gabby” Hayes of the Western movies of the ’40s is an excellent model; and all Western movie buffs know that a chuck wagon looks pretty much like an ordinary covered wagon with a pregnant tailgate. But that’s about as much as most folks know. The day-to-day routine of the cook gets him up hours before breakfast to rustle grub for a bunch of unruly, and often unappreciative, cowpokes. Then there is the day-long battle to keep ahead of the herd, arriving at pre-designated meal-stops with enough time to spare to put together a meal that would stick to the ribs. But all that is a largely unsung epic!


“The Language of the Trail Drivers: An Examination of the Origin and Diffusion of an Industry-Oriented Vocabulary”





VOCABULARY by W. C. Jameson


There exist in this country, and quite likely throughout the world, numerous examples of industry-oriented vocabularies. It can be argued, for instance, that the defense industry in the United States has a unique vocabulary oriented toward specific goals and projects.

The baseball and football industries, both professional and collegiate, have their own specific vocabularies and terminology. Even academicians, depending on their specific areas of concentration, have a jargon peculiar to their interests and professional activities.

The vocabulary addressed herein is associated with the ranching and livestock industry as it evolved and thrived in SouthCentral Texas from the late 1830s to approximately the mid1880s, a vocabulary which, in much the same form, is still in use today.

Several aspects of this vocabulary beg discussion. One critical element is concerned with how it came into existence as a result of the juxtapositioning of certain critical events and several different cultures. Another relates to the diffusion processes involved in disseminating the vocabulary throughout a portion of the United


“Rail Remembrances: The Train in Folk Memory and Imagination”




If you’ve ever heard the whistle of a fast freight train beating out a beautiful tune,

If you’ve ever seen the cold on the railroad tracks shining in the silvery moon,

If you’ve ever felt a locomotive shake the ground then I know you don’t need to be told,

Why I’m goin’ down to the railroad tracks to watch them lonesome boxcars roll.

Butch Hancock, “Boxcars”

Without question, the coming of the railroads was one of the most revolutionarily transformative events in the history of the United

States and the American people. Seen as a prerequisite to both the conquest of the Far West and the realization of the national goal of industrialization, privately owned and operated railroad companies received financial subsidization from government at all levels in the form of land grants, loans, and tax incentives. The faster, cheaper, and more reliable transportation the railroads represented resulted in the subjugation of the Native American, the settlement of the Great


“Safe in the Arms of Trainmen”



She was Lana Turner and I was Hedy Lamarr when the train went by. The rest of the time, we splashed about, with hopes of getting properly wet in her twelve-inch-deep concrete swimming pool, née watering trough. The pool was at the foot of her long sloping backyard, a kind distance from her mother’s ears but not out of sight of a watchful eye from the kitchen window.

We were seven and eight years old, my friend Priscilla and I, both very white dishwater blondes growing up in that small North

Texas town. Our suits were not Barbie bikinis, no spandex, no DayGlo colors. They were one-piece, colored burnt orange or royal blue, held up by a tie around our necks sometimes defaulting to allow an innocuous nipple to ride over the rim of the décolletage.

But already we were trying out our skills as “glamour pusses.”

When that first woof-woof came drifting down the tracks, we stopped what we were doing and prepared for the passage of the

Katy some few yards away. We dipped our hair in the water and slicked it back, stood up and patted our soggy suits, clamored out of the water and perched, one on each of the back corners of the pool, like a couple of Acropolis porch maidens. Though we didn’t know to suck in our bellies, the rest of us was ready—bony little feet angled, one knee provocatively bent, one hand on a hip, the other couching a head tossed back wantonly.


“Tales of the Rails”


TALES OF THE RAILS by Charlie Oden

[These tales of the rails come from the T&NO (SP) Railroad.

Friends told some of them to me. The rest are from personal knowledge.—Oden]


252 miles in 252 minutes. That was the schedule of the Sunbeams,

No. 13 and No. 14, when the Southern Pacific Railroad began running streamlined passenger trains between Dallas and Houston in 1936. The streamlined cars were swank, uptown. The coaches had comfortable seats instead of the old padded benches. There was a dining car with real white linen tablecloths and napkins. Passengers enjoyed dining from quality crystal, china, and a real silver service that had silver coffeepots. Chefs in tall white caps prepared the food and waiters in white jackets served it.

Passengers rode in comfort in a big windowed observation car and watched the cars on the highways and cattle in pastures.

Romances bloomed there during the 252-minute travel time in

World War II. The door was located right over the wheels, and when the door opened, passengers heard the busy clickety clack of wheels on rail joints.


“The Ford Epigram”


THE FORD EPIGRAM by Newton Gaines

A unique form of American folk-lore is the Ford epigram. It may be defined as a short saying, witticism, epithet, or slogan written on the side, fender, cowl, hood—indeed anywhere on the “Model T”

Ford.1 Although truly folk-lore, its first notable characteristic is that it is written, a characteristic which it shares, I believe, only with the disreputable writing on walls and fences. Another characteristic is that it is a by-product of a mechanical triumph. This distinction it shares with the railroad song. It happened that one Henry Ford and his engineers developed a gasoline engine that lasted longer than the body of the car it propelled. When the sad appearance of the family Ford caused Dad to buy a new machine, perhaps graduating to a Chevrolet or Buick, the son of the family fell natural heir to the old “Model T” to do with as he liked.

He could do but little with it, though, for his purse was flat. A coat of enamel or Duco was out of the question. A sufficient quantity of either would cost too much at one time. As it stood, the old


“Watch the Fords Go By: The Automobile Comes to Old Bell County”




TO OLD BELL COUNTY by Kenneth W. Davis

Richard Lee Strout and E. B. White gave verbal immortality to

Henry Ford’s tin lizzie in an essay which once helped freshmen struggling to become literate learn how to string colorful anecdotes together to make sense. Their celebrated essay, “Farewell,

My Lovely,” focused primarily on the wonder of Ford’s inventive genius, the Model T—that vehicle which revolutionized twentiethcentury America. In old Bell County, the arrival of mechanized transportation brought Model T Fords, Saxons, Maxwells, Buicks,

Cadillacs, and a host of other brands now perished, gone with the exhaust fumes and the dust of unpaved roads. Among these many kinds of automobiles there were some which attained the status of folk objects for their stamina, their contrariness, their comfort, or for their near-epic feats of whatever sort. To a Texas folklorist, the antics of the people who herded these snorting mechanical behemoths over those dirt roads of old Bell County are even more interesting than the legends about good mud cars, fast road cars, splendid courting vehicles, and those which doubled as runabouts hauling feed and seed.


“Driving Across Texas at Thirty-Five Miles Per Hour”



MILES PER HOUR by Jean Granberry Schnitz

Progress. That’s what they call it. True, travel is easier and faster than it was when I was a child, but trips across Texas are not what they were during the 1930s and 1940s. Expressways and interstate highways now speed travelers to their destinations. The wonderful little towns, the cities full of amazing sights, the courthouses, many with matching small-scale jails—all are by-passed by modern transportation systems. Gone are stop lights and bumpy roads, but not hot, dusty afternoons and freezing mornings. We just don’t notice the outside weather as much now that the windows are tightly closed!

Imagine having no radio or tape deck or CD player or television to bombard the vehicle with sound! Modern children cannot imagine dashing across Texas at thirty-five miles an hour—or less.

How long would a mere six-hundred-mile trip take at that speed?

It would require seventeen hours of driving, plus time for meals, fuel, and other stops. Seventeen hours strapped into a child safety seat would be pure torture! Despite the long hours, I wouldn’t take anything for the experiences my family had during such trips.


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