Millions in Mexican Silver Crossed Texas to the Port at Indianola

Hundreds of freight wagons, each drawn by six to eight mules, and brightly colored Mexican carretas, each pulled by four to six oxen, formed dusty weaving trains on the Chihuahua Road from the silver mines of northern Mexico to the port town of Indianola on the central Texas coast. The trail across Texas opened in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War when the U.S. laid claim to Texas and the entire southwest all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The following year, the California Gold Rush set the get-rich-quickers into a frenzy looking for a shorter route across the country than the old Santa Fe Trail that ran from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Chihuahua Trail, The Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier, Ronnie C. Tyler

The Chihuahua Trail, The Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier, Ronnie C. Tyler

Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, Sept. 1860 Library of Congress Wikipedia

Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, Sept. 1860
Library of Congress

The port at Indianola on Matagorda Bay offered dockage for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound for the western settlements of Texas as far as El Paso (future Fort Bliss), and it provided the perfect jumping-off place for settlers and gold-hungry Americans heading west. The ships, anchored at piers stretching out into the shallow bay, took on the Mexican silver and transported it to the mint in New Orleans. The vessels returned with trade goods destined for the interior of Texas and the towns developing in the west and the villages of Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Road headed northwest from Indianola, made quick stops in San Antonio and Del Rio, twisted north along the Devils River, forded the steep ledges along the Pecos River, and then plunged southwest through the

Mexican Carreta at Fort Leaton State Historic Site south of Presidio

Mexican Carreta at Fort Leaton State Historic Site south of Presidio

Chihuahuan Desert to cross the Rio Grande at Presidio, entering the mineral-rich state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Spanish, as early as 1567, had discovered northern Mexico’s mineral wealth—gold, copper, zinc, and lead—but silver proved the richest lode. By the time Mexico opened its commerce with the U.S. after the Mexican-American War, there were six mines in the area near Ciudad Chihuahua, the capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

General Lew Wallace (author of Ben-Hur) wrote The Silver Mines of Santa Eulalia, Chihuahua, Mexico, in which he claims that the raw outcroppings of Santa Eulalia, the richest of the mines, had been discovered in 1652, but persistent Indian troubles chased away the Spanish explorer who had found the site. Fifty years later, Wallace says that three men who were fugitives from the law, hide in a deep ravine tucked into Santa Eulalia’s steep hills. They stacked some boulders to create a fireplace, and as the flames grew hotter, the boulders began leaking a shiny white metal, which they recognized as silver. Knowing their fortune awaited, they sent word via a friendly Indian to the padre in the nearby mission community of Chihuahua, offering to pay for the grandest cathedral in New Spain if the padre would absolve their sins and pardon their crimes. It worked. The fugitives received absolution and pardon; they became fabulously wealthy; and the Church of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Regla, became the finest example of colonial architecture in northern Mexico. Miners flocked to the Santa Eulalia and Ciudad Chihuahua grew into a large and wealthy city.

Millions of dollars in silver and trade goods were hauled over the road between Chihuahua and Indianola, except for the years of the Civil War. The road served as the corridor for western settlement until 1883 when the Texas and Pacific Railroad from the east met the Southern Pacific from California. The new southern transcontinental railroad opened a direct route between New Orleans and California. The final blow to the Chihuahua Road arrived with the devastating hurricane of 1886 that turned the thriving seaport of Indianola into a ghost town.

Bonnie Parker, Dead at Twenty-three

She was an honor student and loved poetry, but she dropped out of school, married Roy Thornton before her sixteenth birthday and had “Roy and Bonnie” tattooed on her right knee to celebrate the union. After a stormy two years, Thornton went to prison; Bonnie never divorced him and died five years later, still wearing Thornton’s wedding ring. Those five years would make her a legend as the partner of another man.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was four in 1914 when her father died. Her mother moved her three children to “Cement City,” an industrial area of West Dallas to be near relatives and to secure work as a seamstress. That rough and tumble area was where Bonnie met and married Thornton, and it was where the four-foot-ten-inch, eighty-five pound Bonnie met Clyde Chestnut Barrow one year after Thornton went to prison.

Clyde Barrow had already made a name for himself with the Dallas police force for a series of robberies. When he was arrested again, Bonnie wrote letters pleading with him to stay out of trouble, and then she smuggled a handgun to him that he used to escape. He was captured in a week and sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. One account says that to avoid hard labor on the prison’s plantation, he had a fellow inmate chop off two of Barrow’s toes on his left foot. Another account says that before Barrow was paroled in February 1932, he beat another inmate to death for repeated sexual assaults. Whatever happened in that two-year prison experience, Clyde Barrow walked out as a hardened criminal, bent on getting revenge for the treatment he had received.

Historians believe Bonnie stayed with Barrow and his gang, which had an ever-changing list of members because she loved him. She willingly took part in the series of small robberies—stores and gas stations—with the goal of eventually launching an attack to liberate Eastham prisoners. She was arrested with one of the gang members as they tried to steal guns from a hardware store. After a few months in jail, a grand jury failed to indict her, and she was released. While Bonnie was in jail, Barrow was accused of murder because he drove the car in a robbery in which a store owner was shot and killed.

A few months later, while Bonnie was visiting her mother in Dallas, Barrow and a couple of his cronies were at a dance in Oklahoma and ended up killing a deputy and wounding a sheriff—the first time the Barrow Gang killed a lawman. Before the reign ended, they had killed nine.

The crime spree continued. In the last six months of 1932, the gang killed five men—law officers and private citizens they were attempting to rob. The following March, Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck was released from prison and the two couples—Bonnie and Clyde and Buck and his wife Blanche—moved into a garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri. Their loud drinking parties caused neighbors to grow suspicious and report them to authorities. On April 13, 1933, when five lawmen approached the apartment, the gang opened fire killing a detective and fatally wounding a constable. As the gang ran for their car, Bonnie covered their escape by firing her M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (their weapon of choice). They got away without any of their personal belongings, which included Buck’s three-weeks-old parole papers, a large

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar. Wikipedia

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar.

stash of weapons, one of Bonnie’s poems, and a camera with several rolls of undeveloped film. Before the police gave the film to The Joplin Globe, Bonnie and Clyde were known primarily for their crimes in the Dallas area. But the pictures, swaggering attempts to look tough as

Bonnie and Clyde Wikipedia

Bonnie and Clyde

they posed with their guns, made the Barrow Gang a front-page story across the nation.

For the next three months, they made headlines, roaming from Texas to Minnesota, robbing banks and stealing cars, killing those who got in their way and kidnapping both lawmen and robbery victims. Sometimes they released their hostages with enough money to get back home. While the public enjoyed following the increasingly violent behavior, the five members of the gang, forced to ride in one car, began to bicker according to a prison account written years later by Blanche Barrow. There was no place to hide—restaurants and motels offered the threat of exposure—forcing them to cook on campfires and bathe in cold streams.

On June 10, 1933, Clyde missed a construction sign and flipped their car into a ravine. Bonnie received third-degree burns on her right leg, either from a fire or acid in the car’s battery. While they waited in a tourist court near Fort Smith, Arkansas, for Bonnie’s leg to heal, other gang members botched a robbery and killed the town marshal of Alma, Arkansas. Despite the serious condition of Bonnie’s leg, they were forced to flee. It was July 18 when they checked into a tourist court near Kansas City, Missouri, and began a series of stunts that drew immediate attention. Blanche Barrow, while wearing jodhpur riding breeches—clothing unfamiliar to women in that area—registered for three guests, and five people openly stepped from the car. She paid with coins instead of bills for the lodging and for meals at the neighboring restaurant that was a favorite hangout for Missouri highway patrolmen. When Clyde went to a drugstore to purchase bandages and ointment for Bonnie’s leg, the pharmacist became suspicious and notified authorities who were on the lookout for strangers shopping for such supplies.

Ironically the ensuing gunfight resulted in a bullet hitting the horn on the lawmen’s armored car and caused them to think it was a cease-fire signal. Although they got away, both Blanche and Buck Barrow were severely injured. Clyde Barrow was so sure his brother would die from his injuries that Clyde dug his grave. Again, they drew attention to themselves by tossing out bloody bandages. When the authorities arrived, Bonnie and Clyde escaped on foot; Buck was shot and died later, and Blanche was taken into custody.

For six weeks the remaining three members of the gang moved from Colorado to Minnesota and south to Mississippi, committing small robberies and trying to replenish their arsenal. They returned in September to Dallas where their families tended to Bonnie’s leg injuries, which never healed properly and caused her to spend the rest of her life hopping on one foot or being carried by Clyde. He stayed busy pulling off minor robberies until November 22, 1933, when the Dallas sheriff almost caught the pair as they headed to a family meeting. Clyde sensed that something was wrong and drove quickly away amid police machine gunfire that struck both he and Bonnie in the legs.

The next week, a Dallas grand jury indicted Bonnie and Clyde for the 1933 murder of the Tarrant County deputy—the first murder warrant issued for Bonnie Parker. On January 16, 1934, Clyde Barrow succeeded in reaching his goal of revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections by leading an escape of former gang members and other prisoners from the Eastham Prison. One of the escapees shot a prison officer, which focused the full power of state and federal authorities on the capture of Bonnie and Clyde.

Retired Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer was employed to get the Barrow Gang. A tenacious hunter, Hamer had the reputation for getting his man—during his career he suffered seventeen personal wounds and killed fifty-three criminals. For over two months Hamer stalked the gang—always one or two towns behind. On April 1, 1934, Barrow and another gang member killed two Texas highway patrolmen. A witness, who was later discredited, claimed to have seen Bonnie laugh at the way the patrolman’s “head bounced like a rubber ball.” The story was picked up in the papers and fueled the public outcry against Bonnie Parker. The Highway Patrol offered $1,000 for “the dead bodies,” and Governor Ma Ferguson put up another $500 for each of the killers.

Bonnie closed the door on any possible claim for clemency a few days later when Clyde and another gang member killed a sixty-year-old Oklahoma constable and took the police chief as a hostage. Before they gave the chief a clean shirt and let him go, Bonnie asked him to spread the word that she did not smoke cigars, an image she had acquired after posing with a cigar in her mouth in the confiscated photos. She chain-smoked Camels. The arrest warrant named Clyde, a John Doe, and Bonnie as the killers of the constable.

Frank Hamer studied the movements of the gang and saw that they visited family, moving in a circle along the edge of five midwestern states, enabling them to escape without law enforcement being able to follow them across the state line. He estimated when it would be time to visit a gang family member in Louisiana. Hamer amassed an armor-piercing arsenal, a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers and lay in wait on a rural road near Arcadia, Louisiana. The father of one of the former gang members, who later claimed that he was forced to cooperate, flagged down the speeding Ford carrying only Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934. The posse opened fire, hitting the stolen vehicle with 167 bullets. Reports said that Bonnie’s bullet-riddled body was found holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes. Clyde, whose body was barely recognizable, was still clutching a revolver.

Bullet-riddled car Wikipedia

Bullet-riddled car

The death scene erupted in chaos with souvenir hunters scavenging pieces of clothing, hair, and shell casings. They were not buried together as they wished but in separate Dallas cemeteries. Mobs descended on the Parker home, and a throng of 20,000 made it almost impossible for the family to reach the Dallas gravesite. Although thousands crowded both funeral homes hoping to see the bodies, the Barrow family held a private service and buried Clyde next to his brother Buck. They shared a simple granite marker with their names and the words that had been selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.”

No one will ever know the real extent of Bonnie Parker’s involvement in the crimes of the Barrow Gang. Some gang members claimed that she never killed anyone, but she was involved in eight murders, seven kidnappings, less than a dozen bank heists, many armed robberies and car thefts, and a major jailbreak. One account says that the largest haul of any of the robberies netted only $1,500.

The Cattle Baron’s Daughter

img_0322-632x290An elegant 1930s Greek revival temple in Victoria, the Royston Nave Museum, has a story to tell of vast wealth, cultural challenge, creative genius, and high living as broad as the Texas landscape. In 2012, the Nave Museum held a month-long exhibit titled “The Cattle Baron’s Daughter and the Artists Who Loved Her—James Ferdinand McCan (1869-1925) and Royston Nave (1886-1931).”

Emily McFaddin McCan Nave by Royston Nave

Emily McFaddin McCan Nave by Royston Nave

The cattle baron’s daughter was Emily McFaddin, a beautiful, artistic young woman born in 1876 on a giant cattle ranch outside Victoria. The cattle baron was James Alfred McFaddin, son and brother of the Beaumont McFaddins, owners of vast stretches of ranch land, including Big Hill, the site of the giant oil discovery in 1901 known as Spindletop.

James McFaddin moved to Refugio County in 1858 and began ranching with 130 head of cattle from his father’s herd. After serving in the Civil War, James McFaddin returned to Refugio, served as a one-man bank, loaning money to his neighbors. He began buying land where the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers converge. As his holdings increased, James McFaddin built a three-story mansion in Victoria with an art studio for Emily in the tower above the center of the home.

The first artist in this story was the lively James Ferdinand McCan from County Kerry, Ireland, who arrived in the United States at age seventeen. He settled in San Antonio and opened an art studio. An exhibition of his work caught the eye of Henrietta King, wife of the cattleman Richard King. Henrietta moved McCan to the King Ranch where he served as artist-in-residence for two years. During that time his reputation blossomed, and Al McFaddin, Emily’s brother, commissioned McCan in 1896 to paint a portrait of his and Emily’s parents, James and Margaret McFaddin. Emily and McCan married the following year and moved happily into Victoria’s social whirl, entertaining in the home her parents gave them as a wedding gift. Their son, Claude Kerry McCan, was born in 1899.

Emily and Ferdinand McCan House

Emily and Ferdinand McCan House

The second artist in the saga was Royston Nave who was born in LaGrange. His mother Lou Scott Royston, a well-known Texas painter, was Nave’s first art teacher. He studied with several New York artists, and his renown grew as his portraits were featured in many one-man exhibits.

After serving in WWI, Nave moved to Victoria to study art with James McCan. The two artists became such good friends, that Nave painted a self-portrait that he gave to McCan with the inscription, “To my friend, J.F.M.” and signed “Royston Nave.” The portrait hangs today in the front hall of the home built for Emily when she married McCan.

Emily and McCan divorced in 1916, and McCan moved to Boerne where he continued to paint the Hill Country scenes he loved until his death in 1925.

A year after her divorce, Emily and Nave were married. The couple began a whirlwind of worldwide travel with her brother Al and his wife. They finally settled for two years in New York where Nave enjoyed continued success with portraiture. In the late 1920s, they returned to Victoria. Nave painted in his studio, and they enjoyed the social and cultural life of the city until Nave died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age forty-four.

The family was devastated, and after a year of mourning, Emily commissioned the father/son architectural team of Atlee and Robert Ayers to design a fitting memorial for Royston Nave. The Greek revival temple opened in October 1932 as the Royston Nave Museum to house the work of Royston Nave and the library of the Bronte Study Club. Nave’s portraits and his landscapes hung above the stacks of books until 1976 when the city of Victoria constructed a new library.

Emily continued her cultural and community interests until her death in 1943, even hosting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1940 when the first lady visited Victoria

After Victoria built its new library, Emily’s heirs deeded the Nave Museum to the city to be used as a regional art museum, and in 2003 it became the property of the Victoria Regional Museum Association. Noted for six to eight compelling exhibits each year that range from classical to modern, the McFaddin and McCan descendants agreed to sponsor an exhibit of the works of both artists, which had never been shown under the same roof. Family and friends generously loaned their private works from both artists to create the delightful exhibit know as “The Cattle Baron’s Daughter and the Artists Who Loved Her—(James Ferdinand McCan (1869-1925) and Royston Nave (1886-1931).”

Story of the Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldier Memorial of El Paso, Fort Bliss. Wikipedia

Buffalo Soldier Memorial of El Paso, Fort Bliss.

During the Civil War, more than 180,000 black soldiers served in segregated Union Army regiments, and many of those units achieved outstanding combat records. After the war, the U.S. Congress reorganized the peacetime army to include black enlisted men in the Ninth and the Tenth United States Cavalry. By 1869 Congress added the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth United States Infantry—all under the leadership of white officers. As these soldiers moved to posts in Texas and across the Southwest and the Great Plains, the Indians began calling them “Buffalo Soldiers.” Most accounts claim they earned Indian respect––and the moniker––for their fierce fighting ability. Others say the title came from the Indians’ regard for the black soldiers’ tightly curled hair that resembled the hair on the bison’s face. Accepting the respect of their adversaries, the Buffalo Soldiers adopted the image of the bison on their regiment

The army paid the black recruits $13 a month plus food, clothing, and shelter—more than most freedmen could earn after the Civil War. The five-year enlistment meant that they took part in most of the major Indian campaigns in Texas. Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at almost every fort on the frontier from the Rio Grande to the Panhandle—helping to build and repair the outposts. They escorted mail teams, stagecoaches, cattle herds, and survey crews. They built roads, strung miles of telegraph lines, and performed ordinary garrison duties in the isolated western outposts. They recovered thousands of head of stolen livestock and spent months on the trail of horse thieves and Indian raiders.

Thirteen enlisted men and four regiments earned the Medal of Honor by the end of the Indian Wars in the 1890s. Many went on to serve in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico against Pancho Villa.

Participated in the Spanish-American War Wikipedia

Participated in the Spanish-American War

By the turn of the 19th century, the Buffalo Soldiers faced increasing racial prejudice. Resentment and anger that developed during Reconstruction in the South drove a wedge between citizens and anyone in a Federal uniform, especially a black man transformed from slave to person of authority. Buffalo Soldiers were stationed outside segregated communities and were subjected to increasing harassment by local police, beatings, and occasional sniper attacks. One example of the increasing tensions between white citizens occurred in Brownsville in 1906 when the newly arrived Twenty-fifth regiment was falsely accused of a murder. When members of the unit could not name the culprits, President Theodore Roosevelt followed recommendations to dishonorably discharge 167 men because of their “conspiracy of silence.” It was 1972 before an inquiry found them innocent, and President Nixon granted the two surviving soldiers honorable discharges––without backpay. When Congress finally passed a tax-free pension the following year, only one Buffalo Soldier survived. He received $25,000 and was honored in ceremonies in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.

Buffalo Soldier regiments were not called to duty during WWI, however, many of the experienced personnel served in other black units. After the Ninth and Tenth cavalries were disbanded, their men served in other WWII units. The Twenty-fifth saw combat in the Pacific before being deactivated in 1949. The Twenty-fourth, the last Buffalo Soldier regiment to see combat, served in the Pacific during WWII and in the opening days of the Korean War, before being deactivated in 1951.

In 1948 President Truman issued an executive order abolishing racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces, but it was another fifteen years before Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara issued a directive obligating military commanders to stop discrimination based on sex or race in facilities used by soldiers or their family.

Buffalo Soldier National Museum in Houston Wikipedia

Buffalo Soldier National Museum in Houston

Did She Survive the Alamo?

Madam Candelaria Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

Madam Candelaria
Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

She lived well past 100—some say 105, others say 113. She claimed to have entered the Alamo to nurse the ailing James Bowie whose family accounts say he was suffering the fevers of typhoid. She even wore a scar on her chin that she said came from a Mexican bayonet as she threw herself across Bowie, pleading that a sick man not be killed. Despite the lack of records to prove her account, most historians believe that Andrea Castañón Villanueva (Madam Candelaria) was actually there during the battle.

She grew up in Laredo and arrived in San Antonio about 1810 where she married Candelario Villanueva. Over the years she was known to have raised four of her own children and more than twenty orphans. She nursed the sick, which added merit to her story of nursing Bowie, and she gave to the poor.

In an account titled “Alamo Massacre” in the San Antonio Light, February 19, 1899, Madam Candelaria said that she and her husband were innkeepers in San Antonio. She said that when David Crockett reached town, residents welcomed him with a big street celebration and then came to her inn for supper, singing, story-telling, and drinking. Madam Candelaria’s descendants claim there is evidence that fandangos, known for good music and dancing, were held at the inn and that Madam Candelaria cooked for the occasions.

Over the years, Madam Candelaria shared her account with all who came to hear, saying that although the men all knew that they were doomed, they clung to hope that General Sam Houston would send reinforcement. She described sand bags piled against the great front door and the constant thunder of cannons during the thirteen-day siege. She said that on the morning of March 6 they heard the degüello (the bugle call signifying no quarter) and they knew what lay in store for them. William Travis was the first to die where he stood along the southeast side of the wall near the present location of the Menger Hotel. Crockett, who had come frequently to the bed of the ailing Bowie to keep him informed, loaded Bowie’s rifle and laid a pair of pistols by his side. Madam Candelaria heard Crockett say, “Boys, aim well,” just before the earth shook with the fierce yelling and the storm of bullets raining down. Crockett fell while trying to reload. Bowie emptied his pistols into the group of Mexicans who stormed into his room, and despite Madam Candelaria’s pleas for his life, he “was butchered” before her eyes.

When the massacre ended and she stepped on the floor of the Alamo, blood ran into her shoes.

In 1891, fifty-five years after the fall of the Alamo and eight years before Madam Candelaria died, the Texas legislature granted her a pension of twelve dollars a month for being a survivor of the Alamo and for her work with smallpox victims in San Antonio.

Richest Little City in Texas

In 1911 Niles City occupied a little more than half a square mile and boasted a population of 508. Located three miles north of Fort Worth’s business center, Niles City included within its bounds the Fort Worth Stock Yards, Swift & Company, Armour & Company, two grain elevators, and a cotton oil company, which placed the city’s property value at $12 million. Six railroads came through, and the Belt Railway owned and operated a roundhouse. Niles City had a town council and enjoyed complete utility service, good roads, and fine schools.

The town was named for Louville Veranus Niles, a successful Boston businessman who reorganized the Fort Worth Packing Company in 1899 and was instrumental in convincing Armour and Swift to locate in his namesake town in 1902.

Niles City claimed no fine homes, only the houses belonging to the plant workers and about seventy rental houses erected by the Fort Worth Stock Yards for its employees. However, the town boasted other important venues including the Live Stock Exchange Building, the horse and mule barns, and the Cowtown Coliseum where the Fat Stock Show offered the first indoor rodeo in the United States. Many big name entertainers performed at the Coliseum including Enrico Caruso who drew a crowd of about 8,000 in 1920. The Swift and Armour packing plants added significantly to the economy, employing about 4,000 workers from Fort Worth and the surrounding area.

All of the wealth packed into such a small piece of real estate proved too tempting for Niles City’s neighbors. In 1921 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing a city of more than 50,000 to incorporate adjacent territory that did not have a population greater than 2,000. To protect itself from annexation, Niles City quickly took in another square mile that included the Gulf Oil Company refinery, its pipeline plant, and two school districts attended by the children of Niles City. The move increased the town’s population to about 2,500 and its taxable property to $30 million.

The legislature passed a second bill raising the population needed to halt annexation to 5,000. In July 1922, Fort Worth held a special election in which voters passed amendments to the city charter allowing Fort Worth to incorporate Niles City. The move took place on August 1, 1923.

Today the Stockyards, the Cowtown Coliseum, and Billy Bob’s world-famous honky-tonk are located on the grounds of the town once known as “the richest little city in Texas.”

Cowtown Coliseum

Cowtown Coliseum