Always interested in mechanics and inventing, Jacob Brodbeck tried––apparently without

Jacob Brodbeck

success––to build a self-winding clock while he was teaching school in his native Württemberg, Germany. In 1847 he arrived in Fredericksburg to serve as the

Original Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg

second teacher at the Vereins Kirche and then taught at other schools in Gillespie County. He married one of his students in 1858, and despite traveling the county as a surveyor and serving as district school supervisor, he and his wife had a dozen children.

Brodbeck’s real dream, which he worked on for twenty years, was to build an “air-ship.” He moved in 1863 to San Antonio to serve as a school inspector and took with him a small model of his invention that consisted of a rudder, wings, and a propeller powered by coiled springs.

When the blockade of Texas ports during the Civil War stopped the shipment of ice blocks cut from the lakes in the North, Brodbeck designed an ice-making machine. By the time his machine was complete in 1869, there were three plants producing artificial ice in San Antonio (and five other ice plants in the United States).

Meantime, Brodbeck attended local fairs to demonstrate the success of his model air-ship and to raise money to build a full-sized model large enough to carry a man. The Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo owns a copy of an article written by Brodbeck and published in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News on August 7, 1865, in which he touts his views: “For more than twenty years I have labored to construct a machine which should enable man to use, like a bird, the atmospheric region as the medium of his travels.” He sought subscriptions, not donations to fund and patent his airship. Stock certificates for the investors have been donated to the library.

Several prominent men invested in the venture and accounts vary as to when and where the “flight” took place. Brodbeck’s machine was equipped with an enclosed space for the “aeronaut,” a propeller for landing on water, a compass, and a barometer that was intended to measure the predicted speed at between 30 and 100 miles per hour. Some claim that on September 10, 1865, in a field east of Luckenbach––yes, the same Luckenbach made famous years later by Willie, Waylon and the boys––the airship rose twelve feet and traveled about 100 feet before the springs completely unwound and the sudden landing destroyed the contraption. Brodbeck, the “aeronaut,” was not seriously hurt.

Thought to be the photo of Brodbeck’s destroyed “air-ship.” Property DRT Library

Brodbeck bust in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park.

Another account of the flight places it in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park where a bust of Brodbeck was placed several years later. And a third rendition claims the flight actually took place in 1868.

Regardless of the locale and the date, Brodbeck was undeterred and set about traveling the United States to raise money for another attempt. He could not persuade audiences to invest in the plan, and he was in Michigan his papers were stolen. The DRT Library holds a typed document that claims to be the transcription and translation from German of the inventor’s detailed specifications of his airship

He returned to his ranch outside Luckenbach and lived for another six years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.


When the United States entered World War II, the top brass, including General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), had doubts about women’s ability to pilot large aircraft. In the summer of 1941 even before the United States entered the war,

Jacqueline Cochran

two famous women aviators Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and test-pilot Nancy Harkness Love had presented separate proposals for women pilots to be used in non-combat missions. Meantime, the British government asked Jackie Cochran to recruit American women pilots to ferry aircraft for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, the first organized group of American women pilots to serve in the war.

Finally, after lobbying by Eleanor Roosevelt and the military’s realization that there were not enough male pilots, in September 1942 Nancy Love gained permission to recruit women for training in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware. Soon, Jackie Cochran returned from Britain to win appointment as director of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) headquartered at Houston’s Municipal Airport (present Hobby Airport). The new recruits were classified as civil service, not military personnel.  Calling themselves “guinea pigs,” the Houston WFTD were housed in motels and private homes and transported to the airfield each day in trailer trucks. They had no life insurance; there were no crash trucks or fire trucks on the airfield, and they had no uniforms. Since there were no facilities for changing clothes they wore the same gear—GI coveralls in the standard size 52, which they called “zoot suits”—to ground school, to drill, to fly, and to march to and from the mess hall.

Training Class, 1943
Photo by WASP member Lois Hailey

When they were moved in early 1943 to better quarters at Avenger Field—the only all-female air base in history—at present Sweetwater, they had to pay their own way and pay for their room and board. If they washed out of the program, they had to pay their fare back home. After the WFTDs and the WAFS merged in August 1943 to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), Jackie Cochran became the director of the program and Nancy Love headed the ferrying division.

Jackie Cochran recruited women from all over the country but excluded black pilots claiming that since the program was new, innovative, and not very popular, including black pilots might endanger the service’s status. More than 25,000 women applied, fewer than 1,900 were accepted. After seven months of military flight training, 1,074 earned their wings to become the first women to fly American military aircraft—a rate comparable to male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command.

The WASPs were all pilots with a minimum of 100 hours when they entered the service, but they were trained to fly “the Army way.” Their program followed the same course as male Army Air Corps pilots except for no gunnery training and very little aerobatic and formation flying. The women received 210 hours of flying time divided equally between PT-17s, BT-13s, and AT-6s.

The WASP flew sixty million miles ferrying 12,650 aircraft from factories to military bases and ports of embarkation. They towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and flew simulated strafing missions, even dropping tear gas and other chemical agents during the training of ground troops. They accepted the very dangerous task of testing damaged airplanes. As part of bomber crew training, WASPs flew the aircraft while male combat trainees practiced as bombardiers, navigators, and gunners.

When the AAF reached a surplus of male pilots toward the end of 1944, it was determined that the WASP was no longer needed. By the time the WASP was disbanded on December 20, 1944, thirty-eight had been killed in accidents—eleven in training and twenty-seven during active duty. Since they were not considered military, the dead were sent home at the family expense and did not receive military honors. Even their coffins could not be draped with the U. S. flag.

In her June 1, 1945 report, Jackie Cochran wrote that WASP safety, accident, and fatality rates compared favorably with male pilot records. Despite her report, WASP records were classified secret and sealed, not to be released for thirty-five years.  Ironically, Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold who had originally been opposed to women pilots, began lobbying in 1975 to have the WASPs recognized as veterans. With the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had served as a WWII ferry pilot, Congress passed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service.

On July 1, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal into law and the following May 10th the 300 surviving WASPs came to the U.S. Capitol to accept the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

July 2009, President Obama signed WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law.

The National WASP WWII Museum is located in Sweetwater near Avenger Field.

He Came to Texas Seeking Revenge

It’s hard to know what’s truth and what’s myth about the adventures of William Alexander Anderson Wallace. He was a nineteen-year-old working in his father’s Virginia fruit orchard in 1835 when he heard that his brother and a cousin had been killed in the Goliad Massacre during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico. That was all the six foot two inch, 240-pound fellow needed to send him to Texas to “take pay out of the Mexicans.” He arrived after Texas had won independence and become a republic, but he wasn’t ready to stop fighting. He tried settling on a farm near La Grange, but the life didn’t suit him. According to his own account, which he embroidered to suit his audience, it was while living on the edge of frontier that he woke to discover that Comanches had raided in the night, taking all his horses except for one old gray mare that had been staked away from the other animals. Wallace jumped on the old horse in pursuit of the Indians. He dismounted in a hickory grove and crawled near their camp where the band of forty-two Indians had started eating his horses. Tying off his pant legs and his shirtsleeves, he filled his clothing with the hickory nuts until his body bulged into a new grotesque size. He claimed to have crawled (how did he manage that?) near the camp, shot one of the Indians, and then stood to his bulging height. The startled Indians quickly regained their composure and began firing arrow after arrow into his hickory nut armor. When Wallace continued standing the Comanches ran for the hills. Now, the story takes on a new level of interest. Wallace untied his clothing, and the hickory nuts tumbled out three inches deep on the ground. He brought his wagon, gathered the nuts, which the arrows had already cracked, and took them home to feed his pigs.

He soon ventured west to the new Texas capital of Austin, which was being carved out of the hills and cedar trees in hostile Indian country. In fact, it was Wallace’s encounter with an Indian who was a lot bigger

Bigfoot Wallace

Bigfoot Wallace

than Wallace that earned him the life-long nickname of “Bigfoot.” He claimed to have earned two hundred dollars a month hewing logs for the new buildings being quickly constructed for the capital. He and a partner went out into Comanche Territory, cut cedar and other logs and floated them down the Colorado River to the new town. During one of his absences, a neighbor discovered that his house had been ransacked and huge moccasin tracks led from his house to Wallace’s home. Since Wallace wore moccasin, the neighbor stormed over accusing Wallace of the robbery. It seems there was a Waco Indian, much taller and much heavier than Wallace who also wore moccasins. Everyone called him Chief Bigfoot because his foot measured over fourteen inches and his big toe protruded even further. To calm the neighbor, Wallace took him home and placed his own foot in the giant prints to prove that Wallace was not the guilty party. Wallace’s roommate, William Fox, thought the encounter so funny that he began calling Wallace “Bigfoot,” a moniker that lasted the rest of his life. Ironically, the next year Chief Bigfoot killed and scalped William Fox. Wallace tried to take revenge, but the giant Indian survived Wallace’s attack.

After Bigfoot Wallace saw the last buffalo run down Austin’s Congress Avenue, he decided the capital was getting to crowded and moved on to San Antonio, which lay on the extreme edge of civilization. He joined local residents in their fight against encroaching Indians and Mexicans who, having not accepted Texas independence, made forays into the new country as far north as San Antonio. In 1842, after another Mexican raid of San Antonio, Bigfoot Wallace joined the Somervell and Mier expeditions, which were intended to put a stop to the Mexican incursions. Some of the volunteers turned back, deciding their Texas force was not large enough to counter the power of the Mexican Army. Bigfoot Wallace was among the 300 who determined to continue into Mexico. A strong Mexican force at Mier promptly defeated them and began marching them to Perote Prison in Vera Cruz. The prisoners tried escaping into the Mexican desert, but were quickly found and under orders from Santa Anna, were sentenced to a firing squad. Army officials convinced Santa Anna to execute only every tenth man, and to accomplish that plan, seventeen black beans were placed in a jar of white beans. The unlucky seventeen who drew a black bean were quickly shot. Bigfoot Wallace drew a gray bean, and the Mexican officer decided to classify Wallace as one of the lucky white bean drawers. Instead of a quick death, he and the other fortunate men were marched to Perote Prison where they remained in dungeons for two years before being released.

Bigfoot Wallace and his Gun

Bigfoot Wallace and his Gun

Bigfoot Wallace had not gotten the urge to fight out of his system. Upon returning to San Antonio he joined Jack Hayes’ Texas Rangers in the Mexican-American War and when it ended in 1848, he served as a captain of his own ranger company, fighting border bandits and Indians. They were known for forcing confessions, hanging those they believed were guilty, and leaving the dangling bodies as a warning to other outlaws. One of his ranger buddies, Creed Taylor, complained of constantly loosing his stock to bandits and Indian raids. When a Mexican raider known as Vidal and his gang stole a bunch of Taylor’s horses, Bigfoot and his rangers went after the Vidal gang. They found them asleep and by the time the fracas ended, all the bandits were dead. That’s when Bigfoot and his rangers decided to make an example of Vidal. They beheaded him, stuffed his head in his sombrero and secured it to his saddle pummel. They tied Vidal’s body in his saddle, mounted it on one of the stolen horses, and sent the horse off in a run. The vision on a dark night of a body swaying wildly on the back of the galloping black stallion with the gruesome head hanging in plain sight, may not have stopped horse thieves, but it scared so many people that as late as 1900, people from Mexico to New Mexico to Texas were claiming to have seen El Muerto: The Texas Headless Horseman.

Bigfoot Wallace’s next encounter with danger came when he began freighting mail over the 600-mile route from San Antonio to El Paso. A month of hard riding was required to get through the Texas desert and cross the old Comanche Trail leading into Mexico. Although killing or wounding the fearless fighter would have been a feather for any warrior, Bigfoot managed to make the trips, suffering only one badly shot up mail coach. He claimed that on one occasion he lost his mules to Indians and had to walk all the way to El Paso. Just before reaching town, he stopped at a Mexican house, where he ate twenty-seven eggs, then went on into town and had a “full meal.”

The Civil War brought new challenges for Bigfoot Wallace. He did not agree with secession, but refused to abandon his own people. Instead, he spent the war guarding the frontier settlements against Comanche raids.

Bigfoot Wallace never married, and he spent his later years in Frio County in a village he founded named Bigfoot. He welcomed visitors and delighted in regaling them with

Replica of Wallace home in Bigfoort

Replica of Wallace home in Bigfoort

his stories of life on the Texas frontier. He told his friend and novelist John C. Duval in The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter that he believed his account (with the Mexicans) had been settled. Soon after his death on January 7, 1899, the Texas legislature appropriated money to move his body to the State Cemetery in Austin.

The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter by John C. Duval

The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter by John C. Duval

Lindbergh’s Texas Visits

Charles Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh

In 1923, before Charles Lindbergh became famous, like all barnstormers of his day, he wanted to boast that he had flown in Texas.  When he bought his first World War I surplus Jenny in Georgia, he flew it to Texarkana.  The following year, on a trip to California, Lindbergh mistook the Nueces River for the Rio Grande and by the time he discovered his error he had to land in a sheep pasture outside Camp Wood, Texas, about ninety-miles west of San Antonio.  The pasture proved too small for a takeoff with both Lindbergh and his partner Leon Klink in the cockpit.  “Slim,” as Camp Wood residents called Lindbergh, flew the plane into town and landed on the town square.  The takeoff required fitting the forty-four-foot wingspan of the Canuck (Canadian version of the Jenny) between telephone poles spread only forty-eight feet apart.  All went well until one wheel dropped into a rut in the street causing the plane to swing around, strike a pole, and crash into a hardware store.  No one was injured and the storekeeper refused payment for damages.  After a week of hosting the young aviators while they repaired their plane, the town took a real liking to the pair, especially the quiet and courteous Lindbergh.

Two weeks after his Camp Wood experience, Lindbergh became a U.S. Air Service Cadet at Brooks Field in San Antonio, completing his advanced flight training at nearby Kelly Field in 1925.  Lindbergh became a world-famous aviation hero by making the first solo flight, May 20-21, 1927, aboard his Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field in Garden City, New York, to Le Bourget Field in Paris.

Spirit of St. LouisNational Air & Space Museum, Wash. D.C.

Spirit of St. Louis
National Air & Space Museum, Wash. D.C.

The “Lindbergh Boom” in aviation began as aircraft industry stocks rose and interest in flying skyrocketed.  Lindbergh’s fame helped him promote commercial aviation.  When Transcontinental Air Transport hired him to select its aircraft, routes and equipment, he returned to Texas to survey the first commercial transcontinental air route through Amarillo.  On March 10, 1929, he came to Texas again when he flew the inaugural flight for the U.S.-Mexican airmail from Brownsville to Mexico City via Tampico.  Somewhere along the route several bags of mail went missing for a month causing the philatelic world of stamp collectors to refer to the adventure as the “Lost Mail Flight.”


Residents in the East Texas town of Pittsburg house in the local museum a full-size replica of the Ezekiel Airship, which many old timers declare flew almost a year before the Wright brother’s claim to fame at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Burrell Cannon, a mechanical genius and part-time Baptist preacher, inspired by the first and tenth chapters of Ezekiel in which the prophet writes of angelic vehicles composed of wheels within wheels, worked over twenty years building models and improving his design for a flying machine.  In 1901, Cannon convinced Pittsburg businessmen to establish the Ezekiel Airship Manufacturing Company and issue stock for twenty thousand dollars to underwrite the project.

Employees of the Pittsburg Foundry and Machine Company built the airship between March and October 1902.  Its engine turned four sets of paddles, which powered large, fabric-covered wings—incorporating a compulsion force similar to a helicopter.

Local residents claim seeing the airship fly for about 160 feet at a height of ten to twelve feet. A former machine shop worker admitted that one Sunday, when Cannon and the other investors were out of town, the employees took the plane out to the field across from the shop and he flew it.  All the conspirators, fearing the loss of their jobs, made a pact not to tell anyone.  If the story is true, it explains why no newspaper coverage exists and why officials of the company denied the flight.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made their famous flight.

The next year investors loaded the Ezekiel on a flatbed railroad car for a trip to the St. Louis World’s Fair.  As the train neared Texarkana, a fierce storm blew the airship off the railcar and destroyed it.

The Reverend Cannon did not attempt another flight until 1913 in Chicago when his new craft flew only a few feet, hit a telephone pole, and received damage to the bottom of the ship. The Reverend, declaring God had not willed the airship to fly, promptly gave up the project.

A Texas Historical Marker tells the story in Pittsburg at Fulton and South Market streets beside the railroad tracks.