Western Trips

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cattle Brands in the American West

cowboys branding cattle
Cattle branding, circa 1888

There was a time when livestock grazed on the plains before the erection of fences. At the same time there were many cattle raisers and the livestock naturally became interspersed. The need to identify whose cattle belonged to whom when it came time to drive them to market was obviously essential.

A cattle brand is a unique marking placed on each individual animal that identifies it's owner. The story of cattle branding is not one which originated in North America. Just as with the cattle themselves, the process of cattle branding was brought over to North America by the Spaniards. The story goes back to the vaqueros, the Spanish cowboys, who played a big part in the Spaniards exploration and settlement of the American southwest.

Some Excellent Venues in Texas to Visit

If you're traveling in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or on a Texas vacation, there are several excellent museums which tell the story of cattle branding. One is in Denton Texas just north of Dallas. This is the Courthouse-On-The-Square Museum, 110 W. Hickory, Denton Texas.

The other museum which tells much about the story, use and methods of livestock branding is the Cattle Raisers Museum, 1301 West 7th St. in Fort Worth Texas. This Fort Worth museum originally opened in 1980 and in 2009 was relocated to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History within Fort Worth's historic cultural district. The museum's mission is to increase the awareness of our country's ranching heritage.

History of Branding Cattle

The practice of branding cattle became widespread in nations like Spain which had large regions for cattle grazing. When the Spaniards traveled to the North American continent and colonized New Spain (present day Mexico), they brought with them both livestock and the methods they used to identify them. It should be noted that although the Spaniards brought cattle branding to North America, it was not they who actually invented the process. Historians have found scenes of oxen being branded on hieroglyphics on Egyptian tombs as early as 2,700 BC.

spanish vaquero
Vaquero painting, circa 1830, public domain
During these early time, the cattle brand was placed on the animal by heating an iron rod in a fire and then burning it on the animals hide. The iron rod had a distinctive diagram or design which denoted what ranch owned that particular animal. Again, this was the era of the open range and without branding it would be almost impossible to intermingle cattle prior to the roundup and the drive to market.

Like many things, progress in the methodology of branding cattle developed. While some ranches still heat branding irons in a fire; others use an electric branding iron or electric sources to heat a traditional branding iron. The branding rod is only applied long enough to burn away the animal's hair and leave a permanent mark. If it's applied too long it can cause a wound and the animal could get an infection. The amount of time needed to successfully put on the brand depends on the animal's skin thickness. Horses, for example, have thinner skin and the application is much shorter than with a steer. A proper brand should be the color of saddle leather when the brand is removed. Rocking the branding iron during the process will help insure uniformity on all areas of the brand.According to the South Dakota State Brand Board "Good brands can be achieved by using properly heated irons. The iron, when heated properly, should appear a light ash color. Red hot irons should not be used. Acids and other branding fluids are not to be used for branding livestock. Apply the iron with a light pressure and remove it when the animal moves. Trace the brand until it appears like new boot leather.According to most branding experts, the most recommended kind of hot branding iron should be of quarter-inch iron made to the desired shape. Small cattle should be branded with irons about 3″ tall and larger adult stock can be about 4.”

Another method for livestock branding is freezing. Freeze branding is now in much use by ranchers. When super-cold or chilled branding irons are applied to the hide of the animal, the pigment-producing cells are destroyed or altered. The hair that grows back after this application is white in color. Although this method is not totally foolproof, it does have distinct advantages. The freeze method of cattle branding leaves a more legible mark as opposed to the hot branding iron. This method also causes less damage to the animal's hide. The refrigerant is usually dry ice. When using this method, the animal to be branded must be securely restrained in a squeeze chute or what is called a headgate. Calves are usually thrown on the ground on their sides. The cattle brand applied by freeze branding also goes through several changes immediately after application. The brand will initially disappear within seconds and then it will appear puffy. For some time it may be difficult to even see but then after a period of about three to four weeks the cattle brand will take on a permanent appearance.

Modern Methods of Cattle Branding

branding irons
Branding irons, courtesy NPS
 Another method employed are electrically heated branding irons. This is certainly a method unavailable to the Spanish vaqueros. The electric branding iron on the market today will heat up in about ninety seconds. The electric cattle branding iron maintains consistent heat for continuous branding for as long as it is plugged in. Electric branding irons employ an electric heating element to heat a branding iron to the desired heat in much the same way an electric toaster operates. Any outlet with a 110 volt power source will be sufficient for the use of electric branding irons, with a range in wattage depending on the length of the cord.

Propane branders are yet another method used. These units of course need no other power source such as electricity but are heated using propane gas. Propane branders heat up much more quicker and to higher temperatures than other types of branders and because of this requires more caution. Branding heads with interchangeable characters are used for propane branders. One big advantage of the propane method of cattle branding is that it is very portable.

The Rustler's Running Iron

The explanation of cattle branding wouldn't be complete without some mention of cattle rustlers and how they could alter livestock brands. It's an interesting fact that in the very early west, cattle rustling was widespread and almost accepted as a way for someone to build his herd. It's also a fact that many cattle ranchers even got their start in this way. Stealing an unbranded calf not following it's mother was not even considered rustling. But the large cattle barons, this included the massive XIT Ranch in the Texas panhandle region, decided it was costing them a lot of money and from that point on cattle rustling was seen as a very serious crime.

This is where the two types of branding irons entered the picture. One was the stamp iron that included the full brand and then there was the running iron which employed a hooked tip that could be used to change or make any type of brand. The crime of rustling was so serious in the west that someone being caught in the possession of a running iron could be strung up on the nearest tree. In fact, vigilante parties were a common thing in the old west.

The Story of Cattle Kate

cattle kate
Ellen Liddy Watson
There is even a story about a woman nicknamed "Cattle Kate" who was accused (probably not correctly) as being a rustler. Her real name was Ellen Liddy Watson and her misfortune was that she got into huge squabbles with cattlemen living adjacent to her homestead.

The cattlemen, part of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, began fencing in parts of her land and then in 1889 a range detective from one of the ranches accused she and a male friend of taking some of their branded cattle.

What was initially planned as an arrest turned ugly when a group took both Ellen and her close friend Jim Averill and lynched both. Six men were arrested for the lynching but never made it to trial because rampant witness intimidation. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association were also involved in the much chronicled Johnson County War where their hired guns planned a raid on suspected rustlers near present day Buffalo Wyoming.

Although cattle rustling goes on even today, when the open plains began to be fenced in with the arrival of settlers, the epidemic proportions of rustling in the old west days decreased considerably.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nimitz National Museum of the Pacific War / Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas, in the middle of the beautiful Texas Hill Country, is one of the most popular stops for those on Texas vacations. Fredericksburg TX is a very unique and historic location with excellent restaurants (German fare is a big draw), very beautiful and serene bed and breakfast lodgings and in addition to this it is the home of the Admiral Chester Nimitz Pacific War Museum.

nimitz museum The Nimitz Museum is truly one of a kind and it draws thousands of people annually.

Chester W. Nimitz, who guided the U.S. Naval Pacific Theater World War Two effort, was born and grew up in Fredericksburg Texas. Chester's father died prior to his birth and his grandfather, Charles Nimitz, became his mentor while growing up. It so happened that Nimitz's grandfather had also been a seaman in the German Merchant Marine.

Chester tried unsuccessfully to enter West Point but was fortunate enough to win an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. As it turned out, Chester did extremely well at the naval Academy, graduating in 1905 number seven in a class of one hundred and forty-four. He was then required to serve two years at sea and during this time served aboard the USS Ohio and the USS Baltimore, mostly in the Orient. After being promoted to lieutenant in 1910, Nimitz commanded several early submarines before being named Commander, 3rd Submarine Division, Atlantic Torpedo Fleet in October 1911.

Early Navy Years and World War One

national museum of the pacific warChester Nimitz was involved in a rare accident when he lost part of his right ring finger in a demonstration of a diesel engine on the USS Maumee. He actually escaped further injury when his Naval Academy class ring jammed the engine's gears.

When he returned to duty after the accident, he was made the USS Maumee's executive officer and engineer when it was placed in service in October 1916. When the United States entered World War One, Chester Nimitz, at the new rank of Lt. Commander, returned to the submarine fleet as an aide to Rear Admiral Samuel S. Robinson, commander of the US Atlantic Fleet's submarine force. Eventually, Nimitz became Admiral Robinson's chief of staff.

The Interwar Years

During the interwar years Nimitz moved up steadily in the ranks. He served in Washington as assistant chief of the Navy Bureau of Navigation. After he moved up to the rank of rear admiral, Nimitz commanded a cruiser division. He then took command of a battleship division. In 1939 he relocated back to Washington as chief of the Navy Bureau of Navigation and was in that position when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As a result, Chester Nimitz ended up replacing Admiral Husband Kimmel as commander-in-chief of the entire Pacific fleet and relocated to Pearl Harbor. He worked closely with General Douglas MacArthur who was directing the assaults on the Philippines.

The War Years

anti aircraft gun
When the U.S. went to war against Japan and with the backdrop of Pearl Harbor, America needed a moral boost. Adm Nimitz was fortunate that during the Pearl Harbor attack the aircraft carriers were at sea. Also the Pearl Harbor submarine base was spared during the attack.

Chester Nimitz has been credited with supervising some of the early successes the U.S. enjoyed such as James Doolittle's raids on Japan via a flight carrier as well as the victories in the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. At Midway, Japan lost all four of her aircraft carriers engaged in that battle. The Battle of Midway of course is another entire story in itself.

Strategically, there were some differences between Nimitz and General DouglasMacArthur. The differences essentially were whether the Navy would bypass Manila on the way to attack the Japanese area north of Luzon. Admiral Nimitz wanted to go past Manila and MacArthur was determined to retake the Philippines first before any advancement to the north be made. It's interesting to note that President Roosevelt himself entered the discussion with the hopes of having the two agree on a joint effort. Roosevelt was successful and it was agreed that at least the capital of Manila would be retaken from the Japanese.

This is when planning for the Battle of Leyte Gulf was formulated and represented MacArthur's thrust back into the Philippines. Moving from island to island, the Allied troops used each as a base for capturing the next. They did this with the intent of forcing Japan back to the home islands and if necessary to use the islands as a base to attack the home islands themselves. Although two very detailed plans were drawn up for a land invasion of Japan, the invasion was averted only by the dropping of the two atomic bombs, and even after that destruction there was great division within the Japanese military on whether to surrender or not. In the end, Emperor Hirohito's decision to surrender prevailed.

nimitz museum
Chester W. Nimitz was present to sign for the United States during the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. When the war finally ended, Adm Chester W. Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations, and in several civic positions. On 15 December 1947, Admiral Chester Nimitz retired from office of Chief of Naval Operations. It was reported that Nimitz made it known at the time of his promotion in 1945 that he would serve in the CNO position for only two years. Below is a list of commendations received by Adm Chester W. Nimitz during his service with the U.S. Navy.

Silver Star - Letter of Commendation
23 Nov 1920
Citation Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Service Medal - citation signed by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt
circa 1942
Distinguished Service Medal - citation by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt
circa 1942
Distinguished Service Medal - citation
Gold Star - citation signed by Pres. Harry Truman
circa 1945
Distinguished Service Medal - certificate
14 Oct 1946
Distinguished Service Medal - citation signed by Pres. Harry Truman
circa 1947
Distinguished Service Medal - certificate

The National Museum of the Pacific War

5 Feb 1948

The mission of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg Texas as stated on their website is "dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the Pacific Theater of WWII in order that the sacrifices of those who contributed to our victory may never be forgotten".

The museum chronicles the story of Japan's rise in military power, the beginning of World War Two in the Pacific and the advance of the Allied military to final victory in 1945. There are also very interesting exhibits regarding the home front and the war's effect on both Texas and the nation. Many artifacts are on display including newspaper articles, and mementos.

seabees plaqueMuch information concerning individuals and their part in the war effort is also on display. The exhibition chronicles the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in September 1945 and includes the story of the American POW's, the later Japanese war crime trials and of course the heroes who were recipients of the Medal of Honor in the Pacific Theater.

Chester W. Nimitz is truly one of the largest names in United States Navy history. Adm Nimitz was further honored with the naming of CVN 68, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier which went into service in 1975.

As of 2010, the USS Nimitz home port was Everett Washington. I think that anyone visiting this very unique museum will find it extremely interesting. It's really a must visit when on a Texas Hill Country vacation or weekend get away. Fredericksburg Texas is located about 90 miles west of Austin Texas and about 70 miles north of San Antonio. You may also be interested in learning about the large Texas German migration to the Fredericksburg area during the mid 1800's.

Another good story and a great stop when you're visiting the San Francisco area is the USS Hornet which is a floating museum in Alameda California. Lots of interesting archives and aircraft on display. Also the Liberty Ship USS Jeremiah O'Brien docked at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.

Chester W. Nimitz and his wife eventually moved to Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, between San Francisco and Oakland and home of the Treasure Island Naval Base. Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz passed away at his home on Treasure Island on February 20, 1966 at the age of eighty. He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno, just south of San Francisco. He was the last surviving five-star admiral.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Sioux Leader Crazy Horse / Death at Fort Robinson

fort robinson nebraska
Main Post, Fort Robinson
There are many interesting things to do in Nebraska and stopping by at old Fort Robinson is one of them. Fort Robinson is located in the far northwest corner of Nebraska, just west of the town of Crawford. Today, this site is a State Historic Park filled with old west history. If you find yourself on a Nebraska vacation or on a trip to the general area, Fort Robinson is a good side trip to make and excellent for a family vacation. There are a lot of reasons for this. Fort Robinson had the distinction of being located very near to the epicenter of the Indian War fighting. It was also at the site of the 1879 Cheyenne outbreak and it was at Fort Robinson that the famed Sioux leader Crazy Horse was slain in 1877. There was a lot of history made at Fort Robinson and the site is excellently preserved and exhibited. Fort Robinson State Park is comprised of over 20,000 scenic acres and has it's own buffalo herd within it's boundaries. Fort Robinson was also one of the country's longest operating forts, starting during the Indian Wars and ending after World War Two. During the war what even used to house German POW's. The museum at the fort is operated by the Nebraska Historical Society. Visitors to Fort Robinson can also begin their visit with a fun horse drawn tour. It's a beautiful and very historic part of our country and makes a good family vacation destination or side trip.

Who was Crazy Horse? Historians pretty much all agree that the Sioux leader Crazy Horse played an active role in the 1876 defeat of George Armstrong Custer and his regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Some have contended that Crazy Horse may have led a flank assault on the troopers and that this might have sealed Custer's fate. Whatever the actual involvement Crazy Horse had in that battle, it was an important one and it handed the army it's biggest single defeat to that date. Crazy Horse made his name among his fellow warriors as being one of the fiercest fighters against white settlement in the West. Many historians also place a young Crazy Horse at the site of the Fetterman Massacre which occurred just about a mile outside of Wyoming's Fort Phil Kearny in 1866. That was during Red Cloud's War against the troops, gold prospectors and settlers traveling on the old Bozeman Trail. Red Cloud's War in which Crazy Horse was very involved in was the Sioux Indian's only "war victory" over the U.S. military in as much as the three military posts along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned per the peace treaty between the Sioux and the U.S. Government. The building of the forts along that trail which crossed the heart of Sioux territory was the primary reason Chief Red Cloud went to war.

Crazy Horse was thought to have been born in 1840. Some biographers have pointed to 1838 however 1840 is probably more accurate. His parents were Lakota Sioux and his father was also named Crazy Horse. The tale is that when Crazy Horse grew up his father transferred his name to his son and found another one for himself. An interesting side note concerns possible photos of Crazy Horse. There is some disagreement as to the authenticity of purported pictures of Crazy Horse since his biography states that he didn't allow photographs to be taken of him. Sketches drawn of him at the time may be more accurate.

fort robinson buildings
Fort Robinson restored structures
During the Sioux War of 1876-77 and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, many of the Sioux and Northern Cheyennes scattered all around Montana, Wyoming as well as into the Dakotas. Some decided to return to the reservations. Sitting Bull and about 200 of his followers fled to Canada. Crazy Horse remained in the area. Crazy Horse held out during the remainder of 1876 and into 1877. Times were very tough since the buffalo had largely been driven away and the winter season took it's toll. At the same time Crazy Horse and his Sioux and Cheyenne brothers really had no idea what the army had in mind although the military had a habit of trying to attack during the winter months when Indian ponies were considered weak and the Indians themselves tended to group together. Finally in July of 1877 Crazy Horse worked out an agreement to surrender at Fort Robinson with a few thousand others. Crazy Horse was informed that he could discuss grievances at the fort and in his thinking felt that things could be worked out.

surrender of crazy horse
Drawing depicting Crazy Horse surrender
One of the things that Crazy Horse requested after his surrender was an agency on Beaver Creek. He desired his own agency. This was west of the Black Hills. General George Crook was not amenable to the request and also on a prior promise to allow the Indians out for a summer buffalo hunt. At the same time the military brass wanted to send Crazy Horse to Washington D.C to show that he was now under the custody of the army and serve as good publicity for the army. Crazy Horse refused, especially because of General Crook's refusal on his demands. The army supposedly also wanted Crazy Horse to fight against the Nez Perce which was the military's latest conflict. Again, Crazy Horse refused.

What happened next is explained in a few slightly different versions. Similar to many historic events that occurred so long ago, there were a few different versions. The result of the September 5, 1877 attempted arrest of Crazy Horse is however not in dispute. During this action he was stabbed by a bayonet and died later that night at Fort Robinson. The relations between Crazy Horse and General Crook were deteriorating for some time due to the circumstances explained above. In addition, a rumor (not necessarily credible) spread that Crazy Horse wanted to kill Crook whenever they were scheduled to meet. Another apparent miscommunication occurred when it was falsely translated to Crook that Crazy Horse would "go north and fight until there was not a white man left". Crazy Horse had departed Fort Robinson a few days earlier in September because his wife was ailing and he wanted her to be closer to his relatives. When he returned to Fort Robinson he was facing arrest per orders of General Crook. Based on many things Crook seemed to have had enough and wanted Crazy Horse locked up in the guard house. The story also is that there was concern among the military that Crazy Horse might bolt from the reservation and try to lead another rebellion. How plausible that scenario would have been is a matter of debate. As was typical for the times, his arrest was carried out by both the Indian police and the army working together. Crazy Horse resisted the arrest attempt and allegedly grabbed a knife and cut the hand of one of the Indian police. In a way, the circumstances were a bit similar to what happened to Sitting Bull years later at the Standing Rock Agency. It was an attempted arrest that got out of control.

The official story is that the fatal stabbing came from a bayonet wielded by a forty-seven year old army private named William Gentles. The tale is that Gentles stabbed Crazy Horse twice and missed on the third attempt. Crazy Horse slumped to the ground and was dying. He was eventually take to the adjutant's office and refused to be laid on the cot. He was laid on the floor, the fort doctor gave him a few shots of morphine, and with his father present at his side, Crazy Horse died at about 11:30 that night. His remains were turned over to his parents the next morning and eventually were buried at an undisclosed location after the reservation was relocated. The exact site of where Crazy Horse is buried remains unknown to this very day although historians have identified four probable locations.

fort robinson nebraska sign
Fort Robinson plaque
Another excellent travel stop in addition to Fort Robinson while exploring the life of Crazy Horse is the memorial  being carved into granite in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This project, which is quite a unique undertaking, was begun in 1948 by a Polish-American sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski who was chosen by a group of Lakota elders although there still persists to this day a degree of controversy about the project. There are some who contend that the building of the granite Crazy Horse monument is counter to what the life of Crazy Horse stood for and oppose it. Regardless, the work is still going on. Korczak could have been chosen since he had some experience in this type of undertaking having worked on the nearby Mount Rushmore project in 1924.

When the Crazy Horse Monument is finally completed, the dimensions should be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. When Korczak passed away in 1982 his family continued on with the project. Today, Korczak's grandchildren are involved. A good deal of the work now involves dynamite blasting. Nobody really knows when this massive monument to Crazy Horse will be completed. What is known is that if and when the sculpture is finally completed it would probably be the largest of it's kind in the world.

statue of general george crook
Statue of General George Crook
In addition to the work on the Chief Crazy Horse memorial, Korczak and his family also built the Indian Museum of North America at the site. The family was involved with all aspects of the construction. Almost all of the museum collection has been donated by Native Americans and non-Natives. The Indian Museum of North America is a very good resource for both Indian and non-Indian students. Over fifty years after the project began, Korczak's family continues his tradition and work. The museum was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1973. The site is 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. There are several good Custer South Dakota lodging choices when you plan your trip to the Crazy Horse Monument and a visit to the Indian Museum of North America. I think you'll find this trip one of the more unique concerning the Sioux and a family vacation to remember.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Gruene Texas on the Old Austin to San Antonio Stage Route

gristmill restaurant in gruene texas
Gristmill Restaurant
Gruene Texas is one of those old historic Texas towns that seems to get more popular as each year goes by. For people passing through the state on a Texas vacation, Gruene just happens to be located in a very well traveled part of the state.

If you're considering a 2014 Texas vacation to the Hill Country you may want to make a note to check on the upcoming summer dates for the Old Gruene Market Days. This annual event takes place in July and features over one-hundred vendors displaying unique crafted items and a great selection of Texas packaged food. It's one of the biggest events in Gruene all year and makes for a fun side trip.

In The Texas Hill Country

A trip to Gruene makes a good companion trip to several other nearby Hill Country towns such as Fredericksburg Texas, Luckenbach Texas and Wimberley Texas. You'll find many excellent New Braunfels hotels and hotels in Gruene at all price ranges. You'll also want to check out the Gruene Mansion Inn which is one of the best bed and breakfast in Texas. One restaurant for sure to check out in Gruene is the Gristmill. I've been there several times and it's excellent. It's one of the most popular restaurants in town.

The town of Gruene (known as Goodwin until the 1880's)  is only a couple of miles north of New Braunfels which, among other things, is home to the original Schlitterbahn Water Park. Schlitterbahn attracts thousands of tourists yearly from Texas and all the surrounding states.

Gruene Texas is also located on the Guadalupe River which is a summer mecca for river rafting enthusiasts. Also, about 30 miles south of Gruene and New Braunfels is the Natural Bridge Caverns attraction which is a fascinating stop. This area of Texas is really filled with many historic towns and plenty of things to do that are family oriented.

Founded in 1872

gruene hall
Gruene Hall
Gruene Texas was founded in 1872 by Heinrich D. Gruene who purchased and settled on 6,000 acres three miles north of New Braunfels. This area of south central Texas was home to a great number of German immigrants.

\Heinrich Gruene planted cotton and in 1878 opened a general store to sell to the families who were sharecropping on his land.

The small settlement of Gruene was greatly benefited by the fact that it was on the Austin to San Antonio stage route. Not a small benefit at all in the 1800's. back then your traveling options were to walk, ride a horse or take a stage coach.

After the end of the Civil War hundreds of mail contracts for Texas routes were given out. Many were for relatively short routes between small towns, and there was stage service to nearly every Texas community. Prior to the railroads, the stage lines carried the mail and after the railroad came through the area stages were still used to ferry people to the rail heads. 

In the 1880's the International-Great Northern Railroad had it's line run through Gruene and this was about the time the town changed it's name from Goodwin to Gruene in a move to honor the town's founder. When the railroad ran through Gruene, that marked the towns highpoint. The town grew and prospered, mostly through it's massive crop of cotton along with financial and shipping services. In the year 1900, Gruene was a bustling small town.

The Twentieth Century

gruene texas bed and breakfast
Gruene Mansion Inn
The 1920's however were not kind to Gruene. The boll weevil blight destroyed it's cotton crop and after that the town entered the Great Depression of the 1930's. Things didn't get better.

After World War Two the highways pretty much bypassed the town and the Interstate highway system place I-35 about three miles east of the town center. The town was essentially abandoned by 1950.

Beginning in the 1970's all of this started to change. Tourism in Texas was growing.  A restoration effort of area structures began. This included one of the most historic structures in the town today, Gruene Hall and the old mercantile store once run by Heinrich Gruene.

The Gruene Hall claims to be "the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas." The hall was built in 1880 and virtually served as the social center of the small town. When you visit Gruene Hall today you will see quite an active entertainment venue. Over the years Gruene Hall has hosted performers such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, George Strait and many others. There is now a Gruene music genre and you can now enjoy the Annual Gruene Music and Wine Festival. This is a fun festival celebrating everything that's Texas. The Gruene Music and Wine Festival features wine tastings, live music, door prizes, a catered dinner, silent auction, handmade crafts and accessories market, specialty beer tastings and lots more.

When you visit Gruene today lodging choices include some very quaint B & B's. A fine selection of restaurants are available and the summer months promise a good amount of fun events. A side trip to Gruene goes real well with a visit to San Antonio  with it's unique River Walk area and of course the historic Alamo. In the other direction, driving north from Gruene, you have the Texas State Capitol in Austin along with it's great dining choices and the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below...

Dripping Springs Texas Frontier Settlement 

Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mill / San Antonio

Directions to Gruene Texas

guadalupe river in gruene texas
Guadalupe River in Gruene
Driving south on Interstate-35 from the Austin area, you would want to exit at Exit 191 and dive west about 3 miles and follow the signs. Gruene is located 46 miles south of Austin Texas.

Two websites that will give you up to date information regarding events in Gruene Texas and choices of accommodations as well as information about nearby New Braunfels Texas are...

(Article and phtos copyright Western Trips)




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Singing Cowboys of the American West

One of the most colorful entertainment genres that grew out of the combination of  motion pictures and radio was that of the "singing cowboy". Today, many of the younger generation may not have had the experience of watching the old B-Movie westerns of the 1940's and 1950's. Cowboy singing today is not seen in too many movies or television shows. When the motion picture "talkies" began in the late 1920's it was the perfect medium for the singing cowboy. Westerns had been made into movies, although quite short in length, from as far back as 1900 thanks to the innovation of Thomas A. Edison. In fact, Edison was one of the very first movie studios with his small make shift building in New Jersey.

singing cowboy recording
Early Cowboy hit song
The U.S. Census Bureau officially declared the end of the American western frontier in 1890 and. there may be no other entertainment figure that is so identified with the old American frontier than that of the "singing cowboy". What is very interesting with this subject is where it derived from and  what contributed to it's growth. The two names that immediately come to mind are Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Gene Autry

When you're enjoying a southern California vacation and looking for fun things to do in Los Angeles, add the Autry National Center of the American West to your LA vacation planner. The museum formed in 2003 by the merger of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum.

The Autry National Center of the American West, located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles , has over half a million art pieces and artifacts which includes the large collection from the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. The merger of these museums helped make this institution one of  the largest and most significant in the United States. If you want to learn more about this topic along with the overall subject of the cowboy and the American West then there is probably no better place in the the western U.S. than the Autry National Center of the American West.

The Autry National Center represents a unique niche of Western history and culture. It is the only museum of its kind located in a major city and the only museum that combines multiple Native American perspectives with Western histories and cultures in an interconnected way.

The Singing Cowboys, Autry and Rogers

gene autry
Gene Autry and the Pinafores, 1948
The "singing cowboys" were quite an American entertainment sensation. It's interesting to note some of the similarities between Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Both had a talent for singing and both originally found a wide outlet for that talent via radio. In the case of Roy Rogers, originally from Ohio, he was probably best known during the early days with his association with the western singling group, "Sons of the Pioneers".

Gene Autry, who grew up in Oklahoma and played the guitar quite well, was influenced by Will Rogers to take his musical talent commercial and seek a recording contract.

While trying to secure the recording contract Gene Autry did a lot of singing on the radio just as Roy Rogers did. Eventually, in 1929 Autry signed a contract with Columbia Records. Autry produced a lot of recordings and was heard across the country on radio, most notably a four year stint on WLS radio in Chicago with the program "National Barn Dance". WLS was and is one of those high power radio stations that in the evening hours could reach a good part of the U.S. Gene Autry's popularity grew from there and he ended up with his own radio show. Autry's first real hit was in 1932 with "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine".

Gene Autry made his film debut as a singing cowboy in 1934 with the movie, "In Old Santa Fe". This was followed in 1935 with the starring role in the twelve part series, "The Phantom Empire". Through 1940 Gene Autry made a total of forty-four B-Movie westerns for Republic Pictures. Autry is recognized as the first singing cowboy in films with Roy Rogers being the second. Actually, there were several polls taken from the late 1930's to the early 1950's in regards to Autry and Rogers. Gene Autry was the top singing cowboy prior to World War Two and Roy Rogers had the distinction in most polls after the war.

After moving to southern California to nurture his singing career, Roy Rogers appeared in his first motion picture as one of the singing cowboys in 1935 and made films regularly after that. He appeared in his first film with his real name of Leonard Slye. Rogers even appeared as a singing cowboy in a Gene Autry movie under his real name of Slye. The Roy Rogers name was developed for Leonard Slye by Republic Pictures during a time that Gene Autry was in a contract dispute with the studio.

The Move to Television

The development of television obviously gave both of these singing cowboy stars another medium in which to entertain the public. The Gene Autry Show aired on CBS from 1950 to 1956. Gene and his famous horse Champion were featured weekly in a variety of roles. Each week Autry portrayed a different character, everything from a common ranch hand to a sheriff. The show also featured the popular character actor Pat Buttram, later seen on television's "Green Acres".

Roy Rogers starred on television with his cowgirl wife Dale Evans. The Roy Rogers Show ran on NBC from 1951 until 1957. These were pretty much the same years that Autry had his show on CBS.
Roy Rogers played a ranch owner and his wife Dale was the owner of the Eureka Cafe. Roy's sidekick was played by Pat Brady. You may remember the jeep named Nellybelle which was driven by Brady on the show. Also featured each week was Roy's horse Trigger and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. Roy Rogers and Trigger were both big 1950's western stars.
gene autry statue
Gene Autry Statue, Palm Springs, CA

When you look back at each of these stars entertainment careers, their path was almost identical. Starting with a talent for singing, they gained some fame with personal appearances and on the radio, followed by motion pictures and then during the 1950's in that new medium of television. They were the two American singing cowboys during television's early years.

After his entertainment days ended, Autry received acclaim as a businessman. In addition to owning radio stations, some might remember Gene Autry as being the owner for decades of what is now called the California Angels of baseball's American League. Autry was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969 and also to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Gene Autry passed away in 1998 at the age of ninety-one.

Rogers, "King of the Cowboys", was inducted twice into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1980 for his association with the "Sons of the Pioneers" and then in 1988 as a soloist performer. Rogers also has his star on Hollywood's Walk of fame. Both Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans were very active in children's charities and had adopted several children. Roy also licensed his name out to a few commercial endeavors such as the Roy Rogers restaurant chain. There is also the non-alcoholic "Roy Rogers Drink" which is named after the actor and consists of cola and grenadine syrup topped with a cherry.

Roy Rogers, for years, had his Roy Rogers Museum located outside Los Angeles in Victorville. The museum moved from Victorville California, where Roy had retired to, to the entertainment town of Branson Missouri in 2003 but closed in December 2009. The museum was a casualty of the economic times and the fact that Roy's fans were getting quite a bit older and attendance dropped off.

The Roy Rogers family still operates a website which had a lot of great information on Roy and Dale. Most of the museum's exhibits were auctioned off in 2010. The car from the old TV series, "Nellybelle", reportedly fetched $116,000. Also, as a side note, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. This is another excellent stop if you're traveling through Oklahoma. The museum features 200,000 sq ft of exhibits including some 2,000 pieces of western art. Dale Evans and Roy Rogers were one of the most popular husband and wife duo's during the 50's. Roy Rogers passed away in 1988 at the age of eighty-seven.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos are in public domain)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Death of Sitting Bull and the Ghost Dance Movement / The Standing Rock Agency

There are many fascinating stories regarding the great Indian chiefs of the 1800's. On the macro level the stories are different. In some ways, however all of the stories are interconnected in as much as the Indian Wars, and the chiefs who participated in it, encompassed almost all of the western tribes. Some of the years were different... the lengths of the conflicts varied as did the location of the battles, but all in all the cultural clashes were a result of western expansion from the east and the ensuing battles over land. One story stands out as quite different from the others and that is the story of Sitting Bull.

The Great Lakota Sioux Chief

sitting bull
Sitting Bull, circa 1881
The Lakota Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, was one of the most influential leaders on the great plains. He was very instrumental in guiding what would be the Battle of  Little Bighorn but apparently wasn't directly involved in the actual fighting. The Sioux warrior who led much of that battle was thought to be Crazy Horse although the action was certainly inspired by Chief Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull's Premonition

The story is that Sitting Bull had a premonition of the cavalry soldiers being defeated during this great 1876 battle which involved George Armstrong Custer and took his life. In that regard he rallied the warriors the battle which as it turned out proved his premonition to be correct.

 Although Custer was defeated in that June 1876 battle, the war wasn't. Due to Custer's defeat, which was the largest military defeat to that date, public pressure to defeat the Sioux and Cheyenne once and for all heated up. As a direct result, thousands of troops under the leadership of famous officers such as Nelson Miles and Ranald MacKenzie, and George Crook directed by General Philip Sheridan entered the fray and over the next year did defeat the Sioux and Northern Cheyennes.

As the Indians were eventually returned to the reservations, Sitting Bull and a group of warriors, women and children fled north into Canada. There the group stayed for several years. During this time there were offers of a pardon for the Sioux chief but they were refused.

Sitting Bull Returns

Eventually, due to the hardships of living in exile in Canada, Sitting Bull did make the decision to return with close to 200 others to the U.S. and did so on July 19, 1881. Sitting Bull explained that he wanted to return in peace and become friends with the white men. He was then sent to Fort Yates which was adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Agency which was composed of many Sioux tribes. The military did keep Sitting Bull separated from the others at the agency for fear that he might somehow incite the Sioux and others to rebel once again.

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

During his stay at the Standing Rock Agency Sitting Bull was made an offer which a few years prior would have been unthinkable. The famous Buffalo Bill Cody offered Sitting Bull a job touring with his new and highly popular Wild West.

The show was immediately popular with the eastern public who had an insatiable appetite for anything western and in particular the story of settlers, Indians and the clashes that ensued. Sitting Bull was granted permission to leave the Standing Rock Agency to join Buffalo Bill.

Sitting Bull's participation in the Wild West Show was essentially to ride around the arena and for that he was paid a reported $50 per week. This was not bad money at all in the late 1800's. The Sitting Bull performance was quite popular.  In addition to that he was thought to have made a small fortune selling autographs. After only about four months Sitting Bull returned to the reservation where he reportedly worked to improve relations between the Indians and their white neighbors. He was known to have given many speeches in this effort.

Sitting Bull and the Ghost Dance Movement

sitting bull and buffalo bill cody
Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill, 1885
Chief Sitting Bull was living in peace for several years after he returned from his short engagement with Buffalo Bill's Wild West. What was building up among the western Native Americans and what would eventually engulf Sitting Bull was a movement among the Indians referred to as the "Ghost Dance". There are some conflicting accounts as to what exactly occurred during the Ghost Dance movement and in what the movement actually represented.

The Ghost Dance movement was something that was very popular and well accepted by people who felt oppressed. It began in 1889 and was a type of religion which was celebrated with what was described as the "Ghost Dance".

It included a ritual where the participants worked themselves up into a trance where they experienced the afterlife and communicated with deceased relatives. The part of the Ghost Dance movement which aroused concern among the neighboring whites was that it "envisioned" the disappearance of the white race from Native American lands. The movement envisioned the whites being swept away by a divine force. While the movement didn't specifically make a call to arms, it's philosophy alone was enough to create great concern among white settlers.

The Paiute Wavoka

The Lakota's learned of this "religion" from neighboring tribes to the west. The founder of the Ghost Dance movement was a man named Wovoka, also known to some as Jack Wilson. Wovoka was a highly respected Paiute Indian from Nevada whose father was also a spiritual leader.

The movement which was growing rapidly distressed the Indian Agents, the military and nearby white settlers. In 1889 just when it seemed that most Indians were on reservations and relatively peaceful, yet they were not really happy. The Ghost Dance movement threatened to renew hostilities. The movement itself was outlawed by the authorities but to little effect since several hard line Sioux leaders continued to practice it and incited others to join.

It was at this time, after the movement gained notoriety with the Indian Agents, that Sitting Bull was caught up in the, until now, bloodless conflict. What happened next, and to many historians who have explored the subject, was probably best described as an overreaction. The Indian Agents and some in the military thought that perhaps Sitting Bull would escape the reservation with Ghost Dance followers and form some type of armed resistance.

The End Occurs in December 1890

Sitting Bull met his death on December 15, 1890. The exact actions that led to his killing, like many other tales of the troubles of 1890, had a few differing versions.

There are native Americans and some historians who contend that Sitting Bull's death was a political assassination by the United States government. One reason cited would have been Sitting Bull's refusal to sign a treaty that gave away land from Native reservations. Law at the time was that  the signatures of 3/4 of the adult males of the Sioux Nation were mandated before land could be sold.

Sitting Bull was a big resister in the U.S. effort to acquire land. Sitting Bull had again formally rejected the selling of Indian land as late as 1888. Add to this the sensational newspaper stories portraying Sitting Bull as a participant in the Ghost Dance movement and therefore a potential threat to peace, and you can see some type of a climax was building.

When you look back however and research the events of 1890, it's plain that Sitting Bull was actually living among his white neighbors in peace while participating in the Ghost Dance movement. In other words, his only wrongdoing in the eyes of the authorities was his practicing of the Ghost Dance. I could not find any evidence that he called on his people to take up arms.

The Most Accepted Version of Events

The most accepted story of Sitting Bull's death in December of 1890 is that about 40 reservation policemen (mostly Indians) went to Sitting Bull's residence to arrest him. The arrest had to do with his Ghost Dance involvement and his refusal to disavow it.

The policemen took Sitting Bull into custody at first without incident and when leaving the home with the old chief were confronted by many of his followers bearing arms. This is the point where events happened quickly. The most publicized story is that Chief Sitting Bull called on his followers to rescue him. Two of his followers allegedly fired shots at the police and the police returned fire. The amount of people involved in this now violent encounter were a bit over forty Indian police and volunteers against over 100 of Sitting Bull's followers. This included women attacking the police with knives and clubs. During this 30 minute close encounter battle Sitting Bull was shot and killed. The shooting occurred during a large scuffle and, while a few names were mentioned, it's unclear exactly who fired the fatal shot.

The Aftermath of Sitting Bull's Death

In the aftermath of this, knowing of the possible repercussions to come, many of the Ghost Dance followers fled the area with their families. This is what eventually led to the Wounded Knee Massacre which took place on December 29, 1890.

his massacre occurred while troops were in the process of rounding up the fleeing Sioux and while trying to return them to their homes. The massacre at Wounded Knee the morning of December 29th was another seemingly nonviolent police action that simply got out of hand in a horrible way. Another interesting article on Western Trips is the story of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War of 1877.

sitting bull grave
Sitting Bull grave and monument
After the death of sitting Bull, his body was transported to Fort Yates and he was buried.

In the year 1953 several of his Lakota relatives had his body exhumed and moved to his birthplace of Mobridge South Dakota. It is today at Mobridge where Sitting Bull's grave and memorial can be visited. Mobridge South Dakota is in the north central part of the state on the east side of the Missouri River and about 30 miles south of the North Dakota border.

The grave and monument is on a bluff across the Missouri River from the town. From US 12 take the road just west of the river south about three miles to the grave.

(Article copyright Western Trips)

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Texas Museums / Pecos County Annie Riggs

annie riggs hotel

 Visit Historic Fort Stockton Texas

If your vacation in Texas or road trip takes you into west Texas, there is a fabulous museum located at Fort Stockton Texas, a west Texas town easily reached by Interstate-10. The Annie Riggs Hotel and Boardinghouse, which today is a world renown museum and considered Fort Stockton's first real hotel, was bought by a woman  named Annie Riggs back in 1904. Annie Riggs managed the hotel until she died in 1931. The building was wisely turned into a museum in 1954 and contains a fascinating and very high quality display of 19th and 20th century memorabilia.

The museum is comprised of fourteen rooms which display late 18th and very early 19th century furnishings, clothes, kitchen items, artwork and a courtyard with dozens of branding irons, a carriage and an old frontier plow. You'll also find some interesting reading material. You'll see the first electric stove in Ft Stockton TX which Annie Riggs bought in 1922. Another very interesting exhibit is a recreated boarding room with the actual iron bed that Annie bought for $6.75 from Sears. During the days of Annie Riggs hotel, a room might cost .50 cents a night and a family meal perhaps .35 cents. The hotel/boarding house's wrap-around verandas and gingerbread trim is an excellent example of Territorial architecture. This hotel would have been considered quite luxurious in 1900 Fort Stockton Texas.

The Old Annie Riggs Hotel

annie riggs hotel porch
Wrap around porch
For the history minded traveler on a west Texas vacation, you'll find signs inside the old hotel which explain a few rules of the house. Annie Riggs wanted to run a good decent and clean hotel. Rules included not burning lights and electricity unnecessarily and also forbidding spitting on the floor. Probably good rules to have considering the era and remote location.

If you're looking for a 1902 voting ballot box, you'll find one on display that was fished out of the Pecos River. There is an archeology area that displays tusks of a Columbian mammoth found only about eight miles from the museum site. Cowboy artifacts include boots and spurs from the era. You'll also be able to view a good collection of pioneer women clothing. There is a Temporary Exhibit Room that features changing displays and a mural of Pecos County history. The goal per the Fort Stockton Historical Society is to preserve, restore, and utilize the historical past. They have done an excellent job of that.

Other fun activities at the Annie Riggs Museum include country and folk music concerts that are put on every other Thursday during July and August. These outdoor programs are free and visitors are very welcome.When you're ready to plan a vacation to west Texas you may want to check the calendar for special events in and around Fort Stockton.

See these additional Western Trips articles on the links below...

The Nimitz National Museum / Fredericksburg TX

Visit Gruene Texas on the Old Stagecoach Line

Annie Riggs History

annie riggs hotel courtyard
Annie Riggs Hotel courtyard
A few personal facts about Annie Riggs. She was born on November 24, 1858 in Las Cruces New Mexico. Her birth name was Annie Frazier and the family moved to Fort Stockton after the end of the Civil War.

Annie was married in 1877, had six children and then the marriage fell apart in the late 1880's. Annie married for a second time in 1891 to a man named Barney Kemp Riggs. Annie still had a few of her children with her and Barney had one. Barney Riggs had a shaky past, being sentenced to life in prison at the Yuma Territorial Prison for an Arizona murder but later pardoned for reportedly saving the life of the governor. As part of the deal, however, Barney was told to leave Arizona and not come back. Barney Kemp Riggs was shot and killed in 1902 and passed away at the old Koehler Hotel with Annie by his side. Annie went ahead and bought this same hotel two years later and renamed it the Riggs Hotel.

Before Annie Riggs purchased the hotel for a reported $5,000, the structure was known as the Koehler Hotel. The Koehler Hotel was built in 1899 and served as a stage stop on the trans Texas route. Actually, Fort Stockton was a stage and freighter stopover long before Annie Riggs arrived. Originally referred to as Comanche Springs, the area was located at a key junction.

The Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line came to Fort Stockton from the northeast on it's journey from Missouri to California. Other stage, mail and freight routes passed by Fort Stockton on the San Antonio to El Paso route. The military fort itself was at a key location to protect overland travelers from Comanche and Apache raids. The old military post of Fort Stockton (abandoned during the Civil War but rebuilt later) is located only a few blocks east of the Annie Riggs Museum and is a must stop while on your Texas vacation. The fort consists of several restored buildings around the parade grounds. Also, the fort museum has a lot of information and displays regarding the Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed at Fort Stockton after the Civil War as well as many rare frontier military artifacts. The fort museum also displays a rare Sharps Rifle 1874 Sporting model among many other period rifles.

Nearby Big Bend National Park

Another thing to make note of when you plan a vacation to this part of Texas is that the remote yet beautiful Big Bend National Park is not far to the south of Fort Stockton. Many people who live outside of Texas may ask, where is Big Bend? The question probably is asked because of the remoteness of the park. The fact is that Big Bend Park attracts thousands of tourist annually. Big Bend is also unique for it's ruggedness and is probably the most remote National Park in the country. That's one of the big reasons it attracts so many people planning Texas vacations.

Stay at Fort Stockton

carriage in courtyard
Carriage in courtyard
If you plan to spend the evening in the area there are excellent Fort Stockton hotels along Interstate-10.

The Annie Riggs Museum is located at 301 S. Main St. in Fort Stockton Texas ( corner of Main and Callaghan ). It's a terrific place to visit while take a driving break from Interstate-10.

If you want to get a real taste of old southwest Texas, the Annie Riggs Museum is a place not to miss. The Fort Stockton Historical Society has done a magnificent job there. The museum is open six days per week. Their phone number is 432-336-2167.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Driskill / Texas History

Driskill Hotel, Austin Texas

There might be no better known hotel in all of Texas than the historic and beautiful Driskill Hotel right in the heart of downtown Austin Texas.

When you tour this hotel you will marvel at the architecture, both inside and outside. This Austin Texas hotel is both a popular and fully operational hotel and at the same time is one of Austin Texas' most historic sites. When you're making a list of things to do in Austin Texas I would recommend you add the Driskill Hotel to your list.

The Historic Roots of the Driskill Hotel

The Driskill Hotel was built by a man who moved to Texas from Missouri in 1849 and ended up a wealthy cattle baron thanks in part to the Civil War. Jesse Driskill happened to be at the right place at the right time. Texas, a confederate sympathizer during the war, was a great place to raise beef cattle and to sell that beef to the Confederate Army. As a result of this, Jesse Driskill made a lot of money. In fact, anyone who could successfully raise a herd large enough and keep it away from rustlers and Union troops in the area stood to make a good amount of money.

Prior and during the Civil War one of the largest cattle ranches in the world was located deep in southeast Texas just south of Corpus Christie. The King Ranch was the earliest large ranch in Texas occupying the majority of land between the Mexican border and present day Corpus Christie. The King Ranch today is still a working ranch and has a wonderful collection of exhibits for the south Texas tourist.

Building the Driskill

Main stairs from lobby
Jesse Driskill purchased land at the corner of 6th and Brazos Streets for his new project of building a grand hotel. He had plenty of money from his Civil War beef operations and wanted to branch off with other investments.

The Driskill Hotel was built for a reported $400,000. Not small money today and obviously a hug sum in the late 1800's. Driskill built his luxurious Austin hotel to compete with the palaces of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco. When the hotel was completed it was by far the centerpiece of this frontier town being constructed of local brick and limestone with a hand laid marble floor. There was no other hotel like it in Texas at the time.

The Driskill Hotel had it's grand opening on December 20, 1886. The new hotel was built with an open floor plan which encouraged air flow (no air conditioning in 1886) and a four story dome in the center when you enter the hotel. Other features which in 1886 were considered quite luxurious in a frontier town such as Austin were an electric bell system, marble bureaus and washstands, gas lighting and steam heat. Another amenity of luxury hotels in this era was a separate ladies entrance which allowed women to enter avoiding cattlemen and sometimes rowdy males at the main entrance. Many hotels such as some in Denver and New York and St. Louis were built with ladies entrances.

For well over 100 years this hotel has welcomed everyone from foreign dignitaries to legislators to socialites and tourists. Another interesting fact about the Driskill Hotel is that soon after it's opening, newly elected Governor Sul Ross, held his inauguration ball there on January 1st, 1887. This was the start of a Texas tradition and ever since 1887 every Texas governor had their inaugural ball at the Driskill Hotel Austin.

The operation of the Driskill Hotel was not without problems. The hotel was absolutely magnificent, but the problem was that Driskill's room rates were about $2.50 per night and up. Other hotels were charging perhaps .50 cents a night. Driskill's problem was that most people needing a hotel could pay the .50 cent price but not Driskill's $2.50 and up rate.

Mostly because of this problem the hotel closed down about six months after it opened. Legend has it that Jesse lost the hotel to his brother-in-law in 1888 during a poker game. In 1895 the hotel was bought by George Littlefield of Austin, a rancher and banker, and he maintained that the hotel would not close again.

Littlefield supposedly paid $106,000 for a hotel that Jesse Driskill spent $400,000 to build about ten years prior. Since that time the hotel has changed hands several times but always remained open for business. The hotel had a major expansion in 1930 with a thirteen story tower added.

Today's Driskill Hotel is absolutely magnificent having been carefully restored to it's early splendor. A striking feature in some of the areas of the hotel is it's unique carpeting. The picture below left shows the Driskill carpet depicting the letter "D".

The Hotel Serves as a Capitol Building

Driskill carpet with XIT
There's also a interesting connection between the Driskill Hotel, Texas' need for a state capitol  building and the famous XIT Ranch that was located at that time in the Texas Panhandle region.

The existence of the famed XIT Ranch and the building of the Texas state capitol building were really one and the same, To raise funds for the construction of the capitol building the Texas Legislature sold off 3.5 million acres of land in the panhandle region. It's a very interesting story how it all came about and you might want to read the story of the XIT and the Texas state capitol building.

Along with the King Ranch in south Texas, the XIT was one of the world's largest cattle ranches. During the construction of the capitol building, the Driskill Hotel, which was newly constructed, was used as a temporary state capitol by legislators.

Visit the Driskill Hotel

Western art
The next time you visit Austin or if you happen to pass by Austin during your Texas vacation and you're contemplating what to do in Austin TX,  I would highly recommend a stop at the Driskill Hotel. As you can see from this small sample of photos, the hotel is a restored historic masterpiece. When you peruse the interior you will notice many interesting pieces of furniture and frontier artwork which adorn many walls. When you're walking around ithe Driskill it's also interesting to reflect on all the inaugural balls and official receptions that took place there dating back to the year 1887.

The Driskill Hotel is one of the most visited Austin attractions.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grumman S-2A Tracker / Submarine Warfare to Forest Fire Fighting

pacific coast air museum 
One of the most unique aircraft on display at the fascinating Pacific Coast Air Museum is the Grumman S-2A Tracker, an airplane that has supplied great service to the United States. The Pacific Coast Air Museum is a rare find in beautiful Sonoma County California and makes a fun companion side trip during your wine country tour. Located just a few miles northwest of Santa Rosa, the air museum which is located at the Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport is a fun stop for young or old and everyone in between. Sonoma county's wineries are located all around the airport so a side trip there works out well during a wine country vacation.

The Grumman S-2A Tracker

The Grumman S-2A Tracker was built for the military as a submarine hunter aircraft. The plane is powered with two Wright Twin Cyclone R-1820 nine cylinder radial engines. Each engine produces 1,500 horsepower. The cruise speed of this aircraft is 150 MPH with a top speed of 195 MPH. The Grumman S-2A has an empty weight of 18,750 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 pounds. Dimensions are a 70 ft wing span, 43 ft 6 in length, 16 ft 7 in height and a wing area of 496 sq ft.

firefighting airplane
Grumman S-2A Fire Tanker
The S-2A Tracker was designed to be a replacement for the Grumman AF-2 Guardian. The Tracker's first flight was in December 1952 and it entered Naval service about 14 months later in February 1954. The aircraft had a long military service life, not being replaced by the Navy until 1976. During it's service with the Navy, the S-2A was a carrier based anti-submarine aircraft.

Fire Fighting Capabilities

The Grumman S-2A aircraft shown in this story, after it's service in the Navy, was a longtime member of California's fire fighting aerial fleet. This particular firefighting aircraft, while serving the California Department of Forestry, referred to as the CDF, was based in Santa Rosa. When the Forestry Department converted it's fleet to turbines the Pacific Coast Air Museum was able to take it over. Now this aircraft is a permanent display on the museum grounds. An interesting fact is that the Sonoma County Airport has long been a Calfire Attack Base. There are many CDF Attack Bases located throughout California. The Sonoma CDF base was established in 1964 and according to their government web site responds to about 300 calls each year. The Attack Bases serve to provide quick initial attack on wildland fires. The Sonoma Attack Base currently has on hand one OV-10 Bronco and two of the newer S-2T tankers. The base covers a fire protection area of some 4,000 square miles and pumps about 300,000 gallons of fire retardant per year. The current S-2T's each carry 1,200 gallons of retardant. Sometimes an aircraft of this type is referred to as a water bomber but in actuality the plane carries retardant with names such as Fire-Trol and Phos-Chek. Some of today's aerial firefighting craft also may carry tanks with a gum derivative to thicken the water and reduce runoff. Modern firefighting aircraft typically take advantage of the newest retardant additives.

Cal Fire

Airplane fire fighting of course includes more than the aerial tanker planes. The Smokejumpers, who probably have one of the more dangerous fire fighting jobs, are dispatched from smokejumper bases spread thoughout the western United States.

CalFire currently operates forty-eight aircraft spread throughout the state. being a statewide fire fighting agency, Cal Fire offers protection to about thirty-one million acres of state owned wildlands and also provides emergency services on a contractual basis in about 36 counties. The location of the Attack Bases make it possible in most circumstances for the aircraft to reach a target destination within twenty minutes. Air tactical planes fly overhead during a fire directing both the S-2T tankers and helicopters. According to the state, the annual budget for the Cal Fire program runs about $20 million per year.

cdf insignia
Department of Forestry Emblem on plane
The S-2A's were first purchased by California from the military in 1972 while the Defense Department were replacing them with newer aircraft. After being converted to fire fighting craft, the first was put in service by the CDF in 1973. The S-2T fire fighting airplane which eventually replaced the S-2A was considered more maneuverable and faster.

I enjoyed mu trip to the Pacific Coast Air Museum and would recommend it to anyone passing through the Sonoma wine country. The Grumman S-2A on display at the museum is an excellent example of a wildland fire fighting aircraft.

Visit the Pacific Coast Air Museum

The Pacific Coast Air Museum is located at the Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport. The airport is just a few miles northwest of Santa Rosa California and just a mile south of the town of Windsor. The airport is just about two miles west of US Hwy-101. If you're coming from the San Francisco area, take Hwy-101 north and exit at Airport Rd. just a few miles past Santa Rosa and turn left.

The Pacific Coast Air Museum also has on display the F-15A fighter jet that was the actual first responder over the New York area on September 11, 2001. This is a rare find for the museum and is a very interesting exhibit.

Lots of fascinating aircraft also on display at the Planes of Fame museums in the Los Angeles area and just north of Williams Arizona near the Grand Canyon. Also, you'll be interested in the marvelously restored and flyable Beech E-18S at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon.

(Photos from author's private collection)