Postcard from Lonely Fort Lancaster

In far west Texas just off State Highway 290 a few miles from the small town of Sheffield, which puts the site just about in the middle of nowhere, are the remains of Fort Lancaster, one of the forts that provided protection for westbound settlers in the mid-1850's. Constructed from 1855 - 1860 using stone and adobe bricks, it was garrisoned by 150 enlisted men and 3 officers from the 1st U.S. Infantry. It was very harsh duty, so harsh and distasteful that it was one of only 3 stations where the men were paid double salary for their service. There was basically nothing there in the way of resources and there were only two seasons of weather - unbearably hot and bone-chilling cold. For the most part, even the Indians avoided the area so skirmishes and military engagements were extremely rare. To fight the boredom, the men either worked on maintaining the buildings or spent tedious hour after hour in mindless drilling and marching.

In 1857, there came a welcome break in the routine when the Army's experimental Camel Corps came to the fort on their way west. The arrival of Captain Beale and his 40 men with 25 camels, 100 sheep and a large herd of horses and mules was certainly cause for excitement. The men of the fort and the caravan broke out what provisions they had and shared a better meal than any of them had enjoyed in a long time. Unfortunately, a pall was cast during the feast when word came that the infant son of Captain Arthur Lee, one of the caravan's married officers, had just died of an illness contracted while on the trail a few days before. Arthur Lee, Jr. was buried on the post the next day. The day after the burial, Captain Lee, his wife and the rest of the caravan had to leave to maintain their schedule. The infant's grave is still there, marked by a small headstone put in place by soldiers of the fort after his parents left.

When Texas seceded from the Union in February, 1881 and joined the Confederacy, a very civil change took place. The Federal troops peacefully left the fort and traveled back to their homes. After they left, a small contingent of Rebel forces came in to take charge.

Nine months later, the Confederate troops manning the fort had found Fort Lancaster duty to be the same as the Federal forces had, unspeakably boring, and they, again like the Federal troops, spent their time performing a little bit of maintenance on the buildings and a great deal of marching and drilling. In late November, General Henry Sibley and his 2,500 men came to the fort while on their way west to capture New Mexico for the Confederacy. To show proper respect for a visiting general (who, it was known, also happened to be good friends with Confederate President Jefferson Davis), the 100 men at Fort Lancaster presented themselves in precise rows outfitted in their never-before-worn dress uniforms. General Sibley felt obliged to respond to this welcome by personally taking charge of a marching drill routine. If there was anything the Fort Lancaster troops were good at by now, it was marching.

With Sibley sitting on his horse barking out orders, the men marched, wheeled and counter marched perfectly to each of the general's commands. Sibley called out an order to "File left" and that's when things took a nasty turn. Perhaps Sibley didn't call out loudly enough or the strong  wind blowing that day prevented the men from hearing his command, but they didn't turn left and kept marching to the right as they had been. Sibley watched in dismay as the men marched away from the parade grounds and, in perfect order,  smartly stepped through the fort's gate straight up and all the way over a nearby hill. The general didn't command them to halt or march to the rear and just sat there watching in bemusement. As the last of the men disappeared, he turned to his aid, muttered "Gone to hell they have" and rode out to continue leading his troops west. History does not record how far the poor Fort Lancaster soldiers had marched before someone rode out to stop them.

By April of 1862, the Confederate government decided the Fort Lancaster troops could be better used fighting the Yankees rather than continue marching in the isolation of west Texas. The fort was abandoned until a few months later when a small contingent of Texas Rangers occupied and used the fort's buildings as their headquarters. With the war going on, bandits, outlaws and even the Indians were not causing much trouble so it wasn't long before the Rangers also abandoned the fort. For the next five years, the fort was raided by nearby ranchers and homesteaders for building materials. A fire struck in early 1867 and destroyed several of the buildings that were still standing.

By the middle of 1867, with the war over, some of the battle-hardened veterans who had returned home to find no jobs and no prospects, had taken to a lawless life on the frontier. White settlement on formerly Indian land was pushing the Indians into desperation. To protect the settlers and travelers, the fort was once again occupied by Federal troops. Buffalo soldiers of Company K, 9th Cavalry were sent to rebuild and secure the fort. While this was proceeding, the fort came under a rare full-on attack by about 1,000 Apache and Kickapoo warriors led by a few renegade Mexican soldiers. On December 26, 1867, the fort was surrounded and the Indians attacked all sides at once. The battle lasted for 3 hours before the Indians retreated. The soldiers claimed that at least 20 of the attackers were killed while they had 3 causalities, unfortunate men who were captured and carried off.  The mutilated remains were found 3 months later and were brought back to the fort for burial. 

The next year the army abandoned the fort and once again, the buildings were raided for materials by the local ranchers. By 1912, only a few stones from building's walls remained in place when the state began preservation efforts for this historic facility. Today, the few visitors to Fort Lancaster can still feel the isolation and sense of desolation the fort's occupants experienced in the 1800's. Located a mile or so off of little traveled Highway 290 on what was known back then as Lower Road, no modern buildings can be seen in the area except for the well-equipped visitor center. The site gets few tourists. Nobody gets there unless they are intentionally going there.

On the day we stopped, we were the only visitors. Walking into the very clean visitor center, the single park ranger greeted us with a big smile on his face and a very warm greeting. He seemed overjoyed at having someone to talk to. He gave us the history of the fort, the sites to see on the property and the history of individual ruins. It was late afternoon on an overcast Saturday and when I asked him how many visitors he had that day, he replied we were the first. We left our car parked in front of the visitor center and walked around the site reading the tour brochure. It was interesting, mostly because it was so quiet I could hear the wings of a hawk as it flew high over us and I wondered if some lonely soldier all those years ago stood still like me for a few seconds to watch a bird flying in the sky. About half-way through the walking tour, the gray skies began to leak so we unfolded our little portable umbrella's and headed back to the car. We had just got in the car when there was a loud clap of thunder and it began to pour. Turning on the engine, I clicked on the windshield wipers and began to back out. As we pulled away, the park ranger came to the door and waved goodbye, the newest lonely occupant in this place of desolation.

Waxahachie Courthouse: Beauty & The Beast

Like a lot of other small towns in America, a beautiful county courthouse dominates the town square of Waxahachie, Texas. The town is often called "The Gingerbread City" for the elaborate wooden lacework found on many of the area's vintage homes. It is also known as "The Movie Capital of Texas" for the many movies such as Places In The Heart, Bonnie & Clyde, 1918, The Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies which have all been filmed in and around the town. The many well-maintained stately homes on tree-shaded streets, the restored town square and the imposing 9-story tall courthouse make Waxahachie a perfect setting for turn-of-the-century-period movies.

The elaborate Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse, built in 1895 to replace an old wooden one that only cost $59 to build, is widely considered to be among the most beautiful in all of Texas. Look closely at the ornate sandstone carvings along the top of the granite columns however and you will find a disturbing story, a story of unrequited love.

In 1895, a young stone mason named Harry Herley who had recently immigrated from Italy was hired to sculpt and decorate the outer walls of the courthouse which was under construction. Harry rented a room at a nearby boarding house owned and operated by a Miss Frame. Her teenage daughter, Mabel, lived with her mother in the boarding house and, along with her cleaning duties, often helped serve food to the boarders in the communal dining room. Young Harry quickly became enchanted with the very lovely and vivacious Mabel and wasted no time before he began courting her. His good looks and charming accent attracted Mabel and she returned his amorous attention.

With the rush of young love driving him, he began carving angels into the sandstone that was to adorn the courthouse as an expression of his feelings toward Mabel. With great care and devotion, he then carved her face and added his own next to her's over one of the doorways. So enthused was he that he often worked into the wee hours of the night on the carvings.

It wasn't long however before Mabel's ardor began to cool. Plus, her mother had different plans for her daughter and they didn't include getting pregnant and marrying a poor, uneducated stonemason fresh off the boat from Italy. The short-term thrill of being involved with a handsome foreigner began to fade and it wasn't hard for Mabel's mother to convince her to turn her attention to someone who could offer her a better future. Embittered and brokenhearted, Harry's carvings began to drastically change. He took out his anger and sorrow on the stone beneath his chisel and the courthouse started becoming adorned with twisted demons, monsters and gargoyles.

If you visit the courthouse in Waxahachie, find the angels and happy faces and then with a simple walk around the outside of the building, you can follow the history of Harry's romance with Mable. It's easy to see the progression from enchantment to the excitement and thrill of first love and on to the misery and anger of rejection. Fascinating and sad.

And one more thing - according to word-of-mouth history handed down to the grandchildren by grandparents who were there, the last carving Harry made in the courthouse sandstone is not an angel, not a smiling face or even a monster or gargoyle. It is of something much more intimate - a stylistic rendition of a female's private parts. They say he placed it on display for all to see as a final insulting thumb-of-the-nose farewell.

As soon as his work was complete, Harry left the town where his heart was broken and moved to Dallas. History shows he married a girl there the next year, but sadly, he passed away of unknown causes in 1899. Mabel married a local boy and settled for a quiet, but happy life as a mother and wife in Waxahachie. As for that insulting last panel Harry left, it, like all the rest of the carvings, are still there, visible to anyone who takes the time to look for it.

"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" - True Tale That Inspired The Movie

The Texarkana Post Office/Courthouse. The left half  is in
Texas while the right is in Arkansas.
Texarkana is a nice, small city. With half of the town in the state of Texas and the other half in Arkansas, the road that divides the two halves is named State Line. Shoppers on one side of the street are in Arkansas and just a few feet away on the other side of the yellow line in the middle of the road the stores are in Texas. The Post Office/Courthouse Building sits astride the state line - Texas offices on one side of the building, Arkansas offices on the other. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy as well as several popular parks where families go for a picnic lunch or to play Little League baseball or simply to enjoy a lazy summer day in the shade of the many trees.

But one of those popular parks, Spring Lake Park, has a sordid history. Many of the old timers still refuse to go into the park after dark. You see, back in the mid-1940's, it was the favorite hunting grounds of a serial killer. The murders shocked and terrorized the quiet, close-knit town. Doors and windows in homes that previously were never locked, were locked and checked several times after darkness fell. Men began carrying guns; women stopped walking alone when running errands and children were forbidden to play outside. As more innocent people turned up brutally killed and the murders went unsolved, neighbors and friends of many years began to suspect and turn on each other. In the mid-1970's, a horror movie, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was made about the crimes. The true horror is that the story was based on fact.

The entrance to Spring Lake Park
On the night of February 22, 1946, 24-year-old Jimmy Hollis and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Mary Jean Larey, went on a date, a date that started off as any number of dates taken by any normal young couple, but this particular date would end very differently. After dinner and a movie, Mary Jean accompanied Jimmy in his car to a dark, secluded spot in the park for a romantic interlude. Jimmy glanced at his watch and noted the time as 11:45. He had promised his father to have the car home by midnight, but the moon was full, Mary Jean was lovely, her sweet perfume filled the air and when he leaned in for a kiss, she didn't resist. Facing the wrath of his father's anger later was no match for the lure of Mary Jean now. Soon, only the sounds of heavy breathing could be heard in the car and the young couple were not aware of anything other than their passion.

When Mary Jean opened her eyes to look into Jimmy's, she saw a dark shape beside the car. When she gasped and pulled away, Jimmy looked up and saw the figure of a man. Expecting to see the uniform of a policeman, he began to roll down the window and was startled to see not a policeman, but a man dressed in dark clothing with a hood over his head. In a muffled voice, the man said, "Get out of the car now!" and tapped on the partially opened window with a .32 caliber pistol he held in his hand.

Fearing the man would shoot through the window if they didn't do as he demanded, they both exited out of the driver's side door. They offered to give him their money and the keys to the car, but the hooded man hit Jimmy in the head twice with the butt of the gun knocking him out. He then turned his attention to Mary Jean. In desperation, she ran, but the man quickly caught her and threw her to the ground. After slapping her several times, he began to rip off her clothes and while still holding the gun, began roughly fondling her. After several minutes but what seemed like hours and frightened beyond words, Mary Jean had resigned herself to her fate when she saw the dirty canvas that covered her attacker's head light up. The man groaned and shouted several coarse cuss words. At first confused, Mary Jean then realized it was a car coming down the road and its headlights had illuminated the scene. The hooded man stood up and after hitting her in the face with his fists several times, ran off into the darkness.

The approaching car, occupied by a kindly farmer and his wife who were coming home from a late movie, stopped to see what was going on. They managed to get Jimmy into the back seat and rushed the injured couple to the nearest hospital. Physically, Mary Jean only had bruises and scratches, but Jimmy's injuries from being hit in the head with the butt of the gun were more serious. Although he suffered from two skull fractures so severe that he had to spend days in the hospital, both he and Mary Jean lived to tell their story. At the time, they were not aware of how lucky they actually were.

When the police failed to find and arrest the attacker, the crime was written off by the residents as an anomaly, a sad byproduct of having a railroad going through town. The perpetrator must have been a transient and he had no doubt hopped a railway car and was long gone. No need to fear.

Trees in the area where 2 bodies were found in a car
On March 24th, just one month later, a visitor to the park noticed a 1941 Oldsmobile parked partially hidden about 100 yards from the road in a grove of trees. Thinking it might be a stolen vehicle and he should investigate, the driver approached the car. He saw what he thought at first was a man asleep behind the wheel, but when he got close, he saw a body covered in blood. He ran, jumped in his car and made it to a store nearby where he called the police.

After rushing to the scene, police found not one, but two bodies in the car. The man sitting in the driver's seat was identified as being 29-year-old Richard Griffin who had recently received his discharge as a Navy SeaBee. Laying in the back seat was his girlfriend, Polly Ann More. Both had been shot in the head with a .32 pistol. Polly had been roughly sexually assaulted. Evidence indicated Richard had been shot outside of the car and Polly had been tied to a nearby tree with rope. Police theorized the attacker had incapacitated Richard and then tied Polly to the tree. He had made her watch as he beat and then fatally shot her boyfriend. For some reason, he drug Richard's body back to the car and placed it in the driver's seat. He then proceeded to assault Polly while she was still tied up. She eventually was killed and drug to the car where her body was placed in the back seat. Once again, the police were unable to find any clue that would lead them to a suspect. He seemed to have vanished into thin air.

The town now knew there was a sadistic killer among them. Papers across the state picked up on the news and began calling the case the "Texarkana Moonlight Murders. With the public clamoring for an arrest, the local police called in the vaunted Texas Rangers for help. Three weeks later on April 14th, with the Rangers in town performing their investigation, the killer struck again.

15-year-old Betty Booker was an exceptionally gifted saxophone player. To help with her family's income, she sometimes played in a band which performed at proms and other social events. The band was asked to play for a dance one night at the local VFW and since she was a straight-A student, it would be for good pay, and he had come to trust the band's adult leader, her father gave his permission for her to join her band-mates and then attend a slumber party at a friend's house. After the performance was over at about 1:00AM, a friend and former classmate of Betty, Paul Martin, offered to drive her to her friend's house for the slumber party and drop her off. Paul was a clean-cut, innocent-looking young man who had not partaken of any alcoholic beverages so the band leader said it was OK. After packing her sax in its case, the two said their goodbye's. It was the last time they would be seen alive.

Road going into the park where Paul's car was found
Several hours later, parents at the slumber party became worried that Betty had not yet arrived so they called her parents to see if maybe she had decided to go home instead. Soon, the police were notified that Betty was missing and a search was quickly begun. Paul's car was found abandoned on the side of the road just inside the entrance of Spring Lake Park, nowhere near where the slumber party took place. Paul's body was finally found over a mile away and Betty's was found almost 2 miles from the car. Both were riddled with bullets from a .32 cal revolver and Betty had been sexually assaulted. It was a mystery as to why Paul's car was found so far from the slumber party destination. The pair had not be linked romantically and both had reputations for being good kids so there was no reason for them to be at the park. Betty's saxophone was missing and police put out notices in the papers and to pawn shops to be on the lookout for it. The instrument, still in its case, was found 2 months later rotting in the muck around a small pond inside the park several hundred yards away from where the car was found. It had obviously been thrown there the night of the murders as it was half-submerged and rusted. Why it was taken and why it was thrown there so far away from the car and the bodies is unknown. The leader of the band Betty had played in felt so guilty that he had let her go with Paul rather than drive her himself that he disbanded the popular group. The Rhythmaires never played again.

The pond where Betty's saxophone was found is now
clean and maintained
After testing, it was determined all of the bullets from each of the murders was from the same gun. Once again, the perpetrator had disappeared and neither the police nor the Rangers found anything which would lead to the identity of the killer. The papers began calling him "The Phantom."

Texarkana became a town under siege. Gun shops sold out of shotguns and ammunition; hardware stores completely sold out of locks and latches. Homeowners began constructing burglar devices that would drop nails and tacks on the floor. Shotguns were rigged to fire with strings attached to doorknobs and triggers. Business' closed at sunset when the streets and sidewalks emptied. Groups of vigilantes, men armed with shotguns, patrolled all over town. Unfamiliar cars driving through town were stopped and the passengers made to identify themselves and give a good reason for being there. Older teenagers staged traps in the park - a boy and girl would park along a dark secluded roadway and pretend to make out while a pack of armed boys would be hidden in the trees waiting for The Phantom to make an appearance. The police had their hands full trying to disperse and send the armed groups home before some innocent person was shot. It was all to no avail - The Phantom seemed to be able to sniff out any traps and stayed away.

As to capturing The Phantom, the police were clueless and the Rangers embarrassed. In desperation, the FBI was called in. Over 300 people were detained and questioned - people caught roaming around in the dark, people considered "odd" by their neighbors, hermits, loners, and every person in town who had any kind of criminal record. Soon, the FBI was just as perplexed as the other lawmen. Newspapers around the country picked up the story and Texarkana came into public awareness for the wrong reason.

On May 3rd, with groups of armed men roaming around, police on high alert, the Texas Rangers and the FBI still in town in force, The Phantom struck again.

Virgil and Katy Starks owned a farm 12 miles outside of Texarkana. About 9:00PM, Virgil retired to his easy chair in the living room, turned on the radio and began to read the newspaper. Katy finished cleaning the kitchen, went upstairs, changed into her nightgown and lay on the bed reading the Post magazine she had recently purchased. As Katy began to relax, she was startled by what sounded like two gunshots and breaking glass downstairs. She jumped out of bed, put on her slippers and rushed down to her husband's side. She saw glass blown into the room from a shattered window pane and then she saw her husband slumped over and covered with blood from two gunshots to the head. She immediately thought, "Phantom!" and rushed across the room to the phone to call the police. Her shaking finger managed to dial 0 on the rotary phone, but as a female voice answered, "Operator, how may I help you?" she felt a tremendous blow to her right jaw and the phone flew from her hand. The blast of a gun shot registered in her brain and she instinctively turned toward the sound only to feel another bullet smash through her left jaw. As if in slow motion, she fell to the floor and saw her shattered teeth flying through the air above her. When she hit the wooden floor, she swallowed a mouthful of blood.

Incredibly, Katy remain conscious and fighting through the pain and shock, began crawling toward the kitchen away from the window where the shots were coming from. Bleeding profusely, she made it to the kitchen only to discover to her horror that the shooter, failing to gain entry through the locked front door, had ran around to the kitchen door in the back and was trying to get in. It too was locked and she could hear the monster on the other side cursing in frustration as he kicked and slammed his body into the door trying to break in. Struggling to not pass out, Katy found a determination borne of desperation to not be another of The Phantom's victims. She made it to her feet and ran to the front door. As she unlocked it and ran out, she heard the kitchen door finally give way. As she stumbled across the porch and into the front yard, she heard more curses as The Phantom found her to be gone.

She made it into the dark before the intruder saw her and made it to a neighbor's house down the road. After banging on the door, she passed out. Finding her on the porch in her bloody nightgown, the neighbors called police and then rushed her to the hospital. Katy was immediately taken into surgery and spent several weeks in the hospital in critical condition, but, physically anyway, she eventually recovered. She had terrible scars, but the physical scars were nothing compared to the emotional scars she suffered for the rest of her life.
Back at the Starks home, authorities entered to discover no one alive. Virgil's body was found laying on the floor in a pool of blood. Muddy footprints were found going from the smashed back door, through the kitchen, into the living room where the killer evidently had dabbed his palms in Virgil's blood, then up the stairs into the bedroom and back down again through the front door. The walls had been smeared with bloody hand prints. The monster had obviously been hunting for the whereabouts of Katy. Bloodhounds were brought in and they followed the scent out the front door, across the yard and into the woods where Katy had fled. They then doubled back for about 200 yards and disappeared where he evidently had gotten into his car and drove away.

The authorities were ecstatic because this time they had hand prints and shoe prints, plenty of them. However, in spite of the evidence and all of their efforts, The Phantom's identity remained unknown. There was no record of his prints to match, his shoe prints were non-remarkable, there were no witnesses and again the perpetrator seemed to have vanished into thin air without a trace.

As suddenly as the killings started, they stopped. Nobody was ever arrested. Nobody ever confessed. Nobody knows who The Phantom was, why he did what he did, why he stopped, if he fled Texarkana or if he stayed in town as a neighbor and friend to unsuspecting residents. The case is still open today and unsolved.

Postcard From The Famous Tyler Ginkgo Tree

Tyler, Texas, known by most people primarily for its roses and azaleas, also is home to a famous and rather rare tree. The Ginkgo biloba is a type of tree that was around almost 200 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth and then basically went extinct in the last ice age when the glaciers wiped them out everywhere except China. Buddhist priests brought the trees to Japan and began planting them around their temples. Over time, the Japanese began considering the trees to be sacred. The tree in Tyler, known as The Hubbard Ginkgo, is a living fossil, the only species left of the Ginkgoacae family which itself is not closely related to any living family or group in the plant kingdom.

 A former Texas governor and ambassador to Japan, Richard Hubbard, brought two Ginkgo trees back from Japan as saplings in 1889. He planted one of them on the lawn of the governor's mansion in Austin and gave the other to his friend, Colonel John Brown of Tyler who planted it on his property. 

In 1939, the Brown property was purchased by the city of Tyler as the location for the new city hall. On what is now the southeastern lawn, the 128-year-old tree is over 80 feet tall and in good health in spite of getting hit by lightning in the 1960's.  

The Hubbard Ginkgo on the lawn of the Tyler City Hall
Anyone can visit the tree, gaze on its magnificence and sit in its shade, but the vast majority of people are unaware of the history, drive right by and never give it a second thought. Maybe that's best for its continued good health. Just another obscure historical relic found along Texas highways.

In Japan, the nuts are considered a delicacy and served at
weddings, banquets and social gatherings. The leaves
are prized for their reputedly medicinal properties.

Old Larissa and The Killough Massacre

Old Larissa is an abandoned town-site in Cherokee County in northeast Texas. On Christmas Eve, 1837, the Killough, Wood and Williams families arrived from Alabama and settled on the site. Unfortunately, the very next year, their settlement would go down in history as the place of the largest single Indian depredation in East Texas.

The year before the three families came, the site of Old Larissa and thousands of acres around it were promised to the local Cherokee Indians by Sam Houston in a treaty. The land was promised to them forever in exchange for peace in East Texas. A few months later however, the Republic of Texas Senate refused to ratify the treaty and put the land up for white settlement. When the Killough-led settlers came in, built homes and began clearing the land to grow crops, the Cherokee, who considered a man's spoken words to be a bond, considered them to be trespassing on their land and stealing food from them by killing the game animals they hunted. The settlers knew none of the history of the land they believed they had legally purchased.

For a few months, the Indians tolerated the intrusion, but more settlers began moving in, clearing the forests, planting crops and killing game. By August, 1838, there were 30 people living in the settlement they called Larissa. The corn was ready to be harvested, but the settlers received word the Indians were becoming increasingly disgruntled and were getting ready to go on the war path against them. They managed to let the Indians know they were willing to leave. In return, they were promised safe passage, which they received, and they retreated to Jefferson, a large town that was much safer. In late September however, hearing of no Indian attacks and not wanting to lose the corn they had planted, they decided to return to their homes. It was a grave mistake.

On the afternoon of October 5, a large band of Cherokee, Caddos, and Coushattas attacked the settlement. A number of men, including Isaac Killough, Sr., were caught in the corn field without their guns and were quickly killed. Homes were then attacked. The remaining men and older boys were killed and some of the younger children and several of the wives were kidnapped and taken with the Indians when they left. Surprisingly, twelve people, including Urcey, Killough Sr.'s wife, escaped the massacre by hiding in a barn and in the surrounding woods. In all, eighteen of the settlers were either killed or abducted, the largest number of white fatalities in an Indian raid in East Texas history.

Stone obelisk placed at the site of the massacre
The survivors eventually made their way on foot to Lacy's Fort, forty miles to the south on the Old San Antonio Road. When word of the massacre began to spread, a militia set out to find the perpetrators and rescue any surviving whites. After reaching Fort Houston near the site of present day Palestine, they heard the Indians were camped at an old Kickapoo village near Frankston. Riding at night, the militia found the Indian encampment and attacked the next day. The surprise attack was successful and eleven Indians were killed before the rest made their escape. No white captives were rescued or seen. It was later rumored that the group of Indians the militia attacked were not responsible for the Killough massacre, but it little mattered as it was thought revenge had been in order.

It was not until 1846, when the Indians in the area were subdued and removed that any further settlement was attempted. Over the next few years, the settlement of Larissa grew into a thriving community with a number of business's, churches and even a college. When the Civil War came, Larissa began to decline as the local men and the male students left to fight. After the war, Reconstruction hit the town hard as it did everywhere in the south and the college was forced to close. In 1872, the railroad bypassed the town by eight miles and more people moved away. A meningitis epidemic then hit and a number of the remaining residents died. The death blow for the town hit in 1882 when another railroad bypassed the town by three miles and a new community was founded along the rails. Most of the few remaining residents moved to the new town of Mount Selman.

The stone obelisk surrounded by the victim's graves
Today there is very little remaining to even suggest there was once a prominent, thriving community at the site. A Texas historical marker was placed where the college stood and a stone obelisk was erected at the site of the massacre by the Work Projects Administration in the late 1930's. The peaceful site is at the end of a remote, rarely used dead-end country road barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other. You won't find it by accident. The only sounds to be heard are the birds in the trees and maybe a small animal rooting around in the underbrush. The obelisk is surrounded by the graves of the victims marked by mounds of rocks and crumbling markers barely legible. A few scattered modest homes and barns of small farms are found in the area, but none have any connection to the possibilities or the horror that once was there.

Buried Gold in a Ft. Worth Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery entrance
In the late 1840's, Charles Turner, a Mexican War veteran and former Texas Ranger, established a large farm on land that eventually became today's Fort Worth, Texas. After building a home for his family, he expanded into the retail business and opened one of the first general stores in the growing community. His store gained fame when hundreds of people from all around the area came by over a few days in December,1860 after Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been kidnapped almost 25 years earlier in the Fort Parker massacre, was recaptured from the Comanche Indians and brought there by Texas Rangers while returning her to her family. She still wore her Indian clothes and sat quietly holding her infant daughter, Prairie Flower,  as people lined up to stare at her.

Talk of secession filled the air in early 1861. At his store, which had become a community meeting place, the slave-owning Turner expressed his desire that Texas not leave the Union. He said he could see no good that would come of it and gave his opinion that if war came, the south, with no manufacturing base, would lose and economic disaster would inevitably follow.

The Turner Oak

Later that year, when the state voted to secede and join the Confederacy however, Turner confirmed his allegiance to Texas and even paid to raise a company of Confederate soldiers. When war was declared, the Confederate government ordered its citizens to exchange their gold for paper currency. Before exchanging his gold though, Turner, along with his most trusted slave, "Uncle Ben," took a large cooking pot filled with gold coins and buried it under a live oak tree on his farm.

As the war continued, people suffered. Men were killed in battle, people went hungry and nobody was immune from the suffering. Some of Turner's family passed away and were buried near the oak tree which hid the pot of gold. Soon, people from the area began being buried on the same piece of land and a cemetery began taking form. The population of Fort Worth dropped to only 175 residents by the time war mercifully came to an end.

Marker at the base of the Turner Oak
The hard Reconstruction years followed and the citizens of Fort worth felt the pain like everyone else in the south. The economy was devastated when their Confederate money became worthless. People were left with next to nothing. And that's when Charles Turner came to the rescue of Fort Worth. He retrieved that pot of gold coins hidden beneath the live oak and used the money to pay for food, construction of new buildings, and the needed infrastructure of a city. Today, Fort Worth is prosperous and the 16th largest city in the United States with a population of almost 900,000, but who knows what would have happened if it were not for Charles Turner and his hidden pot of gold.

Near the Turner Oak is the grave of Luse Wallenberg,
marked by a female figure atop a pot of gold coins which
commemorates the story
The live oak tree which once was the caretaker of Fort Worth's future, is still alive and well. Known as The Turner Oak, it has been officially named a Living Witness tree and is listed as a certified Historic Tree of Texas. It is located about 200 yards inside the main gate of what became today's Greenwood Cemetery on White Settlement Road in Fort Worth.

Close-up of the Luse Wallenberg
grave statue


A Mother's Love Never Dies

South of Kilgore, Texas on Highway 259 is a small country cemetery named Pirtle. In the middle of the sacred grounds, hidden among ornate gravestones pointing to the sky, is the grave of a small boy that is no longer marked. When it was fresh, his daddy, a hardworking but poor farmer, couldn't afford a formal marker so he carved his son's name and the year he died into a sandstone rock and placed it there. Over the years though, it has been lost or stolen or maybe the carving weathered away and a well-meaning groundskeeper thought it was just a rock and removed it. 

In life, that little boy was terrified of the dark and the monsters he believed came out when light went to sleep. It’s normal for children to be afraid of the dark and what might be lurking within it, but this little boy, for reasons known only in his innocent mind, was deathly afraid of it. Whenever he found himself in darkness, he would scream in fright and curl up on the ground in a shaking, quivering ball. He even had trouble trying to take a nap in the daytime because when he closed his eyes, the light dimmed.

It had been a difficult pregnancy and mother and baby had both barely survived the birth. He would be her only child as she could never have another. From the time his mother figured out why he would cry every night, she tried to calm him and keep the darkness away. Every night she would sit beside him on his bed with an oil lantern glowing on the table. She would whisper her forever love for him and kiss his forehead. She told him stories of brave knights who slew dragons for kings and queens who lived in far off castles and would softly sing lullabies until he finally drifted into sleep. Only then did she tip-toe to her own bed, leaving the lantern burning low. She would get up often during the night to check on the lantern, because if it burned out, he would wake up crying in terror.

The boy never got over his fear of the dark even as he got older. His few friends from the neighboring farms made fun of him and his father, despite love for his family, grew angry at the boy and resented his wife for her indulgence. Like all little boys, he desperately wanted his father to be proud of him so he tried hard to control his fears, but no matter how hard he tried, he could never suppress them.

One day shortly after he turned six, he “took The Fever” as they said back then and became very sick. For several weeks, his mother stayed at his bedside day and night, cooling his hot little body with a rag dipped in cool water she fetched from the well. Nothing more could be done though and she became ever more frantic as she helplessly watched her young son slowly get worse. In the middle of a dark moonless night, despite all of her efforts and prayers, the boy gave up the fight. With his eyes open and looking at his loving mother, he passed away. 

The next day, neighbors came to take the child’s body for burial, but the mother hugged the corpse to her chest crying, “You can’t take him! He’s afraid of the dark! He's so afraid of the dark!” Eventually, the doctor was summoned and he gave the woman laudanum so she would fall asleep and the dead child could be taken from her for burial.

After the burial in Pirtle Cemetery, the mother visited his grave every evening as the sun set and stayed there the whole night. Newcomers to the area would often ask about the flickering light they would see in the cemetery after dark. Was the cemetery haunted by spirits? No, they would be told, it's only a mother who was crazy with grief. The residents would sadly shake their heads and explain she thought she was comforting her dead son. She kept a lantern lit all night as she sat next to her little boy's grave, telling him she would never stop loving him, softly singing lullabies and telling tales of kings and queens and brave knights in shining armor who rode white horses and slayed dragons. She wouldn't leave until the morning sun rose above the horizon and filled the day with light.

The story goes that the poor mother died not a year later of grief. Her husband buried her beside their son, but it seems she sometimes pays a visit to her little boy at night. Many people have reported seeing a lantern light flickering in the darkness in the middle of the cemetery. The old-timers are sure it's that forlorn mother still comforting her son from beyond the grave. Proof a mother’s love never ends.

When Japan Bombed Texas

In the early spring of 1945, Japan bombed the state of Texas. Well, they tried and actually came close to succeeding. There were no causalities and the whole thing might never have been known if it had not been reported by a group of teenagers from the little town of Desdemona.

On the afternoon of March 23, C.M. Guthery, fourteen, was riding the bus home from Desdemona Junior High when he noticed what looked like a large basketball descending from the sky. When he got off the bus at his stop on the next block, he started following the "basketball" as it continued to fall. As it floated closer to the ground, young Guthery had to begin jogging to keep up with it. A little over a mile later, it landed in a vacant field near some houses.

A group of kids from the neighborhood soon joined Guthery in examining what they could tell was a large balloon. The fabric was very brittle and a faded red rising sun symbol could be seen near the top. It was gray in color and smelled bad, kind of like creosote, so a few of the children wouldn't touch it, but others did. They began pulling it apart and carried away some ropes and pieces of the fabric.

Japanese balloon bomb in the
air (file photo)
Guthery walked back home and told his parents what he had found as did several of the other young teenagers. Government authorities were called by the parents. Early the next morning, military men showed up in town to visit the site where the remains of the balloon remained. They then began canvassing houses and gathered up the missing pieces taken as souvenirs. 

While the officials were busy in Desdemona, Ivan Miller, a cowboy on the Barney Davis Ranch in the nearby town of Woodson, was working a fence line when he discovered a large, collapsed balloon. This balloon also had a large rising sun painted near the top as well as several smaller rising suns around the bottom. Before the military men finished their work in Desdemona, residents in Woodson trekked out to the 2nd landing site and carried off pieces of the balloon as souvenirs. The officials had to repeat their process again, securing the site and then going around town collecting all the missing pieces.

In both cases, the civilians who found the balloons and took away pieces of them had no idea they had found anything other than a couple of big balloons. It wasn't until later they discovered how lucky they were.

On May 5, 1945, just six weeks later, a group of picnickers in southern Oregon were not so lucky. That morning, Archie Mitchell, the reverend for the Christian Alliance Church, drove to the mountains near Bly with his pregnant wife and five young parishioners from his church. About 1/2 mile from the picnic area on Gearhart Mountain, he dropped off his wife and the kids, all between the ages of 13 - 15, so they could have an adventure hiking the trail for the rest of the way.

(Historical document)
After arriving at the picnic site, Reverend Mitchell was unloading the food from the car when he heard his wife calling to him a short way into the surrounding woods. They said they had found something that looked like a large balloon and wanted him to come take a look at it. He had heard on the news warnings regarding Japanese balloons landing in the area so as he began jogging toward the group he shouted for them to get away from it. Unfortunately, his warning came several seconds too late. He had only ran a couple of feet when he heard a large explosion and debris began raining down. Evidently, one of the children had tugged on a rope hanging from the balloon and the bomb exploded. When the Reverend recovered his senses and made his way to the site of the explosion, he found his wife and all five of the children dead. The Oregon picnickers were the only Americans killed by enemy action inside the continental United States during World War II.

Between November, 1944 and April, 1945 Japan launched nine thousand balloons which they hoped would be transported to mainland America by the atmospheric winds. Attached to each balloon was a 33-pound antipersonnel explosive and two incendiary munitions. Their goal was to create a series of forest fires and to kill civilians in order to create havoc, divert personnel, dampen American morale and disrupt the war effort. Approximately 1,000 actually reached America, Canada and Mexico, but most proved to be carrying dud bombs or, like the two found in Desdemona and Woodson, the explosive cargo had fallen harmlessly into the ocean before making landfall. It may never be known for sure, however, how many actually caused damage as the military placed a blackout ban on any news of the balloon bombs in order to deprive Japan from tracking their success.

Confirmed landings and explosion sites
Amazingly, a number of these balloon bombs continued to be found for years after the war. Several were found in Hawaii and some made it as far east on the mainland as Omaha, Grand Rapids, Chicago and Detroit. One, with its explosives still attached, was found partially buried outside Edmonton, Alberta in 1953. In 1955, another one was found in Alaska. One was found and had to be destroyed in northern Mexico in 1964. In 1978, a badly deteriorated balloon without its munitions was found in a remote forest area in Oregon. The latest one found was discovered by two forestry workers in 2014 in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia. The balloon material had disintegrated but metal pieces of the apparatus was visible and the bomb it had carried was partially buried in the dirt. It had been laying undiscovered in that spot for 70 years. Considered too dangerous to remove, the military placed C-4 on the ground around it and blew it, they reported, "to smithereens."

Even today, over 70 years later, not many know about Japan's balloon bomb attack, but World War II effected every home, town and person in America, even a few young, very lucky teenagers living far from any battlefield in a small country town like Desdemona, Texas.

Postcard From The Grand Canyon

It was early morning in Flagstaff, Arizona and I was sitting on an old, weather beaten picnic table in front of the Howard Johnson motel on Route 66 waiting on a guy from Enterprise to pick me up to take possession of a rental car. The next leg of our vacation would be via car to the Grand Canyon. It was already hot and traffic on the road in front of me was very light so I was just sitting there working my brain the way bored guys do, in other words, not thinking anything at all, when a car pulled to the curb and stopped. I looked over and saw it was driven by a stunningly beautiful young lady. The driver's window was down and she was looking right at me. She smiled, casually flipped her blond hair behind her ear and said, "Hi, there." Confused, I looked over my shoulder to see if there was someone behind me. There wasn't. When I looked back at her, she laughed and started to drive away. I really wasn't sure what to think, but guessed it was just some good looking young woman who saw some poor, old guy sitting by himself and decided to have some fun at his expense. I didn't mind. But then she pulled into the hotel parking lot and drove up, stopping right beside me and gave me a big smile. "Hey, how are you doing?" she asked. Oh, now I get it - she's a fallen dove looking to make some money the old fashioned way. She laughed again and said, "Are you Ken? Cause if you're not, I'm going to be really embarrassed. I'm Denise, with Enterprise. I'm here to give you a ride to the office."

The Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter
at the park entrance
At the Enterprise office Denise gave me a choice of three vehicles - I chose the Nissan Rogue with only 3,000 miles on it. After going back to the Howard Johnson to pick up the Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter, we started on the 80 mile drive to the Grand Canyon. Getting on the interstate, shortcomings of the car became immediately apparent. Merging into interstate traffic was an adventure as pressing the accelerator didn't do much except make the little 4-cylander engine wind-up and scream in protest. When you go up a modest hill and have to keep you foot down almost to the floor and an 18-wheeler truck still passes you, the car is woefully underpowered. The most annoying thing though was the constant floating from side to side. The car would not stay going straight. It would float to the left and with just the slightest little touch of the steering wheel, it would then float to the right. Constant attention was required to keep it within the lane. The good part though was the great gas mileage. We put a good number of miles on that thing and only filled up once and topped off the tank when we returned it. Maybe the issues were because it was a rental, had not been treated kindly by other renters and needed adjustments, but with just 3,000 miles on her, I'll just say the experience ensured a Nissan Rogue is not in our future.

After several little side trips and a stop to eat, we made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The entry fee per car is $30, but I showed my National Park Senior Pass and the friendly park ranger smiled, handed us maps and info booklets and wished us a good visit. I bought my senior pass four years ago for $10 and consider the purchase to be one of the wisest and best I've ever made. We love visiting the national parks and it has saved us hundreds of dollars in entrance fees and other discounts over the years.

This young elk was outside our room
every morning eating breakfast
We had reservations inside the park at Yavapai Lodge, but we arrived at 2:00 and signs indicated no check-ins before 3:00. We looked around in the gift shop for a few minutes and the Momma-woman bought a summer Cowboy hat. She didn't think I would like it, but she was wrong - I think she looks sexy in it! I went back to the reservation desk to ask where we could buy stamps and after she gave directions to the post office, she asked if we were checking in. I said yes and even though it was just 2:20, she said our room had just been released by the service staff and we could check in now. Great!

Yavapai Lodge East consists of six individual 2-story buildings and Yavapai West is ten 1-story buildings in a totally separate location. We got a room in one of the East buildings as it had air conditioning whereas the West rooms do not. I'm sure having no A/C is fine in the fall/spring/winter, but it was summer and we were grateful for it. Nice room, not fancy, but clean and comfortable. There is no Wi-Fi in any of the rooms (it is available at the Lodge) and the satellite TV kept cutting in and out, but we didn't stay in the room much except to sleep so that wasn't a big deal. The room had a big picture window looking out into the forest and I spent a good bit of time looking out of that window watching squirrels scamper about playing and elk grazing as I waited for my two girls to finish showers and get ready for the day. It was a really nice way to start the day.

Our visit to Grand Canyon was thoroughly enjoyable. It had been 20 years since the Momma-woman and I had been and it was Youngest-daughter's first time. The biggest change we noted, other than the free buses which you can now take to anywhere in the park, was the crowds. According to our memory, there seemed to be at least twice or 3 times as many visitors and there were many, many more foreign tourists - especially European, Japanese, Chinese and people from India. With a few exceptions, the vast majority of folks were friendly and courteous. The most inconsiderate we encountered during our 3 days there were three youngish Americans.

Youngest-daughter admiring the view

We had made special effort to be at Hopi Point to see the sunset. It is in an area where you have to take the red route "Hermit's Rest" shuttle as auto's are not allowed. We arrived early enough to get a good viewing spot and were patiently waiting as the sun was edging down toward the horizon when one of the world's most beat up, ugliest, dirtiest diesel pickup trucks came into the empty parking area spewing diesel smoke and fumes. It was covered in bumper stickers and hand-made signs declaring "Save the Trees," "No Fracking," "Clean Air" and "Water is life!" I especially liked the "Clean Air" one as we had to wait for the air to clear of diesel exhaust before it could be read. The bed was filled with camping items, a generator, and a number of other mystery items which had tarps over them, all dirty. It had been outfitted with a handmade, iron balcony sort of thing over the bed. I have no idea how they got there since autos were supposedly not allowed. Three people got out, two guys and a woman. There had been a pretty large crowd at the viewing point, but until these people arrived, everyone had been real subdued, talking almost in whispers while watching an awesome sunset. A sight like that in that setting just naturally makes one look on in quiet awe at nature's beauty and power and have thoughts of how small you really are. Just before the colors turned to gold and bright red and orange, the older guy (he reminded me of Wavy Gravy from way back in the days of flowers, peace and love) climbed up on the top of their truck and started shouting at the top of his lungs, "My name is Johnny!" "My name is Johnny!" "My name is Johnny!" "Water is life!" "Agua es vida!" Gee, thanks a lot, Johnny. Way to break the mood.

Now that he had everyone looking at him, he brought out a drum and began loudly chanting, Indian-style, and banging that drum like he is a Native-American shaman or something. After a few minutes of this, the younger guy brought a guitar out, climbed up and joined him in chanting. The woman walked around shouting, "Water is life!" "Water is life!" This went on until the sun had set and it was dark.

Long lines formed to wait for the bus. We were in line for almost an hour because there were only two buses running and only about 20 people could get on each time. The line snaked beside Johnny's truck and I glanced in as I slowly passed. It was just as filthy inside as out and it obviously had been serving as living quarters for them for a long time. The woman was telling everyone that passed, "Water is life!" I was upset that they had basically ruined everyone's enjoyment of a beautiful sunset, a beautiful moment. As she looked at me and said for the hundredth time, "Water is life" I wanted to say water is also for bathing, you should try it sometime, but it had been a long day, I was really tired and I doubted she would get it so I walked on without a word.

Inconsiderate, self-centered Johnny
We left the next morning and other than Johnny and company's inconsiderate chanting and proclamations, we had a wonderful time. I would definitely recommend staying in one of the "inside the park" accommodations. They are all close to a shuttle stop and the buses run every few minutes. Cost for a room is around $200 - $250 per night and worth it. We had a car so we drove the routes some of the time, but even though we never had much trouble finding a parking spot at an overlook or other site, we found it easy and convenient to take a shuttle. We spent three full days in the park and that was enough to see everything along the southern rim. If you plan on taking a hike or two, you will need to plan more time. I hiked several trails here years ago and recommend you do too. (It was on one of those hikes that I first encountered Ponderosa pine trees - their bark smells like vanilla!) Unfortunately, hiking at the 7,000+ foot elevation and in the heat was not possible this time and I regret it. Oh well, it was still most enjoyable and the visit gets 2 thumbs up from all of us!

Feeling small at Grand Canyon
This big fella was on the side of the road and didn't
mind his picture being taken at all

This picture of Youngest-daughter perfectly sums up
our trip to the Grand Canyon - awesome!