Texas Myth # 113

Anne Dingus Solves the state’s greatest mysteries.

THE TEN-GALLON HAT HOLDS TEN GALLONS.
The king-size cowboy hat has nothing to do with gallons at all. The phrase comes from the Spanish word galón, meaning “braid.” Cowboys mistranslated the word as “gallon,” so a ten-gallon hat came to mean an elaborately decorated or extra-big one. Western star Tom Mix helped popularize the style in the 1910’s, and this year the hefty hat worn by Texan Dan Blocker on Bonanza —it had a seven-inch crown—sold at auction for $9,200.

Q: An elderly friend of mine swears that Texas used to celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day than the rest of the U.S. Is this just memory slippage?
A: Nope, she’s talking turkey. Texas, like other states, long observed Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November—a tradition established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. But in 1939 another president was all business about the holiday: Franklin Roosevelt decided to designate the next-to-last Thursday of the month, a response to pressure from retailers who lost precious shopping days when Thanksgiving fell on a very late Thursday. In 1941 he went on to specify the fourth Thursday in months that had five. FDR’s decisions to carve up November caused a furor, as they upset the travel plans of millions of families nationwide, so both years Texas enjoyed a double-dip Thanksgiving, celebrating Turkey Day twice. That practice continued in 1944, 1945, 1950, and 1956. Finally, in 1957 the Legislature passed a law making the fourth Thursday Texas’s official Thanksgiving Day. Seconds on that, anyone?

Q: What is a “Texas heart shot”?
A: It’s hunting slang meaning a clear shot at the rear end of an animal—specifically, the anus. Consider it a compliment of sorts; after all, a Texas heart shot, if accurate, is inevitably fatal.

Q: Did Jack Ruby ever go to prison for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald? I seem to recall that he died before he went to trial.
A: The proprietor of a strip joint called the Carousel Club, Ruby shot Oswald on November 24, 1963. The act was witnessed by millions on live TV. The following spring a Dallas jury found Ruby guilty of murder with malice and sentenced him to death. While awaiting his appeal, he remained in the Dallas County jail; the Warren Commission eventually dropped by to see what he had to say. Ruby was still behind bars in Big D when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction in October 1966, asserting, for one thing, that he was entitled to a change of venue. Two months later, facing a new trial in Wichita Falls, the ailing prisoner was admitted to Parkland hospital, the same place where doctors had labored futilely over President Kennedy (and Oswald). There he learned he had terminal lung cancer. He died on January 3, 1967. “Jack Ruby spent the last three years of his life in the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department,” says Gary Mack, the curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. “He never made it to state prison.”

Q: Who is the saint that San Angelo is named after? I’ve never heard of him.
A: Well, bless your little Protestant heart! There was indeed a Saint Angelo (sometimes called Angelus). He was born about 1145 in Jerusalem to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity. Later he helped establish the Carmelite order. Dispatched to Sicily to spread the word, he was stabbed to death around 1220 by a local no-goodnik. But the religious martyr has nothing to do with the Texas town, which boasts dueling explanations for the origin of its name. Supposedly an early pioneer, Bartholomew DeWitt, named the town Angela for either his wife or his sister-in-law, a Mexican nun. If the latter was the honoree, that might explain where the mysterious “San” came from; it’s possible that DeWitt was attempting to honor her ethnic heritage or spiritual devotion. However, in 1883, when the town applied for official post-office status, the feds pointed out that “San Angela” was an ungrammatical construction in Spanish, so the city opted to masculinize the name to “San Angelo.”

Q: Is it acceptable for a cowboy to wear his hat indoors? What about his spurs?
A: No and hell no. Etiquette mavens such as Miss Manners traditionally frown on the wearing of hats inside—by men. That’s because for centuries men’s headgear was easily removed, while women’s bonnets were anchored with hat pins or ribbons. Politically incorrect though it may be, this practice still rules today. As for spurs, well, they’re about as welcome on a floor as football cleats; the rowels—the spinning disks with the sharp metal spikes—would wreak havoc on carpet or wood. (And you thought tracking in mud made your mom mad!)

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