Texas Myth #714

Anne Dingus solves the state’s greatest mysteries.

IF A TEXAN CATCHES HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER IN THE ACT, HE CAN KILL THE MAN AND GET AWAY SCOT-FREE.

Shoot, no; today such a lethally jealous husband would likely face a charge of murder in the second degree (the heat of anger being an extenuating factor). But the so-called Paramour Law long existed; a macho remnant of Spanish colonial rule, it was standard practice in pre-Republic days and was cited as a reason for justifiable homicide in the state’s penal code until, unbelievably, 1974.

Q: Who wrote “The Yellow Rose of Texas”?

A: The original lyrics were scribbled on a scrap of paper sometime in the spring of 1836, around the time of the Battle of San Jacinto, signed only with the initials “J.K.” Because the song contained lines such as “She’s the sweetest rose of color / This darky ever knew,” historians theorize that the songwriter was a black man. Beyond that, J.K.’s identity has remained a mystery, but several investigations have looked into the identity of his “yellow rose.” Some writers claim that she was a heroic indentured servant who kept Santa Anna “entertained” inside his tent while the Texians steamrolled his army.

Though a freedwoman named Emily West was indeed present at San Jacinto, there is no reliable evidence that she ever dallied with the Mexican general or that she was ever J.K.’s “yellow rose.”

Q: Are “mountain oysters” really what I think they are?

A: Chewy? That’s been my experience. Yes, I’m afraid “mountain oysters” are indeed calf testicles. Since the 1800’s, cowboy roundup duties have included castration (the procedure helps produce meaty, mellow steers), and the cowboys would often toss the, um, leftovers into the branding fire to roast for a quick snack. Today they are an occasional eye-opening special at stalwart cowboy eateries like the Perini Ranch Steakhouse, in Buffalo Gap, and Reata, in Alpine, where the cooks generally dip the testicles in seasoned flour, fry the bejesus out of them, and serve them with cream gravy. You can also order them from a butcher, but ask him to remove the tough membranes so you pay only for the tasty little “oysters.”

Q: Has Texas ever had an earthquake?

A: Many of them, especially political. But the most serious geological tremor occurred near the West Texas hamlet of Valentine in 1931. Although no one died, the seismic upheaval, with a magnitude of 6.0, destroyed most of the town and was felt over 400,000 square miles. (The recent 9.0 quake off the coast of Sumatra was one thousand times as great). Sixty-four years later, the state’s second-worst quake hit, also near Valentine; the 1995 tremor registered at 5.8 and did little damage aboveground—except make the earth move for Valentine’s lovers.

Q: Wasn’t the world’s first heart transplant performed by a Texan?

A: Almost. On May 3, 1968, Houston surgeon Denton Cooley became the first doctor in the U.S. to successfully transplant a human heart. Five months earlier, however, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, of Cape Town, South Africa, had completed the world’s first heart transplant. Still, the Texan had more success: Barnard’s patient survived just eighteen days, Cooley’s more than six months. And a year later, Cooley, who eventually undertook as many as 25 heart operations a day, did win number one credentials by implanting the world’s first artificial heart, which he had also helped to design.

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