From Donald Chambers founding the Bandidos in Houston to Gordon Granger reading General Orders No. 3 in Galveston

51 | Donald Chambers founds The Bandidos

Houston Ship Channel, Houston | March 1966

Before weekend warriors straddling $30,000 custom Harleys turned motorcycle culture into an exercise in middle-class escapism, there were the Bandidos. In 1966, the same year that Hunter S. Thompson published his famous book about the infamous Hell’s Angels, Donald Chambers, a stevedore at the Houston shipyards, started his own motorcycle gang, whose outlaws lived by the motto “We are the people our parents warned us about.” He dubbed the club the Bandidos after Mexican bandits, chose red and gold as its colors in deference to his Marine Corps roots, and recruited from biker bars across Texas. As their numbers grew—there were more than one hundred members by the early seventies—the Bandidos emerged as the most dangerous gang in the state. In 1972 Chambers lived up to that reputation when he was convicted of murder and given two life sentences. — ANDREA VALDEZ

52 | Sam Houston defeats Santa Anna

Along Independence Parkway, La Porte | April 21, 1836

Mathew B. Brady

For our country’s sake,” David Burnet pleaded during the monsoonal Texas spring of 1836, “let something be done, something that will tell upon our enemies and upon ourselves.”

Burnet, the interim president of the hastily organized Republic of Texas, was writing to Thomas Rusk, his interim Secretary of War, about the conduct of General Sam Houston, who was at the head of what remained of the Texas army after the disasters of the Alamo and Goliad. “Interim” does not begin to describe the chaotic and wildly improvisational weeks in which the entity now known as Texas managed somehow to survive its creation. The citizens were in panicky flight, and the government and the army were filled with men who held one another in contemptuous distrust. Burnet, for example, thought Houston was a coward who would not fight, as did many of the men he uncertainly commanded.

The enemy are laughing you to scorn,” the president wrote Houston as the general kept retreating, first across the Colorado, then across the Brazos. “You must fight them.”

Houston was a man prone to duels, tempestuous love affairs, and abrupt acts of political theater. But at times he could have a surprisingly cool head, and he needed all the calm he could summon as he led his almost openly mutinous forces to the east, taking advantage of the flooded rivers to keep Santa Anna’s armies at bay while he tried to create a workable strategy on the fly.

It was Burnet and his cabinet, not Houston, who ended up being laughed to scorn. They barely managed to escape to Galveston in a rowboat as the Mexicans swept into New Washington to arrest and hang them. Houston, meanwhile, found a place to hole up and wait for his enemy. He positioned his rambunctious army in a grove of live oaks facing a broad swath of coastal prairie alongside the San Jacinto River. Santa Anna showed up a day later, and the two armies skirmished, exchanged artillery volleys, and then withdrew to separate ends of the field. Houston slept soundly through the night. Santa Anna, perhaps a little too convinced that the rebels were on the defensive and had no plans to attack, took a siesta the next afternoon. He woke to the sound of cannon and musket fire. If you look closely when you visit San Jacinto today, you can still detect a slight swell of land in the center of the battlefield. That was how the Texians managed to march almost unnoticed to the Mexican army’s outer breastworks. Eighteen minutes later, they had swarmed through the main camp, mercilessly shooting and clubbing and tomahawking the fleeing Mexican soldados. Houston ordered them to stop short of slaughter, but they were through listening to him. The telling blow that David Burnet had yearned for had at last been struck, and Texas was no longer just a fragile conceit but a real place, its interim existence ratified in blood. — STEPHEN HARRIGAN

53 | The Houston Stonewalls beat the Galveston Robert E. Lees—in baseball

Along Independence Parkway, La Porte | April 21, 1867

Thirty-one years to the day after Sam Houston’s army defeated Santa Anna’s forces, another skirmish took place on the same elevated bank overlooking Buffalo Bayou. But instead of wielding bayonets, the opposing factions—the Houston Stonewalls on one side, the Galveston Robert E. Lees on the other—brandished crude wooden bats in what seems to be the first baseball game ever recorded in Texas. Even though a formal league wouldn’t be created until 1888, the matchup was billed as the “championship of the state” and drew more than a thousand spectators. The outcome was nearly as lopsided as Sam Houston’s historic fight; the Stonewalls crushed the Lees 35—2. A local paper’s recap of the four-hour contest was only four sentences long but ended with a zinger aimed at the city’s coastal challengers: “Try it again, boys; but our Houston athletes are hard to beat.” We can only guess as to where, precisely, the backstop might have been, but if you take the elevator up to the observation deck at the top of the San Jacinto Monument, you can look down and imagine which patch of this hallowed ground would have made for the perfect diamond. — JB

54 | Gilley’s opens

4500 Spencer Highway, Pasadena | 1971


In 1978 a locally famous saloon in Pasadena ended up on the cover of Esquire magazine with the headline “The Urban Cowboy—Saturday Night Fever, Country & Western Style.” Aaron Latham’s article itself was a big deal, but it was soon eclipsed by an even bigger deal—a movie, Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, which was itself followed by a national outbreak of honky-tonk bars with mechanical bulls and “cowboys” who’d never been near a ranch. It all started at Gilley’s, which opened its doors in 1971. They closed eighteen wild years later, and in 1990 the building burned to the ground. Today the property is next to a car lot. (The sign from

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week