Living Legends

I ALWAYS HAD MY DOUBTS about the jackalope, and I figured out early on that Pecos Bill hadn’t really roped that tornado. But I admit I have fallen for my share of a newer form of folklore: the urban legend. One story in particular first masqueraded as grandmotherly wisdom. Back in the seventies, when I was a college student, I often visited my grandparents in Bay City.

Cold Comfort

SOFT-SERVE ICE CREAM, ACCORDING TO my father, is—and I quote—”an abomination unto the Lord.” That’s a minority opinion in the family and probably one reason the rest of us love it so. But we won’t settle for just any soft-serve: It has to be Dairy Queen’s. That’s the Texas way.

Our Towns

WOULD YOU BELIEVE THAT WACO is so called because the word is an anagram of “a cow”? That McAllen was named for a brand of scotch? That “Dumas” is a sanitized version of “Dumbass”?

Grand Old Flags

This promises to be a banner year for Texas flag buffs. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has assembled an unprecedented exhibit of 32 Texas flags—from a tattered one that survived the Battle of San Jacinto to the huge ensign that flew over the battleship USS Texas— and the catalog is really a combination of breakthrough historical text and glossy coffee-table centerpiece.

Merry Tex-mas

IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE A REAL OLD-FASHIONED Texas Christmas, make sure you’re equipped with gunpowder, moonshine, and adequate health insurance. For its first century, the state celebrated a holiday that was short on snow, sugarplums, and other Dickensian trimmings.

Local Hero

Any Texan can have a career. But few can make a career out of being a Texan. It’s a short list, and there’s no room at the top, where—for almost three decades—the number one position has been occupied by Bob Phillips, the state’s very own Charles Kuralt. Phillips is the host of Texas Country Reporter, a weekly paean to the pull of the two-lane blacktop and that great natural resource, the small-town character, and the show’s title is synonymous with his name.

The Original Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders

Brad Pitt is going to see me! All of Hollywood is going to see me!” That’s what 47-year-old Carrie O’Brien thought when she first spied the July 2-July 9 double issue of Sports Illustrated, the one featuring her and four of the other original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on the cover. Dixie Smith Luque, also 47, was asked for her autograph: Two buyers she’d sold homes to returned after their closing, copies of the magazine in hand.

The Cops Who Stopped Charles Whitman

At the top of the University of Texas Tower 35 years ago, Austin policemen Houston McCoy and Ramiro “Ray” Martinez risked all to end the killing spree of ex-Marine Charles Whitman. The press initially credited Martinez with taking Whitman down, but after the coroner’s report was issued, it seemed likely that McCoy’s shotgun rather than Martinez’s pistol had inflicted the mortal wounds.

Jessica McClure

On October 14, 1987, an eighteen-month-old toddler named Jessica McClure fell 22 feet into an abandoned Midland water well that was only eight inches in diameter. For the next three days, rescuers frantically dug a tunnel to reach her while the little girl sang nursery rhymes to herself, called for “Mama,” and cried. To keep her company, local police officer Andy Glasscock would call down into the well, “How does a kitten go?” “Meow,” Jessica would call back. Baby Jessica’s plight mesmerized the country.

Charles “Tex” Watson

While serving a life sentence for participating in the slaughter of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, California inmate Charles “Tex” Watson has married, fathered four children, and founded a prison-cell ministry. Watson enjoyed repeated conjugal visits (now forbidden to the state’s lifers) with his wife, Kristin, at California’s Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, where the 55-year-old has so far served thirty years. Watson was Charles Manson’s right-hand man.

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