From John Warne Gates peddling barbed wire in San Antonio to a group of cowboys and ranchers holding the first rodeo in Pecos

March 2011By Comments

101 | John Warne Gates peddles barbed wire

Military Plaza, San Antonio | 1876

John Warne Gates died a rich industrialist, but in 1876 he was a 21-year-old barbed-wire salesman when he arrived in San Antonio. That’s where he publicly demonstrated the potential of his product in a spectacular exhibit: a barbed-wire pen of Longhorns in San Antonio’s Military Plaza. Gates’ salesmanship—“Light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheap as dirt” was his slogan—resulted in such gangbuster sales for Washburn & Moen that the company couldn’t keep up with orders. The West was never the same, as the prairies were soon carved into sharply drawn plots—and the open range disappeared forever. —KV

102 | Canary Islanders arrive

Plaza de las Islas, across from the San Fernando Cathedral; San Antonio | March 7, 1731

Recruiting a civilian outpost for King Philip V of Spain must have been rough. Imagine the marketing campaign: “Wanted—self-sustaining population of four hundred families for king’s new scheme. Be the first to establish a civil government in the barbaric wastelands of the north!” When the 55 lucky recruits from the poor, overpopulated Canary Islands arrived at the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar, they set up a little community (alongside a small military installation, which had been there for more than a decade), organized a government, and flourished, proving such feats were possible to the immigrant waves that followed. The village they occupied, now marked by a plaza they would barely recognize, became the most significant in Spanish Texas. —KV

103 | Ernie Cortes cries, “Balderdash!”

100 West Houston, San Antonio | February 5, 1975

Anyone who remembers the San Antonio that was captured by NBC News one evening in 1970—when mayor Walter McAllister told an interviewer that Mexican Americans were nice people who loved flowers while scenes of dire poverty on the West Side were flashing across the screen—will also remember the day change came to the city. It arrived in the form of Ernesto “Ernie” Cortes, who inspired members of his newly formed group Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) to rise up against the oligarchy. On February 4 the group went to the old Joske’s store downtown, at Alamo and Commerce streets, and tried on everything from dresses to fur coats—and bought nothing. The next day they moved on to the real seat of San Antonio power, the Frost Bank, and asked to change dollars into quarters and back again. Hundreds of people, over and over. When Cortes met with Tom Frost, the chairman of the bank, and was told that his concerns couldn’t be addressed overnight, Cortes replied, “Balderdash!” throwing back one of Frost’s favorite sayings. The sheer numbers of Mexican Americans streaming into downtown helped get their message across, and finally public works projects such as paved roads became a reality on the West Side. That November, 27-year-old Henry Cisneros was elected to the city council. —MS

104 | Lydia Mendoza records “Mal Hombre”

231 East Martin, San Antonio | 1934

Lydia Mendoza was still a teenager when she walked into a makeshift studio at the Texas Hotel, which stood on the corner of Martin and Navarro streets, and played four songs for the Bluebird Record label, for which she was paid $60. The recordings from this solo session in 1934 propelled her into the spotlight. One of the songs was “Mal Hombre,” the lyrics of which she had learned from a chewing gum wrapper in Monterrey, Mexico. It became her first hit and remained her most well-known single throughout a long career as the “Queen of Tejano.” The Texas Hotel was razed in 1940, and the spot is now the Bank of America Plaza. But gazing at the sidewalk in front you can imagine a teenage girl stepping outside and heading home, unaware of just how much her life was about to change. —KV

105 | World’s first air-conditioned high-rise opens

115 East Travis, San Antonio | January 1928

Ben Milam died leading the attack that captured San Antonio from Mexico’s federal troops (and thereby invited Santa Anna’s counterattack that resulted in the fall of the Alamo), but his name is also associated with something much, well, cooler. In 1928 the Milam Building opened its doors, a 21-story brick-and-concrete structure on Travis Street that was the world’s first high-rise office building with air-conditioning. And who’s to say which event was more significant to the settlement of Texas? Until that point, major corporations had shunned the Southwest for its heat and humidity. Freed from these discomforts, they learned to love it for its low taxes and antipathy to unions. The modern Sunbelt was born here, at the corner of Travis and Soledad streets, where current tenants are still happy to step inside for relief from the summer sun. —HWB

106 | Rollin King and Herb Kelleher hatch the idea for Southwest

300 East Travis, San Antonio | 1966

Rollin King was a 34-year-old entrepreneur who owned an air taxi service that ferried businessmen around the Rio Grande Valley; Herb Kelleher was King’s 35-year-old lawyer, who was looking for the next big thing. King’s venture barely made money, but one day, after hearing his banker complain about poor airline service in Texas, King had a crazy idea: He would expand his business model to a low-fare, no-frills airline that serviced the state’s biggest cities exclusively. But first he needed a partner, so he approached Kelleher. Though the details of their exchange at the posh St. Anthony Club are now larger than legend (did they really map out a business plan on a cocktail napkin?), it’s certainly true that their partnership was sealed over drinks. Today the St. Anthony is still there, and King’s brainchild—now known as Southwest Airlines—is poised to become the second-largest domestic carrier in the country. —KR

107 | Eugene Goldbeck photographs President McKinley

Travis Park, San Antonio | May 4, 1901

The camera was a No. 2 Bulls-Eye, small and boxy, clad in seal grain leather and adorned with nickel hardware. A young Eugene Goldbeck, all of nine or ten at the time, had borrowed it from his older brother, Herman, and headed out to Travis Park, where some 10,000 schoolchildren much like himself had been corralled to wave flags, sing the patriotic repertoire, and cheer themselves hoarse as part of the city’s grand welcoming of the nation’s newly reelected president. Goldbeck no doubt took part in the merrymaking, but his mission that day was more than just mere celebration: He wanted to photograph a president. So he finagled himself a curbside spot, and at the exact moment William McKinley was to roll past in his open-air carriage, Eugene darted into the street and clicked his exposure—and began his career as one of the country’s great photographers. —S. HOLLISTER

108 | Theodore Roosevelt lives his dream

204 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio | 1898

Theodore Roosevelt had always wanted to be a soldier. So when the Spanish-American War finally commenced, in 1898, the 39-year-old assistant secretary of the Navy promptly resigned and began recruiting a volunteer cavalry regiment. It was a motley force of cowboys, prospectors, American Indians, gamblers, and even some Ivy League polo players. The regiment mustered in San Antonio, where Roosevelt made his headquarters at the Menger Hotel, the bar of which became a jostling scene of bravado and storytelling. It was Roosevelt’s dream come true. After “Teddy’s Texas Tarantulas” was discarded as a name for the regiment, a local wit came up with “The Rough Riders,” which stuck. The city was happy to see them come, because they brought federal dollars and national attention, but they were even happier to see them go, since they were often less than disciplined. The farewell gathering turned into a melee when some well-lubricated recruits mistook the percussion section of the city’s band for Spanish artillery and returned fire. Today the Menger is plastered with references to the Rough Riders, including revolvers, a campaign hat, and an original military standard carried up Kettle Hill by San Antonio’s Joseph H. Beck. —HWB

109 | Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t remember the Alamo

300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio | February 19, 1982

It’s probably not wise to rely on Ozzy Osbourne’s memory of his infamous arrest at the Alamo. But according to the version he recounted this past year on Lopez Tonight, during his hard-partying Blizzard of Ozz days, his future wife would hide his clothes when he was on the road to discourage him from leaving his hotel room once he’d dipped into his cups. As a result, when he decided to do some sightseeing—with a bottle of Courvoisier—early one February morning before a show in San Antonio, he had no choice but to don her green evening dress. A short while later, he relieved himself on an “old wall,” which turned out to be part of the Alamo. Osbourne’s recollection is slightly off. In fact, he urinated on the Alamo Cenotaph, the soaring, sixty-foot-tall marble tribute to the fallen heroes erected on the spot in front of the chapel where many are believed to have been killed. Osbourne was arrested for public intoxication and banned by the San Antonio City Council from playing in municipal facilities for the next ten years. It wasn’t until October 1992, after he’d donated $10,000 to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, that he was allowed to return. Though the city is once again a regular tour stop for Osbourne, he’s been kind enough not to return to the Alamo. —JS

110 | Julian Onderdonk paints bluebonnets

Near San Antonio | 1911

Thank goodness Julian Onderdonk died unaware that future generations would come to know him by a label he reviled: bluebonnet painter. Born into an artistic San Antonio family in 1882, Onderdonk studied in New York, but the South Texas countryside was always his best-loved muse. “When the wildflowers are in bloom,” he wrote, “it is riotous.” One morning in 1911, he took his easel outside the city—the date and location are unknown—and rendered a pretty scene with stands of prickly pear and swaths of bluebonnets. Though the focal point of Spring Morning is actually the interplay of light and shadow, Onderdonk’s admirers knew what they liked, and they liked the cobalt blooms. Today his works can be found in collections around the country, and the bluebonnet painting is synonymous with Texas. To see the picture that started it all, visit the Alamo, where it hangs in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library. —PS

111 | Henry Cisneros is born

2906 Monterey, San Antonio | June 11, 1947

On a nice, working-class street in the heart of the West Side, the small frame house with blue and white trim is only slightly better maintained than those around it. Like many of the homes nearby, it has changed little over the years, though enough improvements have been made that it is hard to remember that these streets were nothing but caliche until the seventies. This house belongs to Elvira Cisneros, however, and while she would say that all four of her children are exceptional, one in particular went on to international fame. That would be Henry Cisneros, the handsome, Harvard-educated former mayor of San Antonio and Clinton-era secretary of housing. See the house, but then tour the neighborhood; much has been done on the West Side, but it’s still a testament to the work that remains. —MS

112 | Kreuz Market opens

208 South Commerce, Lockhart | 1900

Like the other German-owned food stores in Central Texas, Charles Kreuz’s new grocery store and meat market had a wood-fired pit. His customers would order his smoked meats and sausages by the pound, pick up some saltine crackers and a hunk of yellow cheese, spread out the butcher paper, and have lunch right on the spot. A half century after the doors opened, employee Edgar Schmidt bought the market, wisely retaining the business’s name. For more than five decades Kreuz’s reputation for barbecue grew. But in 1999 a dustup between Schmidt’s children led brothers Rick and Don Schmidt to take the Kreuz name to a brand-new building nearby, while their sister, Nina Schmidt Sells, kept the original brick edifice, renamed Smitty’s. Today fans quibble over which is better, but everyone agrees that two outlets for such superlative examples of the smoker’s craft are better than one. —PS

113 | George Strait debuts with Ace in the Hole

119 Cheatham, San Marcos | October 13, 1975

Courtesy of Terry Hale

The hardest thing to picture about George Strait’s first performance with the Ace in the Hole Band is not that it was on a Monday night nor that the venue, Cheatham Street Warehouse, couldn’t draw much of a crowd—despite not charging a cover. After all, Strait was just a nobody who’d happened to answer an ad for a “country band looking for singer.” Sure, club owner Kent Finlay did offer him a weekly gig at the end of the night, and Strait and Ace in the Hole did end up dominating the Central Texas dance hall circuit some five years later. But in 1975 he was just another ag student at Southwest Texas State, and nobody could have guessed that he would go on to record more number one songs—57 at last count—than any other performer in any musical genre, every one of them steeped in his trademark traditional country sound. No, the weird thing about Strait’s fateful first show was that he played that night without a fiddle in the band. —JS

114 | Willie Nelson performs at the Dripping Springs Reunion

Intersection of CR 101 and CR 187, Dripping Springs | March 1719, 1972

Not long after Willie Nelson decided to get the hell outta Nashville and return to Texas, he joined a few of his rowdy friends in the Hill Country for a three-day music festival. Held on a seven-thousand-acre ranch about forty miles west of Austin, the Dripping Springs Reunion was billed as “the biggest country music spectacular ever held.” It wasn’t—promoters were expecting 75,000 fans a day, but only about 25,000 came out the entire weekend to see an eclectic lineup that included Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, and Loretta Lynn. Even though the Reunion was a financial bust, it inspired Willie to launch his own outdoor festival the following year. For his inaugural Fourth of July Picnic, Willie returned to the same ranch (though it’s on private property, you’ll be in the vicinity if you drive northwest of town to the intersection of CR 101 and CR 187). Since then, the Independence Day affair has been held at various locations, but it has grown into a full-blown Texas tradition. —JB

115 | Kerrville Folk Festival is born

910 Main, Kerrville | June 1—3, 1972

The lineup included Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Peter Yarrow. The vibe was definitely mellow. But the 2,800 fans who filled Kerrville Municipal Auditorium (now the Cailloux Theater) to hear a dozen or so singer-songwriters perform at the first Kerrville Folk Festival never would have imagined that they were witnessing the start of the longest continuously running music festival of its kind in North America. The next year, attendance jumped to 5,600 people, and founder Rod Kennedy soon moved the site to Quiet Valley Ranch. The festival now lasts eighteen days and draws more than 30,000 fans, and over the years it has kick-started the careers of Lucinda Williams, the Dixie Chicks, and countless others. But any Kerrvert worth her warble knows that the real magic happens at the hootenannies around the campfire; sing at one of those and you’ll be a bona fide Kerrveteran. —MG

116 | Comanche massacre the Spanish

108 Country Club Lane, along U.S. 190; Menard | March 16, 1758

The early 1700’s weren’t so kind to the Apache: Their rivals, the Comanche, had emerged from the Panhandle as the most fearsome tribe in Texas, and meanwhile the Spanish were pushing ever northward. In an act of desperation, the Apache tried to pit their two enemies against each other. Claiming that they were ready to be converted, they fooled the Spanish into building a mission and an accompanying presidio along the San Saba River in and around the town of Menard—right in Comanchería, where they were sure to be attacked. But if the Apache had hoped that the two forces would fight to their mutual destruction, they were in for a disappointment. A massive force of Comanche warriors rode up to the mission and promptly burned it to the ground, killing several brown robes in the process. If there was any question at that point about who was in charge, it was settled a year later, when the Spanish, seeking revenge, trailed the Comanche all the way to Spanish Fort, along the Red River. There they were handed another devastating defeat, which marked the beginning of the end of their power in Texas. Today the crumbling remains of a long-ago reconstruction of the presidio’s ruins can be found along the eighth hole of the Menard Golf Club. —BDS

117 | Ernest Tubb works as a deejay for KGKL

36 West Beauregard Avenue, San Angelo | 1938

Before he became known as the Texas Troubadour, an aspiring Ernest Tubb made a name for himself on the radio at San Angelo’s KGKL. The station broadcast from inside the eight-story red-brick building of the St. Angelus Hotel, which is now the site of a Wells Fargo bank. Paid $2.50 a show, Tubb yodeled the songs of his idol, the late Jimmie Rodgers, and sang a few of his own Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 5:45. To help make ends meet, he sold and delivered Travis beer—now Lone Star—to nearby towns. Though Tubb was let go from KGKL in September 1938, he returned to the air in May 1939 for a brief period. But the following year he said farewell to the town he claimed he’d never leave in “Swell San Angelo” to try his luck one more time at recording and touring. —KATE HULL

118 | The Old Borunda Cafe opens

203 San Antonio, Marfa | 1892

The year was 1892 when proprietor Carolina Borunda fired up the first in a series of Majestic wood stoves that would dominate the kitchen of the Old Borunda Cafe. Nobody knows who the first diner was. Nor does history record exactly what he or she ordered. But one thing is certain: The savory array of dishes that several generations of the Borunda family produced—corn tortillas, chicken tacos, cheese enchiladas drenched in chile gravy, and, most especially, handmade tamales—made it the unofficial hub of the community. People drove for miles to pack into the tiny cafe on a Saturday night. The family closed the cafe in 1992, ending its impressive hundred-year run. Some think it may be the longest-lived family-owned Mexican restaurant in Texas, but even if that claim is never validated, it has a secure place in the hearts and stomachs of all who ate there. Today several small shops occupy the cafe’s second and final location, on San Antonio Street. The Old Borunda may be gone, but its memory endures. —PS

119 | George Stevens films Giant

Eighteen miles west of Marfa on U.S. 90 | June 6, 1955

In Giant, a movie based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, the great ranch home owned by Rock Hudson’s character, Bick Benedict, is a sprawling three-story mansion known as Reata (also the ranch’s name); in reality Reata was nothing more than a facade, constructed of wood and plaster on the Evans Ranch, outside Marfa. Yet it soon became a symbol throughout the world of what Texas, and Texans, were all about—rich, daring, flamboyant, and larger-than-life. Released in 1956, Giant remained Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing film for more than twenty years. But in the same way that Jett Rink’s fortunes were short-lived, all that’s left of Reata today are some timbers stretching into the sky—a lonely reminder of a make-believe Texas that once captivated the world. —S. HOLLANDSWORTH

120 | Donald Judd sees West Texas for the first time

Along Interstate 10, Van Horn | December 17, 1946

In late 1946, an eighteen-year-old soldier who was traveling by troop train on his way from Alabama to Los Angeles sent a telegram to his mother: “Dear Mom. Van Horn Texas. 1260 Population. Nice town. Beautiful country. Mountains. Love Don.” The “Don” in question was a Missouri native named Donald Judd, and he would return to West Texas 26 years later as an international art icon looking for wide-open spaces in which to showcase his large-scale works. He acquired 40,000 acres overlooking the Rio Grande as well as several buildings in and around Marfa, including Fort D.A. Russell, a decommissioned army base that he converted into light-filled galleries. It was in two of the old artillery sheds that Judd installed his magnum opus: one hundred large aluminum boxes identical in their dimensions and precisely arranged in rows of three. Throngs of curious seekers still flock to Marfa to see Judd’s sculptures, but that’s a bit like reading the last page first. Head instead to Van Horn. As you drive along Interstate 10, which roughly parallels the railroad, think how endless that horizon must have seemed to a young man on a train. —JB

121 | Tiguas build the first Spanish mission in Texas

131 South Zaragoza Road, El Paso | 1682

The first Spanish mission in what is now Texas was built to serve the Tiguas, currently the state’s only Pueblo Indian tribe. They initially came to Texas as refugees. Following the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico, the Spanish governor of Santa Fe, Antonio de Otermín, was forced to retreat south, and some three hundred Tiguas followed him, possibly in the hopes that they would get their own land (a controversial move that, for centuries afterward, made them traitors in the eyes of some other Pueblo tribes). A mission was built at a site known as Ysleta del Sur, to distinguish it from Isleta, their former home. Flooding from the Rio Grande destroyed the original building; the current church, constructed in 1851, has remained an integral part of the community, with a name that signals its many layers of history: La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur. —KV

122 | Luis Jimenez works in his father’s neon sign shop

1315 Magoffin Avenue, El Paso | 1946

Sculptor Luis Jimenez always loved to work with his hands, a trait that was passed down through his family. His grandfather was a glassblower in Mexico; his father, who came to this country illegally, dreamed of a career as an artist. So at the age of six, Jimenez set off to work in his dad’s sign shop on Magoffin Avenue, called Electric & Neon. As Jimenez got older, he began spray-painting cars after hours in the shop as well. The experience had a profound impact on him, and it helped him develop his signature artwork: colorful high-gloss fiberglass statues. Though the shop no longer exists—today it’s a lawn service—Jimenez’s vision lives on in places as diverse as El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza and the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. —AF

123 | Bracero workers cross international bridge

International Bridge, El Paso | 1947

In the long and fraught history of migrant labor along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bracero program was supposed to be a step forward. Fueled in part by an intense demand for domestic workers during World War II, the program allowed guest workers to enter the United States for limited periods. Texas farmers initially opposed the program, preferring to make their own, often illegal, arrangements. But in time Texans signed on, and under the Bracero program hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers entered the United States annually, many crossing at the International Bridge that connects El Paso to Juárez. Yet the program never fulfilled the hopes of its sponsors. After some workers overstayed their work visas, federal authorities launched Operation Wetback to catch and expel the undocumented immigrants; millions were deported. Meanwhile, guarantees of fair treatment and decent working conditions for legal participants in the Bracero program were often ignored, and finally, the program came to an end in 1964. The contentious issue of labor and immigration, however, refuses to go away. —HWB

Watch a video about Hueco Tanks.

124 | Cave painters leave their marks

RR 2775, near El Paso; Hueco Tanks | c. 1000

Long before Texas ranchers learned to dig tanks to store water for their livestock, the aboriginal peoples of West Texas discovered that time, weather, and geology had fashioned natural stone cisterns in the rugged country east of El Paso. The huecos, which is Spanish for “hollows,” or “wells,” attracted thirsty travelers from far across the arid region, and over the years, settlements were established near the water holes. Like people with time on their hands, the inhabitants of these camps eventually turned to making art. Their thousands of pictographs range from the representational (bounding deer, dancing men) to the unidentifiably abstract (who knows what those lines mean?). The rock climbers who visit the area for weekend getaways will never know the artists’ names, but they appreciate the durability of their predecessors’ work. —HWB

125 | First rodeo in the country is held

110 East Sixth, Pecos | July 4, 1883

In the bleak West Texas town of Pecos, a group of cowboys were drinking at Red Newell’s saloon when an argument broke out about who was the most skilled at steer-roping and bronc-busting. Some ranchers put up $40 in prize money to see who was the best, and it was decided that the competition would be held on the Fourth of July, a holiday when most people in the area could attend. Calves were herded to a bare spot just south of the original Pecos courthouse, and the cowboys chased them down the dirt street in an area that today is home to a complex of buildings housing Pecos City Hall, the fire department, and the sheriff’s department. (The current West of the Pecos Rodeo, which still takes place every summer, is held at Buck Jackson Arena.) Although the residents of Deer Trail, Colorado; North Platte, Nebraska; and Prescott, Arizona, claim that they held the first rodeo, Pecos residents remain defiant that it all started with them. —S. HOLLANDSWORTH


To visit every place on our list—or tell us what we missed—go to our Terquasquicentennial Blog.

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