From the Great Storm washing ashore in Galveston to Charles Elmer Doolin cooking up the frito in San Antonio

March 2011By Comments

76 | The Great Storm devastates Galveston

1402 Broadway, Galveston | September 8, 1900

AP/Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word

The tropical cyclone that roared ashore that Saturday morning pummeled Galveston with 120-mile-per-hour winds and a fifteen-foot surge of roiling water that covered the entire island. The destruction was—and is, even after Katrina—incomprehensible: More than six thousand lives were lost and nearly four thousand buildings obliterated. But not all of Galveston’s glorious past was swept away. Shortly after the storm, a photo was taken along Broadway: Just beyond a massive heap of splintered debris, you can see the majestic turret of the Gresham House rising from the rubble. The home of a wealthy lawyer, the châteauesque mansion was built by the city’s foremost architect, Nicholas J. Clayton, and emerged from the storm nearly unscathed. (It also withstood Hurricane Ike, in 2008, suffering only a few broken windows and a flooded basement.) Known today as Bishop’s Palace, it’s been singled out as one of the country’s finest examples of Victorian architecture and is the city’s most visited historic landmark. Like an anchor, it has kept Galveston’s wondrous history from drifting away. —JB

77 | Jack Johnson is born

808 Broadway, Galveston | March 31, 1878

The first African American heavyweight champ was a frail boy, the third child of Henry and Tina Johnson who grew up in a modest home in the Twelfth Ward of Galveston’s East End. His full name was Arthur John Johnson, but everyone called him Little Arthur. After only five or six yearsof school, he quit to work on the docks. He began to grow, and the way he told it, he whipped a kid named Willie Morris in his first fistfight around the age of twelve. Just a few short years later, he defeated John Lee in a fight on the beach that earned him a purse of $1.50. The greatest boxer Galveston would ever see was on his way. Though Johnson’s family home was destroyed in the Great Storm, the city has offered a more permanent salute to his career: Forty-first Street has been renamed in his honor. —HWB

78 | Cabeza De Vaca washes ashore

Along Jamaica Beach, Galveston | November 6, 1528

Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca had already survived countless disasters in the quest for glory and gold before washing up, naked and starving, on Galveston Island with three companions. The first European to set foot in Texas spent the next several years studying (and being enslaved by) the natives, growing a long beard, and collecting the observations that would make the chronicle of his journey such a revelation. “No X marks the spot where he landed,” says David Canright, of the Galveston Historical Foundation, “but his arrival is iconic, because people tend to wash up here and start new lives. De Vaca was the first.”—BDS

79 | Texians Prevail at the Battle of Velasco

Near the corner of Thunder Road and Monument Drive, Freeport | June 26, 1832

American immigrants and the Mexican government were already at odds by the summer of 1832. Americans were frustrated by the Mexican bureaucracy; the Mexicans worried about the new immigrants’ unwillingness to assimilate. And the Mexicans soon learned that their concerns were well-founded. On June 26, 1832, at midnight, a Texian militia group that was upset over a customs disagreement, attacked Fort Velasco, at the mouth of the Brazos River, and nine hours later the Mexican garrison surrendered. These days the old fort is long gone, but the original location would have been on a stretch of still mostly undeveloped land parallel to the channel, southwest of the intersection of Thunder Road and Monument Drive, about 150 feet from the water. Here were planted the seeds of mistrust that led to the Texas Revolution. —KV

80 | Stephen F. Austin and his cousin Mary discuss a book about Texas

Intersection of Travis and Market, Brazoria | December 1831

Mary Austin Holley jounced up and down on a boat through the churning Brazos River, making her way from New Orleans to Brazoria County to see about this new land called Texas. There she would receive her cousin Stephen at her brother Henry’s house near Brazoria, where a historical marker now celebrates Stephen’s role as the town’s founder. They hadn’t seen each other for more than 25 years, but once they laid eyes on each other, there was no going back. The two talked every evening for more than a week: about Holley’s possible move to Texas, about the colony, and about a book on Texas that she wanted to write. However, their romantic feelings were left unspoken. Those they left in letters written back and forth for over a decade. And Holley’s eventual book, called Texas, became the first account of the state written in English. —MEGAN GILLER

81 | Horton Foote writes Texas Town

505 North Houston, Wharton | 1940

Southern Methodist University/Degolyer Library

“This is always the end of the journey for me,” the Pulitzer Prize—winning dramatist Horton Foote wrote more than half a century ago, referring to his hometown of Wharton. Indeed, though most of his writing was done outside Texas, his plays and films were nearly always set in small Southern towns that bear an uncanny resemblance to Wharton, where Foote was born in 1916. The modest, one-story house where he grew up, three blocks from the town square, remained his lifelong home away from home. “It was on the front porch of that house that he also heard for the first time many of the stories he would later use as the basis for more than sixty plays, movies, and TV dramas,” wrote biographer Wilborn Hampton. Seven decades ago, Foote, then living in New York City, returned home to pen his first full-length play, Texas Town. The three-act drama launched his storied career. —PC

82 | La Salle establishes a French settlement

Along Garcitas Creek, south of Texas Highway 616; Lavaca Bay | 1685

If René Robert Cavelier, the Sieur de la Salle, had succeeded in establishing a French colony in the middle of Spanish Texas, our state might have had a whole different histoire. La Salle had already explored the Mississippi River on previous expeditions when he set out from France in the summer of 1684 with the intention of building a permanent settlement near the great river’s mouth. But he overshot his target and landed instead in Texas the following year, where he and his 180 or so mostly doomed colonists built a fortified outpost on Garcitas Creek, about five miles upstream from Lavaca Bay. The Spanish authorities sent out one expedition after another to destroy the colony, but disease and Karankawa Indians did the work for them. La Salle himself was murdered by one of his own men as he led a party east to find help. Though the site is not open to the public, the Museum of the Coastal Bend, in nearby Victoria, displays seven of the eight cannons found there, a small battery once meant to enforce France’s fragile claim on Texas. —S. HARRIGAN

83 | Thornton Chisholm launches a cattle drive

Four miles north of Cuero on U.S. 183 | April 1, 1866

The first large herd of cattle to be driven north from Texas after the Civil War originated in a meadow called Cardwell Flats. It was here one April morning that thirty men set out with some 1,800 head of cattle bound for Missouri. The beasts were owned by Crockett Cardwell and driven by Thornton Chisholm, whose surname has been the cause of some confusion. A historical marker near Cardwell Flats indicates the “Old Chisholm Trail,” but the original Chisholm Trail never went through Texas. The famous trace was established in Oklahoma by one Jesse Chisholm, a scout and trader who was no relation to Thornton Chisholm. —MH

84 | Richard King partners with Gideon K. “Legs” Lewis

North mesquite at schatzell, Corpus Christi | May 1852

Captain Richard King was operating a Rio Grande riverboat when, in the spring of 1852, he took a trip to Corpus Christi for the newly incorporated town’s Lone Star Fair. As he passed through the southern terminus of the grassy Great Plains, King’s thoughts were likely along the lines of what he would tell his friend Mifflin Kenedy three years later: “Land and livestock have a way of increasing in value. Cattle and horses, sheep and goats, will reproduce themselves into value. But boats—they have a way of wrecking, decaying, falling apart, decreasing in value and increasing in cost of operation.” In Corpus, King met a friend, Gideon K. “Legs” Lewis, who was well-known in South Texas for surviving the Black Bean Episode of the ill-fated Mier Expedition, and the two agreed to partner in a cattle operation to be headquartered on the Santa Gertrudis Creek. Soon, everyone would know about the King Ranch. —DC

85 | The first whataburger stand opens

2609 Ayers, Corpus Christi | August 8, 1950

Oh, to have been a hungry Del Mar College student in search of lunch on August 8, 1950. That was the day that Harmon Dobson opened a tiny portable hamburger stand called Whataburger on Ayers Street, just across from campus. His unusually large sandwich—its bun was an unprecedented five inches across—caught on so quickly that after just four days in business, Dobson was overwhelmed. “Big day—$141.80,” he wrote in his journal. “Christ What a workhouse—551 hamburgers.” Today about 400,000 Whataburgers are served daily in some 235 Texas cities. And though you can order one in any of the 23 locations in Corpus, you can’t do so at Dobson’s original stand: It’s now the site of a taquería. —JB

86 | Election is stolen for Lyndon Johnson

Corner of Main and Wright, Alice | 1948

LBJ Library

Lyndon B. Johnson does not like to lose. He has already tasted defeat once, in 1941, when Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel bested him by 1,306 votes in a special election for U.S. Senate. So when a second shot at the Senate presents itself, in 1948, Johnson is determined to prevail. He forces a runoff in the Democratic primary with former governor Coke Stevenson, and as the race draws to a close, in August, the early results favor his opponent. Suddenly an amended return is filed from Precinct 13, in Jim Wells County. The new count shifts two hundred votes to Johnson’s column, giving him the victory by 87 votes. An outraged Stevenson demands to see the return, but it has been locked for safekeeping in the vault of the Texas State Bank, in Alice, the county seat. Stevenson protests all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which opts out, deciding that matters of state politics should be left to the state. Johnson’s victory sticks, as does the derisive nickname “Landslide Lyndon.” —HWB

87 | Plan de San Diego reportedly signed

400 East Garvis, San Diego | January 6, 1915

As the chaos of the Mexican Revolution surged north from central Mexico, officials at the courthouse in San Diego were anxious. In 1907 the leader of the Duval County Democratic party was assassinated in a local restaurant. A few years after that, three county officials were killed in a gunfight during a bitter election campaign. But in 1915 the town flew into a panic because of the mysterious appearance of the Plan de San Diego, calling for a bloody uprising of Mexicans in Texas and other border states. The language was chilling: “Every North American over sixteen years of age shall be put to death, and only the aged men, women, and children shall be respected.” The manifesto was considered mostly rhetoric until six months later, when raiders began striking into Texas, killing more than twenty Americans. These attacks contributed to President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send General John Pershing into northern Mexico; they also prompted the Texas Rangers to round up hundreds of suspected secessionists, many of whom were summarily executed. And when it was all over, no one knew whether the Plan de San Diego had been a serious proposal or a piece of revolutionary disinformation.—HWB

88 | José Ballí establishes a ranch

Off Beach Access 5, Padre Island | 1804

José Nicolás Ballí was no ordinary priest. He had inherited Isla de Santiago, which was given to his grandfather by King Carlos III of Spain in 1759 (though he didn’t receive a clear title to the property until 1827) and appeared to be a good ranching location for herds of cattle, horses, and mules. In 1804 Padre Ballí established the Rancho Santa Cruz de Buena Vista while attempting to convert the Karankawas, a settlement that would eventually be called Padre Island. To find the former location of the ranch, set your odometer to zero at the southernmost tip of the island and drive through town on Padre Boulevard. About two miles past the city, veer off on Beach Access 5 and continue north on the beach (you’ll need four-wheel drive) until you pass the area of high dunes. When your odometer reads 26.1 miles, walk about one hundred yards into the dunes to see part of the property. —KV

89 | confederates win civil war’s last battle

South of Texas Highway 4 and Palmito Hill Road, near Brownsville | May 11—13, 1865

Southern Methodist University/Degolyer Library

More than a month after Robert E. Lee had surrendered, a number of Confederates had not yet laid down their arms. Still, it is unclear why a young colonel named Theodore H. Barrett decided to attack the Confederate encampments at Palmito Ranch, in what would be the last battle of the Civil War. Some argued that Barrett was hungry for action; others believe he was on a foraging expedition. Whatever the case, his maneuvers suggest hostile intent. Two days of skirmishes followed, with the bulk of the fighting taking place in a pocket between the Rio Grande and what is now Texas Highway 4. The last known combat fatality of the Civil War, a private from Indiana named John J. Williams, fell somewhere along this stretch of the road, and the skirmish ended with Barrett’s retreat. The Federals may have won the war, but the Confederates won the final battle. —KV

90 | Américo Paredes takes a job at the Brownsville Herald

1263 East Adams, Brownsville | 1934

Somewhere in the bowels of a long, low building in Brownsville’s old downtown district, Américo Paredes typed his first few sentences as a professional writer. Back then, the building housed the bustling Brownsville Herald (more recently it was Ramon Ramirez Ropa Usada, a giant used clothing store) and Paredes was a cub reporter fresh out of high school, earning $11.40 a week. Though he eventually moved to a much bigger stage—his dissertation and first book, With His Pistol in His Hand, made him the first Mexican American to earn a doctorate at the University of Texas—his interest in border culture, especially the history of the popular storytelling ballads known as corridos, became his life’s work, which in time laid the groundwork for a new discipline known today as Mexican American studies. After his death, in 1999, Paredes earned an honor worthy of his contribution to Texas letters: a corrido of his own. —NATE BLAKESLEE

91 | Border Fence breaks ground at Brownsville

University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College Campus | 2008

Plans to erect a physical barrier between Texas and Mexico met with resistance up and down the border in 2008, but nowhere did the federal government and local authorities butt heads more than at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. That year the university was notified that the Department of Homeland Security planned to build an eighteen-foot-high steel fence through its campus. Juliet Garcia, the university’s president, denied the Army Corps of Engineers access to campus and issued a statement that declared, “Of course, we believe in protecting our borders. Of course, we believe in strong immigration policy. But we also understand that a fence, no matter how high or how wide, is no substitute for either.” After negotiations, a mile-long fence was built but with significant concessions. The university lowered the height to ten feet, changed the materials from concrete and steel to chain link, and chose a location that allowed the campus to remain cohesive—or at least as cohesive as it could be. —PC

Watch a video about the border fence.

92 | Ruby Red grapefruit is created

McAllen | March 30, 1929

Albert E. Henninger stumbled upon something remarkable that spring day in one of his McAllen groves: wonderfully tasty, red-colored grapefruit that had fallen off a three-year-old Thompson pink grapefruit tree. In the months that followed, he spotted more from the same mutated limb, a happy accident of nature that Gregor Mendel would have loved. But he wasn’t the only one to make the discovery: Two other men found similar fruits in the area. Knowing that only one could get a patent, they cast lots, and in 1933 Henninger received a plant patent for the first Ruby Red, which transformed the local economy and, thanks to the fruit’s vivid color and near seedlessness, changed the American breakfast table. While the precise location of Henninger’s first Ruby Red tree has been lost to history, the descendants of Henninger’s find are now plentiful in the Valley, with one of the largest concentrations of groves along Shary Road between FM 1924 and Mile 5 North Road. —KV

93 | Lloyd Bentsen is elected county judge

100 North Closner Boulevard, Edinburg | 1946

The man with the famous last name was only 25 years old, but he had already amassed a wealth of experience. Having graduated from high school at 15, he had gone on to become the president of Sigma Nu at the University of Texas, from which he graduated with a law degree. Before returning to South Texas, he bombed Nazi Europe from a B-24, got shot down twice, and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then, in 1946, Lloyd Bentsen Jr. was elected county judge of Hidalgo County, the youngest in Texas. His office at the courthouse wasn’t even unpacked and already a young couple had tracked him down at his home with the wild excitement of young lovers who couldn’t wait to get married. With no Bible to be found, Bentsen improvised, tossing in memorized Scripture, military rites, Masonic sayings, and the Pledge of Allegiance. The couple now lawfully wed, Bentsen turned his mind to other things: the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, a Cabinet post, and a debate with an overmatched young man from Indiana named Dan Quayle, during which Bentsen would deliver one of the most famous zingers in all of American politics. —BDS

94 | Tom Landry dominates the Gridiron

415 East Fourteenth, Mission | 1941

Tom Landry was many things growing up: the son of an auto mechanic, an A student, the president of his senior class, and a member of the National Honor Society at Mission High School, which now serves as the junior high. Yet his life was profoundly changed when his next-door neighbor Bob Martin, who happened to be Mission’s football coach, asked him to play quarterback and tailback and punter and safety during the 1941 season. Landry did what he was asked, and he led the Eagles to a 12-0 record, outscoring their opponents 268—7 (the lone touchdown was due to a mistaken pass interference call). Landry himself tallied 27 touchdowns that season. —S. HOLLANDSWORTH

95 | Washington’s Birthday Celebration is held

500 Flores Avenue, Laredo | February 22, 1898

On what would have been George Washington’s 166th birthday, members of a fraternal organization known as the Improved Order of the Red Men dressed as Native Americans and staged a mock attack on city hall, which now houses the Webb County Heritage Foundation. The men took their inspiration from the Sons of Liberty, who disguised themselves as Mohawks in 1773 before instigating the Boston Tea Party, and the raid has since evolved into an incongruous citywide celebration of colonial times in a city that was still part of New Spain when George Washington served as the nation’s first president. In honor of his birthday, every February Laredo hosts various balls, concerts, parades, a jalapeño festival, and, perhaps most notably, the Society of Martha Washington Colonial Pageant and Ball, a debutante event in which the sons and daughters of Laredo’s elite don faux colonial attire. —PC

96 | LBJ teaches public school

204 Northeast Lane, Cotulla | September 1928

Lyndon Baines Johnson didn’t know what to do with his life when he arrived in the dusty, sunbaked town of Cotulla in 1928. A struggling student at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, in San Marcos, he had taken a leave from classes to teach Hispanic students at the segregated Welhausen Elementary School, which had only five other teachers, no lunchroom, and no playground. As a child in the Hill Country, Johnson had been no stranger to poverty, but he was unprepared for how difficult racism had made the lives of his students. Moved by what he saw, he spent his first month’s paycheck on playground equipment and supplies, then helped persuade the parents of his students to join a parent-teacher association. When they came in greater numbers than he had expected, he was inspired to form a choir (which he led) and a baseball team (which he coached). By the time he returned to college the following May, his view of the world—of poverty, education, and what government could do to improve people’s lives—had changed forever. Today the red-brick building houses county offices. —BDS

97 | High school students stage a walkout

717 East Crockett, Crystal City | December 1969

It all started with the cheerleaders. Like most of South Texas, the Zavala County town of Crystal City was populated largely by Mexican Americans but run by and for a small group of Anglo farmers and ranchers. Longstanding policy allowed only one Hispanic cheerleader at a time, though Crystal City High School, which these days serves as an annex to Sterling H. Fly Junior High School, was nearly 90 percent Hispanic. When the school board refused to budge on the cheerleader issue, along with a list of other grievances, two hundred students walked out. Governor Dolph Briscoe disparagingly called Zavala County “Little Cuba,” and the strike didn’t end until the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, brokering a compromise. Yet there was no going back: Shortly after the walkout, activists met in Crystal City to form La Raza Unida, which won city council and school board races across South Texas and sparked the nationwide Chicano civil rights movement. —NB

98 | Construction begins on the Alamo Village

103 Shahan Ranch Road, about six miles north of Brackettville | December 1957

It took five thousand workers two years to build the Alamo. No, not that tiny structure in San Antonio. We’re talking about the full-scale model that John Wayne had constructed about 130 miles west of the real thing for his epic 1960 movie The Alamo. A few deep-pocketed Texans had intimated that if a movie about the state’s most dramatic battle wasn’t filmed in Texas it wouldn’t be shown in Texas either, so Wayne found a 22,000-acre ranch owned by James T. “Happy” Shahan in the empty, hardscrabble expanse just north of Brackettville that would do the job. (Even back then downtown San Antonio was deemed too touristy.) The compound ended up looking like the same ol’ dusty town seen in dozens of westerns, so after Wayne wrapped his $12 million flick, Shahan turned the Alamo Village into a bustling tourist attraction, complete with a restaurant, a cantina, a trading post, and the John Wayne Western Museum. Sadly, Happy died in 1996, and the family decided to shutter the business for good this past August. But if you drive north of Brackettville on FM 674, you can still pull off on Shahan Ranch Road and kick a little dirt on the Duke’s hallowed ground. —JB

99 | Santa Anna gets a taste of Texas

Old Applewhite and Bruce Roads, near Leming | August 18, 1813

A lieutenant in the Spanish army accompanies a column of Spanish infantry and light artillery on the road from Laredo to San Antonio. Their mission: to crush a motley group of Americans, Tejanos, and Indians who have raised the green flag of rebellion against Spanish authority. Spain is currently confronting uprisings throughout its empire; the government is desperately seeking soldiers who are able to strike hard against the insurgencies. General Joaquín de Arredondo, the leader of the infantry, lures the rebels onto a field near Leming (a historical marker placed in 2005 is believed to be within five miles of the site). The rebels arrive tired and thirsty, and when Arredondo launches his attack, they prove no match for the superior Spanish troops. Arredondo gives no quarter: In the Battle of Medina, the bloodiest battle that has ever been fought on Texas soil, more than a thousand rebels are killed in combat or executed afterward. The Green Flag Republic comes to a brutal end. And the lieutenant, a young man named Antonio López de Santa Anna, learns a valuable lesson about dealing with rebels in Texas—or thinks he does. —HWB

100 | Charles Elmer Doolin cooks up the Frito

1416 Roosevelt Avenue, San Antonio | 1932

It was the crunch heard round the globe. One day Charles Elmer Doolin was having lunch at a cafe near his ice cream shop, the Highland Park Confectionary, when he bit into something called a frito. Legend has it that his mother pawned her wedding ring to help him raise $100 to buy the recipe for the delicious fried chip, plus a handful of retail accounts and the seller’s production equipment (read: an old potato ricer). He quickly set up shop in his mother’s house on Roosevelt Avenue, which stands to this day, where by night he perfected the recipe and by day peddled the goods in his Model T. The business took off, expanding first to his mother’s garage, next to Dallas, and then the world. —MG


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

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