Page 8


‘11111I Over $133 Million Insurance In Force ei Itek,t4 jeA INSURANCE COMPANY P. 0. Box 8098 Houston, Texas HAROLD E. RILEY Vice-President and Director of Agencies Subscribe to The Texas Observer Name Address City State ri Bill the Subscriber $4 Enclosed Mail to The Texas Observer, 504 West 24th St., Austin iairayarai leipplipliaftipproi -ONINSIT04.1_00.1111.W.PfartrWWWWINC. Homage to the Best People and horns on the toads, Texas Folklore Society Publication XXIX, edited by Mody C. Boatright, Wilson M. Hudson, and Allen Maxwell, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 237 pp., $4.50. AUSTIN The question, will we ever run out of folklore?, is somehow suggested by the’ current book of stories published by the Texas Folklore Society. Folklore a s conceived in Texas seems t o originate mostly, though not exclus 7 ively, in rural or outdoor situations, which are rapidly being drained of their unconsciousness and color not only by the migrations to the cities, but also by standardizing devices like television, automobiles, and superfarms of tractors and interchangeable workers. The situation is still plenty rural in the South, and the migrant workers will remain a living source for folklore a long time, but one nevertheless begins to wonder what is going to happen to folklore as the country tales thin out. Will we develop a folklore of juvenile delinquency in the citiessay, for a hero, a delinquent who ingeniously humiliates and eludes the squad-car cops? Is it possible that the folklorists might profitably haunt around the beatnik cafes in the university cities? \(They don’t know what they’re missing, and if they did, the folklorists will know enough about their field to venture an answer, the question occurs, should Texas folklorists turn to the cities? If so, will they wonder more about what they have been doing? Drs. Boatright, Hudson, and Maxwell, in their preface to the current volume, remark, “The impetus behind folklore studies does not seem to be diminishing in this part of the world. If some of the older members of the Society have become less active, new recruits are being added. It is gratifying to know that nine of the present articles have been contributed by students, five of them undergraduates.” Perhaps there is here some concession that the impetus might weaken, and in the stories, themselves, there is a reaching back to rural life difficult to extend into the future, when if the reaching back is to reach for the basic stock of the living community, it will have to reach into cities. THERE ARE 21 articles in the I volume. I read over all of them, and I read most of them without skipping; but some tenacity is required. If one is not a biologist, scientific facts and collected tales about the horned toad, presented journalistically, can hardly compete for any sensible reader’s time. William A. Owens, the novelist, has contributed a well-done piece, “Seer of Corsicana,” about a Negro mystifier, “the most unusual thing you’ll find in Corsicana,” as he was told she was. Brownie McNeil’s article on the curanderos, t h e faith healers, among the Spanish-speaking in South Texas suggests that urbanization is not soon going to suck away some of the psychologically most satisfying folkways among the educationally backward. John Henry Faulk tells about an unfazable old liar he knew in Austin. So there are some good stories. Like a few natty English gentlemen mingling with the rustics at a Texas county fair, scholarly articles on folkways stud the volume. In the disquisition about southpaws one may muse over such phrases as, “inextricably concerned with this human phenomenon of lateral preference …” or “the preference for dextrality,” or even “the very philology of laterality.” In “The ,Bury Me Not Theme in the Southwest,” Americo Paredes, author of the honest, skillfully written With His Pistol in His Hand \(University of Texas Bury Me Not, in Holy Ground, from old Spanish and Mexican traditions. But some of the academic work is pedantic and, worse, slapped together. An interesting group of stories, collected by a student from La Grange, seems to manifest the whites’ images of Southern \(East ignorant, frightenable, untruthful, deceptive, and thieving, as well, if one mixes in an idea or two, as given to the daydream since they had no other out. There are also writings about madstones, Mexican corridos of the railroads, dancing, border superstitions, the old Texas singing schools, vigilante justice in Springtown, a treasure hunt in Liberty County in 1956, and the experiences of an early Texas woman in Karnes County not long after the Civil War. The writing and the quality of the stories as stories are uneven. MUCH ENERGY has been given to folklore collecting in Texas, and a great deal that is of historical and human value and interest has been discovered, recorded, and preserved. But perhaps it is not entirely gratuitous to remark that this one occasional reader of folklore invariably enjoys most the stories that are written well, full of real human beings, and distant from the pedantic spirit of the collector of “the materials” about the ways people have been. Perhaps the best folklore is literature the way it occurs in life. Perhaps the best folklore’s basic validity is literary: the people go on telling stories and singing songs they like, whether the intellectuals notice or not. But if good folklore is a literary pursuit, good folklorists are really literary men. And this is what I wish to suggest, that folklore may be a too-satisfying substitute for a literature, the writer’s observing impulse focused on folklore not only to save the folklore, but the impulse, and then run riot into another social science. How much imagination has never had time to exist? R.D. AUSTIN Among the stories that the ninety-year-old Noah Smithwick told, in his “The Evolution of a State”stories that are like shafts of light piercing the blackness of time long past and picking out with startling clarity the shapes of things as they were thenis one which points up the attitude of the Old Texan \(who was here before annexation to the U.S., or, as in this case, toward social rank, or snobbery. When Texas was still a part of Mexico, Noah worked for a while as a blacksmith in the settlements down near the mouth of the Brazos. He became acquainted with a Colonel Knight, who, had a little trading schooner which ran up to Columbia. There Knight unloaded his goods, piling them on the river bank, covering them with dry cowhides to protect them from the weather, and leaving them until oxteams from the interior could arrive to cart them off. “Years a f ter w a r d,” writes Smithwick, “I met Colonel Knight at Bastrop. Out in front of a store lay a number of grinding stones with a chain passed through the eyes and fastened with a padlock. Colonel Knight cast a contemptuous look at the pile, and turning to me said: ” ‘Gad, Smithwick, the Better Sort must have got here. Do you remember how I used to pile my goods out on the river bank and leave them for days at a time?'” I never lost a pin’s worth. We used to hear fellows with store clothes on lamenting the crude state of society and consoling themselves with the assurance that the Better Sort would come after a little. I reckon they have arrived. There \(pointing to the dence.” In the rare and fragmentary autobiography Frontier Life by Daniel Shipman, who came to Texas in 1822, when he was twenty years old, the attitude of the Old Texan toward any kind of rank or class distinction is made plain. When Daniel was twenty-three, a company of militia was organized in Stephen F. Austin’s colony to chastise the Karankaway Indians, who had been depredating along the coast. About 75 of the colonists, including Daniel, rendezvoused at San Felipe de Austin, elected their own officers Austin himself was chosen as colonel, commandingand then proceeded to the vicinity of Goliad, where a treaty was to be made with the Indians. In Daniel’s words: “We crossed the Guadalupe River about a mile and a half above where the town of Victoria now stand s. We stopped there on a bluff on the east side of the river, and where we had a great deal of amusements in the way of swimming, foot races and wrestling matches, and seemed to enjoy ourselves generallyofficers and soldiers in our fun and pastime. We did not appear to know any difference as to who was officers and who were not.” AND THEN, there is Daniel’s priceless story about Sam Houston and the soldier on the road to San Jacintoa story that tells more about the Old Texan, and perhaps about Houston, than any other that has come down to us. “James Wilson was a first class specimen of a true, warmhearted, good n a t u r e d backwoodsman, standing six feet four inches perpendicular and well proportioned to that in thickness and in the prime of life. The man that Jim Part I would knuckle to never trod shoe leather. Kind and obliging to all, with a heart as big as a hogshead and as tender as an infant, he was a perfect hyena when roused to anger, a man not to be trifled with, yet as gentle as a lamb. “The scene of the anecdote was on the road between the Brazos and Colorado rivers, during the retreat of the Texan army before the armed host of Mexico, in the spring of 1836. “James Wilson was the best wagon driver in the army. He was known to General Houston, who valued him highly, and held long and frequent conversations with him. He had worn out his shoes before leaving the Colorado, and his feet and ankles had been very much abused by the sensitive plant, known then in Texas as the saw briar, which flourished most luxuriantly on the sandy prairies between the two above-named rivers. On halting for the night near East Bernard, Jim, as he unyoked and hobbled his cattle, was heard swearing most profanely, and as he turned with his ox whip, threw it full length on the prairie and addressed it thus: Charles Ramsdell ” ‘Whip, lay there, and Gabe your horn, but James Wilson never raises that whip. until he is supplied with a pair of shoes.’ “Our mess encamped near to Jim and we anticipated a rich time in the morning. Next morning all was hurry and bustle to get off, and General Houston was here, there and everywhere, hurrying up and giving orders preparatory for a start. Nearly all the teams were hitched in. and matters approaching a starting point, when the general discovered Jim’s oxen quietly grazing on the prairie, and stormed out: ” ‘Where is the d–d scoundrel that drives that team?’ “Jim was pointed out to him, stretched full length before the campfire. The general started for him on the run, exclaiming as he went, ‘You d–d infernal outlandish s-n of a b–h, why don’t you hitch up?’ ‘I am, general, them are my oxen. And these are my feet.’ ” ‘Cuss your feet!’ ” ‘Let old Gabe blow his horn, but James Wilson never raises that whip until he gets a pair of shoes. Look here, General, look think I’m going to drive a wagon for a d–d little one-horse army and my feet in that fix? No sir, Ill see you and your d–d army further in h–1 than a pigeon could ,fly in a month first.’ “General Houston knew his man, and time was precious. In stantly his boots were off, and he was down by the side of Jim, entreating him to accept them and start his team. ” ‘No sir,’ says Jim, ‘No sir, I couldn’t get my big toe in one of them. And if I could, do you think I’m going to take your boots? A h–1 of a purty general you’d make, ‘stride of a Spanish pony and no boots on. I always liked you, General, but I like you better now. But d–d if I touch your boots.’ “The general was seen bending toward Jim and speaking low to him. Suddenly Jim rose, bellowing in a big cry. ” ‘Well,’ said he, ‘General, I’ll do it for you, but d–d if there is another man on top of this green earth that Jim Wilson would drive that wagon for, without shoes’.” ABOUT THE YEAR 1840, an Eng lishman named Maillard came to Texas and wrote a hostile and indisputably scurrilous book about it, in which he described four castes or classes that he claimed to have found in the Republic: The Aristocrats, in which were included the planters and haughty and “unaccomodating”; The Usefuls; shopkeepers and the like; The Contemptibles: laborers, niggers”; The Loafers: gamblers and other vagrants, who were by far the largest class. In weighing the testimony of this Englishman, we must remember, first, that he was deliberately drawing an ugly picture, and, second, that his sojourn in Texas was confined to the plantation region along the Brazos, where the influence of the Old South was strongest, and where class distinctions were hence most likely to be built up. He describes the planters of that early day, however, as being extremely poor, in debt for the price of their slaves to the traders of New Orleans, who sent agents to collect a part of the cotton crop as soon as it was picked. Not only was snobbery not fashionable under the Republic and much less before thatit was not even safe. A man .who essayed