Strangest State: An Uninvited Bull and a Holocaust Art Contest


Patrick Michels

A version of this story ran in the July 2015 issue.

Above: A 14-year-old Sulphur Springs Middle School student came home one day with this baffling award announcing him as the winner of “The ‘huh?’ Award” in the “8th Annual Ghetto Classroom Awards.”

Strangest State is a recurring feature on local news you might have missed from around Texas. From profiles of small-town doctors to monstrous swamp creatures found by local kids, they’re stories that don’t fit… anywhere, really, but we want to be sure don’t go unnoticed. Got a local oddity or some small-town news to share? Tips are welcome at [email protected].

BRENHAM // For the safety of residents in Brenham (pop.15,716), “defensive shooting” and CHL instructor John Deans penned a timely guide to “Protecting yourself during mob violence” in the pages of the Brenham Banner-Press. “You need to have your situational awareness in high gear,” Deans advises. “You must assume that the police cannot save you during those war-like events. Your survival skills will be all that is protecting yourself and your family.” Deans recommends keeping abreast of national news and being aware of “highly charged court decisions” and “questionable shootings” that could prompt local reactions. Shooting or running over rioters with your car should be considered “a last resort in many ways,” employed only after one of them breaks your window. “With Ferguson and Baltimore demonstrating how the War on Cops is raging, officers are under siege in many urban areas,” Deans wrote. “I would include the massive shooting in Waco last month at Twin Peaks, but let us just see what the real story is there since things in Waco are smelling a bit fishy again.”

FORNEY // Administrators put Forney High School on lockdown on May 28 in response to news that up to 40 students, some dressed in costumes and brandishing foam swim noodles, were causing a disruption. District officials declined to confirm social media reports that the noodles were part of a massive live-action role-playing, or LARPing, match that had been planned in the school cafeteria as a senior prank, according to “The students involved in the incident were brought to the front office and could face disciplinary action,” the site reported.

SULPHUR SPRINGS // A 14-year-old Sulphur Springs Middle School student came home at the school year’s end toting a handsome certificate bordered in metallic gold, announcing him as the winner of “The ‘huh?’ Award” in the “8th Annual Ghetto Classroom Awards.” The African-American child’s grandmother, Debra Jose, related her reaction to Dallas’ CBS 11: “Tears just started falling out of my eyes. I was like, ‘What did they just do to him again? … I just lay in bed and thought about it all night long.” Teachers Stephanie Garner and Tim Couch have since apologized for issuing the baffling awards, which include the forged signature of their principal—a detail that one teacher said “is what makes this award ghetto.” The Sulphur Springs News-Telegram reported that the family was finally able to forgive the teachers after meeting with them, school officials and their pastor. Morning Chapel Baptist Church Pastor Harold Nash told the paper the teachers’ case was compelling. “For the Jews, the ghetto was where the Jews lived. The teachers stressed that if the Jews could overcome such incredible oppression, students can do anything if they wanted to,” Nash explained. “It was supposed to be a positive message.”

LAMESA // The Honorable Judge Carter Tinsley Schildknecht—who ran unopposed for re-election last year for a term ending in 2018—was ordered by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to take four hours of “additional education” after she referred to District Attorney Michael Munk as a “New York Jew.” The public condemnation follows Schildknecht’s earlier attempts to smooth things over by simply explaining to Munk, “When I tell people why you are different and have different thoughts, I explain because you are from New York and because you are Jewish.” Schildknecht has also explained that “I may be too blunt, but I am not biased or prejudiced against New Yorkers or Jews.” It’s a courtesy she may not extend to other religions. The disciplinary action, reported by The Texas Tribune, notes her comments to another lawyer about his beard: “You look like a Muslim, and I wouldn’t hire you with it.”

LAMESA // Startled awake by some loud noise one night in mid-May, high school principal Chris Riggins and his wife were surprised to find a bull joining them in their bedroom. “First reaction is, ‘No, really?’ And then I’m like, ‘Yeah, it really happened,’” Riggins told KCBD-TV. Riggins suspects that the bull—which spent 20 minutes in his bathroom before showing itself back out of the house—had wandered in from a neighboring pasture. Frightening as the experience was, Riggins counts the unannounced visit from this gentle giant as just another part of country life, and said the bull’s touch was surprisingly light: “Poked a little hole in the wall. The doors weren’t even tore up real bad,” he said.”

DEL RIO // As part of its ongoing goodwill mission, the U.S. Border Patrol staged a Holocaust-themed art contest for Del Rio and Comstock middle school students. Part of the Congressionally approved, weeklong Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, the contest prompted students in South Texas to imagine a life circumscribed by fences and checkpoints, under a police force that kills with impunity. “All the students did an outstanding job with their art exhibits,” Del Rio Sector Chief Rodolfo Karisch said in a statement. “In the end it was about a learning experience and awareness of a time in history that should never be forgotten so that it may never be repeated.”