Strangest State: Inflatable Rescue Swan, Prairie Defilement and a Tiger on the Prowl

KATY // The devastating Houston floods in April afforded no shortage of particularly Texan heroics, including a few great moments caught on camera. There was the team of cowboys and horseback sheriff’s deputies leading a group of longhorns through the floodwaters near Katy, and the man in a yellow rain slicker carrying an armadillo to safety, by its tail, across a flooded bridge. In Parker County, Cole Geeo’s “redneck rescue” made national headlines after he drove his monster truck through high waters to retrieve a neighbor. But most enterprising of all was midwife Cathy Rude, who rode an inflatable swan to work at the Katy Birth Center. “Midwives will do anything to get to a birth!” Rude captioned a Facebook photo of her on the swan. “Thanks, Celeste! You gave me a great ride!”

Cathy Allen Rude, strangest state
Cathy Allen Rude/Facebook
Katy midwife Cathy Allen Rude rides her swan Celeste to work.

ODESSA // Lois Hicks, lying in state at the Sunset Memorial Gardens and Funeral Home, was relieved of a ring from her left hand by Kalynn Homfeld, who labored for more than a minute to pry it off the dead woman’s finger. The Odessa American reported that Homfeld was caught on security cameras boosting the ring just minutes after the Hicks family left the funeral home. Although the stolen ring was worth just $10, Homfeld faces a stiff penalty: Any theft from a corpse, under Texas law, is a state jail felony.

DALLAS // Naturalist Ben Sandifer was enjoying a bike ride near White Rock Lake when he noticed that some of the protected prairie near the trail had been badly disturbed. In his quest for answers from City Hall, Sandifer unearthed a sordid tale of flagrant disrespect for nature at the hands of a city employee. The tale of the trampled grass, the Dallas Morning News reported, began when a street worker hearing nature’s call drove a backhoe off into the woods in search
of a more private setting for a public defecation. Concluding his business, the worker found that his backhoe had gotten stuck in the now-spoiled terrain, and called a friend to tow his equipment back onto the trail, trampling the prairie yet again.

strangest state illustration
illustration by Melissa Reese

JASPER // After an exhaustive search, authorities found
escaped Jasper County Jail
inmate Wesley Evans tucked
 inside his girlfriend’s dishwasher. Evans, 20, snuck out
of a Jasper hospital where
he’d been sent for a hand X-ray, and had been last seen at Wal-Mart “only wearing boxer briefs and possibly handcuffs,” according to KTRE in Tyler. The 6-foot-tall Evans was only apprehended when sheriff’s deputies returned to search his girlfriend’s apartment a second time. “That’s pretty hard for a man that size to get in,” apartment owner Terry Tootle told the station. “I imagine he must have taken the racks out to fit in there.”

PORT LAVACA // Four student “milk gurus” from Calhoun High School placed 28th (out of 50 teams) at the state milk judging championships in Stephenville, in which competitors try to identify the aws in various milk samples. Agriculture teacher Kelli Culpepper helped the team train by acidifying or oxidizing milk, which team members would taste before spitting it into a communal bucket. “It’s so gross,” confirmed sophomore Torri Mikolas, who joined the team, according to the Port Lavaca Wave, “despite not liking milk.”

CONROE // Erin Poole and Jonathan Gessner were driving through Conroe when they spotted Nala, a 5-month-old tiger, in the bushes next to the road. “I’m going to go catch it,” Gessner told Poole, and walked out to meet the cub. As he later recalled to KTRK in Houston, “It jumped on me and started licking me in the face. I started playing with it and petting it and everything.” After Nala obeyed commands to sit and lay down, the pair turned her over to Conroe Animal Control. After days of news coverage, a masked man broke into the animal shelter, authorities believe, in an unsuccessful attempt to steal the tiger. A judge awarded custody of Nala to an animal sanctuary, over the objections of Cody Tibbits, who claimed to have recently purchased the tiger. “It’s not mine, legally,” Tibbits told KHOU. “It’s someone else’s legally. We don’t know who has the paperwork.”

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]

Staff writer Patrick Michels covers school reform and crime for the Observer.

Published at 8:19 am CST