A monkey on the loose, a sharpshooting great-grandmother, activist witches, and more quirky news stories that caught our eye this year.
The Observer is best known for longform investigations on serious subjects. Our reporters and editors spend months immersed in heavy topics like rural suicide and racial violence. That work takes an emotional toll, which is why we can always use a healthy dose of humor.
There are a few telltale signs that someone has just shared an especially funny link: laughter from the writers’ room, followed by furiously clacking keyboards. Many of those stories end up in Strangest State, the Observer’s bimonthly roundup of weird Texas news. It’s a real grab bag, but we can always rely on animals on the loose—alligators and rattlesnakes, in particular—and bumbling criminals. Below, enjoy the strangest of the strange stories from 2019.
WICHITA FALLS // A woman was banned from Walmart after drinking wine from a Pringles can while astride an electric shopping cart. The Wichita Falls Times-Record-News reports that when a police officer arrived at the store around 9 a.m., employees said the lone ranger had been riding around the property since 6:30. After the story made the rounds, 10,000 people jokingly RSVP’d to a copycat Facebook event—and three men actually showed up to toast in her honor at a North Austin Walmart.
CEDAR PARK // After a city council member ranted online about witches and Satanists, a local coven held a peaceful protest. “My prayers and intercession against the witches and satan worshipers begins at 3 a.m. on this full moon of Friday the 13th,” Cedar Park City Council member Tim Kelly wrote on Facebook. “The power that is in the shed blood of Jesus the Christ trumps your soul stealing sorcery.” In response, about 30 members of the Coven of the Corvid hosted a “peace ritual” in a city park, reports Hill Country News. There was also a Christian counterprotest, in which about 10 people prayed and “blew ram’s horns throughout the entirety of the event.”
SANTA FE // There may or may not have been a monkey—or a chimpanzee, a raccoon, or Bigfoot—on the loose in Santa Fe, but the internet sure wanted to believe. According to the Galveston County Daily News, police received two credible reports of a monkey sighting in the same neighborhood, two days apart. After searching the treetops via drone, they failed to find the animal. A flurry of news reports followed, as well as a parody Twitter account. “Aside from the great peacock escape of 2016, I don’t think Santa Fe has dealt with a search on such a national stage,” Bayou Animal Services Director Sarah Haywood told KHOU.
AUSTIN // A man posed as a Beto O’Rourke campaign volunteer in order to break into a house and steal a Popsicle. The Austin American-Statesman reports that a neighbor questioned James Bradford Gibbon II, 28, when she saw the man loitering on a porch. Gibbon, who was wearing a black Beto T-shirt, replied that he was “campaigning for Beto for president.” A few minutes later, another woman arrived home to find Gibbon in her kitchen, holding the wrapper of a frozen treat he’d just filched from the freezer. Gibbon, who was charged with burglary, also admitted to rifling through a wallet and attempting to hack an iPad.
ABILENE // A city council member announced that instead of seeking re-election, he plans to spend more time working on his underground bunker. Steve Savage, who has served on the council since 2015, told KTXS that he’s creating an “ultra-safe” home within a ballistic missile silo. The silo, which Savage recently purchased, is one of 12 built by the military during the 1960s near Dyess Air Force Base.
CORPUS CHRISTI // A hit-and-run driver led police on a thrilling low-speed chase to catch his John Deere tractor. KRISTV reports that Alan Baade, 45, allegedly backed into a van with his tractor before fleeing on Highway 77. The hourlong chase ended when the camo-clad Baade drove into a field and was surrounded by cops.
JUNCTION // Holy guacamole! Some 42,000 pounds of avocados were waterlogged when a tractor-trailer plunged into the South Llano River. The Junction Eagle livestreamed the 40-minute effort to recover the truck from the water next to Highway 377 South, noting that the driver was uninjured. No word on the fate of the avocados.
SAN ANTONIO // A pair of hikers in Government Canyon State Natural Area called 911 to report that “an animal had been following and growling at [them], so [they] had taken refuge by climbing a tree.” A park police officer arrived and, according to the Texas Game Wardens’ Field Notes newsletter, found the couple flinching at the source of the threatening noise—the sound of cars passing over rumble strips on a nearby road. “The lost hikers were reassured by the officer that the unknown can be scary,” the newsletter concluded.
ATASCOCITA // A man tested the limits of Petco’s “all leashed pets allowed” policy by walking his 1,600-pound steer into the store. A Facebook video shows Shelly Lumpkin leading Oliver, a 14-year-old Ankole-Watusi, through the sliding doors as the steer carefully tilts his 9-foot horns to fit. Inside, shoppers and employees lined up to pet him and snap photos. Petco associate Chrystal Armour told the Houston Chronicle that Lumpkin cleared the visit with her ahead of time. “We love all of our guests’ animals and the wonderful bond they share,” Armour said.
LIVINGSTON // Livingston Mayor Judy B. Cochran bagged a 12-foot alligator—the same creature, she believes, that ate her miniature horse a few years ago. “Typically the gators don’t bother us, but we’ve been looking for [this one],” Cochran told the Houston Chronicle. Cochran, who recently became a great-grandmother, used a seasoned raccoon to attract the 580-pound animal to her pond, where she shot it. She plans to mount its tail in her office and make several pairs of boots from its hide.
Read more from the Observer:
The Last Nurse in Memphis, Texas: Carole Ward, a former nurse practitioner, ran the only health clinic in a small town in the Panhandle until she retired in 2017.
A Chain Reaction: Luby’s is in trouble. Can the iconic cafeteria chain endure?
I’ve Lived in East Austin for 60 Years, and I Don’t Recognize it Anymore: As gentrification reshapes my neighborhood, I fear we’re losing something of real value to our city.