Gulf Coast

Texas Standard: November 22, 2019

The public part of the House impeachment inquiry is over. Did it have an impact? A former White House adviser says yes, in ways that may not be obvious, we’ll explore. Plus: 2020. It’s closer than you think, especially if you’re in the business of running an election. How much more secure are systems now, with less than a year to go before presidential balloting? Also, over objections of native americans, environmentalists and others, three new natural gas export facilities get the green light…What will it mean for texas and the economy? All of that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 11, 2019

Four days and counting: with a new deadline looming in a shutdown showdown over the border wall, the president arrives in El Paso. We’ll take a look at what this means. Also, a week after Texas Catholic Diocese release lists of what the church calls credibly accused clergy, a new investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News reports on an abuse of faith in the southern Baptist denomination. We’ll talk with the reporters. Also, an attempt to protect a spot in Texas with one of the most pristine skies on the planet. All those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 14, 2018

The Harvey effect: as Florence bears down on the Carolinas, meteorologists say theres an shift in how major hurricanes are doing damage, we’ll have the latest. Also, Walmart bets big on high end out door gear, but some brands are telling Walmart to take a hike, we’ll hear why. And remember smokin in the boys room, or girls room? Nowadays its vaping in the classroom, for real. Texas teachers trying to get students to kick the habit amid calls for a federal crackdown on the marketing of vape pens. Plus the police chief leading the charge to make Corsicana the Hollywood of Texas, and it appears to be working. All that and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 1, 2018

The latest Texas Lyceum Poll is focused on the mid-terms. Republican incumbents have big leads except for one. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has found a true challenger in Representative Beto O’Rourke, but will the two debate and will it matter? We’ll explore. Also, the Port of Corpus Christi has some big plans for some big ships to move a LOT of oil across the way from Port Aransas. We’ll take a look at what the people of Port A think about the proposal. And if you’ve got a kid in your life quick question: have they spent much time outside this summer? A guide to help parents navigate in a world full of tech. Plus will we finally unravel the mystery of the Marfa Lights? You’ll have to listen on today’s Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 31, 2018

The devastation was enormous: billions in damage, tens of thousands displaced. But will the anger over Hurricane Harvey impact the mid-terms? We’ll explore. Also, Texas families with children with special needs are finding it harder to access healthcare. It has to do with how and whether providers are getting paid. We’ll explain. And a state park in the Rio Grande Valley beloved by birdwatchers could close if a border wall goes up. What Texas Parks and Wildlife is doing about it. Plus those who tout ideas of racial purity often point back to a time when Europe was white, but a Texas researcher says that just wasn’t the case. And fossils aren’t just old bones. We’ll tell you all about ’em and where you can find ’em in the Lone Star State, today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 27, 2018

A one on one debrief with the interim police chief of the Texas capitol city in the aftermath of the serial bomber, we’ll explore the latest details in the case. Also, Facebook is in meltdown mode with users leaving investigations opening and calls for regulation or more. What digital privacy protections exist for Texans? We’ll take a closer look. And first Colt’s bankruptcy, now Remington on the ropes. The result of blowback over gun violence, or something else going on with gunmakers? Also, in San Antonio, a new idea to get dogs on death row a second chance, we’ll explain. Plus the legend of the easter bunny: a Texas tradition? All that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 14, 2018

One of the most controversial laws to pass the Texas legislature in years: being upheld by a 5th circuit panel. What’s next for so-called sanctuary cities? We’ll explore. Also, Texas counties racing to join lawsuits challenging pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis. Why the race to the courthouse? And how Texas could make motherhood safer, and why the need is especially urgent. Plus, along the Harvey hit Gulf Coast this spring break, how’s business? We’ll check in with some bar, restaurants and other hot spots to hear whether the crowds are back and what’s changed. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Jack Johnson: The Galveston Giant

As I was watching the Olympics, I began thinking about all the great athletes who have come from Texas and gone on to be the best in the world. Though not an Olympic champion, I thought of one Texan who stood unexpectedly at the pinnacle of his sport for an impressive number of years.

He was born and raised in Galveston. His life seemed defined by an incident that occurred when he was quite young. When he came home from school he would often avoid a bully who had once attacked him in the street. That bully was older and larger so he thought it best to stay out of his way. But Jack’s sister saw this and got angry. She insisted that he fight the bully. “In fact,” Jack remembered, “She pushed me into the fray. There was nothing to do but fight so I put all I had into it… and finally whipped my antagonist.”

Jack’s reputation as a fighter was born. Later, working on the Galveston shipping docks, the vigorous work strengthened his muscles and toughened his body. He learned boxing from the stout men on the docks and began fighting in amateur matches, winning most all of them. This was the 1890s.

When he could learn no more in Galveston, he hopped a train out of there, hoping that would take him to a storybook future. In many ways it did.

Over the next decade, Jack became known in boxing as The Galveston Giant. The son of freed slaves, he worked his way through all the black boxers and some of the white ones, too, to get a shot at the World Heavyweight Champion, James Jeffries.

But Jeffries wouldn’t fight a black man. He claimed it was not something a champion should do. So rather than risk his title, he retired, undefeated.

Tommy Burns became the champion and Johnson chased him all the way to Australia and finally got a match. It would be in Sydney. Burns would get $35,000 and Johnson would get $5,000. Burns’ manager would referee the fight. It went fourteen rounds and it was stopped before Burns got knocked out. Johnson was declared the winner. He wrote in his autobiography, “The little colored boy from Galveston had defeated the world’s champion boxer and, for the first and only time in history, a black man held one of the greatest honors that exists in the field of sports…”

Jack London, the famous novelist, covered the fight for The New York Herald. He wrote, “The fight? There was no fight. No Armenian massacre could compare with the hopeless slaughter that took place today. The fight, if fight it could be called, was like that between a pygmy and a colossus… But one thing now remains. Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden smile from Jack Johnson’s face. Jeff, it’s up to you! The White Man must be rescued.”

And that is where the notion of The Great White Hope came from: Jack London.

The World Heavyweight Champion, Jack Johnson, accepted his victory with a contrasting humility. He recalled: “I did not gloat over the fact that a white man had fallen. My satisfaction was only in that one man had conquered another and that I had been the conqueror… The hunt for a ‘white hope’ began, not only with great earnestness and intenseness, but with ill-concealed bitterness.”

So people started sending telegrams and letters to Jim Jeffries, begging him to come back and take the title from Johnson. He initially repeated what he had said before: “I have said I will never box a colored fighter and I won’t change my mind.”

But money can work magic on prejudice. For the guarantee of $120,000 from promoter Tex Rickard, for the fight and the film rights, Jeffries signed on to what was billed as “The Fight of the Century.” It was held in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910. It was well over 100 degrees at fight time – 2:30 in the afternoon under a cloudless sky. Johnson said the “…red hot sun poured down on our heads. The great crowd was burning to a crisp.”

The betting was heavily in favor of Jeffries – about 2 to 1. A reporter from Palestine, Texas, wrote that when Johnson was asked how he felt about that, he said, “I know I’m the short ender in the betting and I know why. It’s a dark secret, but when the fight starts we’ll be color blind. I’m going in to win.” And he did. He knocked out Jeffries in the 15th round.

Johnson said, “Whatever possible doubt may have existed as to my claim to the championship, was wiped out.”

Jack London agreed. He had called out for the great white hope himself and wrote that

Johnson had decisively defeated the white champion. London doubted that Jeffries, even in his prime, could have defeated this “amazing negro (boxer) from Texas.” He said he knocked down the man who had never been knocked down and knocked out the man who had never been knocked out. “Johnson is a wonder,” he concluded. “If ever a man won by nothing more fatiguing than a smile, Johnson won today.”

The film of the fight was considered an immoral display and banned in many states and cities. Governor Campbell of Texas cited those grounds in saying he would discourage authorities from showing it Texas and would convene the legislature to “promote this end.”

Muhammad Ali, who was often compared to Jack Johnson for his unshakeable confidence and easy-going banter in the ring, had enormous admiration for Jack Johnson. He said, “Jack Johnson was a big inspiration for what he did out of the ring. He was so bold. Jack Johnson was a black man back when white people lynched negroes on weekends. This man was told if you beat a white man we’re going to shoot you from the audience and he said well just go ahead and shoot my black butt cuz I’m going to knock him out. He had to be a bad, bad black man cuz wasn’t no Black Muslims to defend him, no NAACP in 1909 no MOV or any black organizations, no Huey Newton, no Angela Davis, no Malcolm X. He was by himself… He was the greatest. He had to be the greatest.”

My special thanks to my good friend James Dennis who suggested this topic as especially worthy of the Stories from Texas series.

Texas Standard: November 28, 2017

A republican led race to wrap up a rare rewrite of the nations tax laws hits stumbling blocks in the senate. We’ll hear what provisions are causing problems on the hill and what the cuts could add up to in the political near term. Also, fears growing among many Texas businesses as NAFTA negotiators prepare for round six. And you’ve heard of sanctuary cities? Now hear this: some cities are asking for their police to be deputized into immigration enforcement. And the case that could be the biggest of the century for privacy rights, and why it matters for anyone with a smartphone. All that and then some today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 30, 2017

The Manafort connection: what does his indictment mean in the search for answers to Russian election influence? We’ll have a Texas take. Also, can you go to jail for being late on a rental payment? Depends. In Texas, the price for missing your furniture bills could be jail. We’ll hear how, and what Texas lawmakers are saying. Also, stem cell treatments: still in their infancy, but some fear they’re being offered without evidence of efficacy. But now Texas has become one of the first states to green light adult stem cell treatment for cancer patients. Also, gulf land for sale, but no takers? Interest has dried up from the oil industry. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Bass Boat Heroes

Every destructive hurricane is remembered in a unique way. Katrina is largely remembered for levees breaking and the paralyzing chaos that followed. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, whose anniversary is in two days, is remembered for a horrific number – 6-thousand. 6-thousand people perished. It was the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. I believe that Hurricane Harvey will be remembered for the greatest amount of rain ever to fall in one place in the U.S. within 24 hours, but I believe it will also be remembered for the bass boat heroes.

Someone on social media suggested that we should build a monument to “two regular guys in a bass boat.” And that idea has been seconded by tens of thousands.

Even from where I live in deep south Texas, I saw dozens of trucks pulling boats, headed north on Highway 77: bass boats, swamp boats, pontoons, skiffs and navy seal type zodiacs. The call went out for help across the state and Texans answered. They came from San Antonio and San Angelo and Austin, Waco, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Tyler, even I understand, from the Panhandle and El Paso. From every nook and cranny of the state, they rolled toward the floods, spontaneous convoys racing to the coast. It was magnificent to see them: Texas flags bent by speed and proudly waving from their trucks and trailers, a genuine cavalry to the rescue. These men and women didn’t ask for money or mileage or payback of any kind. They didn’t ask for whom the bell tolled, they just concluded, it tolls for me – and away they went.

I talked to a man at a station near my house who was filling up his slightly lifted GMC. He was pulling a 15-foot bass boat with a trolling motor. I asked him if he was going to Houston. He said, “My brother and me thought we might head up that way. I mean I got a truck and a boat. Might be of help to somebody. I know they’d do it for us if things were turned around.”

And they didn’t just come from Texas. The Cajun Navy, as they are so beautifully named, came from Louisiana in large numbers, as did others from Arkansas and Oklahoma, and no doubt other states too.

A National Guard Officer said on the Weather Channel: “These people are showing up with air boats, swamp boats, and jet skis. They go out and rescue people and bring them to us. I don’t know where these people are coming from, but it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”

An old friend of mine, Matt Carr, from Central Texas, answered the call. He said: “Driving into Houston in the storm was surreal. I-10, 290, and 610 had no cars on them. It was apocalyptic. Fields full of water, cows huddling on tiny islands above rising water. We felt all alone. We got there in a window of time before the world arrived again.”

He said the police were busy with calls and told the rescuers they were free to go where they pleased and help in any way they could. So they did. He said once the National Guard arrived, the process became more efficient. “It felt like a Texas version of Dunkirk,” he said, “less dangerous, but the same spirit.”

Matt rescued a 90-year-old woman named Hazel. She didn’t have anyone in her life. She was alone. She didn’t want to leave her house, but she was cold. Matt convinced her to go. He said, “I took her to a bus so they could take her to a shelter. She was scared. So I knelt down next to her in the aisle on the bus and we said a prayer together. And then I got back to work.”

Matt’s was one of thousands of similar stories from that night. Here’s another from my buddy Manny Fernandez who is the Houston Bureau chief for the New York Times. He was out riding along with many of these rescuers, impressed with their instinct for navigating what was now an urban bay. And it was dark except for helmet headlamps. Dangerous work. Manny asked many of these rescuers why they had come so far to take these risks. He said that almost to a person, they answered, with three words: “This is Texas.”

Texas Standard: September 5, 2017

Getting back to business across Harvey-hit Texas: it was no holiday weekend for roughly 1 in 3 in the Lone Star State. The mucking, the cleanup, the drywall, the carpet, the debris left behind by harvey: put it all together and how much is there and where does it go? And what about all that water? As trillions of gallons flow back to the gulf, some wonder if there’s not a quicker and better way to drain east Texas. Plus a price tag bigger than Katrina says the Texas governor. Not so fast say others in Washington. And now a new storm brewing over who and how to pay for the effects of an historic storm. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Cabeza de Vaca: The First Texas Tourist

The first person to waltz across Texas – okay, waltz is the wrong word (just tipping my hat to Ernest Tubb there). The first European to walk across Texas was Cabeza de Vaca. And he did it barefoot and mostly naked. Why? We shall see.

His full name was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Bet they just called him “Al.” “Alvar” means “guardian.” Turns out that he tried to be just that for the indigenous peoples of all the Americas, North and South.

He started out as a Spanish Explorer in the New World, with an expedition of 300 people in Florida in 1528. Within a few months, Indian attacks and starvation had driven the Spaniards to the coast where they quickly built 5 crude rafts to escape into the Gulf. They hugged the coastline and made it to the Mississippi River, which pushed them out to sea where they were separated by currents and storms. Many died from drinking sea water. Many fell overboard and drowned. Cabeza de Vaca’s raft and one other, along with about 80 survivors, washed up just south of Galveston Island.

Aboriginals on the island saved them from starvation, but many of the Spaniards still died of malnutrition and illness. Many of the native Texans died, too, likely from European viruses that Cabeza de Vaca’s group carried. Within months, only he and three others of his expedition were still alive. That was out of the original 300, a 99 percent death rate. Not exactly a confidence builder.

And then the fun really began. The tribe turned hostile. They made slaves of these castaways – forced them to dig for edible roots, gather firewood and keep fires going all night to ward off the swarms of mosquitoes. They were beaten if they didn’t work hard and sometimes they were beaten just for fun. The castaways were stuck in captivity for several years, though Cabeza de Vaca himself got some relief as they allowed him to trade with other tribes on their behalf.

Despite the horrors they endured, a tiny hope sustained them – Cortés was only 1,000 miles away down in Mexico. Maybe they could reach him and their countrymen. Finally, as their tribe migrated south one summer, they seized the opportunity and escaped.

They headed southwest, following the coastal route that is today highway 35. They had no clothes and no shoes. They walked mostly naked and barefoot through increasingly brutal terrain of mesquite thickets and cactus and sharp coastal grasses. They ate pecans, at what Cabeza de Vaca called the “river of nuts,” which ironically was not the Nueces River – nueces meaning “nuts” – but the Guadalupe. They also ate prickly pear fruit, prickly pear itself, mesquite beans and roasted corn (elotes). Bet they would have given about a million gold Escudo coins for a Whataburger.

One thing they did have going for them is that they became known as shaman or healers. They were called The Children of the Sun by tribes in the region. Many in these tribes flocked to them to be healed. They did the best they could, blowing gently on their patients’ bodies and making the sign of the cross over them. Sometimes they recited rosaries. Fortunately, most people they treated were cured, or at at least reported feeling much better.

Their reputation preceded them and the tribes they encountered greeted them as holy men and demigods. This was quite a welcome reversal from their lives as slaves.

Despite the difficulties of their journey, Cabeza de Vaca still marvelled at the beauty of the coastal plains of Texas. He saw buffalo, which he called huge cows, and even tasted the meat once or twice. He declared it better than European beef. He later wrote: “All over the land there are vast and handsome pastures with good grass for cattle, and it strikes me that the soil would be very fertile were the country inhabited and improved by reasoning people.” He was a bit ethnocentric on the criticism, but it turned out he was a healer AND a prophet – predicting the great cattle ranches that would flourish in Texas 300 years later. Back in Spain, he would argue for peaceful coexistence and cooperative colonization with the American Indians. The Crown was so amazed by his idea that they imprisoned him to kill it.

Though the exact route is not known, many believe that Cabeza de Vaca and the castaways trekked southwest through present day Falfurrias and Roma where they crossed the Rio Grande and then turned Northwest. They walked all the way to the Pacific Coast. Ten years after they left Spain, they made it to Mexico City.

Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to get a good look at the magnificence of Texas and to leave behind a record of what it could become. He was Texas’ first tourist and he was Texas’ first travel writer. He gave Texas a five star review for its potential. And in terms of making the most of the land, our ancestors fulfilled his prophecy. In terms of getting along with the native Texans, well, not so much. Let’s just say, it’s complicated.

Texas Standard: June 26, 2017

The supreme court says it will hear the case of president Trumps travel ban, we’ll explore what this means in the meantime. Also republican holdouts in the senate hold up repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Today we talk with one of the most senior members of the US senate who’s task is turnaround the naysayers: senator John Cornyn joins us. Plus, Texas cities seeking sanctuary from the sanctuary cities bill make their case today before a judge in San Antonio. We’ll have the latest. And is Waco ready for its close up? Hollywood ramps up to revisit the Branch Davidian showdown. Plus how do you move a prairie dog? An expert tells us the secret: cheap dishwashing soap. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 3, 2017

In red state Texas, is Senator Ted Cruz concerned about a challenge from a Democrat? You Beto believe it. We’ll explore. Also a listener asks whether in Texas politics, it’s possible for one ordinary person to make a difference? Our correspondent answers with not one but five suggestions. And the Keystone pipeline gets the green light but why would Mexico be worried about that? So a few extra pounds or more, diet? No live it. Research shows America’s surrendering the battle of the bulge. And Fort Worth: film capitol of Texas? A lone star director shoots for the moon. All that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard: