Ranch

Texas Standard: February 22, 2021

Stop right there: an order from the public utility commission to put the brakes on outrageous power bills after the winter storm. As lawmakers step in to get answers to ongoing questions about who and what’s to blame for the meltdown in utilities statewide, another long term ripple effect looms: the impact to Texas’s reputation. We’ll hear more. Also hurricanes, pandemic, then a winter storm… what compounding natural disasters can do to mental health in Texas, and what to look out for, yourself. Plus with the power back on for most, many Texans still dealing with water issues. We’ll have expert advice on tap and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: January 22, 2020

Just ahead of Super Tuesday, voter registration hits an all time high in Texas. We’ll look at what the new record setting numbers add up to. Other stories we’re tracking: governor Abbott’s decision to stop accepting refugees, widely panned by big city mayors and major newspaper editorial boards. We’ll hear why its playing out in somewhat unexpected ways in Amarillo. And Politifact Texas marks 10 years separating fact from fiction. All of those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 24, 2019

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. But what about sexual orientation? We’ll take a closer look at the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a trio of cases with the potential of expanding gay lesbian and transgender rights. Also, 3 scientists being fired amid espionage fears at Houston’s prestigious M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. And we’ve been hearing about Central American migrants at the border: a surprising number waiting in Ciudad Juárez are coming in from Cuba. Those stories and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: January 9, 2019

No emergency declaration yet. After the president makes an oval office pitch for his border wall, what if anything has changed? We’ll take a closer look. Also, on the morning after the presidential address on the border wall, the states’ top three officials try to send a message to Texans: they’re a united front when it comes to education. We’ll have a live report. Meanwhile the government shutdown continues into day 19. We’ll look at how it’s hitting home for Texans already hit by Hurricane Harvey. And the search for life as we don’t know it: two Texas researchers helping NASA rethink some cosmic questions. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Ranch Words In Urban Life

The other day I was trying to pull out on U.S. Route 281, and the traffic was so steady that I had to wait about three minutes for an opening. As I was waiting, my father’s voice came into my head and said, “Somebody left the gate open down there.”

Dad’s been gone 30 years now, but those sorts of metaphors still live in my head, as they do for a lot of us Texans. We may have mostly moved from farms and ranches to cities, but our language is still peppered with these expressions of pastoral life. As T. K. Whipple, the literary historian pointed out, we live in a world our forefathers created, “but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, what they lived, we dream.” You cannot have the influences of the frontier or country life disappear in just a generation or two. It hangs on in interesting ways, in our myths and in our language.

One place that we can witness it with some vibrancy is in the farm and ranch expressions or metaphors that survive in our digital age. Here are twelve I’ve rounded up for you.

“I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.” It’s used to infer the poor likelihood that a given investment or prediction will come true. “Well, yes, Congress might decide to work together for the greater good, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.”

“To mend fences.” It means to make peace. “You might want to mend fences with Jayden. You’re likely to need his friendship one day.”

“Dig in your heels.” When cowboys were branding calves and roped one, they had to pull hard against them and were told to dig in their heels. Now, the phrase is used for any act of taking a tough stance. “We’re diggin’ in our heels on this contract.” Similar to “sticking to our guns.”

“Take the bull by the horns” is a good one. Face your troubles head on. Yet a similar saying warns against careless assertiveness: “Mess with the bull and you get the horns.” That expression was made particularly popular in classic films like The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful.

“Don’t have a cow!” Bart Simpson made it world-famous. Of course, he added “man” at the end. It is about anti-empathy. I can’t validate your over-reaction. The earliest known printed use of “don’t have a cow,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was found in the Denton Record-Chronicle in 1959. The phrase appeared in quoting someone who said, “He’d ‘have a cow’ if he knew I watched 77 Sunset Strip.” Proud it showed up first in Texas.

“Till the cows come home.” That means a long time, long time. It’s almost as bad as waiting for “pigs to fly.” “Until the cows come home,” perhaps originated in the Scottish highlands. They let cows out to wander lush pastures in the spring and it would be a long time before they would make their way home. It also refers to cows coming home to be milked in the early morning hours.

“Maverick” is well-known. It is used to brand someone as a non-conformist. It is named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan who allegedly didn’t brand his cattle. That isn’t the entire truth, but that is what many have come to believe, and so that version of the story has stuck.

“All hat and no cattle” is one of my all-time favorites. I used it recently in a conversation with a teenager and he said he had never heard it before and didn’t know what it meant. I explained that it was similar to “all bark and no bite.” He didn’t get that one either. I guess trying to teach ranch metaphors to a teenager is like “herding cats.” In fairness, I didn’t understand his saying that I seemed “salty” either.

“Riding shotgun.” This started as means of naming the guy who rode on the stagecoach next to the driver, generally holding the shotgun to ward off bandits. It’s still being used 150 years later. Even modern teenagers still yell “I got shotgun!” as they run to the truck.

“Hold your horses.” Just wait a minute. Let’s think about this calmly before we jump right in and regret it. “Hold your horses, Jim. I can’t buy your truck until I talk to my wife, first.” I also like that we still measure engine power in “horses” – 400 horsepower.

“I’m on the fence about it.” Taking that new job in the oil patch in Odessa? Not sure. Still on the fence about that.

I guess the most popular metaphor of all from ranch culture is “BS,” meaning “nonsense.” It’s difficult to accurately trace its origins and attempting to do so leads us into a thicket of art form itself.

I used the word recently while giving a talk in the state Capitol building. I was asked afterward if I thought that was an appropriate term to use in such august surroundings. I said, “I imagine the expression has been used more than a few times here in the legislature, and probably, even more often, impressively illustrated.”

Texas Standard: November 1, 2018

Along a major bridge in south Texas, welders putting barriers in place. We’ll get a first hand look at steps being taken in an apparent effort to shut down the border. We’ll be talking with a reporter from the McAllen monitor about unprecedented work on a bridge spanning the Rio Grande and what it could mean in practical terms. Also, the FDA green lights what could be a life saving new flu drug even though the researcher behind it says it could have happened long ago. Why the wait? Think: money. And a deal by IBM turns the nation’s attention to Texas farms, and not the kind that grow crops either. All that and then some today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 3, 2018

It’s being described as an eye popping boost for Beto O’Rourke’s bottom line: a game changer in his race against Ted Cruz for senate? We’ll explore. Also, there’s more teacher walkouts over pay, now in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Should Texas teachers be taking a cue? We’ll explore. Also, tariffs hit home. How china’s reaction to U.S. trade policies are making a mark on the Texas economy. And clinical trials of new alzheimer’s treatments haven’t been going well. Now researchers in San Antonio may have discovered the reason. Plus, will you get your next car by subscription? Why some automakers are disrupting their own sales model. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Land Rush

The most expensive property currently on the market in Texas is a 2300 acre estate in Lago Vista. It is near Austin, on Lake Travis, going for a mere 68 million. Only 30 thousand an acre. Get out your checkbooks.

That’s quite a contrast compared to the deals the first Texans were getting on real estate. Stephen F. Austin charged 12 and a half cents an acre for a league of land, which was 4428 acres.

He offered two deals, 4428 acres if you were a rancher and 177 acres if you were a farmer. So you can imagine that many farmers became ranchers right quick. And that’s not all. Married men got far more land than single ones. So there was a stampede up the church aisles as single farmers rushed to become married ranchers. Imagine, you walk down the aisle with nothing and come out with almost 4500 acres. Compare that to today where you walk in with thirty thousand dollars and walk out broke.

That was quite a deal Austin offered. 12 and a half cents an acre (and mostly on credit) at a time when land in the rest of the U.S. was ten times more than that. Someone later pointed out, “Land in Texas was what gold was to the gold rush.”

A league of land for $550. Even adjusted for today’s dollars it would be only $12,000. 4428 acres is a lot of land. It would require a long hard day of walking to make your way around it by sunset. But you still wouldn’t have a King Ranch. Even with all those acres you would still own less than half a percent of the King Ranch. By comparison, you wouldn’t even have a ranchito. You would have a ranchititito. Essentially a postage stamp.

In deep South Texas, the original land grants of 4500 acres sold for even less. Sometimes as little as the filing fee of $50 and other times for ten cents an acre, with payments not starting until the fourth year of the seven-year term, to give you the chance to work the land and have it help pay for itself.

And even considering that $30,000 an acre today is shocking – it may well seem like a bargain 20 years from now. How many times have you sat at someone’s kitchen table and heard them say, “See that house over there? 30 years ago I could have bought it for $100,000. Today it’s worth $300,000.” Or more. As the old saying goes, “Buy land, they’re not making anymore of it.” Certainly been a wise adage to live by in Texas for about 200 years now.

What I need is a good time machine. I wish I could go back to see my great grandfather when he lived in East Texas. I could say to him, “Great gramps, here’s $1,000. I want you to go over to Beaumont and find a little hill known round there as Spindletop. Buy that hill and the 4,000 acres that surrounds it. Here’s another thousand for mineral rights. Leave it all in a trust to be shared by your descendants who are 6’ 5” or more, blue-eyed, and work in radio.

If only rebooting your life were that easy.

Texas Standard: June 6, 2017

Are Facebook and Twitter innocent channels for communication, or participants who profit from terrorist propaganda and planning? We’ll explore. Plus, after last weekend’s attacks in London, the UK turns up the heat on social media platforms. We’ll look at the implications with a leading Texas scholar. Plus, how much of the legislature can you miss and still call your self a Texas legislator? What appears to be a test of that question, and the Texas Democrat at the center of the storm. It seems to be a no-brainer: a museum of Texas Music History. Yet plans for such a place fell flat at the capitol. Why? We’ll find out. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

The Queen of King Ranch

When Richard King, the founder of the King Ranch, was on his deathbed, he told his wife, Henrietta Chamberlain King “Don’t let any of that land get away from you.” At the time of his death in 1885, King’s famous ranch consisted of about half a million acres. He had amassed this land on the advice of Robert E. Lee, who told him that he should buy all the land in the wild horse desert that he could get hold of, and never sell it. Richard King followed this principle faithfully his entire life.

His wife Henrietta did not let him down. She ruled this ranch kingdom for about 10 years longer – in total – than her husband did, more than doubling the size of the ranch in her time.

But it wasn’t easy. She had to break her husband’s golden rule soon after he died. Henrietta King not only inherited half a million acres, but also half a million dollars of debt. She had to sell some of the land to bring the King Ranch back to life. Under Henrietta King’s firm but fair hand – and with the expert help of her son-in-law, Robert Kleberg – the ranch was soon growing again; and then flourishing. By the turn of the century, the King Ranch was trying new techniques in irrigation, range grasses and cattle breeding. By the 1920s they’d created their signature breed: Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Henrietta met Richard King when she was just 18 years old, in Brownsville. She was the quiet daughter of a Presbyterian minister and King was a hard-drinking, rough-around-the-edges, riverboat captain. Sounds like a country-western song. When they married, Henrietta said about her honeymoon: “I doubt it falls to the lot of any a bride to have had so happy a honeymoon … we roamed the broad prairies of the ranch. When I grew tired, my husband would spread a Mexican blanket for me and I would take my siesta under the shade of a mesquite tree.”

This rough-hewn honeymoon she so praised showed that she was made of the right stuff to help build a ranch out of inhospitable land and a brutal climate. Indeed, she was so tough, it’s said that when bandits wanted to attack the ranch house, they waited for Mr. King to be around because he could be bargained with.

Henrietta faithfully reigned over the ranch for 70 years. But her influence extended well beyond the King Ranch boundaries.

It has been said that the work of a philanthropist is like that of an old person who plants trees. They plant even though they know they will never live to stand in their shade. And so it goes that the institutions Henrietta King started are far more important today than they were in her time.

She donated land that would become Texas A&M University in Kingsville. She constructed the city’s public high school. She donated land and money to build Spohn Hospital, which is today Corpus Christi’s largest, most advanced hospital.

Mark Twain once said that you can tell the importance of a person by the size and nature of their funeral. When Henrietta King died at the age of 92, 200 vaqueros on horseback escorted her funeral carriage to the cemetery. Some of them had ridden two days across the ranch to get there in time. These men were known as Kinenos, the King’s men.

At her grave, the 200 vaqueros, one by one, circled her casket as it was lowered, and they tipped their hats in reverence for the great lady, “La Reina” – the queen of the King Ranch. Then they galloped on back to their duties on the ranch, which now consisted of 1.2 million acres.

The Mysterious Texan and the Ranchers’ Convention

The story goes that there was a convention of landowners – mega farmers and big ranchers – up in Denver. There were four men sittin’ around in the bar there in the fancy resort, enjoying happy hour. Three of them were swappin’ stories about their farms and ranches and generally braggin’ about their land holdings. A fourth man, a Texan, was off to the side a bit. You knew he was from Texas because of the Lone Star hatband on his Stetson. He was not much involved in the conversation, just readin’ the paper and half-listenin’ to the others.

One of the talkers said, “I have about 8,122 acres of land along the Western Slopes of the Rockies here in Colorado. Have over 1,000 horses, I bet, if I could ever manage to count ‘em all. Probably the highest ranch in the Western U.S. – we call it El Cielo Ranch because it’s so close to Heaven.”

Next man said, “Sounds real nice. I have kind of the opposite. I own El Diablo Farms in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Always hotter then the Devil down there. But we have over 9,500 irrigated acres. It is a desert, but just add water and watch the miracles happen. We grow produce faster than you can harvest it. Like a license to print money!” he said, laughing loudly.

Third guy said, “I don’t have nearly that much land. I have about 6,000 acres in the fertile Willamette Valley. Have the largest dairy operation in Oregon. Over 3,000 registered Holstein cows. Scottish Dairies it’s called. Supply milk to half of Portland. Only problem is the Willamette River runs right down the middle of my farms and makes navigating my own property difficult. It’s a beautiful problem to have, though.”

The Texan was still sittin’ quietly and then one of ‘em says, “Hey, Tex, how about you? How much land do you have?”

He said, “Well, down in Texas it’s considered unseemly to ask a man how much land he owns or how many head of cattle he runs. We talk about land in terms of sections, not acres, but, since you gentlemen revealed your cards, I guess I can oblige your curiosity. I suppose, all told,” he said, looking up at the ceiling, as though mentally counting, “I have 200 acres.”

The three men burst out laughing. The Californian said, “200 acres! What the hell you doin’ here at this gathering of big ranchers and farmers? What do you call your little ranchito, Tex?”

And the guys laughed some more.

“Well,” drawled the Texan, “I don’t have a name for it myself, but people all round Texas like to call it – Downtown Dallas.”

Things got mighty quiet. You could hear minds bein’ blown. You could hear jaws droppin’ – hittin’ the metaphorical floor.

The Texan drank the last bit of his Shiner Bock, got up and said, “Any you boys want to sell your land, let me know. I’ll dip into my petty cash account and buy you out.”

With that he tipped his Stetson politely and said, “Y’all have a nice evenin’, now.”

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

The Texas Rancher and the New York Banker

This story comes under the heading of “folklore,” a story that rises up out of the people and migrates and mutates. There is a New York version, a Jewish version, an Italian version, a Southern version and a Texas version, where I believe it originated, but that is likely because I am a Texan. It goes like this:

A Texas rancher walks into a bank in New York City and asks for a $5000 loan for the period of a month.

The banker hesitates. He is uncertain about it because he thinks the Texan looks a bit like a redneck, and truth be told, rather poor. So he decides to blow him off quickly. He says, “Do you have any collateral to put up for the loan?”

The rancher replies, “Yep, got that 2015 Ford F-250 sittin’ across the street there. Worth $70,000 all decked out that way.”

The banker rolls his eyes and says, “How much do you owe on that truck?”

The rancher says, “Not a dime. All paid for.”

The banker leans forward and changes his tune. “Well sir, I don’t see why we couldn’t loan you $5000. We could go up to $40,000 if you’d like, over a longer period, of course.”

“Nope,” said the rancher, “$5000 will do. A month is all I need.”

“You mind if I ask why you need the loan?” asked the banker.

The rancher said, “I drove up from my little ranch in Abilene to do some business here and suddenly have an emergency opportunity. A bucket list item, to fly over to España to maybe purchase an Andalusian horse, if I can afford it. Little cash poor just now – need some walkin’ around money.”

The banker says, “Well this will be no problem. We can certainly help you out.”

“Just one thing,” said the rancher. “Can we skip puttin’ a lien on the title? Clearing a New York lien from Texas, I imagine, is like herdin’ cats.”

“I tell you what,” said the banker, “Just leave the truck with us as hard collateral and pick it up when you come back. You’re not going to need it anyway.”

The rancher thought a moment and said, “Well, it’s a bit unusal, but I guess it will be alright.” He slid the keys across the desk to the banker.

In a few minutes, all the formalitites were settled and the banker gave the rancher $5000 in cash and off he went to Spain.

One month later the rancher returned and paid the banker $5000 – plus $28.22 for one month’s interest.

The banker walked the rancher out to the front of the bank. As they waited for the truck to be brought down from the garage. The banker said, “Sir, while you were gone I ran a full credit check on you, just for the hell of it. And turns out you are quite wealthy. You have a 1200 acre ranch, 500 head of cattle, and oil and gas interests; you didn’t really need this loan did you?”

Rancher said, “No sir, I didn’t, not really.”

Banker said, “Mind if I ask why you got the loan?”

Just at that moment, truck arrived from the bank’s garage. The rancher hopped in and powered the window down. He leaned out toward the banker and said, “Where else was I gonna park a big ol’ F-250 in New York City for a whole month for just $28?”

With that he tipped his hat and said, “Much obliged to you.”

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

Gettin’ Real in Texas

Most Texans now live in urban areas but there’s still a big farming and ranching culture in the state.

That was Typewriter Rodeo’s David Fruchter’s inspiration this week.

Green Room: Nolan Ryan

Sure, Nolan Ryan’s known the world over as one of baseball’s all time greats, but few realize that first and foremost, he’s a rancher! Ryan’s childhood passion for beef led him to put together a new cookbook. In our conversation with one of today’s most famous Texans, Ryan talks about his childhood, great ballpark eats, plus some tips for your own summer grill.