West Texas

A national lab didn’t detect disease in Texas deer, but the state had already euthanized them

Missing mail and massive delays in postal delivery in the Houston area are sparking action from U.S. Rep. Al Green. We’ll hear what he plans to do about it.

A controversial law allowing Texas police to arrest people suspected of crossing the border illegally takes effect soon – but some rural sheriffs in the Big Bend region say they’re not eager to enforce it.

And: An entire herd of white-tailed deer at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area was euthanized amid concerns about the spread of a contagious disease. But the affected deer may not have had the disease after all, according to new test results.

Justice Department report on Uvalde shooting finds ‘critical failures’ in police response

After a review of thousands of videos and other evidence, the Justice Department has released its report on the Uvalde school shooting, finding “critical failures” by law enforcement before, during and after the attack.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down much of a new Texas law that sought to restrict which books are available in school libraries.

Texas may soon be a hub for hydrogen fueling. The Standard’s Shelly Brisbin has more.

CinéWilde, which bills itself as the state’s only monthly LGBTQ film series, turns 10.

And: Remembering award-winning science fiction author Howard Waldrop.

Exploring the difficulties of rural reproductive care in West Texas

Texas leads the nation in executions again, and Harris County sentences more people to die than any other county in the U.S. A new report examines dozens of death penalty cases there.

A new podcast from Marfa Public Radio looks at the challenge of accessing reproductive care in the Big Bend region.

The season started out with great expectations, but now the San Antonio Spurs have lost a record 18 games in a row. What’s gone wrong, and can it be fixed?

Plus, the week in politics with the Texas Tribune’s Ayan Mittra.

A budding pipeline fight highlights activists’ changing tactics

What does the first day of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment trial tell us about what remains ahead? The Texas Newsroom’s Sergio Martínez-Beltrán joins us from the Capitol with a recap.

We’ll hear the latest on a new fight over a natural gas pipeline in West Texas – and how new strategies by opponents of such development are getting traction.

Among the new laws now in effect in Texas is a requirement for those who want to run for county sheriff.

The sister of Botham Jean, who was killed in Dallas five years ago, has written a new memoir, “After Botham: Healing from my Brother’s Murder by a Police Officer.”

Plus an update on wildfire dangers statewide.

Performers pay tribute to Willie Nelson for his 90th birthday

A push in the state Legislature to end countywide voting on Election Day. Nearly 100 counties in Texas allow voters to cast their Election Day ballots anywhere in the county. But now a move to require voters to cast their ballots in specific district locations. Why the push, and why it matters.

The Veterans Administration is looking into a new application for artificial intelligence: suicide prevention.

An oil tanker bound for Houston seized by Iran. What this move may signal.

And country music luminaries pool their talents for an album to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Red Headed Stranger Willie Nelson.

Evidence suggests Texas Rangers may have created mass gravesite

Is a plan to advance credit for early parole to prisoners with good conduct records or educational advancements a good idea for Texas?

A deadly shooting in West Texas. The victims: migrants. The suspects: brothers in law enforcement. Seven months later, questions mounting about what’s happened to the investigation. Angela Kocherga of KTEP El Paso with more.

The FAA is grounding SpaceX in the aftermath of a historic and messy launch in South Texas.

Also the story behind a Texas furniture store owner, known as much for his TV commercials as for his big league sports wagers.

Texas Standard: August 4, 2022

On the witness stand, Alex Jones admits the Sandy Hook shooting was 100% real as a defamation trial against him goes to the jury. We’ll have the latest. Other stories we’re tracking: a big win for supporters of abortion rights in Kansas sends up red flags for republicans and boosts hopes for democrats. Clues about how the issue could play out here in Texas? We’ll take a look. Plus a rare bipartisan bill to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. Could it also boost Texas’ hopes of becoming a bigger high tech hub? And what a Dallas music writer calls Beyonce’s new album: a love letter to Queer Black music. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 9, 2021

Survey says: Governor Abbott with a double digit lead against his best-known democratic challenger in the governor’s race. We’ll take a look behind the numbers with the Houston Chronicle’s Jeremy Wallace. Also, allegations of sexual abuse and assault against federal judges and what investigative reporter and author Lise Olson discovered about a code of silence that has protected them. Plus a huge body of water in the desert…though it’s no mirage, you don’t want to swim in it, either. Those stories and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 21, 2021

Days after marking zero COVID-19 deaths, Texas hits a grim milestone. How will the state prioritize federal funding for pandemic relief? Also, state lawmakers get closer to passing the state’s two-year budget. We ask how schools will fare. Plus why opponents to Texas’ restrictive new abortion law may have trouble challenging it. And fewer people are being sentenced to death across the country, but a new report shows there may not be adequate defense for those facing life-in-prison sentences. And what the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum reveals about Texas then and now. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 19, 2021

A new executive order from the governor on masks mandates, getting pushback from some local officials. Also, in some of Texas’ biggest cities, protests over continued violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Foreign policy specialist Jeremy Suri on what’s behind this latest round of deadly clashes, and efforts aimed at a cease fire. And righting a past wrong: Texas lawmakers push for two Texas tribes to offer gaming on their land denied by earlier legislation. Plus as U.S. and Chinese rovers leave their marks on mars, whose planet it it, anyway? Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Fall In Texas

The weather has changed. The sights and smells of a new season bring with them memories of seasons past. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: October 5, 2020

A one page letter signed by seven of the attorney general’s top aides ask for an investigation of the Texas attorney general. We’ll hear more about the complain, and how Paxton and other top Texas officials are responding. Also, the president and other top republicans urging supporters to be poll watchers. Just who can become a poll watcher, what does that involve, and what are the limits to their activities? And the hispanic republican from Nixon to Trump plus a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

El Llano Estacado

By W. F. Strong

The Llano Estacado is an enormous mesa. It covers more than 37-thousand square miles of Texas and New Mexico. On this side of the state border it starts north of Amarillo and ends south of Odessa. But how did it get its name and what exactly does it mean? Turns out, there are about five different theories about that.

Today, the Llano Estacado has been immortalized in art. Just think of this song from Gary P. Nunn: “It’s the Llano Estacado, It’s the Brazos and the Colorado; Spirit of the people down here who share this land!”

One thing all the theories about its origin story agree on is that there’s a reason the name is Spanish. It’s credited at least in part to conquistador Francisco Coronado who called the area “Los Llanos” — the plains. And that’s where the stories begin to diverge.

The most common one is that Llano Estacado means “staked plains” because “estacado” is the past participle of “estacar,” a verb meaning “to stake” or “to stake out.” The belief was that the vast spaces of the mesa were so disorienting that early explorers and settlers needed to leave stakes in the ground to navigate in a straight line, and to have a direct line of retreat should they need it. Even Coronado’s Native American guides would shoot an arrow straight ahead and then walk to the arrow, and repeat the process over and over to keep from going in a circle. 

But others say that in the time of Coronado, the term “estacar” had a different meaning. It meant “palisaded plains,” or “stockaded plains,” looking like a fort. If you approach the caprock as Coronado did, and as I have done myself, west of Amarillo along the Canadian breaks, from a distance of 20 miles, the rise onto the caprock does indeed look like a fortress stretching as far as one can see. 

But here’s another bit of the puzzle — the great geographer and historian John Miller Morris tells us that Coronado never wrote the words “Llano Estacado.” But Coronado did leave us a detailed description of Lo Llano in a letter to the King of Spain: “…there is not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.” This brings us to Morris’s most compelling theory about the name. With no trees and shrubs available, explorers and hunters needed to “stake out” or hobble their horses at night or they’d be gone in the morning. 

All of the theories have their appeals.  But I doubt the origin of the name will ever be settled. Just like its name, the infinite flat land, the ocean of grass that once supported millions of buffalo, remains a romanticized landscape of mystery to this day.   

There’s a sublime book by Shelley Armitage called Walking the Llano. Ms. Armitage has lived on the Llano off and on most of her life and her book reminds me of magical works like Desert Solitaire and Goodbye to a River. She writes, “There’s been no poet of these plains . . . but there is a poetry of the plains. This part of the Llano exists . . . as a shape of time, requiring the rhythm of a habit of landscape, of the repetition of experiencing.” She quotes Mary Austin, “It’s the land that wants to be said.”

Ms. Armitage also ran on the Llano. She writes, “The running taught me something. I began to learn that the land is lyric. I could feel the rhythm of the land come into my legs, up into my chest and heart, and out my mouth as breath. Later it came out as writing.” Perhaps Shelley Armitage is the very poet of the plains she claims does not exist.  

Armitage also tells of the advice of an elder of the White Mountain Apaches, who said, 

“Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. . .  You must remember everything about [places]. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep on thinking about it. 

Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. You will walk a long way and live a long time. You will be wise.”

We must do this for the Llano Estacado, in poetry and prose and song.

Texas Standard: June 30, 2020

A plea to Governor Abbott as COVID-19 cases set new records in Texas: do more to curb the spread, or let us take steps to do it. A return to stay at home orders? That’s one thing leaders in Travis county are asking for the power to enforce, as hospitalization rates in and around the Texas capitol city approach 70 percent. Also the pandemic sparks extended food benefits for millions of Texas kids. And though the current plan is for many Texas schools to reopen in the fall, many teachers may not be in the classroom. We’ll hear why plus a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 13, 2019

Houston’s police chief blames the boyfriend loophole for the on duty death of an officer. What is the boyfriend loophole? We’ll explore. Plus, the president appears to be hours away from impeachment: where are other presidents getting impeached? Why many western democracies don’t have it. Also, what could be the next boom industry in Texas: rare earth mining. And a new law clears the way for a new crop: what’s holding back hemp? Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 26, 2019

A newly declassified complaint at the center of an historic hearing on Capitol Hill may test the question, is a cover up really worse than the crime? We’ll have a Texas perspective on the rising push toward impeachment. Also, after two major flood events more residents of the biggest city in Texas are asking, is Houston worth it? And an innovative program among women incarcerated in Texas to bring recidivism to zero. Plus, what the spectacular rise and fall of we work says about the state of the tech industry. All of that and then some today on the Texas Standard:

What Elvis Presley Owed West Texas

By W.F. Strong

It is my belief that Texas was largely responsible for launching Elvis Presley’s phenomenal career. Texas, perhaps as much as Tennessee, gave him a vital push onto the national stage and empowered his rise to the eventual undisputed title of “The king of rock and roll.”

Now, I’m not claiming that he became the timeless icon of popular culture that he became, solely because of Texas. Given his super-charged charisma, even if he’d first toured in Northern Siberia, he still would have melted teenage hearts and attracted a massive following. Fame would have found him anyway. But that’s not how it happened. Elvis himself once said, “I owe a lot to Texas; they’re the ones who put me over the top. I’ve covered a lot of territory; mostly in West Texas. That’s where my records are hottest: down in San Angelo, Lubbock, Midland and Amarillo.”

In fact, when Elvis began touring in the mid-1950s, 86 of his first 200 concerts were in Texas. These were not all in the big cities, either. To be sure, he hit Houston and Dallas and San Antonio, but he mostly traveled to smaller towns. He went to Gladewater in East Texas and Sweetwater in West Texas. He played Paris – Texas that is – and out west he played Odessa. Most of his concert dates were in West Texas: El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Alpine, Midland, Abilene, Wichita Falls, Brekenridge, San Angelo, Stephenville and Big Spring. These were not one-time stops either. He played in Midland and Odessa and Lubbock several times in his first years of stardom.

And it was touring in West Texas that introduced Elvis to some of the greatest musicians of his age. Buddy Holly opened for Elvis in Lubbock in 1955. Buddy was a high school senior. Elvis was 20. They bonded in mutual admiration of their outsized talents. Buddy would open for Elvis two more times that year. When Buddy died tragically just four years later, Elvis couldn’t attend his funeral because he was in the Army, stationed in Germany. But he did send a huge wreath of yellow roses in a loving tribute to the great Texan.

Elvis played in Odessa and Midland several times in 1955 and 1956. Once in Midland, at a show featuring Johnny Cash, Elvis and Johnny met a slightly younger, 19-year-old, Roy Orbison and advised him on launching his singing career. Cash was the old man of the group, at 23. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been backstage in Midland seeing those three future legends huddled together? Later in life someone asked Cash why he played a guitar so hard. And he said that he didn’t play all that hard, but Elvis sure did.

One thing that Elvis achieved that neither of the other two did was to create a fanbase of screaming, unruly girls. He sometimes begged them to settle down so people could hear the music.

His biographer, Bobbie Ann Mason, said, “He was brimming with sexual energy and the stage allowed him to give that energy free, exuberant play.”

Yes, the girls adored Elvis, but the boyfriends they climbed over to reach him were not great fans. They did not understand how this man driving a pink Cadillac and wearing the bright colors of a peacock could whip their girlfriends into such a lustful frenzy. To add to the insult, their girlfriends rushed to buy the Elvis lipsticks that were for sale at the concerts; Tender Pink and Cruel Red. Elvis was dismayed that so many of the boys didn’t like him, because he considered himself “just one of the guys.”

After 1956, Elvis moved slowly away from Texas, drifting toward Las Vegas where audiences came to him instead of him driving all night in a pink Cadillac to make his next show. Hollywood, too, came knocking. So he would never again return to Texas with anywhere near the frequency he did in the early years of his growing fame. The year he died, he held his last Texas concerts: one in Abilene and the final one in Austin on March 28, 1977.

Two books that were helpful in researching this story are “Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley” by Peter Guralnick, and “Elvis Presley: A Life (A Penguin Life)” by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Texas Standard: September 3, 2019

We’re learning more about contact between the Permian Basin shooter and law enforcement before the shooting spree started. We’ll have the latest on the investigation into the second mass shooting in west Texas in a month, and a conversation with the mayor of Odessa. Also, some say we should batten down the hatches for an eventual economic downturn. How do you do that, exactly? Plus: America the gerontocracy? A provocative look at the body politic and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 2, 2019

Congresswoman Escobar talks with us a day after touring detention facilities and finding out she was the target of comments on a secret Facebook group. That secret Facebook group reportedly made up of at least some current and former Border Patrol agents. The content, at times disturbing. We’ll have more. Plus, it looks like a deadline to print the U.S. census was missed. Why it matters and what’s next. And have you been to a Texas State Park lately? Many are overcrowded and in disrepair. Why Texans will soon have a chance to fix that. And celebrating the anniversary of a woman’s right to vote with the recognition that the reality of that right was uneven. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

The Lady In Blue

One of the most important figures in Texas’ religious history never set foot in Texas at all. She never in her life traveled beyond her tiny village in Spain, yet she stirred religious fervor from the Concho River to the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Our story begins in 1602 when Maria was born in the pueblito de Ágreda. She was a lovely child born to Catholic parents of noble rank. Barely beyond her toddler years, Maria showed an unusual devotion to a life of prayer and piety.

When she was ten, she already wanted to join a convent. When she was 12, her parents finally blessed her wish to join the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Tarazona. Before that could be arranged, though, Maria’s mother had a vision in which God instructed her to convert their mansion into a convent. She and her daughter would both become nuns. Her father would join a local monastery, following in the footsteps of his sons who were already friars. In four years, this all came to pass.

At 18, Maria took her vows and became Maria de Jesus – Mary of Jesus de Ágreda. The habit of her order was a dark cobalt blue. Now a nun, she spent more time than ever alone in prayer. Maria’s religious devotions intensified. Her sisters worried about her frequent fasting, frail health, and life of extreme deprivation. Yet for her it was a glorious time: she said God had given her a divine gift. It was the gift of bilocation. She could be in two places at once. Through meditation she could appear to God’s children in faraway lands and teach them about Jesus. She said she first appeared to the Jumano tribes of present day Texas in the 1620s. She did this for about ten years, from the time she was 18, to 29. And according to legend, the Jumano Indians of the time confirmed that the Woman in Blue, as they called her, had come among them.

The first proof is offered in the story of 50 Jumano Indians appearing on their own at the San Antonio de la Isleta Mission near present-day Albuquerque, asking the Franciscan priests to teach them about Jesus. When asked how they knew of him, the men said that the Lady in Blue had come to them and taught them the gospel. She had instructed them to go west to find holy men who could teach them more about the faith and baptize them. They, as the legend goes, pointed to a painting of a nun in the mission and said, “She is like her, but younger.”

The priests were stunned because they had no missions or missionaries in that part of what is today West Texas. They certainly knew of no nuns who had attempted missionary work there. How could this be? The head cleric in New Mexico, Esteban de Perea, asked two priests to go home with the Jumanos to verify these claims about the Lady in Blue. They traveled to the region that is today San Angelo and found that many of the Jumano said she had indeed come to them many times over the years. The priests immediately baptized 2,000 Jumanos, they say, because of Maria de Ágredas.

Historians Donald Chipman and Denise Joseph wrote that the Jumanos said Maria came to them “like light at sunset… she was a kind and gentle person who spoke ‘sweet’ words to them that they could understand…”

The respected religious historian Carlos E. Castaneda – not to be confused with the one who wrote about the Teachings of Don Juan – said that Maria preached in Spanish but the Jumanos understood her in their tongue, and when they spoke in their tongue, she understood them in Spanish.

Such claims resulted in the custodian of the Franciscans in New Mexico, Father Alonso de Benavides, traveling all the way to Ágreda in Spain to interview Maria to verify her authenticity. According to him, she told him of things in Texas and about the world of the Jumanos that only one who had been there could have known. Her bilocation claims were considered credible then, and even now, the Vatican seems to agree and is considering her for canonization.

Chapman and Joseph tell us that, according to Jumano legend, “when she last appeared, she blessed [the Jumanos] and slowly went away into the hills. The next morning the area was covered with a blanket of strange flowers that were a deep blue” – blue like her habit. These were, they said, the first bluebonnets. And perhaps the Jumanos found comfort when these flowers returned each year, adorned in their blue habits, assuring them that the Lady in Blue was always with them.

For a more complete history of the Lady in Blue, see “Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas” by Donald E. Chipman and Harriett Denise Joseph, published by UT-Press, 1999.