West Texas

Texas Standard: June 8, 2018

Never before has help been more readily available and yet suicide numbers continue rise. What’s going on? We’ll explore. Also, the disappearance of 43 Mexican college students in 2014 is considered an international scandal. Now a court has ordered a new impartial investigation and a truth commission to get to the bottom of it. It’s a move some are calling historic, we’ll hear why. Also, remember the lore of lopping off a rattlers head to kill it? That wasn’t enough for a Texas man, who barely survived getting bitten by the snakehead. What you’re really supposed to do in the event of a snake encounter. Plus actor musician Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael stop by the studios, the week in Texas politics and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Big Bend

It’s feeling like summer — time for a Texas road trip. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: May 2, 2018

From Dalhart to Dumas, San Antonio to San Angelo, Houston, Tyler, Marfa, College Station and all across the lone star nation no matter where you are, it’s Texas Standard time. Governor Abbott used to take delight in filing lawsuits against the Obama administration, so why’s Texas suing the Trump administration? You may be surprised by the answer. Also, the capitol city has a plan to mandate paid sick leave for businesses within city limits. That’s sparked a legal battle with businesses owners and the state, we’ll explore. And imagine 10 years with tap water so poisonous, you won’t dare drink it or bathe in it. A south Texas town fights back. Plus a 200 percent increase in heroin snagged at the border? a fact check and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 27, 2018

Can the Governor force a disgraced ex Congressman to compensate taxpayers for the costs of a special election to replace him? We’ll explore your questions. Also, the National Rifle Association is coming to Dallas for its national convention next week. A writer for the Dallas Morning News says its coming full circle in a sense, since two texans turned it into the group it is today. We’ll hear how and why. Plus, an idea to get more future teachers to turn their sights to rural Texas. And an unlikely pick from an unlikely place: football’s Cinderella story from San Antonio. Also, the man convicted of murder who’s helping the wrongly accused get of jail. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 26, 2018

More than a billion dollars green lighted for a physical barrier on the Texas border. The start of the new wall or something else? We’ll take a closer look. Also, after traveling the world in support of the Trump administration and fighting with his boss, what’s Rex Tillerson’s next move? Why Tillerson may be on the short list to head up the state’s flagship universities. And is west Texas literally losing ground? What’s behind a certain sinking feeling. Also the student anti-gun marches across the lone star state, and the pushback too. Plus, notes for the president’s big meeting with North Korea from a Texas scholar. Those stores and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: February 6, 2018

ISIS: mostly defeated. But is the Taliban gaining ground? Military engagements may be changing overseas but the message to troops here in the US: deploy or get out. We’ll take a closer look at the situation. And a new TV series is retelling the story of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco. Why it wasn’t filmed in Texas. Plus… What’s the deal with that proposed Dallas to Houston bullet train? We’ll check in on that and on the state of the state’s private space industry. And pinning down the shakeup that is Texas High School UIL realignment. Those stories and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 26, 2017

It was the biggest weather disaster in Texas history: this hour we’re exploring how it changed the contours of the lone star state. We’re retracing Hurricane Harvey’s path through southeast Texas, and the long and winding road to recovery. From Port Aransas to Houston and the golden triangle, it’s the story of a storm which the weather service warned would have no precedent, but Texans came together in ways large and small, helping strangers in need, and finding new ways forward. On this day after Christmas, we’re reconsidering an event that changed Texas in countless ways:

4 Gifts For Texas

By W. F. Strong

As it is Christmas time I got to thinking about the great gifts, money and property,  given to the State of Texas over the years. I’m going to tell you about three such gifts that led to a priceless fourth.  

In 1926, a bachelor banker died in Paris, Texas… a rich bachelor banker that is. His estate was worth about 1-point-2 million dollars. Today, that would be about $17 million, enough to buy a Whataburger for everybody in Dallas and Houston, with enough left over to What-a-size the fries. In his will, the banker left 90 percent of his money to The University of Texas to buy a telescope and build an observatory.  

The banker’s name was William Johnson McDonald. No relation to the McDonald’s hamburger chain.  

Well, as you might expect, Mr. McDonald’s relatives didn’t like him leaving all that money for a telescope. They believed that anyone who would do such a thing must be, by definition, a bit crazy. So they sued.

Fortunately, Mr. McDonald had shared his telescope dream with his barber. He said that astronomy was a young science of great potential if it had the right funding, and hoped that, “one day a telescope would be built that would allow astronomers to see the gold-plated streets of heaven.” He was also well-known as an amateur scientist – so the jury had little trouble believing that his wish was the product of a sane mind. Upon appeal, his relatives got more than Mr. McDonald had left them, but UT ended up with about $800 thousand dollars, which is still 11 million in today’s dollars.

Once UT had the money, they had to go shopping for a mountain to put the observatory on. That must have been fun. Mountain shopping has got to be something that you get to do only once or twice in a lifetime. Lucky for UT they were located in a state that had West Texas in it, with some of the finest stargazing potential in the North America. After driving several thousand miles around the region, inspecting various sites for altitude, dark skies, cloudless nights and poor prospects of rain, they found what they were looking for out by Fort Davis. It had no official name but the locals called it Flat Top Mountain. It was part of a ranch perfectly named for that region: The U up and U down ranch.  

President Harry Benedict of UT wrote a letter to the owner of that mountain, Mrs. Violet McIvor. He told her of McDonald’s gift and of the university’s great need for a mountain to put the observatory on. Benedict wrote that her mountain was ideally suited for such an observatory, that “optical tests already made showed that the Davis Mountains region was the best in Texas, perhaps the best in the United States, for astronomical purposes.” He asked her if she might consider giving her mountain to science.  

I think Violet surprised him when she did just that. She wrote back almost immediately and gave UT the entire top of the mountain, 200 acres. She also gave UT the land to build a road to the summit. The resulting highway, Spur 78, is to this day the highest highway in Texas.  

UT built the observatory and named it for William Johnson McDonald. The mountain was officially named Mt. Locke after Violet’s grandfather, G.S. Locke, from whom she had inherited it. Violet wrote to UT and said she was delighted “to have her grandfather’s name perpetuated in the Davis Mountains.” She said, “He would have been pleased to leave his name among the mountains which he had known and loved so long.” Anyone with a scientific leaning can’t see the name Mt. Locke without thinking of the British empiricist, John Locke, who believed that the best science was one steeped in observation.

I asked Mrs. Julie McIvor, who, along with her husband, Scott, still live on and operate the U up and U down ranch, why her grandmother-in-law, Violet, would have simply given away such a valuable piece of real estate, one that would be worth millions today. She said, “That generation was different. They believed in giving back.They were building a great state and a great country. She loved that she could do her part to empower a better future for Texas – and America.”  

As gifts inspire gifts, only five months after Violet gave her mountain to UT, the estate of long time Fort Davis Judge Edwin H. Fowlkes, donated the adjoining mountain, known as little Flat Top. The Fowlkes estate donated a total of 200 acres and that mountain was formally named Fowlkes Mountain in his honor. Sheri Eppenauer, who is the granddaughter in law of Judge Fowlkes, said that he was a civic minded man and always did what he thought was best for the people of Fort Davis and the region.

Three gifts to Texas. An observatory and two mountains. These collectively gave us a fourth gift: one of the world’s leading centers of astronomical research – in fact, these gifts gave us the heavens themselves, as McDonald predicted.

*I want to thanks Mrs. Julie McIvor and Mrs. Sheri Eppenauer of Fort Davis, family descendants of the donors of Mt. Locke and and Mt. Fowlkes respectively, for their kind assistance with this commentary.

Texas Standard: November 16, 2017

In the wake of Sutherland Springs, should congregants be allowed to carry firearms? Hundreds respond to a Texas church security summit, we’ll have the latest. Also, at Texas prisons its being described as a mass exodus of guards. We’ll hear how bad it is and what’s behind it. File under sign of the times: what do you call it when someone lies by, telling the truth? Why a word with roots in the 16th century is making a comeback in 2017. Plus attention investors: want some partisanship to go with that portfolio? A new way the industry’s blending business and politics. And it’s happened to us all: we’ve run out of Velveeta and Rotel. In queso emergency, the homesick Texan’s got you covered. All that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 13, 2017

A seat in the U.S. Senate and 36 in the House, plus dozens upon dozens of Texas House and Senate spots. Who wants to fill those jobs? We’ll explore. Also, one week after a deadly shooting all eyes turned once again to a church service in Sutherland Springs, we’ll have the latest. Plus oil and gas development in an “un-tapped” region of West Texas and so much more, today on the Texas Standard:

Rustler’s Rhapsody

You don’t want to break the law in West Texas. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: October 23, 2017

Today marks the start of early voting across Texas, but for what? Never fear, we’ll have real world explanations of what’s up for grabs at the polls. Grab a pencil and a small piece of paper and play along as we decide how we’re gonna cast our ballots in the constitutional contests now officially underway. Also, Texas may be one of the top states for executions, but it also leads in exonerations. The price the state is paying for wrongful convictions. And the most powerful super computer at any university in the US is in Texas is about to become one of the nation’s fastest too. So why are they planning for its replacement already? Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard :

Texas Standard: August 18, 2017

In a place where there’s little water already, rising demand raising the stakes for everyone. We’re live from Marfa Public Radio today! Also, he may have hit a wall with congress, but President trump is moving fast to make a lasting mark on another front, and Texas is ground zero. Tilting the balance on the federal bench. And just a few miles from here they’re warming up the famous Mcdonald observatory telescopes as the US prepares for a rare solar eclipse. But why’s this one so special, and for researchers, what left to learn? And sine die for the special session, the week in Texas politics and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

McDonald Observatory

Keep going… keep going… almost there. This week’s Typewriter Rodeo poem illustrates the long trek to the McDonald Observatory in West Texas and the glorious sky that awaits visitors there.

Texas Standard: July 28, 2017

The repeal of Obamacare, promised by republicans for 7 years, appears dead for now in the senate. We’ll explore the grand gesture that led to this moment. Also, as investigators try to get to the bottom of the deaths of 10 immigrants packed into a sweltering tractor trailer. What about the company that owns the trailer? An AP investigation finds a long trail of violations and complaints from drivers, we’ll hear more. And an electronic mix-up causes the Texas Department of Transportation to stop sending out bills for the use of tollroads, we’ll hear why. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Show ‘Em Your Badge

As told by W. F. Strong

 

This story comes under the heading of a Texas classic.  It is folklore. I don’t know for sure that its origin is in Texas, but from the oldest versions I know of, going back 30 plus years, they have Texas linguistic markers.  So I believe there’s a good chance that the story originated here. In any case the story has migrated around the world.  I’ve heard Australian versions and Irish versions and I suppose if I ever go to China I’ll hear a version translated from Mandarin.  Story goes like this:

 

A West Texas rancher was stackin’ some hay in his barn when he heard a truck rumble across his cattle guard, half a mile away. He looked up to see what looked like a Government Suburban – dark windows – leaving a dust cloud of caliche boiling up behind it as it raced his way. He walked out to the clearing to meet it and it came to a quick halt right in front of him, sliding the last five feet.

 

A guy hopped out. Nice lookin’ young man. Slacks, pressed shirt. Glock on his hip. Badge on his belt.

 

“Can I help you?” Rancher asks.

 

“Sir, I’m with the Government,” he said, pointing to his badge. “Just making a courtesy stop. We have word of drug activity in this area. I’m going to be looking around your ranch for a couple of hours to either confirm or invalidate these reports.”

 

“Well,” said the rancher, lookin’ mystified. He pushed his salt stained hat back off his forehead. “Aint’ no drugs around here except the big ole horse pills my doctor gives me for my rheumatism.”

 

He laughed a little.  

 

“This is not a laughing matter, sir. I assure you this is serious government business.”

 

The rancher said, “I’m sure it is. Go ahead. Help yourself, son. Just don’t go in that twenty acres behind the barn.”  

 

The agent got visibly angry for a second.

 

“Sir,” he said, “You see this badge? This badge gives me unimpeded authority, granted by the U.S. Constitution, to go where I please, when I please – no questions asked. I will decide where I will and won’t go. Do you understand me, sir?”

 

The Rancher said, “Yes, I do. I’ll guess I’ll just back to stackin’ my hay.”   

 

The agent said, “Good choice. That would be best.”

 

The rancher was stackin’ hay for about five minutes when he heard a blood-curdling scream from the pasture behind the barn.

 

He said to himself, “What the hell?” as he rushed out that way.

 

Even he was shocked at what he saw. That agent was running for his life  – staying only five yards ahead of the rancher’s big ole long-horn bull that was seconds away from goring him good. He couldn’t tell who would arrive first, the agent at the fence or the bull at the agent.

 

Just then the agent yelled at the rancher: “Help me! Call him off!”

 

The rancher cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, “Show him your badge! Show him your badge!”

Texas Standard: June 30, 2017

As a judge in San Antonio mulls the legality of a Texas sanctuary law, lawmakers in Washington take action on the federal level, we’ll have the latest. Plus Texas senator Ted Cruz said no to his fellow senate republicans. Now, he’s floating what he calls a compromise on health care. What’s the big idea, we’ll hear about it. Also cuts proposed for Amtrak, coming to a station near you?
And the battle over Keystone XL may not be over yet. This time the roadblocks not protesters but businesses. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Marfa Lights

Visitors to far West Texas usually make a point to visit Big Bend, the McDonald Observatory and to try to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Marfa Lights. Those unexplained lights were the inspiration for this week’s poem from the Typewriter Rodeo.

The How, Where and Why of Valentine, Texas

In Texas, we have a lot of towns with cool names. There is actually a town named Cool. And Cut and Shoot. And Valentine. Yes, Valentine. How cool is that? Especially if it’s February.

The story goes that a railroad crew, in 1882, had finished laying the tracks to the point where a water and fuel depot would be needed. It was Valentine’s Day. So they named the depot Valentine. It also was the name of one of their superiors, so the name has dual origins. Valentine, to give you coordinates, is halfway between L.A. and New Orleans, almost exactly 1000 miles from each. Or, if you want something local, halfway between Marfa and Van Horn. Deep in the Heart of West Texas.

Valentine never got very big. It says 217 on the city limits sign, but the mayor there, Jesus Calderon (who goes by Chuy), says that it is likely about 180 these days. Chuy has been mayor there for 40 years, likely a record of some kind for mayoral longevity in Texas. In addition to being mayor, he taught in the Valentine Independent School District for over decades and even worked part-time for many years as the local Fed Ex delivery man. Nobody knows Valentine like Chuy. He says there is no gas station, no ATM, and no crime.

The school, K-12, has about 40 students. Some years they only graduate five or six from high school. One year, not too long ago, they graduated two. Think about that. If you’re the poorer student of the two, you are simultaneously in the bottom 50 percent of your class and the salutatorian. Lisa Morton, who grew up there and is managing editor of the Van Horn Advocate, says that her sister graduated alone. I said that must have been a lonely event and she said, “Oh, no, the whole town came out to celebrate her big day.” Gotta love small towns.

Well, the town isn’t so small that it doesn’t have a post office. And in February they are busier than Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve. This time of year they receive thousands of cards to be re-mailed bearing the Valentine postage stamp. The cards come from all over the U.S. and as many as 30 foreign countries. One year they sent one to the White House, to Chelsea Clinton. Each year there is a design contest at the school and the winner has their “love logo” chosen as that year’s stamp. Imagine that. You can send your Valentine a Valentine from Valentine. Can’t get much more romantic than that!

Unless you take your Valentine to Valentine on the 14th. Chuy says they have a big party each year, underwritten by Big Bend Brewing Company from nearby Alpine. Last year, Jerry Jeff Walker played. Two years ago, Joe Ely was there playing his famous song, Saint Valentine. This year, Little Joe y La Familia will headline the event. Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday, there was pressure to move it to the weekend, but Mahala Guevara, vice president of Big Bend Brewing, explains in the official brochure: “West Texas was never known for convenience; to enjoy the best the region has to offer, you have to be willing to work for it. And your hard work will be rewarded with great Texas music… “

Gotta love it. A work ethic embedded in leisure. A very Texas concept.

Big Bend Brewing is even brewing a special ale for the event called Total Commitment. On the back of this limited edition brew it says, in part, “The owner of this…came all the way to Valentine, Texas, on a Tuesday night…what Total Commitment do you have to make.” At 14.2 percent proof, it is appropriately named. Makes my eyes a little misty thinking about it.

The most romantic Texas couple I know is Coach Taylor and his wife Tami, from Friday Night Lights. They are fictional, but they’re also authentically romantic. I could see them taking an impromptu road trip to Valentine for Valentine’s – just 200 miles from Dillon.

Coach Taylor always told his team: “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” It’s good advice for football. Probably good advice for love, too.

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.

Texas Standard: January 19, 2017

Rick Perry in the hot seat today as new questions swirl over whether he really understood what job he was nominated to do. A degree in animal husbandry is not a prerequisite for energy secretary, but will his resume as Texas’ longest serving chief executive convince the senate Rick Perry’s the right person for the job? Also, a promise from the president elect: to undo scores of Obama era orders with a few well placed strokes of the pen. What’s really on the chopping block, and what isn’t? And a cartoon controversy gets serious: who’ should really get credit as the birthplace of Popeye? Those stories and lots more today on the Texas Standard: