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A Real Texas Mystery: The Servant Girl Annihilator

Howdy folks! Today’s blog is a bit of a divergence from the historical topics we normally discuss. Let me state right now that this is a story about some extremely violent murders, so readers who are squeamish about such things should consider whether they want to read further.

My wife made the suggestion that I do a kind of dark topic for Halloween, and I had recently heard the story of the Servant Girl Annihilator, so it seemed like a natural choice. I found it very odd that as a lover of history, especially Texas history, I had never heard of this horrific tale. I knew about other serial murders that occurred in roughly the same time frame; Jack the Ripper, H. H. Holmes, and the Axman of New Orleans, but these killings that took place in my own state had somehow eluded me. It seems that you couldn’t swing a cat during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, without hitting a knife or axe wielding killer.

      Austin, Texas in the 1880’s

In late 1884, the city of Austin, Texas was already emerging as the cultural and educational capital of Texas, as well as the literal capitol. There was great enthusiasm and hope that as the century was drawing to a close, the violent events of the nineteenth century were giving way to a more peaceful and perhaps even idyllic age. This hope would soon be shattered, and it would start with the discovery of Mollie Smith’s body. She was the black cook for a wealthy family, and her dead body was found next to the outhouse behind her employer’s house. Her cause of death was a massive head wound, which was caused by blows from an axe.

         Mollie Smith

Over the next year, several more black servants were brutally murdered with an axe, and in one case, with a knife. In one instance the boyfriend of one of the victims was killed, and in another instance the eleven-year-old daughter of a victim was also murdered. As horrible as the killings were, the white population could at least take comfort in the fact that all the victims were black, even though several of the murders were committed at the homes of the victim’s wealthy employers. This veil of comfort, however, was about to be ripped from the eyes of the cities elite, and it would come at what is normally the happiest and most peaceful time of year.

       Susan Hancock

On Christmas Eve of 1885, the body of the first white victim was found. Sue Hancock was discovered by her husband in their back yard, and had been struck on the head with an axe. An hour later, Eula Phillips was found in the alley behind her father-in-law’s home. Phillips had been savagely beaten with an axe and was found in the nude. Inside the house, her husband was discovered severely injured, but still alive. These latest victims were not only white, but they were wealthy as well, and unfortunately, in a sign of the times, it was their race and status that finally caused the police and politicians to take action. Large rewards were offered and investigators flooded into Austin from all over the country but to no avail.

             Eula Phillips

The killings stopped with the deaths of Phillips and Hancock, but the murderer was never found. In a surprising turn, the husbands of the last two victims were arrested and tried for their killings, but both were acquitted. The murders were used to advance careers and to destroy political rivals, but little actual progress was ever made, even though theories and rumors persisted for years. Most of the families and officials involved left Austin afterwards and quickly faded into obscurity, much like the killings themselves. In a city trying to grow and evolve from its frontier past, leaving the past buried with the dead may have seemed like the wisest and most expedient option available. Whatever the motivation may have been, they did a good job because this historian was taken totally by surprise by this gruesome tale.

As always, I’d like to thank you for reading Under the Lone Star. If you enjoy this site and the stories I provide, please become a subscriber by entering your email address in the box at the top of this page. I promise I will never sell your information, and I absolutely will not inundate you with frivolous emails. I will simply provide you with bonus blogs that do not appear on the main site, as well as excerpts and updates from my latest books. Your support is greatly appreciated. Now, saddle up and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©10/16/2017

 

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Bose Ikard: The Original Cowboy Hero

As a writer and unapologetic romantic, I love stories about the triumph of the human spirit over the most difficult and unfair of circumstances. Fortunately, the strength of the human spirit really is stronger than the circumstances we face, and there are no shortage of stories proving this out.

                 Bose Ikard

The man I’m writing about today exemplifies this point as well or better than any person I can think of. Bose Ikard rose from slave to trusted friend of both Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight, and the success they had is due in no small part to the services provided by Ikard. Charles Goodnight stated that he trusted Bose Ikard “farther than any living man. He was my detective, banker, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico, and the other wild country I was in.” Goodnight and Loving counted Ikard among their few close friends.

      Charles Goodnight

Bose Ikard was born into slavery in July 1843, in Noxubee County, Mississippi. Bose lived in Louisiana before moving to Texas with his master, Dr. Milton Ikard. It was in Texas that he grew to adulthood, learning farming, ranching, and Indian fighting on the harsh frontier.  Bose gained his freedom following the Civil War, and in 1866 he used the skills he had learned to get a job as a trail driver for Oliver Loving. In 1867, after Loving was killed by Comanche in New Mexico, Ikard went to work for his partner, Charles Goodnight.  He became Goodnight’s right-hand man, adviser, and lifelong friend. He was especially skilled at trailing stray cattle in the dark, a job that was both dangerous and essential.

Historical Marker at Greenwood Cemetery

During his four years on the Goodnight-Loving trail, Bose Ikard earned a reputation as a top hand with the ability to get the job done regardless of the danger or difficulty involved, including at least three skirmishes with Comanche Indians.  In 1869, Ikard decided to start a ranch of his own and considered buying property in Colorado, but Goodnight cautioned him that there were very few black people there, and persuaded him to buy in Parker County, Texas instead. He settled in Weatherford, Texas where he and his wife Angelina raised their six children. Goodnight visited him whenever he had the chance and would bring presents of money for his family. One can imagine the two men reliving the many adventures they had together on the trail, possibly with a tinge of regret for the disappearance of the way of life they had known. Bose Ikard died on January 4, 1929 in Weatherford, Texas, and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery.

Bose Ikard’s Headstone given by Charles Goodnight.

For his invaluable contribution to the Texas cattle industry, and for being a real-life hero, Ikard was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame, and a statue of him can be seen in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Charles Goodnight bought a head stone for his grave and the inscription he carved on it sums up what he thought of the man. “Served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving trail. Never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order. Rode with me in many stampedes. Participated in three engagements with Comanches. Splendid behavior. – C. Goodnight.” I can’t think of a better or more fitting remembrance for cowboy.

Not one to ever miss a Lonesome Dove tie-in, let me close by mentioning that Bose Ikard was the inspiration for the character of Joshua Deets, played wonderfully by actor Danny Glover. Thank you for reading, now get out there and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©0925/2017

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Mi Tierra: A History of Great Food and Hospitality in San Antonio

I have said it many times on this blog, but I’ll say it again for those that may have missed it. I love, love, love San Antonio. I love the people, the history, the Texas-Mexican culture, and yes, the vibe the city exudes. It is the epicenter of the history and culture of Texas, and exemplifies all that is great about The Lone Star State. One of my favorite parts of the city is the downtown area. I have toured the Alamo more times than I can count, but I still get excited every time I walk up to its recognizable facade. I have walked along the Riverwalk enough times to be a connoisseur of both the food, and the places to go for the perfect margarita. No matter what activities I enjoy during the day, I always make time to stop by Mi Tierra for breakfast or dinner, and to load up on pastries.

In 1941, Pedro and Cruz Cortez opened a small three table café to serve the farmers of the San Antonio area. They were led by two simple but important principles, provide good food with uncompromising hospitality. Today, the Cortez family continue to live up to the tradition of excellence established by Pedro and Cruz. While the original three table café has grown to a 24 hour a day operation with seating for 500 people, the legacy of great food and warm hospitality is still alive and well.

Next door to the Mercado, Mi Tierra is the perfect place to fill your need for Tex-Mex after a day of shopping.

El Mercado

Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, and carne asada, are all excellent, as are their traditional Mexican favorites like, cabrito and menudo. Before leaving, be sure to pick up a box or two of pastries, made fresh daily. My favorites, are the pan fino, pan de huevo, orejas, banderilla de coco, and pralines.

Mi Tierra is the perfect combination of tradition, history, and fantastic food, making it one of my go to destinations every time I visit San Antonio. There are only a few things that I consider myself an expert on, and good Tex-Mex is at the top of that list, so you can believe me when I tell you that a visit to Mi Tierra will never disappoint.

©08/28/2017

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Galveston: The Great Storm of 1900

In the 19th century, the port city of Galveston was the center of economic activity in Texas, and with a population of 36,000, it was also the state’s largest city. As with most boom towns, there was an attitude that the good times would continue forever, but the storm clouds of doom were quite literally looming on the horizon, and the disaster they would bring would not only change the fate of Galveston, but the whole state of Texas and the nation as well.

                           Galveston before the Great Storm of 1900

During the 1800’s, Galveston had weathered many storms, and a dangerous complacency pervaded those who had the power and responsibility to protect the island. A seawall had been proposed by some, but was deemed too expensive and unnecessary by the city government. Even those in the local weather bureau allowed themselves to be deluded into believing that no serious storm could hit Galveston.

On September 6, 1900, a tropical storm was reported north of Key West, and by the early morning of September 7, it had made its way to New Orleans. By the time the Hurricane hit Galveston on the morning of September 8, the sustained winds were 100 mph, with gusts as high as 145 mph, making the storm a category 4.

 A train from Beaumont and bound for Galveston left Houston at 9:45am. Before the train reached the bay, the tracks were washed out, forcing the passengers to transfer to another train that was running on parallel tracks. After continuing on its way, the train stopped at Bolivar Peninsula to wait for the ferry that would carry them to the island. When the ferry was unable to dock due to the storm surge, ten passengers exited the train and found shelter with others at the Point Bolivar lighthouse.  The remaining 85 passengers who stayed with the train were killed when the storm surge washed all of the cars away.

The highest point on Galveston Island was only a little over eight feet above sea level, so as the water washed over the island, the fifteen-foot storm surge knocked buildings off their foundations where they were obliterated in the surf. Along with the buildings, over 3,600 houses were destroyed, not to mention, the lives of those huddled under the inadequate structures. The hardest hit part of the island was that closest to the gulf side of the island. Most of the houses and buildings that were left standing were on the bay side, in a section known as the Strand District.

 

 The Bishop’s Palace (background)remains  unscathed by the storm.

 

Rescuers set out almost immediately on the morning of September 9, but what they found was a scene of utter and total devastation. The city of Galveston was completely obliterated, and between six and eight thousand people were dead.  Most of the casualties either drowned or were crushed by debris that was carried by the massive surf. Some survived the storm, but died where they were trapped before rescuers could reach them. In the end, those who arrived to try and save lives were left with only the gruesome task of dealing with the carnage. Burying the dead was an impossibility, and funeral pyres were set up as the only means of handling the scores of bodies that littered the island. These fires burned day and night for weeks, and whiskey was provided to the workers in an effort to fortify them against the grizzly work to which they were assigned.

          Building of the sea wall

Within a few years of the storm, a huge dredging project was completed which raised the city of Galveston by seventeen feet, and an enormous seawall was also added to protect the city, both of which have served the island well for over a hundred years, but came much too late to save the lives of those lost.  Galveston today is a thriving community and tourist destination, but its time as an economic powerhouse was washed away in the flood waters of September 8, 1900.

©08/13/2017

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Spanish Governor’s Palace: A Hidden Gem in San Antonio

One of the many reasons I love San Antonio is their commitment to preserving and restoring the many sites of historical significance throughout the city. There is no better example of this commitment than the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

The Spanish Governor’s Palace was built in the eighteenth century and restored in 1930, and it represents the last structure of what was once the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar. To protect their territory from the French, Spain ordered the governor, Don Martin de Alarcon, to build the mission and presidio. On May 5, 1718, Alarcon established the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar to protect the newly established mission that would come to be known as the Alamo.

The Conquistador statue

The presidio protected the five missions that had been established nearby, and provided escorts for the priests and settlers of San Antonio de Bexar. Fifteen families came to the area in 1731 from the Canary Islands, and would settle what is now the city of San Antonio, Texas. Captains of the garrison were assigned the palace as their personal quarters, and many occupied the home over the years.

In 1804, the last captain, Jose Menchaca, sold the home to Ignacio Perez, a very prominent businessman. The Perez family lived in the house for the next fifty years, where they saw Mexico win its independence from Spain, Texas become a republic and eventually become part of the United States.

In the 1860’s the Perez family leased the property and through the 1920’s it housed many businesses. It was a pawn shop, produce store, saloon, classroom, and a tire shop. The city of San Antonio bought the house in 1929 and completed the restoration in 1930. Today the Governor’s Palace has ten rooms plus a beautifully landscaped courtyard, all of which are furnished with period pieces, and is open for tours from 9:00-5:00pm Tues.-Sat. and 10:00-5:00pm on Sunday. It is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, only minutes from the Alamo.

The palace courtyard

In an age when the old is torn down to make way for the new, and where most people think that history is nothing more than a bunch of old people and dates that have no relevance to the present, places like the Spanish Governor’s Palace are more important than ever. The history of San Antonio is the history of Texas and it is rich, vibrant, and for me it comes alive every time I visit the city. When I walk the streets, I can almost hear the voices of Bowie, Travis, and Houston, and feel the tension in the air that must have been palpable in the early days of the Texas Revolution. I am an unapologetic history geek, and sites like the Governor’s Palace is where I really feel alive.

 

©07/22/2017

 

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The Menger Hotel: Historical Elegance with a Modern Touch

When my wife and I travel, we typically do not give much thought to the hotels we stay at as long as they are clean and conveniently located. We always stay so busy that our room is only used for sleeping and showering. Occasionally though, we come across a hotel that is so interesting and historically significant, that we are willing to increase our budget to stay there. The Menger Hotel, in downtown San Antonio, is just such a place.

        William Menger

It was opened by William Menger and his wife Mary in 1859 adjacent to the Alamo Mission. Over the years, its guests have included such notable figures as: Sam Houston, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Oscar Wilde. The Famous Menger Bar was where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders prior to setting out for Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Today the lobby of the hotel is adorned with historic photos, ornate furnishings, paintings, and artifacts that would be the envy of any museum. The Menger mixes historic elegance with all the amenities one would expect to find in any upscale cosmopolitan hotel, including the largest heated pool in San Antonio.

                                   Menger Hotel

In 1855, businessman William Menger opened a brewery on part of the Alamo battlefield, and it was such a success that he soon needed a place to accommodate all his guests. William and Mary hired architect John M. Fries to design a hotel, and in 1859, the fifty-room Menger Hotel opened. Multiple renovations have been made over the years, and today the Menger has five stories with three hundred and sixteen rooms.

In the opening days of the U.S. Civil War, the Menger housed troops prior to their departure to the fighting. As the war dragged on, guests were hard to come by and the hotel fell on hard times, so William and Mary opened it up as a hospital, where they fed and housed many wounded soldiers. After the war, the Menger had developed such a following, that it once again became THE place to stay in San Antonio.

When William Menger died in 1871, some thought it would be the end of the grand hotel, but his wife Mary expertly took over the day to day operations and quickly breathed new life into the aging establishment. With the arrival of the first train service to San Antonio, the popularity of the Menger grew, and in 1879 Mary made a considerable investment to modernize the hotel by adding bathrooms and gas lighting.

J. H. Kampmann

In 1881, due to declining health, Mary Menger sold the hotel to J.H. Kampmann, who had been the original contractor hired to build the Menger. He made what may be the most popular addition, when in 1887, he built the now famous Menger Bar. It was designed after the House of Lords pub in England, and with its mahogany bar and tables it evokes a unique old-world charm. This is the very bar where Teddy Roosevelt handpicked the men who would accompany him to the fighting in Cuba.

 

 

 

 

The hotel has changed hands several times over the years, but it has never lost the original mission it was tasked with by William and Mary, to pamper each and every guest and treat them like family. The hotel is located in Alamo Plaza, in Downtown San Antonio, and is convenient to the world-famous Alamo and River Walk, as well as the myriad of historical sites that the city boasts. The next time you’re in San Antonio, which should be at least once a year because it’s awesome, live like a cattle baron and pamper yourself in Old West elegance at the Menger Hotel.

©07/05/2017

 

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John Coffee “Jack” Hays: The Man who Built the Texas Rangers

When I think of Texas, one of the first things that comes to mind are the Texas Rangers, and the first Ranger that comes to mind is John Coffee “Jack” Hays. He was everything that the Ranger legend says a man should be, but in his case, the man lives up to the legend. Hays was a Ranger, soldier, businessman, and politician, who moved from Tennessee to Texas and then to Northern California, and managed to make history every step of the way.

John Hays was born in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1817 into a prominent family. His father served during the War of 1812, and his Uncle, John Hays, for whom he was named, served under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.

      Comanche Indians with their plunder.
                                       Battle of Plum Creek

In 1836, Hays moved to the Republic of Texas, where Sam Houston appointed him to the Texas Rangers. As a Ranger Captain, he led his company in many skirmishes against the Comanche, but the most famous was the Battle at Plum Creek. The Comanche were led by Buffalo Hump and had carried out numerous raids into South Texas, where they had accumulated a huge herd of horses and many other plundered items. As they were trying to make their way back to the Llano Estacado, they were confronted near present day Lockhart by Hays and his Rangers, who were joined by a Texas militia. At the end of the battle, the Comanche were able to escape with some of the horses, though many were recovered and over eighty Comanche lay dead on the battle field.

During the Mexican War, Jack Hays commanded several companies of Rangers. Participating in several key battles, Hays and his Rangers won many victories, which cemented the reputations of both the Rangers and Hays. During battles at Monterrey, Mexico City, and Matamoros, the Rangers decisively beat back far superior forces. Another Texas Legend was born during this war as well when Hays was the first to field test the Colt Patterson revolver. His use of the Patterson was also the impetus for him to introduce Samuel Walker to Samuel Colt, which led to the development of the famous Walker Colt.

    John Coffee “Jack” Hays

In 1849, Jack Hays led a group of Forty-Niners from Texas to California. In 1850, he was elected Sheriff of San Francisco California, which led him into local politics. In 1853, he was elected surveyor-general for California, and he amassed a fortune from real estate dealings and ranching. During the 1860’s, he commanded a force of volunteer soldiers and retired from military service with the start of the Civil War. On April 21, 1883, John Coffee “Jack” Hays died in California and was laid to rest in Oakland.

Jack Hays was a man of action, just like his adopted home state of Texas, and his exploits built the fighting reputations of himself and the Texas Rangers. He set the example that generations of Texas Rangers would follow, enabling them to bring law and order to the untamed frontier, so in that sense, he helped lay the foundation for all that the great state of Texas would become. Texas has many institutions that are at the very heart of who we are as Texans, but none elicits more feelings of pride than the Texas Rangers.

 

©06/22/2017

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Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery and Café: The True Flavor of Fort Worth

 

Among my passions that have been discussed on previous blogs, one of my favorites is GOOD Mexican food. I stress good, because despite Texas being famous for its Mexican food, really good Mexican food is surprisingly hard to find. While there are chain establishments and pretenders on every corner, and they might satisfy the tourists and those less discerning, good Mexican food should be both authentic and fresh. I have several favorite spots around The Lone Star State that more than meet these requirements, but in Fort Worth it’s got to be Esperanzas Bakery and Cafe.

      The Garcia family have been treating Fort Worth diners to outstanding food since 1935, beginning with their original restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. The family was devoted to treating their customers like honored guests, and that meant serving only the best food and using the finest ingredients. That tradition is alive and well today at both Epseranzas locations, where the food and service are always excellent.

My favorite meal has always been breakfast, and on Saturdays my family and I enjoy indulging in a late breakfast out, which often means going to Esperanzas. Their huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, huevos ala Mexicana, and migas are all excellent, and my children tell me their pancakes are delicious as well. All the breakfast entrees include large portions, hot tortillas, chips and salsa, and if you get there early enough, homemade biscuits.

If breakfast isn’t your thing, not to worry, their lunch and dinner menus are every bit as good as their breakfast. It includes traditional: beef and chicken enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, ceviche, and the very best sopes around. As with all their entrees, the portions are huge and come with tortillas and chips and salsa.

 

They have two Fort Worth locations:

                                                                                                                           

2122 North Main Street

Fort Worth, Texas 76164

Hours: Everyday 6:30am-7:00pm

 

1601 Park Place Avenue

Fort Worth, Texas 76110

Hours: Mon- Thurs 6:00am -9:00pm

Fri-Sat 6:00am-10:00pm

 

Esperanzas is also a panaderia, with a huge selection of bread and pastries baked fresh every day.   If you are too full after your meal just by a bag of goodies to take home. They are fabulous for a quick breakfast or just for a snack.

 

Take my word for it, and stop into Esperanzas for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you will not be disappointed. The food is wonderful, the people are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable. If you go to the Main Street location, allow yourself enough time to walk off your meal browsing the shops in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards and you’ll get the full flavor of Cowtown. Now, get out there and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©06/04/2017

 

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GRUENE HALL: MAKING MUSIC HISTORY SINCE 1878

 

I reckon by now it’s no secret that I love Texas and its history, but history is more than just dates, stories and battles. It must also include the intangibles that make up the unique culture and character of a place; that which shapes and gives expression to its citizens. For Texas, that intangible is our music. Whether it be Country, Rock, or that most Texan of sounds, Rockabilly, our music has shaped and defined us since our state’s beginning, and the epicenter for Texas music is Gruene Hall.

Gruene Hall has been the place for beer, music, and dancing since 1878, and it shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Most weekends will find Gruene Hall jumping to the sounds of live music, dancing, and one of my favorite pastimes, drinking beer. In recent years, the stage at Gruene Hall has been graced by the likes of: George Strait, Loretta Lynn, Leann Rimes, Chubby Checker, Roseanne Cash, and Willie Nelson.

It is Texas’ oldest dance hall, and in a hundred and forty years it has remained more or less unchanged. It has an open-air dance floor that is perfect for our hot summer nights, and when that’s not enough, the bar is always stocked with plenty of ice cold beer. While there are plenty of music venues in Texas, none offers the connection to the past or the sense of being part of something special that Gruene Hall does.

Many of the biggest names in music have played Gruene Hall on their way up the charts, and most of them still take the stage there from time to time. The love it for its intimate setting and for the history that has been made under its tin roof. Some of the hottest up-and-comers of today can be found taking the stage on any given Friday or Saturday night, continuing the tradition of making music history.

In the fast paced world we live in, where everything seems to be in a constant state of change, it’s nice to have places like Gruene Hall. There’s nothing fancy or cutting edge about the place, but it doesn’t have to be. For almost a hundred and fifty years it’s been providing what the people want; a release from the pressures of the daily routine. So, the next time you’re in the Hill Country, plan a trip to Gruene Hall, and whether you go for the music, the dancing, or just to drink a beer, take a moment to remember that you are part of a Texas tradition that has been going strong since 1878. Perhaps you’ll see a little history being made to boot, and that ain’t bad. Get out there today and enjoy all that our great state has to offer.

 

©05/25/2017